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On writing versus living

I love to write. I really do. I have been writing almost as far back as I can remember.  In my pre-teen years I wrote short stories, mostly about horses. As a teenager and young adult I wrote moody poetry about feeling out of place and yearning for a beautiful place in nature that I was sure would make me whole. I have journaled off and on since I was about ten years old.

One of the reasons I did well throughout my educational career was my ability to write clearly and crisply (the other reason is that I have a genuine knack for taking multiple choice tests). I developed my scholarly writing skills to a fine point as a graduate student. One of my dissertation committee members, a man who is notoriously hard to please, gave me his highest praise when he told me that my writing did not get in the way of my thought process… he could clearly see my brain thinking through my words on the page.

When I ended my corporate life this past February, one of the things I was most excited about was having more time to write. I literally blocked out two hours a day on my calendar for writing. I had ideas for a couple of books. I was going to blog more frequently. I was finally going to live the life of a writer.

Six months later, I’m blogging much less frequently than I did while I was still working. And I have done exactly zero with the book ideas.

This situation bothers me… a bit.

There are days when I look back in the evening and can’t figure out what on earth I have done with my time. There are other days when I know very well what I’ve done (slept in, ran, hiked, read, whatever), and I’m satisfied that I’ve had a wonderful day. Yet I regret not having found time to write.

I tell myself that I am not yet done detoxing myself from corporate life. There is some truth in this. I am enjoying being lazy, simply gazing at the water or the mountains. I am enjoying not forcing my body to wake up on command in the middle of a sleep cycle just because the alarm clock says it’s time to get up and go to work.

I think there may be a deeper reason why I’m not writing very much right now, and on balance it’s a positive thing.

During my poet years of my teens and early 20s, I took myself very seriously as a poet. Some people work through their adolescent angst by acting out and doing wild and crazy things. I kept my turmoil mostly to myself and worked things out metaphorically on the page through my poetry. As I grew older and some things began to resolve themselves, the irrestible urge to write faded. I still wrote, but I found myself crafting poetry rather than writing it from my heart. My poems became stale and artificial, and then they finally stopped coming at all.

My journaling career has taken a similar course. I journal feverishly when I need to think through things or get unstuck, and set the journal aside when I’m ready to fully reengage with life.

When Kurt was diagnosed with lung cancer, I started the blog for him as a gift to both of us. He used it as a convenient way of keeping family and friends informed of his treatment progress. I used it to provide my perspective on his condition. At first we both blogged, but when he got sicker I became his voice. We would come home from another unpleasant procedure or another trip to the emergency room, and as soon as I made him as comfortable as I could I would fly to the keyboard and get it out of my head and out there as a physical object that was then somehow separated from my experience. Writing it all down and then clicking “publish” could be a genuine insulation against the pain.

I started this blog (a year ago next week!) as a place for me to grieve, to relearn who I had been before the diagnosis, to learn who I had become during my caregiving year, and to try to figure out who I might become next. Running was the thing that had held me together during that year, and so running became a strong focus for this blog. My readers have been friends, other grievers, other runners, and (to my surprise) those who found me through the series of posts I wrote about mid-century modern architecture in Palm Springs.

We are complex beings, we humans, each of us with our own constellation of interests, passions, fears, and the things that happen to us along the way.

This slow happy runner has become less slow and a lot more more happy.

When my life is full and I am happy, I don’t feel the urge to write.

It’s the tag end of a short but glorious Pacific Northwest summer. The snow had hardly melted when I left for the cruise three weeks ago, and now already the wildflowers have peaked, the meadows are turning brown, and the maples have their first hint of fall color. I should be up there hiking for all I’m worth, but there are so many other things to do.

I’m getting into full training mode for my two upcoming half marathons. My 4-5 mile midweek runs have become 6+ miles, and my long runs are 8+ miles. I went down to southern Oregon a week or so back to test-run about 9 miles of the course for the Rogue Run. It’s not nearly as “all downhill” as the course profile diagram implied, but it is a beautiful paved trail along a river. I do hope the weather is cooler by then; running in 85-90 degree weather was pretty brutal. Yesterday, back on home ground and 60-degree weather, I ran my fastest 9 miles ever (in just over an hour and a half) despite including some major hills on my route. I’m feeling strong, and I am fully “owning” the fact that I am truly, completely in love with running.

There will be more time to write when the days are much shorter and the nights are cold and dark. But now? This is not a time for reflection. It’s a time for doing. It’s a time for enjoying my life as fully as I possibly can.

I’ll leave you with a couple of photos (from more than 500) from my Alaska cruise.

This is one of the more “interesting” sections of the 10-mile trail run in Juneau. It’s a steep area that gets frequent avalanches and landslides.

This is me with running guru and writer John “the Penguin” Bingham, one of the group hosts, on the same trail in Juneau. When I stopped running to get this photo, I realized just how wet I actually was. It was pouring!! (And yes, we are coincidentally wearing the male and female versions of the same hydration pack.)

It’s a glorious day outside. I think I’ll click the “publish” button and go outside to enjoy it. I hope you do something wonderful with your life today as well!

Where do I begin?

It’s been several days since I returned from Alaska, but I still don’t know how to blog about it. Everything about this running/cruising vacation exceeded my expectations — the people I ran with, the places we ran, the local runners who assisted at our events, our gracious hosts John Bingham and Jenny Hadfield, the food onboard the cruise ship, my cabin, the cruise line employees, the scenery, and the wildlife. It all was, in a word, AMAZING.

I have more than 500 photos and I can’t imagine how I’ll ever choose just a few that capture how wonderful it all was. It may be that I’ll never successfully blog about this. I may have to just count it as a lifetime highlight experience and move on.

But I can’t let it pass without sharing just a few tastes.

I saw wolves running on the beach in Glacier Bay National Park.

We idled near a glacier in a sea of newborn icebergs for nearly two hours and watched/heard the glacier calve… and calve… and calve yet again.

I ran 10 miles on a steep trail in Juneau in a downpour.

I watched a thousand or so salmon packed tightly together in suspended animation just up from the mouth of a stream in Sitka, their bodies adjusting to the change from salt water to fresh water before they could resume their final journey upstream to spawn.

I ran 7 miles through a rain forest (that looked remarkably like home) near Ketchikan, and somewhere on that last run of the week I found a groove. I knew that I could have kept running like that all day. I fell in love with trail running.

Our official mileage for the week was a bit short of the promised 26.2 (perhaps I found a short cut on the find-your-own-course sightseeing rally through Sitka?). I recorded something like 24.9 miles, but I’m not complaining about that. It was all wonderful. It was also quite non-competitive, in that “winning” involved guessing your predicted total time. I finished about 30 minutes faster than the time I’d predicted, mostly because I never saw a bear so I never had to stop, wait, detour, or backtrack.

If you are a runner with a taste for adventure and a yen to travel, or if you are looking for a running-themed vacation with appealing alternatives for non-running family members, I can confidently recommend any of the Marathon Expeditions events. John and Jenny know how to do it right.

I could go on and on like this, but — I’ve got some trails to run…

Unexpected adventures — on the trail and in life

After my big 7-mile trail run last week I decided to be good to myself and do a genuine taper before next week’s Great Alaskan Marathon Cruise. I did an easy 6 miles three days later, followed two days after that by a brisk 4 miles (during which I accidentally logged my fastest unofficial 5k ever). I then pronounced myself ready to run.

This, of course, freed up my schedule for another epic hike! It’s the peak of our short summer hiking season here in the Pacific Northwest. The snow is finally retreating and the riot of wildflowers is in its full glory. My hiking friend and I planned to do a 6-mile hike along a ridgetop at an elevation of approximately 5,200 feet. We took our time, stopping to photograph one glorious meadow after another. I could share dozens of photos, but I was especially pleased with this composition of tiger lilies and lupines:

The trail meandered through the meadows and then into a grove of sub-alpine firs. The scenery was sublime, idyllic.

As I came around a corner, I found myself 10 yards from and face to face with this!

 The fact that she was tagged and collared gave me no great comfort, especially when I saw the rest of the family approaching behind her. There were nine mountain goats in all, including three kids and their mothers, a couple of rowdy adolescents, and a very large ram. Look at the sharp horns and big hooves on these guys!

They do look all soft and cuddly, and in fact they aren’t generally dangerous. As far as I know, there has only been one fatal goring of a human by a mountain goat — but it happened right here in Olympic National Park a couple of years ago. So when my friend and I found ourselves staring straight into the eyes of mama goat, there was no hesitation on our part. We turned right around and began walking briskly back down the trail the way we had come.

They followed us. All the way back along the trail, for more than two miles they followed us.

They were ambling slowly and stopping to eat the avalanche lilies, but they more or less kept pace with us. I had been a little concerned about a section of trail requiring a steep uphill scramble (it had been very spooky coming down that ridge face on our outbound hike), but I was amazed how quickly we climbed it with nine mountain goats behind us! When we got all the way back to the parking lot, we could still see them silhouetted on the last ridgetop. People were coming out of the visitor’s center to see this rather unusual close approach of the goats.

I never felt directly threatened, as there was no aggressive behavior on their part. They were simply a family out for an afternoon wander through the meadows, just like my friend and I and other hikers. But they were in their home environment — we were the intruders — and it certainly made sense to be cautious!

You just never know what you might see out there on the trail. I’m really hoping for bears and maybe some near-shore whales next week in Alaska. I hope these “races” turn out to be one grand photo opportunity after another.

Just as I am finding unexpected adventures on the trail, I’m also finding unexpected adventures in my life. My “hiking friend” is becoming a bit more than a friend, and I’m very happy about that. I’ll tell you more in due time, but for now I’ll just say that life is indeed going on, and life is good.

I think Kurt would be glad to know that.

One step at a time…

Trail running on a real trail

I finally did it.

The stars, my knees, the weather, and my surprisingly busy schedule all aligned perfectly at last. Yesterday I completed a 7 mile trail run on an honest-to-goodness trail. No more running through a county park on well groomed, wide pathways. This was a narrow, often steep, winding trail through woods and clearcut meadows, zig-zigging up and down across ridgetops with alternating views of strait to the north and mountains to the south.

While the views were inspiring, I could only snatch quick glimpses of them because I had to keep my eyes sharply focused on the trail surface 5-15 feet ahead. There were lots of cobble-type rocks that demanded I set my feet down very mindfully. The trail was no more than two feet wide in most places, and bounded by either hillsides (up/down) or thick brush. In some areas, if I had wobbled just a little off trail center, I would have found myself knee deep in stinging nettles.

This was a tough and challenging workout for me. The net ascent was probably about 600 feet from parking lot to highest ridgetop, but my GPS watch was bouncing around a bit with an erratic satellite signal in the thick trees, so I am not sure of the exact altitudes. With all the little ups, downs, and hiccups my watch recorded 1,200+ feet of ascent and the same amount of descent. I was wearing my hydration pack with a few ounces of water, and I definitely felt the 1.5 pounds on my back. Coming right away from the parking lot, the trail is steep uphill. I didn’t have time to settle into my stride before I got anaerobic and was gasping for breath. I was forced to walk a bit and recover before I could settle into a steady pace.

I was surprised (and a bit humbled) by how slow that steady pace turned out to be. I’d already learned that I’m two minutes slower per mile on the county park trails than I am on a paved trail. Well, my pace on this more challenging trail turned out to be two minutes slower than that. I was out there running 14 minute miles and still feeling like this Amazon woman doing this heroic feat of adventure running!

Well, the fact is that I was the only female out there and the only runner.

I AM SLOW, HAPPY AND HEROIC!

My friend was with me on his mountain bike, riding ahead of me and periodically turning back or stopping to make sure I was still upright and achieving forward motion. His actions reminded me of when I’d go on family hikes as a child with our collie Chief. That wonderful dog usually logged 2-3 times as many miles as the rest of us with his constant running between the first and last hiker. Just as Chief was my protector and hero, I felt safe out there on the trail knowing my friend was close by. We saw two or three hikers and three other guys on bikes. Despite my dire fantasies, we did not see any bears.

I figure this 7 mile trail run was a pretty good simulation of the 7 mile trail run out of Ketchikan, which will be the last of the four races on the Great Alaskan Marathon Cruise. Well, almost a simulation… I figure I’ll already be pretty tired by the start of that race, after running three races totaling 19.2 miles over the prior four days. I know now that I’ll be seriously slow — factor in photo stops and I’ll be lucky to finish at a 15 minute pace!! But I also know that I’ll be able to rise to the occasion and do it.

Even if I have to do it one step at a time, one foot in front of the other.

This morning my knees are no more cranky than usual, but I am definitely getting sore muscles in my hips, legs, ankles, and feet. I had a vigorous workout but overall I feel rather great about it. And I’m even more excited about heading off to Alaska very soon!

Revisiting Lake Angeles

I always enjoy going back to places and revisiting them at different times of the day or year. I’m intrigued by how the same place can be so different and yet still be obviously the same place.

I tend to move my favorite green chair and ottoman from room to room as I learn how a house wants me to inhabit it. My favorite chair is the same/different place in each of the rooms in each of the houses I have owned since I bought it.

When I run, I run on trails (both paved and unpaved) that become very familiar through repeated visits. This little rise, that turn and the way it reveals a different view, this bunch of tree roots, that meadow, those rolling hills all become etched in my memory until I could run them in my dreams. I no longer have to look at my watch to know how far I’ve run; the trail tells me where I am. Yet even a very familiar trail can be a different place if run in the other direction or at various times of the day or year.

Now that I am beginning to do a lot of hiking, I feel a bit of a dilemma about placemaking along hiking trails. Some trails, like Hurricane Hill and Sol Duc Falls, are old favorites that I want to return to again and again. At the same time, I feel the call of new trails not yet seen. Which shall I do today? How should I choose from among so many potential new favorite places?

I am indeed fortunate to have too many options so near where I live.

The first mile of the trail up to Lake Angeles, to the place where the log bridge crosses the stream, has become a frequently visited new “friend” of a trail. The two mile round trip is an easy hour’s hike with an elevation gain of just under 1,000 feet.

Beyond the log bridge the trail is not so familiar. Back in May I wrote about my first visit to Lake Angeles, which is at the 3.4 mile point up that same trail. That hike was a rugged trek through deep snow, and reached an underwhelming end at an iced-over, fogged-in lake.

This past weekend I went to Lake Angeles again. This time it was sunny and warm, and the snow was completely gone. What I saw there was breathtaking. I was dumbstruck. This is what was lurking behind the fog of that first visit:

Those are waterfalls, multiple 100+ foot waterfalls, coming down those cliffs on the far side. It looks like one of those impossibly beautiful and probably fake places that show up on motivational posters. But it is real. And it is right here, not very far from my house.

The trail continues up to the top of that ridge, another 2,000 feet higher than the lake. My friend and I were tempted to start up that trail, but there is still a lot of snow up there. We’ll save that part for another day later this summer… and an early morning start for what will be a major adventure.

Meanwhile (despite the fact that I mostly blog about hiking these days) most of my energy is still focused on running, ramping up the distances and building my comfort level with running on rocky, root-filled ground. My excitement is building as the Alaska marathon cruise approaches. I’m still not completely comfortable with running two days in a row, but I figure my Alaska trail “race” experience will not be all that tough on my knees, what with the frequent stops for photo ops and all…

Those trails will take me to places I’ll most likely only see once in my life, so I’ll only get one shot at placemaking. I want to have enduring memories of the “where” and not just the “how fast.”

I shall be slow, happy, and present. Every step of the way.

The wild life

With my Alaska marathon cruise now only three weeks away, my running continues to be a good day / bad day sort of thing. I don’t want to push too hard with my training and injure myself to the point that I can’t run at all in Alaska, so I have backed way off the ambitious training plan I’d created for myself. I’m now letting my knees be my guide as to whether and how far I run on any given day. I’m confident that I haven’t lost much, if any, speed and strength. If I really want to, I can put it all out there on the trail. I’m also aware that I won’t have many opportunities in my life to experience those trails in Alaska. Any ambitions that I might have had regarding pace will be completely forgotten when I see bears, caribou, or who knows what else along the trail.

Of the several new elements of my current training, I believe the culprit that is bothering my knees is the hydration pack on my back. I did fine when I tested it with just a few ounces of water, but when I bumped it up to 20 ounces my knees were very unhappy the next day. I’m now running shorter distances and leaving the hydration pack at home. Bingo — knees are much better!

I don’t really think I’ll need to carry a lot of water in Alaska, as the 10-mile race does have one aid station. So I may be fine running with just those few ounces of water… oh, and my camera too!

Because I’ve become accustomed to lots of exercise, I decided to augment my abbreviated running plan with as much hiking as possible. Although it seems strange, my persnickety knees actually feel better after an uphill hike. It’s like they get kinked one way while running, and the hiking kinks them in some other way and it all comes out better and stronger in the end.

Or so I’m telling myself, as I’m enjoying some amazing early summer hikes into the mountains. I’ve had the opportunity to see lots of wildlife as well as the flowers that bloom almost immediately after the snow melts.

I like to say that Olympic National Park is practically in my back yard. Here is some local wildlife that I saw right outside my window! Here are two baby raccoons that are about half the size of my cats (who were going crazy next to me when I took this photo).

Life gets a little wilder out along the trail. One day I encountered a group of half a dozen Olympic marmots who were intently rooting in the dirt, grunting and growling like kids squabbling over pizza. Other hikers and I theorized that someone had made an unauthorized pit stop along the trail, creating a small “salt lick” that was irresistable to these guys. I don’t have a good photo of the crew in action, but here is another marmot that I saw near that spot a couple days later:

Also near that same area, I spotted a bird I’d never seen before — I got to add the Horned Lark to my life list. This guy was strolling (they do walk rather than hop) through the tall grass and singing his little heart out:

At the top of the hill, my friend and I stopped for a snack. He was eating nuts, and it didn’t take long for a pair of chipmunks to find us. We didn’t feed them, but they certainly tried to convince us that we should. These guys were fearless, running right into my friend’s hands, up his back, and even briefly on top of his head! I believe this is a yellow-pine chipmunk:

The approach to this hilltop is through a sub-alpine meadow at an elevation of 5,500+ feet. The wildflowers are just beginning, but this patch of glacier lilies was wonderful (no, I don’t know what the small white ones are):

The trail I was hiking meets another trail that I have wanted to do for several years. I actually ended my dissertation with a photo of that trail meandering through the meadow from the trailhead and a promise to myself that I would hike it soon. That day finally came. I went less than a quarter mile before meeting deep snow in the trees and having to turn around, but soon I’ll return to follow it all the way down to the Elwha River. Wouldn’t you dream of hiking here too?

I’ve just given you a teaser of the mountains with that last photo. Here is a bit more, for context:

I’ve saved the sweetest wildlife story for last. Returning down the hill, my friend and I saw a family of deer… a doe and her very young fawn along with two adolescent deer. The fawn couldn’t have been more than a day or two old; he or she was still wobbly on its legs. The family drew a crowd of hikers, and the fawn was briefly separated from the others when they crossed the trail. This sweet, brave little guy stood there all alone, while we all wondered if mom was going to go off and leave him!!

Finally he bleated, a soft mewing sound like a kitten. Mom, who was up the hill on the other side of the trail, heard him and turned around. She stood waiting while he darted across the trail and clambered up the hill. I captured the reunion and the happy ending to this story:

All’s well that ends well!

I feel like wildlife sometimes myself. My life, too, can seem a little wild and unpredictable. Sometimes I think I lose my way, lose sight of the trail or whatever overly-ambitious goals I may set for myself. But in the end, one step at a time — whether I run, walk, or meander slowly through the meadow — I’m going to get to wherever I need to go.

Getting from here to there

Running has been interesting the past couple of weeks. I came out of the half marathon feeling completely strong, fit, and confident. I did give myself a brief break from the long runs, but at the same time I immediately attempted to increase the number of my weekly runs from three to four, and added the new element of unpaved surfaces.

The trail running is going rather well and I’m enjoying it immensely, although I’m not yet running on really challenging trails (I have one planned for this weekend).

I’m not doing so well with my plan to run four days a week. In fact I haven’t yet succeeded in doing that at all. I have managed to run two days back to back (a feat that was impossible for me not so long ago), but after I do that I find that I need an additional rest day. I’ve scaled back on the distances for this week’s attempt to run four days, and that may make the difference.

The sequence I’m trying to train for, which I’ll be doing on the Alaska marathon cruise, is:

  • 3 miles paved/level
  • 10 miles trail/rolling
  • rest day
  • 6.2 miles paved/hilly
  • 7 miles trail/rolling

At the moment, this is looking fairly daunting. I’m beginning to think that I’ll just go out there, have a great time, take lots of photos along the way, and congratulate myself for having the courage to try.

My mind is willing but my body keeps whispering that it’s a little tired. I find reasons to postpone that next-day run and give myself a 1-day break.

I ran yesterday morning in a new place, along the spit that frames the harbor. Most of it was completely flat (as you’d expect at sea level) and paved road, but wherever I could I ran through gravel parking areas and sandy paths that wind between the road and the beach. The mix of surfaces was pleasant on my feet. I kept the distance short, only just over 3 miles. The weather was perfect: high 50s and completely calm. As I ran along the spit’s narrow strip of land, I had a close-up view of the harbor, city, and mountains to the south, and of the strait and Vancouver Island to the north. Here is the view to the north.

I came home feeling physically great, and with a mental sense of relief as I had been getting edgy from a couple of days of not running. That’s the ironic part — my mind really wants me to run more frequently. My mind craves the release from all the everyday concerns, stresses, and hassles of life. My mind thinks running is really fun and wants me to do more and more of it. My body seems to agree and has responded remarkably well to the demands I put on it, but only up to a certain point. My challenge is balancing the desires of my mind with the physical limits of what my body can do on any given day. As an intensely cerebral person, I keep having to re-learn that I need to listen more closely to my body.

This afternoon I’m planning an easy 4 mile run along the waterfront on the city side, followed by a local microbrew with running friends. I’ve vowed to run comfortably, have fun, and focus on resilience. What my body and mind need to learn now is the simple discipline of going out the next day and doing it again.

I’m getting from here to there one step at a time.

I have to keep reminding myself that in running and in life, we can’t shortcut the process. We can’t (and shouldn’t) be someone other than the person we are, but we can take those steps to become the person that we want to become. One mindful, careful step at a time, with an eye to the future while also fully experiencing, being present in, and cherishing the quality of each moment now.

I want to believe that this balancing act between present and future is not an impossible ideal.

What do you think?

Looking forward

While I have spent much of the last two weeks looking back and remembering, I have at the same time been looking forward. I think that for me June may always be a time of looking backward and forward. A time to reflect on what and whom I have lost, what I have left behind… and a time to anticipate where I am going and who I am becoming.

I tried to remember to give myself some time off to rest and recover after the half marathon two weeks ago… but with sunrise just after 5:00 AM and sunset after 9:00 PM this time of year, who could possibly waste a moment of this rare, precious Pacific Northwest sunlight? This time of year, even on days when it rains, there are usually a few lovely hours to get out and do something active.

So I’ve gone straight back into my routine of running, hiking, and biking at every opportunity. I’ve actually ramped up on the running, as my Alaska cruise with the staged marathon is coming up in less than six weeks! To prepare for that trip, I have introduced three new things into my weekly running schedule:

  1. I’ve increased my weekly runs from three times to four: two back-to-back days, one rest day, and two more back-to-back days. This simulates the running schedule for the staged marathon.
  2. I’m now running on trails — real trails, not paved surfaces going by the name “trail.” My trail running shoes are finally getting to do what they are designed to do!
  3. Because the trail races in Alaska will have minimal aid station support, I bought a hydration pack and I’m learning to run with a significant quantity of water on my back.

So far I have only tackled one of our many local unpaved trails, but it’s a good place to start. It’s in a county park with many loop trails so I can experiment with different conditions all within a small area. I can run up and down hills, through meadows, on soft level surfaces, or in places where I have to pick my way through rocks, roots, and/or several inches of freshly-laid wood chips. I’ve actually tried to run this park several times in the past and been daunted by the hills and the uneven ground. Now I seem to be taking it quite literally in stride. But who wouldn’t want to run through places that look like this?

Or like this place where I lost myself in a glorious self-as-deer fantasy?

This kind of running is just plain fun. It’s play! In a way it’s more difficult than running on pavement. I have to slow down and pay attention to where and how my feet fall. But it’s possible to fall into a sort of bounding meditation. I am slow and happy out there!

I’m doing the trail running every other time, and very slowly increasing the distance. On my non-trail days, I’m focusing on consistency of pace and learning to carry and sip water with a minimum of fuss.

I was trying to decide what I wanted to do for my next half marathon sometime this autumn. I could run Victoria again, or I could search around for something new… preferably in a place I’ve never run before! I found this very interesting race in southern Oregon. I liked it for a couple of reasons — it’s quite near some of my family members, and it’s all downhill! Or nearly so. Oh yes, and it ends at a harvest and brew festival featuring over 30 different microbreweries. What could be better than a downhill beer run with family to cheer me at the finish? It finally dawned on me that since the races are two weeks apart, I could use the Rogue Run as my last long “training” run before Victoria. In other words, take my time, enjoy the scenery, relish the microbrews at the finish, and then taper for an all-out go on Victoria’s perfectly flat course. How cool is that?

Definitely something to look forward to!!

On non-running days (and sometimes also on running days!) I am taking some amazing, wonderful hikes. A few weeks ago during an extreme low tide I was scrambling around on rocks getting up close and personal with tidepool life. I took so many photos I had a hard time choosing just one, but this should give you an idea. I believe this guy is a short-spined sea star.

Yesterday, after a fun 6 mile run I wanted just a bit more, so I hiked 6 miles along the Elwha River, upriver from the two large dams that are being removed (I wrote about the hiking the lower lakebed here). The Elwha was running high and raging due to rapid melt from an above-normal winter snowpack, but the trail along the river was idyllic.

 

At a place called Goblin’s Gate (or is it Goblin Gates? I have two maps that disagree!), all that water gets forced through a narrow gap, perhaps 30 feet across.

Further upriver are the sites of several 100+ year old homesteads that are now part of Olympic National Park. The park service has chosen to maintain some of the original cabins and orchards as historical landmarks. This cabin was built in 1900 — wouldn’t you love to spend a night here?

It’s wonderful to have so many good things going on — long summer days with friends, being active here and now, and looking forward to greater adventures to follow. I may not blog as regularly as I intended when I quit my job back in February… but there is simply so much to DO!!!!

I know, I know (to quote myself)! — “How did I ever have time to work?”       🙂

It’s spring! The cruise ships are arriving!

Every year about this time the cruise lines start moving their ships from their winter ports to their summer ports. This is the season of Panama Canal cruises and coastal cruises, as there is no point in moving empty ships from the Caribbean to Seattle! For those of us overlooking the waters of western Washington, the first sight of a cruise ship moving through the strait is a sure sign that spring has finally arrived.

My small town has a beautiful deep harbor. Every year or so one or more of these transitional cruises will include a stop here. Passengers have the opportunity to disembark, stroll through downtown, and enjoy the shops and restaurants. For the more adventurous, there is the option of taking an excursion tour to our mountains, rain forests, and rocky beaches.

Yesterday Holland America’s ms Oosterdam came to town. As it happens, this is an identical sister ship to the Westerdam, on which I’ll be cruising to Alaska at the end of July as a participant in the Great Alaskan Marathon. This is a staged marathon, meaning that we’ll run four races adding up to 26.2 miles during the week of the cruise. I’m excited about the opportunity to see Alaska, run on spectactular trails and through quaint (and steep) downtown streets, and mingle with a bunch of other runners for a whole week.

Yesterday, actually seeing a ship just like the one I’ll be on really ramped up my enthusiasm! I headed downtown for as close a look as possible. Security was rather tight at the dock, so I drove out to the hook (the natural sand spit that frames the harbor) for a panoramic view of the ship and the downtown area. It dwarfed my downtown!

The smaller ship you see on the far left is the ferry that takes cars and people from here to Victoria BC. That ferry is 341 feet long and carries 110 vehicles plus 1,000 passengers. The Oosterdam is 936 feet long and carries 1,916 passengers, 817 crew members, and all the restaurants, theatres, casinos, sport courts, swimming pools, and other assorted accoutrements that make up the cruising experience.

The large tan building just to the right of the Oosterdam belongs to a company that builds “super-yachts.” The largest model, built here in my town, is 163 feet and generally includes a heliport. Picture a 163-foot yacht emerging from that building — it’s huge! But it would look like a dingy next to the Oosterdam.

Back at my house later I could just see the Oosterdam from my bedroom window, but I had a panoramic view of it when it departed at 11:00 PM and glided out of the harbor, all lit up like a multi-layer birthday cake. Cruising season has begun! Later this summer, finally, I won’t be one of those watching from shore when my ship moves through the strait en route to Alaska.

Meanwhile, I continue to keep moving, adding bike rides and hikes to my 3-day-a-week running schedule. I’m getting some form of real-world exercise just about every day, which is why I’m blogging less even though I theoretically have more time in my post-corporate day. I’m still wobbly on the bicycle, but on my hikes (encouraged and accompanied by new friends) I’ve successfully met the challenges of steep hills and small stream crossings. I’m going to have to invest in rain gear, however, as I don’t much enjoy getting wet and cold.

In past years I would have retreated to my treadmill on anything less than a “perfect” sunny day, but I’m finally learning that life is too short to wait for a “perfect” day. So tonight is beer running night, and whatever the weather, I’ll meet running friends for a short run along the waterfront followed by wonderful locally-brewed beer.

Rain? Wind? Mud? Bring it on! I am a Pacific Northwesterner by choice, and this is my home.

25 years behind me — and what lies ahead

First, I want to thank everyone in what I fondly call my vast global audience, for your comments, suggestions, and supportive vibes as I contemplated and then lived through what should have been my 25th wedding anniversary in the absence of the other party to that anniversary. It was a very weird day, but thanks to you it was a good day in an odd sort of way.

I really can’t tell you how much your good thoughts lifted my spirits today. Thank you yet again.

I got a wide variety of suggestions ranging from (and I’m exaggerating a bit now) “go to bed and pull the covers over your head” to “go out and party hearty with champagne and loud music.” The applied social scientist in me suspects that each one of those suggestions was a projection of the personality of the person making the suggestion. I would have done the same thing if you had asked me what to do about your situation.

As I lean well toward the introverted end of the scale, my solution was to develop a headache by mid-afternoon and sneak off to take a nap in my favorite chair — almost but not quite pulling covers over my head. When I woke up I felt better, so I set about making myself some comfort food — homemade mushroom-cheese soup accompanied by local organic rye bread and a couple of glasses from a very nice bottle of local wine that I’d put away a couple of years ago. Except for the wine (Kurt stopped drinking years ago) this was a meal that Kurt would have loved. He didn’t always rave about my cooking. I’m a vegetarian, he wasn’t, so we often ate separately — which is one reason why we ate out so much. But he never failed to love my vegetable-cheese soups, no matter what the vegetable was. My only problem with today’s lovely meal was that I didn’t make enough (no leftovers!) and I used a little too much cheese (but Kurt would have loved the gummy cheeseballs that formed).

Then I decided what I want to do for a vacation next year. I guess it was those comments about “think about what you and he loved doing together” that made my decision not only possible but necessary today.

I want to do a running-related vacation, and I’d been thinking very seriously about doing the Marathon di Tuscany: a staged marathon in which participants run 26.2 miles over the course of several days in several locations in Italy. It sounded perfect — run, eat, and drink under the Tuscan sun. But I’ve been concerned about developing socio-economic-political disruptions in Europe (and globally). The promoters kept promising to open registration soon, but kept inexplicably delaying.

So today I was thinking about what sort of vacation would have worked for both Kurt and me. It was hard to imagine him getting excited about going with me to Italy, as he hated to fly, and we’d also agreed that our first trip to Europe would include a visit to the Porsche factory and museum in Stuttgart.

Then it struck me — the same promoters also lead an Alaskan running cruise.

Living where we do, Kurt and I watched Alaska cruise ships pass by every summer and promised ourselves that we’d do that some year. We were so close to going in 2009 that I actually mentioned our plans in the acknowledgements section of my dissertation — “now it’s finally time to take that Alaska cruise.” But think back, if you will, to the economic conditions of late 2008 and early 2009. It was not an auspicious time to commit several thousand dollars to a dream vacation. So we didn’t go.

Well, now I’m registered for the Great Alaskan Marathon Cruise on July 28 through August 4, 2012. Economic conditions are no better, but what the hell! At least this trip is largely domestic (we do stop in Victoria BC on our last afternoon, from which, weather permitting, I can see my home town across the strait). Thanks to tour organizers “the Penguin” John Bingham and his wife Coach Jenny Hadfield, I’ll be running in places like Juneau, Sitka, and Ketchikan, seeing glaciers up close (before they’re gone), and hopefully seeing lots of my beloved orcas and humpbacks as well. I’ll have to learn to run trails (yikes) and some major hills (big yikes!), as well as develop the resilience to run, walk, or crawl 26.2 miles (in four stages) under a variety of less-than-ideal conditions. The photos from the 2011 cruise show rain, BIG swells during the on-board deck race, and a really scary-looking flight of stairs in (I believe) Ketchikan. They also show lots of mega-smiles and some absolutely gorgeous scenery.

Besides all that stuff, it’s also a cruise, of course, and I smile now as I imagine Kurt doing all the things we dreamed about and putting up with the things I want to do: at the buffet line eschewing all that healthy runner food, relaxing in a deck chair or at the movie theatre, and cheering me on at the finish of four totally amazing races. I so wish he could have been there, but he won’t be. My life will go on.

Happy Anniversary, Kurt! Today was a good day — you would have liked it.