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!

December 31, 2016

2017. First Time I Ever [........]

Find new routes everyday. I mean everyday. Take them!

Ride life's waves...

Reach for something a little more in life, something real, not material...

Ok, sure, I wrote these words. And, yes, they sound pretty grandiose. But, to be honest, right now? They're making me feel little. As in small. Like I've been standing in the Emerald City behind a curtain, pulling levers and blowing smoke like the Wizard of Oz (fraud).

I've been thinking a lot about this. About how I can stay true to the words I've written. Doing something new. Riding new waves. Reaching for something more. Different. Running a few ultra's every year ain't cut'n it for me anymore. It did a few years ago. But now, I need more. Will I keep running? Sure. Racing? Why not. I'm not going to give up my hobby, which I still enjoy. But, like anything in life, sometimes you have to spice things up a little.

So, beginning in 2017, I'm going to do something I've never done before in my life. I'm going to do this not once. Not twice. I'm going to do it every week. Big. Small. Difficult. Easy. Running. Non Running. Doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is that I've never done it. That's it!

Happy New Year Everyone!

December 24, 2016

Character Revealed

from left Mike F, Dave B, Cracker, Mona G, Larry R, Will C. Photo Rob M. 

Every year, around this time, a group of So Cal runners gather for a run that has become a 13 year tradition. This year, not sure why, they did it in reverse. It was a horrible day of slip in sludge. Dave B captured the event in embarrassing detail. Read about it here.

Every year, without fail, someone shows up to "Saltwater" out of shape, but runs anyway. It's just that kind of thing. Some don't finish (some don't even start). But someone always guts it out all the way to the end. This year was no exception. Great work Mike F.

December 11, 2016

Riding Life's Waves

They rise up. Sometimes it seems from nowhere. They are hard to see, until they are right upon you. Rising higher. Looming over you, making you feel so small. Then comes the decision. Do you turn to catch one? Do you take the risk of getting pummeled on the jagged rocks below? But something’s triggered you. A bad experience, boredom, the need for change. Whatever it is, it’s helped you overcome your fear. Your anxiety. Your apathy.

So you turn. And paddle into the wave. You feel your body rising up, on top of this force that seems limitless in its power. You feel the energy as it carries you forward. Faster. There is no turning around now. The power surrounds you and you let yourself go with it. It’s at that moment when you realize there is nothing better than to ride this wave. To see how far it will take you. To accept its risk, because with it comes opportunity. 

I was a “surfer” when I was younger, riding the ocean’s waves – to my heart's delight. Now that I’m a little older, I try to ride life’s waves – to my soul’s delight.

I hope you all catch some good waves in the new year.

December 3, 2016

Western States Lottery - I'm not Bitter

  Western States Lottery Stats:

4,246 applicants 

369 runners “permitted” by US Forest Service

less 119 “automatic” entries “granted” by WS board of trustees

=          250 slots available
=          2.5% chance of being selected (based on ticket system)
=          Genius marketing. But what are the motives?

I’m not bitter. Just a little frustrated. Submitting my application to the Western States lottery, anymore, is getting a bit futile. Outside of the “automatic” selections, which includes a list of categories that would make any politician blush, the remnants are getting kind of skimpy. And the “automatic” list, frankly, seems to be multiplying like cancer cells, gobbling up spaces the average hard working trail runner would otherwise have. What are the “automatic” entries you ask? Here’s the latest menu:

30 spaces for “Race Admin.” Trail crew etc.
24 spaces for “Golden Ticket Races”
20 “sponsor” slots
19 Top Ten Runner Slots
10 “raffle” winners
6 UTWT “elite” foreign athletes
3 “special considerations”
2 runners going for 10th finish
1 “trustee”
1 “silver legend”
1 entry for Gordy

Again, I’m not bitter. But I’m wondering if the direction this is going is away from the culture of the sport. Ultra running is about hard work, suffering, paying your dues, putting you time in on trail, sacrificing time with family, etc. In this light, does putting your time in mean elbowing your way into an aid station for three years? Does sacrifice mean locking in every “raffle” date in your outlook calendar? Shit, I’m beginning to feel like I should dress up like an Oompa Loompa so I can have the inside track to a “golden ticket.”

What the hell is a “Golden Ticket” race anyway? Well it’s a list of races, sponsored by the Western States “Presenting” sponsor, that provide entry to the top finishers in those races. Not a bad idea, but it gets a bit grey when I look at the motives here – attract more runners to races sponsored by the “presenting sponsor” so said sponsor can reap more marketing juice from their sponsorship of said races in a build up to Western States. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for profit motivated enterprises, but Western States is a non-profit organization entrusted by the Forest Service to administer a fair event per the course's legislative mandate.

Why, then, do sponsors – presumably profit motivated sponsors – control 12% of the entries to Western States? Is it because the event needs capital? From what I can find the race organization does not need money. It’s sitting on $149,209 in cash, after bringing in $382,587 in revenue and spending $425,228 in expenses in 2014 (the latest year I could find on record).

So, what…then…am…I…saying? I’m not saying as much as I’m starting to question the cozy relationship between the board of trustees and sponsors looking to maximize brand. All at the expense of the hard working runner who just wants a chance to “toe the line” at an event that bills itself as “the world’s preeminent 100-mile trail run”.

So I leave you with this. Why do I feel like I need to dress up as an oompa loompa when I know I’m going to be dressed down by a shoe company?

Really, I’m not bitter.


November 23, 2016

Western States -- I'm In!

Not really. I'm still waiting for the Dec. 3 lottery. But I found this post from 2008, and it made me laugh. And I keep doing this stuff? 

2009 Western States Endurance Run -- I'm In

It is now official. I just submitted my entry to the 2009 Western States 100 mile endurance run. Although I was guaranteed an automatic entry as a 2008 participant, I was required to accept or decline the 2009 automatic entry. I accepted, as I expect 90 percent or more of the other '08 participants will do. Who wouldn't accept after being shut out of this year's race due to fires that rose from freaky dry lighting? What runner would train for six months, create animosity between his spouse, develop lingering and sometimes very painful injuries, become single minded to the detriment of his oh-so-important social graces, concoct visions of grandeur in his minds eye, talk excessively of race day tactics with 100 mile finishers, develop the disgusting yet important habit of stuffing TP in his pocket before embarking on early morning trail runs, grow a portfolio of running shoes to rival any Emelda Marcos poser, watch others stare at him with a look of utter confusion and discontent when they hear of his fixation, find ways to work out in the most miserably hot conditions, refuse to unpack a suitcase for a year, identify with terms like "beware of the chair" and "time on foot", write a blog about the absurdity of it all, only to choose NOT to reenter?

I'm looking forward to the next 10 months! I'll keep you posted....

November 22, 2016

In Time or Location

Ever stumbled upon a place, in time or location, where you just want to sit and stay a while? Where something, not sure what, makes you wonder why you can’t just say to hell with the noise, I’m tuning out?

This is Gary’s bench. I sat down here last weekend atop Bedford Peak, signed his journal and looked across Santiago Canyon as the clouds crept slowly over Modjeska Peak.

Not a bad place, Gary. I’ll be back.

November 19, 2016

Western States - The Dreaded Wait

Pre Start @ Western - The little ones

Here it is again. The dreaded wait. A space in time saturated with anticipation and anxiety. Fantasy and foreboding. But who among us is willing to ignore the hype and hullaballoo? The lights flashing, the music blasting, the sponsors spamming?

I’m talking of the Western States lottery, of course. The good ‘ol cattle call that turns us typically stoic, anti-establishment ultra runners into a stampeding herd of steer rushing for the barn door so we get our shot at the big league.

Hmmm. Western States. Is it really the “big deal” everyone talks about? Or is it another overblown media sensation. I’m down on the media right now, but that will change as soon as they pay back the $billions they made during our presidential election circus, oops, I meant cycle.

Ok, back to this post.

Western States. The original. The granddaddy. The track meet. The lottery with odds of getting in dropping each year. Why bother?

Well, like everything in life, its complicated. To run Western is to run with a cascade of fanatic volunteers, throngs of supporters and well wishers, and gobs runners staking their claim on ultra running’s most storied event. But, again, is it worth it?

My first 100 mile race was Western States. I was drawn to it for all of the above reasons. I’ve run it 3 times now. Every time vowing to return to improve my time. Every time succeeding. The last time without crew and pacers, my first stop on the way to finishing the Grand Slam.

The hardest thing about running Western States isn’t the climbs, or the heat, or the canyons, or the humidity, or the punishing downhills, or even the dreaded “mandatory” pre-race meeting bestowed on all runners by the sponsors footing a big bill. No its none of these things. The hardest thing about running Western States is making it through the labyrinthine application process that has driven the odds of a typical runner getting in down to an all time low of 4.7%.

I get it. But I hate it. There are limited slots (thanks to the forest service) and more and more people apply each year. Everyone wants a bite at the apple of the granddaddy of ultras.

So here I sit. In that space in time.

October 23, 2016

When the Student Becomes the Master

To my readers: yes, sometimes my posts go astray. After seeing both Bob Dylan and Neil Young last weekend, I couldn’t help myself. Hence, what follows. I hope you read and share a comment.

Neil Young
It was an innocent summer. Not unusual, I suspect, for an adolescent lost in the isolation of high school, stumbling along to the sounds and voices that drew him away from a boring life of acceptance, toward the intoxicating journey of curiosity and skepticism.

Like a magnet, they drew me toward them, the sounds and voices of Neil Young and Bob Dylan, two iconic musicians who’s relationship, in my simplistic interpretation of folk music lore, can be characterized as one of student and master.

That Mr. Young revered his, I dare say, peer, in such a consistent manner, the relationship can only be described not as one of equals, as some would argue it should be, but as oddly submissive, if not subordinate. But should it be so? Should the annals of rock history go down with Neil Young, the “quintessential hippy-cowboy loner” as described by music critic John Rockwell, bowing in dutiful respect at the feet of the first musician ever to receive a Nobel Prize for Literature? If you ask this intoxicated skeptic, I should say not.

Dylan, for all his wizardry with words and verse, has staked a valid claim as a gifted songwriter and poet, one who has captured the imagination of a generation. As the Wall Street Journal music critic Jim Fusilli states, “…Mr. Dylan’s words absent the accompaniment…changed popular music by discovering and then exploring, repeatedly and often magnificently, new ways to set distinctive narratives to melody and rhythm.” Mr. Fusilli raises the Dylan bar to an insurmountable level by stating “there is no comparable body of work, regardless of standard of measurement, by any other artist of the rock era.”

But then I turn to a song by Young, the famous Cortez The Killer, where guitar and words lull me, slowly and methodically, toward a place of vulnerability and innocence that doesn’t really exist in this world, a place where Young often went, obscured by “evocative ambiguities” as Rockwell would put it. Or, to Southern Man, Young’s screeching reprimand of a country’s embedded hatred that remains stubbornly lodged in a certain fabric of our society.

Last weekend I joined the throngs in Southern California at the outdoor Desert Trip concert which featured, among other big names, the two legends playing on the same stage on separate nights. The first act, Dylan, was punctuated with black and white film clips from the early 20th century, casting a somber mood. Of the more than 500 songs written by Dylan, the music chosen by the recently announced Nobel Laureate was, to this music fan, largely unfamiliar and uninspiring. Dylan himself moved on stage - albeit behind his piano, without taking more than a few steps.

The next night I looked up and saw a row of glowing, golden tepees, eerily conjuring up an image of a small campsite nestled somewhere on the great plains, under a full moon no less. From there Young, the new master in my humble opinion, taught a lesson few can deny – that you should never take your craft as a performer and those who have embraced you for granted.

The hippy-cowboy-loner stood before a crowd of some 75,000 and unleashed a raw, emotional performance that only Young is capable of delivering. He worked slowly from a raw electric riff into a frenzy of guitars in Cowgirl In The Sand, bringing the audience to its feet more than once. Another song, Powderfinger, sent shivers down my spine, not from its meaning (which remains unknown), but from the imagery it foretells:

Shelter me from the powder
and the finger
Cover me with the thought
that pulled the trigger
Think of me
as one you'd never figured
Would fade away so young
With so much left undone
Remember me to my love,
I know I'll miss her.

My hat is off to Bob Dylan for being the first musician named Nobel Prize winner in history. He deserves all the recognition and the glory. But Dylan, in my humble opinion, should at least tip his hat to a new master, the evocative one who raises the bar even a little higher – at least for those of us that still embrace the craft.