December 28, 2013

Holiday hangover

Christmas time is the most wonderful time of the year. With that sort of expectation, it can be a tough time for some. Sort of like going to Disneyland, "The happiest place on Earth." It is a lot to live up to, and if you end up not having a good time, it is your fault, right?

Christmastime can be this contrast. Amazing joy of time with friends and family, and darker moments of reflection as the end of another year draws close. Christmas rarely lives up to the magic it had as a child, but there are definitely years that mean more than others. Especially with the cold and darker days of winter, it can be easy to slip into a funk and fall prey to believing that there is more darkness than light as you compare what is, with what was, or with what "should" be.

I decided at (almost) the last minute to send out Christmas cards. As I mentioned elsewhere, it seemed sort of a silly thing to do as a single guy. No family photos or letters about what the kids are up to this year, but a reader called me out on it and sent one out a few years ago. After looking over so many pictures when I was deciding on what to put on the walls, I started to see that I had some great adventures this past year. I figured I'd send out five or ten, but the list grew as I thought of all the people I want to stay in touch with in the new year. I suppose the Christmas card is a way of saying that you are in my thoughts, and I want to do better at staying in touch in the new year.

Christmas Day was a blessed day of family. My brother and I gathered at my parents house in the morning, and then met up with a crowd of about 30 of extended family in the evening. When I have told people over the years how a large group of us still gather for holidays and a week together in the summer, and actually enjoy the time together, it is clear that it is a rare thing. I feel very lucky indeed. There is a funny transition as you get older. As families grow and life gets more complicated, you see each other less. At the same time, the age differences mean less, and you have more common ground having years in your own tank. It is a double blessing to have family as friends.

On the other side, friends as family, a group of us gathered together once again for the 42nd annual Dunsire Sleepover Party. Actually, each year is labeled the "42nd annual", and though it hasn't been forty-two just yet, it has probably been a good fifteen or twenty years of annual gatherings. We get together to celebrate the season, and to celebrate our continuing friendship, built off a chance choice to work at the same restaurant so many years ago. There are more kids these days, some who are now adults, and the party is a little less crazy, but it still goes into the wee hours of the morning, and many of us pull up some floor and stay the night. With lives again more complicated, this is the anchor that gets us together for an evening of catching up, and reliving old stories.

After all this great activity in the span of a few days, there is a letdown afterward. The hangover is both figurative and literal,.The heavy drink, volumes of food, and little sleep catches up with you and leaves you feeling a bit miserable. The emotional hangover of the quiet after the chaos hits you as well, and it is perfectly apt to walk into the next week ready to make changes in the new year.

These days, the holiday hangover seems to come earlier and more often. I don't think it is a secret anymore that depression is a guest that never quite leaves my life. She'll hide in a corner now and then, but I will come upon her and she will take my hand and walk with me for a spell. The holiday season makes me think of years and people that have passed by, and even with all the wonderful friends and family, Christmas is missing that one close connection that makes it personal and real.

I took a few days extra days off in December, using up some comp time built up from the long hours of tax season. I was able to go out on a random Monday run outside after being relegated to the treadmill in the days of working dark to dark. It was cool but not freezing, and a dense fog clouded my glasses, so it was soon easier to see without them. A few bike commuters zipped by, and an occasional runner passed in the opposite direction, but the trail was largely mine.

I most often run and drive listening to podcasts. I enjoy them a great deal, but I get to the point of letting music slip out of my life. When I break the cycle and shut off the chatter in favor of music, it feels like a beam of light to my soul. I had dialed up my marathon playlist on the drive home the night before, and took it along as company on my run.

A song came on the playlist, "Swim" by Jack's Mannequin. I actually found this song when the artist performed on the Daily Show of all places. The singer/songwriter described how the song came out of his battle with cancer. The song grabbed me then, and I think the live version was even better than the studio version I found later.

Songs and poems are usually left to our own interpretation, and we tend to tailor them to our own lives. Even though I knew the story behind this song, I think it speaks to other things as well. I find that the lyrics and the spirit of the song lends itself to any sort of struggle, and as I ran that morning, it spoke to me about the battle against depression.

Christmastime is still one of the most wonderful times of the year. It is a time to celebrate with the ones you love, family, friends and everything in between. It doesn't always live up to the hype, but there is still a little magic each year. It is warmth in a cold time of year, a realization that there is much more light than dark, and a reminder of how truly blessed I am.

Even though I stumble now and then, I find the horizon, and realize it's not as far as I think.

You've gotta swim
Swim for your life
Swim for the music
That saves you
When you're not so sure you'll survive
You gotta swim
And swim when it hurts
The whole world is watching
You haven't come this far
To fall off the earth
The currents will pull you
Away from your love
Just keep your head above

I found a tidal wave
Begging to tear down the dawn
Memories like bullets
They fired at me from a gun
A crack in the armor
I swim to brighter days
Despite the absence of sun
Choking on salt water
I'm not giving in
I swim

You gotta swim
Through nights that won't end
Swim for your families
Your lovers your sisters
And brothers and friends
Yeah you've gotta swim
Through wars without cause
Swim for the lost politicians
Who don't see their greed as a flaw

The currents will pull us
Away from our love
Just keep your head above

I found a tidal wave
Begging to tear down the dawn
Memories like bullets
They fired at me from a gun
Cracking me open now
I swim for brighter days
Despite the absence of sun
Choking on salt water
I'm not giving in
Well I'm not giving in
I swim

You gotta swim
Swim in the dark
There's no shame in drifting
Feel the tide shifting and wait for the spark
Yeah you've gotta swim
Don't let yourself sink
Just find the horizon
I promise you it's not as far as you think
The currents will drag us away from our love
Just keep your head above
Just keep your head above
Just keep your head above
Swim, swim
Just keep your head above

December 16, 2013


Unpacking has gone slowly, strung out now over several months. The first week was a rush of getting the necessary things situated, but after the kitchen, clothing, bedding and other furniture found their new places, things slowed dramatically. I went through the odd box now and then, mostly to thin things out, but I didn't do much of anything that would be considered decorating. It was probably a combination of things, but now that I had this new place, I sort of hesitated to make it "mine".

Naturally, part of it was because much of those things stored away were from a house shared with another. Each item had a certain not-so-ephemeral emotion memory attached to it. I sorted out the things that had little or too much attached, and put away the stuff in the middle. Boxes began to disappear, but nothing really came out.

When I hosted a couple of friends for book club a few months ago, I finally threw three or four prints on the wall so it would look like someone actually lived here. Outside of the painting of Sierra that Holly gave me, the few things didn't really reflect anyone in particular. Someone lived here, but it wasn't clear who.

I made plans to print out some of the ten years of digital photos, to get them out of their sad purgatory of being stored away in bits and bytes, never to be seen. It is no way for a photo to live. I spent an evening a while back copying some into a "to print" folder, but the size of the task was somewhat overwhelming. Like many of those boxes, the computer folders held memories of their own, and I set aside the project to be worked on later.

I invited my parents over for dinner this past Saturday. They had offered dinner at their place, but I wanted them to come over for a couple of reasons. I wanted them to see the Christmas tree I had put up, the first in a few years. That was its own adventure in memory mining, but I am really glad I did it. I did it for myself, but I sort of wanted someone else to see it, to make it real and share in the Christmas traditions. The other reason I invited them over was to kick myself in the butt to get the place looking like something beyond a faceless (messy) hotel room.

Friday, I opened that neglected "to print" folder and spent several hours adding to it, digging through pictures over the last few years. Even staying away from most of the stuff before 2009, the folder was soon overflowing and I had to start picking and choosing memories all over again. The looming dinner deadline fortunately cut short the time to second guess. By evening I had most of the prints in frames and had a few on the walls. It eventually grew too late to be hammering nails into shared walls, but even before I quit I know I wanted to get more photos printed.

Saturday I finished round one, then made another trip to Kohl's for 60% off frames, and to Costco for prints in under two hours. I split the afternoon between hanging pictures, prepping dinner and cleaning up after both projects. I finished up a half hour before they arrived. I actually fell three nails short of finishing, but in a little more than a day I went from no photos on the walls to fifty-six (yes I just counted).

For a while I hesitated to put anything on the walls. It is an apartment, a rental after all, so was it worth sinking nails into the walls? It was the same in San Diego. I wasn't sure how long I would be there, so it sort of felt like the walls should match that uncertainty. I was staying with friends, so the living situation seemed even more temporary, but eventually pictures went up and it felt more like home. I don't know why it took months to remember that lesson, or to realize that even though I am renting, I may be here long term. With lots of pictures up, it now it feels more like home, more like me.

Another lesson learned and remembered is that making lighter connections does not make it any easier to move on. It doesn't spare the pain of leaving some place or someone. You might as well risk sinking some anchors in. You can almost always patch the holes if you have to.

We ended up having a lovely evening. The pictures led to stories old and new, as did the ornaments on the tree. Home can be anywhere I suppose, but it has to be something you create and carve out. The welcoming in of someone to share in it seems to complete the picture.

November 28, 2013


Standing at my front door, fumbling for keys after a wonderful evening, I look down at the cooler at my feet. It is old, stained, and creeks loudly when it is opened. It is mine, but not really. It is a relic of family, and that is some of what Thanksgiving is about.

I showed up at my brother and sister-in-law's house, cooler in hand, stocked with a variety of microbrews. As a single guy, I am (rightly, generally) relegated to bringing beer and ice to parties. My sister in law asked that I bring the beer, and the last couple of years geeking out on beer knowledge has finally become useful. I spent a good half hour at Total Wine picking out beers of different types, beers that were interesting, but not so obscure that they would be intimidating or confusing.

The cooler belonged to my former father in law. Though the beer that I filled it with today may have been worth more than the cooler, and the cooler itself has certainly seen better days, I have seen no reason to replace it. Part of it may be the tenuous connection to a man I barely knew, but respected, but it is mostly because it still works and there is no reason to throw it away. Knowing what little I know about the man, I think he would respect me for either reason.

The top is stained with two rust marks, but they do not leave a clear picture of what was put away wet and left after one of his trips. He was a man who worked with his hands, and it could have been any number of tools, or simply a scattering of lead weights. The cooler itself probably held very little beer in its former life, and was more likely filled with fish. He may have even made use of the measuring sticks stamped in the lid to verify if the catch was legal, in both Imperial and Metric gradations.

Like so many others in my life, I wish I had grown to know him more, that I had pressed against the relationship resistance. I am so surely blessed with the family that I have, but the ones I have lost make me pause on this day of thanksgiving. My older brother and I spent twenty minutes working on his garbage disposal that had been jammed with some fragment of metal during the meal preparation. There is that part of me that misses working with my hands, fixing things that need to be fixed, and wishes I had shared that one commonality I had with Fred when I had the chance.

Today is a day of giving thanks, not dwelling on regret. I am thankful for my amazing family and my wonderful friends, and I am thankful for those strange moments, looking at coolers, that remind me of how I want to do better in the future.

November 27, 2013

Winter warmth

I still have a couple weeks of comp time built up from the tax season(s), so I made a three day work week into a two day work week. Extra time to be thankful I say. I pushed the alarm clock to 8:00am, and was frustrated to wake up at 7:00. It didn't seem like I was going to be able to fall back asleep, but somehow five minutes later the alarm went off. Success!

During the three years down in San Diego, I transitioned to running primarily in the mornings to avoid the heat. Back in Washington, and with a job that started at an earlier hour, I shifted back to running in the evenings. With the shorter daylight hours lately though, it has been difficult to get out. I am not training for anything specific these days, but I want to keep moving to avoid digging too deep a hole to climb out of in the spring, and also to counteract the holiday stuffing. Without a race on the horizon, it is much easier to skip a run, but I laced up my shoes this morning and headed out.

I ran my normal path along the Sammamish trail. The proximity to the trail was definitely a factor when I was apartment shopping, and it is really a blessing to have miles and miles of traffic-free roads to run. Though it was a weekday morning, I expected more people on the path, extending the holiday week as I had. The path has never been this empty, so it was mostly just me and the wildlife. Before I even reached the trail, a crow flew across my path, a full piece of wheat bread in its beak. It alighted on a concrete pillar, probably just out of my reach, but it eyed me suspiciously as I passed. I told him, "nice score" as he waited to tuck into breakfast. Seagulls circled, birds chirped, squirrels darted, and I ran.

There is something different in winter sunlight. It illuminates things in a more focused way, exposing different colors and shadowy textures. I suppose it is mostly the lower angle of the sun, but I think it is also the contrast of bright sunlight against a cold day. The fall colors on the hillsides come alive as if they were aflame, and spaces under concrete overpasses seem luminescent rather than shaded in darkness. If light could play across the steam of your breath hitting the cold air, it would put to shame the twinkling lights of Christmas.

It has been cold lately. Of course it is only "Seattle cold" and not "Minnesota cold", but it was still in the 20s for several nights. Another bonus for my apartment choice was an underground parking space. Not that my truck needs the protection, but it was a designated spot I knew would always be empty. I briefly thought about the winter benefits, but they didn't stick in the brain when I moved in July. Driving down the hill past all the iced over cars this past week made me extra thankful to not have to scrape windows every morning. The disadvantage of the apartment is that is on a hillside, however, and I am not sure if I will be able to make it out when it gets truly icy and snowy.

I came home late last night, looking forward to the extended Thanksgiving weekend. As I rounded the corner halfway up the hill, I saw the manager's office decorated and lit up in Christmas lights. The Christmas creep into Thanksgiving and even Halloween bugs me, but rather rail against it coming too early, I just enjoyed the light in the cold darkness.

Tomorrow officially begins the holiday season. My wish is that we all feel warmth in the cold, light in the darkness, and that we see magic hidden in the shadows.

November 25, 2013

Quiet time

It is a strange, wonderful, lonely experience to come home to an empty house.

After the wife and house went on to live their new stories with a different set of characters, I have lived with others, metaphorically sleeping on someone else's couch for the last three or four years. Great strides were made, and setbacks were had in the meantime, but it never really felt like I had truly found my feet and started life anew.

I moved into my own place at the start of the summer. Beyond the last few years of living under someone else's roof, I had not lived alone for fifteen or twenty years. On the one hand, I longed to set up my own camp, cook in my own kitchen, have the mess or cleanliness be mine, but I also wondered what it would be like to be left entirely to my own devices. Though people may not actually put expectations on you, their presence nonetheless acts as a monitoring or filtering device. What would it be like with no one to consider or watch over.

I have found that now living alone, the battle against slipping into bad habits is more difficult. I'll have that larger helping of food, a second beer, or call chips and humus a meal with no one else around. Maybe I veg out to a marathon of Pysch episodes instead of shutting it off after an hour and reading a book. Since alone time is mine to be had, there is less of a push to go out and say go for a walk or hide out in a coffee shop where writing seems more likely.

I have actually been doing some writing, though nothing has appeared here in quite some time. I started the NaNoWriMo challenge on November 1st, and it felt like if I were to be writing, I needed to focus on that. Well, I am not going to make it to 50,000 words, so I feel safe to "waste" a few words here. I am only about half way at this point, but I will press on even as the deadline goes whishing by me this Saturday. The point of the exercise was to get me back in the habit and mindset, and I will call it at least half successful. The habit is still spotty, but the light in my eyes is flickering more regularly.

I have always been pretty comfortable on my own, but I have become less so in the past few years, and I think that is a good thing. I am glad to finally get started again with a place I can call my own, but I do miss the random conversations that come from living with others. It is funny how someone you haven't seen in a few weeks will ask you how you've been, and what's been going on, and you can come up blank. All the details fade into the background that is your daily life. But a daily conversation with someone at home, and you share the little tidbits that may not seem important a day later, but made for a good story that night.

And of course I still miss Sierra. She wasn't much of a conversationalist, but she was a wonderful presence and beacon of love. I went for a bike ride last Sunday, and I swear every whitish yellow lab was out for a walk. Each one made me smile, and reminded me of what a special thing it is to have a dog in your life. There will never be another Sierra, but there will be another dog someday. I don't know that I am ready just yet, but since my apartment doesn't allow them, the decision is at least delayed until next summer. Cats are allowed here, and I will admit that thought has crossed my mind.

Summer was pretty busy with big biking events, the annual family trip to eastern Washington, a hiking adventure and the run around Chicago. For the first few months it felt like I was hardly home (that is my excuse for still having unpacked boxes stashed in the den). Work filled up some weekends through September and October as well, so for several months it felt like I was just home to sleep, shower and change.

Now things have slowed dramatically, and life has been pretty quiet this past month. The days are shorter and the freezing temperatures have kept me indoors, looking at the growing list of projects that were left for another day. The silence of the house is more noticeable without all the activity of summer, and the cold seems to creep in and it can be hard to shake the chill.

I am happy to say the quiet house and calendar has encouraged me out in a different way now, and I have kept up on the group bike rides the past few weekends - new places, and new faces. And the holidays are on the horizon, and the weekends will fill up with all that is wonderful in family and friends. Then it is on to another tax season in the new year, and the weekends will be filled with a different sort of craziness.

I relish the peace, but look forward to a little noise now and then.

November 10, 2013


I had this past week off from work. It wasn't planned in advance, so it ended up being a "Staycation". Basically, the boss said that I had too much comp time built up, and that I needed to start taking time off before the end of the year.

I certainly had plenty to do, and I ended up getting several things checked off the list, but ultimately it felt a bit like a wasted week. Chores were done, beer was brewed and bottled, health care was researched, and boxes were torn through, but at the end of the week, I didn't feel like I had a good "what I did this summer" report to give.

The timing was actually fortuitous as it was the first week of NaNoWriMo. My friend Sean encouraged me to get back out there and take on the challenge once again. It is obvious to everyone that there hasn't been a whole lot o' writing going on here (or anywhere), so though it had been tugging at my brain, I really wasn't planning on committing to the 50,000 word challenge again this year. But in the week leading up to November 1st, the writing brain was reawakened, and I liked how it felt. I don't know that what I am working on currently will go anywhere, but it is great to be putting metaphorical pen to paper once again.

Then my laptop died.

I was writing in the local Starbucks (my other office) when the screen froze. Then I froze. When was the last time I hit save? I took a picture of the screen to at least capture a paragraph or two, and then rebooted. Then it happened several more times, and I basically gave up for the day. Soon, instead of just a frozen screen, I was getting this:

Now, I know that I am looking for excuses at this point. It is so easy to find them when the task is difficult. I could start writing things out on paper, but of course the word count is much easier to keep track of in trusty old Word. I do have a desktop computer, though it is sitting on top of the tv, being used only for watching programs on Hulu. There is always the library, or using the computer at work on off hours. Options abound, but it doesn't take much to derail the creative process of a procrastinator.

This weekend it started to feel like I was making use of my time off. On Saturday, I got in a 6 mile run, then went to a SIFF film festival featuring award winning short films. The draw was a film called "Sleeping with Siri", produced by Marty Riemer and Michael Stusser, who I listen to on a weekly podcast. The film is about how our constant use and dependence on technology is warping how we think and perceive our world. As a reaffirmation, Google Maps led me to the wrong place and I was nearly late to the show. And then of course, my laptop died.

Today, I signed up on a Cascade bike ride, and rode new roads with new people. I have felt kind of shut off this week, so it was nice to get out and conquer a not so solo task. Afterward, I stopped off at a local brewery to catch the end of the Seahawks game, and randomly ran into great friends I hadn't seen in too long a time. It was great to feel this reconnection and presence throughout the day.

There was a moment on today's bike ride where I found myself veering toward the edge of the road where the pavement had broken away. The dangerous spot was highlighted with white paint, and my wheel naturally turned into the gap. This is a lesson in biking, that we tend to naturally steer toward what we are looking at. If we see an obstacle in our path, our eyes lock on it, and we head right for it even though that is exactly what we are trying to avoid. It takes conscious effort to look to the safe path, but once we do, we tend to steer toward it.

I have plenty of obstacles, real and imagined, getting in the way of writing, but there is always a path around them. It just takes focusing on the right thing. I am currently about 6,500 words behind on my goal, when I should have been far ahead with all this time off. A busted laptop and other hurdles will make it tough to catch up, but if I don't make it, it will be because I listened to those dark voices telling me I couldn't, that what I was writing was not worth putting down. I will have steered into the obstacles instead of the open road before me.

So I cleared off the sofa table, drug it in front of the tv/computer and banged out this bit of writing. Eight or nine hundred words that should have been put toward a new novel, but there is always tomorrow. I am best when cramming for finals, and sliding in just beating the tag makes for a better story.

October 24, 2013

2013 Chicago Marathon

It was another great adventure with friends, and a tribute to those that selflessly give their time to support others.

A group of us ran the San Diego Marathon on my 40th birthday, and now seven years later, we were back to celebrate Tami chasing 50. Five of us ran the Chicago Marathon - Tami and Cherie running their third marathon overall, and Brian and Debbie running their very first. Cherie promises that when she turns 50, the celebration will be more along the lines of drinks on beach of a tropical island.

This would be my 15th marathon, but I was probably more nervous about how the day would go as anytime since my first. Work deadlines and twelve hour days at the office took their toll in the final month leading up to the marathon. I missed some weekday runs, and then my last long run was the worst run in several years. We ran in a deluge of rain and high winds, my IT bands knotted up, and knee pain forced me to walk the last three miles home. The pain did not go away after I stopped running, and I was hobbling around for several days, every muscle in my legs tight and sore. A few weeks earlier I thought I might set a new personal best, but now walking much of the marathon was a distinct possibility.

We arrived at the starting area at around 5:45am, nice and early in anticipation of the crowds. Security was heightened after the Boston bombings, so I was nervous about the lines to get in. We breezed through, either a testament to their organization, or payoff for getting out of bed so early. Pictures, excited chatter, quick trips to the porta-johns, hugs and encouragement, last bits of advice and prayer, and it was off to our respective starting areas to await the starting gun.

Boston was on our minds, and many of us wore blue bracelets and shoe laces as a symbol of solidarity, and I had printed up a special race shirt for the marathon as well. I wanted to focus on the positive community of marathons, and how these events bring so many people together to triumph over adversity. I wanted to focus on what is right with the world, rather than what is wrong, but I wanted to honor the victims as well. It is such a strange experience for most of us to be cheered along on our journey, and it is amazing how powerful this support is when you are feeling like you can't go on. I am ever thankful for those that come out in the wee hours only to support their fellow man, and none more so the three that senselessly lost their lives while doing this positive thing for complete strangers.

There was thirty seconds of silence for the Boston victims a few minutes before the start. I have experienced moments of silence at events before, but there always seems to be a few people who keep talking or banging around. Marathon morning, the excited chatter stopped immediately, and the silence was absolute. Just after this, the National Anthem began. When PA cut out a couple words in, our corral spontaneously started singing. The professional continued, but so did we. When the PA cut out every five words, it was smoothly filled in by the amateurs. These two moments back to back were an extra moving start to an outstanding day, and just seemed to bond us together that much more.

The Chicago crowds were amazing. I have never experienced such a large, enthusiastic string of supporters. It was estimated that there were 2 million people lining the streets, and nearly every step of the way there was someone on the sidelines cheering us on, sometimes three rows deep. It was unbelievable. I was choked up in the first few miles from the power of it. The energy carried me along to a fast start, probably too fast in the end.

I covered the first 13.1 miles in just over an hour and fifty minutes. My hope weeks earlier was that I could sneak in under my previous best of 3:45 and for the first half I was at a 3:40 pace. My expectation, however, was that the knee pain would rear its ugly head, and that I would need to walk the last several miles. Halfway through my knees were fine, but my hamstrings and calves were feeling tight. My mind bounced back between realistic expectation, and dreams of a new personal best.

Each turn brought us to a new neighborhood (twenty-nine in all), and a new set of cheering supporters. It was deafening at times, and it felt like we could be carried along on the blasting sound wave. Everything about this marathon seemed to be on a grander scale - the 40,000 runners, two-block-long water stations, twenty thousand volunteers, and of course the millions of spectators. I found myself running with an endless smile, shaking my head at the spectacle, and even mouthing "I love you all" to a particularly enthusiastic choir of voices.

Though all of us shared the same road, each runner ran their own journey. No matter how difficult the marathon seems at times, all you need to do is look to your left or right to find someone running a more difficult road than you. It is not unusual at a marathon these days to see runners missing their lower leg, titanium and carbon fiber replacing what was once flesh. On this day of course, it reminded us of those that lost their limbs in Boston, but were determined to take to the roads once again. I passed by a woman who had lost her left leg to the hip, and was making her way to the finish line with a rhythmic swing.

She was accompanied by a volunteer, as were several blind runners I ran beside. One runner had three volunteers, one behind and two flanking her, to guide her to the finish. I was again reminded of the determination of runners, and the loving support of volunteers, and I placed my hand on the nearest shoulder and simply said, "You're awesome".

Though my heart was carried along on a wave of emotion, reality began to set into my legs. My hamstrings and calves grew tighter with each step, and my pace slowed with the inability to push off. I still had some time in the bank, but doubt, once a quiet voice, began to shout. I longed for the next water stop for the chance to replenish and an excuse to walk for a bit. Soon, I couldn't wait for the next stop, and pulled to the side of the road to walk and to try to let my legs unwind. I tried to keep the breaks short, but the pain grew stronger than the brain. I took in more fuel and just kept moving forward. Dreams of 3:45 were gone, but 3:50 was still in sight if I could just hang on.

I shuffled through another wave of screaming supporters as I reached the 25.2 mile mark. Only one mile to go. Buoyed by the screaming voices of random strangers, I told myself I would not walk another step in the final mile. I cranked up the volume on the music that largely went unheard all day over the crowd, and I pressed on the best I could, trying to push my legs to the limit without allowing them to snap.

There were two final turns to the finish I could picture in my head from The Spirit of the Marathon movie, the right turn leading us up a small hill before making the left toward home. Waves of cheers did their best to drown out "My Thanksgiving" playing over the headphones as I set my sights on the clock over the finish line. I crossed in 3:48:50 physically fragile and emotionally overwhelmed. A truly amazing day.

I met Scott in the finish area and enjoyed a complimentary beer and the energy of the finishers as we waited for our friends to arrive. Tami crossed first, and then Cherie with a new personal best. Debbie, then Brian crossed next having thoroughly enjoyed the experience of their first marathon (other than Brian's two stops to get his knee taped). After making our way back to the hotel and getting cleaned up, we shared our common but unique stories over some Chicago deep dish pizza and cold beer.

I had heard stories about how incredible the support was in Chicago, but it is something else to experience first hand. To have such a concrete example of the power of community with Boston heavy on our minds was amazing. To share this wonder with friends and strangers alike, and to see two more people experience the power of a finish line was fantastic. It never gets old, and it only seems to get better.

And then there was this story that we didn't hear about until days later.
With an entourage of support, a man with muscular dystrophy crossed the finish line of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon early Monday morning -- nearly 17 hours after he started.

The 38-year-old passed the 26.2 milestone at around 1:30 a.m., surrounded by about 100 people.

"My message is: If you dream it, make it happen. Your life is the most beautiful thing that could happen to you. Make the best with that, and share the best of that," he said shortly after finishing the race.
Another in thousands of stories about human determination, and the support we can find in our fellow man. Though Boston reminded us how dangerous and fragile life can be, the marathon has reaffirmed that most people continue to strive to make this world a better place. Another amazing day.
For every moment of joy
for every hour of fear
for every winding road
that brought me here.

For every breath, for every day of living
this is my thanksgiving

For everyone who helped me start
and for everything that broke my heart.

For every breath, for every day of living
this is my thanksgiving.

October 22, 2013

One foot in front of the other

Lord it has been a long bout of silence. There are stories to tell, some incredible, some mundane, some wonderful, some not so, but I have lost that little glimmer that any of it matters. But like my jammed up phone that tries to do so many things that it can't do any of them quickly, my brain and soul are gunked up for the lack of speaking the thoughts out loud, and I know I need to clean a little mental house. I can feel the spiral as I skate around the edges.

I haven't even bothered to visit this blog in what seems like months, but one of those slow moving apps on my phone let me know that another writer I follow had posted after a long silence, and I there are bits and pieces that make me want to follow her lead. Plus I just like the title of the post.

Atrophy is forgetting how to log into your own website.

I may have run by her at some point, this person I have followed but never seen. I'd like to think that we picked up a small baton from each other, in that moment and weeks later.

Don't worry about the finish line. Just make a start, and keep moving.

September 1, 2013

Lyrics from this mornings run

I'm trying to tell you something about my life
Maybe give me insight between black and white
The best thing you've ever done for me
Is to help me take my life less seriously, it's only life after all

Well darkness has a hunger that's insatiable
And lightness has a call that's hard to hear
I wrap my fear around me like a blanket
I sailed my ship of safety till I sank it, I'm crawling on your shore.

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain
There's more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in crooked line
The less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine.
I stopped by the bar at 3 a.m.
To seek solace in a bottle or possibly a friend
I woke up with a headache like my head against a board
Twice as cloudy as I'd been the night before
And I went in seeking clarity.

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain
There's more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in crooked line
The less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine...

Closer to Fine by The Indigo Girls.

August 26, 2013

Off the Beaton path

I just spent five days out in the woods, off the grid, away from it all and back to nature. It was wonderful and painful.

Though I have camped quite a bit as an adult, it has become a bit more posh each time we head out. Long gone are the days of hot dogs over the fire, usually eating as good or better in the woods than at home. Cars are filled a bit more with luxuries from home, and most have left behind tents and have upgraded to trailers. This trip was back to the roots of taking only what you can carry in and out.

Cherie's dad Jim (Beaton) has been hiking and fishing all his life, and first went to Delta Lake in 1965. He went back several times over the years with varying sets of friends and eventually his family, He took Cherie back to the lake in 2009, and she told me how beautiful the area was, and how difficult it was to get there. They brought along her son Dalton last year, so three generations shared the hidden gem side by side. This year Brian and I were invited along, and like the pictures that fail to do it justice, her stories about the joy and pain of the trek did not do the experience justice.

I hadn't done an overnight hike since I was a pre-teen, and didn't have any of the necessary equipment. They had all the tents, pack stoves and water purifiers we needed, so I borrowed a backpack from Jim, and bought some cheap hiking boots from Big 5 a couple of days before we headed out. After the months of biking and now running, I figured I was in pretty good shape, but like the foolishness of buying hiking boots days before heading out, I was mistaken that I was prepared for the challenge.

We headed out early Wednesday, driving two hours to the trail head, arriving at around ten o'clock. We were disappointed to see so many cars and trucks in the lot. There was apparently one particular spot on the lake that we were shooting for. The main trail leads to five different lakes, and ours was off the groomed trail, so we hoped that all the early arrivals were headed somewhere else.

Ready to head out.

Trout lake was the first lake on the trail, about a mile and a half into the woods. This would be the easiest part of the hike, but it was still challenging to muscle my 55 pound pack up the trail. I can be blamed for over packing on most trips, but but much of the weight was from the inflatable raft I was carrying. Jim had always fished on the lake, and it could not be easily done from shore. Dalton carried another raft on his back, and the gear was spread among the five of us, but my pack was some ten or fifteen pounds heavier than the others. The boat also had to be strapped low on the pack, so my center of gravity was definitely off.

We stopped at Trout Lake to rest, grab a drink and snack on some trail food. Though there were probably some campers off in the woods, we didn't see anyone around. We had seen one couple on the trail, walking out with their dog, but it would be the only people we would see for three days.

Big packs, enormous tree.

Trout lake

Our group

Cherie look to where we were headed. 

Shortly after leaving the lake, the trail climbed through some steep switchbacks. After about a half a mile, we left the groomed trail and would spend the next six hours bushwhacking along an unmaintained fisherman's trail. We actually went downhill initially to find a place to cross the river. We spent a few moments there to take pictures and wet our bandanas and then headed into the wilderness. As Jim said, this is where it got "interesting."

Calling the route we went a 'trail' might be a little generous. Though at times it was clear where someone had walked before, it was often overgrown and branches surrounded you like a swarm of insects, stinging and scratching. Other times we were scrambling under and over logs, climbing through rock fields, and without practiced eyes of those that had been there before, I am sure we would have become lost along the way.

The trail went near vertical at times

Lots of tight squeezes.

The route was steep enough at times that you had to grab at tree roots to climb the hill like a ladder, eyes turned constantly downward looking for the next safe place to plant your foot. There were some great spots near the river and several beautiful waterfalls where we could pause to catch our breath, and the scale of the rocks and trees had me thinking we were hiking through Tolkien's Middle Earth. Each time we headed out again, Jim would comment that the next part was more "interesting" (translation, hard).

After one final difficult section we were at the lake. Unfortunately we had another forty-five minutes to an hour of up and down hiking to get to our spot. Thankfully, when we arrived, there was no one there. I am not sure how we would have taken it if we had to continue on or backtrack to find a place to set up camp.

View of Delta Lake from the hike in.

Cherie back at the lake. 

Our campsite

Looking out toward the lake

That first night we didn't do much more than set up camp, make dinner and head to bed shortly after the sun went down. Dinners were of the freeze-dried variety, but they actually turned out to taste pretty good. The first night we had lasagna and it was fantastic, though when we tasted another batch a few days later, the taste of the first batch greatly benefited from having hiked for seven and a half hours.

We spent Thursday further setting up camp, fishing and exploring. We had both boats out on the lake and moderate success, but we designated Saturday as our keeper day, so we threw back all but one that had swallowed the hook. The water was so calm and clear, you could see the fish following your spinner through the water.

Brain and Cherie

Jim, Dalton and me.

We beached the boats on the other side of the lake near the base of one of the two falls feeding the lake. Dalton immediately began scrambling up the waterfalls, and after some hesitation, the older kids followed his lead. Where he was fearlessly leaping from rock to boulder, we were not as daring or limber, so there was more hesitation and four-point stances. But it was worth it when we made it to the base of the lower sheer face.

Dalton leading the charge.

Looking back at the lake before heading up.

Water through a forest.

Dalton and G-Pa

Almost there.

Beautiful, awesome power of water.

Getting in close.

On Friday, Jim, Dalton and I hiked up to Otter Lake. It was another bushwhacking and scrambling adventure to an even more remote lake. More challenge, more beauty, farther off the beaten path.

Halfway to the lake, there was a great overlook of Delta Lake. Then it was on to Otter Lake.

Saturday was a little more relaxed. We also saw people for the first time in days. Three guys were hiking through to Otter Lake. They had hiked up in the dark and camped out on the north end of Delta the night before. The hike up the hill was difficult and the trail hard enough to find, that I can't imagine doing it in the dark.

We spent the day fishing and hiking around the lake. Near the southern end, we found a stack of huge boulders, so naturally we had to climb them. There was a good view of the falls off of Angeline Lake, so we just spent a little time relaxing in the sun. There was also another example of the determination of the trees. In many places, they would grow right on top of the rocks

Jim had hiked in with a cold/flu bug, and after a few nights of sharing a tent, Dalton and I woke up with it as well. It took hold Friday night, and we both woke up Sunday morning feeling sick. Completely stuffed up, and feeling the feverish aches, it would be a long hike out.

Of course it was mostly downhill, but what was difficult to climb was a bit precarious to descend. The packs were a slightly lighter for the food we had eaten, but they were still hard to maneuver and a strain on the back. We took at least as many breaks on the way down, but each time I put the pack back on it seemed heavier still. Brian then stepped on a nest of bees and was stung several times as he crashed through the woods trying to get away. We were a motley lot.

We climbed a steep rise and were back on the groomed trail. Only two miles to go on a much easier path, but I was done in. I was feeling feverishly spacey, and my everything hurt. We made a final stop near this enormous tree so I could take in some more fluids and food.

When I put my pack back on, I tweaked something in my left hip. For the last three quarters of a mile, every other step hurt. With my more awkward gait, my back started to spasm.

I went to that place I go at the end of a marathon, where I try to mask pain with will and determination, but I went too far this time. As soon as I reached the truck and got the pack off, I started hyperventilating. It had hurt too much for too long, and something finally broke. I should have stopped, probably eaten or drank more, maybe traded packs with someone. I was sick and I shouldn't have tried to push through it. It was a mistake, and I was sorry to freak everyone out at the end of a great adventure.

We hung out in the parking lot while I took in some fluids and ate something. Initially I couldn't even lift my water bottle with my right hand without sending my back into spasm. A park ranger came by and the others chatted with him for a bit. While he was talking about another remote lake, he mentioned that only about 36 people each season hike into Delta and Otter Lake. While standing on the shore of Otter, I wondered how many eyes had seen this place, and it was great to hear that we were such rare visitors.

I am grateful that Jim invited me along with his family to hike into such a cherished place. It is not only beautifully remote, but it holds a great place in his heart, and I am fortunate to now share in it. If he heads back, I will join him, but I will definitely come better prepared next time to enjoy it all the way through.

August 17, 2013


It was a series of mishaps, but quite the adventure.

Joe and I got a room in Auburn the night before the ride so we would be closer to the start in Enumclaw. . We had prepared everything the night before, but even so, we got up at 3:00am to give us plenty of time at the start line. Unfortunately, our prep work sort of backfired as we forgot our water bottles and Camelbak in the hotel fridge. We backtracked, losing all the time we had saved, and it was a bit of a sign of what was to come.

We met Tom at the start and joined him for the fundraising breakfast, and at about 5:15am it was light enough for them to send riders out. We took a few pictures, made the obligatory Facebook post, and hit the road at 5:25am.

Ramrod is a 150 mile, counter-clockwise loop around the mountain, entering the National Park at around mile 60. There are three major climbs along the route, with 10,000 feet of elevation gain overall. For comparison, the STP has about a third of the climbing spread out over a longer distance. Even though we had looked at the profile more times than was probably healthy, it was hard to picture what this all meant.

On paper, it would be the most difficult ride any of us had ever done, and I didn't have any reason to believe the reality would be much different.

Fortunately, the first 30 miles are primarily flat or down hill, easing us into the morning and the ride ahead. We rode in a loose group, quiet streets and sleepy riders drafting off of each other in hopes of banking a little time that we would surely spend later when the road tipped uphill. There are time cutoffs at certain points of the course, and we didn't want there to be any risk of getting pulled off the course.

We rolled into the first food stop in Eatonville right on schedule, but kept our stop brief. Shortly after hitting the road again, we passed a photographer at the top of a small rise. A longer un-named climb followed, and the meat of the day began. Drafting doesn't do you much good when you're climbing, but the plan was to stay together as much as possible, riding at a pace we could all maintain. The passes were still in the distance, but we all took this first real climb in stride.

Then snafu #2 happened. As Tom's chain had broken at mile 40 of the STP, Joe's pedals were now spinning in space after his chain snapped. We pulled over and pulled out the tools. Unfortunately, this time the pin holding the link was gone, lost in the pavement or gravel on the side of the road. Fortunately, I had a couple of extra pins in the junk drawer of a seat bag I carry around. I had bought the spares after my first side-of-the-road lesson in broken chains back in 2007, and my pack-rat preparedness was finally going to pay off.

The repair took much longer this time, and once again I wasn't very confident in my patch job. We briefly weighed the risks of pressing on, but decided to backtrack to the last bike shop we were going to see for the day. As we coasted downhill, all the bikers climbing in the opposite direction gave us confused or sympathetic looks. We were going backward, losing time and adding hills.

The guy at the bike shop put Joe's bike on the stand and looked things over. He did not have the right sized replacement chain, but he thought the repair job looked OK. We bought some more spare parts just in case and headed out, passing the photographer for the second time. I don't know if the second photo was any better, but the second time on the climb definitely was not. We had already lost 50 minutes we didn't think we had to spare, and our pace was slower on the hill repeat. It felt like the air had been let out of our tires.

We rolled under the Rainier National Park entrance, passing by cars backed up waiting to get in. The ride is held on a weekday to avoid the largest of crowds, but there were still plenty of people out on a sunny Thursday. Though we had already been climbing for 20 miles, the first of the three main climbs began once we entered the park. It was a 12 mile, 2,800 foot climb winding through massive trees and increasingly beautiful views. It had been decades since I had been to Rainier, and I can't imagine a better way to see it.

Tom had been struggling since our mechanical mishap, and the climb was taking its toll on his sore knee. We pedaled more slowly, stopped more often with the great excuse of taking pictures, but finishing before the route shut down was looking more and more remote. He had already run out of water, so we pooled resources until we could get to the food stop a couple of miles from the summit.Once we got there, we talked about how he was doing, how he was fueling, etc. As I talked about fluids and electrolytes, he looked at me and told me he was done.

Now he had told us he was done at the STP, and then made his solo comeback, but this time he was sure there was nothing left. He knee was still hurting, and he said he had bit off more than he could chew. We tried to find a way for him to get back to the start, and we were told there was someone at the summit with a radio to call it in. He wasn't quite done climbing.

Once at our summit, we were told that it would make more sense for him to head to the next rest stop rather than wait there. He could get food, be more comfortable in the shade, and most importantly, the rest stop was at the bottom of a canyon so he would get the downhill ride he had earned. Before heading out, we got a group shot with the mountain in the background.

There was a professional photographer a few hundred feet down the road, and he got a shot of us that looks Photo-Shopped. Truly worthy of the names Paradise and Inspiration Point we had just ridden past.

The next eight miles were a wonderful downhill ride winding down the mountain side. After climbing through the trees, it was all hillsides and open canyons. I think I smiled the entire way down, wishing I could have somehow filmed the whole thing. We pulled into the rest stop at mile 80, wishing Tom could go on, but knowing that more difficult climbs lay ahead. And more snafus.

The second major climb of the day was actually pretty manageable by comparison. There was a small water station at the top, along with someone taking bib numbers and times. I am not sure how serious they were about the cutoff times, but we were cutting it a bit close. As we topped off our water bottles, Tom rode by in a car with his bike on rack in back. I was glad to see that he hadn't had to wait as long as expected.

Joe and I made our way down another great descent. The roads were in much better shape on this slope, and we were back in the trees again, so we flew down the hill, eyes on the road, leaning into the corners. It really does make you feel alive, the exhilaration of speed and riding that edge of comfort, made that much better for having worked so hard to earn it.

Everyone we had spoken to about the ride had said the last climb, up Cayuse Pass, was the most difficult. It was the steepest of the three, nine or ten miles long, and from what we had heard there was little shade. And of course you already had almost a hundred miles and thousands of feet of climbing on your legs. The downhill ended in a sharp left turn, and almost instantly we were climbing again.

After backtracking early on in the day, and our slow climb to Paradise, we were running behind the bulk of the riders, but there were still some other riders around us as we started up Cayuse. Like the end of the marathon though, we had kind of reached the walking wounded stage of the ride. People that were clearly tired, nearly tapped out, but still determined to finish. We kept willing our way up the slope, looking around each corner for the water break halfway up.

About a third of the way up the climb, snafu #3 reared its ugly head. This time it was a broken spoke on Joe's bike. He had brought along extra spokes, but unfortunately the broken spoke was on the drive side of his rear wheel, so without a tool to remove the cassette, we couldn't make the swap on the side of the road. Back into my bike bag of tricks to find the best $10 I ever spent.

As the link mentions, the Fiberfix is basically a Kevlar string that you can loop and tighten to bring your wheel back into alignment. The plastic tube it was packed in had disintegrated, so who knows how good of shape the Fiberfix was in. As I was trying to get it installed, one of the support vehicles pulled up to help. He was a mechanic, but hadn't pulled a cassette off a wheel before, so he called in backup. When the other mechanic showed up, the baton was passed and he went to work.

While the mechanic was working on the wheel, we realized the other guy had taken off with one of the parts, so we were stuck a bit longer. While we chatted with the driver, a rider passed by with the number 2 on his bib. Low numbers in rides usually go to volunteers or long-time participants, and it is one of those mental distractions to look for the lowest number on the road. We had seen number 2 a few times during the day, and the driver mentioned that he was probably in his early 70's. He let us know that the Ramrod ride gives out their numbers by age, lowest numbers to the oldest riders. It was inspiring, and I hope I am still conquering mountains when I am in my 70's.

Snafu #3 delayed us by the same 50 minutes as snafu #1, and once again, when we hit the road, it felt like someone had deflated our tires. The shade was completely gone, and it was 80 some degrees out. We melted. The road seemed to stretch out in some special effects sort of way, and that water stop at the halfway point just would not appear, no matter how many corners we went around.

It finally did appear out of the haze, and one of the volunteers was wetting down the riders with a spray bottle. I think we were both feeling pretty broken at that point, and I wanted to linger under the cool spray and shade, but we were running low on time. We pushed on, but split up pretty quickly. It became an individual struggle, and we had to find our own way up, at whatever pace made sense to us individually.

I finally reached the top, and after all the struggle and mishaps, it was strangely anti-climatic. I suppose I had this great vista in my mind, the land falling away in every direction, but the road ended in a T surrounded by trees. It also felt like a stumbling shamble rather than a victorious summit, but I had made it. Volunteers had set up a small pit stop on the island splitting the road, and there were cheers and water for our burned out bodies. I walked around in a daze as I waited for Joe to top that last rise.

I had planned to spread some more of Sierra's ashes at the peak of this last climb. I suppose that is why I had this spectacular vista in my mind, something worthy of the climb and a place for her to rest. Instead of the picture perfect spot I had conjured in my mind, it was a nice, simple bed of wildflowers in the shade of tall pines. Not a bad spot after all.

When Joe arrived, he was ready to head down the other side. We were still some 40 miles from the finish, but we had conquered the mountain. The rest of the way was mostly downhill or flat, and we just had to make the victory lap. After coasting down another great descent, we swung into the last food stop near the entrance to Crystal Mountain. There was the promise of a deli sandwich, and I was hoping against hope that there would be an ice-cold Coke waiting for us as well. There was, and more than the downhill ride or solid food, it brought me back around.

I started to do the math as we headed out. We needed to average about 18 mph over the last 33 miles to make it in by 8:00. I kept the math to myself, and just tried to keep the tempo high but reasonable. Each easily divisible point along the way (math is hard at mile 130) I would check in, and we were keeping pace and even building a small cushion. The route left the highway for a quieter road about ten miles from the finish, and it was finally safe to ride side by side. Can't remember a thing we talked about, but our smiles, pride and sense of relief were easy to recognize.

After one more magical descent and a stop to cross the highway, we were finally back where we started. After fourteen and a half hours on the road, losing more than an hour and a half to mechanical issues, and adding six miles just for good measure, we rolled under the finish line with ten minutes to spare.

Months of training, hundred-mile Saturdays for weeks, climbing all around western Washington, seeing beautiful places and building friendships - the challenge of the mountain kept us moving forward, and in the end we conquered it. We were sorry not to have Tom with us in the end, but I know he will be back to take on the challenge again, and I can verify that success after failure is that much sweeter.