Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Let's go back


Part II.

Last time I ran at Miwok, it turned out to be one of the best running days I've had.

The aftermath—protracted fatigue and a prolonged disinterest in runningwere not so great.

So why am I going back?

If I'm honestand knowing what these distances do to me—it's because Miwok is a Western States qualifier. If I'm going to deplete myself to the point of debility, it better be for a damn good reason.

Western States is it.

To be clear, Miwok is a legit 'A' event. The Marin Headland trails are spectacular, and in 2017 I accomplished something there that for me was a serious stretch. Getting it done a second time is no certainty.

But I've learned a lot since then, and I'll be better prepared to deal with the physical and emotional fallout—before, during, and after.

With a couple of amazing exceptions (especially Backcountry Rise 50k), 2018 was a down year of racing. It was, however, a very up year for adventure running. If someone told me I had to give up racing completely but could continue with the adventure runs until I drop, I would make the trade in a heartbeat.

Fortunately no one's telling me that. Yet. 

Standing here today, my mind and my body feel back to where they were pre-Miwok 2017. I'm ready to put in the time and do the miles—at least one more time.

My window for doing this kind of thing—not to mention a theoretical 100-miler—isn't getting wider. 

If it's going to happen, it should probably be soon.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

No kidding around

"This is not going to go the way that you think."

~ Luke Skywalker
Early in my tenure as a parent, I thought I had an idea about how things would go...

Our kids would sleep through the night at a very young age. They wouldn't get ear infections or suffer baby reflux. They wouldn't cry uncontrollably when left at daycare nor would they bite or hit or get a fever and have to be picked up right away.

They would be calm and rational and react in measured ways to unmeasured events. They would be confident and impervious to the occasional cruelty of other children.

They would be self-motivated and outperform 90 percent of their peers on tests of mental and physical acuity.

They wouldn't wear heelies in stores and roll down the aisles between shopping carts, despite being told not to. They wouldn't binge on Halloween candy every single year.

When we asked them, "Why do you have to act like such children all the time?" they wouldn't say (in unison), "Because we ARE children!" and then laugh at us.

They would keep their rooms clean, eat the food we fixed, and learn how to properly load a dishwasher. And they definitely would not have to be nagged to do the few chores they specifically asked for so they could earn some allowance (aka "free money").

And because I would be there to help them avoid the mistakes I made at their age, their lives would be carefree and pain-free and everything would be fine.

Oh, the futility. Accidently being right about a couple things is what kept me from being wrong about all of them. And then some. 

Despite this (and thanks mostly to my wife) we recently were promoted to a lofty rank: parents of two adult children. 

The girl child turned 18 yesterday.
Without going on and on, I'll say this for her: she makes some killer salsa. And a great guacamole. I'm convinced she could package and sell them across state lines and do very well for herself.

She bounces back and forth between the music of Sam Hunt and YG, Luke Bryan and T-Pain (among many others). She knows the words and sings along with √©lan. Where I lack the mental agility to see how these genres intertwine, she provides proof that they do.

Strangely, she dislikes fruits of all kinds. And she likes onions.

Her room is a mess.
If I had a parental do-over and could change one thing, it would be to let go.

It's possible, it turns out, to care too much. To over-obsess about things that seem like a big deal in the moment but end up being nothing. To grasp too frantically for control over a profoundly chaotic world.

This is true no matter how often or loudly we howl at the moon.

At some point, you just have to let go.

And trust.

And breathe.

Friday, October 26, 2018

F--- this s---

A shit day in the midst of a shit week.

In no particular order:
  • Domestic terrorism--a dozen bombs were sent to political "enemies" of the current "president"
  • While on a trail run, our rescue puppy pulled the retractable leash out of my hand and took off--loving wife and I searched for hours, unsuccessfully
  • Tony Joe White died
The good news:
  • The assassination attempts failed, and none of the bombs injured anyone
  • The puppy spent a rainy night lost outdoors, but was found safe this morning--he's sleeping peacefully in his crate next to our other two dogs and one of the cats
  • Tony Joe's next journey (whatever it may be) began 

  • Eight people shot and killed in a Pittsburgh, PA synagogue


  • Death toll now 11
  • "president" blames synagogue for lack of armed security

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Caring Trap

Today began with one of our chickensthe little one prone to epileptic seizuresbeing attacked by a hawk.

I was in the kitchen drinking coffee when the squawking began out back. I didn't react at first, because sometimes chickens squawk.

But the tone and volume escalated quickly, so I raced down thinking the little chick was seizing and being fussed over by one of the other chickensor that there might be a raccoon in their midst.

It took me a few seconds to make sense of what was really happening.

What the actual flock?
One of the hens, Zinnia, is bonded with the little one (Frannie), and gets upset when Frannie has a seizure. 

I spotted Frannie under a hedge near the side fence, and what I assumed was Zinny nearby. I waded in to help, and "Zinny" flew up to the neighbors' second floor deck railing.

Yeah, it wasn't Zinny.

It was a hawk, at least as big as Zinny, not impressed at all by my invitation to get the fuck out of here.

I turned my attention back to Frannie, trying to figure out if she was seizing or stunned or otherwise injured by the hawk.

She let me pick her up (which she never does), and I put her in the coop so I could check on the other girls, who were nowhere in sight.

The hawk, likewise, disappeared.

"Chickchickchick?" I said, like it was a magic incantation. "Chickchickchick...?" 

Agnes, the leader of the pack/herd/flock responded with her usual clucking and trilling, and poked her head out of another bush. She seemed unhurt.

"Where are the other girls, Agnes? Are they in there with you?"

They were not. I moved on.

"Chickchickchick...?" I repeated, trying to coax out the other hens from wherever they were hiding. "Chickchickchick...?" 

Zinny, Meryl, and Petunia poked their heads out of a large shrub down by the back fence, and seemed to be okay...

...so I went back to the coop for another look at Frannie. She was right where I left her, and for a moment I thought she might be dead. "How we doing, Frannie?" I said, and she stirred a bit. Still no sign of bleeding or other external injury, so I closed her in.

Did I mention our head chicken whisperer left yesterday for Boston? Yeah, very inconvenient. She's the one who really knows what to do in case of a chicken emergency. I'm just a pale facsimile, a substitute whisperer.

I hurried upstairs for my phone to text her for advice.

I was gone from the back for maybe 60 seconds when the squawking began again. "Goddammit!" I actually said out loud as I ran back down, picking up a stick on the way.

Agnes again was out of sight, so I continued down toward the back fence. More squawking, and the hawk jumped up to the back gate. I threw the stick at it and, I'm happy to say, almost hit it. It flew up to a high branch of a nearby tree and sat watching.

I wished for a slingshot. 

Which is how I discovered I'm emotionally attached to our chickens.

Because I love hawks. I adore raptors of any stripe.

But I wanted to kill this one.

Zinny reappeared almost immediately, and I escorted her up toward the coop. Back down to the fenceline, "Chickchickchick...?"

Petunia clucked, and I found her stuck among the branches of the shrub. I was able to free her by pulling back some of the tangle, and up to the coop we went.

Which left Meryl.


No sign, no sound.

I walked all the way around the shrub, then expanded my search to hedges around the perimeter and beyond. Nothing.

I updated my wife: 

I returned to the bush by the back fence and crawled around its base, under leaves and through a tangle of dead branches with a quiet, sing-song-y, "Chickchickchickchick? Merrrryl? Merrrryl?"

Meryl clucked softly and I spotted her, deep in the middle of the bush, pinned by undergrowth. There was no way to get to her, let alone free her, so I extracted myself and went back to the house for the long-handled branch loppers.

Ten minutes of cutting in from both sides of the hedge eventually created a gap big enough to get her out. Meryl hurried to the coop, seemingly unhurt and unfazed.
Update: Frannie is on her feet and moving around a bit. I'm choosing to see this as a good sign.
Things I didn't know, not too long ago:
1. I would one day become emotionally attached to chickens
2. I would be sad and concerned about little Frannie and her seizures
3. I would be very protective of the girls' safetyso much so, I would want to kill another bird to defend them

Things I did know:
1. The world is a very confusing place
2. It's impossible to predict anything, ever
3. There's a lot I don't know

Friday, October 05, 2018

summoning the future

I watch you sleeping
My weary heart rises up on wings
I hear your laughter
Something deep down inside me sings
Way down here in the land of cotton
You were born on a rainy day
Since then, sweet things long forgotten
They just keep flooding back my way
ready for kindergarten.
"Annabel" ~ Don Henley
in the category, "we knew this would happen, but..." 

it's college application time at our house.

because our daughter is smart and motivated and a high achiever, the mechanics of this process should be pretty straightforward: she'll apply to a handful of universities and have choices of where to enroll.

and, if this last year of high school resembles the first three, there's a good chance she'll land an academic scholarship of some sort. (full disclosure: she inherited the academic achievement gene from her mother.)

within a few months she'll be off on her own to study...something. somewhere. she's not sure what, mind you, or where, but that's fine. the important thing is, she's given herself all the options in the world.

in the meantime, our mailbox fills daily with salutations from some of the best institutions of higher learning in the US.
it was long (long) ago, but i still remember the feeling of leaving home for college: elation. whatever the obverse of that feeling is (anxious apprehensive disconcerted disquieted distressed perturbed uneasy unsettled), i have it now, and it's hurting my stomach.

primarily, i suppose, because i don't want her to go. but underlying that, i don't want her to go out into the world in its current incarnation~~unsupportive of women at best and unsafe for them at worst.

ready for anything.
like all children, all women, she deserves better.
ambivalence aside, she's as prepared as she's going to be. we've done what we could toward that goal, and she's been mentored by strong women her entire life. 

she's emotionally intelligent, resolute, and relentless as a honey badger.

she can take care of herself, certainly...but she also has a gift for taking care of others.

i won't presume to say she's going to go out and change the world. but i do know that somewhere, someday she'll at least make a difference...in a world that desperately needs to be different.
our morning rituals are comforting in their routine. i make espresso shots, which she turns into an iced latte concoction (even on cold, rainy days). she makes toast while i feed the dogs and get them ready for their walk.

one of the cats jumps up to the kitchen sink and waits for someone to turn on the faucet, so she can drink like a civilized person.

the girl sips her coffee and eats her toast, until an alarm on her phone inevitably chimes. she quietly asks the cat if she's done, pats her on the head, and shuts off the water. she puts her dishes in the sink, picks up her backpacks (plural), and heads for the door.

"have a good day," one of us will say.
"you, too."
"love you."
"love you, too."

the door closes behind her, and the dogs look at me.

i look down and give them a nod. "time to go, dogs."

every day, like that. 

it's a good routine.
still, alarms gonna chime. doors gonna open, and close.

and while i'd prefer keep her near...

it's (nearly) time to let her go.
Oh child, I cannot tell you how the time just flies
But I have had my days of glory under sunny skies
These days, your bright dreams are all I want to see
Sleep tight, Annabel
You can always count on me

Thursday, September 13, 2018

duck and cover


someone you love has died.

worse, that they died in distressafter surviving a horrific stormbecause they couldn't get the water or the shelter or perhaps the medicine they needed to stay alive.

imagine their shock and panic and eventual resignation as their time on earth slowly ticked away, waiting for help that never came.
pre-emptive reminder: puerto rico is a united states territory and its people are americans.
today, a year after hurricane maria devastated puerto rico, the "president" of the united states defiled the memory of 3,000 victims by saying they didn't really die.

he recently congratulated himself on the great job he did rebuilding the island, despite the fact that it's surrounded by big water and hurricanes are big and wet.
today another potentially catastrophic hurricane is on the doorstep of the carolinas.

the "president" tweeted to say "we are completely ready" this time.

no doubt that's comforting to the people in the path of the storm, based on the great job he always says he does and the lives that definitely won't be lost.

no matter how many actually perish.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Bring your climbing legs: Backcountry Rise 50k race report

mount st. helens erupted, famously, the morning of may 18, 1980. 

it was a sunday.

it began with an earthquake that caused a massive landslide on the north side of the volcano. this, in turn, triggered an explosion that cleaved the peak by 1,300 feet.

left behind was an ashen wasteland that scientists thought might take years to recover.
according to exhibits at the mount st. helens science and learning center, life began to reassert itself in the blast zone almost immediately. it started with the bacteria, then up the chain of plants, insects, birds, and small mammals.

now, 38 years later, the forests in the area are lush, the lakes are biodiverse, and the terrain is laced with trails established by elk, deer, and humans.

and though evidence of the 1980 cataclysm is everywhere, it's part of a much broader landscape that is one of the most beautiful settings imaginable for a trail race.
i'm proud of this one.

the backcountry rise 50k is freaking hard.

but it's also spectacular, dramatic, wild, and megatons of fun.

even as the course was making a tasty snack of my legs, i was thinking about signing up for next year (when i wasn't telling myself i was never going to run again, that is).

it was one of the few times i've had type 1, type 2, and several other types of fun/not fun simultaneously.
there's about 8,000 feet of elevation on this course, most of it within a 19-mile span. you would think those 19 miles would be crushing (and to some degree, they are). but the scenery is so gloriously distracting that you almost don't notice the price your legs are paying.

the first five miles meander along the northwest shore of coldwater lake. the aid station at mile five seems superfluous, but if you blow past it the next aid is at mile 13, after 3,000 feet of climbing. the next aid after that is mile 24-ish--all of which is to say, it's not a terrible idea to top off and fuel up a bit at coldwater creek.

but that's me.
climbing northeast toward the mt. margaret backcountry lakes, the views are pacific northwest amazing. serrated ridgelines rise above you on every side, the geology wrought by tectonic uplift and volcanic energy. fields of wildflowers fill the gaps between new-growth trees and the ghosts of their much larger predecessors.

if this stretch had been the highlight of the day's scenery, i wouldn't have been disappointed. but it wasn't even close.

the lakes (snow, shovel, panhandle, and obscurity), are tucked beneath and between towering walls of rock. the trail winds past and above the water, and it seemed like i stopped for photos every five minutes. (full disclosure: my pre-race plan included a good 45 minutes for gawking and picture-taking. fuller disclosure: i'm not really a "pre-race plan" kind of person.)

ascending steeply from the grizzly lake aid station, the terrain starts to feel a bit other-worldly. the trail, in places, barely clings to the edge of sharp drop-offs. these are tough spots if you're generally afraid of heights, or if you develop a sudden-onset case of acrophobia (either would be completely rational in this situation). 

still, you climb and climb some more. you look where you want your feet to go ("the inner half of the trail"), not where you don't want them to go ("into empty space"). you try to stay ahead of your hydration and you will your stomach not to turn itself inside-out...

...and finally you reach bear pass, where you immediately forget about where you just were because of where you are now. staring down into a rugged valley and across a pristine-blue lake and up the moonscape-flank of a still-huge and active volcano.

in the aftermath you maybe think, "cool," or "that was a really great moment." but in the actual moment you're kind of breathless and stunned and in the company of four or five people feeling the same way, and the most profound thing you can think to say is, "holy shit." 

but it's fine, because you mean it reverently.
at this point in the report it was tempting to say, "we ran some more, and it was still hard, but nothing really stands out, and then it was over. the end."

thank goodness for the photos, which tell a much different story. starting again...

at this point, there was plenty more amazement to be had.

the boundary trail is a playground of crystal clear lakes, lengthy ridgelines, towering castle mesas, and nature's brooding megaliths--all of which shrink to insignificance in the weighty presence of the volcano.

the rolling trail is a ton of runnable fun, if you like that sort of thing, and the terrain evolves over several miles from an alpine lakes vibe to something more like the phoenix mountain preserve (minus the cacti). 

after a sturdy climb to the johnston ridge observatory (aid station three), i actually thought i was back at the science and learning center (where the race starts and ends). this would've been weird, since the course is a loop and the map clearly shows aid station three is nowhere near the science and learning center. had i thought it through, that is. which i didn't. because i'm an idiot. 

...aaand we're done.
fortunately this lapse in coherence wasn't a deal breaker, finishing-wise, since all i had to do was stay on the aforementioned loop and keep moving forward. i kept trying to work out where i was on the course with the addled, incorrect model i had in my head, but of course all this did was confuse me even more...

on a different day and on a more complex course, this could've ended poorly.

instead (after the totally expected brutal climb in the last mile), i just went ahead and finished.
many, many thanks to jeremy long and the daybreak racing team for this truly special event. backcountry rise is an instant classic, and those of us who got in in the first couple years will long remember how lucky we were.

jeremy donated an entry to this race for a fundraiser/auction at seven hills running shop--which i was fortunate enough to win. by far, the best auction result ever. cheers, jeremy, and i hope to see you at the volcano next year.
backcountry rise 50k


95/150 (overall)

3/13 (M 50-59)

hoka torrent

songs stuck in my head the entire time: "fortunate son" ~ creedence clearwater revival; "polk salad annie" ~ tony joe white

Thursday, August 02, 2018


"beresan...why are you so bad?"
our family is smaller by one little dog, and we are all diminished.

sitting here thinking about beresan's time with us, i remember one particular day at the local off-leash park. the dogs there generally interacted peaceably, but at one point a very big dog aggressively approached our other dog, lucca. 

well, bere was having none of it. he raced across the park, barking like crazy, and got right up in that big dog's muzzle.

if there had been a fight it wouldn't have ended well for bere...but on that day the big dog flinched, backed up a step, then turned and ran.

it's still one of the bravest things i've ever seen.

when he was here, it never really occurred to me how much i would miss bere if he weren't around.

but now that he's so suddenly gone, sitting here writing this, i can't seem to stop crying for him.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Past as prelude

"The past isn't dead. It isn't even past." 

~ W. Faulkner
It was only 30 years ago that Nicolae Ceausescu was executed by firing squad in Romania.

45 is clearly no student of history, but he seems to be modeling himself in Ceausescu's mold:

"Life in Romania during the regime of Nicolae Ceausescu was at once tragic and absurd as the nation’s head of state erected a cult of personality that literally turned his country into a stage show. Ceausescu scripted an epic with himself as the star, but others wrote the inevitable denouement that brought down the curtain on him and his wife, Elena..."

I don't (yet) believe the end of 45's story will mirror Ceausescu's, but sitting here today, I also wouldn't rule it out. As much as I despised him before he was "elected," I still never would have predicted the extraordinary anti-democracy actions he's taken in a mere 18 months. 

Equally disquieting is the complicity of the GOP-controlled congress, which in the face of overwhelming evidence of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and a literal act of war by the Russian military, has chosen their party and their "president" over our country.

I'm certain the elections in November are the most important in our lifetime. But given Friday's indictments by Bob Mueller and the lack of action to secure the vote from Russian hacking, we all have reason to wonder if those elections will be legitimate.

The US as we've known it is in trouble.

Friday, June 08, 2018

the journey continues

i took a walk through this beautiful world
felt the cool rain on my shoulders
i took a walk through this beautiful world
i felt the rain getting colder
sha la la la la la...
bon voyage, bon viveur.

~ queens of the stone age
i had a conscious thought regarding opening twitter this morning.

"no matter what's happened, it can't reach me. i'm good."

[deep breath]

wrong again.
"anthony bourdain dead at 61."

he committed suicide.
i didn't know tony bourdain, but he and his show "parts unknown" had a big impact on my life over the last couple years. his love of creating and sharing good food with people of all descriptions and backgrounds inspired me to learn more and care more about how i work in our kitchen.

he convinced me that rather than just "cook dinner," i could whip up food that makes people raise their eyebrows and say, "wow." and that i should at least try to do that, every time.

bourdain convinced my wife and me that a life built around cooking, travel, and adventure could be more than something we watch on netflix, sending us off to plan our own journey.
those plans are now in the works and, we believe, within our grasp. all due in part to "parts unknown."

thank you, tony.

rest easy.

Friday, May 25, 2018

having your ultracake: a sun mountain race report

just desserts for me, thanks.
"you get the run you deserve."
~the running gods

this bit of ancient wisdom is mostly (but not entirely) true.

i mean, pheidippides probably didn't deserve to literally die after running his first marathon. 

but you could make a case that he got the run he trained for, warranting a metaphorical death.

ehh, maybe the wisdom is more applicable to less momentous events.
coming off an injury and slowly rebuilding my fitness base, i was pretty well prepared for the sun mountain 25k. 

trouble is, i was signed up for the sun mountain 50k.

the upside of being undertrained for this (or any) race is not being burdened with unrealistic expectations (like finishing).

the last couple weeks before sun mountain my biggest concern was the forecast, which called for temperatures to approach those on the surface of the sun.

"what do i own that i can wear for a broiling-hot day on an exposed course? nothing! i mean, i guess maybe this paddling hat, and this billowy white tech t-shirt, and these sunglasses (obsessively re-checks forecast) and these bottles of sunscreen..."
race day dawned cool and cloudy (thank you, running gods). the forecast for bright sun and relentless heat moderated in the days before race weekend, which made packing much easier.

the starting area at patterson lake cabins was filled with friends and smiles and hugs and handshakes. it almost seemed a shame to break up the festivities by starting the race, but james is gonna james, which means he's gonna start races. (he did give us a few extra seconds beyond the scheduled 8 a.m. start, which was nice of him.)

"this way, gents!"
this year's course was a reversal of previous years~~climbs up patterson mountain and to sun mountain lodge were front loaded, rather than late in the race, which i appreciated.

after conquering those burly climbs, the rest of the day would be a piece of cake! (the kind of cake that's physically draining and emotionally debilitating. a multi-tiered ultracake.)

somewhere between mile 4-5 i took a good, hard fall on a completely innocuous section of trail. one moment i was cruising along enjoying my morning, the next i was on the ground, head downhill from my feet, doing internal diagnostics to see if i was injured.

i wasn't. but i did spend the next couple miles minding every step and marveling at how often falls happen where there's least reason to fall...
watch your step, please.
the scenery this day was spectacular. low clouds laced the gaps between ridges and valleys, wildflowers bloomed gaudily, and hillsides were cloaked in green. even the mosquitos came out to see the sights and encourage runners to hurry along.

historic note: i've run and volunteered at sun mountain several times, and have never been so warmly welcomed by so many mosquitos. summers in minnesota could take mosquito lessons from this day in the methow valley.

entomology note: eating lots of garlic the night before a race does not deter ravening mosquitos. apparently they like it as much as we do.
where was i? oh, the race.

coming out of the lodge aid station i ran within shouting distance of my friend kay for a long stretch of miles. i'd run ahead for a while, stop to take photos, she'd pass and run ahead for a bit.

the pace was comfortable and the miles rolled by until just before the thompson valley aid station (mile 22.5). that's when kay casually suggested she'd likely drop there.

two weeks removed from a finish at the miwok 100k, her knee was giving her trouble. the flats and downhills were not a problem, but the uphills were clearly painful.

with a lot of year and a lot of miles ahead, it was a good tactical bail.

which immediately made me think of doing the same.

"i exceeded my training five miles ago," i thought. "do i really want to walk it in for the next nine miles?"

i did not.

textbook example of how quickly and quietly one can decide to drop.

at thompson valley the volunteers were scrambling to tend to runners while fending off the involuntary blood donation swarm.

i was ready to be done, but for some reason i stood there refilling my bottles and stuffing my face with peanut m&ms. 

"i'm thinking of dropping, as well," i said to kay.

"don't do that," she said.

a couple minutes and another handful of m&ms later i said, "i need to get out of here, or i'm going to drop." 

"yeah, don't do that," kay said again.

i nodded, turned, and headed out.

"see you at the finish."
"yup, see you at the finish."

and that's how quickly and quietly one can decide not to drop.

the road out of thompson valley is a two-mile incline that i walked at best-possible speed. leaving the aid station i really did believe i'd be walking it in, but at the top i discovered i could run again. go figure.

over the last 10k of the course i ran the downhills and the flats, and hiked-with-purpose on the uphills.

it wasn't a formula for speed, but it was a formula for a finish, which by now was the only thing left to do.

he: "i need a shower and a nap."
she: "yes, yes you do."
the last two and a half miles or so the sun came out, and i joined a small group of runners on a gorgeous trail along patterson lake. keeping up with them became my near-term goal, which helped expedite a high-five with james and a double high-five with liz at the finish-line.

in the aftermath, with a couple days rest and having eaten all the food, my legs feel surprisingly good. i expected my quads to be trashed from the many downhills, but that never happened.

in sum, i didn't get the run i deserved...i got much, much better.
thanks, as always, to my friends at rainshadow running. near or far, your events feel like a home away from home with good friends and family. cheers.
sun mountain 50k


156/244 (overall)

12/19 (M 50-59)

hoka challenger atr 4

song stuck in my head the entire time: "harlem shuffle" ~ rolling stones