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Archive for the ‘Needless Discussion about Myself’ Category

Jen and I were just remembering 9/11. I said to myself, surely I blogged about this at the time. I didn’t. Surely I wrote about it the next year? I didn’t. But the next year’s post did remind me that I had a paper journal all through that Junior year in college. I located it. I wrote extensively, and have attached it.

A few things were as I remembered them: I did go to Goshen with Katie that weekend. My visceral reactions remain very similar – the collapse of the 2nd tower was the strongest reaction that I had.

A few things were different. I always claimed that I woke up between the first and second plane. I didn’t, it was just after the 2nd plane. I forgot that we had a large prayer meeting at FCA; I think I was president of that organization at that time. I forgot how we all assumed that 10s of thousands of people died that morning, and really, the number of casualties compared to the number of people those buildings could hold was, frankly, miraculous. And heroic.

Anyway, I still don’t want to talk about it anymore. But there’s what I was thinking at the time. And they (I) say that there’s no point learning to read cursive!

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Subtitle: why the blog died.

I stopped posting with my previous regularity 10 years ago, roughly around the time that I got married. I always attributed it to being married – after all, the blog was meant to be a way to expose my inner thought life to people who may have cared when I was not always adept at doing so through the spoken word. Remove that motivation, the blog collapsed.

That was always my narrative. It may not be entirely accurate however. 40 days ago, I stopped interacting with social media routinely throughout the day. And all the sudden I wanted to blog again. I’ve always held a secondary narrative – that around 10 years ago I started gaining sufficient exposure and authority at work that I was privileged with the opportunity to write dozens of emails a day. I think that’s part of it too.

I don’t want to spend too long on this – indeed, I want to go to bed, and first I want to watch Picard. So, out with it. If I can post a 3 minute tidbit on my musings on social media, it releases the pressure that builds up in my brain of not being able to get a thought out. If I can write 2000 words in emails a day, it releases some of the pressure of needing to turn a phrase or amuse myself with some witticism (I sometimes write good emails). In the old days, I’d get an idea in my head, mull it for a while, go on a run, polish it in the rock tumbler of fatigue, and then spew it out in 700 words in a blog post. These days, I get an idea and I fling it into the world immediately. I don’t mull it. I don’t run so I don’t polish it. And, on top of that, I don’t have the existential dread associated with failing to procreate which drives my selfish genes to flash its peacock feathers pitifully across the internet. But it’s not entirely the fault of marriage. There’s one other factor – angst – which drove my writing back then. Most anyone who has been married knows that this does not decline when married. It’s just taboo and tacky to advertise it to the world. All came together to neuter then muzzle the blog. I hadn’t really realized the roll that social media played in the process, for, indeed, I joined Facebook about 10 years ago too.

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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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Frozen Moments

This last Saturday, Abby and I flew to Charlotte. Uncle Steve and Pop-Pop (who arrived the night before) drove down from Raleigh to pick us up and drive us to River’s Edge, a lovely Airbnb about 8 miles south of Brevard, NC and a couple miles from DuPont State Forest. The journey took a long time – with 3 hours in the car. I only supported one side of road pee stop, but there was maybe a little bit of whining. No more than an hour or two.

Saturday night, Abby and some combination of all of us waded down Little River (which ran through the backyard). Stephen grilled T-Bones, and heated up a huge tin of Mac and Cheese that he made. We ate out on the porch, as the temperatures were about 13 degrees cooler than in Charlotte. Soon, the weekly concert at the country store next door started. It was the America that people are trying to save. Wholesome. Wild. Country-rock, with some nice young men from this county and the next. Pleases, thank yous, all in long drawls. Some ice cream all around.

A tight game of spades, then bed.

On Sunday, Stephen and I got out early for a ~10 mile run on the South side of DuPont State Forest; gentle trails, forest access roads, long gradual hills. Then eggs from the gorgeous chicken coup down the dirt road, bacon, cheese. We finally made it out the door after 10 and went to DuPont to hike to Triple Falls and High Falls – over three miles of walking, which Abby handled well, alternately sprinting down the trail (whipping past dozens of amused but impressed fellow hikers) and dragging piteously. We went to the river a number of times.
She got bolder in her bouldering at each successive swimming hole, leaping barefoot from one rock to the next, daring the slime slicked rocks to crack her skull and pull her over the falls. But she was no worse for the wear. We got to feed the chickens, walk around the property, visit the huge field at the top of the hill (where many would try to watch the next day).

Another tight game of spades and bed.

Monday was the day of the eclipse, with totality coming around 2:38 PM.

We started slowly, with a late wake up and an easy breakfast. We visited the chickens a few times and got some gas. The older lady at the counter commented on what a handsome young man I was – something which only happens to me in the country. Steve went on a run while Abby and I slogged down the Little River to the rope swing by the Country Store. Pop-Pop chatted up one of the guys in the band, as they were prepping for their big eclipse party. We planned to stay at River’s Edge, our beautiful, homey spot. Our hosts had an extra pair of eclipse googles, bringing our stash to 4 ISO certified ones (and a bunch of rip-offs). There was a spirit about this place, the folks were friendly and kind, the house beautiful, the land amazing. Skies were clear, we ate some lunch, took baths and showers, packed the car, and waited…as the clouds built.

By 1:10 and the start of the partial eclipse, the clouds had just begun to lap up against the sun. We saw the wedge taken out of the top left of the sun. And this on the radar (us around the white dot, with the sun generally in the south):

A small storm on the ridgeline, typical of a warm summer day. That could linger for a while, especially the cloud cover. We watched it evolve for almost a half hour, then decided at 1:45 (less than an hour until totality) to roll the dice. We jumped in the car and ripped south, with Stephen slamming us into the corkscrew turns of Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area in South Carolina. 25 minutes or so later, we cleared the mountain and started seeing holes in the clouds. We picked a point a few miles south of Cleveland – close to our egress (to beat the traffic), but a bit below the cloud line.

Now, you can’t predict what an individual cloud will do. In hindsight, three more miles down the road might have been better. No matter. It was within 15 minutes of totality, Pop-Pop was getting antsy, the sun was a thin fingernail, and there was an abandoned gas station in a sunny hole. An extended family with welder’s glass was watching there – Abby dove right in and made friends. Clouds got closer, occasionally obscuring the view. It got dimmer, yellower, dimmer, the sun having lost its sting in the South Carolina summer afternoon. It was gone, almost gone, then the flash of the diamond ring (just a second), then totality. A gap in the clouds; you could see it. I only looked for a few seconds, primarily concerned that Abby see it. It was dark, dark enough for street lights, darker than a heavy thunderstorm dark (though the clouds weren’t right). It was about as dark as a half hour after sunset. Light enough to run on a road, but not in a trail. The clouds were vaguely illuminated in all directions. We saw Jupiter in a gap. It was…different. Amazing. Different. Your mind doesn’t exactly know what to do with it. It’s incongruous. 36 years of life told me that this doesn’t work, that something was awry. The sun, a dim glow outgassing from all sides of a black, black hole punched into its center. It wasn’t long, apparently under 90 seconds where we were, then a sliver, a diamond ring flash, this time shrouded by enough clouds to see without the glasses. Then the sun came back, brilliant, bright.

Totality
[Note: The camera adjusts for the light too much, not at all doing justice to the real lighting. I also just wanted the camera on for the time, I wasn’t paying much attention to it. I was generally overstimulated by the whole experience, as you can hear and now also read.]

They say that the difference between totality and almost totality is immense. It was. Almost totality was strange and characterized by an orangey yellow glow. Totality was from a different universe. Any sliver of the sun provides brilliant light, but during totality it was cool, it was eerie. It was awe inspiring.

Abby got some glow sticks from the family nearby. Pop-Pop chatted up some folks who had chased eclipses before. Folks who found the same abandoned gas station south of Cleveland. As we drove in, there were dozens of clusters of people, each waiting for the moon to blot out the sun. It was like being in Boston after the Red Sox won or in Chicago after the Cubs. Everyone was happy. Everyone was glad to see you. You were all part of something together.

The fingernail sun was lost hopelessly behind the clouds by 2:50. We had a potential traffic disaster in front of us and a flight to catch. We, as we had for the rest of the day, made good navigational decisions, riding the chest of the traffic and only losing 20 minutes from a normal drive to Charlotte. Abby fell asleep in the car and hardly whined at all, though Pop-Pop may have whined about her 30 minute long song about nothing. We got Chic Fil A. We said goodbye to Pop-Pop and Steve and Abby and I played in the airport for a while. She befriended a burly tough-guy father of young girls who was traveling alone and willing to entertain an energetic 4 year old. People were cheerful.

My big girl and I made it home shortly after 10. She said she wasn’t tired but slept until after 8. I was giddy, I just wanted to talk to someone who saw it, just to talk about anything. I don’t want to forget the feeling of it, the thrill of the chase, the camaraderie of a spectacular and unique experience. I shared it with my father, brother, and daughter. I might think of it on my deathbed, for all I know. It is of that caliber experience. We are already talking about doing it again in 2024, this time with everyone. Wow.

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Weight, past 11 years, closest to today’s date (+/- 4 days):
2007: 167.6 (first year I couldn’t run)
2008: 161.8 (training)
2009: 161.4
2010: 166.0 (first year I permanently was not in racing shape)
2011: 166.4
2012: 165.4
2013: 167.4
2014: 167.4
2015: 167.6
2016: 167.2
2017: 168.6

If anyone wants $15, I will pay that to get all thousand or so datapoints entered into Excel. This requires a plot. I wonder how closely it mirrors global temperatures.

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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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Abigail,
As it is Christmas season, you may be wondering, “Daddy, who is Santa and why does he bring people presents on Jesus’ birthday?” This is a good question. Recall, on your birthday, people bring YOU presents – it’s not like the Easter Bunny delivers candies to the elderly when it’s your birthday. So why does Santa do it at Jesus’ birthday? Is Jesus OK with it? Is Santa Jesus?

First off, let’s get one thing straight. Santa Claus is not Jesus Christ. They have some similarities though, and Santa knows Jesus. Both of them were born, both of them died, and both of them live on in the hearts of men, women, boys and girls. While Jesus rose from the dead and is still alive the same way he has always been alive, Santa lives in a different way.

Santa Claus is the new name for a man named Saint Nicholas, who lived in Turkey (the country, not the sandwich) a very long time ago, back when Turkey was part of the Roman Empire. He loved God and loved Jesus, and felt that giving people secret presents was a good way to show others that love. Jesus thought that this was a nice idea; after all, Jesus gives gifts to people that have done nothing to deserve them too. While Jesus’ gift is the biggest gift of all, eternal life, Santa gives littler gifts, gifts that you can hold and play with, or wear and play in. Jesus loves illustrations and parables. Santa is like a large, jolly parable in a red suit, giving gifts to the nice boys and girls, despite the fact that all are naughty and fall short of the high standards of true nice. Santa is like grace, if only grace rode a sleigh and ate far too many cookies.

So, how does it all work? Well, when St. Nick (that’s what his friends call him) died, he went to the heavenly registrar’s office and was given a few options for the jobs that he could fill in Heaven: gardener, roofer, lumberjack, poet. They were great jobs, but what he REALLY wanted to do, was to keep giving presents to boys and girls. He thought to himself, “When I was an imperfect man, I could give presents to a hundred children in my town. Now that I’m reborn with a perfected body, I should be able to give presents to all the children in the whole wide world!” As I mentioned before, Jesus thought this was a good idea. St. Nick was so happy to hear this that he decided to celebrate the yearly event on Jesus’ birthday.

There was a problem though: the people still living on Earth didn’t know when Jesus’ birthday was. You might think, “Come on, they didn’t know the most important person ever to live’s birthday??” Yup. They didn’t know it. Remember, Jesus wasn’t famous for almost 30 years after he was born. He was born in a manger, for crying out loud. His parents knew days and weeks and months based on the Jewish calendar, and most people on Earth were using a whole different calendar by this time. Everyone forgot, like when you don’t play with a toy for a month and it stays stuck behind the couch until you move.

Finally, someone decided to re-use a holiday called Saturnalia as Jesus’ birthday. This sent shivers down St. Nick’s spine. Saturnalia was at the end of December. Almost all the people in the world, particularly at that time, lived north of the equator. You see, in December, it is winter in the northern hemisphere. This is because of the way the earth is tilted with respect to its orbit around the Sun.

But that’s neither here nor there. The point is St. Nick was going to get cold when he delivered all those presents. Very cold. So cold that he decided that there was no way he could do it unless he lived someplace that was cold all year round so that he could get used to the chill. This was actually convenient, as Jesus thought it was prudent for Santa to stay away from people during the rest of the year. Jesus knows people, you see. People will steal, they’ll pillage, they’ll do all manner of sinful things. It was best for St. Nick to keep out of sight. The North Pole was just the place.

There was another condition on his new employment. He still had relatives on earth. He didn’t want his friends and family to know that he was doing the presents, so he had to come up with a new name. He decided on Santa Claus, because his first elves all came from a place that would eventually become Holland. They had strange accents, and used to mess up his real name all the time. He finally just started calling himself what they were calling him by mistake. It stuck.

So, by a few dozen years after he started, Santa Claus was all set up on the North Pole. He had elves to make toys – mostly swords and baby dolls at first, but eventually everything up to micro-electronics. The big companies, you see, waive their patents for Santa, since it is fantastic marketing to have one of your products seen in a sleigh. He had some major logistical challenges when getting started as well. Back then, there were no airplanes, no trains, no cars, and barely even any roads. Horses found the North Pole to be far too cold. He thought about riding polar bears, but they would get too hot in certain parts of the world, and they occasionally eat children, which is particularly inappropriate during the Christmas season. Really, the only option was reindeer driven sleighs. He requested an allocation of supersonic magic dust which was delivered within two business days by an armored vehicle. He was all ready to go, but no one knew that he was coming.

He started it out as a secret, then, dropping a toy here, a book there, some sweets in a shoe (that’s what people called candy in the old days), tasty meat and so on. People were confused, but grateful. Soon, they started to realize that all of this stuff was showing up on the same day, December 25th, Jesus’ birthday. Even more confused, they set up guards to watch. Nobody could see Santa though, at least not anyone who was too tall to ride the rides at the amusement park. Only kids could see him at first, because believing is seeing.

People sometimes say that seeing is believing. But this is all backwards, especially when it comes to Santa Claus. In order to see him, you have to know that he’s there, and look based on that assumption. Me, I saw him a lot of times when I was a kid. I saw his sleigh in the sky when we were driving home from Grandma’s house some years. I heard him on the roof. Once, he even knocked over something in my room in the middle of the night! See, Santa, though quick, is not very graceful. It’s all those sweets (candy), and the fact that he only gets one really good workout a year, on Christmas Eve.

Anyway, since I saw him when I was a kid, I can still see him. In fact, your mother and I interviewed with one of his elves, Henry, right before you were born. It’s standard procedure for Santa to consult with parents before a baby’s first Christmas. Even though Santa’s a nice guy, he’s only around one day out of the year. Some large elves make believe they’re Santa in malls and such, something which Santa is fine with: this is also great marketing. Your parents are around all the time, so we make the rules and Santa is completely fine with that. In fact, he uses our rules when determining whether you’re naughty or nice. So, you better be good for goodness sake. And good is defined by this guy, right here, Little Pea. Don’t you forget that!

We told Santa to only bring you one or two presents each year. I know, I know – but think about it little baby. You have all you need already, right? We have a little house! A bunch of presents wouldn’t fit! So, when Jesus’ birthday comes around, you get a couple presents from Mom and Dad, and a couple from Santa Claus. Occasionally, an elf or a reindeer, or even Mrs. Claus (they met in Iceland when he was on his way to the North Pole – it’s a whole different story) will send you a little present.

One thing is very important to remember. Some kids get a lot of presents from Santa, and it’s a good thing because if they didn’t, the economy would collapse. Some get very few, and we set aside some of your presents to help bring holiday cheer to those less fortunate every year. For you, you must understand that you can be happy with what you’ve got; a little or a lot. Stuff isn’t what makes you happy, and presents aren’t what makes Christmas special. It is the bigger things like family and love, friends and fellowship, mystery and holiness, and most of all Jesus that make Christmas special.

One last thing…not everyone believes in Santa Claus. Some folks can’t even see him when he’s right in front of them, dancing a jig. They think it’s silly (though they don’t complain about the presents) and there are even some people who think that you shouldn’t believe in Santa either. It’s possible to live your life without believing in anything, or believing certain things so much that there’s no space for other things. Maybe one day your relationship with Santa will become a bit more complicated than it is now, and maybe you’ll start to see him a different way, but just remember: there’s mystery, magic, and miracle in this world. Whether it’s Santa and elves or not, doesn’t much matter. There’s more to life than what you can see with your eyes and hear with your ears. Believing is what makes life worth living.

So, Abigail, this year on Christmas Eve, keep your eyes on the sky. Listen for bells. Look for a jolly man in a red suit. It’s possible you’ll catch a glimpse, or even a smile and a wink if you’re lucky. Enjoy these simple, happy times. You’re only young once, and sometimes, it’s harder for old people to believe the way that you can. When you meet such people, give them a wink and a smile. Maybe, if they’re lucky, they’ll see Santa Claus too someday.

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Outtakes with no Non-Outtakes

Abby begs for my phone. She doesn’t know how to make the screen illuminate, it’s a crummy phone due to be upgraded, and it’s in a protective sleeve: there’s not much she can do that will hurt it, so, why not, I give it to her. Almost every single time I do this, she begins to “talk” into it. Now, Abby doesn’t know words. Not unless you count “a-pfff” for Winnie the Pooh, “hhhh” for water, and “ih” for would you take this from my hand or give it back to me please? at least. Most time she gets my phone however, it’s a steady combination of “ap. ooh. Uhhhhhh. Ap oop ap ahh…uhhhhh….” This is strange because Jen and I rarely use the phone. For instance, I spoke on the phone for 27 total minutes this week, of which I think that Abby was in bed for 17 of them. I’m not sure why she knows how to use the phone.

Anyway, this evening after she talked on the phone for several minutes, I decided I needed to document it. She refused to comply. But it’s still a good slice of what her life is like – this the last 10 minutes of her day prior to bath and bed.

Not talking on the phone properly 1
Not talking on the phone properly 2
Not talking on the phone properly 3
Not talking on the phone properly 4

And finally…
Walking up the stairs

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I was sitting next to a guy named Jonathon at a meeting today. After noticing me fixating on his notebook for a while, he asked me what my deal was. “That’s my middle name,” I said, motioning to his book, “but I can’t decide if it’s spelled the same way or not.”

But I forgot my middle name. Anyway, Jonathan. I checked my birth certificate. It’s with an a.

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Last Tuesday, I escaped from snowy Connecticut. It’s been 6 weeks since I’ve lived at home for more than 2 straight days (well, OK, I was there for almost a week when our flights to WA were canceled), and it’s been a strange adjustment. When you live somewhere else most of the time, you start to develop bad co-habitation habits. Maybe you drink more milk, knowing that you’re not going to be paying the price of empty milk, because you’ll be living in a hotel in a day. Your life becomes very existential. Eat, drink, for tomorrow you go back to Connecticut. I actually only ended up coming home twice between 12/13 and 1/18. I went home for one day on my anniversary, and two the first weekend of January. Jen bought a little pet dog when I was gone, but when I came back I opened the door, and threw a strip of bacon outside then closed it and made believe it no longer existed. I think it moved to a farm in the country.

OK, there was no dog. I could make up stuff for a while, but instead, I’ll just go to bed.

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Jo wants to know what I’m going to wear. Today I’m wearing a button down shirt (with stripes, vertical) and khakis. I have a full complement of under garments as well. I intend to wear shoes.

Tomorrow will likely be similar.

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As far as I can tell, I never posted this from Algonquin last year. I’ll have to do that sometime. This year I hardly had a chance to write while we were out in the wild, but here’s all of it, plus a recap from tonight.

7/9/10 2344 MST
We’re here at J’Ann and Scott’s palace in Par City, Utah. 30 ft ceilings, granite everything, just high quality. We drove here from the airport in a marginally terrifying Chevy Rickshaw (Aveo) which can barely do 65 mph on flat roads. The rental car guy was full of glad tidings – “it’ll rain on you every day. I saw a grizzly. They’ll open your car like a tin can. But you’ll love it.” It has been thundering intermittently since we got here – interesting weather and sporadic storms are in the forecast for our future as well.

We’re already at 7000 ft – good for adjusting slowly to tomorrow’s altitudes. Should be an adventure.

7/11/10 1610 MST
I’m currently sitting in the shade at Lightning Lake, having just submerged for the sake of cleaning myself. The lake is at something like 10,700 and the water, ringed with occasional snow, is somewhere near 50F. I had intended to write earlier, but things have been a little crazy. Right before we were supposed to leave, we noticed the tire on the rental was flat. We fixed it, then left for Kamas, where we were to pick up the last minute supplies. For some ridiculous reason, none of the three places we went had butane for ultralight campstoves. Somewhat daunted, we shrugged and left without it. All food would be prepared on fire. Turns out that at 10,500 ft, cooking food on a fire is more easily said than done.

We proceeded to the Grandview trailhead. Chevy Rickshaws are not designed to climb 3000 ft up narrow, lumpy dirt roads. After 7 perilous miles, which Scott was kind enough to lead us through, we were there. 9500 ft and on our way at around 1 PM.

Two general comments on the Uintas. First, the mosquitoes, who are hounding me as we speak, are maddeningly awful and omnipresent. Second, the shelf life of any given weather pattern is about 30 minutes. When I started writing it was sunny, 70. Now a cloudy 60. It was a windy and rainy 45 this morning. 2 hrs into the first day, it hailed on us. Or snow pellets, or some thing in between

Day one drove me to exhaustion. I didn’t eat enough, didn’t drink enough, and got a mild bout of altitude sickness. It was 7 PM before we got to where we would set up camp – an obvious wildlife refuge at 10,500 beyond the Four Lakes Basin, about 12 miles out. By the time Steve, with much difficulty, got a fire going, we were running out of daylight. We choked down the gross Pad Thai, pumped some water, hung the food and went to bed. Having seen moose prints and moose scat every 50 ft, we knew they were around. No sooner had the sun gone down, we heard several very close moose [actually Elk, upon further review] calls – a very loud version of a yip that a coyote might make. Or a 1000 lb bull frog. We found it difficult to sleep. Our moose trespassing and altitude sickness headaches kept us both up until a 1 AM sortie to the food bag retrieved tylenol.

The thing about mosquitoes is that they force you to be in constant motion, lest 70 of them congregate around you at any given moment. Rain keeps them at bay, as it did this morning. Forced to evacuate camp rapidly ahead of the approaching gales, we were on the trail by 7:45. Two hours later we had crossed the 11,500 ft Rocky Sea pass, navigated a 30 meter snow field on the edge of a mountain and gotten down the other side. It’d be rainy, windy and frigid one minute, then temperate the next. After twisting my arm to climb again to Lightning Lake, we arrived at noon, around the same time the sun came back. It’s been a nice afternoon. We can see for 10 miles to 11, 12, 13000 foot mountains on all sides. Our site is perched near the edge of a 500 ft drop – it’s definitely a top-3 site for us. We had delicious pasta, olive oil, salami, cheese, salt and pepper for linner (dunch) around 3, and now Steve’s working on trout for dinner…and it looks like he finally got one.

7/22/10 – Before things get too distant, I’m going to write, on the computer, a stream of consciousness hindsight log of the last two days in the Uintas. My last entry was written at the shores of Lightning Lake – though there were far fewer mosquitoes there than either of the other sites, they were still driving me mad as I was writing. Steve did indeed catch a trout, the first of two that we had for dinner. Dinner was actually light, lunch, at 3 in the afternoon, was a full spaghetti, salami, parmesan, salt, pepper, and olive oil meal. I hard just plunged into the frigid water to bathe again, and we walked around exploring the waterfall dumping out of the lake. I urinated from spectacular vistas, 600 feet above a lake and stream filled valley. It was the high point of the trip, Lightning Lake. We went to bed a little later, having walked aimlessly around the highlands after dark picking fights with animals. We saw a few deer and had a bat dive bomb us several times, presumably aroused by Steve’s “Borg Light”. Though I always thought they were blind other than the sonar or whatever.

Anyway, the next day was a challenge. We got out by 8:45, and started what would be an epic day. We went all the way down Rock Creek to near to Stillwater Reservoir, then took a hard turn into nowhereland, trudging back up the West Fork to Granddaddy Lake. 8 and half hours, 18 miles and 2300 feet of elevation lost then regained – driven mercilessly by mosquitoes the whole way back up – I was done, finished, spent. It was just a little beyond what I could comfortably handle. I promised myself I’d jump in the water to clean off after we got there. I did, then the wind started howling as I stood mostly to completely naked on the shore. I spent the next hour and a half shivering miserably, hunched over in full goretex attire, surrounded by mosquitoes and almost completely apathetic. I choked down some food (same as the night before) and slowly recovered. By bedtime I was reasonably well constituted again.

Some highlights from that journey, let’s see. Well, we got to a fork in the river a few miles in. It was the first time we had to swap over the crocs for the day. Steve decided that instead of stowing his real shoes in his bag he was going to chunk them across.

“Think about this,” I, the perpetual Voice of Reason, said, “if you don’t make it, you’ll be walking the next 20 miles in crocs.”

“I’ll make it. You don’t think I have the arm for that?”

And he did. Plenty of arm. So much in fact that the tree limbs dangling twenty feet up swatted his huck right down into the stream. Now, stream means “rapidly gurgling creek, 25 feet wide and 1-2 feet deep”. His shoe landed about 5 feet from the opposite shore and was flushed downstream…until it miraculously got hooked on a rock 6 feet away. He is the luckiest person alive, always.

We saw our first person about 5 miles later – the first person we had seen (in person at least) in about 48 hours. Then they came rapidly, probably twenty of them in the next 5 miles. In the category of “things I wish I had a picture of” was the 35 year old hulk of a man carrying his 2 liter while his 8 year old son trudged uphill with what looked like a 35 lb pack. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It was borderline child abuse.

After we crossed the bridge, we were immediately out of people, we wouldn’t see them again until we got to the car the next day. The West Fork was wild, a bit overgrown, and decidedly off the beaten path. I’ve often thought that I prefer uphills to downhills, and this only affirmed my opinion – a gradual uphill is much easier on your body than any sort of downhill…which is good because the 10 miles down we already did had spurred several classic blisters.

Anyway, back off that digression, back to Granddaddy Lake. That night was all about mosquitoes. 200 of them stood guard outside of the tent screen, a couple dozen of which made it inside during our mid-night pee break. We smushed them, spending 10 minutes at 2 in the morning committing insect genocide inside the tent. Morning was no better, so we packed up and got the hell out of there. The trip back to the car was uneventful, we made it the last 5-6 miles in just under 2 hours, then back to the palatial estate of J’Ann and Scott.

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I returned to Baltimore on the early morning Acela train this morning, having spent the last 9 days in Connecticut. During those nine days, I worked 109 hours, mostly in two shifts a day with naps in between. For instance, I stopped working on Friday night around 11 PM (I think), then worked from 11AM – 4PM Saturday, then again from 8 PM to 7 AM Sunday…at which time I drove home for mother’s day, where my mother celebrated by making me eggs, doing my laundry, and leaving me alone while I took a nap downstairs. Thanks mom!

Overall, the trip was a resounding success, and I have a sadistic, competitive sort of addiction to the stakes involved. Really the worst part was the fact that I worked those 100+ hours in a room that was between 81-84 F all the time.

Now, however, I’m profoundly tired. I am fantasizing about bed.

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I wanted to called this “look before you leap”, but wouldn’t you know it, I already did that.

For the first time in my life, I went to to sit down on a toilet and didn’t check to see if the seat was down. It was an abrupt and foreign thing. Thankfully, we keep our bathroom mostly clean. I’m not sure how it happened, but I was distracted for the moment.

I can no longer look down my nose at people for neglecting to do that, I suppose. Though, I’m 28 now. Once every 28 years; I do lots of stupid things once every 28 years.

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A few days ago, longtime reader Kristine requested that I post any important news on the website before I posted it on facebook. This way, the “faithful” would know before the man on the street. A perfectly agreeable idea.

Anyway, Jen and I are engaged as of this morning. I’ll post a full run down eventually. Furthermore, I want to dump my new found expertise on asscher cut diamonds before it expires.

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A few weeks ago, Steve announced he was going to be running the mile at Penn Relays – the race started at 4:30 PM. The only problem? I had already made plans to watch My Fair Lady with Tim, Jo and the missus in Maryland that evening. Now, in my defense, I quickly rescheduled My Fair Lady – I mean, you don’t miss the Penn Relays.

Last night, Steve called to talk about a tornadic event that was taking place right on top of him in Raleigh. I stopped what I was doing, checked the radar, chatted for a few minutes, but then had to cut the conversation short. I had just arrived at an elementary school, where I was to watch 4th and 5th graders from Mrs Winner’s chorus perform The Jungle Book.

These are things that didn’t used to happen to me. “You better watch out,” sayeth Jen, “people are going to start thinking you’re whipped.”

Start thinking? And why? Because I don’t do anything with anyone anymore? Because I change my plans to fit around musicals? Because I see her 6 days a week and talk to her a couple times a day? Because I consult with her before making roughly all plans?

It comes down to the “why do I do these peculiar things” here. The answer is roughly “because that’s what I want to do”. Maybe one can question the state of mind that leads to those sort of oddly appropriated priorities. It’s probably hormonal somehow. Besides, she drove 4 hours to sit in the hot sun with 45,000 loud Jamaicans to watch my brother run a 4 minute race with me, she came over at 10 at night to take care of me when I was sick, and she came over at 11 a different night to watch my brother run a 5K on a grainy internet feed – that’s just in the last 2 weeks! Mutually whipped maybe. There’s no shame in that.

In other news, now that I dehydrate my own food, I bring dehydrated fruit to nibble on throughout the day at work. By the end of today, I will have polished off 4 pears and 7 apples worth of dehydrated fruit in the last 3 days. Let’s just say I have a high fiber diet.

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A few days ago, while my neighbors covered their eyes and waited for a crack and thud, I scaled the little tiny tree in my backyard for the sake of ripping ivy from the branches. The tree barely had the biomass to support my weight 15 feet up…but I have experience in trees. We worked it out.

We lived by a single tree climbing rule as kids – if you can’t get up by yourself, then you can’t climb it. When I was about 10, I finally was able to pull myself onto the 5-ish foot high bottom branch of the maple tree in the backyard on Murray Ave. Within days, it was the 2nd branch, itself strong but boring, then third branch (precarious at best), before arriving at the 4th branch. The 4th branch was stable, with seats for 2 – the second occupied by the precocious 6 year old Stephen, who might have broken the rule to get up the first branch, but was emboldened by his continuing sense of invincibility. You could go further, the 5th, 6th and 7th branches were stable enough, but somewhat inverted – they were not particularly safe. There was no passage beyond the 7th branch. I wonder if I could get further now. On the other main trunk of the tree you could get about 3 more levels up, to the three-prong, which looked something like Neptune’s trident.

From the three prong and the 4th branch Steve and I braved the wildest of winds. We knew better than to stay in the tree during thunderstorms (after all, you couldn’t make it past the 7th branch because that’s where lightning had severed a major portion of the tree 5 years earlier), but windy days were different. We lived for them. No matter how violently the wind howled, we climbed the tree, just to hang on for dear life.

We had our own little universe up in the old maple. There were different kinds of wind – dark winds, which were less violent gusts, and the mythic white winds, which only came about when the wind was so strong that it turned all the leaves around such that we saw their lighter undersides. Winds followed two main patterns, the Junior Circuit and the Senior Circuit, named after the American and National leagues respectively (I always thought those should be reverse, but I digress), depending on where in the neighborhood they blew through before they got to us.

There were other trees, but they weren’t the same. There was a pine tree at Grandma and Grandpa’s house – you could get many levels up that tree, but it was disgustingly sappy, uncomfortable, and, worst of all, impervious to the wind. Once we moved, we had two trees that you could get one level up on. We tried to sit in them too…but, as they say, you can never go home again. Tree climbing, for all intents and purposes, ended for us when I was 12.

Just because I don’t climb trees anymore doesn’t mean that I am not a tree climber at heart. Just because I can no longer run doesn’t change the fact that I’m a runner. We, humankind, are a collection of vestigial features. We collect skills only to watch them rot as we collect new skills and embrace new paradigms.

But I promise you that I will find an excuse to climb a tree again.

Addendum
There’s no way they still let little kids climb the ropes in gym class any more, right? I got stuck 15 feet up in the elementary school once, the whole class had to wait as I coaxed myself down. I guarantee they don’t let them do that anymore.

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Dr J and I went down home North Carolina for the weekend, visiting my brother in Raleigh, then the McCoys in Durham. In his race, Steve didn’t look too hot early on but ended up showing his fitness in the end, bringing home a comfortable 14:02 while winning a tactical race at Raleigh Relays on Friday night. After puttering around for a few hours, Jen and I went toward Durham, visiting Ben and his family. We had an excellent time, and I slept for over 8 hours, which was heavenly. The boys are fantastic, Josiah does nothing but smile all day long.

Steve, meanwhile, went to an engagement party in NYC, where he randomly ran into Lara, who confidently recognized him, to his amazement and horror. To run into someone you’ve met twice late at night in a large group of people in a city where there’s no reason to believe that they’d be (Steve lives in Raleigh, after all) and still confidently publicly assert his identity is pretty bold. Kudos to you, Lara. I, for one, am impressed.

I don’t think I have random happenstance thoughts anymore. If so, I tell them to someone instead of writing them here. That said, I’ll be back, never fear, these things come in cycles.

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Time is not something I have a lot of these days. That and sleep. Still, Dr J and I found time to take a little mini road trip on Friday. I wanted to take a map, find a spot neither of us had ever been, then take back roads to it. We chose Union Bridge, MD, a quaint little town on the border between Frederick and Carroll counties.

Let me tell you a little bit about Union Bridge, Maryland. Or, if you want someone else to tell you, go here. Or, who are we kidding, just got to wikipedia and save some time.

Union Bridge, though settled before the Revolutionary War, was incorporated in 1872.

In fact, this
“Union Bridge was founded by the Farquhars of Pennsylvania. Many of the shade trees to be found in the town today are descendants of the two sugar maples brought from Brownsville, Pennsylvania by Mrs. Elizabeth Farquhar Wright.”
is inscribed at the base of a small sugar maple in Union Bridge Community Park, known for its baseball field, closed community center, brisk winds, and lone man smoking dope in his pickup. The town itself, it would seem, is supported primarily by the ginormous Lehigh Cement Company plant which sits right on its outskirts.

It houses something like 1000 people, 930 of whom are white – according to Wikipedia, there’s one Asian (she works at the doctor’s office apparently). Someone from their town co-wrote a few episodes of the Simpsons.

We spent a few minutes poking around town, before realizing that everything was closed or otherwise uninteresting, despite the quaintness and generally pleasant atmosphere. We stopped at a 7-11, which was, comfortingly, still owned by foreigners, to pee in a little broom closet that also housed the CO2 tanks for the drink machine.

From there, we decided to track down a winery, as we had seen a handful of them on the drive in. The night before, while having dinner with two couples from Jen’s house church, the name Linganore came up. Low and behold, when we got there, I recognized the place. I had been there before, a few years early right after my first Achilles sabbatical – there was a race there that I wanted to run in, but couldn’t. We played the wine tasting game, hoofed it to the top of a chilly, windy hill and surveyed the countryside romantically, before realizing that wintertime weddings don’t really make sense at wineries. Not unless global warming shakes off its funk and gets its act together in the next few months at least. For whatever it’s worth, The Runaway Bride was shot on the hill in the only other winery I’ve been to in MD, Boordy Vineyards. We left with 6 bottles of wine, drove home on some other random back roads and spent the rest of the night playing tiddly winks and making elephants out of playdo.

So, when I say that I have no time, it’s because I’m doing stuff like that. I really can’t much complain.

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I’m watching my hits trend downward, like the stock market only slower. Never fear, I’ll write something someday. Coming up: trip to NYC this weekend. Trip to Raleigh at the end of the month. Trip to Poconos beginning of next month. Trip to bed, right after I shove some food in me.

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I just had this exchange with the verizon person in my head:

Me: Why is it that I’m no longer allowed to create my own ringtones?
Them: We have a wide variety of ringtones at verizonwireless.com.
Me: But you don’t have anything good. Every one that I’ve ever made is better than any that is found there.
Them: They are quite popular.
Me: But I don’t like them.
Them: That’s because you’re not 14.

Vibrate it is.

Addendum
The pictures from last weekend are up. Steve had a very decent race – in fact, you’ll see him running right behind Meb in a couple of the pictures (from the first 1000 meters, mind you, but still). It’ll be something to see how he does in outdoor track, which is his real gift.

Addendum 2
Thanks to brother Stephen for pointing me toward the irony in the first sentence of this article. In an age when people continually confuse the definitions of “unfortunate” and “ironic”, it’s good to have examples like this one to keep us on the straight and narrow.

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Just OK? Yes, just OK. My break was OK. I slept late and ate well. I lost at cards every single time we played and had a surly attitude for a week straight, for reasons other than cards. Some good, some bad. So yes, just OK.

I’m not sure how I feel about a scale in which the only acceptable values are 8 to 10. In that case, the 8 becomes crappy, the 9 OK and the 10 wonderful. Might as well stretch that scale out and call it what it is. Maybe it’s because people are just reserving the bottom end of the scale for things like paralysis or being falsely convicted for murder and having to live the next 30 years in jail. Maybe it’s just a matter of anticipated perspective. I guess that’s fair. Compared to mixing chemicals in a Nike factory for $0.35 an hour, my weekend was effing transcendent. No really, it was otherworldly, you know, compared to getting hit by a car and suffering brain damage.

But on the 8 to 10 scale, it was a 9 – otherwise known as a 5 in the “adjusted generally comfortable life index”. Or maybe a 9.9 if I am used to picking through garbage barefoot in Indonesia.

I am learning that this answer is not acceptable. And so I say that it was fine – just fine? – no, I meant spectacular, it was spectacular – wow, that good? Sometimes I wonder why people even talk to each other. We all know the answers we’re going to get before we ask.

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Trip to the city was just what I was looking for. Katie and I went to the Museum of Natural History. We talked, we laughed; just like old times. Only in the Museum of Natural History and not while sitting on her freshman (and sophomore, junior, senior) year dormroom floor.

After parking in a spot such that I could not walk between the cars on either side of me, Lara and I went to a Ethiopian restuarant in Harlem. It involved these soft, thin bread-like wraps that you used to scoop up various beans. It was surprisingly good and filling. After returning to her apartment long enough for her third straight roommate to scurry in and out of her room awkwardly avoiding direct eye contact with me for a half hour, we headed to her church for someone’s birthday. The birthday girl hosted a 45 minute “Trivia About Me” event. 40% of the questions were trick questions. If they haven’t done something like this on The Office, they need to make sure they work it in immediately. It would have been funnier if I were watching it on TV.

Next, it was off to the Gingerman with Lara and her very pleasant friend Leslie. We sat next to some epic douchebags who, according to the locals, were from either Jersey or Long Island. The three of us gave our respective convoluted relationship stories, and we took turns offering advice. I’m an old pro at that sort of conversation these days, but I’d have to rank this one as one of my favorites. Maybe it was the beer. Hoegaarden and Spaten for me. Could potentially have been the people. Probably a combination.

The drive up to Goshen was fine. I was pleased to see that the gas station a mile from my house in MD, measuring in at $1.76, was lower than any I had seen in NJ. I noticed a new addition to a house in Goshen. I came home to find that my bed was substantially bigger than it used to be. I was informed that the house has always been there, looking exactly the same, and the bed was like this last time I was home too. I am very observant. I just don’t necessarily observe new things. I see old things for the first time all the time, and announce them as though they are new. “I know where you get that from,” claimed my father, who had to quickly clarify since it was unclear whether he was tossing a barb at my mother, “me, I mean me. You get that from me.” It’s not that I’m not exactly oblivious. I can read voices, eyes, and shoulders on strangers I pass on the street. I pull patterns out of seemingly random sets of numbers. I just don’t notice ceiling fans.

By midday I was at my uncle’s house for a lasagna dinner celebrating my grandmother’s 78th birthday. My aunt’s mother, for the 11th consectutive time that we’ve met, determined that I was an uncommonly handsome young man. If she would younger, she informed me, she would be after me in a heartbeat. I told her that seasoned women often tell me things like that, though my contemporaries aren’t always on board. After she expressed how impressed she was with me a few more times I was legitimately flattered – Italians, it seems, can forgive skinny, goofy, gangly guys with big noses. I’ve said it before (I’ll never find the link), women ages 70 and up love me. Next time I’m depressed I should go work at a nursing home.

It’s quiet here. So quiet that the silence swooshes through the room, an invisible gale of massless particles that displace no papers and interact with nothing save one’s ear drums. The brain pulls signals from noise (more on this tomorrow), and in absence of signal it just records and amplifies the empty noise. The obliviously observant might be able to pull patterns from sets of numbers, but in absence of a real pattern, they’ll start creating imaginary ones.

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It has been chilly in Baltimore these last two weeks. Night time temps have hovered around a raw 30, flurries have been dusting unpaved surfaces, and the wind has been blowing steadily. It’s really nothing to write home about, especially when home is New York. Today I head to Manhattan, for an evening with Lara and Katie. Tomorrow it’s back to the burbs, and hour north into the land of milk and honey, sleepy Goshen. I’ll be there, mostly bored, for several days before returning to Maryland something like Saturday morning.

I promise I’ll write.

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Good morning Worm, your honor, the crown will plainly show the prisoner who now stands before you, was caught red-handed showing feeling, showing feeling of an almost human nature. This will not due.

I’ve confused a lot of people recently. My new facebook account is coated with comments along the lines of “I can’t believe you would be on here!” More than one person thinks that I have changed in the last several months from a more global perspective.

I can neither confirm nor deny, and it’s not from lack of desire to do so. I made a strategic error 9 years ago, when I was new in college. At that time Fantuazzo and I founded the tongue-in-cheek concept of “The Eric Furst Mystique”. By senior year, I started this site with a quotation stolen from a biography of Livia, “aloof and austere amid the grace and smooth perfidy of popular society.” It described Emperor Tiberius Augustus. And I decided it should also describe me.

Well, I’m selling that franchise. If you want it, feel free to take it. I’m not sure why it should be, or ever have been, so nor am I sure when detachment became a profitable concept. I am as I am. Nothing has actually changed. It’s just a new coat of paint. I wouldn’t look into it too much. I might have moderated a little bit, I am definitely a little less responsible and/or dignified, I’m trying to make an effort to show my appreciation more tangibly to the countless people that I appreciate immensely, but the same pillars hold the frame. That’s maybe a new bay window, possibly a different light fixture. Not much more.

In other news, while there was a person at every booth when I voted, I got in and was second in line. The whole process took less time then I’ve spent writing this post.

I have realized one main thing – I have got to register with a party affiliation. I thought my unaffiliatedness was a sign of cosmopolitan open-mindedness. It only really prevents me from casting the only vote that counts for anything in Maryland – the one where I can help choose a presidential candidate who I don’t find loathsome. At the end of the day, the republican party has gained my affiliation. But lost my vote.

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I just made a facebook profile. Everyone’s grandparents are doing it. I don’t want to update it, but I also want to have more than the 3 friends. It’s really sad if you only have three friends.

So be my friend, for the love of God.

I will reject no one*. I will whore myself for your pseudo-internet friendship.

My favorite game so far is the “that person’s name is familiar…and I see the face…but I have no idea why I’d know them.”

*no one who I know and/or have spoken to ever

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After nearly a decade, I was with this person all weekend. I just dropped her, along with a quarter of my heart and maybe half my spleen, off at the airport. I love my spleen. There were other pictures from the weekend too, pictures that wove a story that wasn’t played out on the stage of reality – pictures that mislead. Or maybe pictures that expose.

In these pictures, smiling, arm in arm. Outside of these pictures, I wasn’t within a foot of her the whole time. For the love of God, my mind exclaimed, do not cross that bridge, do not ford that river. And I did not.

It’s not that I didn’t want to. The picture was worth a thousand words, perhaps, but not the ones that were spoken. They don’t capture, in microcosm, the story of our physical interaction – in that they lie, they lie. No it’s not that I didn’t want to. More than anyone else I have ever known, you want to just grab her and shake some damn sense into her! More than anyone else I’ve known, you want to just hold her and tell her she’s good enough, she’s everything enough, everything will be OK.

But that’s just a matter of definition, this “OK”. OK for whom? OK for when?

So long as it at least means, OK for her; OK for soon. That’s all it needs to mean.

This morning on my run, beams of light pierced the morning mist. Beams of light chased away the frosty haze, exposing the darkness. Beams of light, and so ends the night.

May there be dawn, for her at least. That is all that there needs to be.

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At long last, the always interesting Julia Lucas has broken her silence. It’s somehow encouraging that she’s off doing strange things somewhere.

As for me, by time this post publishes, strange things should be happening here too! Ahh, good times all around.

Addendum
Lauren has posted her synopsis of the wedding. Alas, I did not actually quote Emily Post.

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I’d like to have a moment of silence for my last Q-Tip. Those of you who have been reading for a long time understand the arbitrary metaphorical significance. There are a handful of you that understand the irony involved here as well. It’s just a damn Q-Tip! And 1499 of his friends, but still, just a Q-Tip.

Now I need to buy more, what’s that crap.

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In the same way that I enjoy piling awkward situations on top of each other, I am a fan of combining less than fun appointments into megastructures of miserableness. Today I finally got shockwave therapy on my achilles. This involved getting no less than three full syringes of anesthetic into the region, to the point where the surrounding skin was grotesquely bloated. Then the machine starts hammering away. Twack, twack, twack.

Him: Does that hurt?

Me: Uhhh…well…

Him: Does it hurt?

Me: How long is this going to be like this?

Him: 15 minutes. Sometimes it goes numb, is that too high?

Me: I’m paying $1200 for it to hurt.

Anyway, it did hurt. Not terribly, but it was uncomfortable. I was amazed anything could hurt with that much stuff injected into the tendon. But it was a good hurt, you know, like tiny lightning bolts blasting your cells. Good times. I’m in a boot now.

Then, for fun, I went to the dentist. I’m like China with Li Xiang, the 2004 olympic champion in the hurdles. My teeth are a source of national pride. Ladies, you want my teeth in your children, I’ve said it before.

Anyway, I have a cavity, the second of my life. Either that or there’s a fleck of dust on the x-ray – that would make more sense and seems to support the visible evidence. Still, I’m going to go back there and let him take a core sample of my molar, for scientific research if nothing else. Because, damnit, Eric Furst does not get cavities! His teeth carry the hopes of a nation!

I’ve adjusted to not being able to run, as I’ve had time to prepare. And I can sort of run; I did to get across a car infested street to the post office just a little while ago. This dentist thing has me all broken up inside. Shoot, I don’t even know who I am anymore.

Not for nothing, but this jug of grapefruit juice tastes like botulism.

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I was online early in life. While one of the last people in my class (it was a rich class) not to have a computer, by the time I was 14, I was enmeshed in the a/s/l world of IRC and ICQ – the precursors to AIM, on the early wave of online chat communities.

The first item of business is to find a screen name. I had one in mind, gathered from English class or somesuch. I’m not particularly proud of my first choice, Incubus. You have to understand. Prior to any regenerative transformation, left chained in the default human condition of sin, lots of things seem like good ideas at the time.

But it was taken. For no particular reason, I went 180 degrees out of phase choosing “Valiant” instead. I got in early enough that this name was still available with nary a numerical suffix.

In many ways, we grow into our monikers. Homer Simpson changed his identify (at least in the eyes of others) when he became Max Powers. Simon, the small town fisherman with tidal moods and a stormy faith, was ironically renamed Peter, the Rock. The first half of Acts testifies to the transformation. From Presidents to Prisoners, titles drive self-assessment. A convict grows into his name, as does a chairman.

To this day I have a knight in shining armor complex. Escapist almost by definition, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that these chat sites were packed full with depressed and socially awkward people. I fit in well enough. I’m not sure what the man named Incubus’s experience was like in that sort of setting. I do know that Valiant found himself as father confessor and shoulder to cry on often.

It seems like a simple matter of psychology – given an anonymous interchange, people will pour their hearts to someone who, by only his name, embodies a concept that they desperately crave. I don’t know what happened to almost everyone that I used to talk to. A 16 year old girl named Lilpup (I did know their real names, though I can’t remember now) with a two year old kid spent several evenings, clearly despondent at the loss of her childhood, venting to the name. Baby daddy, several years older, alternated between being abusive and absent. There were others, mostly women (or girls, I should say), some older, some contemporary, most lying about their ages, some making up their entire lives, who cried upon my cyber shoulder. I don’t know if it helped anyone, but I know they were there to talk, and it became evident that I was there to listen.

I don’t know how people presented themselves to Mr Incubus. I don’t know why I chose the name that I did and I do know that any training I once gathered has been long dulled by inactivity. But I do know that I almost had to grow into my name at that time. It was near the same time that I began to be called by God for my as of yet unrevealed purpose. I can only assume that there was some reason.

Addendum
I knew I wrote about this before. Oddly enough, I only found it because someone google searched for one of the mentioned screen names.

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A few days ago, pseudo-roommate Bethany refused to believe that I was a mere 6′. Nope, I told her, I’ve been 6′ even for a decade now.

Here in Goshen we have a wall, next to the bathroom that Steve and I used since 1993, which documents our heights. Throughout my mother’s major rennovations, she refused to allow the contractors to touch that swath of wall, despite the spackeling gymnastics required to level the rest of the wall into it. Steve, it seems, is a full 6′ 2.5″ as of last week, which is enormous for a distance runner, taller than he’s ever been.

I haven’t had a new mark on the wall since 1999 – why should I, I’m 27 years old for crying out tears. For giggles, this morning (always measure your height in the morning) I had my mother mark me. I’m almost an inch taller than I’ve ever been before. 6′ .75″, a towering figure indeed.

So, what induces a 27 year old guy to grow an inch in a year? It’s more like I’m not shrinking. 80 mile weeks compress cartilage throughout your entire body, especially in the spinal column. I have been barely running, averaging perhaps 30 mpw, over the last year. In that time, my body has rebounded and my joints have expanded (or uncompressed). I doubt I’ll grow any more, but next time I’m up here, probably next month with a U-Haul, I will have been in a boot (and hence not running) for almost a month. I could be taller still.

And that’s not even with heels!

Addendum
You know that song:
This is Budweiser
This is Budweiser
This is Bud-weiser
This is beer
?

That’s why I don’t drink Budweiser.

Even though it’s beer.

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While nothing is eminent, there’s a lot of chatter regarding the tropics these days. The peak is about a week into September, so we’re moving into the meat and potatoes of the tropical season currently. That said, the environment over much of the tropics is particularly favorable for development as we speak, and the upper level patterns are such that a newly formed system wouldn’t necessarily curve out to sea should it come barreling toward the east coast. Invests 92L and 93L both pose threats to the east coast in the next week or so.

Not for nothing, but they’re all excited about a hefty east coast winter as well. You heard it here first. Unless you read my sources, in which case they get their deserved credit.

Meanwhile, I have finished my Tour de Mortgage. I have three guys that I think are pretty decent. Two of them have personally used my real estate agent for their own home buying, claiming that he is the best of the best and wondering aloud how I was able to track him down. Thursday, hopefully, will be my last day of visits. I have seen 33 places so far, will see 7 more on Thursday while also revisiting 3 top candidates. While the entire process is enjoyable (since I don’t have to sell a house), I’m looking forward to the negotiations the most.

The Furst family has a long history of speed Monopoly. It is exactly like regular Monopoly (with a few house rules – Monopoly always needs house rules), only we work on the honor system, have the prices memorized, and play in such a flurry that we are able to finish within 3 hours, sometimes in 2. Once all the property is sold, the game grinds to a halt for a trading session. This war of attrition cannot be rushed. I personally like to go to the bathroom at this point, then stay away from the table for 5 minutes while people (namely, Mom, Dad, brother) look longingly at my property. I lope back in, sit there casually and try to come up with a way to fleece them based on their desperate need and my devil-may-care attitude. The worst that can happen is that I lose Monopoly. But transforming crap into a real estate powerhouse is a tantalizing reward, the glory lasts a lifetime, or at least a day.

In this instance, I have all of the cards. People can’t sell their houses. I can buy a house. I’m going to throw mud at the wall and see what sticks. Someone’s going to say, “you know what, screw it – it’s been 6 months, I can’t afford NOT to sell,” and I’m going to get a fantastic deal. Or, I’ll play three’s company with Adam and Bethany.

Addendum
I don’t necessarily advise reading this, as I got bored before I finished it. But it’s worth noting the psychological expert quote within.

“Pepper Schwartz, Ph.D.”

You mean Dr. Pepper.

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Some people might think it odd that I wrote a 3400 word summary of the trip. Those people shouldn’t click here. Because there are 3400 words there.

Addendum
More pictures in the New Pictures bin. I need to clarify again – these are pictures from on the trail – that means that I felt compelled to take a picture of something despite the poor lighting. Poor lighting = poor pictures.

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We met many people out on the trails. Some were grizzled outdoorsmen – themselves in the middle of summer long treks through the wild. The rest were extremely successful people, some with families, some without, but all with personal resumes featuring firepower.

While camping at the Kootenai Lakes, about 7 miles south of Canada, we spent a day with a family from Minnesota. Both parents were veterinarians, though they had different degrees (the mother, an engineer by training, embodied women engineers according to Stephen, “lots of self-confidence, for no apparent reason”). Still, the family was very successful, with two college aged girls (not present) playing D1 volleyball, and a stable of young buck sons as well.

After eating with them, we began to commiserate about the difficulties of hiking with others. I have a hard time doing it, Steve doesn’t even make believe. Eventually, the father said, “when it comes down to it, you can only hike with your own kind.”

It was easy to know what that meant on the trails. We were runners. A few days earlier, we had proposed a path that would have featured a 20 mile first day. The ranger paused. “Well, you guys are runners,” he said, “we’d let you do it.” In that context, we were runners. One of our fast trail friends was an army ranger. Grizzly man lives in the woods two months out of the year. Roger had been bouncing around the western US for 3 months and had another two to go. Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, the ambiguously gay duo from Virginia, were in a similar position, having just finished three weeks in Colorado. Others spent their entire lives traveling together with their families, bolstered by what seemed like endless caches of…well…cash. We were runners, and they knew our kind.

But something strange happened when I got back. With my achilles procedure looming two weeks hence, and with nothing between to work for, I didn’t care if I ran or not. It was deeper though. For the first time, I didn’t identify myself primarily as a runner. Two weeks of still untrimmed facial hair and many miles in the woods later, I’m not sure what I am. It’s deeper than just running, it’s existential upheaval time, yet again.

Alas, I’m used to this. A few weeks of the man holding me down and I’ll re-conform. I’ll probably shave before church. I don’t really want to go to that either, but I’m sure I will. One day, maybe I won’t. But I’m 27, damnit.

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Tomorrow AM we leave for Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana. Steve and I, God willing, arrive at O’Hare (from Raleigh and BWI) then jump on the same flight in to Kalispell, MT – about 45 miles to the south west of the park. There we catch a shuttle in, talk to the back country people, potentially reserve our sites before heading north to Lake MacDonald for the first night in the lodge.

If we weren’t able to reserve the night before, we have to run back down to Apgar in the morning, shuttle back to MacDonald, pick up our gear, shuttle further down Going to the Sun Road, then hop off and hammer an 11 mile jaunt to the Many Glacier site area for another lodge. As of three weeks ago that path was still impassable due to snow, so we’ll see how that goes.

From there, we launch into the woods. Now, it is our hope that we can get sites north of Many Glacier, as we’ll be heading to Canada. At that point it gets a little dicey – we have 5 days to hike something like 45 miles…so lots of down time as 9 miles is half a day’s hike. We cross over to Canada for a night at a sweet lodge in Waterton park, where we will be dirty, smelly, and wearing the same clothes that we’ve been wearing for the previous 5 days.

The next day we need to figure out how to get back to Glacier on the American side – once we get to Going to the Sun Road, we’re back on the free shuttle to Lake MacDonald. After one last night at the same place where we stayed the first night (where our stuff will be), we catch a shuttle back to Apgar, then another back to Kalispell for a 1 PM flight on 8/6. Home to Bmore, if all goes as scheduled, 9 PM 8/6. I told them to expect me an hour or two late for work on the 7th.

So that’s the plan. We’ll see how that matches reality.

I have this problem where I don’t sleep outside. Last year, despite
1) Waking up at 5:30
2) Driving 2.5 hrs to Kings Canyon
3) Going on a 10 mile run
4) Backpacking 10.5 miles and 5500ft in 5.5 hrs
on the same day, I slept for 3 hours.

After scaling a 11600 ft mountain (and I mean scaling) and hiking off trail for 3 miles to the Volcanic Lakes, the next night I decided to screw the tent and just lie outside. Maybe 2 hours that night. I tried to push pace for the trip back too, 14 miles in 6.5 hours down 5500 feet.

I can do that for three days. But 5? I doubt it. I’m going to have to sleep or I’ll start walking into trees and stumbling down canyons.

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Brother Stephen and I are now five days out from our epic adventure to Glacier NP in Northern Montana. Two days in lodges (one that we have to pack to), four days in the backcountry, two days in lodges (one in Canada). Four days of bar formed foods, low sleep, and my brother trying to get us killed. Last year, at King’s Canyon it was climbing up a ridiculous slot in Comb Spur. A few years ago, it was a 47 foot cliff. I for one am hoping for a bear this year. Last year there were three of us, and we had a bear strategy and had no issues with the two black bears that we saw. This year we’ll have bear mace to go with our pikes, as grizzlies are in the area. Everyone always says that you can’t outrun a bear. I find that hard to believe. They’re so gargantuan, reality be damned, I can’t conceive of it. Generally they leave you alone. Mauling would be no fun.

When I get back it’s time for preapproval on mortgages, as I’m now deep in the throes of home buying, with 33 visited so far. The whole thing has me a little numb – the money is otherwordly, like college, only a lot more.

By the 26th of August, I’ll be back in the boot after shockwave therapy, my last ditch effort to address the achilles.

I’ll be out of the boot in time for Bethany and Adam’s wedding, October 19th in Buffalo, which might be under a foot of snow by then. Last time I had the privilege to stand up front, the rest of the groomsmen had a running joke about my fidgeting. This could be more noticeable, as I’ll be sandwiched between the groom and his groomsman sister. Tranquilizers perhaps.

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I want to see a double feature of Wanted and Wall-E. They both start with W, someone must offer double features based on that sort of criterion. That’s my goal for July 4th weekend. I don’t think I have enough friends to bring such a plan to fruition, however, and seeing a movie by one’s lonesome is sad.

Speaking of sad, I have an hour and 27 minutes to go before the trials start tonight. They won’t finish until 1 AM. I’ll be very sad at 5:54 tomorrow morning when my alarm goes off. My bottom lip is already quivering at the thought. I am 27 years old, I have 50 q-tips left and I am loathe to staying up late, preferring to sleep. Go Team Cool.

Fortunately, on Sunday I went to two of my favorite stores, buying fun things from both. I expect there are a few more, but I consider myself loyal to four stores. SuperFresh is a weekly staple and RoadRunnerSports hasn’t been used as much as I would like. Sunday featured the other two, REI and Wegmans. I traded in a less big than necessary pack for a new, multi-night Gregory pack. I also picked up a book on lightweight backpacking, as well as a headlamp and water purification system, both on sale.

Wegmans was the destination for salmon. SuperFresh has decent salmon, much much better than Mars, Giant, or Safeway (don’t even ask about Shoppers), but Wegman’s salmon is arbitrarily good. I could pay $25 a pound if I wanted spectacular looking Alaskan Salmon, but instead of settled for the Canadian sort (still a very nice cut). A few weeks ago, Adam and Bethany, who are are getting married in October bought me cedar grill planks for smoking salmon. I normally steam salmon on the grill, locked within tin foil wraps and basting in concoctions of my creation.

This time I marinated the plank in water, dill, lemon juice and teriaki for an hour and a half, then prepped the flanks simply (salt, pepper, butter spread, some garlic, some dill) and coaxed the grill to the exact temperature. I assumed it would be a “try to convince yourself that it doesn’t taste exactly like ever other salmon you’ve ever made” sort of event. It wasn’t. I can hardly eloquate (verb, transitive, to verbalizein flow’ry prose) how delicious it was. You know how cedar has an almost orgasmic odor? The salmon tasted like the odor. It’s sort of like eating one of those sniffy markers, and having it live up to your wildest expectations. My sensory organs were wailing in a divine, harmonious communion with each other.

Anway, I love Wegmans, I wish I could crystallize it into some sort of biscuit and eat Wegmans too.

While we’re at it, look here. That was a fantastic rainbow, but, alas, it only stimulated my ocular nerves. Now, if it smelled like jolly ranchers and tasted like dimetapp, then we’d be on to something.

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It was a warm, sunny, breezy mid-September day at Orange Country Park, the year 1993. We had a dual meet against Pine Bush, the first race of the first season, on their home course. We lost. There was a tremendous hill, one that 12 year olds should not be expected to climb in their first races – I’m not sure where I finished (though I know it was in the near proximity of JB). Mostly I knew that something was beginning. This had been brewing my entire life; I was a runner, from a family of runners – a family with unfinished business and I was the herald to a new age, those the opening salvos fired by a new generation of warriors.

On a warm, sunny, breezy late May day on Princeton’s track, my last battle ended with little fanfare. I ran the best race of my life in front of a few hundred people I didn’t know. The plan was to lead off our weak leg in the 4×800 at IC4As, then follow it with our two strongest legs, Lou and I, before finishing with the gritty Walsh. I went out in 52.8 for the first quarter of the 800, desperate in my one last chance, my one last chance, my one last – I powered up to the pack in front and with 200 to go I tried to go to the jets, I swung to the outside, I swung to the outside, I…

…wasn’t fast enough. Never fast enough.

On a warm, sunny, breezy day in mid-June 2008, 15 years gone by, Stephen, at the pinnacle of his sport, ran the race of his life in front of a crowd of a few thousand people he didn’t know and a handful that he did. The rivers in Iowa were swollen to levels not seen since the last great flood, 1993. The Furst running-road-show in its last year, we traveled thousands of miles, prolonging, for one last meet, the fundamental unit of cohesion in our developmental years. The last runner in a family of runners, vindicating an injured father and a disappointing brother, he swung around to the homestretch with 500 meters to go; blood in his eyes and knives in his thighs and a top-5 finish in his soul.

Good enough to bind a nuclear family for 15 years. Good enough to smash records, raise bars to obscene heights. Good enough to belong with the best of the best, to stand toe to toe with the greats and not back down. Just that good, just that fast. But no more, but now it’s no more.

For five years my job was to cart supplies up to the front lines while Stephen waged war against enemies far too imposing for my meager munitions. For five years, he tirelessly carried the banner, until at long last, staggering punch drunk across his last finish line, he fought his last fight.

An army without a war; racers from a family of racers with no more races to run.

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