Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Small Town Ballyhoo

Two weeks ago I made the front page of my hometown newspaper.  It was (at least) the second time I had ever made the front page on my own merits.  The first time occurred when I earned my Bagel Scout rank in the Diminutive Man Scouts.  My parents had actually insisted I have a professional portrait made in my uniform.  Had I known they intended to emblazon it upon the only social media known to Eastern Kentucky way back in 1992 I would have resisted more aggressively.

At the time I believed the whole scheme was some plot to ensure I would never have sex with a girl.  I was shocked and horrified to see a nearly life sized photo of myself at eighteen years old in a too-small scout uniform with my chronic bad haircut and goofy smile blanketing my hometown rag margin to margin.  Thankfully I have been able to destroy most existing copies of the photo and a good number of the buildings where they have been displayed.

This most recent instance of my notoriety was a result of my waxing importance to the organization wherein I am currently employed.  As our land use planning staff came to be regarded as “former” employees in droves (if two people quitting within a month of each other can be considered the plural of a “drove”) my New boss relied more and more upon my mad land use planning skillz to keep his can out of the fire.

Someone's can is in the fire...

The result of this surprising turn of events was me standing in front of the PC fiscal court discussing the pros and cons of county-wide planning & zoning.  I knew the editor/lead reporter/typsettist/janitor at the local paper was sitting in the back of the room, but I never expected that he would give my presentation so much ink.  He was chucking my name around like the prosecution would the name of the accused in a heinous bloody massacre.  It was mostly good, and mostly accurate, but it was a little disconcerting to be the center of attention so abruptly and on such a massively pathetic scale.

I guess it’s fitting that about the same time I received a letter confirming my passing of the American Institute of Certified Planners’ exam.  I can now string a whole bunch of capital letters after my name on business cards and in my email signature:

Chris Chainring, AICP@#$!.com:-p

It would be nice if simply passing the test would equate to a sizable increase in income.  It would be nice if I could retire to San Diego and become a surf bum or move back to Colorado and become a ski bum.  I don’t think Jeaph would appreciate me moving to High Rock and becoming a skate bum.  He has a nice bowl and all, but in a community this size you can only have so many of a given demographic or you skew the census results.

What’s really in my nature would be to move into a tilted upper apartment over some ghetto storefront in Slade and be a climbing bum.  I’ve got that down like nobody’s business.  And that’s where I started down this road.  The outdoor industry around the Red River Gorge has never thrived.  There’s some disconnect that doesn’t make a lot of sense when you compare the world class climbing area of the Red to other similar areas around the country.  So I gave it a go and found an occupational cul-de-sac.  With a new wife and dreams of children and the smoke from 9/11 still getting kicked up from time to time I decided it made sense to pursue a more formal career path.  College.  Degree. Planning. 

Maybe I could try and save the world.  Maybe I would like having a Big Boy job.

Some days I do and some I don’t.  I’ve enjoyed this recent stint in land use planning again.  I do enjoy being a transportation planner.  I really do.  I miss my bohemian lifestyle some days.  I wouldn’t trade my family for that lifestyle though. 

I’ve tried to emulate the professional bohemians.  Y’know, the people who have so much money and privilege they seem to defy the laws of economics.  Some dirtbag climber once said: “At both ends of the social spectrum is a leisure class” or something like that.  I don’t want to be rich, but I’d probably rather be poor than enslaved to middle class illusions.

Playing by the rules rarely gains widespread fame and fortune.  I’ve tried it for so long I think I’ve forgotten there are other ways to get the message out.  I’m not talking about employing the Army of the Twelve Monkeys, but if they’re free next Saturday…

Actually, next Saturday I think I’ll be lapping around the city park for the annual Corn Festival 5k run.  It really is a festival for High Fructose Corn Syrup.  You can’t make this stuff up.

Maybe I’ll win my age group.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Chainring Bop

Friday I got a text from Jeff:


Later in the day I got a text from Mandy:
Mozhicans want to come to dinner tonight.  Sound like fun?
I went into a tirade about how Jeaph was just using me to get his shoes.  But yeah, it would be fun to get together.  Mandy started fixing an amazing (that’s why I call her Amazndy) chicken curry and vegetable korma with a magnificent compliment of naan bread in anticipation of the voracious appetites of all involved.  It was getting later and later and no Moze family.  Then her phone rang.
“Hey Casey,” I answered.  Mandy had naan dough all over her hands.
“Are you guys headed this way yet?”
“Um, let me let you talk to Mandy,” and I handed the phone to my lovely and beautiful wife.
They got their wires crossed.  Both of them liked the idea of getting our families together for dinner but neither were very specific about the geography they had in mind.  Laughs all around.
We decided to load up all the indian fare and head to the wilds of High Rock.  Once we laid into the food all was forgiven/forgotten.  We watched a few minutes of Riding Giants until the kids’ noise levels prohibited even sidebar conversations over the movie. 
All but Mandy and Casey migrated to the “entertainment room” over the woodshop where us Chainrings discovered the Mozhican family recording studio complete with two electric guitars, drums, and an electric bass.
It didn’t take long before Jeaph had us all whipped up into a frenzy on some forgotten punk classic.  It went something like this:

Hey ho, let's go
Hey ho, let's go

There's a Moze on the kick drum
There's another on the bass line
The kids are out of their minds
The Chainring Bop

They're rockin' on the bike seat
They're sweatin' in the summer heat
Looking for something to eat
The Chainring Bop

Hey ho, let's go
Ridin' in the back now
Don't know why I'm ridin' slow
Jeaph's all cranked up and ready to go

We did a couple of takes and then Jeaph and Boone went into a bad joke/rim shot negative feedback loop.  But after a half dozen rotten eggs Boone really had the rim shot down. 
A good time was had by all, except those who turned down the invitation (you know who you are Mark), and I think in the near future there may end up being a Chainring/Mozhican punk tribute album.  You never know.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Alien Invaders

Airplanes are falling out of the sky.  It’s a good thing my conference was last week and not next.  If I were a Comic-Conner instead of a GISer (maybe too much crossover there for a good contrast) I would probably be balking on the concourse.

First it was the Malaysian airliner that was shot down over the Ukraine last week.  The news yesterday was rife with stories of aeronautical destruction.  Algerian plan goes missing, a TransAsia Airways plane crashes during an emergency landing, and lingering news about the Ukrainian incident along with news of two military jets being shot down in the same region.

I’d say “I’ll just stick to my bike” except I haven’t been riding much the past three weeks.  Not a pedal stroke in California (though I did learn to surf), and I’ve not been back on the bike since I returned home.  It’s been too hot.  My last ride was with Bean up and down the Creek at her request right before I left for San Diego.

Took this photo before I was a surfer

On top of everything else we are now a two car family again.  Forester Gump is back on the road!  I’m not even going to go into the drama that was getting it registered in Kentucky.

I will, however, chronicle the drama that was getting it running again.

Last fall we had a new motor put into Gump.  The original engine had 300,000+ miles on it.  Then it died.  After much discussion we decided it made economic sense to replace the motor.  Shortly after we got the cherished family car running again my lovely wife was pulled over by the local constabulary and warned not to be driving around on expired out-of-state plates anymore.

Gump was stabled and the long slow wrassle with KY and CO motor vehicle personnel began.  Finally we got a notice from Colorado…wait, I wasn’t going to go down this particular rabbit hole.

Anyway, Gump was all legal again, but needed an oil change and a new battery.  I went out Monday afternoon to saddle him up.  First I popped the hood.  I reached in—cognizant of the fact that in Kentucky it is likely that a car that’s sat for a few months in warm weather may have a wasp nest under the hood--and released the inner latch and raised the hood.  A swarm of what appeared to be miniature Ender’s Game formics came exploding out from under the hood.

I believe I screeched like a little girl.

When Mandy got home I employed her non-anaphylactic hood opening skills and we were able to spray the living daylights out of the nest with wasp and hornet spray.  After changing the battery she discovered a second smaller nest in the engine compartment and we took care of it in short order.

I drove the car up and down the road a couple of times and saw that the gas tank was low.  I decided I’d put in a gallon of gas from the lawnmower to ensure we could get to the gas station.  I parked the car in the driveway, got the gas can, and flipped the filler hose cover open.

Stinging death deployed in my face.

The second time I did not screech like a little girl.  Reportedly I made a sound “like some kind of animal” as I flung myself across the yard away from the wasp infested mothership we call Gump.

“Are you okay?”  Mandy asked as I stood in the kitchen doorway in stunned silence.


“Did you get stung?”


“What happened?” she was grinning.

“Lotta wasps.  In the gas cap.” 

Her eyes grew wide.  She then explained what the noise I had made sounded like from inside the house.

I acknowledged that it would have been a crisis of epic proportions if I’d opened that cover at the gas station in town.  It’s always crowded there.

She found another nest between one of the rear doors and the frame the next day.  We’re almost out of wasp and hornet spray, but I think we’ve repelled the invaders.  Luckily they miscalculated the scale of their invasion fleet and disguised themselves as pesky waspers.

Two car family.  Yeah, well, you do what you have to.

I’ve been trying to run a lot.  I’m not running a lot per se, but I have been running more frequently and longer distances.  Tomorrow I’ve set myself up to run 11 miles.  It’s okay, I am a professional over-schemer.  

Actually, I recalibrated my training calendar last night.  If I'm going to do the 50k distance at Cloudsplitter on October 4th and I believe the validity of the first "16 weeks to 50k" training plan I found online I need to run 22 miles tomorrow.  My most recent long run was 9.5 miles and my longest run ever was the Iron Horse half marathon ten months ago.

Stop judging.

I've been trying to decide how far I can jump tomorrow to try and make up some ground.  Maybe 15-16 miles on the road?  I felt really good after my 9.5 mile trail run.  I felt like I could go a lot farther.  So I think if I fuel well today I could conceivably pull off 15 or better.  Maybe by next weekend I can be on track for 50k.  Then I've got a year to work from 50k upward over the mountain.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Impromptu Throwback Journal Entry

2:10pm, EKU


Here I am, sitting in my Global Environmental Problems class. Blah, blah, blah…Don’t want to be in class anymore.

It’s gotten cold again. Yesterday was the first day of spring and it was in the 30s. It had been quite warm for a couple weeks. But you know, that’s how it goes here in Kentucky.

I took an online quiz that told me Denver, CO was my ideal place to live based on a preference on large cities as opposed to small cities. After yesterday I think I would like living in a big city. Mandy and I went to Lexington yesterday to see a black and white photo exhibit at the Christ Church Cathedral on Market Street.

The whole day was a study in spontaneity. She asked what I wanted to do and I said I wanted to go see a photo exhibit. I then got on the internet and looked up some places and settled on the one I mentioned. Once we got to Lexington we decided to go to Joe Bologna’s and then walk to the exhibit.

It was cold or I think we would have spent more time walking around. But the street we walked along from the restaurant to the exhibit was one that I could live on. It was pretty cool. Made me want to live on a street like it. There were a lot of old buildings with loft and studio apartments for rent. I’m sure they were outrageous. But I really think it would be cool to live in a place like that.

Sometimes I'm just an idiot.

Poor Planning on Your Part Constituted an Emergency for Me

For a long time I’ve been able to manage my ADHD and SPD.  Over the winter I went through a long dark teatime of the soul in which all the worst aspects of my maladies dominated my existence.  For a few months I’ve enjoyed a reprieve from being overstimulated.

What follows is the chronicle of my near collapse into panic at the ESRI User Conference night at Balboa Park.  I don’t have panic attacks, but there have been a few instances where I nearly have had them.  Being rational and pretty even keeled it almost always horrifies me when I find myself regressing to survival instincts.

The final hurrah of the ESRI User Conference consisted of a massive scale party at Balboa Park on Thursday night.  On my beach run at Coronado I wished I had enough time to swim in the ocean one more time, but if I went to the sessions I wanted and also went to the park I just wouldn't be able to squeeze in another frolic in the surf.

I made the first mistake of agreeing to meet up with my Kentucky contemporaries for the bus ride from the convention center to the park.  I like them okay, but once we got to the shindig I realized they expected us all to stay together.  I had my own agenda at the affair and immediately I felt constrained when they stopped to wait as I took photos and as they moved slowly and indecisively through the mad throng that was in the process of gathering as we arrived.  I overheard someone say there were 16,000 of "us" at the conference and it seemed like more than 50% of us were at the park.

The promise of free food at Balboa had me make the journey on an empty belly.  After fighting my way inside a dark music hall where a weird Latino rock band was playing at Guns N Roses levels the strong odeur of seafood overtook me.  My sensory overload was complete in the loud, dark, and smelly room.    

I have an aversion to crowds.  I don't like seafood and am sensitive to smells, particularly smells I don't like.  I'm also sensory defensive when it comes to loud noises.  Needless to say my fight-or-flight response kicked in and nearly ran through a wall to get out.

I was still hungry.

I found a less crowded food line and was disappointed with the "expressive" finger foods.  I was more than disappointed when I discovered that "complimentary drinks" meant water or lemonade in a paper cone cup.  A can of Coke was two bucks.  You know how dumbass it is to expect someone to try and eat while holding one of those flimsy warercooler cups?  No, they didn't expect anyone to drink out of those; they expected everyone to pay two effing dollars for a Coke.  The effect it had on me was pissing me off.  Honestly, my foul mood had originated in my initial sensory mugging.  My anger and annoyance only grew from that point.

The one place I wanted to visit at the park was the Museum of Photographic Arts.  Most of the museums at Balboa were free for the event.  I made my way to the museum only to find it jam packed with a herd of ESRI Users.  I found myself frantically trying to escape the crowd.  I made it into the relatively uncrowded gift shop and was unable to look at anything.  I paced like a wild cat in a cage.  Finally I felt conspicuous so I tried once again to wade through the crowd around the food to get into the gallery. 

Success!  But after only a few minutes my frustrations grew again as people kept crowding me away from photos I tried to look at.  I couldn’t move out of one person’s way without moving into the path of another.  I couldn’t take it anymore.  I plowed through the crowd heading for the door.  At one point the clot of people was so thick it took all of my willpower not to push people out of my way.

 A brief lull in the madness

Once free of the museum I beelined straight for the bus back to the convention center.  I was somewhat relieved to be away from the crowd, but being my last night in the city I realized I needed to go out and get a couple of things to take back to the family.  I wandered around the Gaslamp Quarter dodging crowds and trying to enjoy being in the city as much as I could before I left.

Finally I retreated to my hotel room and lay on the bed under the air conditioner until my abused senses recovered somewhat. 

Overall I had a great trip.  But Thursday night was a sober reminder to me that I sometimes things fall apart.  I was fine on Friday as  I made my way home, but I was looking forward to retreating to the Red River Regional Bikeport where I could take refuge and write all of these blog posts in peace, quiet, and solitude.   

From the photos you might think I was somewhat overreacting, but I assure you, inside the buildings it was a mad press of flesh and a truly horrid congealment of humanity.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Intentional Tourist

It wasn't all fun and surfing.  I did do some conferencing.  My first session Tuesday morning was a bust.  Two of the three presenters bailed and the remaining guy had a short and informative talk. 

Then I went to the expo.  Of course I was blatantly casing for swag.  I didn't want to talk to most of those people. I just needed free stuff for my kids.  I found a couple of those Rubik-type pyramid puzzles and grabbed them.  Otherwise the swag haul was pretty shallow.  Oh well.  I almost bought an ESRI bike jersey.  It was a good price, but I wasn’t overwhelmed by the designs.

The rest of Tuesday was unmemorable.  I went to another session or two, but wasn’t dazzled.  Most of what people were talking about could have been conveyed via a YouTube video.  The last session I attended on Thursday was the best and it was all about using mobile devices/technology to engage the public.

Jane Jacobs with mobile devices

Back out on the street Tuesday afternoon I finally understood what a Mediterranean climate is. When the sun did finally come out on Wednesday (just in time for my surfing lesson!) I finally understood the allure of SoCal.  On Wednesday I fell in love with beach communities.

Monday and Tuesday had been nice.  The highs were in the 70s, and despite heavy humidity it felt really nice walking around.  Wednesday and Thursday I experienced the unique phenomenon of looking outside to the sunny landscape, bracing myself for the heat, and being completely shocked when I exited an air conditioned building into a pleasantly warm world.

I also started to find my previously flawed impression of California being unraveled.  I kept forgetting I was in California.  The people seemed like most of the people I know elsewhere.  The homeless had the same vehement Tourette's I've heard in other cities.  

I was frustrated at the lack of crosswalks throughout the metropolitan area (Coronado was particularly ill-designed for pedestrians) but encouraged by the numerous motorists who stopped and waited on and even encouraged pedestrians to cross busy streets in the absence of decent pedestrian treatments.

There was a lot of good food.  I ate at the Tin Fish (and wish I’d gotten fish tacos!), Filippi’s in Little Italy (massive slab of lasagna), the Congress Café in Old Town, and some pizza place in Seaport Village.

Tuesday evening I planned to go out to the Point Loma Lighthouse.  I could take the trolley to Old Town, pick up a bus, and then change buses in Shelter Island.  My intent was to get out to the lighthouse early enough to explore but late enough that I could catch the sunset and then head back.

One reservation I had about wheeling around a strange city was ending up in the “wrong” part of town.  I have no reservations about seeing and experiencing new things, but I definitely didn’t want to stumble into a high crime area.  Shelter Island ended up being a regular beach community, and it was a good thing: the bus from Shelter Island to Point Loma had stopped running abut an hour before I got there.  I had not researched the route adequately.  I ended up jumping back on the same bus and heading back for the transit center at Old Town

My adventure attempting to get to the lighthouse was good experience for my trip to Mission Beach the next morning for the surf lesson.  Wednesday morning’s train and bus ride to the beach went smoothly.  By the time I was officially a surfer and headed back toward San Diego I was feeling pretty good about my transit navigation skills. 

I was so wiped out from surfing that I ended up basically crashing back at the room until dinner time.  By the middle of the week I felt like I had already seen more than on other similar trips to other places.  I was starting to run down as well. 

Thursday morning I woke early and traveling light I took the bus over to Coronado for a run.  My intention was to jog around town taking some photos of stuff I had seen on Monday and then run down the coast south toward Imperial Beach until I had gone 6 miles.  Then I was going to jump on the bus headed back north and across the bay to San Diego

Coronado Beach was beautiful under seablue skies.  Point Loma glowed golden in the morning sun.  I ran along the edge of the water looking for shells to take back for Bean.  I was intent on the sand at my feet when I heard a voice:

"Are you military sir?"

"What?"  I looked up from my phone.  Or from scouring the wet sand for cool shells.  "Oh, no."

"You'll have to turn back here sir," he said.

Poor grunt had to guard the beachhead against oblivious tourists.  Wonder what he did to deserve such miserable duty?  And so I turned back and headed for the hotel.  I'd've swapped places with the guy.  I didn't want to leave the beach.

Conferenced the rest of the day Thursday.  Wandered around Seaport Village at lunch looking for giftses to take back through security at the airport.  My family doesn't deserve such fine trinket souvenirs, but I couldn't wait to see the looks on the TSA agents' faces as their scanners picked up $100 worth of cheap magnets, keychains, and sundry novelty items.

There was a conference shindig at Balboa Park on Thursday night.  I agreed to meet up with a coworker and some friends to go out there.  Being a career anti-social that was my first mistake.  I’ll get to the travesty that was the Balboa Park party in tomorrow’s post.

Friday was a long day of travelling back to my home in the East.  We were up at the crack of dawn and on a plane as the sun was bathing the West Coast. It took nearly four hours to get to Atlanta and then another hour to Louisville.  But then I was home.  Mandy picked me up at the airport, and I was glad to be back with her after a week in a strange land.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Where in the World is San Diego?

I woke up Monday morning to the realization that I had never been so far from home in my life.  It was a fleeting thought—and had nary an impact on my heart rate—but faded as I settled into my frenzy of "new city exploration."
My hotel room balcony overlooked San Diego Bay.  It wasn't exactly a view of the beach (technically I had a great view of the bay between the Hilton and the convention center) but it was more than I had expected.

I took a quick run from the hotel along the bay up through Seaport Village and to the USS Midway and back.  Sunday night after getting settled into our rooms my coworkers and I walked through the Gaslamp District and ended up at Ralph's.  We needed a coffee can (Mark it zero, Dude).  But seriously, we all got food to take back to the room, so after my run Monday morning I ate breakfast in the room.

Monday's conference schedule was spartan.  Basically all I needed to do was pick up my badge and decide not to attend the plenary session.  I kept seeing people with cool GIS "superman" t-shirts that looked like our badges.  I wanted one but discovered that early Monday morning they were already sold out.  In protest I boycotted all ESRI User Conference activities for the rest of the day.

Then I decided Monday should be my sightseeing day.  Right away I discovered I could buy a four day transit pass for $17 which gave me unlimited access to light rail (trolleys) and buses all over the area.

After acquiring my pass I jumped on the next trolley headed north.  I wanted to scout out some ideas I had for exploration.  After three stops my spider sense tingled and in an act of desperate spontaneity I jumped off at Little Italy.  

I wandered through the area for awhile.  It was too early for lunch or I would have eaten there, but I ended up getting back on the train after 45 minutes or so and continued north.

My next impromptu detraining occurred at Old Town San Diego.  Again, I spent some time wandering through the state historic park, Fiesta de Rey, and the tourist trap quarter.  I described it to my boss as "Gatlinburg in a spaghetti western."  I did find a great little café (Congress Café) where I got a fantastic breakfast burrito with chorizo for lunch.

Then I had to decide: back to downtown or ride the trolley to the end of the line?  You know me; I decided to ride to the end of the line.  I'd hoped to figure out an expedient way to Mission Trails Regional Park for a trail run later in the week, but my explorations revealed no train proximity to the park.  Or at least it didn't seem like I could get there by train.  By the end of the week I was adept at riding the bus and figuring out routes but it was too late by the time I had my confidence up enough to try something like a trip back to Mission Trails.

I rode to the end of the green line at Santee and then backtracked to pick up the orange line to downtown closing a huge trolley loop.  I hiked back to the hotel for a little while before heading out again dressed in swim trunks for a jaunt out to Coronado Beach.

I took the ferry across San Diego Bay to Coronado Island (which is technically not an island) and walked a mile and a half to the beach.  Okay, that wasn't the best decision I made all week.  But it was worth the sore feet to get to see and swim in the Pacific Ocean for the first time.

I didn't stay long as I had already had a packed day.  I'd left my phone at the hotel.  While it was liberating to make such an unknown venture with only sandals, swim trunks, t-shirt, and enough money for the ferry, it was also a bummer not to have a camera with me.  The ride back across the bay toward the San Diego skyline had me kicking myself.

Coronado Resort Hotel

Along B Avenue, Coronado

San Diego skyline across San Diego Bay from Coronado

Another scene along B Avenue

B Avenue

Being footsore I took a pedicab from the ferry dock to the hotel.  Planes, trains, pedicabs and (eventually) buses...and of course walking...got me around all week.  Other than the white knuckle cab ride from the airport (and a milder return to SAN) I didn't get in an automobile the whole trip.

I met my coworkers for dinner at the Tin Fish.  I opted (as always) not to eat seafood, though despite my lifelong aversion found my mouth watering as I watched trays of fish fly by my head.  The burger was good, but I kept eyeing those delicious looking fish tacos.

After dinner we all went our separate ways, and after finding a nice little ice cream shop a block from the hotel I landed back in my room feeling satiated.  Night fell under the same gray sky that had hung over the coast all day.

Tuesday morning I headed to the conference.  

Monday, July 21, 2014

Surf City

Wednesday I woke up early. I took the train back up to Old Town San Diego where I jumped over to a bus for Mission Beach (I'm really getting the hang of urban transit).  And there I had me a surf lesson. 

My instructor was PrestonPreston is like ninety feet tall and skinny as a long board.  Remember, I once was a climbing guide/instructor.  So I know what goes into meeting strangers, getting them to trust you, and crafting an amazing experience.  Preston did all that and more.

He was personable and positive.  He was no elitist looking down his nose.  All that nose down-looking was due to the disparity in our height.  He put me at ease and gave me some specific tasks to master before going in the water.

That's me on the left

I explained that I'd never been on a surfboard, but that I'd surfed some Appalachian whitewater in a creek boat.  Preston seemed to appreciate that.

It was hard to hate him even when he told me he'd lived in Costa Rica for the past twelve years mainly for the surfing.  It was hard, but I tried.

I was skeptical that I could make my body do the things it needed to do to clamber up on a surfboard or to outrun sharks if the need arose.  But with some drills for popping up and pushing up on the board to get over waves and a little paddling practice I was beginning to feel like my muscles might remember some of Preston's stellar instruction.  His instructional skill made it even harder to hate him for being such a cool guy.

My first wave he had me just ride the board on my belly.  It was a supersonic ride.  I felt like I was going to pencil into the beachfront wall.  Next go I caught the wave: popped up, rode a couple seconds, and wiped out.

My third wave I rode.  Oh, I rode!

In short order he said he was going to let me catch a wave by myself.  I struggled on the first couple, but then I made an amazing catch.  I was trying to get over a big wave but had only managed to get halfway sideways as the wave picked me up.  It knocked my nose beachward, and before I knew what was happening I had caught the wave.

Might as well stand up, I thought.  So I did.

As I rode that big whale of a wave toward the beach I could hear Preston whooping and hollering behind me.  I think he was more stoked than I was.

"That's how you catch a wave in a kayak!" He laughed.  I had to nod and laugh in agreement.  That's exactly what it felt like.  Twenty years have passed but the muscle memory was there.  Or maybe the proprioceptive memory anyway.

When we were moving up the beach I saw two leopard sharks and a stingray in the clear, shallow water.  And then when we got back into the water for the final round of wave catching a seal was fishing nearby.  As I paddled out into the bigger waves it swam so close I could almost play patty cake with it.  Or take a nibble of the fish it had in its mouth.

To say it was an incredible experience is a blatant understatement.  I was skeptical of hiring someone to give me surf lessons.  But I knew the likelihood of renting a board and figuring it out on my own while in town for a conference was as slim as a career surfer.  I'm glad I booked the lesson.  I stood up.  I surfed.  I had at least three pretty good rides of ten seconds or more, a half dozen more respectable pop ups, and well over a dozen nearly successful efforts.  I'd never have dreamed I could pull it off.

There was something sublime about the whole experience.  I rode the bus back to Old Town where I jumped back on the trolley (light rail) and rode back to the hotel.  I felt like I was some character in a movie about California.  It just felt right.  For the first time in my life I felt myself wishing I could live on the ocean.

I needed the trip.  It was for work.  Leading up to it the week long conference in San Diego was actually weighing heavy on my shoulders.  I was dreading the flights, being away from my family, and the chores of figuring out a new place.  On top of those minor things I've been dealing with some pretty heavy spiritual baggage lately.  I'm trying to figure out things I thought I had settled decades ago.

I'd intended to try and sort some things out while I was away from home and out of my normal routine.  But what I got instead was a week apart from wrestling my internal demons.  I think the breathing room was good.  I enjoyed a well needed respite.

Mission  Beach

Hopefully now I have the emotional endurance to charge back into the fray.  I'd not planned a mental vacation, nor even realized I needed one, but fortuitously...or rather providentially...I got exactly what I needed in the course of things.

I wrote some.  You could say I was somewhat inspired along the way to delve back into one of my stronger story ideas.  And I think I found a stronger storyline in the process.

I learned to surf.  That was one of my real bucket list items.  It was one of those items not likely to be easily crossed off the list.  It was one of those items that had the potential of never getting crossed off the list.  It was pretty cool.

Over the next few days I’ll write up the whole trip.  I had to share this one aspect of it first thing though.  Can you blame me?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Reporting In

Relax, I'm not using your tax dollars...today.

No really: no hookers, no booze, and only a little surfing.

I can quit any time I want.  I promise.

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Dream of Turtles in Sand

The map lied.  It looked like the Rock Garden to Sand Gap Trail loop at Natural Bridge State Park was 8 miles and change.  I was looking for an 8 mile run.  The map lied.

I was familiar with the trail.  It’s long enough, and I’ve hiked it few enough times, that I didn’t have a solid concept of how long it was myself, so I was relying on OutrageGIS Mapping’s RRG map distances.  Now, I’m not calling Mr. Boyd Shearer out on this, I’m just sayin’…

I had no intention of making the climb up from the Sky Lift parking lot to the Rock Garden Trail at a run.  I walked at the standard Chainring hiking pace—which is a good clip—until I reached the contouring RGT and tried to get up to a good trail running pace.  My second mile felt good but was a bit slow.  I absolutely love the Rock Garden Trail and my energy levels were up as I plodded along under the cliffs and across the sky lift swath.

As I approached Natural Bridge I saw a coiled up copperhead under a root when I was about a meter away.  I managed to leap over as it darted back into the trail space I had just vacated.  That experience had me on high alert for the rest of my remote run.

I chose to do the Low Gap Trail to Rock Garden to the Sand Gap Trail which loops back to the Sky Lift parking lot.  It comes out to no more than about 8.1 to 8.5 via the map I have.  When I was finished I had tracked 9.7 miles. 

The up side is that I ran 9.7 trail miles in an almost “off the couch” condition and felt darn good doing it.  I managed an overall 11:07 average pace.  My fastest mile (mile 6-7) was 9:44.

Enough about me; let’s talk about the trails.  Rock Garden lives up to its name.  The cliffs along the trail are stunning with varied formations and colorations.  It dumps you out at Natural Bridge with its cliché grandeur.  Fat Man’s Misery and its companion stone steps cut into the cliffside provide a weakness that affords you the ridgetop.

Morning sun from the top of Natural Bridge

From the top of Natural Bridge its only a few short steps to the Sheltowee Trace which runs along with the Sand Gap Trail from there.  I opened it up hoping to start pushing down my pace.  The views were magnificent.  I’ve taken my home landscape for granted for so long.  The morning sun painted the ridges and hollers in brilliant green trimmed in golden magnificence.  I could see faraway rock formations—old friends—that I haven’t visited in eons. 

The Sand Gap Trail alone is 7.1 miles.  There’s little significant elevation gain and loss from the arch all the way around to where the descent into Lower Hood Branch begins.  It isn’t very technical, and again, the views are indescribably beautiful at times.  It’s a long piece around the bulk of this loop though.  You’re in the high country divide between Middle Fork and South Fork.  You’re removed from well-known human development.  There’s little human traffic in the area. 

I’m not lonely in places like Sand Gap.  It was a nice meditative run.  I didn’t feel much the pull of gravity or the lurking hollowness that comes to my legs when I try and move them a lot.  I’d left the car with only my clothes, my phone, and my car key.  I had fueled up on the drive to the trailhead from home, and I had drank a single water bottle of water before taking off down (actually up) the trail.  I wanted to see how I could manage with no backup fuel or liquid.

I have this theory that I can do endurance efforts by starting out fully fueled, move for a certain period of time before intensely fueling and watering.  Then in the middle of the effort fuel and hydrate regularly and often leading up to the final push to the finish where I stop taking anything in and focus on speed and crossing the finish.

Lately on the bike I’ve been experimenting with this.  I did it at Preservation.  Why I think this is a better strategy for me is because I find at a certain point in a long hard day my system starts to reject the notion of taking on fuel.  On one ride (2013 Preservation Pedal) I fought the urge to puke for the last 30 miles.  I rode in full bonk-mode unable to stomach much of anything.  Thankfully I had just enough in me to keep me going, but my main problem was the middle of the route where I forgot to eat and drink and was too focused on hanging on to the Locomozer. 

The strategy is dependent on the course layout.  I pretty much did the same thing during this year’s Mohican.  I didn’t fuel much at all on the really tough singletrack at the beginning, but when I reached the paved roads and horse trails I ate like my life depended on it.  But after the third aid station I “coasted” in on the calories I had consumed in those middle miles.

On shorter rides/runs it seems like I should be able to coast on what I’ve got in the tank to start off with.  So the day before I ran Sand Gap I ate enough Chipotle to choke a stout horse, including a scoop of guacamole, and had dinner late that night.  I had my meager PowerBar chews breakfast on the way to run, and that all carried me for nearly ten miles.
Forgoing the hydration pack for an 8 (10!) mile run is liberating and efficient. 

I couldn’t have gotten away with that on July 12th if I hadn’t started out at 6:00am, but I did pull it off by being fully hydrated and leaving the bottle in the car.  Ages ago I used to hike as far with NO water almost all the time.  I’d return to my car with parched cotton in my throat and have to drive 10 miles out of the Gorge back to Slade to get an Ale-8 and then water back home.

As long as I don’t start out dry in the beginning I should be able to get through a two hour run without the burden of carrying a water bottle or wearing a hydration pack.

Sand Gap is long.  I don’t know if I could do it regularly enough to become intimately familiar with it.  It would be heartbreaking to get out there and decide I didn’t want to run so far but have absolutely no way to cut the run short.  It’s committing.   There’s no SAG mama coming for you along the outer boundary of Natural Bridge State Park.

Finally I began the descent into first Lower Hood Branch and then Upper Hood Branch.  Trust me, I know what I’m talking about.  I knew it wouldn’t just be a three mile downhill, but it ended up being a bit harder than I expected.  There are quite a few blowdowns.  I could go on a rant how I think the state should put a little more effort into coordinating some volunteers to maintain the trails.  I’m not going to.

With about a mile left to go I surprised three trail runners heading in the opposite direction.  I think they truly surprised.  It was about 8:00 am and I was coming off a nearly ten mile loop as they were heading in. 

Then I started hearing whispers of traffic on KY 11.  I knew I was nearly finished and I picked up the pace a little more.

I was only slightly shocked when I checked my mileage back at the car.  I’d been running for a few miles thinking I was getting close to or had exceeded 8 miles.  But I felt good.  I’d not pushed myself too far by adding more than a mile.

Along the way I had thought a lot about Matt Hoyes’ recent Sheltowee run.  I was cognizant of the fact that as I ran the Hardrock 100 was finishing up somewhere out in Colorado.  I looked ahead to the Rugged Red and the Cloudsplitter 100.  I began scheming how I could develop a grassroots ITT style race series including a race on a route I found myself referring to as the “Sand Turtle” even as I ran along it.