Saturday, February 27, 2010


On Friday I took the day off and zipped up to Vancouver to catch the sights and sounds of the Olympics. I didn't have tickets, and from what I heard, the events all cost more than I thought prudent to spend.  Get a bicycle or go to a hockey game? That's ok though--there was so much going on up there that tickets were not required to have a great day in Vancouver.

Vancouver is roughly 85 miles north of where I live. I have spent a fair amount of time up there over the years, for play and work. For this trip, I parked in Richmond and rode the skytrain downtown. Vancouver's skytrain is just terrific.

It rained all day. I picked the wrong day to be up there, but I made the most of it.  Right off the train, I went and checked out the Olympic cauldron, shown above. It's ok for a cauldron of fire--a little fancy. After that, I wandered up to Robson Street and Robson Square. People are everywhere, and they're all wearing colors. The Canadian pride was everywhere, with red knit hats, hockey jerseys, scarves, and fake maple leaf tattoos.

At Robson Square, there was a 150 yard zip line right above the crowds, with an 6 hour wait--I was content to try to get a picture of the airborne zipsters. There was a small underground skating rink, with the weird Olympic mascots skating around.  The kids loved the mascots.  A circus troupe did a nice Cirque du Soleil impression.  Food. Pins. Lots of stuff, and I wasn't even looking--I would just wander upon some or another form of entertainment.  It felt like a city-wide street fair, with national pride. 

I stood in line in the rain for 15 minutes to get a "Japadog," which is a famous fusion hot dog cart in Vancouver, featured in the New York Times. They have a picture of Steven Seagal with the proprietor. And some others--Zac Efron, the guy from Lost, Sasquatch, etc. They have meat and non-meat options--they put wasabi and seaweed and other Japanese foods on top of the dog. 

From there, it was down through Granville and over to Yaletown. I got really wet.  I ate well, sampling from here and there, and stood in a few more lines, and then headed home. I kind of got lost trying to leave Richmond, but it worked out. Great day, depsite the rain. Very glad I went.

Today I knocked out the middle 30k of the Chuckanut course. I feel like I'm improving--I ran pretty ok for me. This was the first time I've ever ran the actual middle 30k as a training run--I always do some variation.  It was a good idea. Tomorrow it'll be some snowshoeing on Mt. Baker, full moon style, provided the weather works out.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Woolley 50k+

Sitting here listening to a Tom Petty-Bob Dylan duo album, trying to sum up my race today in my mind for this blog, and the “answers are blowing in the wind”—this cd is phenomenal. A couple weeks ago I watched a two disc documentary on Petty’s career, and it was amazing—he’s played with everyone—Eddie Vedder, Dylan, George Harrison, Stevie Nicks. I guess that's not everyone--there's still Lady GaGa and Jay-Z.

But this here is a race "report", such as it is. I knocked out the Woolley Run 50k+ today, stretching from Sedro-Woolley to Birdsview and back. Terrific day and event. The weather was outstanding, with temperatures at freezing at the start of the day, icy ponds on the side of the trail, and climbing to 60 degrees by the time I went home.

The course is on the Cascade Trail, a Skagit County rails trail, completely flat, heading east and upriver through farmlands, with the North Cascades clearly in the foreground, snowcapped. We watched the sun rise in the chill of the morning, over those mountains. Frosty fields. Clear clear skies.

There were probably only 15 people who did the 50k, maybe another 15 who did the marathon—actually, I have no idea—total of about 50 people, if you count the terrific volunteers, mostly friends I know. Terry S. organized this with Skagit Runners and NW Ultras. Fees benefit the rebuilding of another local trestle trail, which was lost in a fire. Distances a bit long, as per Terry. Chip timing for the club was tested out for the first time. Other friend volunteers included Joe, Shawna, Roger, Alvin (and kids), Terry’s family, Shawn, and a few others I’m sure I’m forgetting.

I ran a very slow out.  I was cold, waking up, warming up my left hamstring. Slacking, I managed to see a herd of elk that no one else saw, 200 yards to the north of the trail, skipping around some bushes. Later, there was a herd of bison, some with white faces. Friendly cows and horses too, and lots of spring birds, like jays and robins. Driving home, I saw a number of flocks of long-necked swans in the Nookachamps--they'll be gone soon. I like the nature.

At the turnaround, I picked it up, not to the hilt, but noticeably, and ran the last 16 in slightly negative splits. I took a brief detour into the Lyman Tavern, which was right off the trail. I've always heard about the Lyman Tavern, but never been in. The tavern calls itself "the horniest tavern in the NW," because it is stacked to the gills with antlers. There's a neon sign above the bar of a buck and a doe, enjoying intimate relations, with that slogan, glowing. I heard there used to be a place you could buy moonshine by the tavern. There's a lot of tarheel pride upriver, from a North Carolina migration from the early 1900s. The Tavern always seems to make the news whenever Lyman gets flooded by the Skagit River, which happens every few years.

After the detour, I kept pushing. My finish time was 5:12, which sounds relatively fast for me, but I'm not too excited, as this is a fast trail. I did manage to get 75 miles in this week, including two track workouts, and that is a good week of running for me. I figure I need to push things a bit.

Amazing 30km pursuit cross country race in the Olympics today. One of the best races I’ve ever watched—I vegged out on the couch and enjoyed it for an hour this afternoon. I’m a likely bet to find my way north to Vancouver this week sometime. It's only 60 miles or so, and although I know it'll be crowded, the pains seem worth the gains. No tickets, but I guess it's all happening, everywhere.

Petty and Dylan—Dylan is now ripping on the harmonica, the opening riffs to I’m not knockin’ on heaven’s door….great stuff.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Teddy Bear Cove Loop

I did a Teddy Bear Cove loop today, south of Bellingham, during the noon hour. Teddy Bear Cove is just south of Arroyo Park, and part of the cove is Whatcom County park land. Only seven miles, but all things considered, I'm sure it'll be one of the best runs I do all year.

Weather: blue skies, 60 degrees, middle of February.

I ran out to Teddy Bear via the Interurban, almost just like the beginning of C-nut. Evergreens, moss, Padden Creek. People were out. Once through Arroyo Park and across California Street, a right turn and three minutes of steep switchbacks down to the water. Crossed the Burlington Northern railroad tracks, which skirt the shoreline from Seattle to Canada. Big train carrying Caterpillars flies by. Notably, the cove itself is historically a clothing optional spot. Years ago I saw naked people somewhere around here, Clark's Point actually, which is near. I was out crabbing with some friends. I think the clothing optional people just sort of wandered our way.

I headed down the track, north. The railroad ties are covered with oyster shells, cracked by seagulls. Pearl white shells everywhere. A long trestle splits the cove in half, curving right through the middle of the bay, like a half moon. It’s narrow, and the tracks are active, so that’s where this route gets a bit sketchy. It's not a good idea, crossing the trestle--I moved fast. Stirred up at least five herons, as well as a bunch of other odd looking waterfowl, with white on their wings, as I ran, five or ten feet above the water. It was an Auduboner’s delight—all sorts of birds were hiding out in the Cove, and there were no other people. Saltwater air.

After the trestle, there’s a bunch of beautiful sandstone cliffs, with red madrona trees hanging out in odd directions, and then there's a train tunnel, built in 1921 I believe, with a very narrow opening. It's a Stephen King kind of tunnel, stretching about 200 yards, with a curve, under the hill. You can't see the end from the beginning. A train had just came through, and so I didn’t think it over much—I launched in. A person could hunker down in the worst of cases, I think. Water dripped from ceiling in the middle, just like the old CC tunnel. Very dark.

I think I went through this tunnel in the early nineties—this area way back then was favored by transients and college drinking parties, with bonfires.

Once through—and in the middle I couldn't see my feet--once through, I ran the tracks back to the dog park in Fairhaven. This is about a mile or so. There was a railroad worker midway down, in a car--I waved and then looked away, because there was some trespassing involved in this loop, probably. Kayakers were paddling the calm, and Lummi and Orcas Island were to the left, with the snow on Cypress Mountain clearly visible to the north, birds flying this way and that, beautiful world, that kind of day.

And then I went back to work.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

In A Far Country

In A Far Country
By Jack London

When a man journeys into a far country, he must be prepared to forget many of the things he has learned, and to acquire such customs as are inherent with existence in the new land; he must abandon the old ideals and the old gods, and oftentimes he must reverse the very codes by which his conduct has hitherto been shaped. To those who have the protean faculty of adaptability, the novelty of such change may even be a source of pleasure; but to those who happen to be hardened to the ruts in which they were created, the pressure of the altered environment is unbearable, and they chafe in body and in spirit under the new restrictions which they do not understand. This chafing is bound to act and react, producing divers evils and leading to various misfortunes. It were better for the man who cannot fit himself to the new groove to return to his own country; if he delay too long, he will surely die.

The man who turns his back upon the comforts of an elder civilization, to face the savage youth, the primordial simplicity of the North, may estimate success at an inverse ratio to the quantity and quality of his hopelessly fixed habits. He will soon discover, if he be a fit candidate, that the material habits are the less important. The exchange of such things as a dainty menu for rough fare, of the stiff leather shoe for the soft, shapeless moccasin, of the feather bed for a couch in the snow, is after all a very easy matter. But his pinch will come in learning properly to shape his mind's attitude toward all things, and especially toward his fellow man. For the courtesies of ordinary life, he must substitute unselfishness, forbearance, and tolerance. Thus, and thus only, can he gain that pearl of great price--true comradeship. He must not say 'thank you'; he must mean it without opening his mouth, and prove it by responding in kind. In short, he must substitute the deed for the word, the spirit for the letter.

I read this story last night.  The story goes on to tell a tale of extreme cabin fever in the Klondike, but these first couple paragraphs were striking enough for me to want to share/remember.  The words remind me of many things, endurance related or otherwise.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

WTA Work Party

It’s been a long week, and not a great running week. That’s sort of ok, coming off Orcas, but I would’ve liked a few more miles. I had a professional conference in Seattle, and I was the moderator of a panel of DHS officers, presenting in front of a bunch of attorneys. That’s a tough crowd and a tough panel, and it had my focus. It went fine, but I just had no extra time, without pushing myself sick, which I don’t do. Sometimes that's the way it goes. It sure was fun to visit Seattle.

Today I participated in a Washington Trails Association work party at Fragrance Lake. Some of the races out there require that runners perform eight hours of trail work. It's a good thing. I went ahead and fulfilled my requirement today, because the timing was right and I liked the idea of working on a trail I run regularly.

Every time I do a work party I come away feeling so good about it. This was probably the best work party I’ve done. The local trip leader for WTA is Arlen Bogaards, and he’s awesome. Some of my favorite comments by him: “I don’t want to lose another volunteer, so be safe.” “WTA: We Take Anyone.” We had eight folks on our crew, and as it turned out, four of us were Huxley students or grads. The others were older, and wiley with knots and stuff. Great group.

I got to drive up to Fragrance Lake, on the Fragrance Lake Road. That’s kind of cool—the second time I’ve done that. We made a “crib ladder.” A crib ladder is an elevated turnpike, whatever that means, which amounts to two longer logs framing the trail, with shorter logs under and over the logs, providing support, with rock and dirt fill.

So, the first half of the day we spent moving three big cedar logs halfway around the Lake. This was really Amish, as we had straps and ropes, and all eight of us muscling the 500 pound logs down the trail. I mentioned the wheel, and also a float the log plan, but nobody bought in.  At the site, we set up a zip line to ferry buckets of dirt and rocks from uphill to the crib. We also skinned and notched the logs, dug trenches, and lopped roots. It wasn't finished when we left, but it looked good, and another crew will finish it up tomorrow. We had barely any rain, barely any wind. Afterwards, I ran, finally.

Cue the Olympics. Just watched a short track speedskating heat. The winner went 1500 meters in 2:15. That seems fast. I might try to get up to the Olympics, just to catch the vibe. I heard yesterday that there’s a race over a hundred miles on a river in the Netherlands, but it’s with ice skates. It’s supposed to be a big deal. That might be worth looking into.


For the journal....Crew Leader Arlen's gracious summary, emailed to the crew afterwards:

A bold plan, a willing crew and a few straps, ropes and various tools is all it took to carry a half a ton of wood and move a small mountain of soil. At the end of the day, 12 feet of turnpike was taking shape, a beautiful piece of trail rising up out of the former muddy, rooty and slippery mess that once was. Thanks for your determination and GREAT attitudes, never really openly questioning my sanity (at least in front of me) concerning the daunting task proposed. Everyone quietly (although a few grunts and groans were audible) shouldered the load as we moved some really big and heavy logs. After getting the bones for our structure in place, Joe and Ally made quick work of peeling bark and along with Scott moved into the groundwork and precision notching of the logs. Meanwhile, Marty supervised the raising of the line and with his crack crew of Hugh, Paul and Brad, had rocks and dirt whizzing down to the worksite in record time. At the end of the day, the logs were in place and pinned and a great start to the approach and fill was accomplished. Thanks again to all of you for your help and the communication and safetymindedness (is that a word?) you all exhibited. Once again a testament to what a few willing folks can accomplish... and a bunch of fun to boot!!! Thanks again and I hope to see you out on trail sometime soon...

You rock!!!!!...really... Arlen..

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Orcas Island 50k

Yesterday was the Orcas Island 50k. I love Orcas Island, and have been going to various types of events at Moran State Park since the early 1980s. This year was probably the best ever weather for the 50k, with blue skies and views to Europe and Asia. This is a difficult course for a 50k, if ascents and descents are deemed tough, as it climbs approximately 7600 feet. The trails are not as soft as on the mainland, and there are sections which are heavy on the roots and rocks.

My third time was a personal best, as I finished at about 6:51. My previous two efforts were absolutely lame no-effort type runs, somewhere in the 8 to 9 hour timeframe, on different courses. I wasn’t surprised to improve upon them, but an hour and a half is a lot. I felt I ran well, but I can also see much room for improvement.

I managed to miss the start of the race. My friend Rich and I were in the lodge mingling and talking, and just spaced it. We thought it was kind of funny, and ended up starting two minutes behind the pack. Seems like I’ve done this before. The course started off uphill fast, eventually nearing the top of Mt. Pickett in Moran State Park.

You go up, you go down. Aid Station 1 was back at the camp, around Mile 10.5. Some of the 25kers were already coming in when I hit it. Soon enough, the 50k launches up the West Boundary Trail, a powerline climb that’s pretty vert. My focus was better this year with the climbs, staying attentive to making forward progress. More descent thereafter, where for a few miles I hitched on the heels of a nice, much faster runner who missed a turn earlier.  Eventually, a beautiful circuit of Mountain Lake.

It’s a long stretch to the next aid station, atop Mount Constitution. And a climb. The views as you near the top are as good as anywhere, including heaven, with Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, islands, and the north Puget Sound below. I lost my camera somewhere up there. Fortunately, someone else found it, but I missed out on taking more photos of the view. I almost wanted to lose it—I think I’ve dropped it a few too many times, and now it takes blurry shots a lot.

The final 9 or 10 miles can be fast if you have it. The pitch of some of the descents is respectable. I didn’t have great downhill legs, but adequate. I was focused on coming in under 7, and my mental state was good. I have work to do, in terms of fitness, but I was pleased that despite debilitating cramping in both hamstrings, I was able to soldier on, and finish strong, by my standards.

Friends all over the place. Rich and Mike rocked it, and I suspect most of my other friends did as well, some of who stuck around, others of whom rushed to catch the ferries. Riding the ferry in the morning with so many runners I know was great. Pizza, soup, beer, and other goodies available afterwards—also great. James V. puts on a terrific event. I caught the last ferry out, which had no line, and was home by 11:30. Now time for the Super Bowl. Not going to fight it--just enjoy it.