Introduction

yesterday September 18th, was my 51st birthday, and time for another feats-of-strength.  this year i wanted to something in moab utah. one of the things i’ve always wanted to do was to survive desert conditions under extreme conditions. one of the options that came to mind was the famous white rim trail. 103 miles along the cliffs.  most of the suggestions for this ride recommend having a “sag wagon” or stashing supplies, or riding with a group.  since i didn’t have any friends.. i decided to do it solo.  carry enough water, food and tools for 103 miles.

 

meshadow

 

Parallels

as it turned out, a one hundred mile mountain bike ride through the desert has a lot of parallels to aging and life.  i came up with this theory somewhere around mile 40.  let me just outline the stages and i’ll fill out the items as i go along.

Miles 0-9

This epic, started pretty early for me around 5am.  The road was smooth and mostly paved, just riding with a head lamp i didn’t really get to see the amazing life around me.  i rode fast and hopeful.  hopeful that that future would was going to be amazing.  hopeful that i was going to get through this ride like no one has ever done before.  like i said, there are parallels to life, and when i was ten i was hopeful that i would be able to do anything i wanted.  i don’t really have a parallel for riding with a headlight … but looking back, i don’t really remember much around me, so i’ll just skip this one and continue… with this post.

 

Miles 10-19

These were the miles where i could see more around me. the moon light was illuminating the beautiful canyons around me as i fearlessly descended the shafer switchbacks.  i didn’t realize how fearless i actually was, until i caught a glimpse of the partially illuminated canyon wall.  i had stopped every now and then to admire how fucking dangerous this road was, and why people were not driving their cars off this thing, left-and-right.  it was truly an awesome and scary thing to be riding next to the shear drops to my side.  what does this part have to do with life? well back in my teens i didn’t realize how close to death i was all the time. jumping off ramps with my bike, driving jeeps, climbing things, jumping off things… also the endless energy i had back then was not even a “thing” you just did things.  here as i’m riding next to the cliffs, i feel no anxiety, no tiredness, and limits.

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Miles 20-29

These were my “woo” miles.  It’s still predawn in the desert, but the light was starting to fill the canyons. Every mile was full of “fuck-yeahs”, and “holy-shits”… i was doing it.. riding through the desert all alone, but i didn’t feel alone. i was experiencing the moment to it’s fullest.  I took many pictures, and stopped to admire everything.  The miles were still going by so fast. I really wanted to be in that moment forever.  if you are wondering what my 20’s were like… pretty much that.  lots of hard work but it was only a means to all the great things i experienced. it didn’t feel like hard work, at least compared to how hard everything seems these days… but i’ll get to that later.

 

Miles 30-39

These were my, “ok get your shit together” miles.  I started to think about my pacing.  i had a mental list of how often i was supposed to drink, when and what i going to eat, and when i was going to reapply my sun screen and chamois cream.  just a side note, this is one of the most important things i did during my ride.  This was pretty much how i lived my thirties.  harnessing and focusing all my energy into something that is going to last. making plans, trying to follow them.  the definition of maturity.

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Miles 40-49

These were my “i’m not that tired” miles. I was getting pretty tired, but i somehow convinced myself that i was feeling as good as i did back at miles 20-30.  i was clearly not, and it was taking far more energy than i had realized. i could tell because i was sweating more and breathing harder.  these were also the miles of realizations. the realizations that there were no turn around points.  if i turned back now, it would be almost as long and difficult as the planned-ride itself.  In life this was exactly what the 40’s were like for me.  walking around in denial ignoring any and all age related slow-downs.  i was absolutely convinced that i had the exact same endurance and strength as i did in my youth. (this is impossible by the way) also, it was in my 40’s, when i realized that there was no way back.  i was almost halfway through this life and everything i did or didn’t do correctly prior to this moment had already set my trajectory.  my personality, my fitness, my knowledge, and my career, couldn’t be redone.  just like this ride, i couldn’t take another route, i couldn’t pick another day, nor could i get into better shape, everything was set, it would take another 40-50 years just to get back to this point.  this happened toward the end of my forties, but the realization of it was like slamming into a brick wall. and the midlife crisis was hitting me once again, but this time out on the trail.

 

Miles 50-59 

These were the toughest miles to deal with by far. i had just fallen into a rhythm.  consistently ticking away the miles with every pedal stroke.  the dirt road was smooth and predictable as it twisted along the desert rim.  as the road rounded each of the canyon’s edges i could see it disappear off into the horizon.  i was getting good at estimating how long it would take me to get to the next corner.  how long before the next mile, how long before my next drink…etc.  i had accepted my situation, i was comfortable with my pace with the amount of energy i was expending, and my overall physical condition.  i was being smart i was walking the bike when i needed to, i was going out of my way to avoid bumps and be as smooth as efficient as possible.  i was trying to conserve energy and avoid injury.  i had to look at the big picture of finishing this ride alive.   at this point in the ride i was working with a combination of experience and familiarity of the surroundings to help me move through the ride.  as my brain started to beat to the rhythm of this ride, i was calm and confident that this would be another epic mountain bike ride that i could put on my “adventure” resume, if there is such a thing.  and like lightning from a clear blue sky, the rhythm stopped.  the easy rolling dirt road turned a corner and went straight up into the sky.  i had to walk the bike up this long steep road, there was no shade, no flat spots and the weight on the bike and on my back were now getting notice.  i was surprised how much energy it took to hike the bike, up hill.  when i got to the top i was sweating much more than i had all day.  i didn’t think too much of this hill until i got to the top and saw the the road immediately went down hill just as steep as the climb up.  this really sucked.. no long freewheeling downhill to enjoy.  i had to keep on the brakes and hold my weight back to keep the back wheel from slipping.  i wasn’t expecting that change in terrain… until it happened again, and again for the next 12 miles.  each new corner brought unexpected energy draining challenges.  i cursed and screamed a few times but that didn’t help, these hills kept coming and there was nothing i could do to change the situation. all my rhythm was gone i had no idea how fast or far i was moving, but it was far slower than i thought.

in life, this is pretty much exactly how my 50’s have been going so far.  i was on a difficult but comfortable pace as i left my 40’s.  i had accepted my modest life for what it was.  work and family were good, and physically; i was still hopeful that i could return to some sort of age division champion. after all, nothing was broken or worn out, or needed replacement.  i’ve had financial, family and physical set backs in life but i learned to deal with most of them and somehow managed to get smarter and stronger as i moved along.  my 50’s started out with a familiar running injury, plantar fasciitis.  this version of PF, took months to finally go away, taking all my fitness with it as it finally left me in the cold january snow.  it was only 2 short weeks after being healed, that i broke my lower fibula while running.  i had no chance to regain my fitness and had to walk around in a cast for 2 months.  i was completely disabled and dependent on everybody to help me out.  this was a rather small setback compared to the personal tragedy that hit me back to back.  in the following months , a dear friend took his own life in a very tragic manner.   still mourning the loss i got news that my sister was kill crossing a street, one block form her home.  this is a whole other sad story by itself.  but the reason i bring it up, is because, there is actually a parallel to the ride.  now that i am 51, i am starting to realize that life can give you a sucker punch at any time.  i can disrupted, slowed, twisted or set back, but how i choose to deal with these things,  is exactly how i dealt with those miles… cry and scream, but keep moving.

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Miles 60-69

These miles were the miles where my head was full of internal voices.  i’ve had voices earlier but they were simply practical tangible voices that would remind me to drink water, lean back, look at the views etc.  at this point however, those voices switched over to more motivational and philosophical voices.  they would say things like: “what am i doing?” “i don’t think i can make it” “please be downhill the rest of the way”, “i guess it’s ok to die out here”…  after spending a few miles with these types of messages going through my head,  an amazing thing happened. my internal voices turned into “bad cop”.  it started saying things like, “shut up you fucking pussy” yep my brain actually said that.  it was something that actually shocked the “good cop” side of my brain.  bad-cop voice was actually full of advice… “stop your fucking whining, you wanted to do this, you asked for it. don’t expect anyone to help you. you either die out here…. or finish it”  i have to say it kind of worked.  negative thoughts are the demise of any effort.  i can talk myself out of anything, it’s easy to start feeling and acting how you are thinking. i don’t know how my brain chose this way to intervene.. but it did.  in life, i’m not in my 60’s so i can only imagine what this is going to be like.  all i can imagine is a guy who stopped worrying about things long ago.  when new challenges come up he shuts up and just puts them into one big fuck-it bucket.  and just is living out his life “dealing with it”.  no regrets, just acceptance to this is it.

 

Miles 70-79

These were the most difficult miles covered so far.  the road was kinder and less difficult than earlier,  but with my diminished capabilities and fading enthusiasm, it was very difficult getting through these “septuagenarian” miles.  it was unclear if the internal voices became silent or the internal ears became deaf, but there was no more complaining, no more self affirmations … no motivational speeches, and even the internal “wooos” were long gone.  just one quiet  mile after another.  i think it was an implicit determination that kept me riding through the sun-soaked desert in a zombie-like manner.  i was moving so slowly that i stopped checking the gps long ago, because the lack of progress was greatly demoralizing me. i didn’t want to be seen crying out in the desert.  every few miles i had to  stopped and rest under the puddles of shade that were cast from small bushes next to the trail.  i wanted to stay stopped for long periods of time, but i knew my energy levels were on time limit.  just being out in the sun was taking its toll.  the backpack was nearly empty but still seemed as heavy as it was at the start.  i was too tired to dig through my pack to get some sort of nourishment form the food or gels that i had packed, so i often just sat there carefully sitting in the small piece of shade dreading the moment i had to get back on my bike.  in life, i am not in my 80’s but i can only imagine how this will parallel life.  just an old tired man with limited physical capabilities struggling to do simple things, that were once taken for granted.  still being able to take a walk, ride a bike, make dinner, and mow the lawn… but doing them ever so slowly.  giving up on doing things at are special and outstanding just focusing on getting through the day.  i’m almost crying as i write this because i can imagine it so vividly…. almost as if it is real.  all i really know is that, life is going to be tough when i get there… i am clearly not ready.

 

Miles 80-89

These were the “easy” miles that wouldn’t end.  no matter how far i looked forward there were more and more winding and twisting road off in the horizon.  all i could do was put my head down and pedal one circle at a time.  it was brutally hot day but the road was pretty easy for a while, with the exception of one last 1700 foot climb out of the canyon.  there was no way i could pedal up this thing i had actually decided that long before i started this ride. i had read that it was steep, and i knew that it would be challenging on fresh legs.  even though i was content on walking, i tried to ride it several times, but there was nothing left in the legs… or my spirit for that matter.  after about a mile of slow delirious marching up the road, a car approached.  they stopped without me flagging them down. the lady in the passenger seat ask if i was alright. i told her “not really”. she asked if i needed a ride, and i replied that my bike won’t fit. her husband said “we can probably make it fit” i took a look in the back and told them unconvincingly, “it’s alright, i’ll make it.”  she said,”are you sure, how about water? you good?” i gave them a thumbs up, they drove off, and i instantly regretted that.  i kept walking.  a little further up the road a bunch of guys were filming a motorcycle video.  they had nice cameras and motorcycles. i stopped to talk to them. they were impressed that i had done the whole loop on a single speed. i told that i wasn’t done yet and this hill is just about killing me.  they wish me luck and off i walked.  a couple turns later i found some shade and put the bike down and laid in the road flat on my back with my arms out. it felt so good. i could hear myself breathing. i could also hear the film guys talking, with their voices echoing. i couldn’t make out what they were saying, but the incoherent sounds made their way into my altered state of consciousness, providing me with the most captivating psychedelic experience i can ever hope for.  after a few minutes, i finally got up, and started marching back up the hill…one switchback at a time.  i got to the top and thought “hallelujah” almost done. the rest of the road was rolling gravel.  in life…again i can only project what it will be like in my 80’s.  i imagine that now the simple things in life will require greater struggle.  it will be the time when, to the outside world, you can no longer function. people will try to help, but you will be too determine to hang on to that last piece of dignity..self reliance.

 

Miles 90-100

These miles were full of false summits.  a feeling that if i can just make over that little hill over there, i know my truck will be there.  i rode most of this section but it was difficult. at this point however pedaling seemed easier than walking.  rolling hill after rolling hill i kept thinking the same thing.. it’s gotta be over that hill. finally i stopped and checked the gps… i had about 8 miles to go. it doesn’t sound like much but when you’ve been thinking that you only have about “one mile to go” for the last 3 miles…. very heart breaking. this is when i needed that other voice to yell me through this. i needed people with motivational signs yelling “good job, you’re almost there!” but i wasn’t in a race, and no one knew i was here.  i couldn’t hold up my head any longer while riding … nor could i hold my arms on the bars while walking.  everything hurt.  finally i heard a truck coming.  without thinking i stuck out my thumb and glanced back. it was the filming crew!  the driver stopped the truck right next to me said, “ok, hop in man!”  without hesitating he jumped out of his truck and threw my bike in the back. he didn’t verify or second guess my request, i guess it was very clear to him that i needed help.  he cleared out the back seat of his truck, and welcomed me in.  his girlfriend was riding shotgun and kept apologizing for the mess.  i told her don’t worry, i am just so happy to have a ride.  the guy and i had some small talk, but i was having a difficult time talking.  my throat was so dry that i could barely make sounds.  the ride took quite a long time even though he was hauling ass though this gravel road.  7 miles later we arrived at my truck. i was so happy to see it. the guy pulled out my bike and backpack and wished me luck and we waved good by.  i opened my truck and climbed in the back and laid down watching the sunset.

truckview

in life i can’t imagine what i will be like to be in my 90’s if i make it that long.  i imagine that’s when you just “give in”. you won’t really need to ask for help, but hopefully there will be people around you to help even if you don’t ask for it. all shame will be gone and you may even feel good, that you made someone else feel good that they helped you.  i hope this is how it works out, but until then i’ll just have to wait.  as a side note, whenever you help someone do it with enthusiasm…

 

your mileage my vary

  

the world renowned running race known as the boston marathon is about two weeks away.  a race that is so famous that runners can simply refer to the race as “boston”.  “i’m running boston”, “i qualified for boston”, “my coworker ran boston”… you get the idea.  well, i once again qualified for “boston”. this is my fourth time qualifying, but have never actually run it.  2010 was the last time i qualified unfortunantly i came up short with a stress fracture, four months prior to the event.  i never even got on the plane, i just stayed home and moped about how unfortunant i am.  history seems to be repeating itself this year.  i managed to get injured again, four months before the race. different injury.  and, since we are all adults here, let’s not be around the bush… i am angry.  angry at myself for not doing everything correctly, for not training right, for not eating right, for not reading the right books, for not protecting myself from myself, and for not being as strong as i was five months ago.  in other words, i am deep into self loathing mode…. i am disgusting!  

my current injury is the same injury that destroyed the greek god, achilles … i’m talking about plantar fasciitis (PF).  i may have not gotten the highest grade in my greek mythology class, but hopefully my point is not lost.  this injury is brutal and without mercy. the pain originates from the bottom of the foot an shoots up through the ankle and then to the calf pinching off all strength making it feel like your lower leg is weak and not connected to the rest of the leg.  it’s  similar to when you are walking bare foot and step on a pebble, the foot and leg instantly collapse slightly to absorb some of the impact.  PF  was like that with every step, but i have since become so accustom to the pain the i no longer collapse.  however, i do feel myself compensating like crazy, my form probably looks a bit like quasimodo’s running form.   

as i sit on the couch thinking back to how i got this… i can remember the exact moment of the exact run, on the exact day.  i remember thinking, that i probably just bruised my heel, bruised my heel!  it’s ok, i bruise my heel all the time, a little rest, a little massage, some wheat grass, and a bucket of ice and i’ll be good to go.  i was very optimistic, even though i didn’t get around to taking care of the problem.  after about mile 12 on my run the very next day, i realized that the pain was a little bit worst than the day before…. and that’s how things progressed.  i know it was stupid to run just as hard the next day when i recognized a potential injury the day before…. well the weather was nice and in colorado, you shouldn’t pass a good weather day in the winter… that’s all i have to say about that. 

i was on day six hundred and thirty something of my running streak when this first started happening.  my running streak was not your ordinary hey-look-at-me-i-ran-a-million-days-in-a-row streak.  i had a bunch of pseudo science to back up my theory. (which i still believe). i was running everyday to stay healthy. i believe that if i stopped running, even for one day, my body would start to get “rusty”… it would lock up and i wouldn’t be able to run and i would die…. literally.  my wife says i like to exaggerate .. my only response is that i don’t “like” to exaggerate! in a nutshell, my theory is closely aligned with active recovery.  

and so i ran… day 666 and my pain was not going away.  i should have stopped that day, but i didn’t want the devil to win.  i kept thinking, just a few more runs and all the adhesions and shit that were corrupting my foot would be flushed out and i would able to train for the greatest marathon of all time… the boston marathon.   i had no such luck.  the devil won…and on day 695 i had to stop running.  the streak was over and i was finally getting desperate. no time to train, no time to cut off my legs and run with blades… and worst of all, no time to cancel my flight. 

i have to run, i have to train, i have to PR … i have to figure this out….now!  that was what i was thinking a couple months ago.  now i’m much more content…and i am all over the phrase “it is what it is.”  i’m preparing myself to get past by the oldest and most out of shape marathoners money can buy.  and by money i mean my imagination.  not that that makes any sense to anyone but me.  

the weird part is; i know what’s wrong with me. i didn’t over train. i didn’t start anything new. i didn’t suddenly increase my miles. i didn’t get hit in the foot with a pipe by jeff gillooly (see nancy kerrigan 1994).  even my back to back runs should have not been an issue, i was doing that all the tiem.  the problem was and still is, that i am tired, angry, sad, overwhelmed, stressed… you name it.  work, family, life and now recreation has tightened up on me so tight that my muscles can’t get enough oxygen to recover from the physical stresses of running.  i feel like everyday something new and bad pops up adding to my list of shit that i need to take care of, ignore, or prove.  if you take boston out of the equation, i have the same dismal list.  

if you’ve ever read “healing back pain” by dr. john sarno, you will know what i’m talking about.  running usually helps me keep my life in check, but ironically… because i put so much emphasis on the greatest marathon of all time, running is now as stressful as walking a slack line over the grand canyon..naked…surrounded by bees…and cameras. 

i have to run with as much pain as i can tolerate… knowing very well that this is not how one should train for anything!  my massage therapist tells me that it will be difficult to break anything, so just keep running but…BUT…. take care of your foot before and after.  given that advice; i roll with foam rollers, step on racket balls, flatten with rolling pins, commit suicide with golf balls,  shock myself with TENS, and breakup the adhesion parties with ultrasound. 

my recovery plan is not working as fast as i like.  i hardly ever have good fresh days, i run with as much pain as i can tolerate. when my foot feels good i push it. it hurts the next day. i rest the next day or run short and slowly with this pain, hoping that active recovery does its thing. the next morning it may feel okay, and so i run further again.. this is my day to day cycle.  i can’t even remember what pain free running feels like….probably ranks up there with sex, but my memory is foggy. 

another funning thing … or perhaps this is the only funny thing in this post, but i recognized that i was putting way too much importance on this race.  prior to this sentence, i viewed boston as  my olympics, my running-magnum opus, the culmination of all my years of running… the reason i am who i am today!!!  of course these are all exaggerations, but, in my head, i’m not exaggerating by much (this is exactly why some humans are so fucked up).  i needed a way to think about this world famous race that goes by the name of “the boston marathon”, in a different light.  i thought, what if, i created a diversion? what if i gave myself something else to worry about? something bigger, tougher, stupider?  later this year i will be 50 years young and still carrying around some pretty big chips on my shoulder that i need to prove some things ..to someone…for some reason.  so….i decided to run a 50 mile trail run. BOOM! diversion created. 

my goals for the greatest marathon on the face of the earth are quite modest at this point.  i hope i can stand at the starting line with running clothes having all intentions to finish.  i hope i can finish without worrying about time, or who passes me.  after all this will be my first long training run for my up coming 50 miler :)

by

Leo

procrastinator 

friday december 12, 2014: i was working later than usual trying to finish up a project that i should have done months ago.  it took me a long time to take an interest in this project, but due to the pressure created by the looming deadline or the sudden  realization that, what i was working on, was actually important…i finally had an interest.  this evening,  i was actually immersed in my project, filled with ideas and energy.  unfortunately it was now 5pm, and dark as a tim burton movie (get it??).  anyway, the problem with having late burst of energy is that by now i was tired, hungry, and the people at home probably needed me for one thing or another.

6:30 pm: on this near-winter night darkness had set in for the evening.  most of my coworkers had bolted out long ago, and the building’s creeks become more pronounced and took center stage with only me in the audience.  i decided that it was time to stop working and head home.  i couldn’t just head directly home however.  i needed to get in my daily run, because very early this morning i had flippantly decided that i would just run after work…it will be great!  in the morning this always seems like a decent decision, but at the end of the day, i’m wishing i could go back in time and beat myself up.

running

7:00 pm i was dressed in my running clothes and sitting in my car at the tom watson parking lot near boulder colorado.  i had to add some last minute layers,  interweave my earbud chords up my arm sleeve and under my knit hat, and i pressed play. i took one last sip of water, locked the car and headed south across the dams.  it was a lot colder than i expected and a lot darker than it was last night, because there was no moon.

7:15 i found myself running along the top of the north dam, with nothing but darkness on the left side and partially frozen lake water on the right. the skies were quiet and clear. the setting was perfect for the surreal audio book i happened to be listening to at the time.  haruki murakami’s “windup bird chronicles” is a very intricate and interwoven story about an ordinary guy living an alternate reality.  murakami loves to use a writing technique called chekhov’s gun  where every object and every character plays a roll in the plot. if you happen to miss one of murakami’s chekhov guns, you’ve missed out on a critical part of the plot.  his novels require full attention, and on this very dark night i gave it all i had.

7:30 the dam was mostly flat and covered with gravel.  i could kind of see the path without light, but i wore a headlamp anyway. the footing was very predictable there were no big obstacles or sharp turns, is was quite easy to run without much focus.  my mind was focused entirely on the book. with each of my steps in real life, the book more weird and surreal; crazy things were happening to the character in the story, but nothing out of the ordinary was happening to me.  i just kept running.  i was about mile 2 of a 3 mile run when the story was about to climax.  i was completely focused on the book, my heart was beating pretty hard but probably from the book and not from my slow pace. i ran straight ahead not looking at the path, but looking through the path. i have no idea what my face looked like, but i probably looked like i was about to fight someone … or solve a 4th degree quadratic, without a pencil (if you hate math you are probably making the same face right now). good thing there was no one else running that night.

where was i…?

7:45 i arrived at the unlit parking lot, barely able to see my dirty black civic.  i had to scan the lot using my headlamp, from left to right hoping to that something shiny on my car would catch my eye.  still immersed in my audio book i found my car, i routinely unlocked it, and hopped in.  still in running clothes and earbuds i started the 30 minute drive home.   everything on earth was dark, no street lights no cars, just my own head lights to guide me forward.  after a few miles of dark county roads, i reached the highway.  right about that same moment in time, the main character in the story passed back through the “wall” separating his alternate reality and his normal reality.   like a subtle shift in wind direction my own normal reality began to change…

8:00 i was driving north bound on the diagonal highway toward longmont colorado.  on this night i wasn’t the only car on the road, but i was probably the only one intensely listening to a murakami novel through earbuds…. wearing running clothes.  it was easy to drive, all i had to do was stay straight and focus on the lines on the road.  the cars were sparse and no one was passing each other as if we were all going the same speed.  as i drove with my hands at 10 and 2, eyes at 12, and my brain at 13.

8:02 i noticed some air planes directly in front of me with their blinking lights and large turning arcs. they passed in front of me about 15 degrees off the horizon.  this was a quite ordinary sight,  since the longmont airport was nearby and planes were frequently taking off and landing. what i saw next was quite unordinary.

my non-ordinary reality

8:02.01 looking up just above the blinking lights of the plane, somewhere around 45 degrees from the horizon… i saw three amber colored lights forming the corners of a triangle. the two lights forming the base of the triangle shape were higher up, and the one light forming the peak of the triangle was lower.  there was nothing outstanding about these lights at first.  just three bright lights that looked more like slow moving stars, all moving in the same direction.  i stared as much as i could without losing control of my car. the oddness of the situation combined with the climaxing story-line of an audio book played at full volume, and the sudden introduction of more cars on the highway was becoming a bit too overwhelming for me.  i yanked out the earbuds, straightened out the wheel, quickly check my mirrors, and started focusing really hard on the amber lights in front of me.

8:10 i have never seen anything quite like these lights.  i am by no means an expert on all things flying, but i am very experienced at staring at the sky.  i’m actually very good at staring in general.  i notice all kinds of details… i do however tend to overlook very obvious things, but that’s another story.  since i was a kid i’ve studied the night sky, always filled with naive hope and wonderment.  i however, have never seen anything other than the amazingness of the solitary night sky.

there i was; in the middle of three separate realities.  the fantasy world of the murakami novel, the  ordinary reality of finishing my run, and the non-ordinary world of seeing something i can’t explain, right in front of me.

8:12 i focused on one of the three lights hoping to get a glimpse of something that would give me a clue as to what was going on.  i was looking for anything that would help me put the objects into a pre-labeled category i already had in my head.  as i stared, i could see a small light tail periodically appear from each object in the opposite direction it was traveling. this was interesting but helped me to figure out nothing.   i pulled back my focus for a second and noticed that i was now looking at only two lights. where did the other one go??  several seconds later the third one reappeared.  hmm… i rationalized that it must have flown behind a cloud that happened to be the exact color as the night sky.  just as i was about to mark that mystery “solved” , another one of the magical lights would disappear.  several seconds later, it reappeared.  this is not making any sense i thought to myself.  i wished that i had someone with me to help comprehend this.  i was coming up with nothing useful.  i even consider that i might have driven into an alternate reality just like the book! instead i decided to call this event a non-ordinary reality.

i originally thought the lights were descending  downward like a paratrooper.  after much checking and comparing with other planes and stars, it appeared that the lights were moving away from me.  they were slowing moving down the horizon. they will probably be out of sight soon, i thought to myself.

8:14 i wanted to pull over and watch them from outside my car, but the traffic was heavier than when i started. perhaps i was going way under the speed limit and unbeknownst to me all the cars caught-up.  too much traffic to pull over quickly, and besides, the shoulder was kind of small.  i decided to try and find the nearest parking lot so i could get out of my car and watch the objects before they leave my gaze.  the closest parking lot i could find was sporting goods store that handfuls of people walking to and from their cars.

i pulled into the first spot i found. i was happy to see some people outside their cars ready to go into the store.  i needed someone else to confirm what i was seeing.  all of the lights were almost out of view except for one.  i got out of my car and was about to run over to the group of people and tell them to look up at the sky.

8:15 suddenly i caught myself before i did one of the most embarrassing things of my life.   i stayed in my car, and sadly watched the last light drift out of the night sky. not sure why i was so sad about them leaving.  i think the sad part was not being able to figure out what it was!  i hate not being able to figure things out.

8:20 as i drove home i thought about how bizarre it might have been for the people in the parking lot.

picture this:

a dirty 2004 honda civic hurriedly pulls into the parking lot…the driver slams on the brakes, and a guy with crazy gray hair jumps out of the car (the hair was crazy, because i was wearing a winter beanie, and i had pulled it off some time while i was driving).  leaving the door open… this crazy guy runs toward them wearing black running tights with running shorts over them… a bright orange safety vest and matching orange shoes.  by the time the crazy guy got out the right words to convince everyone to look into the sky, the last object would have been out of view, and then there would have been at the very least an awkward moment where i had to explain what they just missed out on.  in the worst case they would have jumped in their cars and locked the doors and called the cops on me, causing me to run away… causing a crazy police chase through the streets of longmont.

8:21 i called up my son and told him about it. i had to tell someone right then and there.

9:00 when i got home i got on the internet and tried to see if anyone saw the same thing as me. low and behold, there have actually been a lot of UFO activity in colorado in the last couple months.   i don’t know if what i saw, was a UFO or not, but it did fit the criteria: unidentified, flying and it was an object. :)

i spent the next week running at night as much as possible, hoping to see the same thing.  although it may not sound like it, it was quite a bizarre situation.  the more time that passes the less real the  whole thing feels. i have nothing to reinforce what i saw, and perhaps as the years go by i will hardly remember anything about it…except for this blog.

 

 

 

 

 

we were driving out to north dakota, it was getting late and i had yet to get in my run. i needed to finish my run before 12:00am MST. at about 10:30 we found a days inn in oacoma south dakota that had vacancy and offered free breakfast in the morning, if you dare. we paid the night clerk and quickly moved in. i grabbed my running clothes first and changed into what seemed like appropriate clothes. usually i forget something, but somehow i was prepared enough to pack my headlamp. i put it on, quickly gave my wife brief heads up as where i was going (which i really didn’t know) and what time to expect me.

i took off down the dark highway about 10:49pm. as the cars passed with their high beams on, i felt increasingly uncomfortable since i couldn’t see where i was stepping. off to the north were some beautiful rolling hills covered in grass and dimly lit by the almost full moon. this was very appealing but the hills were behind a very tightly strung barbed wire fence.

i debated the idea of jumping the fence for a couple of seconds, because it seemed like private property (actually i knew it was private property), but i was more worried that it was not the route i had told my wife i was running. what if i fell in a well…or got trapped under a large rock?? no one would find me… I found a sturdy fence post that looked like it could support me. i leaped over the top careful not to rip my clothes…and just like that, i was on my way. i ran along the some double tracks, that looked like they were recently made from a vehicle, that rolled in and out of the pale moon light (note: i’ve always wanted to use the phrase “pale moon light” so there!). it was so beautiful. the weather was perfect and trail was smooth and easy to find. and where it was not easy to find, the terrain was smooth enough that i could just break new trail. my headlamp was superfluous at this point, and I chose to leave it off, besides i wasn’t quite sure where i was and didn’t want to bring attention to myself. i ran along for only a mile before i came to a point where it slopped down into cliff-like darkness and seemed just a little bit risky (all of a sudden i am now into risk management). for all i know it could have been a strip mine or a sink hole….something!

i turned around and retraced my steps back to the road. i found it slightly difficult to see exactly where I had come from. i went off course a bit to the west, to the point where i found myself on the top of a little hill. it was a little brighter there and seemed ok. it wasn’t completely ok because i was still a bit nervous about being behind a fence, running in the dark, and the occasional bear-looking shadow.

as i was running along the top of the hill i suddenly started to hear some running hoof-like noise nearby. in fact it sounded like more than one thing running. holy shit! i stopped and turned on my headlamp and quickly panned the adjacent hill towards where i thought the sound was coming from. i could see that the dark shadows were actually black cattle and they were all running away from me. i had started a stampede, and now i was worried. i don’t know if you have ever started a stampede in the middle of the night on private property or not, but i was doing it for the first time and i was extremely worried. i imagined them running off a cliff or into the barbed wire fence, or into the road… anything could happen i thought. they were running full speed toward the road and toward the fence. i tried to quickly get out view so they would calm down. i ran down the hill and headed into the darkness hoping the stampede would fizzle out once they noticed i wasn’t around anymore. it seemed like it was working because i could see the cows in the back had broken into a light jog.

i wasn’t quite as worried but kept running to the other side of the hill that had separated us. i just wanted to get the hell out of there. i was hoping that they would soon relax stop running, and everything would be good. except that after running down the hill for a few meters, i looked up and low and behold the stampede was coming over the hill just above me…heading right at me. i froze in my tracks, and wasn’t sure what to do at this point. i shined my head light up at them, and all i could see was the silhouettes from their ears and glowing eyes. in an ironic twist, i was scared that i was about to be trampled by a very worried herd, that i had scared in the first place. they saw my head light and slowed down once again. i think this time they realized that i wasn’t an animal, and they were in fact chasing me now. not something they wanted to do i guess. they slowed down and turned away from me, till they came to a stop.

i kept running however. i didn’t stop. i got to the fence, found a place to hope over. almost ripped my clothes this time, but managed to unhook my shorts before they ripped… and my adventure was over.

i got back to the hotel, logged my 411th day of running in a row at 11:55pm MST.
thanks for reading.

i have probably the worst facial recognition skills known to man. i’ll recognize your bike, your shoes, or your sun glasses before i recognize your face. i’ll recognize you if you’re a coworker and i see you at work. however, if you’re a coworker and i see you at the grocery store… i’m really sorry. if you’re my cycling buddy and we usually meet for a ride with our cycling kits and helmets on, i’ll recognize you. however, if you’re my cycling buddy and i see you at the grocery store … i am so sorry. who knows how many people i’ve ignored throughout the years. i hope they realize i just don’t recognize them, and i am NOT snobbing them.

i’ve been recognized many times by people i know, out on the bike trail. i only came to notice them because they made some snarky remark about me being a pompous douche bag (at least i hope they are being snarky). it’s always followed by a big surprise on my side, followed by some lame excuses about the sun in my eyes, dirty sunglasses, or being in the “zone”.. getting over the flu etc. they usually forgive me, but it’s always awkward.

another time i was at home depot with my wife and i some guy was standing right next to me and said, ‘hey man, how’s it going?”

“it’s going …..well?” i said. i wasn’t real confident when i said it, mostly because prior to him asking me “how it was going”, i was actually doing well. now however, some stranger was asking me a question as if he knew me…. and i probably know him, but i don’t know him! i thought about asking all those benign “context” questions hoping to get a clue, like “what are you doing here?” “is this your wife?” “when was the last time we saw each other [and where]??” … but alas i was too confused to be smooth. finally i had to ask, “how do i know you?”

he said in a surprised voice, “i’m chad!”

oh fuck it was chad! i just rode with him two days ago. when we rode we both had to stop periodically for the rest of the group to catch up. while we waited chad and i talked about all kinds of stuff. i got to know chad pretty well … except for what his damn face looks like! i was so embarrassed … i think chad is still mad at me, we hardly talk anymore.

my inability to recognize people out of context is pretty bad, and i have tried several times to compensate for it but this too has led to some awkward moments. i’ll usually think i know someone and start talking to them generically as if i know them… but then quickly bail when i realize i have no fucking idea who this person is.

here is what happened yesterday on the bike trail:
i was riding along some single track of a popular local trail. i was in a hurry to get back to the car, so i was carving out this trail like an olympic snow boarder. not that this information has anything to do with the story, but i wanted to let you into where my mind was at.

i saw a couple riders up ahead and they had moved over to the side because i looked like i was going way too fast to stop, or they were just being nice, and letting me enjoy my ride… in any case i didn’t want to be a pompous douche and just fly by them.. so i slowed down to a respectable speed as i came near. the guy in the front had a big friendly smile on his face and said “hi!”.

his greeting was so friendly, i couldn’t help but slow down to a stop as i approached him. I upped the ante by saying “HEY, how’s it going?” at this moment i thought this guy was dave. dave was a former coworker who loved to mountain bike and we had a falling out two years ago. if you knew dave, this guy would have blown your mind by his resemblance (take this last sentence with a grain of salt, because you read the first paragraph of this post).

dave said, “oh it’s going pretty good”

at this moment i had some doubt that it wasn’t dave, but i wasn’t confident enough that it was. so i started to come up with some more awkward conversation, “what are you doing in this area?”

dave said, “i ride here now and then.” “the weather was really nice so we came out to ride”

dave was riding with a little girl, most likely his daughter. however dave didn’t have kids. i had to get out of this conversation some how. “i don’t know you do i?” i finally said.

wes (formerly know as dave) said, “no you don’t”

“well, i’m leo, i thought you were someone i knew, but it’s nice to meet you!”

wes said, “well i’m wes, and this is my daughter ‘something or other’ and it’s nice to meet you too”

“well have a good one later!!” zoommmmmm. i was out of there.

i guess the bottom line is that i just want to ride my bike. socializing isn’t going to happen for me when i’m cycling… or at the grocery store, or home depot etc.

see ya out on the trails!!

-leo

this was my mission for this past weekend.

i arrived at the rawah wilderness around 6:30 pm on a saturday night. even though this was going to be an simple 16 hour trip, i had been planning it out all week long. that’s something i hardly ever do, in fact i don’t think i’ve ever done that much planning. usually i get an idea, show up at the trail head, and go. this time i was super excited, i bought a book “utralight backpacking“, maps, food, a compass, and some other gear. just to plan my sweet 16. not only was i going to spend the night in the wilderness, i was about to run about 24 trail miles in a span of 16 hours.

i had done some backpacking trips in the past, but usually had to return early due to heavy-pack-syndrome HPS. i kind of acquired this disorder over the years due to my fascination of gadgets and lack of common sense…. the perfect storm if you will. i want to bring everything with me. sleeping bag, tent, sleeping pad, rain gear, stove, coffee, pans, first-aid, second-aid (whiskey), phone, batteries, awesome-knife, ipad… you get the idea. usually these end up being overnighters.

this weekend i was about to rid myself of HDS. thanks to a magic sentence i read in “ultralight backpackin’ tips” by mike clelland… it read “cross the line-go out too light”. there were some cautions after that sentence but i don’t remember them right now. but anyway, to me this meant, “bring almost nothing, it’s only one night… what’s the worst that can happen?” i packed what i thought was bare essentials and got my pack down to an unbelievable weight.

here is my list of items:
– camelbak charge -ultralight
– fleece sleeping bag liner.
red canyon 3/4 sleeping pad.
san francisco marathon emergency blanket (note: any marathon is fine).
castaway hammock
petzl tikka plus 2 headlamp
trash compactor bag (this was going to be my rain poncho, or sleeping bag cover, if it rained hardenough)..
iphone 5 (for pictures and gps)
zensah compression top and bottom (sleeping clothes).
nike ultra light wind breaker.
hand held water bottle
alpine lowe fanny pack with 100oz water.
map
water tablets (not used)
glove liners (not used)
beanie

the total base weight 5.1 pounds, water plus food was an additional 5 pounds. note: i forgot to mention the scale in the list of things i bought for this trip.

getting far away from civilization in a short amount of time has become my obsession over the years. i used to do it on my mountain bike, but never like this. i wish i was in better running shape right now, so i could run faster and further… for this trip i all i had to do was run two 12 mile trail runs back to back. i would run into the rawah wilderness (without a gun, or knife), camp, and run back the next day. i don’t know if this sounds impressive to you or not, but coming from a guy who has very little experience backpacking, who rarely runs over 6 miles at a time, and who has put himself in danger so many times from flagrant miscalculations …. i’d be a little impressed if i were you.

the drive up the canyon seemed endless. it was late in the afternoon around 6:30 by the time i hit the trail head. it was quite a bit later than i planned but i figured it would be ok to run the last few miles in the dark. i don’t know why i thought that, but let’s just continue the story…

the trail was just gorgeous. it was a rolling single track with dark rich dirt. outcroppings of granite-like rocks sprinkled the trail at just the right spots. the trees were plentiful, lush and surrounded with green foliage. small run-off streams crossed the trail from time to time, causing me to dance across the tops of the rocks avoiding the wet and mud. my pack felt amazingly comfortable and i was running along at very easy pace. sucking up the beauty of the high altitude wilderness as i ran. i remember thinking that this has to be the best day of my life. my days of bad decisions were over, my habit of turing everything epic was behind me… this is it, the culmination of all my outdoor-life learning experiences were paying off right now! i was two miles in.

after about three miles the terrain remained the same with the exception that the trail was no longer rolling… in fact it had gone almost straight up. it wasn’t that big of a deal because, i love hills. i love the feeling of getting to the top of a long steep hill looking back, and having a great sense of accomplishment …etc. but, there is a time and place for everything. not sure if it was the altitude, the backpack, or just my lack of conditioning. i was not feeling the climbing vibe… only dread.

even though the fatigue was getting to me, i was motivated by the nearing tree-line. i knew that once i got to tree-line, i would be well over 11,000 feet high. however, getting there seemed like it was going to take forever. the sun had gone down and the temperatures were starting go down as well. i was now alone…no more shadow just me running at dusk. even though i felt alone i really wasn’t. as i looked up to the top of the ridge i could see some elk moving, and when i looked down i could see a camper by the lake. i picked up the pace just a bit because i felt like they were watching. i was just passing through, barely a third of the way toward my destination.

i made it up to the ridge were the elk once passed, and began the downward journey into the backside of the wildness. the trail was thinner and sloppier as i went back under tree line. i was doing fine at this point, everything seemed to be in working order. it was getting darker by the minute, and at this point i was descending very technical steep trail with sharp hair-pins, fallen trees, streams, and big piles of snow. my motivation was descending right along with me… i just wanted to hurry. it was getting dark.

i couldn’t believe i still had another fucking 6 miles to go…. yes, my attitude had dipped way below “tree-line”. i tried to pull my attitude up by thinking about all the training runs i’ve done at night. trying to tell my self, “it’s just dark” …. “you could run all night if you needed”… “no one is waiting for you” … “relax”. this actually seemed to work. i once again started to enjoy the scenery. it wasn’t completely dark, so for the time being i could still run without my headlamp. i started feeling stronger and more aggressive as i maneuvered down the hill. to the west of me was a huge wild river flowing down the mountain right beside me. it was interesting to think that this river originated just about one mile above me. i couldn’t believe how much water was moving down the mountain.

soon after the descent it came time to cross the little wild river. all the crossing rocks were covered with roaring rapids and this thing was far too wide to jump across. i looked around a little bit and found a fallen tree that spanned the river. it was about 4-5 feet above the water surface, and it didn’t look very stable, like it could roll if i stepped incorrectly. it did look more than strong enough to hold my weight. i didn’t have much choice, since i was determined to make 12 miles tonight, and didn’t have time to build a better bridge. i got up on the log and cautiously walked across it with my arms out and my head stable and my common sense a couple miles back on the trail. all my slack line and unicycling skills paid off and i survived to run another mile.

author’s retrospective: looking back at this little stunt, i realized that it was about 8:30 pm i was about 6 miles from the road. i was balancing 5 feet over rocks and river, my pack was not water proof, no cell service. if anything other than success happened… i would have been screwed. however, these thoughts only came to me days after returning home.

after crossing the river, my attitude was at an all time high. i was such a “badass” running in the wilderness, crossing rivers, jumping rocks, climbing fallen trees… w00t! it was getting really dark and i was not quite ready to turn on my head lamp full time. i had only been using it in the dark rocky corners of the trail, where natural light was inadequate. when the trail was open and straight it was actually better to run without the light … i could see further without the light…. just not as much detail.

i don’t know if you’ve ever run at night or not, but if you have you know what i mean when i say that everything looks like an animal. not only do the big rocks and small trees look like silhouettes of animals … they look like inappropriate animals. for example, you’ll see the frequent rock that looks like a bear, and tree that looks like a deer.. but you’ll also see the “armadillo”, the “giant beetle”, the bear on bike, the deer making a phone call… etc. fortunately your mind is able to quickly dismiss these as false positives (note: i know i am using the term “false positive” incorrectly, but i like the way it sounds, so i’m leaving it in). it was a little nerve racking running in the dark, but i was still determined to make it all the way.

around mile 8 i was running a section of trail that had enough natural light to not require me to wear my headlamp. i looked ahead as far as i could and saw this very clever tree and rock combination that looked like a camel. as i got closer i quickly dismissed the camel idea, but started to wonder if it actually was something real. i didn’t stop immediately because i was still confused. i guess there are two types of people in this world; those that stop when they are confused, and those that don’t. when i got about 100 feet away, i finally came to a complete stop. i turned on my head lamp and saw a couple glowing eyes staring back at me. holly shit, it’s a fuckin’ moose! …. my heart was already beating hard, but now it was beating irregularly. it took me a few minutes to understand the situation well enough to realize i had better get away from here. moose are a little different than deer and elk… they don’t run away, and they can be aggressive. this “aggressive” part is what worried me. (earlier in the week a co-worker hit me with all these facts about moose attacks). i didn’t know what was going on, i didn’t know if he was scared, if he had a family near by, or he just hated runners. :( i backed up slowly, and then quickly. i found some nearby trees, to hide behind incase the moose decided he wanted to take action. i figured i could out maneuver him if the time came (don’t know why i thought that, but i did). i stood by my trees and flashed my headlamp on him. he just stood there… if he were a bull, and this were a bull fight, he would probably be scratching his front hoof into the ground by now. i was wearing bright orange.

my initial fear had subsided a little and i was kind of irritated that the moose was blocking the trail and i wouldn’t be able to complete my run. i had to get this thing out of the trail… the flashing light didn’t work. i tried yelling, “yah…yah!!” then i had the bright idea to use the flashing red light feature of my headlamp. i turned it on, and nothing happened… at first. then the moose started taking a couple steps toward me….oh shit oh shit!!! i frantically tried to turn off the light but, it takes a sequence of button presses to shut it off completely, and i didn’t have the where-with-all to shut it off, so i grabbed it off of my head, hid it in my hands and tried to shut it off there. he stopped and just started eating again. you have to realize that it’s dark, i’m alone, this thing is huge, and has a known reputation for getting angry… of course i was a bit scared.

i was still determined to finish my run. the moose wasn’t going to move. my only choice was to try and go around him. i decided that going up the hill along side the trail would be the safest. i reasoned that i would be less likely to run into more moose, than if i had tried to sneak around the flat side. i started up the hill and at this point everything looks like a moose. every rock, every bush and every tree looked like a moose. i was a bit freaked out. i tried to keep my eye on the real moose and proceeded to walk around. unfortunately most of the hill was soaked from the snow melt, and i didn’t notice that until a made a couple steps into muddy streams that ran beneath the brush. my feet got submerged and now my shoes and socks were both soaked. crap! i didn’t want to bush whack through this muddy hilly, darkness… so i decided to just find a dry spot and camp.

here is the GPS retelling of my story.

the spot i found was located underneath a small group of trees. the trees were grouped together like a small island on the big open hillside. in fact the group of trees looks so inviting, i was afraid something might be living in there. i shined my light into the hole from all sides just to make sure nothing was there. when i determined it was safe i cautiously crawled into the space. once inside it actually felt pretty nice. the trees were not the right distance apart to set up my hammock and the ground was not the flattest place i’ve ever slept. since the moose was near by, i was still trying to be incognito, and didn’t want to make a big ruckus while making up camp. i just threw out my bedroll and changed into my long underwear, and tried to sleep. i didn’t even attempt to eat, for fear that opening up any of my food would attract bears. i know they can smell food from far away, but having open food might just attract them from even further away… at least that’s how my reasoning was going at the time. besides i wasn’t very hungry.

i covered my head and closed my eyes, and fell asleep for 4 hours. i really wasn’t expecting that much sleep, considering how riled up i was just before i went to bed. after waking up the first time, i was a little bit cold so i spread out my san francisco marathon space blanket over the top of my bedding. this seemed to do the trick, because once again i was fast asleep. however, this time it was only for an hour. while i was up, i realized that i needed to pee. i was actually pretty excited that i finally had to go because i was worried about dehydration. i was also excited because now, i could pee around the corners of my camp to ward off wandering animals. i had been nervous all night about bears wandering into my camp.. so this was a small shield of protection. i don’t even know if it works or not, but i saw it on “survivor man”. for the rest of the night i had trouble sleeping, and the best i was able to do, were half hour increments of sleep. by 3am i was just waiting for daylight.


it was a beautiful morning. 5am finally rolled around and i packed up my gear. i decided to just be happy with the 8 miles i did last night and head back. it was a long slow run, i was super tired from not eating last night. i had such low energy that getting back over the hill seemed 10 times harder than it did the day before. i took a bunch of rest stops and even had to stop for a couple more moose blocking the trail once again. although moose are very large, they are far less intimidating in the daytime.

the original photo

the new version

image

me

in my world of denial i drive to work with my mountain bike mounted to the top of my car. i wear torn jeans, i sport a shaved head and i have a modest tattoo of a bicycle on my forearm. i don’t work in a bike shop, or medical marijuana dispensary… nor am i heading there. on this particular day i am heading to the software company in boulder colorado where i work. i am a software engineer. i show up to meetings with my ipad, i use instant messenger to communicate…and i can never find a pen.

my counter part

dave drives a stock 1990 honda civic with a manual five speed transmission. it’s a rather plain car with almost no personality to it what so ever. in fact the lack of personalization actually makes this car unmistakably dave’s. although dave is a quite opinionated person, he has resisted the temptation to clutter his back bumper with his ideals. he saves his opinion for those who care enough to engage.

on several occasions before work i have witnessed dave sitting in his car with the windows rolled up, listening to classical music. he will just sit there patiently waiting for the song to end. As soon as it ends, he promptly shuts off the radio, unbuckles his seat belt and gets out of the car. i’m not sure if he waits because it’s his favorite song, or he just waits because it would be rude otherwise.

dave loves the dilbert comic strip. he will often tear out a page from the calendar and walk around the office showing people. he’ll hand you the comic strip and sit there smiling and chuckling until you “get it”. it’s a little known fact, but dave actually sends letters to Scott Adams with suggestions for new characters loosely based on actual people i work with.

deep-well chords and button-up shirts are the only things i’ve seen dave wear. sometimes he wears long sleeves sometimes short.. but never a t-shirt. dave is 70 years old and is considered to be quite cynical and somewhat snobby by most people… but these same people will also tell you that he is such a nice guy. i am one of “these” people. i used to be very intimidated by dave. he had one of the largest cubes in the building and a chalk board full of symbols, lines, and angles used express algorithms relevant to his ideas. he reminds me of professors that i’ve had in school, not just one professor, but a compilation of every teacher or professor. i don’t remember for sure, but i think dave has a degree or two in structural engineering and in math.

the juxtaposition

the other day as i was walking into the office i saw dave meandering about the front doorway.

i said “good morning dave” as i passed him.

he said, “leo, i need to talk to you.” he proceeded followed me to my desk.

he was carrying around a piece of paper and a notebook. besides comic strips, dave also like to print out interesting email so he can share them with people, so i figured he was looking to talk. dave walks kind of slowly these days, so i slowed down the pace so we could get there at more or less the same time. we finally got to my desk and pulled out a chair so he could sit down.

“what is it dave?”

it turned out that dave actually had a real work related conversation for me. he wanted to explain some new functionality he was trying to implement. the piece of paper he was carrying around was a printout of some mechanical detail drawing with some additions he had made in pencil. actually everything was so straight and perfect you could hardly tell they were hand drawn.

he then took out a small piece of plain white paper, and reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a wooden yellow pencil sharpened to a very fine point. it’s funny that i never noticed before, but he always carries at least three finely sharpened wooden pencils, point up in his pocket. i guess it fit so naturally in his character that it never stood out.

he started drawing this very complicated connection scheme that was to represent an actual wooden joint used in light construction. after nearly finishing his drawing he found something wrong with one of his original lines. “i drew this bearing too thick, it should be thinner than the blocking…” he turned his yellow pencil around and erased the line with the red eraser. lightly dusting off the eraser dust, he continued his drawing.

after finishing his drawing he started explaining it to me. as he was pointing out key areas in his drawing with his yellow pencil, he interrupted himself and said, “wait, let me use red”…

without looking he put his yellow pencil back in his shirt pocket and pulled out a red colored pencil. just before he started to draw something, he held it up in front of his eyes, i guess to make sure it was sharp enough. and yes, it was just as sharp as the other pencil! he drew some more stuff on the paper red … and when he was done, it looked like a little piece of art.

we finished our conversation and dave got up out of the chair. just as he was leaving he looked on my desk and said, “that banana is too ripe for my taste” … then walked away.

be epic

the preamble

i guess it all started last week when i was talking to dave at work. i told him i was thinking about doing some epic mountain bike ride around north boulder/lyons/longmont. it was one of those rides that are made-up as it comes out of your mouth. “yeah… i’m going to ride heil ranch down to picture rock, and hook up with hall ranch go up the rock garden….” yeah, i was so full of enthusiasm back then, poor dave just shook his head in disbelief.

his only words, “dude, that’s gonna be tough.”

to which i replied,” wanna go???”

i don’t remember how it happened or what he said, but basically it was a no go.  i think i even lost a little bit of steam on this one.  don’t get me wrong, it’s fun as hell being “epic” alone… but twice as fun when you have someone to be epic with, and even better if you have someone to share your story with.

by thursday morning i was thinking about everything but my big ride.  there was the turkey trot in the morning, then there was the actual turkey for dinner… followed by food coma and late night pie.  i’m not much of a shopper, but all i could hear on tv/radio were “black friday” commercials, “black friday” emails…etc.  i was pretty content with not going shopping on friday, and I was pretty content with not doing any kind of a workout.  after all i had just run a 5k turkey trot!

friday morning, on the way home i decided to stop at the bike shop so I could return some shit that i bought last week in another failed bike restoration project.  i handed the guy my returned items in a bag and told him i was going to “look around”.  This was actually one of those times when i kind of stood in the middle of the store and spun around till i found something that caught my eye … and there they were, bib shorts!  i had wanted bib shorts since 2001, but have not been able to spend the money, or have not been interested in bike clothes…or whatever.  i had no intention of buying bib shorts, but they were marked down to an unbelievable price.  i just had to buy two… right next to them were a couple sweet jerseys that i also could not pass up.

one hundred bucks later i’m walking out of the store with a couple new jerseys and some sweet ass bib shorts.  i’m not exaggerating about these bib shorts either.  the anti-bacterial padding is so thick and nice, it’s like having a bike seat sewed on your ass (actually i’m not too sure about that analogy).

a funny thing happened as i was driving home, my epic bike ride plan, came back to life!

the ride

11 am start time. i know what you’re thinking… “for and ‘epic’ ride, you sure are starting late.” there was a good reason for the late start, but it mostly had to do with poor planning and a cavalier sense of urgency because i never stopped to do the time math.  i just wanted to do 40 miles… everything else should come together. :)

i started out at the heil ranch trail head.  the temperature was in the high 20’s, but the trail is quite shady so it felt a bit colder.  this trail is about 9 miles long and known for its rocky mojo-killing terrain.  the first three miles were all uphill and my arms were already burning from the vibrations.  this was going to be a long day.  i looped around the top and before i knew it, i was 6 miles into the ride as i approached my junction.

the next leg was down picture rock.  5 and a half miles …  all down hill.  the first three of those were get-off-your-seat kind of bumpy.  these are the kinds of trails that make me so happy i ride a 29er.  not so happy that i have a hard tail… and kind of pissed that i over filled my front shock with air.  by the time i got to the bottom i was 12 miles into the day, and 28 miles from utopia.

hall ranch is a completely different trail.  it has lots of buffed out single track with a few sections of very hard technical leg-blowing rock faces.  although the trail is mostly sunny, it still felt pretty cold. i think maybe it was just the wind chill on my sweat covered clothes making me “feel” cold.  anyway, my plan was to just take my time and get through it.  unfortunately my plan didn’t account for two guys with matching kits just ahead of me.  i chased, like any good ex-cyclist would.

as i rode up the rock garden that makes hall ranch famous, i lost traction on some loose gravel and fell forward.  my handle bars twisted and the back of my right hand came crashing down on a pointy rock. unfortunately the back of my glove has no protection.  have you ever noticed that when it’s really cold outside and you get injured, that no matter how small the injury, something feels broken??  well that’s what it felt like, something was broken!  i yelled out the work “FUCK” which seemed to help a bit, but it was by no means a long term solution.  i felt my hand bleeding inside my glove, but i was too afraid to take it off to check.  i soon realized that despite my pain, i could still move everything and actually hold on to the handle bars.  ok, enough wallowing in my pain…. i had some guys to catch!

i chased and chased but the gap was not closing. finally i saw them stop up ahead.  i caught them and passed with a “friendly” oxygen-debt “hello”.  i guess they didn’t want to get passed by this fred with the generic “black kit”, so they started up right behind me and started chasing ME …. fuck!  i held them off on the hill, but when we got to the flatter stuff, my single speed gearing was just too spinny to catch them.  i tried to keep them in sight and managed to get back to their wheel on some super fast gnarly descent.  it was SO much fun.

it didn’t look like i was going to pass them, so i stopped to eat lunch.  20 miles into my day, and about 14 miles back to the car.  as i sat there eating my lunch, i kept contemplating my options.  1. do i just go back and make it a 34 mile day… or 2. do i continue on to rabbit mountain?  actually the first option was just a facade of my rationale peaking through.  i HAD to do rabbit mountain.  I had been wanting to link all three of these trails since the early 2000’s.  i didn’t have a clue as to how many miles it would be, but my roadside math told me it was going to be close to 50 when I got back to the car.

the ride out to rabbit mountain was about 6 miles of pavement.  not a big deal, unless you are riding a single speed with low speed gearing.  so there i was riding down highway 66, at about 14 miles per hour with my RPMs at about a buck ten – a buck fifteen.  i couldn’t wait for the merciless spinning to end.  It seemed like forever, but when i finally got to the trail head, i stopped and ate the remainder of my lunch.

there were lots of people and dogs out on this trail. i had to stop every now and again just to let them pass.  as i was riding around the top loop, i stopped to take a picture of the lowered sun.  then it finally hit me… i’m not going to have enough time to get back…. shit!  at this point my arms and legs were nothing but jello, but i had to hurry.  i had no choice but to fly down this bumpy ass trail, with my legs screaming and my arms trying to hang on.  i was about 34 miles into the ride and everything was going downhill quickly … figuratively.  one positive note that i’d like to share: my ass was so comfortable in my new bib shorts! :)

i spun back down the highway not much faster than my ride up.  by this time, the cars were starting to put on their head lights.  it was starting to get noticeably darker by the minute.  i was starting to worry but then i had a brief moment of elation when i remembered that i still had my sun glasses on!!! woo hoo another 10 minutes and my elation was gone, it was really getting dark.

when i got to the bottom trail head of picture rock, i had about 6 miles of continuous uphill and 4 miles of downhill back to the car.  there was no sunshine and i was riding on the east facing slopes in the trees…it was going to be super dark.  i passed by several riders on their way down, and the last ones were at mile 8.  they gave me a look like, “you’re seriously going up, right now?”  i removed my shades and kept going.

it was getting very dark at this point but i was still riding.  i don’t know why i kept riding, i think i was just determined to get up the hill.  i should have stopped 2 miles earlier but I didn’t.  i had to trust everything i knew about mountain biking at this point.  i could barely make out the trail and the rocks were just two dimensional dark spots on the ground.  i knew i had two big wheels that could ride over just about anything… and i also knew that i’m very decent technical rider…. so leaned way back to prevent any endos from happening, knees out, fingers on brakes and heart on the trail.

delirium and fear set in.

so with 4 miles to go i finally called it.  it was getting too dangerous, i couldn’t see anything.  i was cold, tired, under dressed, and for the moment 90% blind.  i could see the dark trunks of the lodge poll pines and i could see the stars.  that last item couldn’t help me but it gave me something to focus on when i got nervous.  this area is known for it’s mountain lions and recently there have been lots of sightings in boulder county.  i became obsessed with that fact over the next couple miles.  there were several moments when i could have sworn i saw a big beige blob flash in front of me.  i had no light to see anything just a bunch of dim shapes in the darkness.  staying on the trail was becoming increasingly difficult.  it’s not like there was a single track trail with tall grass bordering the edges.  it was the contrast of rocks with rocks bordering the edges.  using the trees as guides and the discoloration from the loose dirt i could kind of  see my way.  it was so subtle that if i looked down and focused on the ground beneath me, i couldn’t see the trail.  i had to look far enough ahead and slightly blur my focus to “see” anything.  i marched along taking high vertical steps to avoid tripping.

i began to think about stopping and waiting till the light of morning to make my way out of here. morning seemed like a really long time from now.  i thought that if i just stopped to rest, things would be more clear… mentally.  i didn’t want to panic and get lost.  most of my thoughts at that time involved stopping, waiting, or calling for help.  i did end up stopping for a moment just to get some gu drops, and i put on my nice warm ski hat.

suddenly everything felt alright.  i felt under control.  i could still see the stars,  my head was warm enough.. and there seemed to be no urgency to get back…i had all night!  i marched along, carefully picking off landmarks along the trail.  it wasn’t long before the last landmark appeared… the parking lot with my car.  nothing says “welcome back” like a bottle of gatorade and some malt vinegar chips, waiting in the car!!!

walking: 4 miles

road riding: 12 miles

mountain biking: 31 miles

total: 47.25 miles

gatorade and chips: priceless!

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by 4:30 I was out the door of my apartment. still very dark and kind of chili for my comfort level, but not too bad. just one day ago, or to be more precise, 8 hours ago, I had this idea that was going to be one of my most adventurous events to date. i wanted to hike up a fourteen thousand foot mountain, and then ride my mountain unicycle all the way down. the trip would involve carrying a 20 pound unicycle and 20 pound pack for about 3.5 miles with a 3500 ft elevation gain. it shouldn’t be bad, i had all day to do it.

I had climbed several 14ers this summer and had a pretty good idea what I was in for…. except for the unicycling part. I had googled around the night before researching a good mountain to climb, and one that would allow bikes. I know a unicycle is not really a “bike”… but I’m pretty sure that the spirit of the law makes me a bike, and i would rather be grouped with bikes, than hikers (nothing against hikers, i just really like bikes). i found a list of peaks created by some guy who claims to have ridden down on his unicycle. i wouldn’t be the first to do this but who cares…right? after some light comparisons between the peaks, i decided on gray’s peak. this would be the one for me. 14270 feet about 3.75 miles one direction and about a 3000 foot elevation gain from trail head to peak. perfect.

by 6:30 i was on the dirt road that leads to gray’s peak. a small rough dirt road. the directions said that if you have a low clearance vehicle, you might want to park at the start of the road and walk the 3.5 mile to the trail head. ok, but i’ll just drive a little further up the road and park on the shoulder when i need to. one mile in i see a guy hiking up the road. sucker!! haha… i bounced and scraped along as i past this cautious fellow in the pale morning light. funny thing was, every time i drove over a rock or passed a ditch… i thought to myself, “ok this is it, i should stop here”. as soon as i thought that, the road would mellow out and i could press onward.

it wasn’t long before i came to a sign that read, “1.4 miles to the trail head.” as soon as i passed this sign with a certain amount of “feel good” the road tilted upward and curved to the left. it was one lane at this point and within a few hundred feet of the curve, a huge rut was cut into the road by a season rain and run off. oh crap. i glanced in the mirror, and because of the curve and steepness of the road, it seemed too difficult to backdown at least in this car it was. so, onward i drove. the rut was angled and there were at least a couple rocks that were in all the wrong places. i angled my car and gunned it over the rut, not even able to really see where i was heading. woohoo! i was successful!!! damn, this lowrider civic made it up the hill and over the rut… sweet. i was pretty happy at this point. the road was mellow for the remainder or the drive… at least it seemed mellow compared to what i had just gone through.

the trailhead was almost full, nothing but 4×4 trucks and suv’s …and now one civic. one badass civc!
i don’t know what time it was, but it must have been early, because the sun had not yet made it over the valley, and it was still pretty cold. i packed my stuff and strapped my unicycle on to my small commuter backpack, and just as i put on the pack, i decided that should probably use the toilet before i spend all day on this mountain…. especially since it was mostly above tree-line. if you know what I mean.

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i took off the pack and headed over to the friendly near by public toilet. i really hate public mountain restrooms because they are usually stinky dirty, and dark. much to my surprise, this one wasn’t half bad. clean and not stinky with a good amount of light…it’s going to be a good day i thought. the door lock was a little weird but i managed to jiggle it around and made sure the latch went into the opposing hole. it was a good idea that i decided to stop in, because by the time i finished locking the door i really had to go. actually it seemed like i didn’t have a moment to spare. as i sat there doing my business… i could hear people meandering around the parking lot getting ready for their hike. after a while i could kind of imagine where people were and i could hear one guy talking as he was getting near the restroom…then silence. suddenly with out hesitation he yanked the door open busting the stupid worthless lock that was held on by what must have been stripped rusted out screws. I sat there with a surprised look on my face (i’m only guessing i looked surprised.. because i was in slight shock)

“whoa!! sorry!”, he said as he closed the door.

“it’s alright, man no worry” i said in my haha-nothing-just-happened-voice.

son of a bitch! i hate when that happens. it’s not that it happens a lot, but it does happen, and i don’t think i have ever been on this end of it before. as i left the restroom he was no where to be found. i’m guessing he wanted nothing to do with an after-conversation. and neither did i.

i quickly got back to the car, got all my shit together and started hiking up the trail. the trail starts out very steep. my violent pace was sooned governed by my non-aclimated lungs. after some heart pumping pain… i finally settled into a slower sustainable pace and continued up to my destination. after about a half mile or so, i realized that i didn’t pack my shin guards. fuck! there was no way i was going to risk riding down this thing without my guards. i turned around and headed back to the car.

i passed a bunch of people on the way down, and most said nothing about the unicycle that was conspicuously strapped to the back of my backpack. one lady however, stopped and asked me what i was going to attempt. she was utterly impressed when i told her my plan. it was cool that she had the vision to see how ambitious my goal was and to think that i could do it… even though i hadn’t really even started.

as i got back to the trailhead, a couple hikers asked me if i knew of any water around here. i told them no, but i had some in my car that i could give them. they followed me back and accepted my water and off they went. no questions about my unicycle… just thanks. i got my shin guards and headed back up the trail. as i entered the trail i noticed a forest service sign that symbolically said that the following was not allowed: bikes!!!!! wtf?

i was going to go anyway, but remembered the spirit of the law and decided to go home and look for a new mountain. dejected, i walked back to the car. a group of asian tourist were gathered around taking pictures of themselves. one of them spotted me and started toward me.

“hey, excuse me!”

“yes”,i said, fully expecting to answer a round of unicycling questions.

“can you take a picture of us?”

“sure”

i took a bunch of pictures of them with several of their cameras. each picture was reviewed by them … i guess for quality purposes.

“thank you very much!”

“you’re welcome, have a nice day!”

i headed back to my car, drove the long road back home. i had one more day to try another.