Archive for November, 2011


November 29th, 2011 3 comments

When I was in high school, my perception of college social fraternities was that they were hives of drinking during school and vehicles to run the world after school.  While the former perception turned out to be a corruption of the truth, and it’s too soon to tell if the latter perception will hold, I can say that my fraternal connections helped me find hockey in the Green Mountain State, Vermont.

I completely forgot that the Ben and Jerry's factory was in Vermont until I stumbled upon it.

Finding the game had been a mixture of luck and timing.  I had been searching without success for places to play in the state when the University of Vermont popped into mind.  I knew that the Catamounts had a D-I hockey team, so I figured they’d also have a rink.

Sure enough, they did.  What’s more, the rink web site had an exceptionally detailed schedule, which was unusual.  Most rink web sites show calendars for public events, if anything.  The University of Vermont rink’s web site had both public and private events listed, including the names of the groups and contact information for the group leaders.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a detailed rink schedule, before or since.

I began combing through the hourly schedule for the days I would be in town to see if there were any possibilities.  Many were considered and rejected until, by chance, one late-night block caught my eye.  It was reserved for Pi Kappa Alpha, my college fraternity.  I decided to work that connection.

I emailed Frank, the person listed as the contact for that ice time. Within hours, he responded.  Sure, he said, they’d be happy to have me on the ice.  Success!

Curled up with a warm computer in front of a low-tech fire. Ah, Vermont.

A couple days later, I showed up at the rink on the University of Vermont campus.  I was pretty early, so I milled about and watched the group that was already on the ice.  After a  little while, the rink attendant walked over to me.

“Are you with Kappa Delta Gamma?” he asked.

“Um… Pi Kappa Alpha?” I said.

“Yeah, whatever.  Room Four is unlocked for you guys.”


And so I went to the dressing room and started getting changed.

I went at a leisurely pace, and soon I was sitting in the room with the lower half of my gear on.  Alone.

I looked at the clock and saw only 10 minutes remained before the ice time.  It isn’t too unusual to see guys take a just-in-time approach to rink arrivals, but I was starting to get a bit nervous that I was either at the wrong place (unlikely), had the time wrong (possible), or that simply nobody else was going to show (plausible).  My contingency plans for how to play net against myself started running through my mind.

Concurrently, I couldn’t help but notice the odd smell of the dressing rooms.  There was the usual scent of hockey, yes, but there were strong overtones of reefer, too.  I figured that somebody had been hot boxing the room earlier in the day.  It was Vermont, after all.

Finally, with just a few minutes to go, five guys showed up for a bit of shinny.  I hadn’t really been sure what to expect in terms of numbers, but I was cool with that.  It helped that the five were so enthusiastic.

Vermont Pikes play hockey. Frank is the guy with the beard.

We did a sort of rotating 3v2 half-ice game.  It was laid back, even leisurely.  I felt like a kid on a pond.

We were just a bunch of guys messing around with sticks and a puck, hockey in its purest form.  There were no spectators, there were no refs, and there weren’t many rules other than to keep the puck low.  I had my pads on, of course, but everybody else went out with just skates, gloves, and helmets.

It was supremely enjoyable, and the time passed quickly.

Back in the dressing room after the game, we talked for a while about our individual hockey histories, our respective Pike chapters, and things I’d seen on my trip.  Soon, though, it was time for the students to retire to address homework.  Ah, school.

I’m still not sure if fraternities are involved in world domination, but if world domination involves hockey, I’m all for it.



Mysteries of the trip explained: why I’m wearing the same shirt in every photo

November 26th, 2011 5 comments

You might have noticed that I seem to be wearing the same clothes in every photo from the trip.

The hallmark of an experienced traveler is a lack of clothing.  No, not zero clothing; just a very limited selection.

Clothes are bulky, and schlepping bulky items on the road is no fun.  It’s worse when backpacking, either on the trail or in urban environments, but it’s a pain even when a car is available for the duration.

Happiness on a trip is inversely proportional to the quantity of clothes. Note that happiness is undefined when there are no clothes.

The keys to keeping down the quantity of clothing are maximizing the utility of each item and minimizing the maintenance associated with each item.  In other words, we want to be able to mix and match for all weather and social conditions and not do laundry very often.

Want to know the secret?


I’m not talking about your grandmother’s wool. (Hi Grandma!) The only wool worth using against the skin is merino wool, a soft variety that isn’t the least bit scratchy.

Merino wool is great stuff.  It’s light in weight, packs small, looks good, insulates well, dries quickly when wet, and doesn’t get smelly.

It’s that simple.  Cotton and synthetics start to smell bad fairly quickly, but wool is remarkable in its ability to repel unpleasant odors.

I had been using merino wool hiking socks for years, but I didn’t consider wool for general clothing until I ran across a post extolling its virtues by the digital nomad Tynan.  I had no wool clothing at the time other than dress slacks, suits, and the aforementioned socks.  Now, for the trip, my shirts and underwear are wool, too.

On any given day, I’m likely wearing a selection from the following options:

Light shirt:

Heavy shirt:



In essence, I have two outfits, one on my back and one in my pack.  Bliss.

I can generally go a couple weeks between loads of laundry without things smelling too bad (at least as far as I can tell).  The main exception to this rule is when I play hockey at a rink without showers and am forced to put my street clothes back on my smelly body.  Not even wool can defend against eau de goalie.

When I do run a load of laundry, I simply toss everything in the washer on “cold delicate.” Drying is simply a matter of setting the items out — don’t use a dryer unless you like replacing expensive shirts.  My synthetic clothes can tolerate a heated dryer, so I’ll usually wash and dry them with my hockey underthings.

There you have it.  I’m always wearing the same shirts because those are the only ones I have with me, and the key to getting away with that is merino wool.



November 25th, 2011 5 comments

My first thought upon seeing the rental skates at the outdoor downtown rink was that I should have brought my own.

Maybe the contraptions in my hands weren’t actually skates.  Sure, the boots were there; some laces, too. There were pieces of steel attached to the bottoms of the boots, but calling them “blades” would be laughable at best, for that would imply they had edges of some sort.

Hockey players are fanatical about their skates.  Skating is, after all, a defining characteristic of ice hockey, and without it, all you’d have would be something like hockey, but on a field, and since that’s dangerously close to soccer, even fewer people in America would watch it on T.V.  Without good skating, a player is useless, and good skating starts with good skates.  But good skates alone are insufficient; they must be sharp to perform well.

Sharp skates are so important that in certain impoverished parts of the world, they’ll even risk sharpening the blades freehand(!) just to get those edges.  Seriously, seeing video of a guy doing that made my jaw drop.

The blades on my rentals looked like they hadn’t seen a sharpener’s grindstone of any sort in the past decade.  Fortunately, I wasn’t trying to play hockey with them.

A cross-section of a sharp blade looks like the example on the left. Sharp edges, nice bite. The rental skates looked like the one on the right. Burrs = no bite.

Why then, you ask, would I be at a rink if not to play hockey, and why on earth would I be screwing around with rental skates?

I was renting because I was in downtown Atlanta, Georgia at the Olympic Park Ice Rink.  I thought it would be novel to go skating outside in the Deep South, and for some reason I thought that it would be more convenient to pay $2 to rent skates there rather than bring my own.  I blame those brilliant decisions on a low level of coffee intake due to the Thanksgiving holiday.

Bad: the rental skates at the rink.

Good: my goalie skates. (I knew this photo would come in handy someday!)

I paid far more than just the $2 for the rentals.  I paid with my dignity.  Not only were the skates very dull, they were figure skates, not hockey skates, and that meant a few minor differences (e.g., the rocker) and one very major difference: figure skates have toe picks.  I was reminded of that the hard way when I caught one of the picks and face-planted on the ice.  That was embarrassing.  It hurt, too — no pads.

The outdoor rink at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta

Once I looked past the skates, the rest of the experience was pleasant.  There were lots of Christmas lights, trees, and wreathes as decorations.  There were enough people to make it feel lively without so many as to make it feel crowded.  There were great views of the  Atlanta skyline and the bright red logo on the CNN building.

The ice was so-so, similar in feel to naturally frozen outdoor ice, but a pass with a Zamboni would have done wonders for the surface.  In a big surprise, the refrigeration system was very quiet, and it seemed to have no trouble keeping the sheet rock-solid in the 65-degree weather.

Refrigeration plant for the outdoor rink, because I like seeing how things work. The rink is in the structure on the left.

There’s a lesson here, folks: Outdoor ice can be fun, but bring your own skates.





November 24th, 2011 Comments off

Although I am traveling as one person, I have not been alone.  There is no way the trip would have been as enjoyable without the help of dozens of friends new and old along the way.  On this (American) Thanksgiving, I’d like to take the opportunity to acknowledge and thank the people who have aided me in various ways.  I am indebted to you all.

Throughout this blog, I have almost always referred to people by their first names only, but I am breaking with that here because of the duplication of names.  Let me know if you’d like to have your name truncated.

Without further delay, and in no particular order, many thanks to:

Jon Davis, Stacy Spensley, Tyler Hicks-Wright, Angela Sylvester, David MacDonald, Todd Bechard, Ken Warren, Sean Leahy, Marcy Deering, Steve Cameron, Tom Keacher, Sue Keacher #1, Sue Keacher #2, Andrea Keacher, Anderson Spensley, Craig Robinson, Brennan Wall, John Shen, Scott Terek, Dave Johnson, Eli Hicks-Wright, Justin Durivage, Amanda Behm, Stuart Ford, Jared Farmer, Megan Farmer, Alex Halfpenny, Phil Scott, Doug in Maine, Dave in Maine, Bob Berube, Tom Mutak, Scott Molan, Simon Roberts, Whitney Carlson, Scot Fredo, Greg Selover, Dan Merrill, Andrew Vitalis, Anthony Maggio, Charley Walters, Chris Steller, Spencer in Las Vegas, Cosmin Munteanu, Greg Hicks, Travis Tomsu, Carolyn Sheehan, Tom Heely, Tyrone in Newfoundland, Brian McHugh, Nancy in Whitehorse, Art in Whitehorse, Sandy Morrison, Jim in Halifax, Felicia Yap, Leo Carter, Jamie Moore, Pete Lawrence, Dennis Leary, Sarah Aitchison, the grizzly bears in Denali NP, Matt Bahm, Kurt Stoodley, Craig Campbell, Alex in Toronto, Carol Bell-Smith, Erin Lannan, Kristen Yu, Wes Harrison, Mitch Cormier, Bill McGuire, Brian Kiefer, Vimal Patel, Steph Darwish, Mike Uzan, Adam Taylor, Valerie Hoknes, Terry Hoknes, Adrian Mizzi, Frankie Fuhrman, Phil Paschke, Sue Paschke, Masaru Oka, Adam Davis, Dave Kearsey,Chris Trilby, Katie Sieck, Greg Davis, Seamus O’Regan, Ted Lyman, Bridget Mayer, Barbara Beach, Joe in Alabama, Roy Nielsen, Trevor in Las Vegas, Bill in Connecticut, Amy in Alberta, Erin Bolton, Mike Doyle, Jon from the Wild, John Gross, Darren Wolfson, Troy Thompson, Glen Andresen, Aaron Sickman, Cory Effertz, Ryan Snyder, Catherine Snyder, Josh Rich, Karen Garcia, Blake Ingerslew, Jason Rodzik, Ted Wojtysiak, Todd O’Dell, Jerome Bergquist, Erik Martinson, Chris Vanderbeek, Kevin Kurtt…

…and everybody who has had conversations with me or played hockey with me along the way.

Where I've met friends is where I've been. To put this in perspective, each one of those little red things represents somewhere that I spent at least one night during the trip. (Click to enlarge)

If I forgot to list your name, I am very, very sorry, and I meant no offense.  I will try to keep this list updated as I discover omissions and complete the final month of the trip.

I’d also like to thank everybody who has offered assistance to me that I was not able to accept.

One last name-related tease.  I have a title for the book now, but you’ll have to wait until the final post of the trip to hear it. 🙂



November 21st, 2011 1 comment

The ferry had just docked in Newfoundland when I got the call.  It was Bob from DU Ice Hockey Development, and he wanted to let me know that he had found a game for me in Maine run by a man named Dave.


The catch: the game would be in Lewiston, Maine, and I’d be starting the day in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  It would be another day of driving over eight hours for the love of hockey.  Would I be able to make it, Bob wondered?  I reassured him I’d make it happen, even if it meant hitting the road far earlier than normal.  If I’ve learned one thing from the late-night men’s league games back in Minnesota, it’s that hockey always trumps sleep.

The week after the phone call went quickly as I meandered through Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.  When the day of the drive back to the States came, not even a gloomy sky and torrential rain could dampen my resolve.  I made it to Lewiston in splendid time.

The venue was the Colisee, which served as a civic center for the area.  It’s always fun to play in places like that.   All of the seats sloping up from the perimeter of the ice gave the game a feeling of added importance. The empty seats also aided in the fantasy that we were actually the Coyotes.

Unlike the real Coyotes, most of the guys were middle-aged, but we had a few outliers on both ends of the age spectrum.  Thick hair to no hair, black hair to gray hair, and all combinations therein were represented.

The game was fun. I know I’ve said that a lot, but really, almost all of the games have been fun, and when they weren’t I usually didn’t write much about them.

Not just lobsters in Maine; hockey, too!

We three goalies rotated every 10 minutes or so, and that made time go by quite quickly.  After the game, we all lounged around the dressing room — the players, the ref (it was a classy pickup game), and even the rink attendant — and drank beer.

You know what’s better than beer?  Medals!  Bob had medals made for the occasion of my visit.  We wore them around after the game feeling like champions.

That's right: we got medals! Also: it seems like I'm wearing that shirt in almost every photo.

I’d never received a medal for anything related to hockey in the past, certainly not one with the state of Maine on the front, so I found it to be a very nice surprise.

Unfortunately, Bob was in China on a business trip, so he wasn’t able to attend the game.  I know you were there in spirit, Bob.  Jet-lagged spirit.

Front of the medal

Did I mention how the medals had custom plaques commemorating the date?  Because they did.

Back of the medal

Tip of the hat to Bob’s friend at the Ramada Conference Center Lewiston for hooking me up with a huge discount, too.

Admittedly, I didn’t get around to having any lobster while in Maine, but I did have good hockey, and that filled my soul if not my stomach.

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