December 31, 2012

New Year's Eve

It is funny how much focus there is in flipping the calendar page from December to January. Such an arbitrary line, but adding a digit to the year seems to imply massive change. We vow to do things differently, and change our lives for the better.

Of course this year's calendar flip might have some national significance. It is no fabricated, Mayan end-of-the-world situation, but the "fiscal cliff" is certainly getting its own hype. I haven't heard the latest, but my guess is that our legislators will slap on a small band aid before the clock strikes midnight, and kick the can of hard decisions down the road a bit. Not sure that things will be made "better" anytime soon.

That said, each year (hell, each day) has significance. There are some that went well, and some we would like to leave permanently in the rear-view-mirror. Most of us didn't take the time to relish the good times while they happened, and they can get buried in the awful news of the day. The last 365 days can become a blur, though those that put out a Christmas letter each year have at least gone through the exercise of reviewing the highlights.

As I have mentioned before, for a decade I spent New Year's Eve working at restaurant, followed by a celebration with a bunch of friends in the bar as the calendar made its flip. The last few years, it has been a quieter celebration with Matt, Holly and Kristy in San Diego, followed by breakfast and a day at Dog Beach to start the new year.

2009 was a tough year, and as we clicked over into 2010, I made the decision to move down to San Diego to start over. The time down there was a period of recovery and growth, and for 2011 I actually made some specific resolutions. The 30 day rotation was an interesting experiment, and proved that even moving from month to month can bring improvement. 2011 also brought someone special into my life, and that was the best turn in the road.

Now I am back in Seattle, and as we move on into 2013, I am starting over once again. Life 3.0, or whatever number I am up to now. I have a new job back in my home state (which I really need to write about), and I am getting my feet back on solid ground. I haven't made any resolutions for the new year just yet, but like most, fitness, friends and finances will be major themes.

Though 2013 will likely be a year of change, the actual night of New Year's Eve is sort of a non-event this year. Just another Monday this time around. Maybe with all the hype about the Mayans and the cliff, I just wanted to ignore the end of a calendar page, or tablet.

Some of the best parts of any year are the times spent with friends, and New Year's Eve was always a good excuse. Part of me misses the party atmosphere of the Keg celebrations, and another part the quiet gathering with friends of more recent years. And of course I'll miss the kiss at midnight.

December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve

I can't believe Christmas is only an hour away. December always flies by, but this year it felt like the fastest one yet. It seems universal, like some alternate theory of relativity, that time speeds up as we grow older. Where Christmas couldn't get here soon enough when we were children, now there never seems to be enough time to get it all done.

As a kid, there wasn't much to do other than wait for gifts to arrive magically, but of course as an adult, you have a hand in making that magic happen. Though I am busier with work this year, the season rushing by has less to do with lack of time, and more about fewer markers on the path to the big day.

There are a thousand little parts of the season that add up to the whole. An afternoon spent picking out, or even cutting down the perfect tree. Listening to Christmas music while you decorate it with all the ornaments that bring back memories of places and faces in your life. Stringing up lights on the house, and hooking them up to a timer so you come home each night to a house aglow. Pulling out your favorite Christmas movies, films you seen dozens of times, but that still pluck at your heartstrings each time. Mulling some wine, baking cookies, or making and breaking a gingerbread house. Carving out a spare moment to meet a friend for coffee, or just give them a call to let them know you are thinking about them.

Tomorrow will be wonderful. The morning will be spent at my parent's home with my brother, and of course the traditional coffee cake for breakfast. In the evening, we will head to my cousin's for dinner with my ever-expanding extended family. Thirty or so people I dearly love, most of whom I haven't seen since last Christmas.

As wonderful as the day will be, it stills feels like I let the season slip by almost unnoticed this year. The anticipation of the day is part of the joy, like a child wondering all month what will appear under the tree Christmas morning. This year, without all those small traditions leading up to the big day, it feels like Christmas arrived more like a surprise party.

The magic of Christmas doesn't just happen like it did when we were kids. More than gifts, those hundred little traditions bring even more texture and joy to the holiday, turning an already beautiful day into a wonderful season. I dropped the ball this year, and truth be told, for the last few. I hope you all were able to make time for whatever traditions make this holiday special, and that you are blessed with friends and family to share it with tomorrow.

Merry Christmas.

December 13, 2012

Lyrics of the day

And now my heart stumbles on things I don't know.
This weakness I feel I must finally show.

In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die.
Where you invest your love, you invest your life.

~"Awake My Soul" by Mumford & Sons

December 8, 2012


I have been back in the Pacific Northwest for three weeks now, and there have been some definite adjustments, but Seattle felt like home again relatively quickly.

Naturally, the weather is the most glaring for this particular switch of home base. Moving from "The Best Climate on Earth" to the rainy northwest, particularly in November was a kind of jarring change. The shorts and flip flops will be as rare as pants and jackets were in San Diego. I also managed to lose my sunglasses the day before I left, and sad to say I haven't needed them much.

I can remember flying back one summer and noticing how gray everything seemed. The colors just seemed a little washed out after spending a year in the sunshine. Since I drove up this time, the transition was a little more gradual, and now it is just part of the landscape. I don't feel the need for one of those Seasonal Affective Disorder lamps, so it seems that the rain never left my bloodstream

One thing that is pretty much the same about December in San Diego and Seattle - there isn't much need to check the weather forecast. You already know what is coming. It does make you appreciate when the clouds finally part, though, and the hillsides are lit up in brilliant fall colors.

Sierra still gets me up at the same time each day, though it is now by my alarm clock instead of her happy panting or clicking nails. My room is on the second floor, and the only way she would make it up the two flights of stairs is if I carried her. For the first five years I had her, she slept out in the living room rather than in the bedroom. She would hop up on the couch as soon as I left the room (we both pretended not to notice). In the mornings, she would generally wait quietly at the bedroom door, emitting the occasional heavy sigh if I slept in a bit. Once she heard the alarm clock though, all bets were off.

When we were down in San Diego, she slept in my bedroom instead. With no door between us, she was less patient when it came to breakfast time. She would wake me bright and early whether it was a weekend or not, and more than any job, this was what finally had me getting to bed at a decent hour. Back in Washington again, she is back to sleeping in the living room, though she is long past being able to hop on the couch.

I was a little worried how this would work out. With the health issues and declining eyesight, she has been known to panic when she feels lost or out of sorts. I imagined cries or yelps for the first few evenings, but she did pretty well from the start. She has had to learn a new house layout, but she seemed to figure that out in a day or two. I set an alarm every morning so her meal of diabetic dog food hits her system on schedule, but she has still had a number of hypoglycemic crashes. I guess she hasn't adjusted entirely.

When I moved down to San Diego after a lifetime in Seattle, I was surprised how easy the transition was. It helped to have great friends there waiting for me, but there was still a whole new city to map out. Coming back home, my own layout is much more familiar, and I haven't had to feel my way around as much. We're both transitioning pretty well, though now and again we both bounce off a wall that wasn't there before.

December 1, 2012

Quote of the day

What an astonishing thing a book is. It's a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you're inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.

~Carl Sagan

November 26, 2012

Seattle Marathon

Goofier Challenge, day two.


When the alarm went off at 5:30am, I had already been awake for a few minutes. As I swung out of bed, I wondered what it would feel like when my feet hit the floor. How bad would it hurt, and was I really prepared to run another 26.2 miles. I was definitely stiff, and the heels of my feet were pretty sore, but there were no sharp pains. A good start. 

After taking care of the pooch and getting myself put together, I hit the road two hours before the start of the marathon. Even though the normal drive time was 40 minutes, two hours almost wasn't enough. Traffic was fine until I got off the freeway, but then it took an hour to move about a mile. Five cars away from making the turn to the parking garage, they closed that street. Then I made it another block before they shut down the next street to let the half marathoners run by. I was stuck in place for 20 minutes as my own start time ticked closer. 

After finding parking and walking to the start, I had five minutes to hit the restroom and hop the fence to get in the starting chute. Unfortunately, there wasn't time to find Brett, so I didn't know if he was queued up already, stuck in traffic, or still at home nursing an injury. The gun went off and we started shuffling to the start line. While we were still walking, I spotted a gal who was serving beer at yesterday's finish line. Volunteering for one marathon, running the next. We wished each other luck and headed out. 

Once moving, both my right shin and achilles tendon started to hurt. I have had troubles with the tendon off and on all year, but the shin pain was new. Just like yesterday, the plan was just to run at a pace that felt natural, and take the day as it came. Of course with 26 miles already in the tank, I had no idea what I was in for. 

It was colder than yesterday, and very foggy. On the drive in, a blanket of fog curled over the 520 floating bridge like a slowly crashing wave. As we ran through downtown, the fog added an extra mystical feel to the white lights in the trees that lined 5th Avenue. The fog would remain most of the day, blocking out all the great views I enjoyed yesterday. It was difficult to even see the water from the bridge or lakeside path.

Minutes later, I caught up to a woman I recognized from yesterday's race. She was doing the full Quadzilla, so this was her fourth marathon in four days. We chatted briefly, wished each other well, and disappeared into the crowd. I had run into her at the Seattle expo the afternoon before, and would see her one more time as I drove past the course after I finished. Weird coincidences in a crowd of thousands of runners. 

After leaving downtown, we headed over the I-90 floating bridge. This is a long stretch with little to look at, so I watched the faster runners coming the other way. The weird, random sightings continued as I spotted a friend I hadn't seen in a decade. She was walking the marathon, so I figured I would catch up with her later, but when I was actually looking for her, she passed by unseen. 

After making the turn, I saw Brett heading east. I crossed the road and we gave each other a low five. I was glad to see he had made it, and even though we weren't running together, it was encouraging to know he was out there as well. I would see him one more time on the long out and back on the lake road, and he looked even better by mile 10.

Much of the rest of the day was a bit of a blur. After getting off the bridge, the next 11 miles were on the same course we ran twice yesterday. We were running through a bank of fog, with blinders up blocking out the scenery, and my mind fell into a similar sort of tunnel. I tried not to think about much more than putting one foot in front of the other, fell into a rhythm and sort of zoned out.

Halfway around Seward Park, we reached the halfway mark of the race as well. There was a mat and a big clock at the 13.1 mile mark, and it showed that I had just run the first half in just under two hours. I was blown away. It felt like I was doing pretty well, but this was faster than either half of yesterday's race. 

Going in, I had no idea what a second marathon in two days would be like. There was no goal other than to do my best. I would have been very happy with a 4:30 finish, and I would be ecstatic if I could match the 4:15 from yesterday. Here I was seven minutes ahead of my dream time pace. If I could keep this time cushion, I could still net a good time with the walking I felt was inevitable. The four hour pace team was just ahead of me, and I just tried to keep them in sight.

At mile 20, the course leaves the lake road and heads uphill. Sharply. The first block is very steep, and I knew I couldn't run it much faster than a walk, so I walked. A left turn onto Madison and the road was still uphill, but I was running again. The pace group would disappear, and then I would reel them in. Up and down for the next three miles, though mostly up, and I lost sight of them by mile 23. I was more than spent, but kept pressing. 

A mile from the finish the road headed downhill, but so steeply that it was difficult to navigate. As a final insult, there is climb out of an underpass at mile 26. I ran about a third of the way up before deciding to walk the rest, hoping for a strong finish. Running again, there were only a few steps to go. I was mentally fuzzy, but the thought popped in my head that I don't get as emotional at finish lines as I used to. As soon as I turned the next corner though, it was all over. 

The course finishes inside Memorial Stadium, and soon as I entered the finishing chute I began to lose it. When my feet touched the field, I was completely gone. I was overwhelmed by the moment - running around my home city after three years away, the miles of the weekend, the effort I had put into finishing, and a finish time I didn't think possible. I was blinking back tears as I found a little something to sprint to the finish. The clock read just over four hours as I broke the imaginary tape. 

I walked through the finish area, unable to catch my breath. I had not only finished my second marathon in two days, but I had somehow cut 15 minutes off of my dream time. 4:00:11 on worn legs. I was just blown away, and I alternated between tears and crazy laughter. Relief and pride. Pushing up against my limits, and then to keep pushing. 

After walking around the recovery area, working my way out of delirium, I made my way back to my car. The pain was really setting in now, and the half mile walk felt particularly long. I was meeting friends in Bothell for a belated Thanksgiving Day celebration, and wasn't able to meet up with Brett afterward. Looking at our finish times, we both had surprising days. We both ran very steady races, each of us running the second half within a minute or two of the first half. Brett actually ran the hillier second half a minute faster. That is some great running.

It was an incredible day and weekend. Over 52 miles in a 28 hour period. To not only avoid breaking, but doing better than I could have imagined. Running with a few hundred, and then a few thousand. Running with a friend, and then running alone in the fog, but still seeing familiar faces. What a crazy experience.  

November 24, 2012

Ghost of Seattle Marathon

Goofier challenge, day one.

It has rained cats and dogs, buckets and tubs of water since I returned to Washington. After a near record dry spell over the summer, it felt like Seattle was trying to catch up on three months worth of rain in a single week. Running two marathons was going to be hard enough without sideways rain thrown into the mix.

As race day got closer, the forecast improved incrementally, and Brett and I were treated to near perfect weather this morning - temperature in the low 40s, clouds but no rain, and a bit of sunshine breaking through at the end. There was a open flame heater at the start line, and a few runners were huddled around it, but it was perfect running weather.

Brett and I set off together, and ran side by side for the first 13 miles. We hadn't seen each other in years, so we traded stories about family, work, running and other adventures. Though we weren't burning up the clock, the miles went by relatively quickly with the easy conversation.

Since neither of us had attempted running marathons back to back, we had no real clue as to how to approach day one. I figured I would run at a comfortable pace, similar to what I would do on a long training run, and just see how the day went. I had a rough thought that running a half hour slower than my best back in January was a good plan, but it was kind of a shot in the dark. And as I found out at the marathon a few weeks ago, going slower than you are capable is no guarantee of an easier day. You aren't as short of breath, but your body hurts just as much, if not more.

The marathon was two loops of the same course, so we ran through the finish at half way. Brett and I split up after that, ready to run the pace that felt best for each of us. The route first heads south and loops around Seward Park.

The road around the park was just off the water, but also bracketed by trees in many places. With only 300 or so runners, we had the roads mostly to ourselves as we made our way round.

After a 3.5 mile loop around the park, the route heads north for a long out-and-back run along Lake Washington. The paths were a little more congested in this section because you had runners going in either direction, but it was still far from crowded. Not overly worried about my finish time, I stopped and took a few more photos of the lake and fall colors.

With the long out-and-back run being run twice, it was easy to recognize faces as they passed by multiple times. Also, with relatively few people running the marathon, there was a certain extra camaraderie, and words of encouragement passed freely back and forth. As usual, things got a little quieter near the end as the fatigue and soreness mounted, but there were still smiles and nods.

All the muscles in my legs grew tighter, and certain pains would not be ignored, but I was able to hold off a crash at the end. I crossed the finish line in 4:15:17, almost exactly a half hour slower than my January time. I also ran my first ever negative split, running the second half about five minutes faster than the first. Brett came in a little bit later, and I was able to get my phone out in time for one last shot.

Brett and I hung out at the finish line and shared more stories over a cold beer. I also took a quick walk into the lake to get some cold water on my sore muscles. I am hoping that the natural ice bath will help reduce the swelling and help prepare my weary legs for tomorrow's challenge.

Today was a great run. Good weather, nice conversation, a scenic route and a relatively strong finish. I am sure tomorrow will be much harder, but so far so good. If I make it to the finish, I can use my finisher medal to crack open a celebration beer.

November 19, 2012

A goofier challenge

For the past seven to eight years, running has obviously been a big part of my life. I like to have a race on the calendar to keep me honest, and get me out the door on days when I am not feeling my strongest. I thought that running the Seattle Marathon would not only be a great way to mark my return to the city, but also give me a great tour of the city to see what had changed in the past three years.

I am blessed to have great running friends in both Seattle and San Diego. As I mentioned in a previous post, I ended up running a marathon with my San Diego friends a couple of weeks ago, and that run together was a wonderful way to celebrate our friendship, and my time down there. However, though I look forward to running again with my Seattle friends, I hadn't mentioned my marathon plans this time around, and planned to run it solo.

A month or two out, someone I had only recently reconnected with on Facebook mentioned he was looking for people to join him in a Thanksgiving challenge. For a little background, Disney World has a marathon/half marathon in January, and for a number of years, they have had something called the "Goofy Challenge". Those who take on the Goofy Challenge run the half marathon on Saturday, and then the full marathon on Sunday. My friend was talking about an even crazier challenge that is run in Seattle over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Apparently there is something called the Quadzilla. Marathons are held on all four days of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, and some crazy people run all four of them. Brett mentioned the Quadzilla on Facebook, and was looking for friends to run one or more of the events with him. I said I was already planning on running a marathon that weekend, and that I would run whichever one he needed company on.

Then the seed started to grow. Maybe I could run two marathons over the four days. The past couple of years, I ran a Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning with Sean and Marci. I was planning on running a vicarious 5k with them that morning, and I thought maybe I would run the marathon that day instead. Then after a few days rest (and lots of turkey) maybe I could run the big Seattle Marathon on Sunday. I was trained to run a single marathon, but I had no idea what two marathons in that short of a span would be like. But maybe...

Another friend recently asked why I found marathons appealing. Training for them keeps me out on the roads regularly, but I think the main reason I continue to run them is that they keep redefining my breaking point. They force me to go beyond what I think I can do, and force me to find reserves I didn't think I had. I think that digging that deep when you don't think you can, and finishing something that seemed impossible, carries over into the rest of your life and makes you stronger.

So...the goofier challenge. Brett and I have now decided to run marathons on back to back days. We will run the Ghost of Seattle Marathon on Saturday, and the regular Seattle Marathon on Sunday. The two events have a connection in history (and route). From a recent email:
The Seattle Marathon began in 1970 with just 38 runners...In 1984 the Seattle Marathon changed from Saturday to Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend. In 1985 it was moved to October 13th for only one year but this was enough to get a group of people running the original course on the original day. The Seattle Ghost Marathon has been held every year since 1986. It has been held on the original 2 loop course from 1970 to 1985 on Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend...It has always been run on the sidewalks and never on a closed course.
Though the races have this common history, running them will be very different experiences. The Ghost on Saturday will have roughly 300 people running on sidewalks, no bibs or timing chips, and few water stops or spectators. The regular Seattle Marathon on Sunday is a more typical marathon with all the amenities, and there will be closer to 9,000 runners jostling their way through the downtown streets. Both share a section of beautiful Lake Washington Blvd, but the Sunday race also makes its way across the I-90 floating bridge, and has a much hillier finish. I have run the Seattle half marathon twice, so I know what the finishing hill is like, but I have no idea how hard it will be to climb by the time I get there this time.

52.4 miles in a span of 30 hours, and three marathons in three weeks. I think I will find my breaking point.

November 18, 2012

Home again

Sierra and All Day on the road.

The pooch and I set out from Ashland Thursday morning, with some 470 miles to go to the end of our journey. It would be our longest day on the road, but I was glad to have the mountain passes behind me.

It turned out that there was still plenty of climbing through southern Oregon, up and down short passes for the first hour or two. The fall-colored hillsides were beautiful, but muted, as we never quite descended out of the cloud cover. When the sun came out a couple of hours later, it felt like we had awoken a second time.

We pressed on and clicked miles and cities off the map. Sierra did surprisingly well on the trip, not whining once, but she was clearly ready for the trip to be over.

We hit Portland long before rush hour, but we hit traffic just the same. Stop and go traffic worked the weary clutch, and delayed our arrival in Washington, but crawling along did allow me to take a shot of crossing the state line.

Once into Washington, we were back in familiar territory. Having participated in the STP a number of times, the section between Seattle and Portland is burned into my brain. After passing Longview, a city with its own connection in memory, I was soon checking off small towns from the route as we made our way backward to the start line. Castle Rock, Vader, Winlock, Napavine, and then to the aptly named Centralia (halfway between Seattle and Portland).

We started hitting traffic as far south as Fort Lewis, and it was slow going from then on. We stopped somewhere around Fife so Sierra could have dinner and I could grab a cup of coffee, and pulled over one last time for her shot of insulin. The sun had already set, so there wasn't much to look at, or to trip the nostalgia meter as we made our way closer to Seattle.

We pulled up in front of my parent's house just before seven in the evening. I let Sierra wander the front yard for a while before going in, so she could sniff things out and I could take a few breaths. We were here, back after almost three years away. There will be plenty of changes in the coming months, and I suppose I was pausing for one more moment before leaving one road for another.

San Diego was more than just a place I lived. It was a second home, and it will probably always feel that way. I am going to miss all the people and much of the life I left behind. But Washington has always been Home, and I felt a certain pull the whole time I was gone.

I saw this somewhere a couple of months ago.

In some ways, I think I was a different person while I was gone. Nothing dramatic or unrecognizable, but an improvement on the person who arrived there. Part of the reason for the move down there was to break out of my routine and comfort zone, and now that I am back home, there is the danger of losing what I have gained. There is plenty left to work on, but I think I brought home enough of San Diego in my heart to keep moving forward.

The address has changed, but the journey continues. Thanks for continuing to follow along.

November 15, 2012

Second leg

I woke all too early after repeated nights of short sleep, but it did allow us to hit the road at a decent hour. Fueled up on gas, coffee, and a fast food breakfast, it was on to our next destination.

When plotting out our course, I decided to veer off of I-5 after getting out of L.A. to take the smaller highway 99 north. I remembered the stretch of I-5 between L.A. and Sacramento as being pretty desolate. Not much to look at, and not many towns to stay in overnight. Highway 99 offered multiple turn off points if we were running out of daylight or energy. I was happy to make it as far as Modesto on day one.

Much of the traffic on 99 (and probably I-5) seemed to be long haul truckers. I was constantly leapfrogging them on the flat portions of the two lane road, and struggling to keep pace on the climbs. Even though we shared the right lane for hundreds of miles, when I joined them again in the rest stops, my little truck trailer combo seemed a little out of place.

Though my truck struggled on the hills, I probably picked the perfect week to travel. Temperatures were cool enough to prevent any overheating, and snow and ice are still a few weeks off. Many years ago, my family got stuck in the passes of northern California, and memories of seventeen hours in Pollard Flat made me extra thankful for relatively smooth sailing this time around.

Highway 99 was nicely tree lined in some sections, and when we reached Sacramento (City of Trees apparently), the landscape started to change overall. The hillsides once folds of brown were now covered in rich textures of green. It also began raining off and on, so it started to feel like Washington with eight hundred miles still to go.

Once we reached Shasta Lake and the base of our last mountain pass, the trees started showing their fall colors. I tried to take pictures as I was driving, but of course most of them didn't turn out. The one semi-decent photo has the snowy peak of Shasta mountain hovering above the changing forest hills.

As I mentioned in the previous post, Sierra was doing much better this time around. I still tried to stop every two hours so each of us could stretch our legs. While leading her through parking lots and rest stop sections of lawn, it became apparent how much she was relying on memory to get around the house. When she would get to a painted line in the road, she assumed it was a curb (or small cliff from her reaction) and brace against moving forward. When I urged her forward, rather than test it out with an extended paw, she would leap ahead to dive in head first. Even a wet portion of pavement was enough color differentiation to make her think the bottom was falling out.

Our destination for the second night was Ashland, Oregon. Holly's cousin had offered up her spare bedroom  as a stop over on our journey. I had met her a couple of years ago at Thanksgiving, and we had become good (if distant) friends on Facebook. She ended up having the next day off from work, so offered to show me around town and give us a day away from the road.

I had heard stories about Ashland from my parents when they used to travel to the Shakespeare festival each year, but had never seen the town myself. While she tied up some work things in the morning, I headed out to a local coffee shop to get some writing in. I would have defaulted to Starbucks, but she pointed me to Noble Coffee, and it was a much better experience. We had a little time to spare, so Sierra and I went to a local park to walk around in the fall leaves.

Sara and I walked around the shops of the downtown area, through another beautiful park, and eventually out to a nearby lake. The town is lovely, and everyone I ran into seemed friendly and outgoing. I can see why she likes it here so much. Really glad we stopped, but now it is on to the last leg of our trip. We are setting out (relatively) early, and should be in the Seattle area later Thursday night. San Diego still lingers in my thoughts, but I am starting to get excited about getting Life 3.0 off the ground. I know Sierra will just be glad to be off the road.

November 14, 2012

On the road

The plan was to hit the road on Monday the 12th. Since I wanted to spend as much time with my friends over that last weekend, I tried to do as much to prepare ahead of time. When I moved down in February of 2010, I only brought what would fit in my pickup truck. But since I don't travel particularly lightly, I had it stuffed to the gills. The back was packed, the front seat was full of stuff I might need to get to, and Sierra rode in the shelf that is my back seat.

Of course over three years, I accumulated more stuff. I picked up mundane stuff like a laundry hamper, and during visits to Seattle I shipped down more tools and grabbed my golf clubs (which were ignored). I also started homebrewing beer in the past year, so that added more equipment to the mix. So, even though I did my best to thin out my possessions over the past month, it was clear that I was going to need to rent a trailer to get it all home. 

I packed the truck to the gills on Friday, and would throw the rest in the trailer I picked up first thing Monday morning. I ended up unpacking and repacking the truck to get some weight off of the sagging springs, but even so I was ready to hit the road by 10:00am. Matt, Holly and Annabelle were the last to see me off, and we hugged and cried until we couldn't take it any more. With a last look at my San Diego life, Sierra and I hit the road.

When we drove down to San Diego three years ago, I had planned to re-travel the route I had biked back in 2006. The Big Ride was one of the best times of my life, and I wanted to relive it in some small way. Sierra had other ideas. She whined and cried as we drove the twisting roads, and soon I gave up the nostalgia and headed inland to the straighter I-5. She was still miserable, but we were making better time. 

She was diagnosed with diabetes shortly after our arrival, so it is possible that had amplified her problems in the truck. Still, I was not sure how she would tolerate the drive north, three years older, more fragile and now easily disoriented. Since I was going to have the extra room in the trailer, I decided to take out the passenger seat in my truck to give her more room to spread out. She would be less confined, able to see me and stand up and stretch her legs now and then. 

Riding shotgun. 

 She has done great so far. I have no idea if the new seating arrangement has made any difference, but it is kind of nice having her right beside me the whole way. The other two things I was concerned with for the drive was making it through L.A. unscathed, and whether or not my truck would be able to climb the passes. On our trip down, we got stuck in a traffic jam that tested us both. Sierra would not stop whining, I had to pee something terrible, and my clutch leg was getting worked. I did not want a repeat performance, dragging a trailer, goosing the clutch to keep it in gear.

Well, we sailed right through L.A. Monday was Veterans Day, and that may have made all the difference in the traffic levels. My truck struggled to climb the hills of the Grapevine, but we made it as far as Modesto the first night. The planned hotel did not work out as there was no place to park my truck and trailer combo, but we found a Motel 6 farther down the road with tractor-trailer parking.

After sending off text messages and emails to update folks, Sierra and I tried to get some rest. Unfortunately, I am also dragging a cold with me, and we were both up way too early in the morning. More stories from the road to follow.

November 13, 2012

Saying goodbye

I was never much good at goodbye. Practice doesn't seem to make it any easier.

I sort of stretched out the goodbye to San Diego over a couple of months. It gave me time to see things again, or for the first time. Either way, it was now through the lens of a short-timer, knowing that it might be a long time until I experienced this place again. For a while things didn't hit me, but in the past few weeks with time running out, I could no longer pretend that I would be able to fit in another visit.

With my friends, I put off the goodbyes for as long as I could. They threw me a going away party on Saturday. It would be the last time I saw some of them, but for some reason it didn't hit me square in the face that night. Somehow, it felt like another gathering, another celebration, and that there would be one next week or something. I had been down for visits a number of times before moving, so maybe it felt like it was just "so long until next time."

It finally hit me on Sunday. I had reserved the last day for a final Sunday outing with Matt, Holly and Kristy. Before Kristy and I were dating, the four of us often did things as a group on Sunday afternoons. It was soon dubbed the Sunday Activity Club, or SAC for short. We visited parks, zoos, beaches, or sometimes just found a nice wine bar where we could sit in the sun.

My move down here sort of started on one of those outings. The four of us spent New Year's holiday together in 2009/2010. To start the year, we went to Dog Beach with their dogs, and we went out to breakfast at Tower Two, a dog-friendly joint by the beach. I ended up moving down two months later, and it seemed appropriate to spend my last day the way I spent my first.



Sierra wasn't with me that first time since I was down on vacation, and I left her home again this time. Getting her to the beach was on my bucket list, but I realized seeing her at the ocean was more for my benefit than hers. She can't walk all that far, so it would have been more of a chore for her than an adventure. But I wanted to get my feet in the ocean, so I walked through the waves and let it all sink in.

After breakfast and our walk on the beach, Kristy and I split off to go hike up Cowles Mountain to see the sunset. We had been trying to fit this in over the past month or so, but something always seemed to come up to derail our plans. The hike and the company were worth the wait. Seeing the sun go down for the last time in San Diego with her turned out to be perfect way to end the day and my stay, if a little bit too metaphorical.

After finding our way down in the diminishing light, we went out to dinner, and then back to her place afterward. I could have stayed there all night, enjoying each moment as it passed, but saying goodbye wasn't going to get any easier. We both wanted to pretend that I would be back over next weekend, but reality set in minute by minute. I would have a tearful goodbye with Matt and Holly the next morning, but saying goodbye to Kristy was the hardest.

There will be lots of great "hellos", "welcome backs", and a new life in my future, but as I drive the road north, alone but for my silent canine companion, I can only replay the goodbyes to what I have left behind. I suppose I am one to slowly peel away the Band-Aid, rather than rip it off in one fell swoop. I don't know which way is best, but it hurts all the same in the end.

I will be back down for visits, so in a way it is "until next time" rather than any sort of final goodbye. I am not sure how soon, or how often I will be able to make a trip happen, but it will happen. Texts, Facebook and emails will keep me in touch, but it is of course very different than being there, seeing friends on random Tuesdays and hearing all the small stories. It was like that with my Washington friends for the last three years, so the situation is simply reversed.

I am blessed to have such strong connections in two different places. But it does double the number of goodbyes.

November 8, 2012

A long run with friends

As I mentioned in a previous post, I signed up to run the Santa Clarita Marathon sort of last minute. I had been training for a marathon a few weeks away, so I was more or less in shape for it, but 26.2 miles is not something you typically run on an impulse. I am so glad I did.

The other Sean had dedicated his running year to a couple of goals. The first goal was to get his friend Steve across his first marathon finish. The second was to run most, if not all of his steps in the glove-like Vibram barefoot shoes, up to and including the 26.2 miles of the marathon.

He had been encouraging me over the past couple of months to run this marathon with him, but I felt that I would sort of be a party crasher. When Steve dropped out and Marci joined in, everything changed and it became a great opportunity to run alongside my two great friends.

Marci had a couple of goals of her own. After having a child, she likes to dedicate herself to running a marathon. I am sure there are multiple reasons, including getting back in running shape, having a place and time all her own, and just to get back to doing something she enjoys. I think there is also a certain stubborn streak in her that just wants to prove that she can do it. Sean and Marci had their third child in March, and this would be the third time towing a marathon start line six or seven months after giving birth.

The first time she did this was in Washington D.C. back in 2006, which was also my first marathon finish. She and I ran (and walked) together, and she made it easier to believe I could make it through. I tried to send her on ahead when I struggled, but she stuck with me all the way, and we finished. Finished. What a feeling it was to cross that finish line of my first marathon.

Sean, Marci and I have participated in several races and marathons since then. I have even run alongside Sean in a couple of marathons, but we hadn't crossed the finish line together. More typically we encourage each other at the start, celebrate the finish together, and in between we set out and run our own race. This was my twelfth marathon, and have had wonderful experiences at each one, but this past Sunday was a little different, and it was one of my favorites.

The Santa Clarita Marathon is a smaller race. Where that first marathon in D.C. had some 23,000 people at the start line, there were only about 1,600 on Sunday, and only around 400 were running the full marathon. We weren't jammed together in a mass of humanity, there were no lines at the porta-potties, and it just felt all together more relaxed. We even had time to ask a stranger to snap a picture of us at the start. Check out our matching shirts and fanny packs. We definitely looked like a team.

Though there was music blasting at the start line, there were no bands along the way, and only small pockets of spectators here and there. It actually seemed like the same fifteen people leap-frogged ahead of us to cheer on the random strangers. Even the course felt more serene and relaxed. Most marathons are run along city streets, but this course was largely on tree-lined pathways called Paseos, making it feel that much more like a run through the countryside.

We left our headphones at home, and passed the time talking, joking and laughing with each other. Maybe because there were fewer spectators, or since we weren't locked in our own heads the whole time, we found ourselves encouraging more runners as we passed each other on the out-and-back portions. After losing the half marathoners at the twelve mile mark, it really felt like it was this small group of us out on a Sunday run. The course photographer caught several good shots of us, and we seemed to be smiling in each one.

Even though it is a smaller marathon, there was excellent support along the way. There were volunteers at every turn, and water stops at every mile staffed by Girl Scouts and Brownies. By the end, we were pouring as much on our heads as we were drinking (being careful not to pour Gatorade all over ourselves).

Things did get a bit more quiet after the 20 mile mark. The temperature had climbed from around 50 degrees at the start, to over 80 degrees at the finish. The increasing miles and heat took their toll, and the thoughts of a PR for Marci slipped away. Sean's feet were also hurting from running essentially barefoot all those miles. We were running slower than I trained for, so I wasn't out of breath, but my muscles seemed to hurt just as badly. The laughing and joking more or less stopped, but it was replaced with encouraging words as we pressed on to the finish.

We climbed a couple steep overpasses at the end, but then there was a nice down slope to a flat finish. Marci turned on the jets after rounding a corner and seeing the finish line, and Sean and I had to push it just to keep up. We crossed the line together, and the announcer said something along the lines of it being a family affair.

The finish area was small, but again there was plenty of room to relax and lots of recovery food to pass out. There wasn't a beer garden, but only steps away was a BJ's Brewhouse, and we stretched out on their patio and celebrated a great day on the roads.

We didn't break any records that day, but it was still one of my favorite races. Beautiful scenery, great support, and a wonderful way celebrate our friendship.

October 30, 2012

Running through the list

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I sort of have a bucket list of things I want to try to do and see before I leave San Diego. Some items are things I never got around to doing, but most are things I just want to experience another time while I can.

Over the past couple of months, I took advantage of the Residents Free Tuesday program for the museums at Balboa Park. Each Tuesday, certain museums are free for San Diego County residents. The highlights of the tour were the Natural History Museum, the Museum of Art, and the Museum of Man.

The last one I made it to was the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center. Just like the Science Center in Seattle, it is an especially fun place for kids. Lots of levers to throw and buttons to push, but also great learning opportunities for adults and kids alike. One cool exhibit did a great job of encapsulating the hard to describe concept of chaos. After you spin the center dial, the three pendulums spin independently, but their motion influences the others in weird ways. They speed up, slow down, and even reverse directions in unpredictable ways.

Each weekend I tried to visit another of the San Diego places on the list - Coronado Island, Seaport Village, Old Town, Dog Beach, the Sunday Market - places I had been before, but wanted to soak in one more time. I tried to add in new places as well, but it is amazing how quickly the weekends have flown by. Plans for riding my bike from Oceanside to San Diego may fall by the wayside, but I did fit in a ride up Mt. Soledad. There were some incredibly steep sections where I was standing on the pedals in granny gear, but the view was well worth the effort.

Though I wanted to see so many things before I head out of town, the list is really just a structure to spend more time with friends. Kristy and I have spent most weekends together, checking things off the list. Last weekend we made it up to the mountain town of Julian for a fall foliage tour, a little bit of hiking, some wine tasting, and enjoying some of Julian's famous cider and apple pie.

Sean and I have been working through the San Diego brewery map for the past year or so, and we are closing in on finishing the tour. I have learned so much about beer (which hopefully has translated into better homebrew), but again the tour has been more about spending an afternoon with a friend.

One of the things on the list that has been hard to fit in is a long run with Sean. We have now become each other's sounding board when it comes to brewing and writing, but it all began with running. We have towed the same start line at many marathons and 5ks, and I wanted to go for one more long run together while travel times are still short. But try as we might, we couldn't coordinate a weekend where our schedules and training lined up.

So in true Drunken Promise form, after celebrating his son Keaton's birthday on Sunday, I signed up to run a marathon with Sean next weekend. He had been planning to run with a good friend to help him finish his first marathon, but Steve had to pull out due to injury. Marci had already signed up to run it on her own, but now all three of us will be running the marathon together. Since I was already preparing for one next month, I am more or less prepared, but this marathon will be more about miles with friends than a race against the clock.

The past month has flown by, and looking on to November, it is only going to get busier. Of course I have to fit in all the regular details of moving as well, so every spare moment is filling up. Just trying to run with it.

October 22, 2012

Eyes on the horizon

For the past few months, I have been back to running on a regular basis. As much as I enjoy running, it is easier to get out if I am training for a race. For a variety of reasons, it was difficult to commit to a particular race this time around, but I had a vague target of running a marathon before the year was over.

When I was running in Washington, I almost always ran in the evenings. As more of a night owl, it was just a better time for me physically. My body was warmed up, my mind was clear, and it was a great way to drop off any work frustration before I brought it home. For the past three years in San Diego, I have had to transition to running in the morning to beat the heat. For most of the year, if I didn't get out the door early, the sun would take more out of me than the miles.

And, I've actually gotten used to running in the morning. Still not the best time of day for me, but running seems to change that for the better. However, one benefit to our brief period of fall temperatures is being able to run in the afternoon and evening again. This past weekend I ran a 12 miler in misty rain, something that gave me some Washington flashbacks.

The previous weekend, I couldn't get out for my long run until after four o'clock. I had to get 18 miles in, and sundown was only two hours away. Not only was I getting to run in the evening, but I would end up running in the dark.

Every time I run around the bay, I pass by vacation rentals and hotels filled with out of town guests enjoying the sunshine. Seeing them sitting on their patios relaxing with a beer makes me a bit jealous at times, but it reminds me to appreciate that I get to run here all the time. I ran by these folks again on Saturday, but I also ran by five different weddings on my first 12 mile loop. White chairs on sand, flowered arbors framing the couples and the ocean backdrop. What a beautiful place to start your new life together, even with runners like me passing through their field of vision.

The weddings of course set my mind on a different path. What I've lost, what might have been, what the future might look like. How beautiful my own wedding day was, and how I didn't appreciate what I had until it slipped away. After finishing the loop around Mission Bay, the sun was now getting low on the horizon. I stopped at my truck to refuel, threw on a reflective vest, reversed course and made my way around the west side of the bay again.

The air was cooler, and the paths were starting to clear. Most everyone was heading inside, but there were a few of us chasing darkness. The chairs on the sand were now empty, the celebrations having moved on, but flowers still decorated the aisle they had walked down.

It is easy to get lost in your thoughts when running for hours at a time, and even easier to endlessly stare at the pavement in front of you. Sometimes it takes a conscious effort to raise your head to see all you are passing by. Recently, I have been looking around more, taking in what I can, while I can. This particular Saturday was something else though. The shift to running in the evening would have been enough to cast everything in a different light, but it really felt like there was more there, there.

Without a clearly defined target, my training hasn't been as disciplined as in the past. I knew I wasn't shooting for a personal best this time around, and the plan was just to enjoy the experience of race day. Things are starting to take shape, and the challenge is going to be tougher than planned. Time is also getting short down here, with my move day just three weeks away. Every time I pass by something now, I wonder if it is the last time for a while. It is starting to sink in, and I know it is going to get tougher.

I didn't have a camera with me, but as the sun went down, I remembered that my iPod could shoot video. So I stopped running, and stopped to appreciate it.

October 17, 2012

Quiet change of season

What passes for fall arrived last week. Unfortunately, fall does not come forth in a burst of colorfully changing leaves. Though there are trees that go bare in the winter, they are more unusual in the land of palm trees, and the leaves don't seem to go through the cycle of colors before falling to the ground. Fall comes in more quietly down here, and was really just signaled by a break in the heat.

After a month of temperatures that flirted and cracked triple digits, and nights spent sleeping on top of the covers with a fan blowing, there was suddenly a bit of chill in the air. Windows that were opened first thing in the morning to provide a little AC-less breeze were now closed, and blinds that shuttered the baking sun were now thrown open to let it in.

I was jolted awake the first fan-less morning. I had apparently turned up the volume on the alarm to compensate for the background whirring of the fan, and the loud music had me reflexively slapping at the alarm clock. I managed to hit the snooze button without remembering exactly where it was. As I rolled over, cursing the jarring start to the day, I realized I hadn't hit the snooze button in a very long time.

I never wake refreshed, and mornings are a struggle of frustration (how is it possible to feel worse than I did before getting some sleep!). Growing up, and for much of my adult life, the snooze bar was used heavily. Each push of the button gave me an extra ten minutes of sleep. Where I have to read for an hour in the evening just to get to sleep, in the morning I had no difficulty slipping into unconsciousness in repeated ten minute blocks. Each time I hit the snooze, I would be giving up something from my morning. "Bam - I don't need a full breakfast. I can grab and go. Smack - I can probably get to work without stopping for gas. Slap - I can get by without a shower and shave. Crack - aw hell, I'm late."

My clock was also set five or ten minutes fast to give me a bit of cushion, but even in my groggy stupor, I could do the math to figure out the real time. At some point, I realized how ridiculous this was. Yes, I was falling back asleep each time, but why not trade that for thirty minutes of uninterrupted sleep. I set my alarm clock to the correct time, and stopped using the snooze bar. Getting out of bed wasn't suddenly easier, but I did stop feeling foolish and lazy at the start of each day. Plus, I only had to hear the alarm once instead of four times.

For the past few years, I have been waking up before the alarm most mornings. For a while, it was Sierra's clicking nails as she paced the hardwood floors for her breakfast. It was frustrating to be robbed of the sleep I so desperately desired. Depending how early she was, sometimes I could make her lie down and go back to bed, but usually once she was up and around, so was I.

Now I am starting to wake on my own. She is usually awake before I am, but now stays in bed, resting her sore legs until she is sure I am up and ready to feed her. Though I am still very tired each morning, I have lost the ability to fall back asleep. Every time I roll over and see that I am awake a half hour early, I feel robbed, though now it is my own body doing the stealing.

For the past week or two, I have been getting up earlier than normal, before sunrise during the week. After feeding Sierra, we both walk outside so she can take care of business. The air is that perfect level of autumn briskness. Cool enough to clear out the sleepy cobwebs, but not so cold that I need to throw on a jacket.

It was back in the 80's again this week, so our break from the heat was short lived. The days may feel like summer again, but for a few quiet hours each morning, autumn show its cool face.

October 11, 2012

Thursday night adventures

As if there weren't enough reasons to go for a run. How about some prizes and a free beer?

Every second Thursday of the month, the local Road Runner Sports holds something they call an "Adventure Run". I finally checked it out in August, and ran my second one this evening. And it was a blast.

When I showed up the first time back in August, I really didn't know what to expect. The website said that you run to some checkpoints and gather raffle tickets. I figured that there would be 30 or 40 runners there, and that we would all just take off on some pre-determined route. When I pulled up a half hour before the start, the parking lot was full, and there were probably close to 200 runners milling about. They pointed me to a local ball field for overflow parking, and I had to hustle to get to the start line and get signed in.

Not only were there far more runners than I expected, the parking lot had been turned into a running expo with multiple booths and an emcee on the mike. I just followed the crowd and listened to the directions over the loudspeaker to figure out what I had signed up for. The Adventure Run is basically a scavenger hunt for runners. After getting everyone signed in and ready, right at 6:00 they unfurl a map the size of a cargo van, and the game is on. The map is marked with lettered stops, and it is up to you to figure out the best path to try to hit them all.

They hand you a pen, paper and a plastic baggie at check in. I spent a good five minutes taking furious notes on where the stops were, and then writing out rough turn-by-turn directions. The parking lot was nearly empty by the time I set out. You have an hour to complete your mission, and the clock was ticking. Time to get running.

At each stop, they hand you a matching set of two raffle tickets. You stuff them in the sandwich baggie and head on to the next stop. At some of the stops, there is a physical challenge that will earn you extra tickets. There were push ups, burpies, obstacle courses, and even a dare to jump into a hotel pool (fully clothed). It was pretty hot back in August, but I was already behind after getting lost and running an extra mile, so I didn't have the time to strip off the electronics and cool off.

You race back to the store by 7:00, and separate your matching tickets, throwing one in the raffle bin. If you sign up in advance so they can get a head count, they give you a ticket for a free beer. As the parking lot felt like a race expo when we started, now it felt like a finish line festival with a beer garden. One of my favorite breweries, Deschutes, provides the beer each month, and I traded my ticket for a cold Mirror Pond Ale. I found a curb to sit on and spread out my tickets for the raffle.

I looked around at the other runner's spread of tickets, and my little stash paled in comparison. I had run some extra miles, and missed two of the stops, but compared to them it felt like I had been running in place. One way to earn more tickets is to buy the Adventure Run t-shirt. If you wear it during the run, you get twice as many tickets at each stop. What I also found out tonight was that all those booths at the start hand out raffle tickets as well, to encourage everyone to check them out. I picked up tickets from about half of the booths tonight, so my stash wasn't quite as embarrassing.

Tonight the sun went down twenty minutes after we set out, so by the time we finished, we were running in the dark. There were lots of headlamps and phone-flashlights out in the beer garden so we could read our tickets.

So not only is it a fun scavenger hunt, with a free beer waiting for you at the finish, but they give away lots of good prizes. I was surprised at how long the raffle went on. Mixed in with goodies like packs of nutrition bars and energy gels, they were giving away running watches, $150 toward shoes, and gift certificates to local restaurants. A couple of times they stopped reading tickets, and just started throwing stuff into the crowd. Pretty fun and crazy.

Tonight I ended up winning a gift certificate for a night's stay at a local hotel. The prize came in an insulated bag good for carrying a lunch to the beach, filled with hotel paraphernalia including a pair of fuzzy slippers. Not sure how or when I will use a stay in a San Diego hotel, but it was kind of fun to win.

I think there is one more Adventure Run in November before they shut down for the winter, but they fire back up in the spring. So if you want to put a little fun in your run, check out their website to see if there is a run in your area. It is a fun, free event, and one more reason to love this running thing.