A Foray Into Mythological Poetry

I've been fascinated by ancient mythological stories for as long as I can remember. My first exposure to mythology came at an early age in the form of a (likely pirated) videogame, Disney's Hercules. Then, in elementary school, I learned about Egyptian and Norse mythology, becoming enamored with the ancient Egyptians in particular, especially their peculiar hieroglyphs and intriguing pantheon. Throughout middle school, Greek mythology made sporadic appearances, but it wasn't until my 11th grade Humanities class that I got a solid grasp on the subject, thanks to our fairly in-depth study of The Odyssey and (parts of) The Iliad. The culmination of my academic involvement with mythology in general, and the Greeks in particular, came in the fall of my sophomore year of college, when I took a course on Greek mythology to fulfill a distribution requirement in Literature and the Arts (LA). Although we were assigned a large amount of material to read each week, I really enjoyed the class, earning one of my precious few college As and gaining an even more profound appreciation for Greek mythology in the process.

In contrast, my involvement with poetry has been considerably more limited. Although I have been exposed to (read: forced to read) copious amounts of well-known poetry in school, the only time I was ever invited to produce poetry in an academic setting was in 5th grade. In the "advanced" English class, we had a segment on poetry during which a certain Mr. Shahriari was invited to teach and encourage us to embrace our creative side. I really enjoyed working with poetry under Mr. Shahriari's tutelage, but unfortunately my poetic side went into dormancy as soon as I started middle school. Since then, the only poetry I've written has been strictly for romantic purposes (read: to impress girls). However, after a recent frustrating letdown, I decided to free myself from the constraint of the romantic context and resume writing poetry for myself, just for the fun and challenge of it. For your entertainment (and the enlargement of my ego), I'm sharing my recent compositions below.
[ I ]

Hovering loftily in the unblemished blue sky,
Eternally exuding luxurious golden rays,
Lovingly illuminating fields of grain and rye,
Inspiring bards to sing of your iridescent days,
O Helios, lord of the vast celestial domain,
Soothe my soul with warmth and ease my pain.

[ II ]

High on snowy Olympus, above the clouds and rugged peaks,
Expedient Hermes dwells. Esteemed by the gods for his speed and wit,
Resourceful and clever Hermes listens closely as Zeus speaks.
Memorizing perfectly the gilded words, he flies away with youthful spirit,
Effortlessly traversing the skies and rushing towards the realms of men.
Swiftly relaying Zeus' edict to mankind, he smiles and takes off once again.

[ III ]

Hidden in a dark hollow deep under the ground,
A dreary and sorrowful place reserved for the dead,
Depressingly devoid of mirth and melodic sound,
Echoing muffled cries and reflecting shades of red,
Sinister Hades' lair instills dread in the hearts of men.
Blood, the essence of life, is absent from Hades' domain,
Evaporated by desiccating death and turned to dust when
Life gasps its last breath. Hades' home is a palace of pain:
Overwhelmingly joyful memories of life tantalizingly replay
Within the minds of the dead, unattainable as the light of day.

[ IV ]

Powerfully gripping his mighty adamantine trident,
Overseeing the tumultuous waters of the murky seas,
Striking his three-pronged instrument to create strident
Earthquakes when his wrath falls upon unfortunate cities,
Ironfisted Poseidon commands mankind's respect.
Destroyer and defender, Poseidon grants safe transport
Over the frothy waves to those he chooses to protect,
Neutralizing all turbulence as they travel from port to port.

[ V ]

Drunkenly reveling in a surreal, divinely-inspired trance,
Immersed in an intoxicating and irresistible ecstasy,
Overwhelmed by a fiery frenzy, they take off their pants,
Nakedly acting out their every forbidden carnal fantasy.
Young Dionysus raptly watches the scene he has created,
Sighing with delight as his enemies are consumed by lust.
Unaware and persisting in their debauchery unabated,
Soon they will regain lucidity and drown in shame and disgust.
All of these short poems were written over the course of five days, one per day from October 20 to 24. I had initially planned to maintain a streak of at least 7 or 10 days, but my creativity was prematurely depleted by the mental and physical exhaustion of midterms week. I will likely write more poems in the near future, but I need some time for my inspiration to return. One last thing: take a close look at the first letter of each line.



My Musical Metamorphosis

I bought my first music CD sometime in fourth or fifth grade, setting off a grand aural adventure and amassing a rather sizable collection of shiny flat plastic doughnuts in my bookshelf in the process. My interest in music began after I heard Linkin Park's In The End several times on DC's (now defunct) Z104 radio station, and I acted on it by heading to my local Best Buy and excitedly purchasing the band's Hybrid Theory album. Back in those pre-iPod days, I listened to the album with rapt attention on a portable CD player with 45-second skip protection. Loving every second of Hybrid Theory, I soon craved more auditory stimulation and expanded my repertoire with (in no particular order) Hoobastank's self-titled album, P.O.D.'s Satellite, Evanescence's Fallen, and Lostprophets' Start Something. I found at least one song I absolutely adored on each album: Crawling In The Dark, Youth Of The Nation, Bring Me To Life, and Last Train Home, respectively.

At first, I was quite picky about what music I would purchase, shunning the vast majority of the music I heard on the radio and thus growing my collection quite slowly. I bought No Doubt's Rock Steady because I rather enjoyed hearing Hella Good on Z104, but I quickly realized that I really wasn't a fan of the rest of the album. Refusing to "pollute" my music collection with songs I didn't like, I ended up getting rid of the CD, washing my hands of it entirely by giving it to my mom (for what it's worth, I recently reacquired the album and shed my unfair prejudice against it). Wary of making the same mistake again, I politely declined to keep a 3 Doors Down album that had been given to me as a gift after listening to it briefly and deciding I didn't particularly like it.

For the most part, I grew my collection by purchasing more albums by the artists already in my library, such as Linkin Park's Meteora, Hoobastank's The Reason, and Lostprophets' The Fake Sound Of Progress. Since Internet radio sites did not exist at the time, terrestrial radio and my friends were the only avenues of musical exploration available to me. Coupled with my persnickety musical preferences, this meant that I mostly listened to my small album collection over and over, frequently creating new playlists to mix things up. Most (or all) of these playlists have been lost to the ravages of time and an unfortunate accidental reformat of my computer (given their lack of musical diversity, I can't honestly say that I miss the playlists very much).

Sometime in eighth or ninth grade, things became a lot more interesting when one of my best friends introduced me to metal music. I had already dipped my toes into the genre after hearing and loving Static-X's The Only in Electronic Arts' Need For Speed: Underground, but my exposure was still fairly limited when my friend showed me Children Of Bodom's Trashed, Lost & Strungout and Avenged Sevenfold's Beast And The Harlot. My highly positive experience with these songs drove me to hungrily acquire and devour the albums they appeared on (Are You Dead Yet? and City Of Evil, respectively).

By this time, Pandora had come into existence, so I took advantage of this wondrous new music discovery tool to expand my repertoire. Using Children Of Bodom and Avenged Sevenfold as seeds for stations, I soon found a bunch of new music on my own, including In Flames' The Quiet Place, Soilwork's As We Speak, and a good portion of Shade Empire's Sinthetic album, especially Extreme Form Of Hatred and Ja Pimeys Laskeutui. From this point onward, the pace of my CD acquisition increased markedly, partially due to the availability of Pandora and other cool new methods of music discovery and partially due to my increased financial means as a result of getting a summer job in 2005 (a job I ended up having for quite a few years).

After reading an online review of Shade Empire's Sinthetic that compared Shade Empire's musical style to Nightwish and Children Of Bodom, I decided to check out Nightwish, since I had not heard of them before. A quick YouTube search led me to Amaranth, a song that I immediately fell in love with, and I snapped up Dark Passion Play as soon as I could get my hands on it. Amazed at the album's beauty and epicness, I proceeded to purchase the rest of Nightwish's discography and create Pandora stations for Amaranth and other songs from the album, which led me to Delain, a similar female-fronted metal band.

Not long after discovering Nightwish and Delain, I was riding in a friend's car when Kamelot's Blücher came up on one of his playlists. After the song was over, I excitedly asked him what it was called and which band had put together such a masterpiece, and he nonchalantly shared those details with me. As soon as I got home, I searched for Kamelot on YouTube and knew I was onto something great when I heard Ghost Opera. I ordered Ghost Opera: The Second Coming from Amazon, listened to the whole thing many times, and then gradually purchased most of the band's back catalog, with the exception of their first two albums (which I still do not own). As evidenced by my Last.fm listening history, Nightwish and Kamelot became my favorite bands of all time, eclipsing even Linkin Park (though most of my listening history for Hybrid Theory was not recorded by either iTunes or Last.fm since it preceded my involvement with, or even the existence of, both pieces of software).

By this point in time, I had become very well acquainted with metal, and my acquisition of metal music continued to accelerate as the genre increasingly became an integral part of my life and personal identity. Due to this rapid pace of music consumption, it's difficult for me to reconstruct a chronology of my discoveries with any degree of accuracy, so I defer to Last.fm's visualizations to showcase my listening trends from November 2009 to April 2011 and from November 2011 to the present (there is a chunk missing because Last.fm only uses data from the last 24 months, and I haven't generated the visualization for quite some time). In a future post, I will probably engage in an in-depth discussion of the various metal sub-genres that I like to listen to, and I will also talk about some of the non-metal music in my vast collection.



Running A MIle In My Shoes

Although running is indeed one of the few sports that require very little equipment, one still cannot do without the basic essentials of clothing, which (in most cases) include a pair of sturdy running shoes. I've already outlined the broad strokes of the debut of my running career, but talking solely about distances covered does not do the topic proper justice. Therefore, I will now turn to a (lengthy) discussion of the shoes that I have thus far appropriated for the purpose of taking me from point A to point A in my daily runs.

The retired Court Classic
My first "running shoe" was the humble Kirkland Court Classic, which I had been using as my quotidian sneaker for quite some time. From July 10 to November 6, I ran 361 miles in my trusty Court Classic, including a 5K race in September, but I was forced to retire the shoes when they developed holes in the soles. This wouldn't have been a huge problem, but Princeton was suddenly and unexpectedly showered with snow, which not only melted and seeped into my shoe but also packed into ice and stabbed my foot with every step towards the end of my evening run. The discomfort finally convinced me to visit the local running store and acquire a pair of "real" running shoes.

I didn't have a clue about what sort of running shoe I should purchase, aside from an endorsement of Mizuno as a good brand, so I just walked into the store and asked for help. A helpful employee had me run around a bit outside on the sidewalk, and she concluded that, due to my overpronation, I should look into stability shoes. She then brought out a few different pairs of shoes and had me try them on to see how they feel. Since I couldn't really notice any difference, I ended up getting the Mizuno specimen, which ended up being the Mizuno Wave Inspire 8. The very next day, I ran a 5K race in the new shoes, unaware at the time of the general consensus in the running community that running a race in brand new shoes is not such a good idea. Nevertheless, during the race, I quickly discovered the benefits of running in proper shoes, setting a PR of 21:32 that still stands today and having a blast in the process.

Over the next few months, I continued running in my Wave Inspire 8, picking up a second pair along the way and also a pair of its successor, the Wave Inspire 9. However, I also became interested in minimalist running after being exposed to the concept on the running subreddit, and in late December I used my birthday money to buy a pair of Vibram KSO from my local REI store. In January, I started adding a short run in my KSO right after my daily 10K distance in my Wave Inspire 8. I can see why this was a bad idea in retrospect, but at the time I thought I was killing two birds with one stone, simultaneously increasing my distance by a modest amount and beginning the transition to minimalist footwear. Unsurprisingly, this strategy backfired in a big way, causing me to develop moderately severe top of foot pain in my right foot.

I stopped running in my KSO for a week and dramatically slowed my running pace, which helped, but then I also developed pain in the middle of my plantar fascia in the same foot, most likely from involuntarily altering my gait in order to lessen my top of foot pain. Stubbornly, I continued to run despite the discomfort, slowing my pace even more in the hope that the pain would eventually go away on its own and even brazenly sneaking in a tremendously painful run in my KSO. Although I was absolutely miserable by the end of that run, I was surprised to see that I felt a lot better in the next few days as a result of taking that risk. I then hypothesized that my initial problem had been the constant alternation between supportive and minimalist shoes, rather than the minimalist shoes themselves. I continued to run primarily in the Wave Inspire 8, but I also did a minimalist run roughly once a week in an effort to strengthen my feet.

In March, I decided to expand my minimalist arsenal when I did some searches online and saw that I could get a pair of Vibram Bikila for a solidly discounted price at a local running store. I ran there in my KSO, tried on the Bikila, and confidently walked out with a small box containing my acquisition. Excited, I stopped for a moment to swap shoes and then walked to the Metro in my new Bikila. My excitement was tempered somewhat when I actually ran in them the next day, because they seemed stiff and not as comfortable as my KSO. Still, I was hopeful that they would loosen up with further use, and so I decided to keep them. In the meantime, I kept running in my Wave Inspire 8 and noticing that my foot pain was lessening with each run.

As my pain continued to disappear, I became more confident about running in minimalist shoes and visited REI for a pair of Vibram EL-X, a new Five Finger model that I had read about online and that was advertised as the thinnest shoe produced by Vibram yet. The retail price was lower than that of all of Vibram's other offerings, and I was quickly impressed with just how much ground feel the shoe provided. I took the EL-X out for a spin and was pleasantly surprised to see that I could run 5.8 miles in them quite comfortably. Just a few days later, I bit the bullet and start running only in my EL-X. Although I immediately noticed that my pace was considerably slower, I found myself enjoying my runs more and decided that I don't care all that much about pace anyway. That same week, I ran my first 5K in minimalist footwear, and I was reasonably satisfied with my performance given the minimalist "handicap" to which I had subjected myself.

The last runs I ever did in my Wave Inspire 8 were a half marathon and a full marathon, since I wasn't confident enough that I could complete those distances in minimalist shoes. Those runs were a bit strange for me because I had become used to a forefoot / midfoot strike in my Vibrams, but running in that manner in those big, clunky shoes felt awkward. I ended up mostly heel-striking and keeping a slow pace, and I was glad to retire the Wave Inspire 8 once I finished. When I checked Strava, I found that I had covered 594 miles in my older pair and 395 in my newer pair (I had been alternating pairs to extend their longevity), which I figured wasn't too shabby given that the typical recommendation is to replace shoes after 300-500 miles. The retirement of my Wave Inspire 8 was a milestone moment for me because from that point onward, I wore my growing collection of Vibrams virtually exclusively, shunning ordinary shoes (and socks, for that matter).

The retired EL-X 
My EL-X served me well, but they too had to be retired after a large hole developed in the sole of the right shoe between my pinkie toe and its neighbor. Still, I was impressed that such a (seemingly) flimsy shoe was able to take 523 miles of (ab)use before finally falling apart. Not wanting to run in anything else, I hastily went to REI to procure a replacement, and I ended up opting for a size 43 because the 44 I had been wearing seemed a bit too roomy. I suspected that my feet had subtly shrunk because my KSO also felt loose, even though when I first bought them they were perfectly snug. In fact, I ended up giving my KSO an early retirement, gifting them to my mom's (now ex-) boyfriend after having run only 43 miles in them because I was concerned my foot would move around too much and develop blisters. I wasn't too sad to part with them, since I liked the EL-X a lot more anyway. I still have my size 43 Bikila, but I've only put 41 total miles on them as a result of my appreciation for the EL-X.

The newest addition to my Five Finger collection is the Vibram KSO Trek, which I snagged for a bargain-basement price thanks to Vibram's daft decision to discontinue this excellent shoe. I haven't run much in the KSO Trek thus far because I want to "save" them for occasions that truly require such a thick-soled shoe (by Five Finger standards). Counting last week's epic trail runs in West Virginia, I have only put 21 miles on the KSO Trek. Of course, I have another two pairs stockpiled, since I know that they will be increasingly hard to find due to their discontinued production. One of my backup pairs now serves me as a general-purpose walking shoe, and I love every kangaroo leather-cushioned step.

The view from the pristine beach

One "shoe" that I haven't mentioned thus far isn't really a shoe at all – yes, I have run some miles completely barefoot as well. On my one-year runniversary, I ran 10K barefoot on the concrete sidewalks of my usual route, earning myself only moderate discomfort in the process. Then, during my brief vacation in Bethany Beach, Delaware with my good friends from high school, I ran 8-ish miles on the sandy beach every day, bringing my total barefoot mileage to 67. I definitely plan on doing more barefoot runs in the future, but I doubt that I will ever go completely unshod – I like my Five Finger shoes too much for that. My new EL-X have 108 miles on them so far, and I will definitely keep running in them until they fall apart like my old pair. I will probably have to invest in a pair of Vibram Lontra for the winter, but I don't have to worry about that just yet.



My One Year Runniversary

Despite the fact that I played lacrosse for a few years back in middle school, I never considered myself particularly athletic and generally viewed sports with disdain. I was that chubby little kid who huffed and puffed and ran the mile in 11 minutes in fifth grade PE. In my second year of playing for Annandale's youth lacrosse B team, I had a somewhat unorthodox young coach who seemed to take sadistic pleasure in his team's suffering, making us run laps and hills well past the point of exhaustion. At first I hated him, but Grant Bartlett had a strange sort of charisma about him that quickly won me over. I developed a close relationship with him, learning to push through the pain and fatigue and finishing those brutal hills at the end of every practice.

Unfortunately, after that year I never saw Coach Grant again, and the discipline I gained under his tutelage quickly dissipated. I went back to being lazy and unathletic, taking the path of least resistance in order to satisfy the mandatory sport requirement of the private institution I attended from sixth grade through the end of high school. Going into college, I was as flabby and out of shape as ever. In the summer before my sophomore year, I put in some extra special effort and mustered a 13 day running streak, running just shy of 1.5 miles each day. That fall, I even took advantage of the elliptical and bike machines at the gym, but my motivation soon petered out and I stopped going, gaining back the pounds I had shed within a couple of months. In the following years, I made a few more feeble attempts at fitness, but I never really managed to get back on the horse until last summer.

What made me overcome my aversion to physical exercise and work towards becoming more fit than I've ever been in my whole life? The answer is painfully simple: I got a girlfriend. One day, while we were sitting in a Starbucks before our summer classes began, she started talking about her glory days of running track in high school, speaking with striking fervor and excitement. That experience left an impression on me, making me feel like a lazy slob and motivating me to give running another chance. The evening of July 10, a Tuesday, I kicked off a running regimen of two 1.25 mile runs a day, braving the summer heat and humidity and making myself intensely miserable in the process. 

I had hoped that my efforts would help me build rapport with my girlfriend, but I was frustrated to see that she didn't seem to care much about all the trouble I had gone to in order to impress her. All she did was caution me against running too much, advising that I do not follow through with my plans to run every single day of the week, lest I "burn out" from overexertion. Most people would have heeded the advice, because there is indeed merit to the notion of taking rest days every once in a while, but I am not most people. As an INTP, I can be very stubborn under the right circumstances, which happen to include those times when people tell me that I can't do something. Incensed, I took it upon myself to demonstrate to her and to myself that, despite my history of struggling with physical exercise, I could certainly embark on an epic running streak if I really wanted to do so.

Although my girlfriend broke up with me last October, right around our four month anniversary, I used the ensuing heartbreak and anguish to my advantage, digging in and stepping up my running game. At the time of the breakup, the farthest I had ever run was 6.3 miles, way back in June 2011 (running is an overly generous term, since I was hardly moving faster than walking speed after the first couple of miles). In the following months, I proceeded to push my limits and run farther than I ever thought I could. In November, I upped my distance record to just shy of 10 miles. Then, in December, I ran 14.5 miles, surpassing the distance of a half marathon. Finally, I participated in Strava's Marathon Training Series this past spring, running a half marathon in February, 20 miles in March, and a full marathon in April. 

Despite the strain that these long distances put on my body, I categorically refused to take even a single day off, remaining dedicated to my running streak, which as of today is 366 consecutive days. I even began the process of transitioning from traditional running shoes to odd-looking minimalist footwear, much to the puzzlement of those around me. I'll probably write a separate post about my minimalist running journey at some point, but I will hold off for now since this post is getting quite long as it is. In closing, I'll simply say this: reverse psychology is still alive and well. Tell me that I absolutely cannot do something, and chances are that I'll go out and do that very thing just to prove you wrong. No, I will not start jumping off cliffs and engaging in gratuitously reckless activities, but I may just push my limits and discover a new passion.



Playing With Play Music All Access

A few weeks ago, Google simultaneously announced and released its new Play Music All Access service on May 15th, the first day of the I/O 2013 developer conference it held in San Francisco. I was already excited about I/O, but the release of All Access caught my interest in particular because I was starting to get tired of Spotify and its limitations (especially the lack of landscape support on Android, which was remedied only very recently). Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity to take advantage of a free trial and reduced pricing (available to early adopters through June 30th), and I started playing around with the service.

It's a bit sad that the first thing I got excited about in my experience with All Access was that Google finally updated the Play Music Android app (better late than never), which had been obnoxiously buggy and difficult to navigate at times. It quickly became clear to me that Google paid meticulous attention to the app's new design, because the app is now a pleasure to use, as compared to the crummy old Honeycomb-styled version (good riddance). The new app is a lot more responsive, doing away with most of the lag that had plagued the old version, and it has a considerably more sensible interface, both on phones and tablets. The new slide-out menu on the left makes it easy to navigate to all the important screens from anywhere in the app, and the familiar three-dot menus enable you to dig deeper into the app as needed in a fairly intuitive manner. I'm not sure what the design of the forthcoming iOS app will be like, but I'm assuming it will be similar, with some minor differences (as with the Android and iOS versions of the Gmail app).

The web interface mirrors that of the app, which is a great thing – UX consistency is something that Google has struggled with in the past, and progress towards a more polished user experience is something to be excited about. Navigation is straightforward, and everything pretty much just works (with the exception of some hiccups on Linux, which are specific to Google Chrome and are in the process of being fixed). Lately, I've actually found myself using the web player instead of my computer's native music player (Windows Media Player on Windows 8 and Clementine on Kubuntu 13.04) because it is that easy to use. Music discovery can still use some work, but I've gotten pretty good mileage out of the Related Artists functionality and, of course, the Radio feature. Still, Radio is definitely not yet on par with Pandora or Last.fm – it's really just an upgrade to and rebranding of the old Instant Mix feature, which was a second-rate competitor to Apple's iTunes Genius that never seemed to work quite right.

One unique aspect of All Access is that it seamlessly integrates with your music collection, to the point that, on Android, it can be difficult to distinguish which albums are physically on your device and which are streaming from the cloud via All Access – the only thing that gives streaming tracks away is the requisite buffering time, which is very short if you have good 4G signal (one of the few good things about being shackled to Verizon's network). As some technology writers have pointed out, Google is currently the only company that gives you the option of uploading your own music, buying individual tracks or albums from the Play Store, or streaming as much (or as little) of its entire music catalog as you want for a flat monthly rate, all under the same roof. The ability to bring your own music to the table is particularly important in light of the fact that Google's streaming music catalog isn't quite as well-developed as Spotify's – the superior streaming selection is pretty much the only Spotify feature I've missed since canceling my Premium subscription and deleting my account).

Overall, I've been very pleased with Google Play Music All Access (quite a mouthful of words and a decidedly unsexy nomenclature that some critics have brought up) so far, and I hope that Google keeps expanding its music catalog (please add some more Luna Sequence) and tweaking the radio algorithms (hint: when I start a song station for Shade Empire, that means I don't want to listen to Shinedown). One last note – while this isn't an issue for me since I live in the United States, All Access currently isn't available in any other countries, as opposed to Spotify and similar streaming services. The fact that workarounds have been discovered mitigates this issue somewhat, but of course such unofficial means are not endorsed by Google and may be killed off at any time. Google plans to expand the service to other countries eventually, but that will take some time, since, as we all know, international music licensing is complicated (and expensive, but Google has deep pockets).



Tour De Leesburg: An Adventure

Today was the first day of Strava's fi'zi:k Tour Tune-Up Challenge, the completion of which requires participants to ride 30 hours on their bicycle of choice in the span of 16 days. When I joined the challenge, I did some simple math and found that 30 hours split across 16 days comes out to 1:52:30 per day. That's kind of a lot for a relative biking newbie like me – I got my Specialized Hardrock 17" bike from Phoenix Bikes in Arlington back on May 10th, and I've tried to cover at least a modest distance each day since then (with a couple of exceptions, of course). When I went out the door today about an hour after my daily 6.5 mile run, I had planned to ride for roughly 2 hours, in order to stay on track for the riding challenge. Instead, I ended up riding for almost 4 hours, split into two equal-sized pieces. For reference, my longest continuous ride before today was almost 23 miles, which took me about 1.5 hours to complete.

At this point, you may be wondering "OK, he rode a lot today, but where the heck did he go?", which is a perfectly reasonable question. The title of this post provides a pretty solid hint – I rode to Leesburg, VA and back. Why Leesburg? Well, the initial plan was for me to take the W&OD trail to Reston, eat there, and come back, with an estimated transit time of just under 2 hours. Of course, when I actually got there, I assessed how I felt and decided that I could definitely keep going and get a leg up on the riding challenge. I was also curious about what I'd find along the trail west of Reston, so the spirit of exploration also had a hand in convincing me to keep going.

The Market Station wagon
Aside from a few road crossings of varying difficulty (with regard to the amount of automobile traffic), the trail consisted mostly of shrubs, high bushes, houses on either side, open fields, wooded areas, some bridges over large creeks, and lots and lots of power lines (to be expected given the trail's provenance). There were quite a few points of interest along the trail, most of which are listed on the trail's Wikipedia page (I know I'm being lazy, but my excuse is that I'm tired after doing so much riding today). On my way to Leesburg, I passed through a laundry list of localities: Falls Church, Dunn Loring, Vienna, Reston, Herndon, Sterling, Ashburn, and of course Leesburg itself. When I finally reached Leesburg, I checked my phone to see how far I had gone, and I started looking for a place to eat when I saw that I had ridden almost 30 miles.

The chef and his cake
Although I couldn't see any restaurants from the intersection of the W&OD trail and Harrison Street, I pulled up Google Maps on my phone and saw that the center of Leesburg was just a stone's throw away, so I hopped back on my bike and turned right, following Harrison Street until I found a quaint wooden outdoor plaza called Market Station. Happy to find a wooden rack to chain my bike to, I started walking around the deck, keeping an eye out for restaurants as I went along. I passed by an Italian restaurant, whose miniature Italian-chef-holding-a-wedding-cake statue made me chuckle, and felt a rush of excitement when I saw a Tex Mex establishment called Los Tios Grill, deciding on the spot that I would dine there.

The epic Tex Mex platter
Once inside the restaurant, I hastily grabbed a menu and skimmed it, trying to assess the ratio of quantity to price of the various offerings. I ended up making my own combination of a delicious trio: one hard shell beef taco, one beef enchilada, and one chicken enchilada. After a bit of confusion on the waiter's part as to whether I'd be taking out or ordering in, I sat down at a table and hungrily awaited my meal. To the staff's credit, the food came out very quickly – a generous offering of chips and salsa was soon followed by an enormous platter of food. The taco and enchiladas were accompanied by rice, beans, guacamole, sour cream, diced tomatoes, and a small container of tasty spicy sauce. In a rare moment of foresight, I snapped a photo of the food, knowing that I'd probably want to write about it later, and commenced eating. Like the tornadoes that tore through Oklahoma recently, I swiftly and mercilessly laid waste to the food in front of me, scarfing it down in under 13 minutes (as indicated by the timestamps of the "before" and "after" photos).

The tres leches cake
Unfazed despite the mountain of food I had just consumed, I took the first opportunity to remind the waiter of my dessert order. He nodded and went on his way, and within a few minutes I was greeted by a large square chunk of ambrosial tres leches cake. As soon as I took the first bite, I knew that this cake would not last long, despite its impressive size, and sure enough the plate was empty in less than 4 minutes. Anxious to get home before dark, I asked for the check, leaving a large tip as thanks for the quick service, and rushed back to my bike.

The ride back home seemed quite a bit shorter than I had expected, even with a full stomach, and it turns out that I actually covered the distance at a slightly higher speed. Undoubtedly this was due to the occasional pedal-to-pedal skirmishes I engaged in against other bikers along the way, passing them and sometimes later being passed. One of the most intense "battles" I fought was against a woman on her road bike – she passed me somewhere in Vienna, but I stayed fairly close behind and overtook her on the fairly steep hill leading up to the bridge over I-66. After conquering the hill, I sped down along Virginia Lane and looked back, taking pride in the fact that my opponent was nowhere to be seen. From the Shreve Road intersection onward, the ride became a blur, and I was home before I knew it, well before it got too dark outside.



The Obligatory Inaugural Post

All good things (or bad things, for that matter) must start somewhere, and my humble personal web log (henceforth referred to as "my blog", "the SOSS", or perhaps "the sauce") is no exception. I suppose the expectation is that this inaugural blog post will shed some light on a few key questions you may already be asking your computer screen, such as "who the heck is this guy?" and "why should I bother reading his unsolicited ramblings?".

I'll defer the answer to the first question to my Google+ profile, because I don't want to bore you to death in my very first post (don't worry, that will probably happen later). The answer to the second question is a moving target, as I figure things out, but a temporary answer is that you might learn something new or at least be somewhat entertained by my second-rate writing (and sporadic self-deprecating attempts at humor).

As you may have read in the description of my blog, you can expect to read "potentially opinionated rants about music, running, biking, technology, and whatever else I feel like writing about" on a semi-regular basis (read: whenever I feel like posting something). The length of my posts will probably vary widely depending on the subjèt du jour ("subject of the day" for those of you who don't speak French), but you can expect at least a few paragraphs of half-baked discussion and analysis (and copious amounts of parenthetical addenda such as this one). In general, I will try to employ standard American English spelling and grammar, but on occasion I may choose to break convention for effect or just because I feel like it. I will probably take advantage of Blogger's labeling functionality to make it easier for you to find posts about your favorite topics, but of course I have to write a bunch of posts about stuff first. Stay tuned!

--lbds137 (this is how I will sign my posts henceforth)