Writing Work

Fishing at Island Lake, just another day in the San Juans…

One of the primary reasons that I started this blog was to begin writing with other readers in mind, rather than just writing for myself. With no writing resume to speak of, I figured it could also serve as a showcase of what I am capable of, as well as a place to practice one of the many things I love to do–write. With luck, I figured that writing this blog could eventually help me to get paid for writing. Well, it worked! I’ve been writing gear reviews and short histories of various pieces of outdoor gear for Outdoorgearlab.com for most of the summer. With all of the writing work I have not found enough time to write about the adventures and thoughts I have been having, although I can hopefully catch up on those soon. Anyway, here are some links to the gear histories I wrote. The histories are smaller sections embedded within the larger reviews and are uncredited, but anyway… I plan to continue to showcase my writing work here once it is finished, so more to come!

History of Alpine Ski Boots
History of Binoculars
History of Carry On Luggage
History of Pedometers
History of Digital Cameras
History of Camping Tents
History of Trail Running Shoes
History of Bike Helmets
History of Hiking Boots
History of Pocket Knives
History of Sport Headphones
History of Sandals
History of Umbrellas

Life Lessons – The San Juan Solstice

Dawn at the top of the first climb up Alpine Gulch.

“…All of life is practice in one form or another.” – Thomas M. Sterner, The Practicing Mind

“What is the difference then between work activities and recreational activities?…the only difference between the two activities is that we have pre-judged them. We make it into work or play by our judgments.” – Thomas M. Sterner, The Practicing Mind

To say that “such and such is a great metaphor for life,” might be one of the most overused cliches when trying to justify the reasons for doing silly things like running 50 miles through the mountains. Never-the-less, it was the parallels between my current situation and my life in general that I contemplated in the pre-dawn murk as I ran along the Engineer Pass road just outside of Lake City in the first couple miles of the San Juan Solstice 50 mile race. My contact lenses would not sit right on my eyeballs, causing my vision to be blurry. Since the 4 a.m. wake-up call I had been fiddling with them, trying to get them to perform the duty they were designed for–correcting my vision without glasses. In frustration I switched to a brand new pair while still in the hotel room and vainly tried over and over again to spin them around on my eye so that the special areas that corrected my astigmatisms would sit in the right place. But the race began without a solution–or clear vision–and a couple miles down the road I was still fidgeting with them, running along the road with my fingers in my eyes. But no luck.

I tried to do the best I could to relax into the situation and not grow frustrated. I realized that perhaps this vision problem was going to be the challenge of the day, the unexpected occurrence which I would have to adapt to and overcome. The experiences of my last race at Transvulcania finally taught me that ultra-running is more about adapting to what you cannot foresee than it is about achieving a fleeting moment of perfection. A good plan and having goals in place for the day are important targets for which to aim, but in the end the brilliance of this game is that you cannot know what may happen until you have stared down the winding trail and felt the curveball being thrown your way. Rather than let a lack of perfection bother me, I now chose to revel in the uncertainty.

Saw this on the wall of a stone hut in Nepal. Seems appropriate!

So as I fought off the frustration in the early morning and accepted that my vision might not be perfect for a little while, I understood that choosing my attitude to the problem was going to be the key to overcoming this challenge. Just like in real life. And yet in real life I remind myself of this little fact all the time, but somehow struggle to match my attitude to my desires. Yet here I was in this invented and self-inflicted challenge which has no tangible purpose, and had no choice but to choose my attitude for my own benefit, or else just accept defeat, which I wasn’t going to do. It struck me in that moment how bizarre it was that I need these ludicrous challenges to teach me these lessons in an experiential manner. So it seems that ultra-running does serve a specific purpose after all, beyond just being a metaphor for life. I resolved to try harder to apply what I learn while running to my everyday problems.

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Transvulcania

“It is wise to think of the dynamics that we think of as ‘failure’ and ‘success’ as not truly existing, because they do not, not from the position of truth, only from the position of judgment.” – Gary Zukov, The Seat of the Soul

 

“Attune yourself to nature, and understand what nature demonstrates so clearly – there is no such thing as failure… You have not failed, you have moved further along the learning curve.” – John Perkins, Psychonavigation

Staring into the great Caldera de Taburiente from somewhere near Pico de la Nieve on the Transvulcania race course, I contemplated what it meant to fail. I sat on a flat lava rock that somebody had carefully arranged into a seat about 15 feet off the trail along this great volcanic ridge line, taking in a view which included the entire swath of rocky peaks and points which this trail race traversed, all the way down to the black sand beaches of the Atlantic Ocean nearly 9,000 feet below. To my left was the peak of Las Deseadas, which I had run over in the dawn hours, feet treading continuously up the black lava sand as the orange sun rose over the great ocean of clouds which stretched away to Africa. Behind me on the horizon stood the giant volcanic cone of El Teide on the far off island of Tenerife, the only piece of land to pierce the bank of clouds which still rested in that direction. To my right curved one long unbroken ridge stretching around the entire caldera for another 22 miles, passing by the bare brown highpoint of the run – Roque de los Muchachos – still more than 10 miles distant and adorned with the white domes of star-gazing observatories. In front of me and so far below me so as to appear only as a scattered dusting of white dots amongst the surrounding green of the banana plantations was the town Los Llanos de Aridane, where this crazy race would eventually finish. But as I sat and tried to enjoy the view with one runner after another in a slow but non-stop trickle, a drip-drip of moving humanity, jogging past on the dusty trail, each one glancing at me, uttering an out of breath “estas bien?” before moving on inexorably towards their goal, I was trying to accept that I would not be crossing that finish line so far below.

Fuencaliente Lighthouse in the daylight.

Transvulcania is certainly like no other race I have ever done or witnessed. At the starting line in the dark of morning on a tiny point of land jutting out into the great wide ocean, beneath a lighthouse buffeted by winds which felt strong enough to lift the mast right off of a ship, I stood tightly packed into a corral with 3,000 other maniacal runners for 45 minutes, doing my best to stretch and get my gear situated perfectly in my small running pack while standing shoulder to shoulder with babbling European runners adorned head to toe in the fanciest and most choreographed spandex running outfits I had ever seen. AC/DC blasted us from speakers larger than those at a stadium show as people bounced up and down and turned on their white headlamps and red back lamps, bathing us all in an eery but fascinating light. I was starting to anticipate Guns ‘n Roses taking the stage and began to look around for somebody to sell me a beer, but instead a handsome man wearing a sombrero shouted “VAAAMOOOOS!!!!” over a loudspeaker, so letting out a collective scream that would have made Bigfoot or the Incredible Hulk proud we all tore off our shirts and charged raging and foaming at the mouth into the inky black night! Except for the tearing our shirts off part, that would have been too American… Instead we did something even more crazy and ridiculous: prancing abo in our Tour de France costumes all 3,000 of us simultanously sprinted at full speed up a 200 meter long stretch of tarmac before crashing like a sea breaker into a one-lane single-track trail heading straight up the black volcano. This process did indeed induce some people to scream and foam at the mouth – it was awesome! Being an American, I partook in this foreign process with the greatest of zeal and gusto, stumbling up the black rocky hillside while trying to tear my shirt off (stupid rip-stop nylon!) and learned the hard way why so many Euros choose to run with ski poles even though we were certainly not intending to ski – they use them as weapons! Even more awesome, except I forgot to bring my own weapons!

Running through the town of Los Canarios. Yep, blurry

After about five minutes of this madness my heart-rate monitor overheated and exploded in a fiery ball, making me wonder what exactly my heart was doing inside my chest. But soon things settled into what I consider normal for the beginning of a race, people spread out enough that I could begin to hear my own breathing, find my own rhythm, be happy I was near the front and not still duking it out in the Thunderdome under the lighthouse for a spot on the trail, and realize that I’d better slow down cause there’s still 49 miles to go until this ends. Things remained normal for another half hour or so until we arrived at the first town along the race course – Los Canarios – and were greeted by literally thousands of people lining the trail, the road, hanging out windows and balconies, packed in five deep against barricades, screaming and clapping and cheering for the runners in the dark, all to more loudspeakers and AC/DC and flood lights and red carpets and who knows what else, I might have missed something as I ran by. This went on for well over a mile and proved instantly that the fine people of La Palma are the greatest sports fans on Earth! In the US we line the streets of our city to cheer for and catch a real life glimpse of millionaires with fake muscles who are paid millions of dollars to “represent” our city, and are thus lauded as the pillars of our society, while they flaunt their newly earned diamond rings and trophies to us for winning a contrived game which most closely resembles war, all of which we watched on TV while drunk. In La Palma they spend all day picnicing outside while happily following and cheering for the thousands of friendly and healthy tourists who have come to visit their island to appreciate its natural beauty in an inspiring, if not somewhat puzzling and ludicrous, way, while also bringing all of their happy friends and family to absolutely flood the local economy in money. They were amongst the happiest and most welcoming people I have ever met, but then again, I don’t think anyone could find a reason to be unhappy on La Palma…

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The Dream is to be Healthy and Balanced so that I can Run

Pumori, Khumbu, Nepal

“The first step of the dream-change process…is to define what we want, to make certain that it is a dream, not a fantasy… An essential next step is to give the dream energy. Constantly bring your dream out into the light of day. Think about it, meditate and journey on it. Talk about it with everyone you meet. Shout it out. Share it with the Earth, the sky, the clouds, the sun and moon, and with all the plants, animals, and minerals of the Earth. Give it voice and song!” – the shaman Manco, from The World is as You Dream It, by John Perkins
“The energy created by our dreaming is like air. It travels everywhere. Your ability to use this energy is limited only by your dream of its power. Your faith. Our dreams can affect everyone and everything else–if we energize them with enough power.” – the shaman Manco 

There was a specific moment which occurred this past year while trekking in Nepal when I truly came to realize what running means to me. My brother Paulo and I walked downhill in the morning sun along the main trail through the Khumbu region, the trail leading away from Everest Base Camp, which we had left that morning. As we strolled along we talked–musing, dreaming, contemplating–as we usually did. We were essentially ‘homeward bound’ as we were now headed out of the mountains on our final trek of the long three-month trip, so our thoughts naturally journeyed forward to what we would do next and where we were going. Within a few short weeks we would split and continue on following our own individual paths. Both of us intended to keep on traveling for many months. I had an entire itinerary planned for the next many months: the beaches of Thailand, then the northern mountains, on to the Indian Himalaya, Sri Lanka, then New Zealand… It was a dream trip that anyone would be envious of, but instead of looking forward to all the amazing sights and places I would see, I was instead pre-occupied with a dream of heading home and spending the summer in the mountains of Colorado, simply running.

Paulo walking down the trail where this story takes place, between the towns of Gorak Shep and Chhukung in the Khumbu

It didn’t make much sense, and I voiced my confusion to my brother in what I thought was a rhetorical question. “Why can I only think about running when I have so many amazing travels to partake in?”

By his immediate and pointed response, it seemed that he knew exactly why: “You need running to be who you are.” Continue reading

Crazy Thoughts on Knowing Your Future and New Years Resolutions

Moonrise over a long line of peaks – san juan mountains, co

“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.” – Kurt Vonnegut

At a family get together in an apartment building in Denver just after the Christmas holiday I stood on the outdoor patio ten stories above the ground and looked west, towards the skyline of the Rocky Mountains which are visible from just about anywhere in Denver. The sun had already gone down, indeed much of the sky was already black, but the sky behind the mountains still shone bright yellow, perfectly outlining the long, semi-jagged line of peaks stretching from Pikes Peak far to the south, Mount Evans in the middle directly above Denver, to the obvious pyramid of Longs Peak to the north. A long line of black bumps on a skyline, it reminded me of something…

Recently on a long drive home to Colorado from spending a couple weeks in California I was listening to a book on tape to make the hours pass more rapidly. The book was “Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut. In it the main character, named Billy, is kidnapped by aliens from another world – specifically the planet of Tralfamador. The Tralfamadorians had mastered the art and physics of long distance space travel and took Billy to their planet where they put him on display in a zoo. To the Tralfamadorians, the most interesting thing about humans was that they could only view time in a linear fashion. They themselves were capable of seeing time all at once: they could view everything that would happen during a person’s lifetime just by looking at them. When Billy tried to warn them about the dangerous attitudes and tendencies of humans, they were unfazed, as they claimed to already know how the universe would end – they would destroy it. Anyway, the way that Vonnegut chose to describe it, when a Tralfamadorian looked at a person, they saw its entire life stretched out as a timeline, like looking at a “long ridge-line of mountain peaks.” And so staring at the long line of mountain peaks still faintly illuminated above Denver, I thought about Time. Continue reading