March 26, 2017

From the Cup of Reality

Call it strange. Tragic. Morose. But more than 200 bodies lie on top of Mt. Everest, perpetually at rest, entombed in an infinite frozen state. All in pursuit of “summiting” the highest mountain on earth.

The mountains draw. They are, as Thomas Wolfe once wrote “the cup of reality.” But why is this so? Why are so many of us drawn to them?

Of course there are endless words that describe their tidings, their extremes, their danger and beauty. From Muir to Mallory to Sir Edmond Hillary, all one has to do is open a book, or click a link, and the most eloquent, descriptive verse or prose will beckon you to higher altitudes.

After several weeks of running near the ocean, I felt the need to go high, closer to the clouds, into the metaphorical container of, as Wolfe put it, reality.

Not to take anything away from Wolfe, but there is a lesson I’ve learned, and too often forget, when I run in the mountains. It’s one of those things that often slaps me into submission, lest I forget while rollicking around the flatlands. This isn’t anything profound or spiritual.

It is that the mountains extract more from me. More of everything. I was reminded of this yesterday when embarking on a long run, again when I was a mere 6 miles in, and again when reached my turn around point after 3 hours of running. I would ultimately finish, depleted, in over six hours.

When crunching the numbers it starts to make sense. Between 7,000 and 8,000 feet, the space I ran between, there is 23% - 26% less effective oxygen than at sea level where I live. Unfortunately I’m not sure what was crunched more, my toes or my ego. This morning I woke with a pulsating blister under my toenail. Pain extraction - above average.

It was a new route for me. I found what looked to be a secret single-track trail that meandered strait up the mountain and into the trees, in the direction I wanted to go. Once on it, it became apparent that this was a very well used trail with some really steep sections, and amazing views of Sugarloaf Mountain and Mt. San Gorgonio. I climbed, and climbed some more, around 1,000 feet in the first two miles.

At the start, I promised myself I would eat after 90 minutes of running, and then every hour after that. By the time 90 minutes rolled around, I had been doing some calculations in my head about how much distance I had already covered. Big mistake. I intentionally avoided looking at my GPS constantly. When I realized I was several miles short of my “calculations,” all I could do was shout an expletive not needed here. I always spend more time running in the mountains, because I run slower. Time extraction – growing.

The next milestone was my turnaround point. It was only after I started this run when I began the debate in my head about exactly what I was going to do. It started with 20+ miles, then moved to 24, then 26 miles. All this seemed reasonable, so why not go for 30 miles? So I settled on 28, which meant a turnaround at 14. The turn around was a success, and then it dawned on me I wasn’t going to make it back to my car until close to 6 pm. With the temperature and my energy plummeting, I just tried to keep moving forward.

Surprisingly my legs didn't falter, even after a deceivingly punishing technical trail with some major rock fields to cross along the way. After a couple stops to drink in the views, snap a few picks, I found myself descending the secret trail I had ascended several hours earlier. There were moments - particularly on the banked turns - where I was starting to feel lighter on my feet than my age would have me believe. Life extraction - achieved.   

March 18, 2017

Old Camp Via Bell View - Cadillac - Santiago

12.5 miles / 3,500' gain / 280' per mile / Out and back

Got swept up by all the wildflowers 

March 17, 2017

Come as You Are

Someone recently asked me if I get excited when I’m about to go for a several mile run. My reply was kind of knee jerk, “sometimes, but sometimes not so much.”

There are good times, and not so good times being a runner. Sometimes these ups and downs swirl around in my head like an Irish stew with a little too much Guinness added for good measure. I’m not saying this because I’m drinking a Guinness right now -- about ready to poor a second (it’s St. Patty’s day people) -- or because I’m listening to Nirvana playing really loud. I’m saying it because it really sucks to run hard for several hours, reach a finish line, and then be disappointed. WTF? How can I do this to myself?

I’m hoping that Kurt will help me understand. It’s all in the head. Expectations. Yes. All in the head.

Come as you are. As you were. As I want you to be.

How else is there?

February 24, 2017

Earth's Curvature

 Mauna Kea Sunset
As the sun continued to sink, the bones in my fingers started to feel like freeze-dried, orthopedic stumps impaled in withering flesh-sticks. Ok, embellishment aside, it was very cold. And I didn’t expect it to be. My fingers are always the first to punish me when I’m cold. 

That we were standing at 13,796 feet above the Island of Hawaii made it all the more surrealI’ve never been a huge sunset connoisseur, whether its because I lack the patience to sit for the few minutes it takes to appreciate what nature serves up everyday, or I’m just distracted by life’s less meaningful machinations, but this night was different. 

The sky, cloudless above the horizon, started to morph from powder blue hueinto a butterscotch colored sundae layered with boysenberry and marmalade topping. I wanted to reach out and take a scoop, but my fingers weren't willing. We watched the scene unfold standing on the summit of Mt. Mauna Kea, the largest mountain in the world at 33,500 feet when measured from it’s base at the bottom of the ocean. 

From here the horizon bends with the curvature of the earth, while the clouds coalesce along into a dessert sprinkled with white telescopes. A first for me and something to remember. 

February 20, 2017

The Making of a Peace Sign

We gathered white coral rocks. Then gently laid them down on the black lava. As the circle formed, we noticed the line down the center was a little crooked. Liv made the adjustment, then we stood back to see what we had done. Nothing magic, but magical nonetheless. A first for me.

They posed standing inside of it. Then they lay down in it, above the two lines which signify palms outstretched, downward, like Goya’s peasant before the firing squad, in the circle known for eternity and the unborn child. Two teenagers, two young girls, teammates, friends.

What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?

February 11, 2017

A Cup of Coffee in Santa Barbara

I’m beginning to realize something pretty simple. Something so simple I think it is fair to say that children understand it more than adults. Which is not surprising given our hasty, consumption based culture.

To describe this from an adult’s perspective would be logical but misleading, because the essence of it is usually lost by the time we enter adolescence and begin the journey fulfilling our unquenchable need to define who we are “supposed” to be while stumbling toward discovering who we really are. Caught between these competing forces, we are oblivious to all that pushes and pulls us toward achieving more, having more, and ultimately being more. I’m somewhere in the middle of this struggle. You?

But what is “it?” Well, like I said, “it” is pretty simple. “It” is something most of us are missing every day. I’ll leave this to your imagination. Let me know what you think.

Today, for the first time, I had a cup of coffee with my daughter in her new town Santa Barbara. It was a simple thing, which I’m learning is the important thing.

Keep it real runners.

February 5, 2017

There is Truth. And there is Untruth.

Not sure why, possibly the tone of the airwaves, or maybe the slant of the day's storyline, but today I chose to watch a particular movie while running. The playback and treadmill were working swimmingly until the machine came to a screeching halt. A dreary scene, brutal torturing, a main character, me nearly catapulted over the machine. Ok, from this token running reference I now digress...

I don't remember seeing the movie 1984, but I vaguely remember reading the book back in high school. Thoughtcrime, newspeak, big brother, or my personal favorite quip from a newspeak committee member: "It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words." 

For a more modern nugget, I kind of like the inter party zealot proclamation that there is "a huge network of conspirators prepared to commit any atrocity to weaken and demoralize the order of our society."

Familiarly, there is a transition taking place in dystopia. War, not waged to be won, but waged to be continuous, will keep the oppressed, oppressed. But now the enemy has crossed the line, has become so heinous and wicked, that "ideals" can no longer stand in the way of the opponent's destruction.      

Interparty zealot: 

"Until now, the war has been conducted with honor and bravery with the ideals of truth and justice in the best traditions of mankind... until this moment. Brothers and sisters, the endless catalog of beastie atrocities which will inevitably ensue from this appalling act must, can, and will be terminated.The forces of darkness and treasonable maggots who collaborate with them must, can, and will be wiped from the face of the Earth."

Maybe it all ends (or begins) with the possibility that "Power is tearing human minds apart and putting them back together in new shapes of your own choosing." 

January 20, 2017

Naked Dive

Video Filmed From Shoe

One thing about doing something for the first time every week - it forces you to think differently. Even when going for a simple training run. Not a very interesting activity when stuck in pre-programmed mode.

Your mind begins to wonder as you trot along on the beach, like how cold the water really is in January, and whether you could dive in naked without being noticed by the person a couple hundred yards up the beach, or the person looking down from the bluff. Then you ask yourself, why should I care?

Next your running toward the water, feeling the cold rush around your feet. Around your legs. Other things. Then you're fully submerged.

This is fun, you say.

January 14, 2017

Sphere of Influence

Like a robot programed to receive (as in never leave a well established routine), I moved along the same trail I trode upon dozens of times over the years. Anxiety was beginning to percolate between the gusts of wind that were nearing 45 miles an hour and pointed at my face. OK, actually the wind was a nice reminder that I wasn't laying in bed, or watching the talking heads on cable news, or another episode of Game of Thrones, for that matter.

When I reached the sphere, I went right, instead of left, something I've never done before. The program was overwritten. Up and up some more, until I reached Pleasants Peak, 3,860'.

Sixty miles in every direction.

Catalina Island From Pleasants Peak
Mt. Baldy

January 7, 2017

I Knocked On the Door

There was an agreement. They would carry only matches and candles. No flashlights. Too easy for their code. They talked during recess, before the bell summoned them back to their second grade class. The dreaded Ms. Hagan’s class. The witch. This time, they knew, they would venture deep into the abyss. This time, they decided, they wouldn’t turn back until they reached daylight.

According to UNICEF, a child’s brain is most responsive from birth to eight years. The years when billion’s of neural circuits are established through genetics, environment and experience. But what is it that makes us remember things we experienced when we were children? Experiences, it is said, are not just what happen to us, they are the raw material that we use to shape our identity, our self. 

What are your memories? When you look back to your childhood, what memories stand out in your mind? Do they tell you something about who you are? Or why you do the things you do?

They entered the tunnel, like always, by holding the metal gate open for each other. It was heavy, but swung open from the bottom with a sturdy pull. They knew matches burned quickly. They chose to bring candles this time, to give them more reach, more time to move into the darkness of the underground tunnel.

This week, for the first time ever, I knocked on the door of the house I grew up in. I ran on the trails I used to run on as a kid. I crawled into the storm basin where Matt P and I carried our matches and candles and entered the abyss.

I’ve said that many of the things we learn - our fears, insecurities, anxieties, self limitations - our weaknesses - we teach ourselves over a lifetime. But I think it is fair to say that the other things we learn - our courage, tenacity, steadiness, confidence,  our strengths – we also teach ourselves over a lifetime. Our strengths, like our weaknesses, our nourished by our own imagination.

As we moved further into the darkness, a sense of calm came over me. I knew we were safe, it was a strange confidence that could have only come after being two miles into an underground storm drain. We moved forward step by step with only a small candle to light the way. Eventually, we climbed up toward a tiny light above us, pushed open a man hole, and peered into the daylight. We were surrounded by hills, and had no idea where we were. 


Why did I enter the abyss when I was seven years old? Was I trying to escape from something? Was I just looking for adventure? I’ll never know. Looking back, like it is for a lot of kids, youth for me was a restless time. I remember standing on top of my desk in Ms. Hagan’s class like a recently un-caged animal (she was out of the room at that particular moment). To the relief of the other kids in the class, my mom graciously removed me from that school. I guess she didn’t like me reporting to the principal’s office everyday.

It didn’t occur to me what I would say before I knocked. But I decided to knock anyway, knowing that  words were the furthest thing from my mind. When I walked across the front yard, I remembered it was the same yard I walked across with my sister everyday after school, next to the park where a little poodle chased me after getting off the school bus, and up the street from the greatest playground of trails, tunnels and canyons a kid could ever imagine.  

There was no answer. So I left a note.  


January 2, 2017

Hiking a Mounting to Ski Down

I've been thinking about this for a while. I've never hiked up a mountain to ski down. So, when the snow storm hit when I was in the mountains on New Year's Eve, I figured why not knock this out when the stars are aligned?

I used to snow ski a ton but got a little burned out on the crowds, the exorbitant cost and the hassle of getting to and from the slopes. It didn't help that my girls weren't keen on getting cold in the snow, well, at least for anything other than building a snowman. Which led me to the idea of missing the crowds and the shakedown all together by hiking up and skiing down.

Ok, the plan wasn't executed to perfection as you will see in the video. Mainly because I wanted to be the first one on the top so I could ski down on untracked powder. Yet, by the time I made it to the top to begin my dream run, the slopes had already been infiltrated. Was I disappointed? Not a all. I just headed for the trees where no one had skied (the morning after New Years eve didn't help my departure time). As you see in the video, I got my fair share of turns on untouched snow. This FTIE was very sweet indeed.

I hope you enjoy the video. And you have to turn up the volume because the song by DJ Krush is crazy!