September 9, 2021

9/9/2021


Twenty years ago today was the day I got married. Still one of the better, in the moment, days of my life, surrounded by family and friends. Of course the nation would change two days later, and then a much smaller part of it some seven years later.

Twenty years further down the road, feelings and lives have changed. Gray hairs, new friends, regrets, adventures, new memories. But that time will always be part of me, in those old memories, in the lessons and discovery as our two roads diverged, in the hope we will always do better each time we try. 


September 1, 2021

No illusions

Sometimes I like to say out loud, "I am about to make a bad decision," just to hang a lantern of self-awareness on it, even if it is just my dog and myself that hears it, before I press on through. 

August 26, 2021

You belong, among the wallflowers

 This popped up in the old Facebook memory feed today.


Yep, still awkward. 

Natural introvert, I have done my best to feel more comfortable with people and crowds by jumping in feet first (on rare occasions to be honest). I have been blessed for my efforts almost every time. I guess the first major plunge was the charity bike ride down the Pacific Coast back in 2006. Didn't know a soul, but ended the two week ride feeling like I had known many of the riders most of my life. 

The more recent one is the North Bend Beer Runners. Again, didn't know a soul, but showed up alone, ready to run, less ready to mingle. As per usual, I built it up in my head, it is a totally welcoming group, and I have been rewarded over and over with community and friendship for just showing up that first time. I feel comfortable most of the time, but still almost every Thursday in the time before we start running, and the first fifteen minutes of gathering together afterward, I am the picture of the awkward wallflower. I don't know why this feeling persists, but it does.

If you see me in the corner, know I am doing my best to work my way out of it.

August 25, 2021

Stop talking yourself out of it

"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others."

~ Martha Graham


August 7, 2021

The road ahead looks very different

 In 2019 I took up triathlon. It was something I had been meaning to do for years. I suppose it seemed somewhat inevitable after running and biking for the past fifteen years. An Ironman had been a bucket list kind of item for years, but procrastination postponed my getting in the pool and tying the sports together. Inevitable or not, it felt shiny and new. 

And I loved it. 2019 was the most excited I had been about sport and exercise since I suppose my peak efforts between the fall of 2012 and the summer of 2013 (marathons on two consecutive days, then one-day STP and Ramrod a week apart). In the summer of 2019 I went from Googling triathlon information to doing a sprint distance, an Olympic distance and a half Ironman distance within three months.

I was hooked, and excited for the following year. I ultimately signed up for two Half Ironmans and one full Ironman for 2020. Then of course, 2020 happened. "And then 2020 happened" has been said and written thousands of times, and I have a feeling it will stay in the vernacular for a long time. 

Things didn't get cancelled all at once, so there was training and cautious excitement for a few months. Then as it became clear that the show(s) would not go on, I found some other challenges and reasons to stay on the road and in (relative) shape.

And then 2021 happened.

After a run on January 5th, I was sick for several days. These days whenever I feel off, I fear the worst, but thankfully the Covid test came back negative. At the same time, Mom had been growing more sick since Thanksgiving. I had been going over to their house four nights a week to help out, and with each visit it was more difficult to have hope. The visits and tax season hours made getting in a run more difficult, but I think the lack of hope spilled over into feelings of "why even bother." I didn't run another step until late March.

When I started running again, everything seemed to hurt. This is pretty typical after a long layoff, but it wasn't just that sort-of-satisfying muscle soreness from getting in a workout. The pain that lingered started with what I thought was a hip flexor issue. I took time off, I stretched, I massaged with a foam roller, and when none of that worked, I tried running through it. Running through it has worked at times in the past, but not this time.

The pain then spread and increased in frequency. My right thigh muscle would quiver and I would occasionally get shocking pain in my right hip and IT band, buckling my leg out from underneath me. My body was failing me, and the hopeless feeling settled in. 

After trying all I could think of on my own to improve things, I finally decided to go to the doctor. I was due for a check up anyway, so I could ask about my leg pain while taking care of that. My previous primary care doctor had recently moved out of state, so it took some time and hoop-jumping-through to get a new doc and appointment. 

I saw the doctor on Tuesday. He already had my bloodwork results, and other than cholesterol that is a bit high (but not high enough to require medication), nothing was out of order. We chatted a bit about other health items, and I received a general thumbs up for my health as a 54 year old. 

We started talking about the leg pain I had been experiencing. At the outset he suggested physical therapy, and honestly getting a referral was another reason for my visit. He then checked my range of motion, find where I would grimace in pain, poked and prodded while asking additional questions. He thought it was unusual that the pain had been going on for this long, so he recommended getting an X-ray. I walked down the hall and took care of it immediately.

To too late cut a long story short, the doctor called an hour or so later and told me that they found that I have moderate to severe arthritis in my right hip. Googling told me that moderate is level 3 and severe is level four. The scale only goes up to four.

I took the news pretty hard. I don't know what this means long term for my mobility, and more specifically my running. As I have written about for years on this blog, running is a big part of my life, a big part of who I am. It of course has made me physically stronger, and I have relished taking on challenges, seeing how the limits I think I have can be pushed through. Running has also done wonders for my mental well being, and I have already been suffering the consequences of its absence these past six months. 

Running was also a big part of my future plans. I would complete that Ironman. I would notch that 20th marathon, and then keep going. I would see what all the talk about ultras was about. I would do that relay run, splitting some 200 miles between twelve (or maybe even six) companions. I still want to be that 70 year old guy that shows up at the local 5k every year. I want to see more start lines. Beyond running, I want to continue to backpack and take on the Wonderland Trail someday (if they ever grant me a permit).

After the doctor's call, I left work early and went for a walk. I walked the Kirkland waterfront and rail-to-trail loop that I have used so often on my training runs. As my mind spun, I tried to begin processing what it meant, what I was feeling. To find my feet, as it were. In those first few hours, all I could see was loss, and hope fading once again.

I left the trail to return to the waterfront, randomly turning down a street I had not walked on before. A couple of blocks later, I saw this book in the planting strip by the curb.


Well played universe. Well played.

I was fortunate to get an appointment with a physical therapist the next day (there was a last minute cancellation). The PT was not ray of sunshine, "we can conquer anything" enthusiastic about things, but he was encouraging. The PT did his own evaluation of my mobility, walked me through some recommended exercises, and put our next two appointments on the calendar. I tried not to press him for outcomes so soon in the process. He did hint that marathons may be in the past, but he did not write off running entirely.

This is all new. To be frank, I am still working through the freaking out/distraught stage of things, but I am moving toward finding the path forward. It will take a different kind of hard work. My training calendar will be filled with more PT exercises than events, but I will also be squeezing in more non-impact biking and swimming than planned. 

Yes, I am happy and fortunate to have generally good health, and there have certainly been larger losses for me this year, but this still hurts, and I am going to sit with it for a bit. 

June 13, 2021

Dry spells

A friend of mine announced in December that she was pregnant. A few of us were at their house to have a sort of a pod-safe gathering ahead of Christmas when they told us the news. After some cheering and rule-breaking hugging, we talked about what life would be like for them in the year ahead.

This being our biking group, we quickly recognized that the due date was right around the time we were signed up to ride Ramrod in July. The soon-to-be father was obviously out, and the rest of us more or less decided that we would train, but if the baby decided to show up on race day, we would skip the ride to be at the hospital. 

As we continued to chat, the mom-to-be mentioned that she had been filling the fridge with new non-alcoholic beverages to replace the wine and beer she was giving up, and she asked for other drink suggestions. I suggested we all give up drinking for January as a small show of support. 

I have participated in "Dry January", no alcohol for the month, a number of times. It is a reset after the holiday indulgence, and a check-in to make sure that setting drinking aside is as easy as it should be. This time around, even though it followed nine months of sheltering in place where drinking was more of a temptation, it was remarkably easy. 

I did have one slip up mid-month. My brothers and I had found a restaurant with an open outdoor patio, and we got together to discuss Mom's current condition, and I suppose to check in on each other as well. We were about an hour in when I shared that I had given up drinking for January. I said this while taking a sip of my second beer. 

I had just completely spaced, falling into a routine, I suppose highlighting that habits run along in the background unless we consciously make the effort to change them. I wasn't giving into a craving, just drinking without thinking. I added on four or five "dry" days at the beginning of February to offset the slip up. 

Unfortunately, three better habits have also gone dry this year. A slight modification of the grade school three Rs they are Reading, Writing and Running. These three habits are a big part of what keeps me healthy in both body and mind. My writing has obviously been neglected for quite some time, but through the 2020 part of the pandemic, I managed to keep up the other two when the world was turned upside down and making less and less sense. I was able to read 26 books last year, and though I had grander plans, I ran semi-regularly and covered a little over 500 miles. 

2021 has been an absolute struggle on all three fronts, and to be honest I am just plain struggling. I'll pick up on the running dry spell in the next post. 


March 16, 2021

A eulogy for Mom, a first of many

 In the Leaving by Jan Richardson

In the leaving,
in the letting go,
let there be this
to hold onto
at the last:

the enduring of love,
the persisting of hope,
the remembering of joy.

the offering of gratitude,
the receiving of grace,
the blessing of peace.

When I first started to think about what I would say here today, it was just overwhelming. How do you sum up a person in a few paragraphs or pages? It is a difficult thing to look for the light in dark times, but there have been some small blessings in the past week or two. As part of this process, we were encouraged to tell stories. One story led to another, and it was just nice to talk about Mom, and what she meant to me, and to our family.

There are a few memories that have stuck with me always, but in getting to talk about Mom over the past week, random stories would pop up that I hadn't thought about in years. And while I was thinking of stories to tell, little coincidences would pop up to provide a little wonder and mystery.

One of the silly memories that Jim mentioned was about the bucket of rocks. Mom and Dad would take us on hikes as kids. We of course grumbled about it most of the time, because we were kids. But more than the aluminum frame backpacks, and the false promise that the lake was just over the next hill, the thing that I remember most is Mom coming back with a pocket full of rocks. It was like she was bringing back a little talisman that carried the memory of the time and the place. Soon there were a couple of gallon-sized, plastic ice cream tubs full of them sitting in the garage. She could no longer match a rock to a memory, but I don't suppose that really mattered. The collection of rocks was just a way of marking days well spent.

Mom was not big on speeches or hitting you over the head with spelled-out lessons. She was more subtle, making you sort of work them out for yourself. I remember her somehow weaving in a lesson on empathy when she was teaching me how to drive. Consider others always, see things that they are seeing. But she mostly taught me things by example, by living in a caring way. She had this calm presence, a grounded way that I have tried to emulate.

I was walking through a park an hour or two before she passed, looking at bare trees, gathering my thoughts, and listening to a podcast. Toward the end of the episode, Sister Helen said, "The only way I know what I really believe, is by keeping watch over what I do."

Don’t get me wrong, Mom was no Buddha always floating on a sea of Zen. I remember her chewing out a theater manager when a scene was cut out of the movie The Fiddler on the Roof, and she could write a letter of complaint with the best of them. But she didn’t seem to seek out irritation, and even when she found it, she didn’t hang onto it for very long.

There is one memory that has always stuck with me. It was Christmastime several years ago, when Mom and Dad were living in their house above Eastgate. I was over at the house, Mom was working on something in the kitchen, and "It's A Wonderful Life" was on in the family room. This movie always hits me right in the feels, and I try and watch it every season. I don't remember what scene it was, or exactly what Mom said, but the gist of it was "I don't think when I look back on my life, that I will have had that much of an impact."

I know I said something to the effect that impacts can seem small and hardly noticed at the time, but that all those little moments add up. You can never know what chain of events can be set off with the simplest of actions or moments of kindness. And of course that is the lesson of the movie. George Bailey has no idea what a hole there would be if he had never existed.

While this memory was running through my head, I walked into Mom’s room at hospice. The TV was typically tuned to a station of relaxing music with occasional quotes popping up on the screen, but the TV was off when I walked in. When I turned it on the first quote read, "To the world you may be just one person, but to one person you may be the world."

I know Mom had an impact on far more people than she could have imagined, but of course I will always remember what she did for me specifically in all those small moments. Everything she did to make me who I am. All the strength that she gave me. I knew no matter how I faltered in this life, Mom would be there in my corner, believing in me when I simply couldn't.

She will live on in the way that I walk through this life. She will be there in every decision I make, every time I offer a small kindness, every time I try to see the world through someone else’s eyes.

One of the things she taught me in that pile of rocks was that if a rock had a band of different colored minerals encircling it, that it was considered a wish rock. Though I have Mom's tendency to be a sentimental packrat, I have resisted collecting a bucket full myself, but when I am hiking these days I will occasionally pick up a rock, and I have a few wish rocks on a shelf at home.

My wish is that we keep our hearts and minds open, and not shut off in pain. May we continue to see those little reminders and strange coincidences that bring her to mind. May the stories we tell and retell keep her alive in the hearts of those she loved, and those that loved her. May those little reminders and stories bring us joy, even when we don't feel like we are ready for it.

May she have felt love in all her days, and may that love sustain us in all of ours.

There is a saying that goes "Every dog owner thinks that their dog is the best. And they are all correct."

I suppose the same goes for Moms. My Mom was the best.




February 7, 2021

That time I could've died young

There are times in our lives where you dodge the worst, and wonder if there isn't someone out there looking out for you. If you had left your house a moment earlier or later, you would have been in that car crash you narrowly missed. If you hadn't caught your balance at the last minute, you could have pitched off the roof. If someone hadn't grabbed your collar, you would have walked mindlessly into traffic.

One of those moments was when I was a kid, flying a kite. I don't remember why I was flying a kite on that day. I don't have any solid memories of flying one before this day, or any day after it. Anyway, some random afternoon I was in my neighborhood having some stereotypical Leave it to Beaver childhood fun. 

It surprises me to remember that I ever got that kite off the ground. My limited memory of kite flying is that it is a massive pain in the butt to get the thing airborne, and I can't imagine how I did it alone. Somehow I did, and it took me down the street and up into a nearby cul-de-sac. And then into the power lines. 

Rather than walk away from a ten dollar toy, or more likely not wanting to leave trash behind, I tried to figure out how to get it down. Then I remembered that we had a tree pruner in the garage. If you don't know what a tree pruner is, it is a sevenish foot pole with a long cord attached to a set of pruners to cut branches that are far out of reach. If the branches are are too thick for the pruner, there is a large saw blade on the end. 

When I went to the Home Depot website to swipe this picture, I found out the poles are made of fiberglass now. Back then, the pole was metal. People are smarter now (sometimes). 

I first grabbed a ladder and then went back for the tree pruner. I remember trying to manage this heavy and unwieldy tool, ready to cut the kite string away from the power lines. I assumed the power lines were wrapped in some form of insulation. It seemed ridiculous that they wouldn't be, and of course I had seen birds on the lines all my life. I did not understand electricity, or what grounding meant. Truth be told, I still don't totally understand it.

Anyway, there I was, ready to extend this metal pole to touch the live wire. Then someone stopped me. A neighbor not quite ran out of his house, but did a solid power walk to stop me. He didn't yell, didn't make me feel stupid, didn't grab me by the shoulders and shake into me how dangerous and possibly deadly this was. In what seemed a perfect dad-like delivery he said something like, "looks like you got your kite stuck up there."

He also didn't tell me to just go home and call the kite a loss. He had me put down the tree pruner and we walked to his garage. He grabbed a fishing pole, some duct tape, and a steak knife. He duct taped the steak knife to the end of the fishing pole, and then taped the bamboo fishing pole to the tree pruner. Back to the ladder, he rather deftly cut away the kite string from the power line with this now fifteen foot contraption, and sent me away. If it was Leave it to Beaver, he would have tousled my hair. 

I didn't understand the bullet I had dodged until many years later when I found out that power lines are unprotected, and birds can die if they ground themselves by touching something other than the power line. I didn't recall ever meeting this neighbor before this day, and I don't know that I ever saw him again, but he may have saved my life that afternoon. Since I didn't understand the significance of what had just happened, I doubt I even told my parents about it.

I don't know what the odds were that this mystery neighbor would have been looking out the window at just the right time. I don't believe in guardian angels, destiny or fate, but I also don't want to look too hard behind the veil. Happy to have a little mystery, and be thankful when story ends happily.

January 24, 2021

Mom

 This is a post I have been avoiding writing. In a similar way, when my marriage was crumbling I didn't write about it publicly, maybe hoping to put off the inevitable outcome, and keeping it to myself in the meantime. But like so many things I have written about here, avoidance and trying to go it alone only leads to deeper troubles. Unable to see most of you in person these days, I will start the process here, beginning to work through it by getting it out of my head and down on paper.

Mom has cancer.

My brothers and I have been meeting once a month off and on over the last couple of years to grab a beer and catch up on life. This has obviously been paused during the pandemic, but in late October a gathering was called, and we were told about the diagnosis. 

She has been diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a cancer that forms in white blood/plasma cells. It accumulates in, and attacks your bone marrow. It was discovered when my mom was having back pain. After a couple of appointments, they discovered she had some broken ribs. This made them look a little closer, and they found the cancer, which had been basically dissolving the bones. As a strange coincidence, though multiple myeloma is a relatively uncommon cancer, this is the same type of cancer that my former father in law had. 

The cancer is in the later stages, and the outlook did not look good on initial diagnosis. Mom was put on a chemo regimen, taking a pill once a day in three week cycles. In the beginning, Mom was in a lot of pain due to the broken ribs. Every movement seemed to hurt, and she was very frustrated. Unfortunately, a few days before Thanksgiving Mom went downhill rapidly. She was lethargic, somewhat unresponsive and been sleeping most of the day. 

She was taken to the hospital the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and was there for a week. We brought her back home, hired in-home healthcare to help during the daytime, and I moved in to help out in the evenings. She briefly improved, but a couple of weeks later she was back in the hospital for another two weeks, coming home the evening of Christmas Day. 

Of course, since this is all happening in a pandemic, she couldn't have any visitors while she was in the hospital. We weren't even allowed in the building, so she was going through this all alone. I can't fully understand what that was like for her. They released her on Christmas, not because she had improved much, but because they weren't getting anywhere in improving her physical health. She was too weak to be moved to skilled nursing care, so home was the only real option.

She has been home again for almost a month now. On one hand, being at home is better for her mental state, and her ribs seem to be mostly healed. However, she is still weak, unable to do much more than lie on the couch during the day, and often has difficulty following trains of thought. Strangely, her decline does not seem to be directly related to the cancer, as those numbers seem to be responding to the chemo. It has basically been diagnosed as "failure to thrive", a phrase that seems to put it all on her (and us). She definitely isn't eating or drinking enough, and that is contributing to the inability to get better. I don't know if it is a confluence of the multiple drugs she is on that is making her not want to eat, or if it is something else.

We are trying our best. There is still a healthcare worker there during the day, and one of the brothers is over there every evening to see Mom, and help Dad out with her evening care. But we are at a loss right now. We aren't seeing any real progress, have fewer answers, and we just generally feel helpless. 

There is much more to process and work through, more detailed stories to tell, but this is a starting point of where we are right now. Thanks for reading, for being a part of my circle, and for being part of the conversation.

As always, hug your humans (when it is safe to do so). 

December 31, 2020

Looking back on parts of 2020

A friend of mine recently posted this on Facebook:

Name a good thing that happened during 2020.

For me I made a bunch of new friends that I would have never known were it not for this year.

I drew a blank when trying to answer this seemingly easy question. After reading through the many responses, small and good things that had happened to people I didn't know, my comment to the post was simply, "this thread" because I appreciated so much the question and the answers. 

Our memories seemed pre-disposed to remember our struggles more than our victories, the bad over the good. On top of that, my memory is chronically poor so 2020 (maybe more so than other years) is all just a haze. But on this last day of the year I sat down and tried to remember some of the more positive things that happened this year among all the general suffering. Since my memory is terrible, this is by no means a complete list, and I look forward to people reminding me of things I forgot. 

  • When the shelter-in-place orders came in, so many were stuck at home. Some were fortunate to be able to work from home and thus keep their jobs. However, cabin fever still exists and with few places open and many outlets restricted, many took to walking around the neighborhood. Many seemed to adopt dogs to give them an excuse to get outdoors. Since they were now home more than ever, it was also a great time to help the new pups adjust. While walking around the neighborhood, most everyone was more friendly, exchanging waves and greetings from a distance, deftly maneuvering off and onto the sidewalks to give each other space. The neighborhood felt more neighborly this year.

  • The neighborly feeling also extended beyond the neighborhood. There are obviously endless stories of how people are not taking Covid seriously, and just generally behaving as if providing even the smallest amount of concern for their fellow man is beyond them. However, I have seen so many small gestures of kindness that made me see the care in other people. All the small things that said that though were are not all in the same boat, that we see that we are all weathering the same storm. That we are all in this together. 

  • This was to be a huge fitness year for me. My 2020 schedule included Ramrod, two Half Ironman events, and my first full Ironman. All were ultimately postponed to 2021. As I have mentioned here previously, having an event on the calendar provides the motivation to get out there running, biking and now swimming. The literal finish line gives me something to shoot for, and a proper deadline to make sure the workouts happen. Without the deadlines this year, it was easier to stay on the couch, but various virtual challenges helped keep me from falling too far off the wagon. My regular Thursday night running group the North Bend Beer Runners stuck together all year online. People posted pictures and stories of their runs, as well as pictures of them toasting each other, now at a distance instead of gathered in local pub or brewery. Northwest Trails also held a trail running challenge over the summer. Each week there were new routes and scavenger hunts that kept us outdoors and engaged. Even the silly challenges on Strava (workout four days a week, run a solo 5k or half marathon, etc.) helped keep me moving forward. While I definitely missed the atmosphere and comradery of in-person events, the virtual version definitely did some good.

  • And speaking of virtual communities, it was the year of Zoom and the like. For a number of weeks in the summer, several long time friends from the Keg Restaurant would have a weekly Zoom gathering on Fridays. It was nice to see all the faces and hear their stories once a week. My biking group also "gathered" somewhat less formally on the Marco Polo app. The app lets you send short video messages to individuals and groups. Sometimes we would send random clips of what we were doing, but there would also be semi-regular gatherings with Jenica kicking things off with a "Roll call, watcha drinking?" Of course nothing will replace being able to see each other in person, but in this strange year of distancing, there was still some connection.

  • For about a month I did a "Friends in Photos" project on Facebook and Instagram. I posted a photo each day of a different friend, most often a picture of the two of us side by side. The project was intended to run until we could gather in person once again, but of course this has gone on longer than most of us anticipated. Sometimes I would write a little note with the picture, sometimes they were posted with little context, but it was great to revisit all the faces and places and remind myself how fortunate I am. 

  • At the end of last year I purchased something called a Five Year Journal. The journal is set up with a page for each day, but with room on the page for entries for five consecutive years. My writing habit has obviously been neglected these past few years, and I suppose I decided to begin using this journal to jump start it a bit. It was also meant for me to pay more attention. As noted above, I often have trouble recalling the smaller things that brought me joy in the moment. In previous years I have tried writing the smaller things down on strips of paper and putting them in a jar to read back again at the new year, but after the first month or two I would forget and lose the habit. This journal has been more successful, but again there are weeks here and there where nothing was written down. I finally put a daily reminder on my calendar so at 8:00 each night it pings me to recall the day. It ended up being a very strange year, and I am glad to have this journal as a small window into all that that 2020 was, and to have it continue to keep me paying attention in the years ahead. 

This was such a terrible year in so many respects. Global and personal suffering. Hardships for friends and myself. People we have lost, and beliefs that have been fractured. 2020 is a year that we will all be glad to have in our rearview mirror. However, a flip of the calendar page will not wash it all away, and 2021 will also be difficult for many of the same reasons. The light at the end of the tunnel can seem far off, but I will continue the effort to look for the small joys that bring us light. 




December 24, 2020

Favorite Christmas Memory

The holidays in 2020 may go down as the least memorable. Well, they may be memorable, but not in a positive way. I was recently reminded of one of my favorite Christmas memories, so I thought I would share it here. 

I was living in my first apartment with a buddy of mine. It was a two bedroom in the Crossroads area, with a shared laundry in another part of the building, and had this strange rollaway dishwasher that you connected to the sink with a hose. I remember the messy lesson that you when you are out of dishwashing soap, you shouldn't substitute dish soap. I can still picture the soap suds pouring out of the dishwasher and filling the kitchen. 

We both worked at the McDonald's down the hill. We could walk, or in my roommate's case skateboard, to work. We worked early morning shifts to open up the place, unloaded the delivery trucks each week, and had closing shifts where we were there past midnight. I remember I started at $3.35 an hour and we couldn't have been making much more than four or five dollars an hour when we moved in together. Things were obviously cheaper back then, but we were still just scraping by. We took advantage of the free meal each day we were at work, and our cupboards were filled with Top Ramen and Campbells soup. There was certainly no money for much of a Christmas. 

We were both working the night shift a day or two before Christmas. When we arrived home, there was a Christmas tree set up and decorated in our living room. Our girlfriends had sweet-talked a guy at a Christmas tree lot into giving them a Christmas tree for free or nearly so. Since it was almost Christmas, maybe he wasn't going to sell any more trees anyway. Maybe the trees were all headed to the woodchipper by that point. Maybe our girlfriends were particularly charming or told a great story. Somehow they made it happen even though they were about as broke as we were. 

They decorated the tree with ornaments and tinsel they had swiped from their parent's trees. It was probably a bit of mess of mismatched and sparse decoration, but even then all I could see was the beautiful tree through Charlie Brown eyes, and fill my lungs with that wonderful fresh pine tree smell. It was such a wonderful gesture, and one of those little Christmas miracles. 

I have had grander Christmases, and many special moments shared with wonderful friends and family who I love. There have been other gifts that were perfectly chosen, sometimes revealing how well someone knows me. Still, I cannot recall a Christmas gift or moment that meant quite as much as that one thirty five years ago. 


November 25, 2019

November

For the last decade, November has been sort of a second spring.

As a guy who prepares taxes for a living, there are two major seasons during the year. The first crush of work/hours is to make the March 15th and April 15th deadlines, and the second is the extension deadlines of September and October 15th.

After the spring deadlines, we take a breather, get out of town for a bit, but there is still a bunch of work to do over the summer to make the fall deadlines less brutal. After the October 15th deadline, the tax year is really over. Well, mostly but there really is much less to do. This is the time when all those things I ignored and which faded into the background for much of the year suddenly move out of the shadows to be seen. There are days of office cleaning, scanning and shredding prior year stuff to make room for the current year's paperwork, doctors appointments are made, car maintenance is taken care of, etc.

It is the same thing on the home front. After weeks of long hours and few days off, it is time for (second) spring cleaning. After catching up on sleep and arriving home during daylight hours, you see your home in a different light. First, there are cobwebs. Everywhere. There is a large stack of newspapers I haven't read, but couldn't quite admit I wasn't going to get to. I only get the paper on Sundays, but the stack was still pretty high. Similarly there is a large backlog of books I want to read, but since most of them are on the Kindle or still at the library, the stack is less obvious. My desk is covered in receipts and I haven't balanced my checkbook since the end of the previous year. I reconcile other people's books all year, but can't seem to get to my own, like a carpenter that can't seem to find the time to finish the baseboard in his house. It is satisfying to dig into it, but man the list of set aside projects is long.

The other November re-birth for the past decade has been about writing. It began with that first Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) in November of 2010. The other Sean threw down the gauntlet to join in the challenge of writing 50,000 words in a month and I could not ignore his enthusiasm. I made that 50,000 word deadline and came away with a novel that first year. However, I have attempted it a few other times but have not been able to recapture the magic.

I have been on the Nanowrimo mailing list since that first year, and the encouraging emails start rolling in each year around early September. This year a singer I follow was going to take it on and she encouraged me to join. November comes and I have the time and mental space to imagine taking it on again.  Like in previous years though, I did not have a sufficient idea to pursue, but also as in previous years, November sparked something inside that made me want to clear away the mental dust that I had let gather.

Back when I was writing more consistently, I carried around a little notebook to jot down ideas that crossed my mind. Now the notes are jotted down on a phone app when they appear, but they appear less often. To no one's surprise, part of the reason is the phone itself. Moments when I previously let my mind wander are now occupied by the world behind the small screen I carry around. There are fewer creative thoughts because I don't make time for them. When I am busy I can make the excuse that my mind is full, but not in November.

Several nights this month I have been reading old posts, and going through the note-taking apps on my phone. I have found posts that I am proud of, and little snippets of scenes I jotted down for possible stories that make me smile with possibility. It reminds me that there was something in there once, and that it could be there again if I allow the time, make the space, and do the work I have been neglecting.


November 14, 2019

Black Diamond Half-Ironman Triathlon

So my summer of triathlon ramped up pretty quickly.

June - Did a sprint triathlon thirteen years ago.
July - Sprint distance - .5 mile swim, 14 mile bike, 3.1 mile run
August - Olympic distance - .9 mile swim, 25 mile bike, 6.2 mile run
September - Half-Iron distance - 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run

As under prepared as I felt for Lake Meridian in August, well you can pretty much double that feeling for Black Diamond. Since the swim was the newest element, I had spent most of my mental energy, if not time, on that discipline so felt OK there. I had some running training in the bank from earlier events, but I wasn't exactly ready. What I really hadn't made enough time for was getting on the bike. And as I mentioned in the previous post, this would only be the third time riding on the new tri bike. Like my marathon in Big Sur earlier in the year, I just planned to do the best I could, and focus on enjoying the experience.

The day did not start out great. Well, really the day before. I had some shall we say, intestinal issues the day before. This did not bode well for being squeezed into a wetsuit for an hour, or out on a bike for 56 miles. Then I couldn't find my swim goggles when I was packing up the gear the night before. I fortunately had bought a similar pair that were tinted and mirrored for sunnier days, but had never worn them. One more thing to go against the adage of "nothing new on race day"

I drove down to the start area early, but you actually had to park about two miles down the road from the event. They offered a shuttle and you were allowed to take your bike onto the bus, but they encouraged people to ride to the start to try and eliminate a logjam. Though I had my gear in a backpack so I could ride to the start, I hadn't thought ahead that it would still be before sunrise and the country roads would be dark. Luckily I found a headlamp in my car, so I followed the little circle of light down the road to the park.

The early arrival meant that I found a good spot in the transition area, had plenty of time to wake up, pee, chat with other runners, pee some more, and just get in a good frame of mind. As I wandered around I saw Kathleen and a few other friendly faces in the volunteer tent, and was early enough to see them setting up the swim course.




My watch has a countdown timer for my next event. It counts down for weeks and months, and then suddenly you are there with just minutes to go. Time to start.


The lake was small enough that we had to do two loops. There were different colored buoys for the different events/distances, so you had to keep aiming for the right color. It was another crowded start and I tried to stay to the side of the main pack, but I found myself crawling up on people and having to steer around to find a lane for much of the swim. Overall the swim went pretty well. The goggles worked fine, if a little dark for the overcast day. Other than steering around people I didn't wander off course too much, and I came out of the water feeling pretty good.

I ran/shuffled to the transition area. I am always surprised how awkward I feel walking out of the water since I feel like I barely use my legs during the swim. I somewhat clumsily stripped off my wetsuit, dried my feet, put on my socks, shoes and other bike gear and ran to the exit. Ann was there cheering me on, encouraging as she always is, and snapping some good photos.




When transitioning to the bike you have to run for a bit to a specific area before you can get on and start riding. After crossing the grassy area, cutting down a trail we found pavement and the place where could start. I hopped on and started pedaling.

And my legs felt...empty.

They weren't sore, there was just nothing there, somehow already completely spent.  I tried not to panic, but I had more than five hours of riding and running ahead of me. I stayed in a low gear and started spinning, hoping they would wake up and come back online.

The bike route was another two loop course. I had looked at the elevation profile ahead of time but that doesn't always translate. With riding around it twice we got to scout it out on the first lap, and decide where to be conservative and aggressive on the second lap. Well that was the theory. I just did not have anything in my legs for the hills. I took them slowly and tried to make up for lost time on the downhills and flats. I tucked into my tri position and it really felt like I moving faster than my body was capable.

As a follow up to the discussion about body position and wind resistance in the last post, here are photos from Lake Meridian on my road bike, and from Black Diamond on my tri bike.



Even feeling pretty weak I was encouraged by my average pace in the first hour, around 17 mph. I continued to try and ride conservatively, knowing there was little juice in my legs, and that I had a half marathon to run when I finished riding. I did a better job of fueling during the ride than I had in the past, but I still think I needed to take on more calories. There were a couple of water stations and I managed to grab a bottle and squeeze it into the container on my handlebars without crashing. I was not feeling completely at home as I would have on my road bike, but I am still surprised at how quickly I felt comfortable on the new bike

I rolled into the transition area after 56 miles and a little over three hours on the bike. Time to swap out for running shoes and then back out to take on the half marathon. As I hit the pavement once again I headed left. Ann was there to tell me I was going the wrong way, but I assured her I was not, pointing to the porta potties. Apparently I had hydrated well on the bike because I had needed to pee for the last hour of the ride. Very fortunately, none of my intestinal issues from the day before resurfaced.

After the quick pit stop I was back on course. My legs, feeling dead on the bike, actually felt pretty good on the run. I mean I was definitely tired, but they absolutely felt better than during the bike-to-run transitions on the last two triathlons. Man I love this new bike! I checked my pace on the first mile out of curiosity but did not check it for the rest of the race. I just ran by feel. The route certainly wasn't crowded, but there were generally a few runners up ahead to encourage you on.

As I said I ran by feel, and for the first half I felt pretty good. Then after mile seven the wheels started coming off. I was pretty done in physically. I started walking up sections of hills, and then I started walking at regular intervals no matter if the road was pointing up or not. Like in Big Sur, I just took it as it came. I tried to find a comfortable pace when running, and walked when I needed to. I find that running at near my normal pace and then walking is easier mentally if not physically than just running really slow. I smiled, I waved, I pressed on.

The route returned to the park at about mile ten. The course then took you around the lake twice before reaching the finish line. I saw Ann again as I started the first loop. She encouraged me on, telling me I was doing great, but I told her I was struggling. She would have none of that and had me smiling as I ran past.


The route around the lake was groomed trails and was quite lovely. I was walking more often with each mile, but staying in the moment. There were a couple of volunteers near the end of the first loop to make sure we went the right direction, and soon I was passing by the finish line, teasing me as I made my way onto the next loop. More trails, more trees, more run/walking. As I approached those volunteers for the second time, I started walking. They encouraged me on, telling me it was just around the corner, and I smiled and said, "I know. I'm taking my last walk break so I can run across the finish."

And then there it was.




Ann was there chatting with her trainees and I got to debrief a bit, sharing the experience of the day. Soon though, a wave of nausea and stomach cramping hit and I had to walk away. There was food at the finish, but I couldn't stomach anything at that point. Though spent, I had felt pretty good crossing the line, but my body was rebelling soon after.

About ten minutes after I finished, Joe and Jenica arrived and they brought with them the thing that would turn my day around - an ice cold Coke. I don't drink it all that often anymore, but there is something about the sugar and carbonation that revives me like nothing else. It has saved me before during a hot STP, and has brought me back to life after burying myself on a couple of marathons. The Coke revived me once more, and soon I was feeling human again and I could enjoy the fried chicken Jenica brought as well.



After chatting and regaling in the day, we packed up and headed back to our cars so we could find a brewery and share more stories over a cold one. The two mile bike ride back to the car were the hardest miles of the day. I really had nothing left.

At some point Jenica asked if I had cried when I crossed the finish line. It was a great question. After decades of stoically keeping emotions in check I am more of a crier these days, and nothing gets me like seeing someone cross a finish line, whether it is me or someone else. Even though this was a big accomplishment for me, one I was not entirely prepared for, emotions did not overwhelm me this time. It might have been the two loops around the lake, knowing when the finish was coming, and the rest break before rounding the corner. Maybe it was the state of mind during the day. Maybe my mind was just empty, not even thinking about what I had just done.

Emotional or not, I am pretty proud of what I did that day. Some stats for those that are interested in those things:

Swim: 43:06, 1:55/100 yards
Bike: 3:07:28, 17.9 mph
Run: 2:12:39, 10:06/mile
Total time: 6:10:35

Triathlon season is over, but I already have the next one on the calendar. Sean and the other Sean will be back together again, headed to Oceanside in April for the Half-Ironman. I can't wait.

November 13, 2019

The fastest thing on two wheels

I have had my road bike for about thirteen years now. I started biking a couple years earlier, first using a rust bucket I had from college, and then slightly upgrading to a hybrid bike I picked up for about $150 at a bike shop no longer in existence. I rode that hybrid for a few years, and it actually carried me through two-day, 200 mile STP bike rides for the first three years that I rode that event.

But the road bike changed things.

As I have mentioned previously, I hesitate to replace things that still work. Of course the biggest part of riding is fitness, but the hybrid wasn't really built for more "serious" biking. I couldn't quite justify the upgrade, especially since there was lots I could do toward fitness and weight loss, but I did want it pretty badly. Then I had the opportunity to build a deck for my brother, and that earned me enough money to buy a good entry level road bike.

My Specialized Roubaix has a basic aluminum frame, and though it was definitely faster than the hybrid, it was still built for the comfort of long haul rides rather than for pure speed. It is nothing special to look at, but it feels like a sleeper vehicle that has some hidden power you can't see. It has taken me on a couple one-day STP rides, around Mount Rainier twice, over the Continental Divide, and on a 1,000 mile trek from Seattle to San Francisco.

Of course I see all manner of beautiful bikes when I am out riding. Feather-light carbon frames with gorgeous construction and higher grade components. But I have never really considered getting another road bike. For one, I didn't feel that my stock Roubaix was holding be back, and for another I sort of embraced the beat up old classic taking on the shinier new vehicles.

Then I got into triathlons.

When I first started thinking about triathlons a decade ago, I had read that a tri bike can make a real difference even over the nicest road bike. The differences are two-fold. First it is about aerodynamics for the bike segment of the event. The frames of tri bikes are more blade-like and cut through the wind more easily than the more typical road bike frame. More importantly though is the body position. The largest aerodynamic drag is not the bike, but your body. On a tri bike (also called a time trial bike) you ride in a lower, more stretched out position. On most other bikes you are sitting upright and your chest/body creates a lot of wind resistance. On the tri bike, your arms are stretched out and your torso more horizontal. Less frontal area, less resistance.

The other difference is also related to that stretched out position. Since the triathlon is a multi-discipline event, you need to constantly think about saving energy from one section to the next. From what I have read the position works slightly different muscles than you use when you are running. The theory goes (and my later experience would confirm) you finish the bike leg of the event with fresher legs for the run.

This new sport gave me a little better excuse to get a new bike. However, even though I had three triathlons planned for 2019 I had no plans to get a tri bike until at least next year. I planned to see how much I enjoyed triathlons, then hopefully I could pick up a used bike somewhere when I started to get more serious about the clock rather than just finishing.

And then of course I won a bike.

As I mentioned earlier, the bike that I won would've been an upgrade to my current road bike, but since I didn't really need/want another road bike, the bike shop owner was willing to use it as store credit toward a tri bike. I went down to the bike shop a week after the raffle to see what we could make happen. They of course had some very nice bikes, but as before with moving from hybrid to road bike, the largest jump in performance was just moving from one type of bike to another. I was looking at a (still very nice) entry level tri bike.

They had two brands to choose from at the entry level and I took each one on a test spin. While they were getting them set up for me I commented to one of the guys working there that I had a triathlon in a few weeks, but had no plans to ride the new bike. He looked confused so I explained that I figured it would take some time to get used to the new bike and riding position, and I just didn't feel confident I could would be comfortable enough in that short of time. He assured me I would be.

And he was right.

The test rides did feel a bit weird, but I felt much more comfortable than expected. One bike felt much better than the other, so it made the choice easy. Since I was setting up a new bike there were several additional purchases to be made at the store, so they got a little of my winnings back. I had to wait another week to get the exact bike I wanted, but it was so worth the wait. I think she's gorgeous.


I was able to get out on my new bike for two Saturday rides of about 20 miles each before the triathlon. Certainly not the best plan to change things so close to the race, but with each pedal stroke felt a bit more comfortable, and I definitely felt faster.

When I talked to my brother about buying the new bike, he was blown away at how much bicycles cost. My original road bike cost $1,200, but I have had thirteen years and thousands of miles to enjoy it. And it is not retired. It will continue to be my regular bike for group rides, and it will carry me around Mount Rainier for a third time in July.

The tri bike was $2,900 before all the additional equipment, so I was very fortunate to have basically won a $1,500 down payment at the raffle. I would not have otherwise made this purchase happen, and hopefully it will see fifteen years and thousands of miles as well. This bike has already made a huge difference after only one race (next post) and it is probably the nicest thing I own.

It certainly isn't a sleeper.

September 22, 2019

Lake Meridian Olympic Triathlon, part two

After crossing the finish line I wandered over to Ann to say hello and briefly debrief on the race. I hung out for a few minutes until Angie crossed the finish line and then made my exit so she could have the finish to herself. Smile on my face, I wandered through the crowd making my way back to my station to get rid of some things and grab my phone for some pictures.

After gathering my breath and letting the day sink in, I found my way over to where the volunteers were dishing out baked potatoes. It didn't sound all that tempting, but I knew I needed to eat. I only ended up finishing about half of it before tossing it out. My stomach is always a bit messed up after any long event. Even though I never seem to take in enough calories while on the road, I never feel much like eating when I finish.

I found some open grass among the crowd and listened as the event organizers went through the awards and raffles. There were actually three events/distances on the day, a Sprint, Super Sprint and Olympic triathlon. They also broke up the age groups in five year increments so the award ceremonies went on for a long time. Every so often they would raffle off some prizes to keep people around and interested.


Many people had left by this point, so when they called out a bib number and no one responded, they would toss that number aside and draw another. They mentioned that even if you won one of the smaller things, your name would still go back into the hat for the grand prize. Part way through Ann sent me a text and then waved me over to join her and a couple of her athletes/trainees. We swapped stories about how the day went, enjoying the day again in the retelling.

As they made their way through the various events and age categories, I kept looking at the clock. I had left the house sometime around 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning and it was already going to be eight plus hours that Izzy would be cooped up in her crate. I kept debating ducking out, but I was enjoying the sorta-after-party, and hey you never know.

When they finally got to the Olympic distance, and then to my age group I was surprised to find that I had finished fifth. At that point I didn't know how many were actually in my age group, but I was hoping it was at least six. I later found out it was twelve, so not too shabby for my second tri and first time at the distance.

To speed things up a bit, they announced both the men and women in each age group and had them go up to the stage together to get their prize. Angie had placed third in her age group, and the way they had the stage set up we were standing side by side to get our pint glasses. Weird coincidence.




I made my way back up the hill to Ann and her group and shared my amazement that I had placed. It was not a couple of minutes later than one of Ann's friend's name was called. as she placed in her age division as well. Smiles all around. 

Once the awards were finished it was time for the grand drawing. They added back the previous winners, but left all the non-responses sitting on the grass where they had been tossed aside. To add a bit of suspense, the announcer called out the winning bib number one digit at a time. When he started with a 2, I knew I was out. He called out 2, 1, 5...  No response. The person who had won had already left, so that number floated down to the grassy dead pile. 

They dug into the hat again and slowly read off the next number - 3 (me)...9 (also me!)...4 (holy shit, that's me!!). I tossed up my phone in surprise and leapt up raising my hands in the air to make sure they saw me before drawing another number. I jogged down to the front as people clapped and probably started gathering up their things. I showed them my bib to verify I had not misheard, and they waved me up on to the make-shift stage. There waiting for me was Brad from the local bike shop. Also waiting for me was a very nice Cannondale road bike. 




While they were snapping some photos, Brad and I chatted. I noted that the bike was a size too large for me, but obviously this was sort of a placeholder. After chatting for a bit longer, he asked something along the lines of "do you even need a bike?" I guess he has given away a bike at several previous events, and sometimes the winner already has several bikes. Not this guy. 

I mentioned that I already had a road bike that although it wasn't as nice as this one, I didn't feel that it was exactly holding me back. I mentioned that I was just getting into triathlons, but I was hoping to get a triathlon specific bike at some point. He said he couldn't provide a tri bike at the price point of this one, but I could apply the credit to get me partway there. 

Deal.

I hadn't planned on getting a tri bike until at least next year, and even then I would be likely shopping for a used bike. But damn, sometimes you get lucky. 

It was a doubly, triply successful day. I drove home still a bit worried about Izzy, but it turns out she was just fine. When I let her out she just sat down on the lawn and stared out at the lake, very zen-like and apparently not needing to pee. Glad I stayed for the drawing. 

Next, bike shopping. This tri thing is starting to get serious.