Thursday, October 26, 2017

Oregon 24 Pt II - Dashing Through the Snow

Before you start feeling sorry for me for huddling in a tent in the snow, I should point out that Carolyn and I have spent quite a few years camping and decided that we will never again go down on our knees to get in a tent. So when I say I was in a tent, it was a 6 person Big Agnes with a wool kilim on the floor, two cots, a camp chair, mood lighting, and expedition grade sleeping bags. It was tall enough to do jumping jacks in. So "huddling" meant I was sitting in a chair reading and I had to turn the heat down at one point.

We are better at tent camping than you.

Still, at 3am I turned the heat back up and there was ice on the tent walls. It was cold out there! I got up at daylight, suited up and went outside. I turned over the car and it told me it was 15 degrees out. Nice.

Despite the amenities, doing anything in that cold takes more time. I made coffee, ate breakfast, got my kit on, scrapped the rime ice off my bike and barely made it to the 9:15 race meeting. The sun was out and any pretense that this was a normal race was swept away as Mike, the race promoter told us he had shortened the course by 3 miles, added warming stations and warned us there would be a lot of walking the first lap as the course had 15" of snow at the top. I made a last minute wardrobe change and ditched my bike shoes for insulated Merrels and heavy wool socks with plastic bags over them. Yes, I'm 58 and I was wearing boots with plastic bags, just like 4th grade. It's funny the life skills we bring with us over the decades. The only down side was I was wearing regular boots on XPD clipless pedals which were about the size of ice cubes and after like 30 seconds of riding were literally ice cubes. I had to stop several times to hack off enough ice to get my feet ot stay on them.  The struggle keeping my feet on the pedals eventually contributed to back pain that shortened my race but with frozen feet the alternative, it was the right choice.

As Mike was counting down to the start, I was reminded of a Jenny Holzer  truism: "Expiring for love is beautiful but stupid." I used to have that printed on a t-shirt. Now I was living it.

The race began with a short run to our bikes followed by a pretty scary section of icy parking lot and then we hit the snow.

A few fat bikes (mountain bikes set up to run 5" wide tires) had run the course so there was a trail to follow. I was surprised at how rideable it was. Maybe 60 of us were in the starting group. It thinned out pretty fast. The first half of the main climb was actually easier than in the summer with the rocky sections smoothed over by snow and the traction actually very good. Below freezing, snow behaves a lot like coarse dirt and  even with narrow tires, I could climb.

The top of the course was miserable. Deep snow and too broken up to ride through for very long. Fortunately, Mike and re-routed the course so the last few miles followed fire roads with well established tracks in the snow. It was a pretty fast run back to the park.

The second lap was great. The top of the course had packed down and the whole lap was rideable. Well, it was rideable for a good rider. I fumbled a bit in a few sections but it was actually fun. I was reminded of the sled runs we made on dirt bike trails in the woods when I was a kid. It was like bobsledding through a forest. The track was banked and maybe 18" wide. I wasn't sliding around. The tires were sticking and amazingly, I wasn't cold. Anyone you talked to would tell you it was the hardest 7 miles they ever rode but it certainly wasn't the worst, at least for me.

Carolyn hadn't checked in yet so I set up to go out for a 3rd lap. It was about 2pm and I was feeling pretty good. While I was getting some food and changing gloves a woman rode by my camp sliding all over the place. She looked strong and I couldn't figure out why she was having so much trouble on the trail I just flew in on. Then I got back on my bike and promptly fell over. It had moved above freezing and the whole course had turned to slush.

It was horrible. Even the fat bikes had to walk sections. Two hours later I wobbled in having crashed half a dozen times. My back was a mess from all the twisting trying to keep the bike upright and keep my feet on the pedals. By the end of my 3rd lap Carolyn had arrived and with just a few hours of light left I decided I was done. By 5pm most of the field had resigned. Mike decided to call the race at 12 hours so all the 24 hour riders got rolled into the 12 hour results. I was dead last in the 12 hour 50 - 59 category. I'm not sure how many of those were 24 hour riders.

I've come in last more than a few times and I've felt bad about that but not this time. I mean, yeah, I wish I'd beaten somebody; it is a race, after all. But this one was such an outlier. Half the registrants didn't show up. Those of us who did shared an experience like no other. Through the whole race, there was always this detached part of my mind thinking "Huh, this is really happening." Nobody, I mean nobody thought "you should have tried harder" about anyone out there. Almost everyone was struggling with what they didn't have. People on fat bikes and an advantage. People with flat pedals had an advantage. People with proper winter riding boots had an advantage. People who weren't 2 months into their recovery season had an advantage. Heck, people with RV's and support crews had an advantage. I don't think that was the point anymore. To jump on your bike and head off into the mountains in those conditions was an act of incredible collective courage and stupidity and we all shared that until we were done.

As the night fell, Carolyn and I were snug in our tent with our new friend Mr Heater, sipping a nice vermouth and listening to the dozen or so riders left on the course fly by as they clocked laps to the 10 pm cutoff. The course had frozen up again and it was fast. I heard riders spinning their cranks as fast as they could, or the buzz of their Chris King hubs as they coasted by our tent trying to make the cutoff. I would have just been in the way out there. I had my moment and I was grateful for it. Last year I got on the podium but I felt like death at the finish. This year I got to have dinner with Carolyn, who, by the way, actually had a pretty good time for someone who never had winter camping on their bucket list. I also got to drive home without having to pull over to sleep.

I'm pretty sure Mike doesn't want to repeat this race in the snow but I'm also pretty sure there were more than a few people out there who would show up again if he did.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Oregon 24 - Pt I

It’s been a while since I’ve done a race report. It’s been a while since I’ve done a race. Carolyn and I were in Hawaii during the busiest part of the racing season. I can't say I felt bad about that. Last weekend was the Oregon 24 and I did line up for it and I did get some laps in but I’m not sure this will qualify as a race report because I’m not sure the Oregon 24 qualified as a race this year; at least not for me. It was certainly something. It may be the most memorable “race-like thing” I’ll ever do. Simply showing up for the race was more memorable than quite a few races I've finished.

The whole thing started evolving to what I showed up for a few months earlier when so much of the state caught on fire that they had to move the race up another month to let the smoke clear. I wasn’t wild about the change. Mike used to do the race in July. Saying July is my month of “peak fitness” might be a bit of an exaggeration, it is at least the month of my peak “least out of shape”. Every subsequent month is a month of decline into someone more closely resembling a pudgy guy who spends about 60 minutes a week on a stationary cycle at the gym. I had some reservations about putting my holiday physique through a race but I’d only done one race this year and I just couldn’t end it at that. I was honest enough about my fitness to sign up for the 12 hour race this year instead of the 24. I figured it would be cooler, and hardly any guys my age signed up for the 12 hour race last year so I actually thought I could win my category.

I really thought that. That’s so cute.

Two weeks before the race I began to track the weather in Bend. Everything seemed fine until the race weekend moved into the 10 day forecast. There it was. The temperature was going to plunge and it was going to snow. This isn’t really unusual in the West, but my New York mind was a bit put out. I mean, I can’t recall a single Halloween in my childhood when I had to trudge through snow to get my candy and Halloween was still two weeks away!  I didn’t panic. I’d raced in snow before; at least I’d raced when it was snowing. It was lovely and settled the dust. How bad could it be?

As it turned out, really, really bad.

The first indicator was the little red triangle that shows up in my weather app when the national weather service thinks something bad is coming. It was announcing 11-15” of snow in the Cascades. “Well,” I thought “I’m not racing in the Cascades. I’m racing in the Eastern foothills of the Cascades so that should knock off 7 or 8 inches right there!” I was skipping over the fact that the race took place in the Wanoga Snow Park and the Park Service generally puts snow parks in places with lots of snow. It’s called “planning”.

The drop in temperature did concern me. The the nights in Bend were going down to the low 20’s and the race was a thousand feet higher than Bend. I was going to be in a tent and it could get down to the teens and I was going to die as soon as I tried to change out of my sweaty bike gear and apply 20 degree chamois cream to my crotch.. More importantly, Carolyn was meeting me at the race on Saturday. Carolyn hates the winter and her coming all the way to Bend was the sweetest thing she could do and I couldn’t imagine leaving her in camp with no heat besides sitting in the car or dumping me for a Motel 6. This was serious. This was “I need to throw money at the problem” serious.

One trip to Buy Mart later and I was the proud owner of a “Mr Heater” indoor safe propane heater and an adapter hose to connect it to a 20lb propane tank. I figured 9000 BTUs should keep me comfortable, or at least warm but paranoid. Open flame in a nylon tent has filled me with dread since my high school winter camping days. Seriously, I actually skipped my Junior Prom to go winter camping in the Catskills. I didn’t date much back then. That fear wasn’t unfounded but when I weighed the options, freezing to death was a near certainty while burning to death in a 2000 degree ball of melting nylon was more of a preventable possibility.  Mr Heater had all kinds of safety shut offs. Besides, there was a picture on the box of the heater in a big tent with children and the kids on the box looked happy enough.

Friday morning I packed up everything warm I owned, two bikes, a ton of food and headed out over the mountains to Bend. As I went through Salem I stopped at Lowes and bought a scoop shovel in case there really was snow in the snow park.

There really was snow in the snow park. A lot of it.

It was, in fact snowing as I pulled in. Massive RV’s with generators roaring filled one parking lot. Sprinter vans with awnings and fire pits filled another. The few people I saw looked like they were getting ready for a summit attempt on Mt Everest. The solo rider camping area along the course was deserted and the road was covered with about 8” of snow. It was about as un-mountain-bike-racey a scene as I could imagine. I plowed the Subaru up the road and pulled in to what turned out to be the only shady campsite in the entire snow park. When the sun came out and I saw what I did I told myself it was snowing so how was I to know but honestly, after so many scorching hot days racing in that park over the years, I think my sub conscious just defaulted to shade. 

I had about 2 hours of daylight left so after high fiving myself for buying that shovel (being a solo, self-supported racer can on occasion, be a little physically awkward), I got to work digging out a campsite. It didn’t take long to clear the site but I discovered the snow had come down so fast, the ground was bone dry and dusty where I removed the snow. I actually tried putting back some of the snow I removed to settle the dust until I realized I was behaving like someone who needs counseling and gave up.

As the light faded and the snow tapered off, I tossed my gear in the tent, fired up the heater and settled in for the cold night ahead. This was already epic and the race was still 12 hours away!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A Strange Sort of Good Day

Let me tell you about Monday.

It started with that total solar eclipse. You saw it or you know someone who saw it. We filled the house with a remarkable collection of friends and family who came from all over to see it. My mother flew in from NY, My sister-in-law Janet flew in from NY. Liz came out from Portland. My old assistant Nancy from my theatre days took the train up from LA. We haven't gotten together in over 10 years. She brought two friends Christa and John who we've never met but they settled right in to the goat rodeo of food wine and conversation that is our home even when it's just Carolyn and me.

Oregon outdid itself. The clouds went away, the traffic jams (mostly) didn't materialize. We parked on the steps of the front porch and watched it grow dark.

And the eclipse? It was more amazing than every art rock album cover from the 1970's. It was the sun. It did that. Right there in the sky it went dark and the corona was shining and we stood in our field with friends and family and watched it happen and when the corona appeared and we took our glasses off,  we cheered and our neighbors who had Cat Stevens and Pink Floyd blaring from their truck stereo cheered and we all left ourselves behind and for one remarkable moment, we were collectively awed and humbled.

And then I went to a funeral.

More specifically, I went to scatter the ashes of Walt and Ester James, our neighbors from across the road. They were in their 80's when we moved here in 2001. I remember the first day I was here waiting for a guy to come and hook up our propane line, Walt walked up our driveway and invited us to his 83rd birthday party where we were introduced to all our new neighbors and we knew that we were home.

Walt and Ester were the pillars of our odd community and everyone respected and loved them. They moved to assisted care in McMinnville around 2010 after Ester had a few bad falls. Eventually they moved to California to be closer to their kids and we lost touch with them. A few years ago Bob and Eileen, close friends of theirs called to say Walt had passed away. A few days ago they called again to say Ester had passed last year and their kids were coming up to scatter their ashes on their old property.

Everybody at our house was asleep when Eileen called to say they were on their way. After the eclipse, everyone just collapsed. Long nights visiting, sitting on planes and trains, cleaning, cooking had all taken their toll. I walked over and visited with Charles and Jennifer, the new owners of the property who welcomed Wayne and Lee, the James' children, with open arms when they arrived with five shelties and the ashes of their parents.

After a long visit to see the changes to the home and land that had happened since Walt and Ester left, we walked through the pastures to the "Trillium trail", a little path up a wooded hill at the far end of the property. We all took turns spreading their ashes along the trail, at the base of trees and along a small creek. Eileen read a few short versus from a book that was given to Walt on his 30th birthday. The dogs sat patiently enjoying the cool shade. I looked at us all, 16 years farther down the road. I thought of all the spring sheep shearing festivals we did with the James'. Mom would fly out to buy fleeces, I'd make lasagnas for the crew, and Walt and Ester would mark another year as a great success.  I thought about the Christmas we had 18" of snow and my sister's family drove up in time for us to lose power for five days. We all went down and shoveled the snow off their sheep barn roof to keep it from collapsing. Joe kept throwing Maddie off the roof into a snow bank. She was 14, I think. She's 22 now and except for losing most of her right pinkie to a log splitter a few years later, she survived her teenage and college years an intact and wonderful adult.

I thought about the wear and tear and outright damage that accumulates as we grow old. I thought about Carin, Maddie's cousin who was killed in a bike accident in 2012. She would have loved the eclipse. My friend Nancy has had two tough battles with cancer that just didn't seem to faze her. I thought about my cancer, hopefully long gone. I thought about what we've lost as the years went by.

But I can't say I was sad. The laughter of the present is where we live now. As it got dark and we finished dinner Carolyn and I dug out the battered box that contained the "Costume Shop Fantasy Dream Date" board game; the game made by the costume shop crew for my 30th birthday and only played once before I was spectacularly sick from the 8 shots of tequila it took to get just halfway around the board. On reflection, a thoughtful book of verse might have been easier on the liver. We kept the game because it was a work of art and a monument to the bad decisions of youth. We've lived long enough and well enough to look back at that box with a degree of fondness.

When I went upstairs to go to bed, leaving rooms of laughter downstairs, I was happy the sun rose, briefly went away, and came back again and we were there to see it.

And I was happy to know Walt and Ester were finally home.

Walt's Tree

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Hawaii Part III - Being There

Before I flog that metaphor to death, I should say that Hawaii wasn't paradise. It's a conflicted place filled with a wide array of people who have some ownership of the place but can't entirely agree on what it should become. But it wrapped us in its arms and welcomed us and there was something.

What was that magic?

Was it any different than what others feel when they come here? Maybe it was as simple as experiencing something new in a place we've never been. We've never thought of ourselves as typical tourists, I suppose nobody does. People come here with nothing but a plane ticket or reservations to to the finest resort the world has seen. Does that change anything? Just because you arrive on a cruise ship or spend your evenings at a five star resort doesn't mean your experience of a place is any better or any worse than ours. When Carolyn and I traveled together in the past, we tried to avoid the "tourist experience" unless that was the only way to experience something (I'm looking at you Vatican!). This trip we parked ourselves in the most touristy part of the island, complete with a horrifying America-themed cruise ship straight from a John Ashcroft fever dream blocking the horizon.

There's a 1979 Firebird out there that wants its paint job back.

And you know what? It was fine. It was where we wanted to be. Most of the people shuttling on and off the cruise ship were not much different from us.  I've never been swimming in an actual ocean. We've never been in a kayak together. We knew almost nothing of Hawaiian culture. We were pale. We were overdressed. Locals knew who we were and it was fine. We got to let go of all the performance anxiety of pretending to be something other than what we were; tourists.

Giving up on blending in made it easier for us to ask dumb questions about history and pronunciation. Giving up on the bucket list of destinations let us slow down to go see petroglyphs at the bottom of the Chain of Craters Road instead of flowing lava in the national park.

We saw Pu'ukohola, Kamehameha's temple, built with a 20 mile long line of men handing rocks down from the mountains. Our enthusiasm for what we learned there made us very popular with the docents at Hulihe´e's Palace in Kona, who were so grateful some tourists came in and were genuinely curious about the place, the objects on display there, and what it all meant to modern Hawaiian history which, by the way, is fascinating.

Carolyn thought the most magical thing was my discovering I loved being in the ocean. I really did. The kayaking/snorkeling trip in Kealakekua Bay to the Captain Cook monument started it and it never let go.  If there were people in the ocean, I would be there too. We hiked to the green sand beach near South Point, the southern most point in the United States. The surf was rough but there were a few people in the water body surfing. Carolyn was walking ahead of me, turned around and I had jumped in to join them. She couldn't believe it.
Me, 2nd from the left, getting schooled by the Ocean
Believe me when I tell you, I have never before been standing in the water, turned around and seen water above me with a sense of purpose. 

I don't think I said the word "bicycle" once the entire trip.

As the week went on, Carolyn's allergies went away. We slept better. We drank less. We began to get a handle on pronouncing things.

And on the night of Carolyn's 65th birthday we kayaked out to look at manta rays. And we saw them; 10 feet wide swimming inches from our masks. And yes, there were probably 100 other snorkelers within a hundred yards of us. I don't care. We all loved it.

Carolyn is 65 now. Our world is changing. We can't keep keep up with where we live much longer. It's a beautiful place but the pollen makes Carolyn sick. What I do for a living is going away and I just hope the old Web and I age out of the market at the same time. I might just make it. We are going to lose Carolyn's parents soon. We are talking about what we can do during our "active life expectancy" where we're healthy enough to travel confidently under our own power.

All these things are here now for us to worry about and we are worrying about them, and talking about them, and making the best plans we can.

But for a week, we were someplace else and while we were there, we felt windows open. We felt the real magic, the old magic that carried us up mountains in Nevada decades ago. We have walked this Earth together for 30 years and at the moment we were feeling like we'd done what we set out to do, we found a place where we journeyed as equals, discovering things at the same time. We swam together. We ate poke together. Be bought board shorts together. We have so much more to do! And that, my friends, is magic indeed.


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Hawaii Part II - Getting There

As we waited to board our flight at PDX I took stock of our fellow passengers, most of whom were in search of something similar to Carolyn and me. The couple that stood out the most had matching t-shirts. One said "Beauty" on the front and "20" on the back. the other said "Beast" on the front and "12" on the back. It must have been their 5th anniversary and they were wearing the shirts to celebrate which was sweet. The problem was they kept standing wrong so the backs said "1220" and the fronts said "Beast/Beauty". I wanted to get them to switch positions but Carolyn kept stopping me. I'm just glad they didn't sit in front of us because you just know they were going to sit wrong too and my vacation would have been ruined.

If you've never been to Hawaii before, the differences from traveling to any other state will be apparent even before you land. The first thing you'll notice is you're on a plane for 6 hours with nothing to look at but ocean. Hawaii is a LONG way away from the mainland and when the islands finally come into view they look really small. You can pretty much take in an island through one window. The second thing you'll notice is they feed you on the plane. In steerage. I remember the '80s when you always got a meal on a long plane flight. We used to make fun of the food quality. Now that sad box of teriyaki chicken and a cookie was as welcome as a fillet Mignon at Ruth's Chris Steak House. Being given food, any food, is one of the most basic acts of human generosity. You don't miss it until it's gone.

Then there are the airports. Like many large airports in America, Hawaii's airport architecture reflects the sensibilities of a pre-9/11 world and the stuffing of modern security protocols into these buildings can most kindly be described as a sadistic, dismal, failure. Hawaii's main hub Honolulu puts its own twist on this by connecting terminals with outside walkways.  In a in a pre-terrorist tropical location I suppose that made perfect sense but after a few decades of being funneled into increasingly claustrophobic corridors and lines physically separated from non-secured parts of airports by blast doors, full body scanners and armed guards; the act of actually opening a door and going outside after screening just feels wrong. If you spend most of your time flying in and out of Newark, the mind rebels. We ended up sort of walking back and forth in our terminal until a bus showed up. We got on that and took it all of 75 feet to the next terminal which was connected by a breezeway with a lovely garden we found on the return trip.

The Kona International Airport was even stranger. They basically laid down enough tarmac to land a 747 next to a couple of fish shacks. The terminal is so small it simply vanishes in the blur of scenery when you land. Once you climb down the stairs from your plane you wander into a series of huts connected by open air patios.
This is the whole airport. Modern air travel at its cutest
I kept looking around wondering if it got bigger in the back but no, this was pretty much it. It's kind of adorable. It did have a baggage carousel but that somehow just made it cuter since the plane's cargo door was like 20 feet away. TSA officials probably just cough, look away and hope nobody notices there's an international airport here where you could just walk around the terminal, on to the runway and up the stairs into a plane.

We got our rental car and headed off to Kona and our first stop to experience genuine Hawaiian culture.

We went to Costco.

Once you get past the vertigo of being in a big box warehouse store in the middle of the Pacific that's laid out exactly like the big box warehouse store you went to five days ago in Salem to pick up cat food and batteries, it was actually pretty interesting. They sell decent poke and a lot of other locally made products there. Truth is Costco is where Hawaiian's shop. There was a rooster in the parking lot, which was a Costco first for us. Maybe that's normal here though I don't recall seeing any other loose poultry in our travels.
Fresh Chicken!
Stocked with food and wine (yes, you can get a decent Provence rosé at the Kona Costco proving that despite the remote tropical location, we were still firmly planted in the First World) we headed off to our Airbnb apartment. The big resorts are north of the airport, isolated from the rest of the world by half a mile of lava desert. I know they're outstanding and I certainly wouldn't mind giving one a try sometime. I'm afraid we're a little down market for that world and we kind of like doing things ourselves, so our digs were in a working class apartment complex about a mile south of Kailua-Kona. It was clean, very well equipped, quiet at night, and no view unless you walked over to the pool which was beautiful. Perfect for us.

We spent a day resting, exploring Kona, scoping out the guide service that was going to take us on our first kayak/snorkeling trip, renting snorkeling gear for said trip, and terrorizing people at our pool by trying it out there.
This is why we don't get invited to pool parties.
Apparently,  that was against pool regulations so we had already established ourselves as "problem neighbors".

We had planned our week to include a day of snorkeling and kayaking, a day or two to go see the volcano, a trip up north to a botanical garden, a trip to Hilo, and a night snorkeling excursion to see manta rays. On paper it seemed quite reasonable. We more or less stuck to that schedule for the first half of the trip.

Going to see the volcano was as amazing as you might think. We actually have quite a few volcanoes in our neighborhood and a couple of them have erupted fairly recently. Our volcanoes put most of their energy into violent explosions, pyroclastic flows, and wanton destruction; with little effort spent on keeping busloads of tourists with short attention spans happy. People generally run screaming from them while they're erupting. Most of the time when you go to a volcano in Oregon or Washington, you're going to one that's pretty much finished doing what makes it a volcano. Certainly safer for the tour buses, but much of the cinematic drama has passed.  Kilauea is still very actively doing its thing but doing it in a way that you can see it without actually dying. The lava lake in the caldera is high enough now that you can see it splashing over the rim from the Jagger Museum overlook. There it is. Molten Lava. The real thing I had only seen in decades of B-science fiction movies and countless episodes of Nature. That alone was worth the trip.

Usually you only get to see this once and then you die.
If your National Park includes a publicly viewable lake of molten lava, Carolyn and I are your park visitors. Still, it was logistically tough to do, staying at the park until dark for the best views and then driving two hours to get back. And it was strange, as big geology fans as we are, we kind of wanted to get back to the ocean. We both decided to skip driving to the east side of the lava field to see where it went in to the ocean or hike out into the flow to see molten lava up close. We had thought that was going to be the peak of our trip but we just didn't want to. And I think in some ways that's when the trip began to really work it's magic.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Hawaii Part I

This is a year of great portent for Carolyn and me. All kinds of things lined up. It's our 30th anniversary! Actually, it's the 30th anniversary of our first date which turned into a sleepover which turned into nightly sleepovers which turned into moving in together which turned into buying a house together which turned into buying another house together and breaking out in cats, which is pretty much where we are now. Exactly in the middle of those 30 years we got married. It was sometime in July, we have it written down somewhere. That's not to say we take the marriage lightly. It means a great deal to us, though for some reason, we aren't getting the spouse's discount on rental cars that I thought came with the package. Anyway, 15 years of being bound in matrimony this year too. It's also Carolyn's 65th birthday, which is maybe the biggest deal. Oh, and there's a solar eclipse in August. If you're big on numerology and signs from the Heavens, this year is the Super Bowl.

Back in March, sitting in NY waiting for a huge snowstorm to add two feet of white humiliation on top of our miserable, soggy, Oregon winter, I decided Carolyn needed a special gift to celebrate this confluence. Over the years I've given her among other things,  two bicycles, a weed whacker, an oil painting of us, and a chainsaw. Pro tip: once you've done the chainsaw, you've pretty much burned your gift giving bridges. I also decided we needed a vacation. So the night before the 'nor'easter plowed into NY, I gave Carolyn a card for our anniversary that simply said "Fuck it, we're going to Hawaii". Which is just what we did.
Hawaii, yes, that's the only solution

Lots of people go to Hawaii. One of Hawaii's main reasons for existing is to be someplace people go to when they need to get away from where they are. We've never imagined ourselves as the tropical vacation types. Our holidays tended to terminate in museums and ruins. I mean actual ruins, not a failed holiday, though some people might wonder if they were traveling with us on a few occasions. Our trip with Ann and Chris to the French Riviera introduced us to the idea that maybe lounging around on a beach isn't such a bad idea after all. 2' of snow in NY brought it home. We were pale, soggy, tired, and not really in the mood to immerse ourselves in another culture and another language. After a lifetime of thinking we didn't need to experience it, Hawaii suddenly made perfect sense. Heck, there's even a highly regarded Luau at Linfield in April so we could bag that before we even left!

We decided on the Big Island because it's big, has a gazillion ecosystems and an active volcano. We've been trying to see lava in person for 20 years. It's kind of a thing with us. I did the practical things; got us an apartment for a week, booked flights, rented a car.

I also surprised Carolyn by signing us up for a kayaking/snorkeling tour of Kealakakua Bay where Captain Cook committed enough of a social faux pax to get himself killed. I even booked our apartment on the Kona side of the island, which is more touristy but closer to swimming beaches. I was all in with the ocean. The thing is, my lack of engagement with oceans and swimming in general is something of a party gag, like sticking spoons to your nose. In France, the discovery that my afternoon swim in the Mediterranean was my first time in salt water got me a nice magnum of rosé. My enthusiasm for snorkeling in the Pacific (something I've only seen done in movies right before the heroine gets her foot caught in a giant clam and a guy swims to rescue her) was odd but kind of exciting, like wearing a tool belt and no pants around the house.  Anything could happen! My real reasons were more practical. I figured that it's like dining at a stupidly expensive restaurant; if you're paying that much for the experience, you better experience it. Also, the Hilo side has more rainfall than Oregon and really, that was just not an option anyway.

So on a rainy Tuesday morning at 4am, Carolyn and I drove off into the rain to PDX to fly to Kona and in due course, have all of our preconceived notions of Hawaii and ourselves in the tropics, completely undone.
Except for Mai Tais. Those notions were pretty accurate.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

After this Winter - Some thoughts on losing my way

Last weekend I dug my bibs out of the closet, suited up and did the Mudslinger mountain bike race again. Some confusion after the race got me thinking about paths, wayfinding, and getting lost. It also got me thinking about politics.

This was the 30th annual Mudslinger which means we share an anniversary! A couple actually. Carolyn and I have been together 30 years and I started racing mountain bikes 30 years ago. My race prep this year consisted mainly of gassing up the car the day before driving down to the race. I think I've ridden outside four times since Christmas. Still, I wasn't going to miss this one. I did the second Mudslinger in 1988 and quite a few after that until I stopped racing in 1996. I've done it at least six more times since I started racing again in 2008.

I finished pretty far back in the field but ahead of a few dozen racers. I wasn't the only one having trouble getting the base miles in. More importantly, I had fun. It was a beautiful sunny day for a welcome change. As I was getting changed at the car I heard Mike, the race promoter on the PA say that there were some riders who may have missed a turn and gone off course and if your computer was reading below 17 miles, let him know. I checked my Garmin.

16.79 miles. Well crap.

When I got home I emailed Mike and let him know. He DNF'd me, which was fine. But here's the thing: I know that course really well and more importantly, Mike is a true artist at course marking. Even with a couple of new trails, I knew I didn't miss a turn. This got me thinking about how we follow a course and how we get lost. 
Photo Courtesy Mudslinger Events

What do we need to find our way? We need information in the form of directions. That begins as a published course map but also include course markings. The trick to giving good directions is to not give too many. Mike uses pink ribbon every 1/4 mile or so. Right side of the trail if a right turn is coming, left for a left turn. When the course changes, there's a pink cardboard arrow pointing to the new path and a bright green sign with an "X" and the word "No" right after the turn in case you missed the sign. Sometimes there's a pink sign with downward arrows and a skull and crossbones to indicate a steep descent. That's pretty much it. No course marshals shouting directions. Mike figured out they can cause as much confusion as they relieve. His marking works because it's consistent, stands out, and has simple hard to miss failover if you're staring at your wheel and really miss a sign.

How do we get lost? Setting aside people who get lost because they choose to leave a known course for some reason, trusting their navigation skills to get them back, only to discover those skills were wanting; we get lost because we ignore or miss directions, or the directions were incorrect or misleading, or the directions were just not there.

There are two common aspects of getting lost: The actual moment of going off course usually happens in an instant, often one missed turn or instruction. The other is there is always a span of time and distance between the moment we went off course and the moment we realize we are lost. In that span of time we think we know where we are going, then doubt creeps in, finally realization. The length of that span of time generally reflects how much trouble you are in. That time is often extended because we reinforce our belief we are going in the right direction. There are people around us and they must know where they are going. We're going downhill fast, covering a lot of ground. We must be going the right way (because I really don't want to pedal back up what I just came down). Sunk cost can really stretch this out.

Photo Courtesy Mudslinger Events
I'm slow enough to think about these things. The front of the field is going twice as fast as I am and those racers are operating in a head space that doesn't allow for much abstract reasoning. They just need to flick their eyes up occasionally to know they're where they should be. And I suppose because I had time to think about it, politics began creeping into my hopelessly adrift internal monologue.

I haven't been writing for a while because I've been feeling lost. I think I'm just short of that point when you stop, look around, and realize you have no idea where you are. I don't think I'm alone. In fact I think just about everyone I know is lost. Some feel pretty strongly that they know where they're going and it's the right direction but don't have a lot of evidence to support that. Some thought they did but are beginning to have doubts. Some are pretty sure they're lost but can't seem to change direction. Some are in full on "write SOS in the sand and wait for rescue" mode. Some are sure we're lost, won't be found, and seem to be taking more of a "Lord of the Flies" approach to the situation.

I know, it's a very imperfect metaphor. Still, it feels like being lost and we are experiencing quite a few of the characteristics of getting lost. We're told too many conflicting directions. We're getting positive reinforcement for the path we are currently traveling in the form of others traveling in the same direction. Retracing our steps sounds horrible. We're trying to reinterpret the landscape around us as something familiar. We disagree on which course marks are real. We're looking to blame someone or something for leading us astray.

How do we find our way? When I'm racing and I start to worry I watch tire tracks. I can see when racers have gone before me. No tracks, I'm lost. I don't think that scales up for our country. It's like there are are tracks everywhere. Course marshals screaming directions at every turn, racers going in every direction. Some of them look like they might be violent. I admit, I honestly don't know what to do and I'm afraid I'm just going to stay lost for a while.

Back in the real world, I finally loaded my data up to Garmin's website, looked at my route and the course map and I was right, I didn't go off course. I sent the data to Mike and he confirmed it. The mileage drift had to do with where Mike started his computer and where the race actually started (1-1/2 miles down a dirt road after a neutral rollout).  He's reversing the DNF which is great, though I can't help thinking I could have avoided the whole thing by looking at all the data I had, and really thinking through the race and what I did. The truth was right in front of me. At least I knew where I was going for a few miles in the woods. That's something these days.