September 20, 2017

Running circles in my mind

Mental health equipment
Where can you run to escape from yourself? 
~ "Dare You to Move" by Switchfoot
I have been struggling a bit this year. It hasn't been to the depths of depression, but there has been a lingering feeling of lowness and sadness. A few things recently have ramped up this background feeling and brought it to the forefront, but that is a story for another post. For now, I want to talk about the small things I am trying to do to push back the branches that have been closing in.

I have been pretty inactive this year, at least in comparison to previous years. When I did not get a permit to hike The Wonderland Trail, I really lost steam. This was already going to be a step-back year for biking and running, and when the big hike fell off the calendar, I let myself wallow and stagnate. And my psyche suffered.

On May 29th, I put a September 16th half marathon on the calendar to have a finish/deadline to encourage me to get back out on the roads.

 It didn't work.

I ran a mile on May 31st, ran three times in June to "prepare" for a 5k, and then didn't run a step until the end of August. I had been doing some bike riding to prepare for the RSVP, but even that was a bit half-hearted.

I had basically forgotten about the half marathon, but I needed to get back out on the road for other reasons. I needed to stop running circles in my mind, torturing myself with ruminating and over-thinking, and leave some of that crap by the side of the road. August 24th I ran two miles at lunch, and then a 5k that Saturday (which I had also forgotten about). It was of course a bit painful, as first steps always are, but I was at least moving. And being among other runners at the 5k - well, that community always feels so inclusive. Shared challenges can pull you out of your own navel gazing and drain circling.

Forgotten or not, the half marathon was still out there. Training cycles are of course typically about 16 weeks, so with three weeks to go, this was going to be cramming for finals. Fortunately the half marathon I signed up for was sort of perfect. The Beat the Blerch run is sponsored by a local guy that creates the online comic, The Oatmeal. He talks a lot about how running has saved him from his darker/lazier side, penning the book The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances. He talks about how running lets him find the void, the silence of mind where you are not constantly bombarding yourself with current stress or past failings. Running has helped me find a similar peace in the past, and I hoped I would find it again in rhythmic footfalls.

"The Blerch" is a character that Mathew Inman created that "represents all forms of gluttony, apathy, and indifference that plague my life." Along with the nice metaphor of The Blerch to represent the crap I was trying to exercise from my mind (pun sort of intended), the half marathon was an event that didn't take itself too seriously. Keeping with the theme of temptations, there would be cake, Nutella and couches at the water stops. There would also be costumed Blerches to chase you down the trail.

And I obviously had not taken the training very seriously. From August 24th to race day, I ran a total of seven times - four weekday 2 milers, and weekend runs 3, 5 and 8 miles. I missed a couple of runs due to bad air quality from the fires, and one because of work. The half marathon was also the morning after one of our four major work deadlines, so that didn't make it any easier. I obviously went in with no expectations, figuring that if the wheels came completely off, there was always cake, couches and a good story.

How it all turned out up next.

May 29, 2017

Keep clicking refresh

Blown up map on my office wall

So we come to the final installment of this one, two, three, four part story of the Turning Fifty/Wonderland Trail/will the hike be as long as these posts journey.

As mentioned before, I was pretty jazzed about this trip. I read books, attended an REI presentation, researched gear, and blew up a map of the trail to hang on my office wall. Whenever I felt buried in taxes, I would look up at that map like it was a literal window to the outside. When April 1st rolled around, I would constantly check my email looking for the all critical message letting me know I would get in. The website mentioned that you had seven days to respond to the invitation, so after a couple of days I thought to check my junk folder as well. If Google had marked it as spam and I missed it, my head may have exploded.

After a week or so, I logged onto the permit website and found this update.

I had previously had good luck with lotteries. Well, not lotteries for money, just ones where you sign up for the opportunity to beat yourself up for pleasure. I lucked out on the first try to ride Ramrod in 2013, and "won" again for the chance to run the St. George Marathon in 2016. The above notice told me the odds weren't looking good for a third round of luck.

I kept refreshing my email inbox at unhealthy intervals, but consoled myself that if I had to, I would go the first-come, first-served permit route for the few reservations they set aside each year. Work is a bit more flexible in the summer, so I figured I would drive down to the park, see if I could get in, and if not, go back to work for a couple of days. Then I would drive down again, rinse and repeat until I could get my foot in the door/on the trail.

Then I got the email denying me a permit.

I was pretty disappointed. I had really built this trip up in my mind to the point to where I was almost depending on it. I sort of sulked for a few weeks, wondering how realistic the day-of approach to getting a permit would be. At some point, I logged back onto the permit website and found this new update.

Click to embiggen

I am not sure how "a large number of the camps are now full on the entire circuit through the end of September" happens when they say they hold back 30% of the reservations, but whatever. This note made it pretty clear that I would not be hiking the Wonderland Trail in 2017. Having now made that decision (or having it made for me) it allows me to take summer plans off hold and hopefully get out on some shorter adventures.

The ultimate goal was to get outside and disconnect - and I suppose reconnect with parts of myself set aside. Getting outside always refreshes my soul, and The Wonderland Trail would have brought this to another level. However, I need to learn to recharge my mental and physical batteries on a more daily basis. You can't depend on a two-week getaway to make up for an entire year.

There is now an additional (great) complication that made an epic trip less feasible this year.

Shifting gears, but to be continued again.

May 24, 2017

Trying to get the golden ticket

So, as I mentioned in the first post, I was looking for something a bit epic to mark my fiftieth year. In the second post, I found that epic thing in the The Wonderland Trail, and just needed to get in.

There is a lottery to get a permit to hike the trail. They take applications from March 1st to March 31st and then start drawing names at random in April. If any spots are available after they get through the first batch, they take the ones after April 1st in order they were submitted. The website says that they hold back 30% of the spots to walk-ups, so theoretically you could show up on a random Tuesday in August and try and get in. For a trip of this size and necessary planning though, this would make things much tougher.

The permit is really a permit to stay overnight on the trail, as anyone can day-hike sections. To that end, when you submit your permit application, you send in a planned itinerary of when you will start, how long it will take you, and most importantly, where you will be each night. There are four major trailheads and a few smaller ones where you can start, you can hike either clockwise or counter-clockwise, and the suggested duration is from nine to thirteen days.

With all of these variables, it is fortunate that the people who wrote this great book have created an online trip planner. You can play with all the variables to try and dial in a plan that has you stopping at your desired campsites and having (somewhat) manageable distances each day. After monkeying around with things for several nights after work, I landed on an eleven day trek going counter-clockwise, starting at either Sunrise or Mowich Lake. The eleven days had me averaging about nine miles a day, and it made it easier to hit the campsites I was looking for.

I chose counter-clockwise for a couple of reasons. First, they say that the uphills are a bit steeper going in this direction, and the downhills a bit less so. The downhills seem to put more strain on my back, so I chose the direction with more gradual downhills. The other is that most people choose to go clockwise, so by swimming upstream, I would see a larger number of new faces. So when March came around, I had four different hopeful itineraries, starting at different trailheads, including one going in the opposite direction.

When you fill out your application, you can also check boxes that you are willing to have different campsites, go a different direction, etc. I checked them all to be as flexible as possible, hoping to increase my chances. I also left open the start date to a two-week window. I would have liked to have been even more flexible, but there are a few things on the calendar that limited things. First, because of the huge snowfall this year, certain campsites would not be open until July 31st, and by late August, the second tax season is in full swing. I filled out my first choice itinerary and clicked the button to go to the next page to enter in my second and third choices.

Except there was no next page. Turns out it was a waste of time to have multiple plans, and you only get one chance to throw your name in the pot. The website warned that it could be until mid-May before you heard whether your ticket was golden.

Now, all I could do is wait.

May 21, 2017

The Wonderland Trail

I have been watching a lot of YouTube lately. Probably too much really. For the last few months it has pretty much replaced TV/Netflix/Hulu so there isn't really more screen time, but it is all couch time. One of my favorite channels is the Vlogbrothers. I will write about them later but on one of the videos where they take questions, one of the viewers asked, "What are you most excited about right now?" Before answering the question, he praised it and said this is something we should always be asking ourselves.

It is easy to have your days and years become dulled when you lack a place to focus your passion. Adding to this, without that focus, passion dissipates. I assume this is not rare, but there are long periods of my life where the days pass by with almost no notice. The common question on Monday is, "what did you do this weekend" and many times I have to stop and think. It is not that I don't have semi-regular adventures great and small, but again the memories seem dulled. Without a level of passion, it is like I am not fully there.

Anyway, for the past few months, I had an answer for "What are you most passionate about?" Through all the long days and short nights of tax season, I was thinking and planning for The Wonderland Trail. When I got home each night, I would be researching the trail, watching videos about backpacking advice and following people who were hiking the Appalachian Trail to try and get a sense of what it felt like. Over the past few years, I have slowly accumulated the necessary gear for a long backpacking trip, but now the focus would be on trimming back on the items to reduce weight and make the hike a bit easier. Every ounce saved would make the hills seem a bit less steep.

And there would be hills.

The Wonderland Trail circles Mount Rainier, covering some 93 miles. Though you don't climb anywhere near the peak, you still climb and descend 22,000 feet in the process. Looking at a profile of the hike, it seems like there are no flat spots, and you are always on one side of a climb.

There are several designated campsites along the way where you must camp, so no pulling over at some random spot in the woods. You not only need to get a permit to hike The Wonderland Trail, you must have a planned itinerary before heading out, reserving a spot in each campsite you plan to hit. In other words, you don't get to decide that you are feeling a bit sore and take an extra day in camp. You have a place to be each night, and miles to go before you sleep. Even getting away from it all has necessary structure.

The reason for the structure is that they allow only a certain number of people on the trail at one time, This is both due to the number of campsites and also to balance access with keeping the park in good/wild condition. Due to these limitations, each year there are more people that want to hike the trail than there are spots. Much like popular marathons and other events, there is a lottery to get in.

This year seemed perfect for The Wonderland Trail. This longer trip was sort of a progression from the backpacking I had done in the past few years. I had most of the gear, some of the know-how and enough experience to (think that I could) do it. In past years, I have had overlapping running and biking goals that interfered with each other. This year, there were no crazy runs or rides to train for so I could pretty much focus on backpacking. Plus there was that fiftieth birthday knocking on the door. This would be the year.

I found what I was most excited about. Now I just needed to get in.

To be continued (again)....

May 11, 2017

The mountains are calling...again

"Keep close to Nature's heart... and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean."

~ John Muir

One of the things that kept me (relatively) sane during the long hours of tax season was thinking about escaping to the woods.

I grew up in a family that camped and hiked, but for some reason the desire to be out in the woods only grabbed me again recently. Sure I have always thought outside > inside, and have enjoyed any excuse to get out on the road by foot or pedal, but being among the trees brings a different level of escape and renewal. There have actually been studies that show that being in the woods helps reset something inside of us

How Walking in Nature Changes the Brain

This is Your Brain on Nature

Or - is Nature right for you?

I have Cherie once again to thank. She is the one who got me into biking, running and now backpacking. Her father had always backpacked, and they had rediscovered it as a family more recently. They invited me along on their trip in 2013, and I was hooked from there on. We get away for a five day trip each summer, and I have been trying to sneak in more day hikes to be among the trees.

I turn fifty in June. 50! Seems like such a large number now that it is fast approaching. Age has never meant that much to me, and on most days I still feel 26 in my head. The body however... Sore muscles in the morning are not terribly new. They were usually a sign that I had done something active or ambitious the day before. Now I wake up with soreness unearned, and I cannot deny the passage of time.

Or can I?

I wanted to do something big, maybe a little epic to celebrate my fiftieth trip around the sun. The original plan was to run fifty miles on my fiftieth birthday. Though I have run a number of marathons, I have never ticked past that 26.2 mark. I could have friends run with me for parts of the fifty mile route, and the run could finish at a local watering hole where we could celebrate the long run I have had on the earth and road.

But it began to feel needlessly complicated. Who knows if I would be able to finish, and even if I did, were people supposed to be on call to show up whenever I managed to drag my butt across the finish line.

And the mountains were calling.

There are the truly epic hikes of the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Coast Trail - hikes along the ridge lines from the southern to northern boarders of our country, covering some two thousand miles. These are trips that would require half a year's time to complete, and like the thought of biking across the country someday, they are left as dreams until life allows me to step away that long. But I found a trail in my own backyard that seems a perfect combination of epic and realistic. And it circles the peak that has called me before - Mount Rainier. It is called The Wonderland Trail.

To be continued...

March 5, 2017

Missed connections

My cousin Liz wrote a beautiful post the other day.  She and her husband Rick (OK, he is technically the cousin) are in Thailand for a couple of years, and Liz is a counselor at an international school there. Now that their own kids are grown, they sold their house and took this two-year left turn on their path because they could.

Rick is headed back stateside for a month to attend to some family matters and Liz wrote her post about the coming separation. It is longer than they have ever been apart, and the foreign residence must certainly add to the disconnected feeling she will experience. She wrote honestly about what she is feeling, and sharing these vulnerable moments is what brings people closer together.

I don't think I have ever felt this sort of separation, and that is my loss. I think I am a little too comfortable being alone. I also don't know that I have ever shared my whole being with someone, at least not at a time when it mattered. I am always sort of disconnected.

I am a pretty classic introvert. I am that nerd that flags passages in books with sticky note flags and carries a tiny notebook in my jacket pocket in case a good moment or phrase crosses my path. I am more comfortable in the company of a few than in a crowd. I have no problem spending the day doing things by myself. I go to restaurants, movies, hikes, etc. flying solo. I seem to run out of social energy if I hang out with others for too long. I can be awkward at times, saying the wrong thing or not saying enough. At parties, I will gravitate toward the dog.

I have been sick the past few days, holed up at home with Nyquil and a Neti Pot. I typically get sick very slowly, recover just as slowly, but the sick doesn't usually hit me all that hard. Basically it is a long shallow curve, but this one has taken me down for four days so far. Living alone of course has its advantages and disadvantages. I am not currently grossing anyone out with my pile of Kleenex or by washing out my sinuses over the kitchen sink. I have never really wanted anyone to "take care" of me when I am sick, but I do find the lack of human interaction creating some cabin fever. Even a brief conversation with a barista would give a boost of energy making the $2 cost of a cup of coffee more palatable.

I guess I am sort of a social introvert now. A man that at times keeps people at arm's length, yet somehow maintains close connections. I have been blessed with having a number of good friends in my life. Much of this can be traced/attributed to my time in restaurants. The work atmosphere not only brings lots of different people together, it seems to encourage closeness as you engage in the daily battle. And of course you are forced to speak to strangers on a regular basis. Through practice and exposure, you are brought out of your shell.

I was at a surprise birthday party a month or so ago for a longtime friend. We have worked together, lived together, been a part of each other's weddings, but more recently we see each other only once a year or so. Another great friend with the same longtime connection would be there along with his wife and son, and I couldn't recall the last time I had seen him. It had obviously been a while since his son was now about five and I recalled him as a toddler.

It was a great evening. All the years faded away as we fell into funny and meaningful conversation. I got to know one of the wives a bit better, and I enjoyed talking to the little boy. When it was time to go, my friend and I were exchanging a hug. I have a reputation for giving a good strong hug, but when I went to pull away, by friend held on and said, "I'm not done yet."In that simple phrase and moment I felt the beauty of deeper connections.  I still struggle with keeping people at arm's length, but I also know I am doing better, and light years from where I used to be.

Earlier, while the adults were chatting away, sharing stories under a tarp cozied up to heat lamps, the little boy came up and asked his mother if there was any paper he could draw on. We weren't at their house so she said she wasn't sure. I reached into my pocket and handed him my pen and little notebook, saying it was sort of small but he was welcome to it. When he returned the notebook later in the evening, it came with a gift.

Sometimes it pays to be a little nerdy.

February 10, 2017

Waiting for my real life

I remember the first time I heard him. I was sitting on a makeshift deck, temporarily stationed on a Huntington Beach sidewalk. My friend put in a CD and said, "guess who this is?" Even though the voice is so distinctive, it took me two lines into the second song to realize I was listening to Colin Hay, formerly of Men at Work fame.

Men at Work was of course this quintessential 80s band. They broke big around the world, but were late to get airplay in the U.S. However, they were just in time for the launch of Mtv (back when they played music videos). Video may have killed the radio star, but this band rode the next wave and were soon everywhere. They were huge for a couple of years, but then disappeared, self-destructing from within, an all too familiar story, doomed to have their story play out on "Where are They Now" on sister station VH-1.

I can also remember seeing my first ever music video, and coincidentally it was "Who Can it be Now?", Men at Work's colossal first hit. I didn't see it on Mtv, but rather as sort of a preview at the theater, before the movie Tron came on. And now I have managed to date myself about four times in three paragraphs. Getting old. Get off my lawn.

Anyway, I loved the Colin Hay CD Going Somewhere, particularly that opening song, "Beautiful World". It became sort of an anthem, my song. It was the first song I would listen to before heading out on a marathon, big bike ride or other epic adventure. I can remember singing it when I was "swimming past the white breakers, where a man can still be free (or a woman if you are one)" on one of those tropical vacations I have been blessed to experience. Whenever I hear the song, I can just feel my shoulders relax.

I saw Colin play many years ago, at some small venue in Seattle, possibly The Crocodile. His shows are intimate, and the stories in between are almost better than the songs themselves. His songs are very personal, and his show persona even more so. While Beautiful World still starts the day, I think Colin's "I Just Don't Think I'll Ever Get Over You" with its raw, haunting beauty is a song that will stay with me forever.

There is a wonderful documentary on Amazon Video about Colin's life and career called "Waiting For My Real Life", the title taken from another great song of his. Definitely worth checking out (here). I have been waiting to see him come around this way again, but for now the songs and the movie will have to do.

January 14, 2017

Good morning

How to wake up early on the weekends and clear that morning brain fog quickly:
Step one: Have a painful calf cramp that has you pleading. "No, No No," as you frantically massage the knotted muscle.
Step two: After the cramping subsides, lie still, willing your muscles to relax. 
Step three: Let things great and small, important and trivial rush through your head, ensuring that even if your muscles relax, your brain won't. Look at the clock, sigh, 
Step four: Get up. Start the coffee. 
Step five: Optional, but recommended, drink your coffee while staring at the horizon, letting the trivial thoughts fade into the background.

January 1, 2017

Turn the page

A new year. A fresh calendar page. A clean slate.

So many of us wait for January 1st to resolve to follow new goals and leave certain habits behind. The date is rather arbitrary in the grand scheme of things, but it has a nice tidiness to it. The fact that it follows so closely after the Holiday/Christmas season, changing habits is especially welcome as we detox after too much food and libation. You are also inspired by the time spent with the people you love most. We commit to "start to do things differently," but are happy to postpone it a week for that nice annual starting point. I mean 1/1 is even numerically pleasing as a place to start. There was even a possibility of snow this morning, which would have reinforced the clean new world feeling, but alas my neighborhood received just a dusting.

So here I sit happily falling into this tradition or trap with a laundry list of things I would like to change. It is of course a poor strategy to try and make multiple changes at once, and New Year's resolutions already have a pretty poor reputation for longevity. Check into any gym and it will look very different at the end of February than it did at the New Year. In 2011 I did the monthly resolution experiment, and it was a nice exercise to focus on one thing each month. I was not so clever as to prepare another list for 2017, and quite frankly I haven't even begun by writing any down for 2017.

But there is definitely a loose list floating around in my head. Top of that list is to be more present, focused on what is in front of me rather than living with distraction. Step one would probably be to write these things out to get them out of my head and in front of my eyes, but I chose to start here first as this seems to be the worst casualty of inertia.

I was recently talking to a couple of our clients at work. They have been promising me some information for most of the year, and we were still talking about it on December 29th. One of them said, "I am really going to focus on getting this to you, but we have failed enough times that I won't bother lying to you about getting it to you tomorrow." Similarly, I won't bother here with lying to you that I will be writing on any regular schedule, but I will try my best to get back in the habit. It does my mind some good.

I recently finished reading a book called On Trails: An Exploration by Robert Moor. It is about how trails develop, both through human and animal activity, and their impact on the world and ourselves. It was an interesting read. Sometimes when I am reading a book and want to remember a good passage or turn of phrase, I will flag it with a little sticky note. This many tags is generally a sign of a good book.

The opening quote on the preface page of the book is:
"The path is made in the walking of it" ~ Zhuangzi
I don't know what my path will be in 2017, but I have some ideas of where I would like it to lead. At this point, though, I won't bother mapping it out. I will make the path by walking it.

August 16, 2016

Lost in the trees

I started playing disc golf, cause Lord knows I need another hobby.

Matt and Jenica took me out for my first round a few weeks ago. It was one of those activities that had been sitting at the back of my brain for some time. Years ago, Buzz and I would go to a park and throw the Frisbee back and forth. It was a good excuse to just get outside and catch up on things - talk about nothing and everything.

Anyway, disc golf was pretty different than expected. I had traditional golf in my head as I showed up, so I imagined clubhouses, tee times and grass fairways. Not so much. The course we played wound through the woods with lots of trees between tee and hole. Unlike traditional golf, you can't just step up to the tee and try and hit it as hard and straight as you can. You have to thread an opening or bank your disc around pines and maples.

There were lots of distinctive "thunks" when I hit trees squarely, and several times when I thought I had nailed a shot, only to see the disc clip a branch and veer sharply, but it was a great time. I played with a disc borrowed from Matt, but we saw guys carrying around ten or more discs in a backpack, specific discs for specific shots. Like any sport or hobby, you can make it as complicated as you want, but I settled for buying a couple of $10 discs the following week. With no charge to play at most courses, it is about the cheapest hobby I could add to the collection.

After work last Friday, I decided to check out a course in Kirkland. It winds through the campus of Northwest University. I didn't even know the college existed, much less the disc golf course. Like the course in Bothell, it wasn't entirely clear where to start, or where the next tee was after each hole. No signs or golf cart path to follow. The course was much more open, though, with only the fourth hole being heavily wooded. The openness should have made it much easier, but I guess the combination of beginner's luck decreasing and expectations rising meant I wouldn't do as well. Still, another good time.

As I opened my car door to head home for dinner, I realized I didn't have my eyeglasses. They had been in my shirt pocket while I was wearing my sunglasses, but they must have flown out on a throw, or fell out when I bent over to pick up one of my shots. Panic started to rise, but I assured myself that I would find them. Not only is the course relatively free of underbrush, but the grass was either dormant or cut short, so the glasses wouldn't be hidden away in any US Open style rough.

I walked the course, remembering pretty well where my throws had gone. I moved briskly, hoping to find them before anyone else had a chance to step on them inadvertently. Eyes scanning left and right, looking for a flash of blue or a reflection of glass. When I saw other "golfers", I let them know I was looking.

I made it through all nine holes without seeing anything other than occasional strips of blue tape lying in the grass. I started over and walked more slowly, sweeping my gaze on a wider swath. When I got to the wooded fourth hole, I pawed through the underbrush in case the glasses flew out on that one throw. Still nothing. I walked the course a third time, walking the width of each fairway this time, even when I knew I did not go anywhere near one side or another. The third time was not the charm.

I wrote up a quick sign on a bit of paper bag and stuck it to the sign at the first tee. I went back to the forth hole one last time with a flashlight to see if I could find a reflection in the bushes, but all I found were beer bottles. I went home with fading hopes and the realization of what I had lost. This is only my second pair of glasses, but I had uncharacteristically splurged. In my head on the drive home, I thought it would be $600 to replace them. When I looked up the receipt later to try and find the model number, I realized it would be closer to $900 or $1,000 without insurance this time around. This $20 hobby just got very expensive on the second time out.

In a past life, I would have verbally berated myself for being so stupid and careless, but as I have written before, I have turned a corner on this behavior. This would be an expensive example, but maybe that guy is (nearly) gone.

I found a picture of my glasses online and made up some fliers. Saturday morning, I posted them on the first and fourth tees as well as on doors of some of the university buildings. After posting the fliers, I went for a run along the Kirkland waterfront and new cross-city trail (I am way behind on marathon training). Of course, I had left my water bottles in the fridge before heading out, so I was continuing the trend of knucklehead moves.

After getting in about ten miles and grabbing some breakfast I headed home. As I pulled into my driveway, my phone rang. It was the security guy from the university, and he had my glasses. After a quick shower I dashed out there. He was out on patrol when I got there, but he had stashed them in a hidden spot for me. I didn't get a chance to find out where they were found, but I left $60 as a thank you.

Very fortunate to have made it through the weekend with a pretty inexpensive lesson. Like leaving myself Post-It Notes on my bike to remember my water bottles, I may need to find some routine or reminder whenever I take my glasses off. Or maybe I will bring back those sweet 1980s cords to hang my glasses around my neck.

July 9, 2016

Looking to meet my match

At forty eight, I realized I had never been on a date. Well, not really. I have certainly dated some lovely women in my life, but it dawned on me that I hadn’t been on any real dates with people I was just getting to know. The women I have dated I have known from work or through a mutual friend. I went on what was essentially my first date back in February with someone I had met at a wedding. She was a perfectly lovely person, but after three dates it seemed that there wasn’t enough of a spark to continue.

So now a few months later at forty nine, I have thrown my hat in the online dating pool. It has been a bit of a weird experience so far. Not only am I a novice at dating in general, but the online aspect adds another layer of oddities. Like anyone who has signed up for Facebook, you are actively giving up some of your privacy with any dating site. As someone who has been posting semi-intimate details of his life on a public blog for several years, the initial act of putting my stuff out there on another site was not that big a deal, but there are new layers that I was surprised by.

You start by putting up one or several pictures of yourself. Naturally, you try to put pictures up that are not only flattering, but give some insight of who you are. All the decent photos of me were either from a run, a bike ride, or out in the woods on backpacking trip, so that worked out nicely. After putting up a dozen pictures though, I realized that I didn’t have glasses on in any of the photos. Trying to be as accurate as possible (apparently people lie on these things), I stepped out into my backyard and took a quick selfie.

Below the pictures is a section where you write a few words/paragraphs about yourself and what you are looking for. Sort of the cover letter to your online dating resume. And then you get to the checklists.

Back before I was actually divorced (but the writing was on the wall), I was over at a friend’s house for some gathering. We were all hanging out and chatting when one friend from across the room asked, “so, what are looking for in a woman?” It was one of those record-scratch moments when everyone stops talking and looks at you. Again, still technically married and not having thought about it, I answered off the cuff, “Non-smoker, non-hater.”

The non-smoking thing is obvious. I am allergic to cigarette smoke, but more importantly, I don’t want to kiss an ashtray. The non-hater thing is more about not wanting to be with someone who is always looking for the dark cloud behind that silver lining, going through life thinking the world is out to get them. I don’t need or want a Pollyanna as a partner, but I don’t want to be around someone who is constantly expecting the worst out of everything and everybody. To be clear, this was not a reaction to my soon-to-be ex-wife. She was neither a smoker nor a hater.

Several years down the line, I don’t have much of a better, quick answer to what I am looking for in a partner. There are definitely things I hope for, but the list of non-negotiables still basically sits at non-smoker. But with online dating, you are sort of trying to order up your perfect match.

There are checkboxes for height, body type, hair color, eye color, salary, astrological sign, faith, exercise habits, education, occupation, income level and more. I certainly get it, but the volume of it feels like a tailor made desire in what is more of an off-the-rack world. It is the online shopping mentality with the entire world at your fingertips, and it feels like we should be able to punch up our perfect mate on

It is both amazing and discouraging at the same time. Through the website, you have possible contact with so many more people than you would ever see in your normal path in life, but the sheer volume makes you think there is always going to be someone more “perfect” for you if you just keep looking.

So you keep clicking on pictures, looking for criteria and reading introductions, looking for something to jump out at you. Back to the privacy thing, on odd thing is that when you look at someone’s profile, they know. On your own login, there is a little list of people who have checked you out. On the one hand, it is kind of interesting to see whose eye you caught, but on the other, you sort of hesitate to click because you are being tracked. You also know if someone has read your email. This is mostly nice, since you can’t fool yourself that the person you are interested in hasn’t seen it yet. Nope, they read it, and they just weren’t interested enough to respond. Move along, no interest here, keep clicking on.

It has only been two weeks, so we are a long way from any final judgment. It is an interesting new adventure, and we will see where the electronic path leads. Now please excuse me, I think someone just sent a wink to me. 

July 7, 2016

Seattle Rock n Roll Marathon

The planning for a marathon can run anywhere from four months to over a year, depending on your level of preparation, training and tendency to make stuff up as you go along. My buddy Steve in a fit of excitement at the finish line of last year's Seattle Rock n Roll Half Marathon, signed up to run his first full marathon at the same event a year later. The cheaper price and promise of a free jacket probably helped sway him.

I was not tempted to pull the trigger then, but a couple of months later, a Groupon came out to run the marathon for $60, just $5 more than if I had signed up still sweating at the finish line, and noticeably cheaper than what they normally charge. It turned out I had a 20% coupon sitting on the Groupon site, so my final bill was $48. With a jacket, it was almost like they were paying me to run this thing.

After running at least two marathons a year from 2008 - 2012, and four in 2012, I had only run one since, the wonderful Chicago Marathon experience in 2013. My main excuse was that the tax season schedule really messes with training for or running spring and fall marathons, but if I was as motivated as I used to be, I would have made it work. Running a couple of half marathons in 2015 sort of re-lit the spark, and a number of other friends signed up to run either the full or half marathon this June, so I was inspired to take on the challenge again.

When you sign up for these things, they often ask you for a predicted finish time. This helps them stage the runners in corrals by their pace, hopefully reducing congestion of runners weaving in and out of jams. Even if you have run a number of these things, it is still hard to know what kind of shape you will be in eight months down the road. If it is your first like it was for Steve, it is basically a wild-ass guess.

And then of course life intervenes in those months leading up to the race. Maybe work or family demands increase, maybe you get injured, maybe what seemed possible so far out, feels impossible as the deadline approaches. Several of the people that signed up either didn't make the start line due to injury, or had to change to a shorter race as a backup plan. My own training schedule was of course interrupted by taxes, and I was also trying to train for a couple of big bike rides around the marathon date. In trying to train for both running and biking, I didn't do a particularly good job at either.

Since this was Steve's first marathon, I tried to think of what I wished I had known going into the race. We of course talked a lot about training for the race in the early months, but I also ended up writing a few pages of thoughts about the week and hours leading up to the race, and then some tips on getting through the 26.2 miles. The exercise was a nice reminder for me of what the adventure entails. But of course, even with the best of plans, things can still go sideways.

Some marathons let you personalize your running bib with a short phrase. In the intervening eight months, I had of course forgotten what I wrote down. It turns out I was in a Douglas Adams sort of mood back then, but the phrase seemed appropriate now.

A gal at the start line asked if I had remembered my towel, clearly getting the reference to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which set me off with a smile.

Steve and I met up with a few of my other friends Tami, Jenica, Joseph, Wendy and John who were either running the 8k or half marathon. We shared some hugs, photos and nervous energy before setting off to our respective starting corrals.

I decided to go for a bit of stretch goal and set off with the 3:50 pace group. Though Steve and I had finished within a minute of each other at the half marathon the month before, he hadn't had a chance to get in the final long runs, and decided on a more conservative (and probably wiser) goal of 4:25. The route kicked off at Seattle Center, ran along the Viaduct for a bit before heading south though town and down to Lake Washington.

I stayed with or a bit ahead of the pace group for the first half of the race. After we looped around Seward Park and started heading back north, things started to turn. At the halfway point, new pacers took over the mantle and lead us on with fresh legs. Oh how I wish I had the same option. My hips tightened up at mile thirteen, and my right calf not long after, and it became twelve mile struggle described in the picture at the beginning of this post. I hung with the pacer until we climbed onto the I-90 bridge at mile seventeen, but slowly watched her slip away as the miles ticked by. My brain and determination chanted to push on, but the growing pain in my hips and legs eventually won out. The last three miles was a run/walk/stumble to the finish.

I crossed the finish in 3:58 flat. Absolutely nothing wrong with that time, but I just wish it hadn't hurt so bad to achieve it. I don't know if I had set off at a 4:00 pace if I would have finished in roughly the same time, but feeling strong. I had not had any hip pain leading up to the race, so who knows if starting more conservatively would have made a difference.

My friend (and biking buddy) Joe surprised me at the finish. His daughter had run the 8k and his son the half marathon, but he stuck around to watch me finish, even though he is one of the many who think running a marathon is crazy. He managed to catch a video of my just about to make the last turn to the finish. Thankfully the downhill slope aided my shuffle, but even then I swept over to get high-fives from strangers to push me on. Didn't even see Joe until he shouted my name.


Since there were two out and back loops on the course, I was able to see Steve twice heading the other direction. I saw him first when I was at mile 14 and he at mile 9. He was a bit behind his pacer, but looked great. I later found out the only reason he was behind was he had stopped to use the bathroom three times - clearly well hydrated. When I saw him again, we were on the I-90 bridge, me at mile 22 and him at about 17. He was now ahead of his pacer, and looking like he was feeling great. Given my head start, I was able to finish, grab some food and my drop bag and make it back to the finish line to see Steve cross. He ran a great race and finished strong in 4:20:15.

We met his girlfriend Tania and headed to the beer garden to have our free Michelob Ultra, a low-carb, beer-like substance, and swapped stories of struggle and victory. Steve thanked me for all the tips I had given him, but I was feeling more broken than marathon guru at that point. He swore that this would be his only marathon, checking off the bucket list item, but there was a gleam in his eye that tells me he will be back someday. I promised not to ask until the endorphins and soreness subsided. Or at least until I see him wearing his finisher jacket again.

June 22, 2016


Damn, still trying to wrap my head around that number. Seems like such a long time on paper, but it flashes by when you aren't paying attention.

Age hasn't meant much to me up to this point. I don't recall freaking out at 30 or 40, but the next round number is starting to sink in.

When I am looking through my client's information, and I haven't met them, I will at some point look at their age. From their set of information (income, kids, deductions,etc.) I will have formed a picture in my head of how old they are, and sometimes I am surprised when I see their actual age. Anyway, when I see someone in their 50s I think, "Wow, I didn't realize they were that old." And then...wait a minute.

The other thing that has me thinking about that number on a sheet is that I am about to throw my hat in the ring of online dating. At damn near 50.

Dating in itself seems like a young man's game, and the online version even more so. I will (likely) resist using the app that lets you whip through pictures/people with the swipe of a finger, but even putting up pictures and a profile has me hesitating over the keyboard. But that is another story.

I am not sure what 49 is supposed to feel like. However, with that said, I don't feel 49. Well, most of the time. The hills seem a bit steeper this year and the strains and pains linger longer than they used to. And of course, I have reached an age were some of the aches are chalked up to "sleeping on something wrong." I always wish that I'd at least earned the soreness through strenuous effort, or at the bare minimum have a better story to tell.

I don't deny my age, but I suppose I want to change what the number means. I am still pedaling up mountains and running around lakes. I want to earn that low bib number at Ramrod as the oldest rider someday, and I want to be that "old guy" that shows up at the local 5k every year and runs with a smile. I suppose every milestone age I reach will be translated into "not that old" on my own personal scale.

Here's to the next 49!

June 14, 2016

Capital City Half Marathon

I ran the Capital City Half Marathon recently. It was my eleventh half marathon, but like any race (or day in your life), even if you have been down this road before, there is always something to learn. I suppose the lesson this time was confirmation that is sometimes pays to be the tortoise.

This race was not a goal race necessarily, but you always want to do your best. I am training for a full marathon in June (now in a few days since I am so lazy posting), and this event fit almost perfectly into the training. It was also a race a couple of my friends were running, and one that was out of town with new roads to discover.

Training had been sporadic during tax season (as usual), so I have been playing catch up for the past month (as usual). I am also trying to split my time with preparing for some bike rides this summer, so I was feeling pretty average at two things, rather than totally prepared for the race in front of me. I showed up at the start line more or less ready, but not exactly confident.

After not running a half marathon in four years, I ran two last year, mostly through the positive influence of a couple of friends who were now running. Though it is always hard work, it was great to be back at it. The dedication of getting out on the roads even when you don't feel like it, the camaraderie of the start line and the joy of the finish. The half marathon is almost the perfect event. Plenty long enough to be a challenging undertaking, but the training doesn't take over your life and weekends.

I was running again with my buddy Steve who had run both halfs with me last year. He is more recent to this running thing, but has been making great strides (see what I did there). I had been his carrot to chase, and he has pushed me forward. This year he has proved quicker than me, and has taken me down in both the 5k and 10k distances, all the while claiming he wasn't a "runner".

He, his girlfriend Tania and I hit the road in the wee hours in order to make it to Olympia by the start. The race, while not small, is not one of these colossal productions with tens of thousands of runners. It had a small town feel, running through neighborhoods for much of the route. Olympia is Tania's old hometown, so there were probably memories around every corner.

Steve and I took off together, but soon he was rabbiting ahead. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of the start line, but I tried my best to stick to my plan. The route was a bit hilly with a two mile steady climb early in the route, and a more dramatic hill at mile ten. The plan was to keep a steady effort, saving some juice for that last hill, and then turn it loose (if I had it in me) on the downhill from mile ten to the finish.

Steve had a bright orange shirt on, so it was relatively easy to see him in the crowd, but soon he was speck in the distance. As we ran through the neighborhoods, several people were set up on their front lawns, cheering us on, and in places handing out oranges. I stopped at a make-shift water station, mostly because a couple of girls maybe ten years old had set it up like a lemonade stand, and I traded high fives with other enthusiastic kids down the street. I have read that keeping a smile on your face (even when you don't feel like smiling) will help keep pain at bay. No problem smiling at this race so far.

I caught up with Steve at around mile six. We chatted for a bit, but soon he sped up. This had been a pattern at our other half marathons. He is the rabbit to my tortoise. When I caught him again at mile eight, he cheered me on as we headed downhill, shooting off again. At the top of the climb at mile ten, we joined ranks one last time, but this time it was I that was able to push on. The next couple of miles were mostly flat, and then the last mile was noticeably downhill. My shoe came untied a mile out, but there was no stopping at that point. The feed of gravity had me feel like I was flying, and wasn't sure I would be able to recapture it if I stopped.

I crossed the line in 1:46:18 just a few seconds shy of my second best time. It felt great to have run a strong race when my training had seemed so iffy. Steve came in just a minute later, notching a new personal best. Some of Tania's friends and family were at the finish, and some others were out running the half marathon as well, so we cheered them all in. We all earned ridiculously large medals, complete with a bottle opener on the back. All we needed was a bottle of Oly.

Another great day on the roads. New places, new faces, and free race photos. Can't ask for much more.

February 14, 2016

Memories trapped in time

We like to believe that our memories are captured in an amber-like resin, preserved unchanged through the years. Some polished as jewels, others left to fossilize in a dusty drawer. But of course that isn't how it works. We recreate our histories every time we access them either intentionally or by a random connection that prods them forward. We are not reviewing a recording, but rather re-writing a story. They are recreated each time they are recalled, the details changed inadvertently by our subsequent experience.

My older brother sent me an email the other day, "Do you remember someone named X? Someone you dated when you were 16?" The quick answer was no. First, no girl was interested in me, much less dated me when I was sixteen. Second, my dating history is hardly voluminous enough for me to forget someone. He replied that this person was sure she knew me, that we had worked together at McDonald's, and that she had described me pretty well (no one forgets the afro). The plot was thickening, which my brother found hilarious. I scanned my memory, walking through the past, trying to find someone by that name. The sixteen year old thing had to be wrong, but maybe she dated my roommate and the story was confused in the telling.

My brother had sent the email mostly as a heads up, as I would likely be running into this mystery woman in a few hours. Her daughter was in plays with my niece, and we were all going to a a fundraiser for the youth group that evening. The mystery woman had seen my name on the guest list, prompting her question.

My brothers and I met for a drink beforehand and tried to tackle the mystery. My brothers laughing, me starting to get concerned about senility. The mystery woman was married, so the last name didn't help. To the internet! My brother showed me her Facebook photo, but that didn't jog a connection. I scanned her friends list, looking to see if my old roommate's name might be there. Then I saw a last name amoung the faces that finally pried lose the memory.

My 48 year old brain tried to recreate the faces and places. She had gone by a less formal version of her name back then. We did indeed work at McDonald's together. She dated a good friend of mine, and the three of us often hung out together. I remember her as beautiful and confident, and their relationship as somewhat volatile. In the winter of 1984, they broke up. I will leave the details and justifications to the dusty drawer of history, but for two weeks she and I dated, before she broke it off to return to dating my friend.

It was a crazy two weeks. That first real moment when someone finds you desirable, among all your teenage anxiety and awkwardness. A whole new world was opened up to explore, and just like that it was gone. That two week aside showed me both the amazing and ugly sides of relationships. I lost both friends, walking away more of an adult for better or worse. Imagination surpassed, illusions shattered.

And here she was, more than thirty years later. Married, three kids, successful, and by all hopes, happy. She brought a copy of my senior picture to the fundraiser as proof that our memories were real, that those seventeen year old kids existed. My niece enjoyed seeing the photo with my out of control curly hair, encouraging me to grow it out again. I looked at that same kid in the photo and wondered about it all.

We hugged and chatted a bit about what was going on with our lives. I met her daughter, just a couple of years shy of the age when her mom and I knew each other. We didn't talk at all  about when we were seventeen together, and I wonder how she remembers that time. The scenes are shot from a different perspective, a different director calling out what she wants emphasized. The soundtrack is different, and I can't even be sure we would be reading off the same script.

I've often wondered this about my former wife. What would it be like if we caught up over coffee. Would we try to bring our past scripts into alignment, and try to show the other what we had seen through our perspectives. Could comparing our differing memories bring some sort of clarity, or would we just touch base on our sequels, sticking to the stories un-entwined. I used to long for that future coffee date, to find out what she saw and why it all ended, but these days I am less sure of any promise of clarity.

And of course what I really want is to unearth that original memory preserved unchanged, so we could look at it together with the fresh perspective of time. But those perfectly preserved moments don't exist. In addition to our different understanding of the exact same events at the time, our recalling would change the details and feelings enough to make understanding elusive once again. Even still, I am curious, be it for seven years of marriage or just two crazy weeks as a teenager,

Back in the present, as I drove away from the benefit, the first song on the radio was "Night Moves" by Bob Seger, a song about those teenage moments.

"Working on mysteries without any clues...
trying to lose those awkward teenage blues."

Seeing those memories in the flesh, thirty years on but only a few blocks away from where it all took place, all through some chance connection of the next generation. Every so often, the universe just gives you a wink.

Strange how the night moves.