Friday, December 29, 2006


It's about friggin' time, neighbors think, but are too polite to come right out and say

BELLINGHAM, WA (AP)--Jen, Mike, and Baker McQuaide this week announced the signing of a 2007 Nissan Versa to handle their transportation duties for at least the next five years. The move comes one week after their 1985 Toyota Camry--it of the 167,000-plus miles and the "power" windows that haven't opened in five years--broke its hood-release cable thus refusing to allow the McQuaides to add power steering fluid and motor oil, both of which the Camry guzzled like a frat boy under a beer bong on spring break.

"That's it," Jen said scraping her knuckles for the 14th time while using vice grips, a crescent wrench, and some dogged determination attempting to open the hood. "We've got to get a new car."

"Dang straight," Mike said while drinking a glass of chocolate milk and watching Jen hard at work.

The McQuaides made repeated trips to a Bellingham auto dealer where they figure they were lied to about one thing or another on average of once every 3.7 minutes.("We get the car from the manufacturer for MSRP and unless we get the $1,995 markup, none of us can put food on our tables," "We get nothing if you do the financing through us; it's simply our courtesy to you," etc.)

Things looked bleak until a friend mentioned he'd bought two cars through Costco's auto program, which to Mike, sounded ridiculous.

"What, do they make you bag it up yourself?" Mike said, intending to sit back and just bask in wave upon wave of laughter which never came.

Surprisingly, the Costco program worked wonders. The McQuaides paid only $500 above invoice (a couple hundred less than MSRP) and were lied to far less frequently in subsequent visits. There was no more haggling and experts estimate that the McQuaides saved a couple thousand dollars. On December 26, they drove home the Blue Onyx beauty, smiles on all their faces.

"Isn't that perfect, we got it through Costco on Boxing Day," Mike said, again trying unsuccessfully to humorously tie Costco and its propensity for making shoppers bag or box their own groceries with the day after Christmas, also known as Boxing Day.

Thursday, December 28, 2006


A few weeks ago, I signed up to run next March’s Chuckanut 50K. It’s a 31-mile race that has some 300-plus runners chasing each other up and down and down and up the spine of Chuckanut Mountain.

For me, it’s a roller coaster ride of doom, a journey of self-discovery (and self-destruction) that usually ends with me uttering those two words known to long-distance racers everywhere: Never Again.

But that never lasts. Next spring’s Chuckanut 50K will be my sixth.

I have a love-hate with this race. I love that I’m able to run it (thankful as hell, too) and I love the race-day excitement with its enthusiastic gathering of similarly tweaked people.

But I hate that I’m unable to run it faster. And that in the race’s final hour, I’ll inevitably turn into a slimy, sweaty, slow-moving old man shuffling along the Interurban Trail mumbling “How much further? How much further?” to trees, light posts, mailboxes and anything and anybody else along the way.

So why sign up for the race if I’m going to be such a crabby-pants about it?

Because I don’t want to miss out on the Sunday morning 8 o’clock group runs. Spending a few hours every week with friends running through the muck, mud, and mire of the dark forests around Bellingham brings light and energy to my winter, and makes its rain and clouds disappear.

For I don’t know many years (10? 15?) runners have been meeting up at the same time each week near the Vet Hospital in Fairhaven to run down the Interurban and up into the Chuckanuts. It’s nothing organized; it just happens on its own.

It’s like some popular, long-running Broadway show that you just take for granted is always playing at such-and-such a house on Theater Row. The cast rarely stays the same, but the show always goes on. Come 8 o’clock Sunday morning, the curtain goes up, and 12 to 15 runners hit the trail. Anyone can join in. Just show up ready to run.

I usually join the cast every December and run through late spring. For the next three months the focus will be the Chuckanut 50K. From the Vet Hospital, we’ll head up toward Lost Lake or Pine and Cedar lakes or sometimes even Lily and Lizard lakes down on Blanchard Mountain. Two-, three-, sometimes five-hours worth.

Sure, the training is great but I join the cast for the laughs, the friendship, and the fun. To throw snowballs at others and have tree limbs, heavy with snow, dumped down upon me. To skip rocks across the ice on a frozen Fragrance Lake.

To hear about movies I’m sure I’ll never see, and about home projects that are far too ambitious for me. To hear other people’s stories, and be inspired by their courage and ability to handle things. And to wonder, if it got right down to it, do I have that kind of courage in me? I’d hope so.

Race day Saturday is three months away. And truth be told, I’m kind of dreading it.

But that’s OK. To me, the next three months of Sundays are the best show in town.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


Check out this week's Cascadia Weekly for a little piece I wrote about our Sunday running group. And while I'm in the plugging vein, Thursday's Seattle Times Northwest Weekend section should have a story I wrote about a winter climb with the Everett Mountaineers.

Friday, December 15, 2006


So, I think you know how it is: your name is Mike, your wife's is Jen, and you go to New Jersey and you see that Dunkin' Donuts is running some ad campaign wherein someone named Jen gives someone named Mike a Dunkin' Donuts gift certificate for Christmas. And you get all misty-eyed and choked up, because it's like they're talkin' to you. (I mean me. And Jen.)

Just when you think that nobody in this world cares anymore and that Christmas is nothing but crass commercialism, Dunkin' Donuts shines their light on you. (I mean me. And Jen.) That's Jen there in the picture; we couldn't be more happy.

About a week ago, we went to the Frick Collection just off Central Park. My sister Kath drove from her house in the country and it took some time to get there--Route 80, NJ Turnpike, Lincoln Tunnel, and about 40 blocks of driving in Manhattan. So we get there, the we being Jen, Kath, myself and 7-year-old Baker, and look what the sign says outside the Frick: Children under 10 are not admitted. Know what we all said in unison--anyone? ... Right, What the frick! So suddenly Bake was 10. Ironically, it was Kath who set off an alarm when she leaned in too close to get a better look at a painting.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Here we are doing what we call cicing, at my sis Kath's place in Northwest New Jersey. Cicing is canoeing on ice, but being all Shakletonian about it. By that, I mean tryin' to bus' through it using oars, paddles and whatever else one has at their disposal. Why? Well, it's quite liberating to break something, smash it all to bits, as it were, while at the same time not doing anything that'd get you into trouble. It makes a great sound too. Plus, cicing is a McQuaide tradition. (And a stupid one at that.) We did the same thing two years ago, on New Year's Day '05.

That '05 trip was unique in that about three weeks after we returned to Bellingham, I came down with chickenpox. That was a great time, being a 43-year-old man covered from head to toe in hideous pimple-like skin eruptions. Now that I'm back in Bellingham, I can hardly wait to see what the next three weeks bring!

On this most recent visit east, we went into New York for the day. ($350 fine, by the way, if you start beeping your horn while stuck in the ubiquitous traffic.) The Frick Museum, lunch with sisters and a niece at a crowded diner, a lazy stroll through Central Park, and we were done. A terrificly pleasant time had by all. Below, see Baker on a really cool sculpture of Alice in Wonderland that we came across in the park.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Just got back from eight days in New Jersey. Thus this photo of evergreens on the side of Guye Peak near Snoqualmie Pass.

Heck of a travel day yesterday. Like 600 hours or something. But from time to time, Delta did provide us with some lovely cheese crackers and Sun Chips. So it wasn't all bad.

Terrific seeing the family. Funny how all the nieces and nephews get older, but neither my wife nor I do.

Bought gas in B'ham this morning. $2.73 a gallon. In Jersey? $2.05. But of course, Bellingham has those refineries nearby which kind of explains ... I'm not actually sure what.