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Every year, we go to the Tacoma area to visit my in-laws. Most years, I take the opportunity to go on a guilt free backpacking trip, knowing that Grandma, Grandpa, my wife, and my kids are perfectly happy sharing each other’s company without me. I’ve gone to the North Cascades and The Olympics (two different trips)…but when you go to Washington, there is one singular feature that draws you, like a moth to flame: Rainier. I backpacked for 3 nights there a couple of years ago, completing about a third of the Wonderland Trail. At the time, I didn’t really feel the need to complete the entire 93 mile trail that circumnavigates “The Mountain.” But as I was out there, I learned that Wonderland is a different than my typical trips. First, there are hundreds of backpackers out there. Most are trying to do the full loop. They take anywhere from 7 to 14 days to do it. When I was there, I ran into a couple with a 11 month old baby, a family of 7 with the youngest at age 3, and a wide array of others. Though it was a solo hike, it was the most social hike I’d ever been on – lots of “where you coming from, where you going, are you doing the whole loop,” and I’ll tell you, it kind of stung to tell these people, nope, just a couple nights. I decided that I needed to do the full loop.

The problem is that 93 miles is a long trip to fit into a family vacation. While I was out there last time, I met a thru hiker, who had previously completed the Appalachian Trail as well as putting in long trips on the PCT and others. He was doing the trail in 7 days, 6 nights. He was crushing it – the people I ran into on the trail after I passed him spoke of him in hushed tones like he was some kind of superhuman (though he was really very mild to talk to).

Anyway, as you might have guessed, I’m going to do it in 7 days and 6 nights. Partly because I want to be in that top-2% who take it by force, but mostly because that’s the time that I have to do it.

I’m going right to left, starting and stopping at Mowich

Day 1: Arrive Mowich Lake, 15.1 miles to North Puyallup: Start at 4900 ft down to 2600 ft back up to 5200 ft down to 3700 ft. And this is the trick to walking around a huge, glacier capped, semi-dormant volcano. Every half dozen miles, some minor river gouges a valley into the flank of the mountain. You constantly descend and ascend, descend and ascend, 1000, 2000, or more feet at a time. The rule of thumb is 30 minutes a mile, 30 minutes a thousand feet. I’ve always found that this works for me on the long haul – I walk faster than this, but if you factor in 15 minute breaks every so often, it averages out. Keep in mind you’ve got 44 lbs on my back for this (if you’re me at least – smarter, dirtier, less comfortable, people can get away with 20 lbs less).
Day 2: North Puyallup 13.7 miles to Devil’s Dream: 3700-5600-4200-5600-4300-5300-5200. Up and down, up and down.
Day 3: Devil’s Dream 16.2 miles to Maple Creek: 5200-2800-4500-2800
Day 4: Maple Creek 14.4 miles to Summerland: 2800-2600-6800-5900. Yes, that’s 30 miles in two days with a FOUR THOUSAND foot climb at the end of the 2nd day. Gruesome. If I survive to Summerland, I’m golden.
Day 5: Summerland 9.8 miles to Sunrise via White River (food cache): 5900-3900-4300-6300
Day 6: Sunrise 12.2 miles to Dick Creek: 6300-6700-6400-6700-4600-6000-4300
Day 7: Dick Creek 9.9 miles to Mowich: 4300-3200-6400-4900 and out.

Last trip, I did the White River to Mowich segment.

I’ve got to say. I’m a bit daunted. Steve and I used to bang out huge days, but more recently we and, later, I by myself, have found that 10 miles, hiking from 8 AM to 3 PM, is a nice leisurely approach. The two hardest days are going to be 10-12 hour days on the trail. Break camp by 7, set camp by 7. Further, I sleep poorly on the trail, and over time that catches up with you. This is, by any definition, the longest trip that I’ve done.

Fortunately, I’m healthy. I’m running. I’m reasonably fit and active otherwise (though, I’ll be 38, which, you know, is old). I’m not yet where I’d need to be to thrive on a march like this one, but if I can stay healthy, I can get there. I’m planning on documenting the planning leading up to the trip, and then spending some time on the trail writing my thoughts (as I always do). I don’t know if this will be the last time I try to convince myself to do something crazy like this…but, for the time being at least, I’m too young to slowly taper my way to a placid death. And I <i>need</i> goals to function. So, here I stand.

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We met a man who splits his life between the backcountry and a van. I go on few night trips to the backcountry. It is the right length. I like being warm, comfortable, and clean. I like being connected – to what, I couldn’t tell you. I don’t want to live in the woods. A second trip per year, a few more nights on each trip, that would be perfect, but I don’t want to retire from society.

Yet, whenever I leave the woods, I’m overwhelmed with a sense of existential dread. There is something very wrong with normative existence. There is something smothering, stifling, attached to life writ large. Having not touched my beleaguered fingers for days, I start idling gnawing on them once more. I feel my blood pressure rising, I feel the need to gird myself against a coming gale.

Every morning, I give myself a silent pep talk getting out of my car and walking into work. Something simple, “you can do this, you have this.” I take a deep breath and press against the weight of the world. A grown man, rarely flappable, repeating meaningless aphorisms to face standard existence.

I’ve mulled this, once more, these last few days. This likely isn’t the first time I’ve written about it. Having not written in some months, with months before that and years of limited output, I am writing to no one but webcrawlers and people who learned how to set up RSS feeds a decade ago but don’t know how to turn them off.

It comes down to a balancing of the humors. Competing personas. There’s the me who lives in the backcountry. Who runs to exhaustion (that limb is nearly severed). Who lifts weights and glowers ominously under the spell of the associated hormones. Who digs in dirt and grows flowers; listening to birds, encouraging the bees, drifting in the breeze, sweating in the sun. This is all one version, with the backcountry being the most extreme variant. This persona takes center stage only briefly during normal life, but in the woods wins out completely. It is physical, with little mental and social exertion required. Primal. Simple. But temporary.

Then there’s work, which I also tend to enjoy. It’s more aggressive, social but in a strategic manner. Mental. Humility as a tool to covert weaknesses into relatability. Eccentricity to hide awkwardness under a veneer of socially acceptable middling genius. It’s a tight-wire act, but one that I’m good at, and it’s the enabler of all other aspects of life. Sure, my profession itself is somewhere near morally bankrupt, but the day-to-day challenges are interesting and unique.

Domestic; there’s the rub. Socially exhausting, littered with failed expectations, constant responsibilities, and misplaced hopes and dreams.

Toward the middle of our trip, we took a wrong turn. We followed a gradually sloping rockface, toward points unknown. Eventually, we would come to a place where travel became difficult. We’d need to make a decision: confront our mistake and backtrack or embrace our mistake and push through. It is perhaps possible to get to the other side from where we are, but not easy. It is possible that this will waste even more time, or lead to an increasingly perilous situation, making matters worse for all parties. But one thing is certain: with each step down a path, one gets further from where he was supposed to be. And at some point, one finds himself on a different trail altogether. Maybe parts of the trail are good, but where does it go?

I’ve been cliffed out for years. I’m pressing forward. I have to. Too much is at stake. There is no way back. And one doesn’t walk alone through the domestic realms. Where would the victims of this meandering climb end up, and whose conscience would bear their own plights?

For completeness, add in a spiritual self. On good days, it connects all of these together with a sense of meaning; a larger world that makes suffering worthwhile and transforms minor things into eternal things. On the bad days, it’s a tin veneer, a delusion, a spit shine of a rusty hubcap, a wary bludgeon waiting to punish missteps or retreats.

In any case, given time, the humors balance. Potential alternate paths disappear into the mists that they came from. Purpose and clarity shine through the mire, not because something is fixed, but because something is. Being supersedes all other considerations. Existing requires effort, and this existence comes with its own worries and challenges. I’ve always made plans and followed them. One, followed by the next, followed by the next. The trail, whatever trail it might be, has this climb, then that turn, then I’ll be there, next I’ll be there, eventually, I’ll be elsewhere. Each stage, follow that stage’s plan. Sometimes it’s so godawful sad that it shakes the foundations of existence. Most of the time it just is. There’s some meaning in simply existing. Isn’t there?

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The Rest

Long ago, I inherited one of my father’s workouts. 8-20 times 400 with 100 meter jog recovery. 400 intervals are not, as a rule, particularly hard for me. But 100 jog recovery is brutal. You have just enough time to catch your breath, say 35 seconds, and then, crap, there’s the line again. It was one of my favorites, though probably not the best workout for me. I was always good at shorter intervals, really anything up to a mile. What I needed in my running life was more long tempos. As I’ve slowly gotten back into marginal shape, I’ve been focusing on longer intervals – 4 mile threshold runs, 2 mile intervals, 1 mile repeats. However, I’m having a hard time pushing those times down because they feel fast, as my top-end speed is so slow. My body does not understand what it means to be fast anymore. I’ve lost a TREMENDOUS amount of speed.

And so, this Saturday I went to the track to do some 400 meter repeats, in hopes of slowly re-establishing some speed. I will never regain my previous speed – or anything close to it – as I am now 36, and 36 is not as fast as 26 or even 16. I peaked on speed at 21, and have been going downhill since, falling off a cliff when I had to shut down competitive running back in 2007 (at age 26).

I was a little bit encouraged by this week’s workout – 8×400 with 100 rest, first 4 in 81.3 with 40 seconds rest, next 4 in 80.1 with 45 seconds rest, then a 3:20 jog, then a 9th 400 in 75.5. And so I decided to do a deep dive and locate all of my instances of this workout, with hopes of using the information to access my fitness. Unfortunately, I’m so far off the scale this will be impossible. I don’t think there has ever been a previous instance of my running this workout where I was not in 16:30 5K shape or better, and I have little chance of sniffing that time without a year of steady training.

Sputtering through the finish, staggering punch drunk, repeating over and over again 3 to go, 3 to go, 3 to go, just 3, just 3, ugh 10 more meters to the…damn…rolling start, one more meaningful breath, and GO. Don’t think, don’t think, one foot, one foot, 300 to go, at the next line just 2.5 more to go, 1000 meters, and with recovery, there it is halfway done, halfway, stay off the rail…at the next line, 100 to go, finish this one out, bring it through the line, bring it through – you’re slipping, going to mess up your average, bring it through and split. Oogh…gasping, just 2 to go, just 2 to go, 2 to go and rolling….

I remember everything.

Before Senior year in High School
7/20/98: 8×400, 74 with 47 jog average recovery – believe that I was told that I was doing the recovery wrong after this. Too much time.
7/27/98: 12×400, 77.6 with 35 second jog
8/3/98: 16×400 76.9 with 37 rest
Before Freshmen year in College (unsanctioned workout)
7/19/99: 8×400 75.6 with 36 jog
Completely different workout, but on an indoor track, meat and potatoes training period my Junior year in college, which was not as good as either my Sophomore or Senior years..
1/22/02: 9×400: 60, 60, 60, 60, 58, 58, 59, 59, 62 with 3:00 rest – “took pace from #5 on and dropped people”. I remember that one. Lane 5 of the indoor track. I loved that workout.
Post-Collegiate:
6/28/03: 20×400 74.4 with 38 rest; I didn’t remember running such a serious workout so soon after I graduated. This was at Mt Hebron, a 440y track! I didn’t realize that it was 440y for another year.
3/6/04: 12×400 73.0 with 42 rest and this is the day I discovered the 440y track size. This was very early in my spring speedwork cycle for that year.
3/26/05: 12×400 in 72.0 with 39 rest on the 440y track – I used this workout as a standard candle to judge my fitness against…until I started having more pain and finding it difficult for my achilles’ to handle the longer intervals.
12/31/05: 12×400 73.1 with 38 rest, on Catonsville’s track 38 degrees and sleet. I remember that workout. That night was also the night that I got sick on Southern Comfort. Next day was 9.3 miles with comment “regular run, hung over”.
3/4/06: 1 mile in 4:56, then 12×400 in 72.5 with 39 rest and 34 degrees. Followed a week later with a 15:23 5K in Baltimore, my fastest time over that distance.
3/3/07: 8×400 74.3 and windy (rest not listed). This was after shutting down my 2006 season with achilles problems. Still hadn’t lost the fitness.
4/28/07: 8×400 72.5 with 40 rest on Mt Hebron’s 440y
7/10/07: 8×400 69.5 with 45 rest. Last 4 averaged 66 seconds. Less than two weeks later I ran the Rockville 8K in 26:09, my last competitive race.
And then today, way off. 8×400 in 80.6 with 43 rest. 11 seconds per lap. That’s a TON.

By the way, a couple of those are at Long Reach’s track, including the one this week. I’ve never run a workout on Howard’s track. I’ll be honest, I don’t care too much about the redistricting into Long Reach. I have history there.

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Mount Rainier

I tend to jot some down notes during my backpacking trips. I didn’t really feel like thinking too hard this time. Last trip was my first solo trip, and that led to all kinds of self-reflection, coupled with loneliness and repressed fear. This time, not too lonely, not particularly scared. Mostly just walked. Chatted with folks when able. Read some books. Walked around. Took some pictures. Nothing really earth shattering. But I did still write a few things down.

7/24/17: Came in at the White River around 0820. 12.3 miles and a few thousand feet to Mystic Lake at 1330. This trail is a highway – encountered on the order of two dozen people on my trip here, very different than last year in the Olympics.
My most interesting encounter was a family with 5 kids ranging from 3.5 to maybe 12 [actually 13]. They are doing the entire Wonderland Loop. Today’s chunk is no joke. It’s very impressive that they are even trying. Sounds like I’ll see them again tomorrow.

7/25/17: Left Mystic Lake at 0800 and arrived in Eagles Roost at 1400, 11.7 miles traveled. Climbed 500 ft, dropped 2500 ft, climbed 3000 ft, then dropped another 1500 ft. Going a bit slower than yesterday. I think I need new rules of thumb. I can do 2.5 mph over all terrain on day 1. 2.0 mph on day 2. 1.8 mph thereafter. Includes breaks. To me, I still think this implies that Wonderland – 93 miles – is a 6 night, 7 day thing. I thought be fine with 12-15 mpd.
Out here, doing the circuit is THE thing. Most folks that I run into are trying it. Some, like the experienced through hiker, are going to do it as fast as 6 nights without resupply. He’s got several long hikes under his belt, including the Long Trail and AT. Others, like some girls I met, are doing it over 13 nights. Some seem doomed to fail, most will make it work. All are very pleasant.
It has been a much more social hike. I have chatted with a half dozen or so folks. I saw the family with 5 kids again – Scott and Clarissa [or something like that] the parents. They were struggling. I did the hike from Mystic through Cataract Valley – about 7 miles – this morning. They left Mystic at 2-3 PM yesterday…got there [to Cataract Valley] at 9:30, in the dark. It was a no-joke hike for anyone, let alone 5 kids. I secretly hope they pop out at Mowich tomorrow (they stay here [at Eagles Roost] tonight); I fear their plan is too ambitious.
[They would, indeed, end their hike at Mowich. An epic journey nonetheless. But 93 miles was going to be too much.]
Meanwhile, I also met Eric and Therera and their 9 month old Zoe (or something). They too were doing the whole loop. Probably easier than the 5 kid family.
I’ve begun to encounter day hikers going from Mowich to Seattle [and Spray] Park. They are slow but more than that, they seem out of place here.
7/25/17 1943: My social skills are marginal in the best of times. Put me in a room with people I know, or in situations where idle chit chat is the norm, I typically do fine. But I can go from normal to awkward in a blink. I may be deftly leading a meeting one minute and mumbling a confused response to a co-worker in the hallway the next.
Add to that physical exertion [such as backpacking], a mixture of introverts and extroverts, and miles between people, and things get worse. I had several pleasant conversations on the trail today. I had just as many awkward encounters. Some people are happy to chat. Others, not so much. You can’t tell the difference. My social intuition declines in proportion to the space between human encounters. On the trail, you might have hours, or, as last year, days between conversations. End of story. Mosquitoes are eating me through my clothes.
7/26/17: At Mowich, waiting for my ride, about an hour and 15 minutes early. This might have been too easy. Only one day “out”, waking and sleeping on the trail. Plus everyone, experts and novices alike are doing the Wonderland. But…the family of 7 is cutting the trip short at Mowich. I’m relieved. That was going to be too much. So, some Wonderland thoughts:
I can do it in 6 nights, which would make me in the top few percent of fastest. I should:
1) Not bring camera – that’s like 4 lbs right there.
2) Not bring [bear keg]
3) Resupply – don’t do 7 days in one bag. Resupply has food, first aid (in case I need it), fresh clothes)
4) Need new, lighter, tent
I should have two tech [fast drying, odor resistant] t-shirts, 3 tech underwear, 2 tech shorts. Everything else pretty good. It would be nice to have clean clothes for bed, but that might be a bridge too far. Crocs are perfect. Bear spray is optional. Fresh fuel in resupply.
One trip would be:
In Mowich, resupply White River.
16.4 to North Puyallup
14 to Devil’s Dream
15.7 to Maple Creek
14.2 to Summerland
Resupply White River
10.3 to Sunrise
12.5 to Dick Creek
8.5 to Mowich and out.
I’d say 7/24 or later to avoid any possible snow.

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Not So Fast

The primary goal for the race last week was to see if I could do it without aggravating my achilles tendons. As it turns out, I had to wait several days before I knew that answer – they felt lousy on Monday and Tuesday, to the point where I modified my normal running schedule to give them another day off. The whole thing was a big bizarre to me because…I ran so slow. So, 5 K, 3.1 miles, or about 40 seconds longer than 3 miles at 6:00 pace. I ran 19:01 for fourth and my tendons felt awful afterwards. Meanwhile, my fastest 3 miles on the treadmill was 17:40 and my tendons feel fine after that – this confused me. 19:00 was my absolute outside number on the slow end. I thought I would run at least 30 seconds faster. But more importantly, I had every reason to believe that that if I did run that kind of time, my tendons would be no worse for the wear. This was a bit discouraging.

I did have a feeling I haven’t had for a long while. It was a few moments before the race; I was walking to join the other runners at the line for the start. A flashback to 10 or 12 or 15 or 18 years ago…

I had picked out the top 5 or 8 runners during the warm up. Runners know their own, and even after 10 years of not competing, I knew who the decent ones were by eye. I had no idea of names or times, but if you know what you’re looking for, you can see the ones who are there for some reason other than to see if they can survive the distance. I knew that none of them were extremely fast (though it turns out that the eventual winner is national caliber in his age group, at 50 year old). I walked toward the line and felt a sort of wistful sadness. I felt the beginnings of a feeling I would also get in small races like these – the feeling that it didn’t matter what the other runners thought about how the race was going to go. The feeling that I was going to go out, do what I wanted, and, in so doing, grind them to dust.

Since I’ve been a more normal person, I’ve learned that when most people go to run a road race, they are not actually doing it to race. Most aren’t even racing against a clock or against themselves, let alone racing against the other runners. Most are going to participate, to be a part of communal exertion for a cause, to encourage friends, to be social while being fit and healthy. If I think about it, it is a noble pursuit. I am an elitist to even consider this a lesser form of existing; if I received a participation medal rather than one that I earned, I would throw it out. This is not what normal people do.

But as I walked toward the line, I felt what I used to feel. My purpose was to cover the distance faster than anyone else. My purpose was to control some aspect of my life, to validate my hours and hours of training, to prove myself in some way, to earn my own approval. I rarely did, incidentally. I was reading through some old race descriptions – I document all of these. It spoke of showing up at a smallish race like this one in Mt Airy back in 2006. There, I flagged another runner in my general category. Normally, you run 400-800 meters in a 100-200 person race, and the pretenders fade away, leaving you to battle your own demons by yourself. This was the week before the last time I ran Damien’s Run. I was in peak form, immediately before my fall, and this other runner was a few ticks above the normal chaff, though a tick or two below me (I’d later learn that his half marathon PR was faster than mine, which wasn’t surprising – I was lousy beyond 10 miles). Anyway, I went out in 4:58 for the first mile, the other guy went with me. The other guy commented that he thought the pace was a bit quick – speaking in a race is a classic tell of weakness. I commented in my description that I disagreed, and proceeded to run the 2nd mile in 5:02, breaking him before struggling home myself.

That is what I wanted to do last week, but alas, I knew full well that was no where near that. I had no delusions. Instead, I went out with the top group, assessed who was who, passed the guys I should have passed, got in line, and ran by myself in 4th for the last two miles. I didn’t give much ground to the people in front, but didn’t gain either.

Anyway, my achilles feels OK now. My next training segment goes until our vacation mid-July. It will nominally consist of:
Saturday alternating between long-ish run (up to 10 miles), 5-ish mile tempo run on weekends when my wife works and I have less time, and track interval workouts before the rest of my family wakes up
Sunday 6-7 easy miles
Tuesday 4 hard-ish miles on the treadmill, until it’s under 24:00, then re-evaluate
Thursday 3-4 easy miles (when possible)

This would peak me at 25 mpw with some intensity. I’ll try to find a low key race in early August (not too many that time of year), then re-evaluate, possibly converting the easy Thursday evening run into a longer Thursday lunch run (as I lose daylight), boosting the other runs in intensity, and getting more serious about the exercise bike in the evenings. It would be nice to show up at a race like the one last week, assess the field, smirk inside, and win. That remains unlikely. But it would be nice.

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Once More into the Breech

Eleven years ago, I ran a 5K called Damien’s Run. Let me back up a bit. For the entire first hald of 2006, my running career was teetering on a razor’s edge, held hostage by my slowly declining achilles tendons. I was receiving regular massage and stim, I was doing tons of auxiliary treatment, and this was keeping them just barely serviceable. I was running 80-90 mile weeks nonetheless. A month before Damien’s Run, I ran one of the best races of my life – 52:45 for 10 miles in Broad Street Run. A month or so before that I ran 15:23 in Shamrock in Baltimore. I was likely in near to the best shape of my post-collegiate period.

But four days before the race in question, I was running an easy-ish 12 miles after work with a running buddy of mine and I badly sprained my ankle on a tree root. I know the spot to this day. It was nearly 5 miles from the parking lot when this happened. I managed to hobble back, but I knew it was bad. I had already spent $30 on a pre-registration for the race. And one of my principle rivals, Carlos, was going to be running it. Never learning the lessons of sunk costs, I took off a day or two and ran the race anyway. I never could establish a good rhythm, finishing 6th in 16:01. The winner was way out of my league, 14:30 something – I should have run around 15:40. It was some podunk 5K, like all the races I ran on my minor league circuit. It wasn’t worth it.

That ankle sprain destabilized the entire joint. My achilles went from whimpering to screaming. I took time off, then tried to ratchet back up the miles in preparation for my seeded entry into the Chicago Marathon that fall, even getting to 90+ mile weeks a few times by mid summer. Then one day tried to run at marathon pace around a dirt track on the Eastern Shore…and could not. It felt like my foot was going to rip off my calf. While I did have a meaningful two or three months of high level racing in the spring of 2007, Damien’s Run was the beginning of the end of my running career.

After that, I went from boot to self-injected acupuncture to boot to shockwave therapy back to boot to debridement to boot to sort of moving on with my life by around 2009. In the spring of 2010 I stumbled upon decent shape (we’ll call it 17:00 5K shape), but never raced; the tendons flared back up and I shut it down for weeks. In the fall of 2012 I was able to run consistently for a couple of months and actually raced – a 4 mile in 23:20, not so bad. But then things tightened back up, and I had a kid a few months later.

I am now in the best shape that I’ve been in since summer/fall 2012. It is only because of consistency, I’ve been running regularly since the fall. After all these months, my mileage remains at around 15 miles per week on 3 runs a week. Nothing. But my body is accepting it greedily. My pace is steadily improving. I feel faster than I have in a while. Some days, I actually feel fast…I have decided to run a race so that I can put a line in the sand for the future…just in case. I looked at the calendar, and low and behold, there’s Damien’s Run, now held in my favorite place in Maryland (Patapsco State Park) and at a time when my girls will be up and ready to watch it. I decided to give it a shot. It happens next Sunday.

And so, a couple of weeks ago I transitioned from running haphazardly to training. I am still doing 15 mpw; I don’t want to risk it just yet. I have, for months now, been running faster on a treadmill at the YMCA every Tuesday night; low impact stuff. I cranked the pace down further, most recently running 3 miles in 17:40. But the treadmill isn’t real running (no wind resistance for one), so last weekend, I went to the track. It was a horror. I did 2×3200 with full (8 minute) recovery. Both splits were slower than 12:00, I’m embarrassed to even say them. To put it in perspective, I came through 20 miles of my first marathon faster than 6:00 pace. That Broad Street Run was 5:16 pace for 10 miles in a row. Not being able to run 2 miles in 12:00 was very humbling.

This weekend was a little better – 3×1600 all around 5:42 though still with 6:00 rest (aka, full recovery). Not as bad. But the times aren’t that important now. More important is re-acclimating my psyche to an intentional subjection to pain. Not having enough air in my lungs. Various places in my body going number. The voices in my head telling me to stop, telling me it’s not worth it, telling me I’m weak, telling me there is no point, telling me I’ll put forth all this effort and nonetheless look like a fool. Well, fine, I am weak. But I’m still finishing the intervals. These voices were there in every race I’ve ever run; hell, they’re there whenever I do something hard. I never listen to them. I needed those workouts not because they would improve my fitness substantially in three weeks, but because I could not expect to tolerate that pain in the race if I had zero exposure to it in five years, 10 if you’re talking about the real stuff. The whole trick to being a runner is convincing your body to hurt worse than it wants to for longer than it can. That’s what all that training is for.

The course is generally flat. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I am trying to decide if I should wear racing flats or stay with more supportive shoes (the achilles heel remains my Achilles heel after all). Either way, I will get a bump of adrenaline during the race. Something old, some old magic, will awaken. Though the race itself is greatly diminished in the last few years (the winners barely crack 17:00 these days), I nonetheless have no chance of winning. I do not expect a miracle. I don’t expect to not sniff 5:20 pace for 10 years, only to magically be able to string together 3 of them in a row to come away with the win. It’s not going to happen. But I’ll probably run around 18:30 give or take. 17:45 is probably the absolute fastest. 19:00 is the absolute slowest.

These days, I come home from a run and my two year old gets all perky and asks, “Good run, Daddy?” They may never know me as I really am, having amputated all four of my existential limbs from my body – Cross Country, Indoor Track, Outdoor Track, and Road Racing – long before they were born. And they may never see me powerfully striding away from all opponents, dominating the hobby joggers and elderly while out-dueling the handful of semi-pros for a victory in any sort of real race. My tendons may fall apart again in a week. But please God, just one race for old time’s sake. I just need to make it until the 4th – my 36th birthday by the way.

(And, if that works, I’ll add another few miles on Thursdays, start alternating Saturday between an interval workout and a long run, and then target an early August race, 30-60 seconds faster than this time. But it never works. But it might. Then there’s another day, 30 mpw, and a crack at something respectable in October. Then train through the winter and see what happens in Shamrock in March. You know, I’m only a few years away from being in the Masters division. Yes, I always chain together this many low probably events into completely unrealistic scenarios.)

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On Your Left

I spent the summer of 2001 in Pittsburgh working doing an undergraduate research project. Most days, I ran in Schenley Park; both close to the Towers of Ignorance and a pretty great place for running. I had a ~10.5 mile loop out the park and into Squirrel Hill that I did most days. One day, another runner darted out 50 yards in front of me from another trail. Having patrolled those woods for a few weeks already, I considered it my duty to follow this runner and eventually crush his will. But he was fast. Faster than me. After fruitlessly chasing him at 5:45 pace for 3 miles, as he slowly pulled away from me, he turned and I continued my loop, relieved that my pursuit was over.

Why this story? I have never been passed on a run and that was the closest I had come. Several years ago, I took a swag – I think I’ve run between 22,000 and 25,000 miles since I was in 7th grade. While fast by most standards, I was sub-elite when compared to national elite runners. But 12 years ago, if you drew a 30 mile circle centered on Baltimore, you’d probably grab 2.5 million people, only maybe 5 of which could beat me. The chances of one of them running the same route as me at the same time was next to nil. I knew that every time I stepped on the road or track or trail that I was the fastest person. I knew when I walked in a room, I was the fastest person in the room. Whatever else was going on in my life, I always had that to fall back on, and, as a matter of principle, I wasn’t interested in letting anyone take my scalp, even on an easy run through the woods.

Now, I’ve probably only run 500-1000 miles in the last 9 ish years since my Achilles finally went south. I run between 3-6 miles a week these days. I’m out of shape and slow. But when I was 15 seconds into my run today, legs creaking from disuse, and someone passed me, I knew had a streak to maintain. He was pretty decent – a halting stride but defined legs and runner approved clothing. He was a runner, and comfortable on the trails. Another tidbit though – I was superlative in the woods. My bulky, short legs may not have been ideal for a tempo run on a flat road, but they were perfect for grinding through the woods. The trail from Landing to the waterfall in Patapsco is not very hilly, but it is quite technical. I decided that in these conditions, even if the guy that passed me could put two minutes on old man me in a 5K, I could still give it a go. So, I gave him 40 meters so that he wouldn’t hear me, then latched on to see what was what. Eventually, he did hear me, eventually, I started closing, eventually I decided, yes, today was not the day that someone was going to break my streak. And then he stopped, right in the middle of the trail. And I passed him. And then a minute later, I started hearing footfalls behind me. I had turned the right past the waterfall by then, entering an even more technical and hillier section of the park. I started pressing the hills where I could induce more pain on him, started hearing the footfalls fade until a turn off when he took a hard left for the road. I decided that he was either annoyed that I was following him, or that he was doing some kind of weird fartlek run, or who knows, maybe he was just a Sunday jogger too. Regardless, this unofficial victory over a stranger was satisfying.

All of this took roughly 11 minutes. By 12 minutes, the adrenaline had worn off. A metallic burn filled my throat. My legs got heavy. I started seeing a halo in my eyes. The bounding skip up the hills from 2 minutes earlier became a slogging plod as my body ceased to respond to even modest demands. In my mind, I maintain a truism, a mantra…that there is old magic in my legs. That if I need to run a 60 second quarter or if I need to grind out a couple of fast miles on the trails, muscle memory will take over, 4 mile weeks be damned. But whereas I might have chased an elite runner for 3 miles as a rising junior in college, I have very limited supply of this residual potency left. Enough to wear down some shlub who was probably 7 miles into an easy day and not interested in ruining his upcoming speed workout on some Sunday jogger, but not enough to actually walk the walk in any real capacity. But by then I was in a more remote part of the woods, occasionally passing 50 year olds on nature walks, with no more sub-elites in sight. I trudged back to my car – a mere 27:00 and surely less than 4 miles – after I had started, red faced with lungs burning. Maybe back in the day I’d have to run 9 miles at 6:00 pace to feel like that. Now, 12 minutes at probably 6:30 pace followed by a 7:30 pace death march for another 2 miles was sufficient. But I still felt the same burn, the same flush, the same ache…and man, do I miss it.

I’m actually not sure where my non-surgically repaired Achilles will crap out these days, because my home life precludes me from running enough to stress it. It holds together pretty well at 3-6 miles a week. A couple years ago – when Abby was a baby, two months of 30 miles a week jacked it up for a few months. But before it could, I was able to patrol the woods at a decent pace, like the old days. I hope to patrol once again. One of these days, some youngster is going to pass me, and my old magic will run out. But not today.

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Over the years, I’ve kept a journal while backpacking. I did it again this time, only I was more bored, so it is longer.  I don’t really proofread these, nor do they go through the same editing process that I go through when I type.  I don’t find the right words.  I don’t down select for relevance.  I just slowly scribble on a tiny notebook.

Some previous versions…

https://furstwords.wordpress.com/category/miscellaneous/backpacking/

8/26/16 1415
At Deception Creek camp, having covered 13.3 miles and 2500 ft of elevation gain in less than 6 hours. A few miles ago, I was complimenting myself on my pace. Now, I’m tired. I should have broken that up more. I’ve set camp and am on my way for the first of many pumps [water filtering]. On the western horizon, which is maybe 4 miles away because it’s a ridgeline, there is an ominous haze of smoke [from the wildfire in the park]. Other than a very smokey few minutes in the car, however, the air has been clean. I think that will be changing by the morning [it did not].

So, a solo hike. So far, not that eventful. I had no particularly profound thoughts. I didn’t solve any problems or reform my life. I mostly just walked. Thought about walking. And what I would do if the volcano blew or the Cascadia fault line slipped…but mostly just walked.

I did come to the realization of how alone I was. Not lonesome, but spatially separate. I do not believe that it is an exaggeration to say that you could have drawn a 2 mile radius circle about me and, for a couple of hours at least, I would have been the only one in said circle. It doesn’t seem like much, but think about that for a minute. 7 billion people on the planet and I have 12 square miles [or 7680 acres] all to myself. Alone. Not so anymore, there are two other tents here already. But for a while, I was a solitary red dot walking my way through the woods in an area that would include 5 million people around Manhattan.

8/26 1834
I’ve been reading and doing camp activities all afternoon and evening – peaceful. My two neighbors are still nowhere to be seen. I got here before 2 and have not seen them since. My best guess is that they know each other and are on some common adventure – bushwhacking to the top of a nearby mountain or down at the Dosewallips River proper (we’re a few hundred meters up a tributary). since they haven’t returned and since they seem to be on the same schedule, I’m wondering if they will return together and find that someone (me) has set camp in the common area between the sites. I’m going to keep reading out there to see if they return. Note: there are too many hours in the day here. I should have gone longer. Optimal solo hike distance? 15-17 miles [not so on subsequent days!]. I’ll have to do another activity, less I get too bored.

8/26 2000
Still no sign of one of them. The tarp guy is a massive [not very] guy with long white hair. OK, not that massive, gold guy. Still no one for the Big Agnes site.

Deception Creek
First night video [Intro was chopped off. I am showing my sites to the girls.]
Near Lost Pass, between first and second night
Upper Cameron Basin outflow

8/27/16 1430
5360 ft. Stephen is not here. Normally I go with him. When Steve is here, when we get to camp at 2 PM and there is a 7200 ft mountain a mile away, you can be sure that a summit will be attempted. I always go too, out of a faternal obligation to keep one’s little brother from an early grave [or at least see where the body ends up]. I am getting old. I don’t think I’ve ever felt it as acutely as I did while gaining 2000 ft of elevation between Dose Meadows and Cameron Pass. I had to stop to catch my breath every ten minutes. I was majorly sucking wind. Steve would have left me in the dust.
But Steve isn’t here. So, rather than clumb the extra mountain, I’m going to lay down and ready a book. He can keep himself alive without my help.

I did take some time to drop my pack and scout for sites here at Upper Cameron Basin. Walking around the glacier fed meadow, with nothing but a hat brought me back to my time at Belly River at Glacier NP, many years ago. There’s something extra wild about being packless, away from everything. There is no one else yet at the basin. I may be in my 2 mile bubble all night this time [it was probably a 3 mile bubble, and I was].

1844
There’s something familiar about this place. Imposing ridgeline shelters glaciers. Relatively flat meadow, sometimes with a lake, criss-crossed by frigid snowmelt. Rocks as large as schoolbuses where you cook. Water smells chalky, some distinct mineral, magnesium perhaps? Basin drains through cascading waterfall, you pump the water right near where it drains.
I first saw this place at Stoney Indian in Glacier and was overawed by the gradeur. Then again on our second night in the North Cascades. Then again at Heart Lake the first time I was in the Olympics. Here in the Upper Cameron Basin, I have the entire basin – who knows how much more with the nearest campsite 3 miles away as the crow files. But it’s still basically the same. Maybe that is why I enjoyed Big Bend so much last year – it was distinctive. Peaceful as it is here, I’m a bit bored and definitely dreading the 10 hours of waiting for dawn as I alternatively deprive my arms of oxygen trying to fitfully sleep while shivering in my tent.
And I miss my girls, all of them. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, as they say, and maybe I need that every so often.
BTW: today was 9 miles and 3000 feet. It took all of 6 hours –> 30 minutes per miles, 30 minutes per 1000 ft. Includes rest and lunch.

The meadow at Upper Cameron Basin [sideways]
My camp at Upper Cameron Basin
Grand Pass between night two and three

8/28/16 1422
Arrived at Grand Lake a little while ago and scramble to set camp in the rain. I say scrambled, but I’m not actually moving quickly. Nothing out here does. Even the flies are lazy.
I’ve been talking to myself more today, though I actually felt stronger on the trail today. That might be because I made two walking sticks to serve as trekking poles. It made a big difference climbing to Grand Pass. So, it’s raining and I’m basically killing time until 6 AM tomorrow when I can break camp and hoof it out of here. One downside of being stuck in one’s tent? One is confronted with one’s overwhelming stench. I haven’t really felt complelled to jump into the 53 degree lake or 45 degree river – to wouldn’t make much of a difference anyway without soap. I’ve been rinsing my shift, shorts, and briefs in bodies of water, and that helps some. But they don’t call it swamp ass for nothing and no amount of lipstick is making that pig smell pretty. Or something.

One noteworthy event! I had human interaction! So, 25 or so miles into my adventure, and I finally saw another soul on the trail. And wouldn’t you know it, it was a lost young couple in need of assistance, having only meager navigation skills and subpar maps!

No, no, I swear, I haven’t spent 3 hours starring at this map in the last three days! It was nice to help. I miss people, it turns out. You see, I’m a extrovert in a narrow range of social scenarios. First, I can’t compete for attention. I’m an introvert around dominant personalities. But when I’m the dominant personality, bam, let’s all talk and acknowledge my cleverness and wit. Want to hear about the time I lugged 50 lbs on my back for 4 days? I was all by myself! Picture a 2 mile circle!

Vanity, vanity. I should have a blog! I can control the discussion, framing it in ways to make my views unassailable. Or talk radio? Or maybe I’ll just dominate meetings at work!
All this self-reflecting, you know? But I already knew all these things, enlightened and self-aware as I am. I’m just bored and trapped in a tent with nothing to think about but how much I stink.
(Full circle! Get it? OK, I’ll stop.)

8/28 1556
I think it’s important to do things like go backpacking. It forces you to confront things that you take for granted in your daily life.

The acquisition of water. While I have two hundred viable water sources on this particular route, that wasn’t the case in Big Bend. In fact, we ran out of water on our first hiking trip in New Hampshire. I dreamt of faucets that night. Then there’s the provision of food. Calories and protein, but also fiber. Then you have to force yourselve to eat it. I, for instance, currently have a profound lack of “give a shit”. I mostly just want to sit and sate. But, I suspect this is due to too few calories and too many miles on too few hours of sleep. Low blood sugar. Low something. Whatever the case, this apathy is something I only get under this specific set of conditions. Then there’s shelter. You have to BYO shelter.
And warmth. Last night, I wore 4 shirts (aka, all of them), pants, two pairs of socks, a winter hat, gloves, a silk liner and a sleeping back largely because I neglected to bring my own bag and am borrowing my mother-in-laws’ and she’s not 6′ tall. Sleep. Hard to do on the ground. Hygiene? A losing battle. And there are 7000 ft mountains (they were 11000 feet in King’s Canyon and the Uintas). Maybe hoardes of mosquitoes. And wild animals! Everyone knows about mountain lions and bears (I have no idea why I have yet to see any!), but also goats and deer that will chew on your clothes for salt if you leave them out.

Goats don’t chew your clothes in normal life. Water comes from faucets. Beds have blankets and pillows. Houses have bathrooms and in them you can wash off your filth and dispose of your excrement.

Trust me, it’s good to do without every so often. You should totally try it sometime.
Grand Lake

Badger Valley
Badger Valley again [BTW, it’s possible to get to this place with a strenuous 7 mile day hike. Worth it.]
Deer Path to Obstruction Point, nearer to Obstruction Point
Maiden Peak

8/29/16 12:34
Today’s walk was a celebration. Broke camp early, on the trail by 7:25. Finished 10 miles and about 2000 feet in just under 5 hrs. Felt strong and cheerful. Badger Valley and the ridge were both beautiful. Waiting for extraction, eager to see the girls.

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In the last several years, Old Ellicott City has been flooded several times. Last night was the worst – worse even than when we got 2 feet of rain in a month a few years back. Why, then, was this the most devastating flood in EC’s 150 years of record keeping?

First, a quick disclaimer. I’m a hobbyist, not a hydrologist. That said, I don’t think anything I say will be objectively incorrect – an over-simplification, perhaps, but it should be pretty near to the truth. The reason why EC flooded is specifically related to rain rates. Here’s some data from the NWS last night:

906
NOUS41 KLWX 311619 CCA
PNSLWX
MDZ505-506-312030-

Public Information Statement
National Weather Service Baltimore MD/Washington DC
1216 PM EDT Sun Jul 31 2016

…Historic heavy rainfall Saturday in Ellicott City…

Extremely heavy rain fell Saturday evening in Ellicott City,
Maryland. Thanks to rain gauge data from Ellicott City, which is
provided by Howard County to the National Weather Service, we have
detailed information on how quickly the heavy rain fell.

The following table lists the rain that was recorded by this
gauge. Note that the gauge reports in increments of 0.04 inch:

DURATION AMOUNT TIMEFRAME
—————————————-
1 minute ..0.20 from 7:51pm-7:52pm
5 minutes ..0.80 from 7:50pm-7:55pm
10 minutes..1.44 from 7:50pm-8:00pm
15 minutes..2.04 from 7:46pm-8:01pm
20 minutes..2.48 from 7:44pm-8:04pm
30 minutes..3.16 from 7:36pm-8:06pm
60 minutes..4.56 from 7:30pm-8:30pm
90 minutes..5.52 from 7:00pm-8:30pm
2 hours…..5.92 from 6:45pm-8:45pm

The storm total at Ellicott City was recorded as 6.50 inches.

The nearest point precipitation frequency estimates in NOAA Atlas
14 come from Woodstock, which is approximately five miles away.
Based on this data, the precipitation amounts with duration 10
minutes to 2 hours statistically have a less than one tenth of
one percent (less than 0.1 percent) chance of occurring in any
given year.

This data is preliminary and is subject to correction.

This, folks, is insane. 2 inches in 15 minutes is an 8 in/hr rate. That rivals some of the rainiest places in the entire world. Though it has been dry, it is simply impossible for the ground to absorb that kind of rainfall that quickly. Think of your house’s downspouts. They collect water from your entire roof in gutters. The gutters funnel all of the water into a 3 inch wide downspout. You may have a 1000 square foot section of roof collecting into a downspout whose area is less than 1 half a square foot. If the rain rate is sufficient, you’ll back up that downspout and the water will cascade over your gutter. It’s even worse if you have several gutters joining together, both because it provides even more water to your downspout and also because the turbulence of that confluence inhibits the ability for the water to make smooth forward progress to the egress.

Something very similar happens in Ellicott City.

Drainage basin in the immediate vicinity of Old Ellicott City.

Drainage basin in the immediate vicinity of Old Ellicott City.

Here, you have a few dozen square miles of hilly terrain seeing rain rates of upwards of 8 inches per hour. All of this is funneled into a steep walled channel; the Tiber River running along Main Street, Ellicott City. This “downspout” dumps into the Patapsco on the far right hand side of the map – from there it has a much wider and more mature track on its way to the Harbor. But the confluence of these several tributaries around Old Ellicott City leads to a turbulent choke point. They water can’t drain fast enough. It overflows the banks.

Why did this much rain happen? Well, now you get into murkier territory. First, dew points were in the 70s. That, simplistically, means that there was a ton of moisture in the air. Why was there a ton of moisture in the air? You can keep rolling it back from one cause to the next, from heat waves to wind directions to ocean temperatures and on and on.

The safest thing to say is that every so often things like this happen. They happen in a lot of places. We got 4 inches of rain in two hours 2 miles easy of Old EC, and it didn’t really bother anything here as our drainage patterns are different. Every so often, that heavy rain happens in the wrong place and something catastrophic occurs. What is noteworthy about this particular event is its locality. Yes, we’ve been aware for days that heavy rain was expected in the area. But no one can predict this outlier event. One particular place got very unlucky.

End of objective fact and onto disputed ground.

Many climate models predict that more heavy rainfall events are expected under global warming conditions. This is VERY tricky to pin down, particularly when focusing on one locality compared to another. Some places will dry out, others will get wetter. It is, however, pretty well predicted that we’ll see heavier max rainfall events (again simplistically) because warmer oceans and atmospheres can hold more water. Let’s say that, under the paradigm of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries (the lifetime of Old Ellicott City), you’d expect by random chance to see an event like this once every 200 years. The global warming models might now be suggesting that you’d see an event like this once every 100 years, or 50 years, or 20 years. It doesn’t mean that any one storm is “caused by global warming”. It means that the witches brew that can spawn an event like this over some random swath of land will be available more often. More dice rolls means more snake eyes.

This is all still very controversial. In fact, I’ll say another controversial thing: I don’t know that global warming is a net negative to the planet. We may, in 50 years, have a globe that is more verdant than previously if examined broadly. The problem is that we’ve built our infrastructure in the previous few centuries (or longer in other places) given a particular climate paradigm, and that paradigm is changing. Maybe Manitoba will be the world’s breadbasket in 50 years, to the great benefit of some…while Oklahoma will be absorbed into the desert. Sucks for Oklahoma, benefits someone.

How do we adapt to our brave new world? I said something similar when Katrina destroyed New Orleans. To rebuild a city situated below sea level in a area prone to massive hurricanes is irresponsible. But here we are. The Army Corp of Engineers did what they could to reduce the possibility of disaster, but it’s still likely in our lifetimes. Same goes for Ellicott City. They can, will, and probably should rebuild. But it’s going to happen again, unless the overall dynamics of the fluid flow through the area are fundamentally changed. How does one do that? You got me! Dams upstream? Dredge both the Tiber and Patapsco? Or, maybe you abandon the lower floors of buildings? Do you move the location of parking lots? Even the best case might turn a once in 20 years disaster into a once in 100 years disaster. Given enough time and real estate, it is impossible to prevent every scenario.

It’s a difficult question. Last night was not the passage of a massive tropical system. It was a random summer storm. It could happen again tomorrow or not for 60 years. It’s nearly impossible to have predicted this, even two hours before it happened. Evacuations, once we could tell it was going to be a huge problem, would have put more people in cars during the 20 minutes when the river rose 20 feet. In a way, it’s merciful that we had zero warning because a half an hour warning would have led to people trying to save possessions and instead getting caught in the torrent.

Regardless of the causes, the whole thing leaves me sick to my stomach. Maryland is a state full of transplants, like myself, yet Old Ellicott City is a historically anchored area, full of character, history, and life. I have relationships with antique people there, my favorite bar is there, I’ve been there in the depth of winter and the heat of summer. My rehearsal dinner was there. We just brought the girls to the train museum two months ago and were in the caboose when a train rumbled down the tracks. It was a great experience in a great place, and I know that place is hurting now. I’m personally pretty bummed out today because in some way that place is also part of me. I do know that we’re supposed to stay away for awhile as emergency crews and those trained in this sort of catastrophe do their work. But I won’t stay away forever. Old Ellicott City will be back and I’ll be back there soon enough. History is shaped by events like these; last night is now part of Old EC’s history.

DSCN0985_cc_crop_ed

Clock, now gone

 

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No Shirt and Gloves

When I used to run constantly, I had my clothing program down to a science. It was based almost entirely on the temperature at the start of the run, which I found to be the most important factor, over precip, humidity, etc. I’d be no shirt down to 62-63 degrees. Short sleeves and gloves below 57-58. Long sleeve below 49-50. Something under my shorts starting at 37-38. Pants/tights around 22-23. But while temperature drove the decisions, the other factors did play a role. I was constantly in search of a very specific scenario…the rarely encountered no shirt and gloves day.

And I think I just ran in it tonight.

The no shirt and gloves day would occur in that narrow window between gloves and no shirt, say 59-60 degrees. It has to be very humid, so humid that your body retains heat due to having problems effectively sweating. But cold enough that my hands, poor circulation and all, got raw. Typically, you’d want the run to be at moderate intensity to generate more heat. Tonight was 59 degrees, calm, humid, just barely starting to drizzle. As for intensity, everything’s a harder effort to me since my resting heart rate is like 15 beats per minute higher than it was 10 years ago. This might have been my chance. But alas, I’m not the runner I used to be. Back in the day, I’d run through Centennial Park without a shirt on a double after work when it was 63 degrees and windy. People would be wearing fall jackets and hoodies. Kids would yell at me. Parents would be confused or disgusted. I didn’t care. When you’re fast, none of that noise matters. I did exactly what served me most optimally and could care less what they thought.

These days are different. I am not in nearly the physical shape I was 10 years ago. I’m pale white (these boundary cases often happened in the fall when I was tanned from hundreds of summer miles), simultaneously less skinny but also less muscular. More importantly, I’m trudging along at 7:30 pace rather than clipping through at 6:20 pace. These days, even in the heat of summer I feel like a creepy hobby jogger when I slog through the neighborhood in my doughy old age.

I have a vague recollection of encountering these conditions several years before, toward the end of my vain efforts to prolong my running career. I’m pretty sure I pulled the trigger on it, coming home red chested, but with a well wiped nose. I’m not sure though. I do know that there was one year where I was able to run without a shirt (at lunch, from work no less – it’s hard to imagine running around the work parking lots without a shirt now…geez) for 12 straight months. It was a Tiger Slam situation – not in the same calendar year, but Feb to Jan or something. I was very proud of it at the time.

Runners are typically nudists, as are backpackers, so I pretty much have it covered from both sides. Anyway, I’ll let you know if I ever find myself in this situation again and take the plunge.

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Devil’s Path, NY

This Saturday, Stephen and I did the 24.8 mile, 18,000 vertical foot (9,000 up, 9,000 down) Devil’s Path in the Catskills. My quads continue to scream two days later. The hike climbs 6 mountains (summiting 5 of them), dipping at least 1200 feet down between each peak. It’s a constant up and down, up and down, all of it on loose, steep, rocky and occasionally slick terrain. I’ve got the High Sierra, Glacier, North Cascades, the Uintas, and a few other spare day hikes to compare it to – it’s the most difficult terrain and probably the most difficult hike that I’ve done.

We started at 0700 at the Prediger Trailhead and finished around 1815 on Spruceton Rd, stopping for an hour or so total in between. The 25 mile day hike is a challenge that is not to be taken lightly. By our lunch date with my family at Devil’s Tombstone Campground off 214 (around 1230 and 14 miles in), my quads were already quivering under the eccentric loading. I was having a hard time visualizing how I’d possibly handle that pounding under a 40 lb pack (a nice example of the terrain). You do not, of course, do it all in one day in that case.

The views were pretty sweet for what they were, though they don’t stack up against the views out west. The hike was perfectly pleasant until it transitioned from “oh, how nice, nature!” to the long, painful slog toward the finishing goal. That was the point of it, so it remains pleasant as I struggle up and down stairs even today. The terrain was definitely interesting, and I enjoyed the uphills. These were on the very edge of what you need switchbacks for – most parks out west would take hills as steep as these tangentially and with switches. Here, probably due to the denseness of vegetation and desire to avoid having to maintain a longer route than minimally necessary, the trail plowed straight up the hill. Down was, unfortunately, just as steep, with loose rocks and crevasses requiring full concentration for huge stretches at a time.

Other than very nearly smashing my camera when I slipped on a wet rock a few miles in (I’m very impressed that it wasn’t destroyed, I really smashed that thing), there weren’t too many noteworthy occurrences. We saw a few small snakes in a tree. We saw a guy with no shirt in a transparent poncho, despite the beautiful weather. Actually, there were TONS of hikers out – we probably saw 50+ folks on the trail, though most doing shorter loops. Apparently a girl that started before us also finished the full trip before us (we never saw her). I can’t visualize covering the distance much faster than we did. We ran sporadically in the very occasional flat portions (maybe 2-3 total miles, and probably no faster than 9:00 mile pace because the terrain was still treacherous), we made very good time up the hills…I was a liability going down the hills, which was never my strength, even in running cross country.

No backpacking this year, given the baby. This was good enough to evoke sufficient physical misery to sustain me for a bit. That’s really all I need.

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Ghosts

In soft regions are born soft men.

-Herodotus

Stephen ran a workout on Goshen’s track today. It’s 47 degrees, spitting drizzle and with a 20 mph headwind that follows you around the track, like running through 8 inches of water. It’s a feeling I know well.

In NY in the spring, if the wind isn’t in your face, it’s not because there’s no wind. Just turn left, and it’ll slap you, affronting any forward motion, insulted by your efforts to oppose it. I was jogging around in lane 4, hobbled by 25,000 miles worth of tendon degradation. It was many years ago now, 19 perhaps, when I first started running track workouts on Goshen’s track. 4×800. 5×800. 2:47. 2:44. 2:41. It was 7th grade and I was running 800 meter repeats on muggy spring evenings, the sun setting, twilight closing in, but my running life just then dawning. I’ve always loved track workouts. I can attack anything 3 minutes at a time.

Stephen’s workout today was fairly easy – nothing I couldn’t have done in my sophomore through senior years in college, even with the headwind. 5×400 in 65 with a minute and a half recovery. A split 1000 – 500, 300, 200 with 60 seconds rest between. He handled it gracefully and on perfect pace. It was a tune up, but Goshen’s track never lets you off the hook. The wind is somehow captured by the trees and hills, as it swirls in your face on the homestretch and both curves, then dies when it’s at your back.

In 8th grade, it was the 800 meter record I was after – owned by Brett Walker, 2:13. I came up a half a second short, blaming the smoke in my eyes from the starter’s pistol. In 9th grade, an epic dual with Manuel Thomas from Washingtonville. 4:39 was it? I was hobbled then by a hamstring problem – the beginning of 9 months worth of hamstring problems that left me waking in cold sweats as a dreamed of clawing my way around the track, digging my hands into the rubber trying to gallop, dragging my leg behind. Never fast enough, never fast enough, never fast enough. I still have the dream at least once a year, clawing, clawing, losing, failing.

Today I jogged in lane 4, with the clouds swirling, the leaves flailing, confused by the 47 degree highs during late May. But New York is not a place where you take your nice days for granted. The leaves said to themselves, “next Tuesday then, spring comes next Tuesday, for good this time”, only to see temperatures dip back into the 40s again – “fine, surely by mid-June, surely.”

In 10th grade, in the middle of track season, a warm day in late April, Coach Conklin tells us we’re doing 200s, at race pace. A reasonable idea. “Which race?” we ask – because this is an important piece of information. “The 200, of course!” he answers to our amusement. That’s not really how it’s supposed to work. But Brett Walker and I were very competitive, and you could never count out JB in a speed workout, and the St’s weren’t about to be exposed as slow distance runners. I remember Jeff Smith bringing it that day too. We hammered the first two in 25point. Walker, always one to fling his feet at your shins with his back-kick, clipped my hand with his foot on the second one, nearly falling. He was out of whack for two weeks. We slogged through the last 3 200s, out legs burning. 26, 27, 27 – in tatters. We can barely do the warm down and the whole team is in the tank for a week. This is why you don’t run 200s at 200 race pace.

Steve rams a 500 in 71 down the wind’s throat, coming through the 400 in a perfectly smooth 57. I pick up the pace in lane 4, giving him something to run at, in theory, but in practice just annoying him and fulfilling a never-dying urge to run fast despite screaming tendons.

In 11th grade, Cornwall comes for a dual meet in April. Kory Klowe and I lock horns in an 800 – I eek past for the win in 1:58.2, my fastest time of the season. I beat everyone that first time, but Klowe later gets into my head and takes the state meet spot come June. My house floods. I sit on the tires at the elementary school in the pouring rain and weep having lost my chance my house no place to hide from my failure. But after the 800 on that day with Cornwall, there was a 4×400. I was the anchor. I am one of the only people who negative splits 400s. I always approached it the same; I learned from my father in 7th grade. 100 as fast as you can. Ease into a fast rhythm for the next 100-150. Then pour everything you have into the finish. It’s Klowe again on the anchor. Arthur Ahr, a long-time Goshen track supporter who is thrilled to see a competitive team, is standing with 190 to go. No one else is there. I’m right on Klowe’s shoulder. “BLOW HIS DOORS OFF” he bellows. My pleasure, I think, as he fades, flushed off the back. I should have never given him my spot in that state meet.

I pick up the pace today as Steve his about to start his final 200. I’m still in lane 4, but I have a 25 meter headstart. Slowly at first, then faster, I’m on my toes, in a dead sprint as Steve marches me down on my inside. The curve ends and I hold him even for about 70 yards, my left achilles treatening to sever and my lungs tasting the iron of my own blood. “I looked up at the finish and said, ‘oh no, he’s struggling,'” says my Dad concerned about Steve’s workout, “but then I realized it was you.”

Coach Graham pulled Mike St and I aside before a Burke dual meet, of all things, in 12th grade. “I want someone to show some balls out there,” he barked. A football coach, he loved me despite the fact that I was a distance runner. I was a distance runner who always worked harder than everyone else. Who (almost) always won. Who (almost) always could be counted on. You wanted to make Coach Graham proud of you – distance runners always want football coaches to recognize that they’re as tough as their players from the fall. And he knew it. Burke had a guy that could run 4:55. Mike and I could have played with him for a few laps, dropped a 30 second 200, then jogged in with trainers if we wanted – we did such things in these sorts of dual meets. But I took it out in 63, to Graham’s delight. “BALLS” he shouted after the gun. We both run 4:22, the fastest times thus far in the state that early in April. Our fastest for the year also.

I cut the corner after my first fast 200 in several years. The sky is a little grayer, the rain a little harder, the wind a little more fierce, my achilles screaming accusations of abuse. I’m grinning from ear to ear. I just got to open my stride and run. In 12th grade, I did 12×200 in 27.5 with 90 seconds rest on that track. Always find the straight that has the wind, run into that straight. Champions never run with the wind at their back. Always into the wind. Never the easy way. That track won’t let you. The ghosts aren’t holding your legs and punching your face to make you fail; the ghosts are there to make you stronger.

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Finch

Last year, we had a family of House Finches in our arbor vitae in front of our house. The male and female had three chicks. One of the chicks died that first morning. The other two – who knows, they seemed to have survived the first day or two at least before they went somewhere else.
120408IMG_0388_800 x 533Phineas Finch, 2012
120408IMG_0385_800 x 533Fiona Finch, 2012
120405IMG_0351_800 x 533Baby Finch, 2012

They’re back. This time, they live in the bush closest to our front door. In fact, the nest is visible out of our kitchen window. As of yesterday, there were no eggs, though Fiona was frantically preparing the nest. She built it out of normal nest stuff, plus the freshly cut grass from my lawn, plus long white dog hair from somewhere nearby. While she works, Phineas is perched on a tree above the front door. They chatter back and forth in a steady stream, Fiona at a ~100 Hz rate, and Phineas several times faster. It’s a keep-alive, a heartbeat if you will. Think about it for a second. Let’s say the birds had an alarm system along the line of “hey, I’ll chirp like crazy if something bad is about to happen and then you should escape.” That works great…until a cat pounces and snaps your neck before you can even shriek in terror. This is a better system. “We’ll keep chatting. If I’m ever quiet, you can assume something’s wrong and should get the hell out of here.” When one of us gets out of the car or goes through the front door, Phineas falls silent and Fiona bolts for a nearby tree. It’s a good system – we use that concept in designing electronic monitoring too.

Anyway, Phineas particularly enjoys the dandelions that grow throughout our yard (later, they’ll love the Zinnia).
130427_MG_2347_800 x 534Phineas Finch, 2013
And here’s Fiona in the nest:
130428_MG_2362_3253 x 2171Fiona Finch, 2013

This is wonderful and all…but if you’re familiar with our house animals, you might see some tension brewing. We do have one other more sinister resident – at least we used to. We haven’t seen him (well, her…) since last spring, but Mr Slithersworth and the Finch family do not make good neighbors. Mr Slithersworth would enjoy a meal of eggs or chicks. I’d prefer he stuck to grasshoppers, of which their are many. If he could eat the yet unnamed 10 lb rabbit that lives in the back, I’d be OK with that too. Or, he could leave. In any case, we’ll be watching the Finches closely. I think that Fiona laid her eggs today – she’s been sitting on the nest all afternoon. She’s about a month later than last year, for whatever that’s worth. We’ll see what we get.

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Honestly, when I heard that a bomb went off near the finish line at Boston, the first thing I thought about was what would happen if I was 100 meters away from running a 2:35 and that happened. I would have dragged myself across the line. I know it’s the incorrect perspective to have, that I should see some bigger picture. Maybe this is why I can’t run anymore, as a punishment because I had misappropriated my passions. But 8 months of training, 26.15 miles of misery, and a final breakthrough toward a time I could have died satisfied with…I was getting across the damn line. It’d not like my spent body was going to be doing much in the way of rescuing; I could barely carry myself across the line in my marathons, and that was without shrapnel.

I mentioned this to my wife. She looked at me with a placid, resigned, incredulity – the sort she uses when she says to herself, “yup, I really need an exit strategy here.”

And then, when some normal person from Grantland expressed dismay at a runner who had commented that this race was his first DNF, I had the same reaction. What was wrong with this person? He still wasn’t done running the marathon 4:09 into the race and he was complaining about DNFs?? I mean, if he were that 78 year old guy, that’s one thing. If I had gone there and run another 2:45 (you know, if I weren’t crippled – a 2:45 ever again in my life would involve an act of God) I would have been thankful to be put out of my misery.

Dear children, these are all inappropriate reactions in such an event! But when I was a senior in high school, meet officials pulled me off the track with 100 meters to go at the end of a po-dunk, 11:00, dual meet 3200 because of a very impending thunderstorm and I was FURIOUS. I could have gone home and run that time in khakis with an elegant toothpick in my mouth, and I was nonetheless irate. A marathon, a hard effort, a good result – no way.

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In previous years, I have kept a journal on Stephen and I’s backpacking trips. I’ve been better about posting these in a timely fashion in the past – except for Algonquin, which I never posted at all (but which I plan to type up soon). Anyway, previous entries are here:
The High Uintas, 2010
Algonquin Provincial Park, 2009
Glacier National Park, 2008
King’s Canyon National Park, 2007

There was no trip in 2011, as Steve was living in Germany. Jen and I visited him there instead.

Each time we do this, it’s a little less stressful, less exciting, less noteworthy. That’s not to say it’s not wonderful, it is. Now, I see the mountains, and I say, wow, these are epic, sort of like …, and name a previous range I’ve backpacked in. The first time you see the mountains (from IN the mountains because it’s VERY different), it changes your world. World was changed a while ago now, and recollection is less intense an experience than discovery.

Anyway, here’s the log from this last trip.

8/20/12 1750 PST
About 8 miles in at McAlester Lake, around 5500 ft elevation. We got out of the Monin house around 6:15 this morning. We stopped for Steve’s run at the North Cascades station and got to the Bridge Creek trailhead around 1215. After giving three damsels in distress a jump and opening the door in the bathroom on a naked dude, (“YO! Don’t you knock?” “Yo, don’t you lock?” I inadvertently rhymed back) we left for the woods before he got out.

It was a comedy of errors in the first mile, as we interpreted a trail sign for Stiletto Spur to be for the spur itself and not the trail TO the spur (which we wanted). Instead we took this marginal trail which became progressively more primitive until it basically evaporated at an unsanctioned stream crossing. We persevered and eventually intersected the PCT, getting on our way.

Once in the right place, it was uneventful. It’s nice country, but the hike was not noteworthy for anything in particular.

Since we’ve arrived, Steve has caught a small cutthroat trout, not big enough to eat. We saw a bird dive bomb into the lake for a fish. It was fat and black with a white head and looked more like a duck than a bird of prey. Have since heard his huge kersplash another time. Mosquitoes, by the way, have necessitated full body protection. It’s about 68, so not a big deal. I doubt the water is colder than 55 – fairly pleasant. We jumped in to bathe for a few minutes. There’s a middle aged couple nearby, but otherwise it’s pretty peaceful out here.

8/21/12 1650 PST
I got my typical poor night’s sleep, with about 3 good hours from 1-4 and another 2 hrs sprinkled here and there. Not awful, and had the opportunity to see the stars at 4. So many, I couldn’t figure out what I was looking at.

After some oatmeal and crasins, we broke camp around 7:30, to do the 10 miles to Rainbow Lake. After a long descent, we had just as long of an ascent, for no net elevation gain, but down and back up more than 2500 ft. The highlight of the day was Steve’s yearly foray into danger. This year, scaling the mountain to the south side of Rainbow Lake was quite good. We had excellent views of Chelan, the western mountains in the Cascade range, and most all of the park. The weather was once again perfect, though the western range looked to be getting some rain.

I’m now sitting in an west facing meadow, absorbing sum after my daily bathing. The water is surprisingly warm, maybe even 60 degrees. It’s tough getting into it, but you can stand it for a few minutes once you’re in.

By the way, really fresh black bear skat in the camp. Full of berries. I think we may be seeing him later…

8/22/12 1825 PST
The walk from Rainbow Lake to South Fork was uneventful. We got up around 7 – I slept reasonably well; despite waking up a dozen or so times. I got a few decent chunks. On the trail before 9, we covered the 7 miles by ~12:30.

With lots of time to kill, we started following the river downstream. The river was fast enough and deep enough to require some skill, and the density of the vegetation forced us to cover most ground in the river itself. The water here is still amazingly warm – probably near to 60 degrees.

Along the way, Steve dropped his line in whenever we hit a spot deeper than 4 ft, catching several dozen fish (I even caught 2). Of those, we ate 6 for dinner. Good to add some calories.

Meanwhile, the sun is setting straight down the river valley – perfect for pictures. This site is underrated. It’s a great place with enormous cyprus and [unk] trees and a lovely river. We’re the only ones here, making it better. Good stuff.

8/23/12 1030 PST
After the 6.3 miles from South Fork to the Bridge Creek Trailhead in 2.5 hrs, we were done by 1030. Last night I took some pictures before sitting on Steve’s fishing log for a bit, watching the fish as the sun set behind the mountains. Eventually, dozens of bats patrolled above our heads – very few mosquitoes here by the way.

It dropped to 35 degrees last night – cold in the bags. Steve’s going to freeze in Yellowstone. Broke camp in just over an hour – a quick turn around when you include the hot meal. Decent enough sleep too – 10 hrs of the very fragment sort.

Once again, the trip was sustainable. The perfect weather helped, but we easily could have gone longer – with more food. Good stuff, all of it.

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Don’t Call It A Comeback

I’ve been running a little bit. 5-6 miles, 3-4 times a week. The Achilles is serviceable. I’d say it’s at least as good as it was right before the surgery. My non-Achilles side calf has been bugging me; it’s annoyed that I’ve been making that leg do a disproportionate amount of work these last few months. Today, I ran my second day in a row. Legs are taking it without whining too loudly about it.

Take it slow. Take it slow.

Plan to keep this up, maybe push it to 6-7 miles 4-5 times a week by my backpacking trip in late August. If I survive that (there’s something about lugging 50 lbs of stuff up and down mountains over rocky terrain that can aggravate your feet and tendons. Bunch of cry babies.) then I try to pseudo-train for a month and run the company race. Not trying to run fast. Trying to run 6:00 pace, just to whet my whistle a bit. Then, God willing, I’ll still feel decent. That’s when we ramp to 60 mpw for Dec/Jan, start running some workouts Feb/Mar then race Shamrock in Baltimore in March. It’s a downhill course; if I am in 16:00 pace for that course, I’ll go to work a bit, try to race May/June and get my flat 5K down under 16:00. If I survive all that…back to the summer, no more than 75 mpw, more aerobic threshold, less speed, race the fall season, up to 10Ks. That’s the 15 month plan.

Lots of people ramp up to 60 mpw while having a baby, right?

But nothing’s guaranteed I’m happy to get out on the trails and run, slow though it may be. I’m not owed this. We’ll see. But I’m a runner. Runners run, we can’t help it.

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Weather

I’ve probably posted my Weather Links before. Today, thanks to Carlos, I added a new one, an awesome Vectorized Wind Map. Even if you’re not a nerd, click on that, you’ll think it’s pretty sweet.

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Garden 2012

The newest batch of seeds is here. I have crocuses blooming three weeks early outside and tulips out probably five weeks early outside, but I’m holding the line with when the seeds go in the ground in the basement. 2/21 for the first plants, 3/1 for the next batch, then 3/8 for the last. I’ll start sending a few out to the deck mid-April, with the first going into the ground around May 1.

I’m going to add another row of bricks around the garden border this year – I already have more volume of topsoil from all the extra that I’ve added over the last few years, and this is going to be a substantial increase in my topsoil depth. It’ll probably take me a few years to build it up to the full level, and I’ll have to be careful to keep the soil graded away from the house. This is going to further segregate the garden from the lawn – hopefully the weeds stop trying to jump the wall en masse.

Otherwise, I’m still just experimenting. The zinnias were big winners last year, and I’m propagating some lilies because I had a hard time throwing out healthy bulbs, but once more, most of the plants are new. I’m definitely intending to keep everything more spread out this year; that’s the big focus point in my planting strategy. Less is more.

That said, I’ll have many spare seedlings, should anyone be interested. Here’s this year’s crop:
Gomphrena
Dwarf Zinnia
Queen Red Lime Zinnia
Limnanthes
Ornamental Maple
Marigold Scarlet Sophie
Marigold Durango Bee
Primula You and Me Blue
Tomato
Antirrhinum
Gazania
Delosperma
Pansy

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The Weather

With my family’s subscription to Accuweather’s Pro site recently lapsing (it was never worth the money, now more than ever), I’ve compiled a set of roughly equivalent links on my site. This is geared toward Maryland, though most of the radars will work well for anywhere if you input a different location.

Meanwhile, if anyone has any other weather resources that they think are useful, pass them my way, I’ll add them.

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Hanna Family Christmas

Some new Hanna Family pictures. They are just the cutest people in the whole damn world. If I ever learn how to sell stock photos, one day you’ll see them in your picture frame at Target.

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Step 1

I have a tentative outline in my head for the next year, as it relates to running. It’s hard to visualize running at the moment. My tendon and the nearby vicinity do not feel right. While the knot in the tendon (which led to the surgery) is mostly gone, the entire tendon seems thicker now. It is probably swelling – the wound and area posterior to it are bruised and somewhat irritated. In addition, the scar feels abnormal. Perhaps it’s not abnormal as far as scars such as this go, but it’s abnormal to my standard definitions of what soft tissue is supposed to feel like. I’m ice massaging it (even though it makes me vaguely nauseous to touch it) and keeping it moisturized, in an effort to keep the scar from thickening too much.

All that said, I already hardly need the crutches, a mere 4 days after getting out of the cast. Dr said 1-2 weeks of crutch assisted boot-walking. I’m going to be a good boy here – crutches till Friday, day 8. I’m walking around the house without them, but I’ll continue to use them for the long hauls at work.

Strictly speaking, step 1 is the physical therapy that starts tomorrow. I’ll be doing flexibility stuff for the next four weeks, at which point I’ll start the strengthening process (alongside ditching the boot altogether). We’ll be doing stim on the calf to keep it from atrophying further.

Also part of step 1 is the loss of weight. It’s not as though I’ve ballooned or anything. Racing weight 6 years ago was about 158-159 lbs. I’m 165 now. The plan is to lower my equilibrium weight to 158 by, say, March. If I’m going to do this for real, I’d try to push it to 154-155 by September. I love eating. I’m not going to ask my body to do 90 mpw again, so I’m going to have to cut calories if I’m going to cut lbs in a meaningful way. Still, I feel like each pound under 160 is worth about 5 seconds in the 5K for me. Even if I’m wrong, it doesn’t matter – that’s what I think, and knowing is half the battle.

So, Step 1: PT and weight loss.

A preview: Step 2 is non-running boot camp in late December/early January. Step 3 is exercise bike endurance in January. Step 4 is the slow running ramp (with bike for my real fitness) in February through May. Step 5 is the start of training, basework and aerobic threshold in June-July. Step 6 is speed work and aggression in August-September. September/October, I race, leveraging the natural surge in training from the improvement in the weather.

Or, none of that. But at least I’ll have tried.

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It’s been a while since I’ve had a word of the week. Yesterday, not knowing its meaning, I began saying “perspicuity” compulsively. I wasn’t sure if it was a real world – Jen suggested I really mean promiscuity, which is something entirely different. Thankfully, Google is smart enough to guess what I was trying to spell, and, low and behold, it’s a wonderful word. An obscure way to proclaim clarity! Just what I needed for ironic declarations of my own lucidity!

Here she is.

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Germany Pictures 1

I have something like 120 of these to edit. The first 30ish are out there.

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Achilles Last Stand. Again.

The title refers to the epic Led Zeppelin song off the album Presence. It’s not the first time I’ve used it. I’m actually a little surprised that it’s only the second time.

Anyway, sometime toward the end of June in 2006, my lingering achilles tendon problems became debilitating. I took some time off and fought my way back for one more season, before finally giving up around the end of July in 2007. It’s been over 4 years of halting recoveries and ineffective miracle cures.

Today, I ran a “race”. I’ve been running about 8 miles a week since May (I actually calculated it)…so it’s not a race like what I used to do, when I was running, say, 10 times that. I had no delusions of victory, or even a decent time. I was doing it for two reasons: a lot of friends from my group at work were doing it, and I became morbidly curious about how poor my fitness really was. Also, my continued health doesn’t matter. If I can’t walk well tomorrow, it’s no big deal. I’m having surgery on the achilles on 10/26 – today I was on house money.

I figured I could probably run something like 26:00 for the 4-mile race. At this point, my body doesn’t remember how to hurt itself and I’m sure I ran 25:58 precisely because that was my goal – I scaled the pain to the time of what I thought I could do, because doing any more would have required more fortitude than I currently know how to muster. I decided not to race anyone – I went out slow, 6:47, then 6:40. I spent the entire race passing people, closing with two straight 6:16 (with the last mile up the hill) miles. I ran 20:27 on this course in 2005, for what it’s worth. 6 years. That’s a long time.

In the end, there weren’t too many people in front of me, maybe 8 or something like that. It really changed my perspective, I thought I’d be in crowds the entire time, but really, even running as slow as I was, it’s still in kind of rarefied air. Competitive runners are so much faster than non-competitive runners that I can degrade 5 and a half minutes, and still be in the former category. I also always thought that I was faster because of how hard I worked. While I think my body remembers the 25,000 miles I’ve run on it, I also think that this proves that I am just naturally talented. You’d think I would have guessed that after my grandfather was an excellent semi-pro soccer player, my father was a scholarship runner, and after my brother rose to the cusp of Olympic caliber.

The idea is not to stay in this netherworld between fast and slow after the surgery. It will be a long process. I’ll be immobilized for 2 weeks, then a long and gradual set of physical therapy will follow. I hope to be able to ride the exercise bike by sometime in December. Maybe I’ll start to jog, really, truly, slowly and shortly, jog by sometime in January. If all goes to plan, I’d go from nothing to 40 mpw by May – 5 months, that’s a slow ramp by any standard. Then to 60 mpw by July. Then fitness by September.

Who knows. I only get to play this trump once, and I’m not going to cripple myself if that’s what is required to run fast again. If running works, then I’ll keep moving up until I can see how well it works. If not, oh well. But I’m more excited than I have been in years – there’s an actual, honest to goodness chance this might work. And if it doesn’t, at least I will have tried – there will be no more what-ifs.

And next time I show up at a race, I’ll use my real name.

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Lee Katia

I haven’t chimed in on the two headed Lee-Katia monster yet because none of the models (or forecasters) have any idea what to do with them. Lee is spinning circles around southern Louisiana. People like Doomsday Joe Bastardi continue to say that it’s thisclose to starting to strengthen again, but since he’s been wrong about it for the last 48 hours, I don’t believe that forecast. I continue to not see Lee as as big a threat as people are saying.

As an aside, I’m convinced that some weather forecasters develop a sort of “recent disaster bias”. I’m not sure how to explain it exactly, but if there was recently a disaster (such as Irene), they see the predictions of the storms immediately following as more dire than they would see them if they weren’t just shown an example of a disaster. It’s like watching a violent movie, then visualizing scenes of violence all around you as you walk around in real life. Anyway, I think this effect is tainting people.

The real rub in the forecast is how Lee, a cold front, and Katia interact. Lee is scheduled to merge with the cold front and get pulled Northeast sometime in the next 1-4 days (highly uncertain, see). Some are saying major flooding problem – me, I see the storm as being comparatively dry at the moment. I’m sure we’ll get a few inches of rain, but disagree with Henry “Storm Bias” Margusity’s calls for doom on the scale of Irene. Unless…Katia makes it far enough west and follows Irene’s same track. Now THAT would be a disaster of unprecedented proportions.

Most models show Katia heading west, hitting the front somewhere between NC and 300 miles east of NC, and then bouncing back NE. It all depends on how Lee and the front work together. It’s all very complicated. I don’t think we’ll have a good forecast on it until Thursday. And hopefully I’m out of the country by then.

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People do not, generally speaking, keep things because they believe that they will use them again. People keep things because they remind them of their past. Things root people – they prove and validate their existence; they provide a map, a trail, sign posts. Whatever I am now, this is who I was or who I could have been before I was. Time passes, but the past is fixed and immutable.

To some, the thought of an unchangeable past is a millstone about their necks. To others, it is a reminder of dream dashed, hopes left unfulfilled. In either case, there is a steady consistency to the past; it is yours and can never be taken.

I went home to Goshen for about 30 hours on Monday and Tuesday. The water having subsided, I helped move several tons of saturated furniture and assorted boxes – decades of the past, submerged, ruined, erased. Some of it was mine, some my brother’s, some my mothers, but most my father’s.

On one hand, the past is already dead and gone. You can never return to it, you might watch it in hindsight as an observer, but you may never again live in it. On the other, the past is encapsulated in the present. The past lives forever in the person, scribed permanently across time and space, locked and frozen into every scare or line on the brow. The past already happened, died, and decomposed into the present. Physical things might remind one of the past, but they themselves do not own it. The past was not thrown away with the couch and mattress; so long as there is a future, there will always be the past, feeding and anchoring the present.

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Irene Whatever Number It Is

I’ve been writing a lot at work, on Twitter and on Facebook regarding the storm. We’re definitely looking at a major deal for the east coast, and I happen to believe that it’s organizing in such a way that it’s going to strengthen over the next 24 hours. It’s 115 mph now (with a central pressure indicating it’s stronger than that) – I feel pretty decent about it getting to 125-130 mph with pressure dropping below 940 mb sometime in the next day. I’ll let you know if I disagree with this forecast at any point.

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Irene 4

All right peoples, here’s the latest. First off, check out this article, comparing this track to previous ones. I posted my current forecast in the bench logs at work, but it looks an awful lot like Bob’s path, though I speculated that the eye would hit the Outer Banks (but not the potent eastern eyewall). Otherwise, it looks pretty much dead on. For reference, a couple of days ago, I was suggesting it would be like Floyd’s track.

Last night, I suggested that the NHC’s forecast intensity for nowish was too low. It was – as we speak the storm is 120 mph, though it’s done strengthening for the next 12 or so hours as it goes through an eyewall replacement cycle.

Cutting to the chase. Here in Maryland, I see sustained winds 35-40 mph at times late Saturday night. We might see a gust of as high as 60 mph during some particularly violent rain band. It will otherwise be generally breezy, say 25-30 mph. The models have halted their eastward retreat from the coast – in fact, the latest round, while remaining nearly the same with respect to North Carolina, have actually pulled the track westward back over Rhode Island.

I’m not feeling very confident about the baseball game we’re taking my father to on Saturday night. Would have been fine if we did the day game. The good news is that once it starts raining, we can just leave – it’s not gonna get any better once it goes downhill.

I’ll have more tomorrow – the track will be largely fixed by then.

Addendum:
So much for fixed – everyone has shifted the track 30 miles WEST last night. People like Doomsday Bastardi are calling for a track on a line from NC to Albany, which blasts the entire coast. All of this still puts us here in MD to the west of the center of the storm, on the weaker side, and 100 miles on the weaker side. But it could be 5 mph more vigorous all around than I last mentioned.

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Irene 3

First off, Irene is showing a more and more easterly track. I’ve always been east of the official guidance, and the NHC is still lagging. Now, it’s looking like a grazing blow on the Outer Banks, followed by a landfall in Cape Cod. To me, that means not much at all for my location in Maryland.

By the way – the most recent satellite picture shows a pinhole eye emerging. Irene is 90 mph now – I expect a burst of intensification, a major burst, over the next 24 hours. NHC says 110 mph in 24 hours. I’ll go for 125 mph. I think it’s gonna wind up. We’ll see.

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Irene 2

Everything is shifting slowly eastward in the track of Irene – in fact, some models are missing the US entirely. The National Hurricane Center is lagging on their forecast a little bit. If they knew about my momentum rule, they’d be able to fix it early. At this point, to miss the United States entirely would put some egg on the faces of all those models who were so bullish for the last week.

Whereas the NHC shows a landfall in the middle of South Carolina (with a track up the east coast that would take the bulk of the remnants over Maryland), I’m thinking it’ll be east of this. I’m thinking Wilmington, NC, re-emerging near Norfolk, with a path that curves along the US coast, skimming easternmost Long Island and making a second landfall on Cape Cod.

Irene is enormous right now, and also quite disorganized. If she can pull herself together, she’ll be a beast – if not in max wind speed, at least in total power. I think she will. I have no reason to doubt the NHC’s assertion of Category 3 – though I’ll say 125+ mph instead of 115 mph. By the time it gets to Cape Cod, I could see it as a 70 mph storm.

Needless to say, this one needs to be watched.

Addendum:
The NHC is now forecasting essentially what I was saying yesterday. Here’s the track, with the only difference being that they make this more of a problem for Maryland than I was, by tracking it further west after landfall. Oh boy…

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Backlog Cleared

I have flushed the backlog of photos from the NW. Now, time for an enormous backlog of photos from Deutschland.

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Irene is Familiar

I was going to title the post “Me, Myself, and Irene”, but I got an overwhelming sense that I’ve already used that title. I don’t think I have, upon searching for it. I have, however, posted on Irene before. Last time, she went out to sea. They re-use the same names every 7 years, unless the storm causes a sufficient amount of damage or generates enough casualties, at which time they take it out of the rotation. 6 years ago at the end of this month was Katrina, and you can bet that you won’t be seeing that name attached to a hurricane again.

Meanwhile, the tropical season has had a large number of named systems, all of which have been exceptionally weak. In a lot of ways, it seems like a “cook the books” scenario, where the NHC is naming storms to 1) validate their prediction for the yearly total or 2) validate the predictions of some global warming models. Whatever the case, it’s a bit excessive, though only one or two of the storms didn’t pass the eye test, so I won’t protest too much.

As for this year’s Irene…
I see Irene has being a hurricane in a day and a half, right before it smashes into Hispaniola and is disemboweled. The models are shifting the track progressively north, so I think it will emerge as a minimal tropical storm and then slide just north of Cuba. Once it hits the Gulf Stream, all bets are off, particularly if it continues to slide north and picks up a larger stretch of it. I’d predict landfall in Georgia (and most of the models do), but it looks like only 6 hurricanes have done that since 1854, with only two in the 20th century (David in 1979 as the last). It’s a rare track since hurricanes tend to start to curve away near the coast, and it’s tough to curve into that concave shape. I’ll guess that it’s going to be more like Gaston in 2004, at least for the landfall and thereafter. Intensity is anywhere from non-existence to 130 mph, so I won’t venture a guess yet. Those islands can really gut a storm.

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Emily the Tropical Disaster

Not in the sense of destructive capacity either. Now tropical depression Emily continues to look ragged and exposed. She’s been ragged, disproportional and weak for her entire trip across the Atlantic and through the Caribbean – and nothing at all has changed.

It’s been a very lackluster tropical season thus far, and there’s no real signs of it heating up. Still, peak season is 5 weeks away, and 5 named systems by now certainly isn’t a bad numerical showing. Once you take into account the cumulative strength of the storms, however, you see that they are all weak, and some could be accused of being declared only to cook the books for climatological purposes. I’m not sure how many of these would have been flagged as a tropical system before the days of satellite, when a storm had to be bad enough to be noticed before it was classified officially.

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The Northwest

Here’s the first chunk of pictures from the Northwest. It’s nice there. For instance, here – not only was this nice looking, but it was also about 62 degrees with a 30 mph wind. A chill breeze, all the time. Ahhh…

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Garden

The latest set of garden pictures, though now at least a month old, are here.

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Home Security System

The way that I prevent people from figuring out that I’m no longer home is to not post about it on the internet. So, Jen and I spent the last 10ish days traveling to the Tacoma area, then Eugene, then the Oregon coast, then Tacoma area again, then to Des Moines (eventually), then back to Baltimore today. While more pictures are to follow, I felt it important to shove out the Doorenbos (aka, Doorbendos) wedding photos ASAP. Here they be.

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Hypothetically

Stephen has the 5K at US Nationals in Eugene, OR tomorrow night. Looks like they won’t be televising it until 11 PM on the East Coast, so no one will see it. There are two things that could happen.

First, Bernard Lagat is the prohibitive favorite. In national championship races, particularly ones where one runner is the clear favorite, everyone tends to sit back and kick. The most likely scenario is that the race will go out in 4:32 as some poor schlep get stuck up front. Lagat will sit in 3rd and eventually blast everyone.

There’s another good American in the race – Chris Solinski. He is recovering from an injury – if he weren’t he might try to hammer a fast pace and suck the kick out of Lagat. But, with his injury, he has no motivation to do that. He has the time, he just needs to be top three. It’d be foolhardy for him to risk blowing up by running in the lead.

All of this is bad for Stephen, according to me. Stephen is in fantastic shape and this is an awesome field. Unfortunately, if the race is slow, it will be hard for anyone to know this. He could run great and come in 8th…and if the race is slow, it’ll be a slow 8th. No one will be any wiser, and the great opportunity will be lost. It’s very annoying.

Best case? One or more of the few guys that don’t yet have an A standard (13:19) decides that this is the right opportunity to try to get that standard. They go out in 4:16, then 8:32. Steve can run that pace, probably sitting two seconds back in 8:34. Then, close in 4:14, moderate kick home for 13:19. It’s within the realm of possibility, but that’s not how national championships work, and it’s a damn shame.

Solution: offer a $100 for the leader at each 200 meter point through the race. 200 meters is short enough that it won’t be like people are kicking for the bonus at the intermediate locations. It will encourage people to get up front and drive the train. If someone tries to take it through fast, they could get a consolution prize of $1500 or something even if they get eaten up at the end. And the USATF would only be paying $2500 total for the privelege of hosting an event that doesn’t feature our nation’s best runners jogging in front of the 900,000 idiots that waste their sleep seeing people run slowly for 3/4 of the race. They could make a graphic of the top 3 money getters in the race, and update it real time as the race progresses. It doesn’t need to convince everyone to race out front – anybody in a national championships field could pace the rest of them fast through 3000 meters. If three unattached guys decided to duke it out up front trying to cover some of their travel expenses, it would change the complexion of the entire race.

But they won’t do that.

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Pictures

Some pictures out of the garden and from graduation, now available here.

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Really quickly. I think that global warming is a real thing. I have no idea how it is impacting worldwide weather. Since it is driven by the physics of a massive system, and follows the laws of thermodynamics in particular, weather is a statistical science.

Strong hurricanes occur, not because of “global warming”, but because they are bound to occur occasionally. Only with vast quantities of data can one discuss anything related to causality. These days, however, when there is an increase in severe weather, people tend to attribute it to Global Warming. There may be some truth in that – more heat means more energy, more energy, one might think, means more high energy storms, like hurricanes and tornadoes. Without getting too much into it (I only go so deep on the topic), there is a lot more to it than a simple 0.5 degrees = 8% more tornadoes. For instance, a warmer arctic means less cold air to mix with the warm air from the gulf, leading to less tornadoes. Or, changes in global temperatures might change global wind patterns. These wind patterns may increase the wind shear over the tropical Atlantic. It is possible that global warming might even decrease the total number of hurricanes – a prediction that has been made by some.

A few quick topics.
1) Never say that a single event is caused by global warming. The world’s most powerful tropical system occurred in 1979, when everyone was talking about global cooling (Typhoon Tip). The 1930s had the most drastic drought in recent history for the United States – to blame Texas droughts on global warming is scientifically irresponsible. If we had 1000 years of data, we could say that “droughts are more likely to happen when the global temperatures are warmer”, but that’s about it. No single event is ever “caused” by global warming. It’s far too complicated a system for that.

2) The event that I’ve heard most often as associated with global warming is extreme rainfall events. Scientists that that global warming will increase the number of flooding rains. Interestingly enough, people attribute major snow falls to global warming as well – the principle is the same, more moisture is evaporated, and it’s still cold enough to fall as snow.

3) Here’s a chart of strong tornado frequency as a function of year. You’ll see that it doesn’t change much. If anything it has decreased. This year will be a major spike in the graph, but it is not attributable to global warming.

4) Here’s a chart of hurricane frequency as a function of year. You cannot trust the total numbers of hurricanes on those charts prior to the 1960s. Before satellite, a storm that was a minimal hurricane for a day in the central Atlantic was not tallied. As we change the way that we capture the data, the numbers are bound to change as well. I believe that “intense” hurricanes (Cat 3 or greater) are more reliable, as they were unmistakably big events in the olden days as well. It seems as though the number of intense hurricanes has increased slightly, as predicted by global climate models. This chart came from here if you want a scale.

I still really don’t trust hurricane numbers from the olden days very much, even big ones.

All of this to say: the tornadoes this year may, statistically, have been exacerbated by global warming. We can speculate that, but the evidence cannot possibly exist to show us that. They were not caused by global warming. This would have been a major outbreak in 1850 as well.

However…
Just because it’s impossible to have enough data to make a claim that the weather has changed for the worse because of global warming doesn’t mean we should ignore it until the results are in. I honestly don’t believe we’ll have enough data for that for another 200 years. It’s WAY too long to wait to do something. I support global warming initiatives because common sense says that polluting less is better than polluting more. The burning of fossil fuels has been around for a while – as a society, we tend to advance our technologies as time passes.

And so on, I have to go back to work.

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Get the Ark

Because we’re in for a ton of rain the next few days. At least today. Yikes.

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