Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Musings at Year's End

Merry Christmas world!  As the year comes to a close, I find myself taking time to reflect on another year past.  Mostly, though, I find myself wondering just what the hell it is I did over the last twelve months.  Unfortunately, the only way I have left to keep track of my own comings and goings is by reviewing my updates to this blog.  The fact that there have been no posts -- absolutely none -- since sometime in September, leaves me in a particular bind.  How did I pass the time?  Was it time well spent?  Did I better myself in some fashion, perhaps finally learning the fine art of origami or the intricacies of long division?  Did I better the world in some fashion, perhaps replacing an incandescent bulb with an LED or stockpiling garbage in our spare bedroom instead of the landfill?  Did I better a neighbor, perhaps with a well timed application of the Heimlich maneuver or by simply staying out of someone's way while he or she was having a bad day?  I'll never know, and as a result, unless I helped you dislodge a poorly chewed piece of meat from your esophagus, you will never know either.

Be that as it may, I spent Christmas in my pajamas, which seems like the way it should be spent.  And someone was thoughtful enough to wrap up and gift me a pair of white clown gloves with rainbow cuffs, which seems like the way hands should be clad.  So the year is coming to a fine close.

Long time blog readers (Hi Mom!), will recall that this blog started as a chronicle of a cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment.  (And, yes, long time blog readers that are paying close attention will also recognize that the Mom joke, and indeed the entire first sentence, are pretty much recycled from an earlier post).  Well, to bring things full circle, be advised that 2012 marked the last of the maintenance Rituxin infusions.  I was scanned for positron emissions (after injection with a radionuclide tagged sugar) in December, with what my oncologist described as no signs of uptake.  That means, in short, no cancer.  So, treatment worked as hoped and expected, and until anyone tells me otherwise, I pretty much wipe my hands of the whole thing.

In the meantime, I look forward to a 2013 filled with jet-packs, entire meals packed into a pill, technology that will finally let us all live a life of leisure, and all the other wonders that the future promises.  I also fear the inevitable rise of our new robot overlords and the evaporation of our oceans, but those are small prices to pay for the convenience of jet-packs.  Happy New Year everyone!

P.S.  Please let me know if anyone recognizes any of the people or places in the following photos.  It might go a long way towards helping me reconstruct the last three months.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Type two blogging

A cursory review of the “I just finished my first marathon” literature will find lots of people describing apparent life-changing moments.  People weeping with joy.  The best days of their lives.  Never again to meet a challenge in life, love, or career that can’t be met with the same dogged determination that carried them across the final six miles. Never to be forgotten.
I don’t remember it like that.  I don’t remember it like that at all.

Was I glad to finish my first marathon?  Sure, but only because I could finally do what I had wanted to do for some miles: stop running and, with that, hopefully, stop the pain.  I crossed the finish line of the Equinox Marathon in 2005, accepted my finisher’s patch with a vacant stare, and shuffled to an empty spot in the grass where I could sit.  Not comfortably, mind you.  If I tried to bend my legs, my hamstrings seized.  I tried to project an aurora of comfort and ease while grimacing, jacked at an obtuse angle.  Since I couldn’t stand back up without bending, I was effectively trapped, and ultimately resigned myself to concentrating on the ache in my legs rather than my increasing thirst which I could not attend to without rising.

I did not know it at the time, but I was having fun.  Type two fun.  Familiar to alpinists, type two fun is the kind that only becomes fun after being viewed through the haze of time.  Type two fun is usually no fun at all when you are experiencing it: cold, tired, afraid, maybe bleeding.  But once back at the bar with open beers, type two fun suddenly morphs into real fun, as you and your mates congratulate one another, exalt the day’s triumphs, and—here is the kicker—start planning to do it all again.  The amount of time it takes to go from suffering to thinking a second time around is a good idea is directly proportionate to the degree of type two-ness that your fun involved.  For me, the Equinox Marathon must have been pushing the limits, since it took seven years to once again think running the full course was a good idea.

But run the whole thing again, I did.  Last Saturday I lined up at the start with C’s family.  She, her sister, and mom were doing the relay.  Her dad was doing the full, perhaps a bit undertrained this year.  As he described it, the 26.2 miles of the race would be greater than the sum total of miles he ran to prepare.  I suspect if it hadn’t been the 50th anniversary of the race, he would have sat this one out.  But why let details get in the way of a beautiful fall day in Fairbanks?

I was hoping to run under 4:00:00 this year, but failed to meet that goal by a fair margin.  The opening miles were slower than I expected or remembered, and I felt sluggish for the first five or more miles.  I started to feel better as I reached Ester Dome and the trail pointed upward, but by the time I reached the half-way mark it was clear that sub-four hours was going to be a hard sell.  I plodded out the out-and-back, a section along Ester Dome of single-track and mining roads where you get to pass runners ahead and behind and see a good slice of the field.  With a high-five from C (who was running leg 2 of the race and starting the out-and-back section as I was finishing), I headed for the Chute.  Runners descend about 1,000 vertical feet in a third-of-a-mile down the Chute, a steep, rocky, and loose bomb down a section line.  Any hope of making up time died as the pounding cramped my left leg.  I pulled off to the side of the trail to stretch and try to walk through the discomfort, losing about 5 minutes as piles of racers tumbled past.

Luckily, I recovered pretty well from the leg cramp, and continued on my way, cautiously at first.  The miles kept going.  A little girl offered up mini-doughnuts at an unofficial aid station, which I gladly took but didn’t end up eating.  Do you know where her hands had been?  Why risk the GI distress!  Before long, the final descent to the finish line appeared, I came around the corner, kept running, and finished.  Final time: 4:21, good enough for a top-quarter finish in the overall standings and a top-third in my age group, but pretty far off of my goal.  Nevertheless, I was satisfied with the day.  I felt good at the end, could sit and stand at will, and had time for a hot shower and sauna before the rest of the family started coming across the line.  And it didn’t take any time to think that I could do the race again.  No type two about this fun at all.

Once home (a trip characterized by high-winds and sheets of rain), I was able to download data from my Garmin and carefully analyze the day.  It took awhile, but I did discern why I was unable to meet my goal time: I didn’t run fast enough.  Something to work towards, I guess.

A photographer posted some pictures from the event that he has made freely available (http://zubenelgenubi.smugmug.com/MostlyPeople/EqnxMarathon2012/25416697_LJcPZx#!i=2092604897&k=5zwkqsR).  I grabbed two of them.  The first shows off the fall colors on Ester Dome:

The second shows that, as sure as the night will follow day, if you take my picture during a race I will be scowling.  

Why can’t I just take a normal picture that makes it look like I enjoy running?  Maybe there was more type two to this race than at first I thought.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Going Deep

(Full disclosure: All of the photos below were stolen off of the web, and are of places I went long before I owned a camera or started taking pictures.)

So this long run I have planned is coming up in just under two weeks now, meaning, among other things, that part way through September I can start doing something with my free time other than running as a form of preparation for yet more running.  It turns out that distance takes time, and not just the time it takes to cover miles but also the time it takes to harden legs against prolonged abuse.  My training plan is pretty low mileage—averaging about 35 miles per week with higher peak weeks.  There are plenty of folks in the world who will tell you that anything less than 60 mpw may allow you to finish but not race a marathon, and others who are running 90+ mpw in pursuit of the coveted “personal best.”  Even still, I feel like all I’ve done all summer is work, run, cook, and pack lunches and snacks as I transition back to the start of the list and repeat.  With any luck, it will allow me to achieve my time goal at the Equinox, but we’ll see.

There was a time when I did other things.  I spent a good fifteen years self-identifying as a climber first, whatever the hell else I happened to be doing with my life second.  I haven’t done much climbing for awhile now, but that has nothing to do with running.  Prior to climbing, I was actually introduced to technical rope work as a caver.  My dad spent a little time in his college years poking into caves in southwest Virginia and beyond, and maintained an interest in caving as he moved forward with his life.  He took me on a few introductory trips once I was in high school and then turned my loose to the Virginia Tech cave club when I too wandered off to college.

The Virginia Tech cave club was an active group of students and locals, situated with access to some pretty amazing cave systems, including caves with substantial in-cave vertical.  But once you start talking vertical caves in the lower 48, you start talking about TAG.  TAG is a karst region centered on Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia.  Hence the name.  The area is characterized by a number of pits, surface and sub-surface, that make it something of a vertical caving playground.  The crown jewel is Fantastic Pit, a 586 foot drop in Ellison’s cave, the deepest in-cave drop in the lower 48 (exceeded by a pit in Alaska—everything  is bigger, and apparently deeper, in Alaska).  But there is a lot more to the region than just Fantastic.

Fantastic Pit, Ellisons Cave

The region hosts the annual TAG Fall Cave-in, a coming together of cavers in a field to cave by day and socialize by night.  I first went with a guy named Brian.  We packed his circa eighties-era Mazda RX7 with plenty of rope, sleeping bags, and, given the size of a RX7, likely little else.  By day we bounced surface pits with names devised to evoke respect and awe—Valhalla, Neversink—and those with names more mundane, but no less impressive in the flesh—e.g. Stephen’s Gap Cave.

Stephen's Gap 

Valhalla (Caver, barely visible, on rope ascending in yellow about half-way up for scale.)

By night we admired the bonfire from a safe distance.  The TAG Fall Cave-in bonfire was, at least at the time, truly epic.  A dedicated crew was in charge of piling timber to heights requiring a crane, dousing the whole with any number of different petroleum byproducts, and stuffing the nooks and crannies with fireworks, widely available from giant outlets as soon as you cross south into Tennessee.  The fire crew wore t-shirts with photos of a prior year’s burn, flames leaping into the sky made all the more impressive once you realized that the tiny silhouette in the foreground was not a person at all but a telephone pole.  It turns out that the local utilities had seen copies of that picture and stepped in to limit the height of the structure in subsequent years.  The fire was, nevertheless, something to behold, and made just a little dangerous by the fact that a bottle rocket could suddenly ignite at any time and fly in your direction.  I assume the bonfire remains central to the evening events at modern day cave-ins, an assumption supported by the fact that the online cave-in FAQs state that pictures of the bonfire are only allowed before noon.  I can only guess that is an attempt to keep documentary evidence out of the hands of the current regulators.

The following year, a TAG caver named Mike (I think?) moved to Blacksburg to go to graduate school.  Mike was part of a dedicated group of Atlanta based cavers that spent significant time in Mexico exploring and mapping huge cave systems, and he thought nothing of heading to the TAG region for the weekend, all in the name of training.  No surprise, he offered to lead a group of us from Virginia to the cave-in that year.  We teamed up with some of his other friends and picked up where Brian and I had left off, bouncing pits.  

We also headed further underground to do some in-cave drops.  One such trip was to Surprise Pit in Fern Cave, a 400-foot drop.  As is the case with a number of caves, the entrances take some hiking to reach, and in the case of Fern the hiking took us straight uphill.  One of Mike’s buddies (name forgotten to history) was in his thirties—maybe older.  Like Mike, this guy spent time in Mexico on trips better characterized as expeditions.  He was pretty focused and pretty intense, and while happy to show us around, he looked at the weekend as simply another opportunity to train.  As such, he volunteered to carry the rope up to Fern (or simply though is he let any of us carry it we would slow the whole operation down to the point of hopelessness).  Sufficiently burdened with 500-feet of static line, he faced the hill and started to move.  We fell into step behind, a group of six or seven total.  Gaps opened almost immediately.  I don’t remember how long we spent grinding uphill, probably somewhere between 30 and 60 minutes.  I do remember reaching the cave entrance second only to Mike’s friend.  He looked at me as I approached.

“You’re pretty fast.  Do you do anything to stay in shape?”

Stay in shape?  I was, what?  19?  My body ran on enthusiasm and hormones.  I gave him the honest answer: “No.”

Mike’s friend thought on that for a second.  “Just wait.  You’ll have to in time,” he said, and went on getting his gear together.

I wonder now to what degree the 19-year old me could have gotten up and around the Equinox course.  Fact of the matter is Mike’s friend was right, and I have lost the ability to safely jump off the couch and attack real athletics.  As a consequence, I too train.  Luckily, I take pleasure in it, and regardless of the result on race day, can sit back and reflect on a season executing a plan without missing a single scheduled run or inviting injury.  That, alone, should put me in better position than 2005.

(Surprise Pit, Fern Cave)

Incidentally, we did try to bounce Fantastic Pit on that second TAG trip.  Four of us opted to try on our last day, all tuckered from a good week of hard caving.  To get to the Fantastic lip takes a little bit of time underground, including negotiating a 100-foot plus drop.  We got to the pit, conveniently and permanently (at least at the time) rigged to rappel by a local rope company (PMI).  Chummer, called such to distinguish him from the other Dave in our party, went first.  Water levels were high.  Where he should have been rappelling free and dry, Chummer found himself in a full waterfall, at risk for bone-crushing hypothermia.  He changed over and ascended back to the lip, and we called it a day.

I rode back to Blacksburg with the other Dave.  As, I believe, can only happen to the young, we pointed the car north expecting to be home in about eight hours, but ended up in Kentucky, as evidenced by the giant “Welcome to Kentucky” sign we flew past.  Kentucky?  How does anyone survive their youth?

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Very Slow Walk

I think earlier blog posts have alluded to the fact that at some young and precocious age I discovered popular music beyond the limits of my parent’s Carpenters and Simon and Garfunkle albums.  My first music came on 45s, including a copy of “Afternoon Delight” that I loved, misunderstanding the ode to the afternoon quickie and thinking it was actually a song about rockets.  At some point, an older cousin gave me a few singles for Christmas, the only one of which I remember is the Doors’ “Riders on the Storm.”  In any case, those slabs of vinyl have long, long since been lost.  Maybe my parents figured out just what the Starland Vocal Band thought was so delightful about the afternoon and confiscated that single.  While that music is lost to history, my copy of Pat Benatar’s “Fire and Ice” single still sits in my record collection.

I bought that 45 at Gamble’s, a general store in Socorro where you could buy a box of nails, a mop, a lawnmower, and Pat Benatar’s music in one stop.  And I became a huge Pat Benatar fan.  Soon thereafter I bought (or had purchased for me) my first magazine dedicated to the glories of rock-n-roll.  Was it Circus?  Hit Parader?  I don’t know.  But there are two things I do remember from that magazine.  First, it had fun facts about Pat Benatar, which is probably why I got the magazine in the first place.  According to that article, Pat Benatar and I were the same height.  To my pre-teen brain, this meant we were made for one another (notwithstanding that I would continue to grow and she had probably leveled off for good).  We would probably marry, and she would sing me songs while I continued to play with my Star Wars action figures.  Maybe she would play too and we would just listen to her songs on the radio, although I would limit her to the Princess Leia figure, being a girl and all.  Second, an article about AC/DC reported that Angus Young lost ten pounds every night the band played, sweating under the lights and as a result of his energetic performance.

You might be wondering what Angus Youngs’ weight loss has to do with anything.  I think I’ve mentioned that I went for a run in Reno?  And that I am turning this blog into an insufferable training log?  Well, nothing is more insufferable than a detailed weight record, except for maybe a detailed record of dieting.  My in-laws have a scale in their guest bathroom.  I happened to weigh myself before and after that Reno run, and interestingly lost something over 5-pounds over those couple of hours.  I gained it all back within an hour or two.  In that case, I rehydrated with water and refueled with cookies, but under normal circumstances at home I would refuel with chocolate milk.  Chocolate milk is now widely recognized as the best post-exercise recovery drink, with a perfect blend of protein, fat and sugar.  Using the Reno run as my benchmark, I’ve taken to consuming 5 gallons (approximately 5 pounds) of chocolate milk after every run.  As such, I now drink a minimum of 20 pounds of chocolate milk a week.  Strangely, I’ve been putting on a ton of weight.  And bloating.  If this continues, I may need to forego the chocolate milk, take a page from the Angus Young playbook, and rehydrate with beer and whiskey.

But before I can drink the milk, I need to run, and towards that end I signed up for and ran Alaska’s state 10k championship.  I finished in 42:53 (chip time, 43:02 gun time), with a 6:55 pace, good enough for 41st place overall out of 161 males, and second in my age group.  Age group awards are, of course, a concession to the majority of racers who have no hope of actually winning.  It lets us try and triumph over the other middle-aged slow guys while the front of the race fights it out for the overall.

I was pretty pleased with my result, that is until I got home and turned on the Olympics.  I caught the finish of the men’s 10,000 meter, which was won in 27:30 (4:25 pace).  Kind of humbling, but then it isn’t really fair to compare myself against an Olympian, right?  Then the end of the 20k race walk comes on.  Keep in mind, this is a walk.  The fact that the competitor from Russia collapsed in exhaustion just 100 meters of so from the finish line, unable to finish, suggests it is a strenuous walk, but a walk just the same.  Then I did the math based on the gold medal finishing time: these guys covered the 20k in a 6:20 pace.  It turns out that the run I was feeling good about was nearly a minute slower a mile than a stroll through the streets of London.  Assuming I make it through the next month-and-a-half uninjured and manage to finish the Equinox, I’ll just have to forget that a guy from China could have probably walked the course faster.

(Just another pace update as a frame of reference: we watched the women’s Olympic marathon today.  The pack finished the first 10k in 34:56, 5:37 pace.  Also, you can find video of my triumphant finish at:  http://results.bazumedia.com/event/results/event/event-931.  Put my name in where prompted to get results and the video.)

Monday, July 30, 2012

Everything Has Its Price

Sometimes life forces each of us to face uncomfortable questions, but I never expected such a moment to occur at the grocery store.  It happened last weekend, walking out of Fred Meyer’s, looking at the receipt and unable to duck the obvious: “How did we spend $17 on grapes?!?”  Really, is that even possible?  Or have we entered an alternate universe where different laws of economics apply?  It wasn’t like we rolled out of the store with a wooden vat filled to the brim, ready to be stomped into wine in celebration of our small-village Italian heritage.  We bought two bunches, one red, one green.  And it cost $17.  There is a lesson to be gleaned there about household budgeting.

But rather than focus on important monetary lessons, I’ll focus instead on turning this blog into an insufferable online training log.  I noted in my last post that I’ve decided to do the Equinox again, a race with 3,000+ feet of climbing and descending, and that as a result, C and I travelled to Reno to do a training run.  Well, a week ago we realized that Anchorage is actually closer to the race course itself than to Nevada, so C and I took a weekend trip to Fairbanks and did a 15.5 mile run up and down Ester Dome.  The profile of that run looked something like this:

The run felt good, but came at a price.  To break up the drive north, we decided to camp in Cantwell.  In a sad comment on the frequency of our camping trips these days, we had not used our tent since our trip last year to McCarthy.  Following that trip, it became clear that the tent poles needed restringing, so we restrung them.  But we didn’t put them back into the tent stuff sack, a fact we discovered when it came time to set up the tent on our way to Fairbanks.  So we felled a dozen or more trees and bucked the timber into manageable logs, which we quickly stacked into a formidable wall.  We strung the fly into place minutes (really) before it started to rain.  It alternated between a drizzle and a hard rain for the course of the night, but we stayed dry.  No complaints with respect to the rain.  Lots of complaints with respect to the mosquitoes.
(C, looking out from our improvised tent)

I think I act like a non-lethal bug zapper, attracting bugs but unable to ring the death knell.  I slept with a head net, which was useless since the net rested snuggly against my skin.  The bites could not be counted.  I hardly slept at all, being driven slowly to madness by the incessant whine of swarming bugs.  Did you know that individual mosquitoes buzz at unique pitches?  I got to know several of them by sound.  C didn’t get a single bite, safe sleeping next to her mosquito magnet.

I certainly did not want to risk another night of bug bites, so we couldn’t go and run the Equinox course again.  But trips to Nevada are expensive.  So what is the alternative?  Well, it turns out that Anchorage has mountains.  So we found a run at home that looked like this:

And now my legs are tired.  I think I’ll rest them by counting grapes before we move them into a safe-deposit box.  If they keep, I may have just found a new source of retirement income.  

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Dog Days

Ah, July.  The month has settled on us here in Anchorage like a homemade quilt, bringing with it an average temperature of 52.7 degrees and the potential to set the record for the coldest July on record.  The public is ecstatic.  The weather now dominates casual conversation, which may explain why I am leading with it as part of this post.

But July brings with it much more than the potential for termination dust and a hard frost.  July marks the return of the most spectated sporting event in the world.  Having seen the blog viewing statistics for my corner of the web, I know that the majority of the few of you who are likely to read these words reside in the U.S., which means you may be surprised to learn that it isn't the Superbowl.  The rest of you might be surprised to learn it isn't the World Cup, or whatever the equivalent is for cricket or rugby.  No, more spectators turn out each July to watch approximately 200 men pedal their bikes around France than turn out for any other single event, thanks in large part to the fact that attendance doesn't require a ticket (read: is free), the race stretches over some 20 days, and (if the images on TV are any indication) attendance amounts to little more than getting drunk and having a picnic atop a glorious mountain in the Alps.  Go figure.

In case you haven't been paying attention to the race, and at the risk of spoiling it for you if you've been DVRing each stage with plans to watch the whole thing in one marathon session once the real cold of August arrives, I'll let you know that Britain is poised to have its first Tour de France champion.  Bradley Wiggins donned the yellow jersey signifying race leader early, and has solidified his position.  As they say, it is a three week race and anything can happen, but barring disaster it seems exceedingly likely we will see the Union Jack flying in Paris a week hence.

I for one look forward to a British champion, if for no other reason because we are likely to be graced by the beauty of the Queen's English for weeks to come in post-race interviews.  If C and I learned nothing else on our trip to London last year, it is that the British are a polite and cordial people.  Indeed, as the current race leader, Wiggins has already shown the world how much better he wields the English language than his counterparts across the Atlantic.  For example, observe the crass manner in which Lance Armstrong, a yank best known for riding a bike and dating Sheryl Crow, responded to the (most recent) accusation that he relied on performance enhancing drugs in order to win seven Tour titles:

"I have never doped, and, unlike many of my accusers, I have competed as an endurance athlete for 25 years with no spike in performance, passed more than 500 drug tests and never failed one."

The man clearly has no sense of lyricism, no love of alliteration, no understanding of history.  Indeed, his cold and calculating use of the language suggests the reliance on bought and paid for legal assistance.  In comparison, Bradley Wiggins, when confronted with a question requesting a response to those drawing parallels between Sky (Wiggins' team) and U.S. Postal (Armstrong's old team), replete with all of the implications that since U.S. Postal was doped to the gills so then must be Wiggins and Sky, showed how a gentleman formulates an answer, weaving words together as befits a citizen of the city housing Shakespeare's Globe:
"I say they're just f***ing wankers. I cannot be doing with people like that.  It justifies their own bone-idleness because they can't imagine applying themselves to do anything in their lives.  It's easy for them to sit under a pseudonym on Twitter and write that sort of s***, rather than get off their arses in their own lives, and apply themselves and work hard at something and achieve something.  And that's ultimately it.  C***s."
You'll see that I have censored some of the more poetic language for the U.S. readers who may not be used to such artful metaphor.  After that outburst, Wiggins tossed the microphone off of the table and left the room.  
Can you imagine if Tiger Woods, Lebron James, or, for that matter, Lance Armstrong let loose with a "c***" at a press event?  The airwaves would be plastered with apologies within the hour, sponsors would be lining up to demand refund of fees advanced, and shame would rain from states blue and red.  The outfall from Wiggins' tirade?  None that I can discern from the press reports.  I'm now considering a move to Europe, with the hope and expectation that I may one day confront my critics by calling them all c***s and being done with it.
Pending that move, however, I've decided to make the most of having to carefully craft my outbursts with the precision of a legal team (that is, after all, my job), and commit to running the Equinox marathon this September in Fairbanks.  I ran the full thing once before, in 2005, at survival pace, and I'm hoping to get in enough training to do the run at race-pace this time.  The Equinox is complicated by its profile:

As such, training runs need more than just distance.  They need ups and downs to get used to the climbing and the pounding of the descent.  I looked around to find a suitable training run and found a track with this profile:

Close enough.  Problem was, the run corresponding with that profile was in Reno.  So, C and I packed our running shoes and went to Nevada for the 4th of July.  Conveniently, C's family lives there now, so we had somewhere to shower.  And it was warmer than 52.7 degrees, so we were freed from the smothering burden of having to talk about the weather with everyone we met.
Parting shot:

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Deep Dish Deer

                Overheard: “He isn’t a genie.  He is a magic talking salad.  Of course he can grant wishes.  God damn.”  Ever given any thought as to what you would ask from a magic talking salad?  I don’t think they are particularly common; at least I’ve never seen one.  But it might be a good idea to prepare a small list in case you happen across one.

                I just returned from a quick trip to the outskirts of Chicago, done to dole out legal advice and counsel.  But as a result I had the opportunity to go for a run along some suburban creek in the shadow of Ohare, a maze of single- and double-track crossing and diverging in woods, preserved despite my strong suspicion that the development of that part of town occurred at a time when folks were not concerned with the preservation of green space.  The run was fine, unremarkable except for what I got to observe about my reaction to the snaps, crackles, and pops of wildlife moving through brush.  It turns out that I expect anything sounding larger than a rodent to be a moose or bear.  That the area was pregnant with deer gave me many opportunities to feel my pulse quicken and my muscles tense at the sudden awareness that I was sharing the trail with a doe-eyed (literally) local.  The first gave me pause.  Is it safe to pass?  Are there fawns near?  My habits have become those of one used to seeing moose and cautious of getting either too close or between a cow and calf.  The deer continued to give me pause, up until I came across a homeless man feeding them from a large bag of… Grain?  Seeds?  Stale bread?  It seemed the deer maybe weren’t as big a threat as my fight-or-flight instincts would have had me believe.

                Nothing follows a good run in the woods like pizza.  And no pizza debate is greater than the classic war of preference: Chicago style versus New York.  I lived in New Jersey for a few years, and my prejudices are well set, but I needed to eat and was not going to pass up the chance to sample the classics of the genre.  A quick search with the following keywords—Best Chicago Pizza—will bring up more websites and online discussion than one person can read, but four pizzerias keep floating to the top: Uno’s, Gino’s East, Lou Malnatti’s, and Giordano’s.  I’m not saying these are the four best pizzas in Chicago, but they are seemingly the four most talked about.  There were branches of both Gino’s and Giordano’s near the hotel I was staying out (again, at Ohare).  Gino’s was closing, so Giordano’s got the nod, and freshly scrubbed I went to claim a booth.

                Pizza seems a poor description for what Giordano’s served.  I ordered a 10-inch stuffed pizza, and was eventually brought a cheese pot pie, or maybe a cheese casserole.  Has anyone ever calculated how much cheese goes into a single slice of deep-dish pie?  I would be interested to know the answer; or maybe it is better not to know.  And this coming from a guy who has made many a dinner out of a block of cheese and a baguette.  In any case, the crust was buttery, practically pastry, the cheese was stringy, the sausage was surprisingly sparse, and while it tasted good it did not taste like pizza.

                In other travel, a family trip took C and I to central Massachusetts for a funeral.  We flew in and out of Boston, and had enough time to recognize that if Chicago versus New York is the preeminent question in the world of pizza, then Mike’s or Modern is the first question in the world of Boston pastry.  Based on our review of the town’s garbage, I think Mike’s takes the popularity contest:

                Finally, signed up for and ran the 2012 Turnigan Arm Trail Run.  It was punishing, as I haven’t been doing much running up and down, but fun.  It was perhaps most remarkable for two things.  One, the official event photographs included what has to be the most unflattering picture of the entire race:

A close look at my face shows I have transitioned from youthful exuberance to a curmudgeonly old man about two-weeks away from telling kids to stay off my lawn.  Two, to start the race we had to run past this sign:

So, maybe that is why the deer in Chicago had me on edge.  And yes, that is a can of bear spray in my hand in the picture above.  

Sunday, May 6, 2012


Just a slow Sunday trying to figure out what food stuffs to prepare and have at the ready for the week to come.  I sometimes miss the care-free days of my youth when giant packages of frozen processed food substitutes--say, chimichangas or maybe a deep dish lasagna--still seemed both delicious and like a good idea.  The entire meal was probably fabricated from corn, but that didn't used to matter.  Ah well.  Now we're stuck trying to figure out convenient and delicious ways of combining real ingredients into meals.  And this is progress?

Speaking of progress, or at least progression, I still have vivid memories of a summer night in Virginia as a high school student.  I am alone behind the wheel of a massive, yellow Oldsmobile, slicing through the night in western Albemarle on county roads.  The windows are down and the air is thick, sticky, and sweet.  The sky is dark, moonless, with stars draped horizon to horizon but only occasionally visible through the tree canopy.  I'm a teenager, so I'm probably not paying much attention to the road, but rather focus on the nasal drawl of J. Mascis singing atop a wall of noise and feedback on Dinosaur Jr.'s "Living All Over You" album.  Dinosaur Jr. put out albums with catchy melody matched in equal parts by sonic chaos.  A perfect teen moment, that I had the opportunity to recapture some 20+ years later in Girdwood, Alaska.

J. Mascis, sans Dinosaur Jr. but with his band the Fog, came and played two nights at the Alyeska day lodge.  God knows why.  Word in the paper is that he likes to ski and someone in his band is a friend of someone at Alyeska.  Whatever the reasons, C and I took the drive down and attended the first legitimate rock show I've been to in a long time.  There were maybe 50 people in attendance on the second night.  The band did almost solely old Dinosaur Jr. songs.  Looking around, I fit right in with a healthy number of forty-something men in the audience, each of us singing along to all of the songs.  We seemed to define a demographic that hadn't progressed from the late-eighties.  But we enjoyed ourselves, so what the hell?  Primary difference between now and then: ear-plugs.  Photo of the show:

Since it isn't clear, I'll narrate for you.  That is me in the foreground, probably grinning.  J. Mascis is the one with the guitar in front of the small wall of Marshalls.  And that is it; end of story.

Onward into May.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Luck 'O The Irish

I am sure a number of you imagine that the infrequent nature of these blog postings is due to the possibility that I laboriously write them out by hand, quill and ink well at the ready, demonstrating perfect penmanship, with completed parchment sent by barge to an IT sweat factory in India where a team of low-paid "technicians" import my words into the blogspot software.  Well, that isn't the case at all.  With neither romance nor mystery, I type them on a now old-fashioned desktop, which requires me to sit at a desk.  None of this really matters, and is just a lead-in to the fact that a calendar hangs on our wall above and to the right of my computer monitor, and since I am sitting to type out a blog post I have the opportunity to stare at it.  And guess what?  Spring is coming in two days.  I find this a surprising revelation, because looking out our windows, I don't see flower bulbs poking out from the ground.  In fact, I don't see the ground at all.  Instead, it looks something like this:

And here is a view from the walk home from work last Thursday:

Let's just say that I am having trouble believing that come next Tuesday, all that snow will be gone and we'll have spring-time butterflies and babbling brooks to contend with in its place.

It has been a near record-setting year for snow in Anchorage.  Another 3-inches will do it, and by this time I think we're all hoping that we get that 3-inches.  Who wants to get this close to the record and not surpass it?  But while all of the snow has made for a great ski season (and will probably make for a long ski season -- we may well be still skiing in June at this rate), it has its consequences too.  Like occasionally having to dig the car out:

And collapsing roofs (which are starting to go all over town):

And moose fleeing the deep snows of the wilderness for the easy walking of plowed neighborhood streets and sidewalks:

Walking to work has become an exercise in dodging moose, which are seemingly everywhere.  While usually docile, they can get pretty worked up at times, and the last thing you want is two-tons of agitated moose turning its attention in your direction.  Plus, they can have trouble finding food in these high snow years.  Horrifically, some have taken to hunting people as food.  You know what they say about a moose that has acquired a taste for human flesh.  And they are crafty, plotting ambushes from high points such that they can drop unsuspectingly on passer-byers.  A terrifying death from on-high, if you will.  The local paper caught a picture of one in position, waiting to pounce:

(Source of above photo: http://www.adn.com/2012/03/02/2348006/best-of-march-2012.html#id=2371099)

In any case, snow meant a good year for the Tour of Anchorage (a ski race celebrating its 25th year this year).  Long time blog-readers may remember that C and I skied it last year and both medaled in our age groups, C in the 40k (first place), me in the 25k (third place).  For variety, we decided this year to switch distances and to not medal.  So that is what we did.  Turned out to be a blue-bird sunny day in the low 20s.  As with any race, we had to get psyched up, and nothing nurtures psych like early eighties pop sensation the Go-Gos.  Their infectious beat (which, as you may recall, they got) worked its way right under C's skin:

This was my third time skiing the tour.  As mentioned above, I did the 25k last year as a post-chemo victory lap.  In 2007, C and I both did the 40k.  That was my first year cross country skiing, and I can still feel my quads seizing on the final climb to Kincaid from the coastal trail.  This year, I was able to shave a half-hour off my time from 2007, perhaps due in equal parts to better technique and better (read, firmer) trail conditions.  Here I am coming into the stadium at race end, head snapping up as I heard C call my name from the crowd of people watching the finish:

The Tour also has a 50k distance, which takes 10 kilometers of severe hills on to the 40k course.  The additional 10k follows the Spencer Loop, an exercise in climbing (and descending -- what goes up most come down, after all).  I have yet to ski the Spencer Loop and think, "Hey!  Lets do another 40k!" and I may put off ever signing up for the 50k until I do.

Notwithstanding that the ski trails are still in great shape, the spring equinox does mean it is time to start thinking about running again too.  And to start the season off right, we took part in the Shamrock Scramble this morning, a 5k trail run to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society ("LLS").  I ran this last year too.  Apparently, the race has been taking place on this weekend for a number of years.  Unfortunately, this year one of the Scramble's prior sponsors (Skinny Raven, a local running store) decided to partner with a local pizza-pub (Bear Tooth) and host a competing race, the Shamrock Shuffle.  So the crowds were split, with some of the support and fund raising for LLS being siphoned off to benefit the local marketing of two popular retailers (to my knowledge the entry fee for the competing Shamrock Shuffle did not benefit anything).  While unfortunate for LLS, it worked out to my benefit.  All of the fast runners went to the Shuffle and I got to transition from solid middle-packer to race winner at the Scramble.  This may well be the first and last race I ever win. Observe as I relish in the thrill of victory:

Note also the leprechaun back behind me to the right.  No St. Patrick's day is complete without the appearance of a belligerent leprechaun to taunt you across the finish line.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Blower Powder

As a follow up to my post in December, I owe a belated "thank you" to my one purchaser of a copy of my e-book, "May it Please the Court."  I apologize for the continued delay in delivery, but I promise I'll get the rest of the book written soon.  In the meantime, I have appreciated the $11,000,001 payment.

Having made it to the top 0.01%, C and I quickly realized, "Hey!  All of this money isn't going to spend itself!"  So we went out to dinner.  It turns out, though, that you can't really order enough food to burn through $11 million at one meal.  Even adding in an expensive bottle of wine, we hardly made a dent.  So we started looking for other alternatives.

It seems if you want to spend a lot of money, the best place to start is by trying to develop private sector manned space flight.  But I really have no idea how to start the trip down that road.  What do you do?  Buy a bunch of old lawnmowers and strap the engines to an old railroad tie?  Start yanking the start cords one by one until you have enough thrust to lift off?  Strap on a snorkel so you can breathe in the dark cold void of space?  You see, space travel was really a non-starter.  So we picked the second most expensive things we could think off: alpine skiing.

Which is all to say that we took a weekend break and drove down the road to Alyeska.  The plan was to ski lift-served trails on Saturday, spend the night, then wake up and explore the nordic trails in Girdwood on Sunday.  Execution started off smoothly enough, but took a left turn on Sunday when we tossed back the drapes and found heavy snowfall.  A quick call to the ski hotline:  "Ski patrol reports blower powder.  Ten inches at the base, fifteen inches at the top."  Well, the nordic trails will be there next time.  By the time the lifts were operating, snow was knee deep on the upper mountain.   Downhill skiing is a once- or twice-a-year activity for me, so I'm mighty pleased to have lucked into deep powder, even if the views were better on the day before.

Pictures from the snow dump and skiing can be found at: http://www.tetongravity.com/blogs/Trams-Helis-And-Cats-T-G-R-Films-The-Dream-Factory-5735726.htm.  Not my pictures, mind you.  Pictures from the Teton Gravity Crew that has apparently been camped out in Girdwood filming for next years's stoke-inducing pre-season ski movie.  We shared elevator space with these guys right after checking into the hotel.  Anyone familiar with both the TGR films and my skiing can probably guess that the elevator is the only place we saw them.  Well, the elevator and the bar.  Anyone unfamiliar with TGR can probably gather all they need to know from the photos linked above (or look for trailers from other films on YouTube).  Suffice to say, we weren't sharing terrain.

Of course, as you can imagine, two days of skiing ate through the entirety of the $11 million.  How do people afford this sport?  If we're going to go again, I really need to sell another e-book.