November 28, 2015

On the road(s) again

While I was down in San Diego, along with reconnecting with friends, I wanted to reconnect with running as well. I needed a kickstart, and I thought sunshine and beachfront scenery would do the trick.

My first run was a nice pairing of the connections. I went for a run with the other Sean on one of his regular loops up in Oceanside. It was great chatting with him, though it was between my slightly labored huffing and puffing. It didn't help that it was the longest run I had been on in five months, or that we had spent the previous evening catching up over (several) beers.

Once I headed south to San Diego, I retraced some of my favorite routes over the next few days. I had picked a place steps away from the Mission Bay Loop, so running would as easy as stepping out the door. The loop around the whole bay is about fifteen miles, so I opted to only do the western half. The shorter seven miles was still pushing it for my current level of fitness, but the sun, surf and other fit bodies out running kept me pressing forward.

Over the next couple of days I ran up to Sunset Cliffs and then along the Mission Beach boardwalk. Getting back to regular exercise was of course part of the motivation, but running along those familiar paths again helped bring back all that was good about my time in San Diego. I found parts of myself I had neglected or forgotten in my time living there, and I found memory triggers of those feelings three years later in random places along the path.

Back at home, there is little sun or surf to tempt me outside, but it looks like I was able to bring a bit of that San Diego magic back with me. I have managed to get out eight times in the two weeks I have been back, so the habit is starting to feel ingrained once again. The half marathon scheduled for tomorrow also helped to add a little urgency to get my butt and feet back out on the road, but there seems to be more to it than that. I am starting to care again for this body I have been given. Though I am still struggling with the food aspect (especially during the holidays), when I am running regularly I start to look at food more as fuel than as a source of comfort, so hopefully that will begin to spill over.

In another moment this week, after returning from a lunchtime run, I walked over to the local coffee shop to grab some caffeine. Before even taking a sip, on the walk back I noticed the world seemed a little sharper, the colors a little brighter. An endorphin afterglow I suppose. Whatever it was, it felt like a veil lifting for just a moment to get a peek at what was on the other side, and confirmation that I have taken some positive steps down the right road.

November 11, 2015

A San Diego state of mind

I landed in San Diego on Thursday, and after finding my luggage that had arrived a day earlier, I hopped on the shuttle bus to the rental lot. I ended up with a basic Nissan coupe, with the most important features being great gas mileage and a place to plug in my iPod, as I would be on the road quite a bit. Though my new-to-me Honda is a noticeable improvement over the old truck, driving a new car highlights the fact that my "new" car is more than a decade old. New is just so tight, clean and appealing.

After getting my new wheels, I headed out of town immediately. I would be spending my first night in Oceanside seeing the "Other Sean" and his wonderful family, and the following night in LA visiting other friends and checking out the brewery they opened a year ago. The feeling started to sink in on the drive north to Oceanside, a feeling of warmth and peace. This was home for almost three years, so memories rushed back as I drove through a landscape so different from Washington. I found myself smiling behind the wheel, at least until traffic slowed to a crawl in huge backup.

This vacation is a bit different than most. It is both getting away and going home. As I have written before, I am blessed to have many friends that feel like family, and doubly blessed to have two places that have these anchors of friendship. I have been welcomed back and into homes like no time has passed, yet heard so many stories of what has changed over the three years since I have been away.

Outside of reconnecting with friends, I left the rest of the itinerary largely empty. There are no real tourist destinations to hit this time around. It is more about taking advantage of the vacation bubble and catching up and reconnecting with parts of my life that I have let drift away. A week unscripted seems both a lot of time to fill, and not nearly enough time to get it all done.

The last couple of days I have largely wandered. Most of the (intended) destinations were about being close to the water. Like so many, I am drawn to the shore for vast horizon, crashing surf, and the peace that those things bring. A visit to Dog Beach (sorry Disney, this is "The Happiest Place on Earth"), a run around Mission Bay, and a trip to Sunset Cliffs to watch the sun go down were on the list, but most everywhere I went a memory popped up.

Some were obvious like when I headed out to the old house and regular haunts, but others were decidedly random. Just bits of life relived three years later. I was on a run from Dog Beach up to Sunset Cliffs and back Monday morning. I passed by a set of low houses with shallow paved front areas. Hanging from the fence were sets of planter boxes. I recalled running by one of these houses in the middle of summer a few years back and a guy was out watering the plants baking in the sun. Seeing me approach, he lowered the hose so as not to splash me. Eleven miles into training run, I slowed to a walk and asked him to spray me down. He was happy to oblige, and we ended up chatting briefly before I pressed on. A moment lost in thousand others that I had forgotten about, but came back so clear when running past three years later.

I found some peace here three years ago, and I am here seeking it again, though on a much tighter time frame. It feels like leaving my schedule and time largely open will give me a chance to soak some of that San Diego vibe in random moments. The yoga at sunset, surfers heading out in the morning, and dogs romping in the surf throughout the day. Like California this year, I am need of a good soaking.

November 8, 2015

The Vacation Bubble

When I travel, it is not just an opportunity to get out of town, but also a chance to step away from life for a while. The daily chores and routines are left behind that door I locked behind me on the way out of town, and do not return until I do. I am pretty good at leaving the thoughts of work behind as well, and I tend to float along in this self-contained bubble. Even as I let in new places and experiences, the "real" world of home is kept outside the barrier.

The flight out is a great transition. You are pretty much forced to sit still. Thirty thousand feet in the air traveling 600 miles an hour, texts, emails and phone calls can't catch up to you. Well, at least they didn't used to be able to. Now you can have that wifi tether if you want to, but thankfully phone calls are still verboten. For me, the flight is the time to pull out that book that lately has been pushed aside for whatever is on Netflix.

It is as if the vacation bubble has a bit of helium to lighten the load of each step. As the days pass, life at home and all that it entails fades further from my consciousness. Shoulders relax, eyes brighten and the mind clears. I feel more present. I am sure this feeling is hardly unique. Take any animal out of their regular habitat, their senses are heightened to the new surroundings.

Inside the vacation bubble, everything looks brighter, and maybe even easier. As you acclimatize to the new world, maybe you start to let in a few bits and pieces from home. Holding them up to the vacation light, things start to look a bit dingy and worn. You start to fantasize about leaving it all behind and setting up shop to teach scuba to tourists or open up that beachside restaurant with the swim up bar.

It is the rare few that actually pull the trigger, though. And of course your vacation paradise is someone's everyday home. All of their daily chores and responsibilities are there, you just can't see them inside your bubble or behind their locked doors. Still, on two separate trips to San Diego, the bubble popped and triggers were pulled.

Returning from the first one some ten years ago, my wife and I went out to dinner before settling in back home. She wondered aloud what it would be like if we moved south. I thought it was just vacation glow that hadn't dimmed yet, but it turns out it wasn't. A few years later, she confided that she resented that we did not move, and later headed south on her own.

I took my own trip to San Diego not long after, and while there on vacation decided to make it my home for a spell. Of course I knew it would not live up to what it felt like inside the bubble, but even after a new set of chores and responsibilities arrived with the new home, some of that vacation feeling remained. The new surroundings, new friends, and lets be honest, the sunshine allowed me to see things in a new light. I had planned to stay for a year, and ended up staying for almost three.

As I head south this time for another visit, I plan to use this time in the bubble wisely. To reconnect with parts I have left behind, and to the love and friendship that remains in this vacation spot that became home. To see things in a new but familiar way, and to bring some of that light home with me.

November 4, 2015 Making me Wait.

Everyone needs a little time away.

A backlog of comp time expiring soon and a surprise bonus check at work meant I could head out of town for a while. I have been meaning to get down to San Diego for a visit since I moved back, yet somehow three years have slipped away.

I had vacation brain and short-timers disease this past week in anticipation. My body and brain have been cloudy lately, and I was really looking forward to having the warmth of sunshine and rekindled friendship burn away the mist. There always seems to be a thousand little things to take care of before leaving town, so that preoccupied my brain as well.

It didn't used to be this way. Vacation did not start until I locked the front door behind me, and thinking about it didn't start much earlier. It was like if I thought too much about it, it might vanish. I still don't pack until the night before, but I am a bit better at attending to those thousand little steps.

Still, when I got to the airport, it finally felt real. My vacations the last few years have been within an hour or two's drive, and the airport somehow feels like so much more possibility.. After passing through security (without needing to take off my coat or shoes thank you very much), I walked into the crowd of travelers with the wall of glass to the runways as a backdrop - and it got a little tingly.

I guess it has been while.

Unfortunately the reality of travel set in. There was a guy in San Diego barricaded in an apartment with a rifle taking shots at the police. The apartment was relatively close to the airport, and also in the flight path of arriving planes. The airport was shut down.

Initially our flight was delayed two hours. Then it was cancelled. Then I was re-booked on a flight seven hours later. Then that flight was cancelled. A long line later and I was re-re-booked on a flight the following morning. Rather than trying to find a way home and then back again early in the morning, I found a relatively cheap hotel near the airport. My luggage of course was still on the original plane, and being the out of practice traveler than I am, I hadn't stashed a change of clothes or toothbrush in my backpack. I did have two books, a magazine and a newspaper though, so, priorities.

The plan of the day was to get to town, stick my feet in the ocean, head north and meet some great friends for dinner. Instead, I walked along the highway to Denny's for dinner in forty degree weather, thankful that I wasn't wearing shorts like I usually do in anticipation of warmer destination weather (I got diverted to Denver on the way home from a cruise one year. Shorts, Hawaiian shirt, hat made of palm leaves - you get the picture).

Tomorrow we try again. Maybe the additional anticipation will make the airport even more tingly, the ocean more refreshing, and the meeting with friends that much more awesome..

November 1, 2015

The Sanctuary

It was a dark and stormy night...Sorry, couldn't resist.

A storm front has rolled into town this weekend, bringing high winds and warnings of flooding. Friday night I listened to what sounded like a downpour hitting the gravel drive, but it was really just the wind whipping through the tall pines surrounding The Sanctuary.

I moved into my new place in March. It is never a great idea to do anything time-consuming in the middle of tax season, but I could not let this opportunity slip by. Outside of one annoying thing, I was pretty happy at my old apartment. My lease was not up until the end of May, but this new place was something special. So special that it hasn't been advertised in years. You have to know a guy.

A buddy of mine was moving out of the place and asked if I wanted to take over. He in turn had moved in after a friend gave him the heads up that it was available. The house has been passed along almost like an inheritance. Not only is the place special enough to earn the moniker The Sanctuary, but the landladies are special in their own right. I think before the place gets passed down, the new person is evaluated on how they will treat the landladies as much as the house.

Well, house might be a bit misleading. It is more of a cottage. At something like 550 square feet, it is some 300 square feet smaller than my apartment was. It is not often that you need to downsize when moving from an apartment to a house, but there it is.

The cottage is downhill from the house where the landladies live. The mother (92 and still going strong) has been there since sometime in the 50s, and used to own the land all the way to the lake. At some point, they sold the waterfront section, but the old cottage remained. I think they rent it out mostly to cover the taxes these days. What used to be a sleepy suburb is now a booming town, and property values (and taxes) continue to rise as those 50s ramblers are knocked down for McMansions.

An opposite movement has been gaining traction with some - Tiny Houses. A pack rat by nature and nurture, I am surrounded by stuff like most people these days. For me, it is not new and shiny stuff, but more sentimental and broken stuff. The idea of a Tiny House, living cleaner and more simply, is one I would like to pursue.

I suppose this desire has been in the background for a while now. Henry David Thoreau's Walden and the PBS special "Alone in the Wilderness" have always had a place in my heart. To go off into the woods and live the slower and more attuned life. But one thing that has changed over the years is the need for contact. I have discovered that although I am pretty comfortable being on my own, it isn't the best thing for me. If I spend too much time by myself, walls come up and thoughts and navel-gazing get out of control. I need to be pulled outside of myself on a regular basis.

And the sanctuary seems to be the perfect next step. It is not exactly a Tiny House (generally under 320 square feet), but it is certainly small enough to make you reevaluate what you really need, and what is just excess baggage you have been carrying around. It is also a spin on that cabin in the woods. Surrounded by trees down a gravel road, it feels away from the world, yet downtown is a short two miles away. Secluded, yet connected.

In my apartment, I had to run a fan at night to provide some white noise to try and cover the creaking of my upstairs neighbor pacing the balsa wood floors at 3am. In The Sanctuary, there is less need for white noise, though nature was providing its fair share Friday night. One more benefit to having my own four walls is the ability to get something else that has been missing from my life.

A dog.