Thursday, February 26, 2009

Another Good Weekend

I drove up to Maine to visit my son last weekend. He lives near Portland. I drove briskly up on Thursday, taking 9 hours. He had invited me to attend his Aikido class. I study Hakkoryu Jujitsu and wanted to see what Aikido was like. Mike earned a black belt, which is "Master" or teacher, level in karate in college. When he moved to Maine, he visited several dojos or training schools to find one that he liked to continue training. He wasn't impressed with the first several schools he checked and pretty well gave up his search. He happened to find this school and has been pleased.
I got to Mike's just before he got home from work and we headed to class. I found a clean, spacious, well lit practice area with a huge mat room. Mats on the floor make for nicer throws and rolls. I took part in two classes that evening and we went back Saturday for more. A regular class plus a sword class. I had never done any weapons training and was pretty clumsy with the wooden sword.
I found the fundamentals the same in Aikido as Hakkoryu. Both are purely defensive arts using off-balancing techniques for throws. The names, in Japanese, for the techniques are different. The teaching methods are different. But the two arts are very similar.
Mike is a cyclist and cross country skier. He loves Maine because of the snow they get there. The country around Portland is rolling hills and is great for cycling as well. He has helped me with some of my runs as a crew member and pacer. He hated running in high school and wasn't sure he wanted to do any more. I'm glad he gave it an honest try in order to help me out. I'm also glad he has decided maybe it's not as bad as it was. Trail running is very different than fast track sprints. He has a dog that needs exercise and running in the woods is a good way to do that.
We got out to run together Saturday afternoon and again on Sunday. Mike told me he found a steep hill to run on. No kidding!!! Saco Mountain is the higest point in York county, with 800 feet of climbing in a little over a mile. It is topped with two radio towers. There is a paved road that leads to the towers. It leads through a stone quarry where we can see the layers of granite they are blasting off. We drove over to the quarry gate and ran up and down twice on Saturday. That is a real killer hill. We ran from home to the mountain and back Sunday. That made a 15 mile run with a thousand feet of climbing. We ran it at an easy pace in 2 1/2 hours, just a nice run.
It surprises me how few wildlife I see in Maine. The area is old farm land with scattered houses. Swamps and wooded areas outnumber the fields. We saw 2 deer this time and a dozen turkeys, the first I've seen there. There are reports of moose in the area, but we've never seen one. The big score, however, was a bobcat we saw on Saco Mountain on Saturday. He crossed the paved road about a hundred yards away. When I said "Look!" the cat turned around and ran back across into the woods. He was a pretty reddish color, not the tawny I have seen. Imagine the odds of seeing 2 bobcats in 2 states in the same week.
I intended to drive home Monday. Monday had other ideas. We woke to a foot of heavy wet snow and no power and things pretty well shut down. I had told Mike he ought to have his camping stove there instead of leaving it at my house. "You just never know" We fired it up on top of the kitchen range and cooked breakfast. We had the woodstove for heat, so we were just fine. The family that owns the house Mike is in, came up from their house next door. We cooked for them and we all shoveled the driveway. Around noon, the power was restored. The folks in Maine are used to this and it was no big deal.
It got colder through the day Monday, into the low teens that night. That froze the new, wet snow and made for some fine skiing conditions Tuesday. The farm Mike goes to had groomed the trails Monday afternoon and made them smooth and fast. I'm not a skiier, but can make forward progress, mostly upright. We had a good time in the morning. Trail conditions were super, nobody else was around and the weather was about perfect.
In all, another fine weekend.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I'M IN!!!!!!!

"Hello Steve!
Congratulations! You have been accepted to compete in the 2009 Badwater Ultramarathon, presented by AdventureCORPS, Inc. You are part of a select group who will participate in what is recognized across the globe as the world's toughest footrace."

I applied for the Badwater Ultramarathon in January. I knew I met the posted minimum qualifications. I had crewed for a runner there last July and knew I was capable of running the course. I had been awed by the talented runners I met there, the names everybody knows, Dean Karnazes, David Goggins, Charlie Engle, Pam Reed, Lisa Smith-Batchen.
I wasn't sure I fit into that category. I knew I wanted to run there, very badly. I was prepared to run on my own as a solo runner outside the official event.
I first ran in Death Valley in 2006. I absolutely love that place. It is the absolute opposite of northern Pennsylvania. Here is green and hills. You can not get a half mile from a road or a water source. There is brown and mountains and space. There is no soil on the ground, the sandy gravel crunches under your feet. Polar opposite but equally beautiful. Starry winter night and warm June sunrise.
I went back in 2007 and ran the marathon again. This time I spent a few days exploring and seeing more. So many times, I didn't even try to take a picture. Some things just don't fit on film.
When I came home in 2007, I posted my availbility to crew for the Badwater Ultramarathon 2008. I was contacted in a few days by Kelvin Marshall. Kelvin is Australia's best known and most prolific ultrarunner. He asked me to be part of his crew. It was a big blind date on both sides.
I agreed to meet two strangers in Las Vegas and then share a van with five people I'd never met. We would be bound together for a week. A week of 110 degree weather and the tension of a race. It was a good match. We bonded into a good team. We got Kelvin to the finish line in good time and healthy. We have kept in contact since then. Most of the teams scatter, like a one race stand.
I the time since, I have run more races. I have gained more experience and found some people who made a good crew for me. I was building toward my own Badwater run. I knew there was a selection committee that reviewed the applications. I had heard of some good runners that didn't get accepted. I applied, but I also made backup plans to run outside the official race in case I didn't get invited in to the big party.
Now how do I feel?
Like a dog that chases cars. Like I've got a tiger by the tail. I've put my name out there. Now it's time to walk the walk. Or run the run.
It's a "What have I done?" feeling.
It's a graduation, an acceptance into the big kids's lot. I was a shy, clumsy, socially clueless kid growing up. I was the last to get picked for teams in gymn class.
It's a "YEEEHAA!!!! Go for it!!"
It's a humbling feeling to have my crew members and crewmates say they know I can do it.
It's a motivator to do the work, the training, to be the most ready I can be.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A great weekend.

I had a good weekend. I got out to run Saturday on the hill behing the shop. An hour and a half on the log road and the pipeline was enough for that day. I saw lots of tracks in the dusting of snow. Deer, turkey, grouse, squirrels, fox and coyote had been traveling.

Today, Sunday, I went to run with Doug on the hill behind his house. It was a clear, sunny morning, about 16 degrees, just nice for running. Overnight, a bit of new snow had fallen, so the ground was a new sheet. As we climbed, we saw tracks of deer, porcupine, fox, rabbits, squirrels and a pair of bobcats. As we descended on the side toward Westfield, we actually saw a bobcat. The tracks showed that a pair, most certainly the pair whose tracks we had seen on the other side of the hill, had rested in the sun alongside the log road we were coming down. We could see where they had laid beside the road long enough to melt the snow under their bodies. They must have been sleeping, because they are usually very alert and we weren't being quiet. We were chatting and jogging along. Doug said he had only seen a couple other bobcats in his life. I have seen 5 or 6. Bobcats are on the increase in Pennsylvania. February and March is the mating season. Usually bobcats are solitary. I had seen tracks and other sign in this area before.
Later in the afternoon, I went back behind the shop for a few more miles. I put in another hour and a half that included half a dozen trips down and up the pipeline. I came home pleasantly tired, not thrashed.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

I am now a Diver!!!!

Had a terrific time on the cruise. Things didn't go according to the original plan, but everybody had a good time. I and my best friend flew to Mobile, Alabama Friday and stayed overnight. I got out to run Friday afternoon and a found the municipal park a couple miles up the road. It had paved paths to run on. I got in another run Saturday morning, before we got on the cruise boat. It was a couple hours late getting in. We found out why. The ship had two engines, but was running on only one.
There were about 80 people in our group. It was a Scout trip for the troop and my Venture Crew. 18 Scouts and the rest families and friends. My brother and sister-in-law, my sister and brother-in-law and their friends and friends of Scouts. We all had travelled separately. Everybody was set to relax and we all did. We ate well, wandered about and talked with each other and strangers.
We were supposed to stop in Costa Maya to visit the Chichen Itza Mayan ruins. Because the ship was slow, we missed that stop. I had seen the ruins and they are amazing. The Scouts were all disapointed. We got to Cozumel late in the day and had a couple hours to get off the boat before dark. Cozumel is noted for the shopping, especially for silver jewelery. The other thing to do there is to scuba dive or snorkel. Eleven of us in the Venture Crew had earned our scuba licenses for this trip. We had chartered a small boat for our group. The next morning we got off the boat at 5:30 and caught a taxi to the dive shop downtown. It had been windy in the night and we could see the waves were high. The dive crew arrived at 6:00 and looked at the water and at each other. After a consultation, they decided to go out. The dive boat was about 25 feet long and the waves were 3 and 4 feet. It was tough getting into the pitching boat. On the way out I lost my breakfast. A couple of the boys looked pretty green.
When we got to the dive site, we hopped in. A few feet under the surface, the waves didn't exist.
It was our first time in salt water. We had trained in a pool and the river here. The water was so clear, we could see 5 times as far as the river we had learned in. We dove to 45 feet and travelled along a coral reef. There were bright colored fish and camoflauged fish. There were coral growths like vases and like bowls. This was a marine park and we were warned not to touch anything so as to leave it as we found it. Forty five minutes went by too fast. We came up and went to another dive site. This one was within sight of our cruise boat. On the way, we passed the rest of our group on their snorkel excursion. We all waved. The second dive was as good as the first. It was like being in a huge aquaruim full of tropical fish. Imagine that!
One of the most fun parts of being under water is that you can move in 3 dimensions. Left and right, front and back, also up and down. Properly weighted, you are at neutral bouyancy, just like being weightless. You can do front somersaults, rolls, stand on your head. Just too much fun!!!
The second dive was all too short and we had to get back in the boat for a rough ride to the pier. We thanked and tipped the divemasters. Back on the cruise boat, we showered the salt water off and chowed down. Diving is hard work, but I can't wait to do it again.
The trip back to Mobile was without incident, a bit of rough seas one night. We got in 5 hours late, but our group all managed to get home without much trouble. We are working with our travel agent and negotiating with the cruise line about how to make up for our missed stop and scramble to get home. Maybe we'll get a tremendous deal and get to go again soon.