right before i got ready to ride back to my car, i passed through the company’s kitchen and rifled through the refrigerator.  nothing but some old salad dressing, peanut butter, jelly and some soy milk.  none of it was particularly appealing to me.  i was hungry.  all i had today was a clif bar and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  i thought it was going to be good enough, but as 5:30 rolled around i was famished.

nothing i could do now but go home.   i got my gear together and left out into the cold dark abyss.   as left the dark and empty industrial neighborhood i saw something that i would never really notice on a normal night.   it was the big golden arches.

then it entered my mind…. mc donald’s french fries and a coke.  it was just the first thing that i though of as i passed by.  mmm,  seems kind of like it would hit the spot right about now.   at the time it was just an idea, so i rode on.

as the miles passed the cold started to penetrate my clothing.  the thoughts of warm salty french fries started to infiltrated my short term memory. some how every though i had involved french fries.  i though about getting home and having dinner, with french fries.  i though about my lunch and wondered why i didn’t have french fries.  i thought about how happy i would have been if someone bought me french fries for christmas.  i was obsessed.  i couldn’t get those warm salty golden fries out of my mind for anything.

if anything i was so distracted by the thoughts of fries, i didn’t really think about the cold anymore, or the clicking sound my bike was making, the same sound that drove me crazy all morning.  although my mind was distracted, i couldn’t help but notice that the trail was getting tougher and tougher as i got closer to my car.  with each corner i turned i look ahead and thought to my self, “oh fuck, i don’t remember this hill”, or “is this snow getting deeper or what?”.

i eventually made it to my car.   i eventually made it to the near by mc donald’s.  with my bike on top i narrowly made it under the height limit of the drive through.  i don’t know what the hold up was but, man it was taking a long time.  i could smell the food while waiting in line. when my turn came, i ordered a large fries, and a large coke… no ice of course.  waiting waiting.  the guy in front of me had issues with his order…. waiting waiting.  finally i drive up to the window, get my bag and my drink and drive off.  i reached into the bag and grabbed a few, they were nice and warm, almost hot, like they had just come out of the fryer.  i could feel the grains of salt against my finger tips as they went into my mouth.  they were everything i expected and more.  a quick sip of my coke and back to the fries.  i devoured these things in record time.  i don’t think i even made to to the freeway before they were gone.

after finishing my brief indulgence i felt completely satisfied.  almost felt like having a cigarette….if you know what i mean.

i got out of my car almost ready to run, but i had to stop at the trunk to get out my water holder.   i put it on, and it felt like i had gained some weight since my last run.  i sucked it in, fastened it up and off i went.  started out with a slow nonchalant walk toward the start of the trail… transitioned to a light march…. and finally a slow jog as i entered the trail.  it had been a couple of days since i last ran, and i’m not sure if i had shut down properly the last time i ran, because my legs, arms, and back were all a little stiff.

within minutes, the trail became very muddy, forcing my mind to stop thinking about the creaky, stiff, awkward limbs, and to start focusing on just keeping up-right.   one of the things they never teach you in running school is how to run up hill in the mud.  you can’t run it like a normal up hill.  the tendency, at least for me, is to over compensate for the hill by leaning forward and kind of tiptoeing up the hill. the way to do it at least the best way for me is to run as perpendicular as possible to the  hill, and to land as flat footed as you can.  this way you apply more surface area to the ground.  my mud hill technique may seem weird but these slopes are well over 15% grade, and anything else will surely have you slipping face first into the mud.

the first little hill happened very quickly and my body was not warmed up prior to it, but afterward it quickly started to heat up.  the next couple of kilometers or so were semi-flat with enough rolling hills along the way to keep me “honest”.  before long, i was completely loose and i could feel my pace subtly inching up as i sloshed through the mud.

after about 5 kilometers of mud, snow and rocks, i actually thought of shortening my run.  i don’t know why.  i think i was just getting a little tired of maneuvering through the terrain.  i was also starting to worry about my muddy foot prints and their long term effect on the trail.  i kept going because i didn’t have another plan and i always hesitate when it comes to shortening my runs.  after a couple more kilos my mind started to think less about the snow, less about the rocks…and more about my breathing, and my posture.  i was now running, at a more aggressive pace and the terrain seemed much less intimidating.  without even thinking i stepped over and around rocks and ice as if i already knew where they were.  i was much smoother and more fluent than earlier and all i could think about was running further and faster.

before i knew it, i was 10 kilometers into the run, which should have been the turn around point.  i didn’t feel like turning back already.  my goal was 20k and i could have easily done it, but i had done the same thing last week.   i was feeling much better than last week at this point.  so after some careful endorphin induced thought, i decided to take the long way back.  this would add about 10 more kilometers to the run.  my “plan” was to head out to the other trail head which was next to the highway.  if i was hurting by the time i got there, i would hitch a ride back to my car.  i had never hitched a ride before but it seemed like something i could do.

now that i was committed to my new journey, my mind slipped out of focus a bit.  i started to worry if i made a mistake by making my run 30 kilometers.  i was also worried about how i was going to ask for a ride.  my mind raced around these thoughts for a few more kilometers, until i hit the point of no return.  the point at which it would be longer to turn back.  at this point all the noises were silenced and i could hear my self breathing once again.  and out of no where like a magical spell, i could feel the endorphins kicking in.  my goal was clear, i was committed, and feeling perfect.  nothing was nagging at me, nothing was distracting me, all i could feel was everything working properly. rare!

i still had one more big hill to climb, before things would flatten out and i could get a feel for my pace and effort.  i felt fast… not real fast, i’ve been faster, but for where i am in life, this was pretty fast.  i did a pace check with my gps several times and found that i was about 7:45/mile pace after 20 kilometers of trail running.   at that point i was at the second trail head, and there was no one around to ask for a ride.  it didn’t matter, i had decided many kilometers ago that i would get back to my car under my own power no matter what.  it’s funny, but this run was not a big deal, no one was watching me, no one even knew i was out running, i could have bagged the whole thing and got a ride to my car.  however, when i lock on to something, i lock on.  it would have been pretty hard for someone to keep me from finishing this run.

i got out to the highway and i was still feeling pretty good.  as each kilometer clicked off, i could feel myself not feeling as good.  i was still going at a pretty good pace, but now i was struggling a bit just to keep form.  all i could think about was my form.  i tried to keep my back straight, and keep my arms moving.  that’s all i need to focus on when  times start getting rough.  each stride now seemed a little more difficult than the previous…and each breath seemed to have a little less oxygen.

i was running next to traffic and i could feel them approaching and i could feel the gust of wind as they passed.  each time i looked over at them i could see the passenger looking back at me.  kind of weird for my current state, so i decided to not look at anyone anymore. staring into the vanishing point of the road was a little disheartening, except for the fact that now it seemed far, and my original estimate of distance was probably correct.

focusing was getting easier and more difficult at the same time.  easier since i had more things to focus on, and more difficult because now the distractions were coming from inside me.  more little aches and pains from my knees, and ankles… and now my stomach was hurting a little.

i was now completely out of water, but the end was near, and i wasn’t worried.  i could see my turn-off from the distance.  still full of little aches and pains, but trying to keep my form.  as i was running up to the parking lot i passed a person walking the other direction.  i smiled quite greatly and said hello.  i was very happy to be almost done. …and then done.

i walked around the parking lot a few times, before opening my car.  i stretched for about 10 minutes, and i could feel the stiffness that was causing me discomfort for the last 7 kilometers.  my head was light and airy, not completely grounded yet.  i think it was later that night when i finally came “down”.

i didn’t plan on having an epic day.   this turned out to be my longest run in almost 15 years…. and my funnest run in i don’t know how long.

it’s all about listening to my body.  i’ll hold it back when it tells me to, but more importantly, i’ll let it go when it wants to go.

every year when i take down our artificial christmas tree from the attic, i always remember that very first year in colorado.  that first year when i thought it would be cool to have a real tree.  we had real trees before, but we usually bought them from the temporary tree lots in town.  the trees were usually cut down long before christmas and rested on the pavement against a chain link fence with scribbled price tag tied to its tip.  i really disliked that ritual because it somehow seemed very commercial and less romantic. i naively thought that it would some how be more real christmas-like to have one that we cut down ourselves.

i talked the wife into my utopian vision of a perfect christmas, and before long we had researched and found a place that was a little over an hour away.  at the time we only had two kids, an 18 month old and a 4 and a half year old, so we dressed them warmly and packed them into my 1983 toyota tecel.  the weather was kind of rainy, but as we got closer to the place it quickly turned to light snow.  i remember thinking how perfect the conditions were for tree hunting.  we stopped at the check in station and pre-paid for our tree and borrowed a saw, since i didn’t have my own.

the area was a little disappointing, because for most of the year it was used for harvesting lumber.  we could see lots of clear cut patches as we drove up the winding gravel road.  we pulled over in one of the bigger pullouts on the side of the road and everyone got out of the car.  we were all pretty excited, or maybe it was just me.  after all… i had a saw in my hand and it was snowing and we were going to find the perfect tree.  we had the 18 month old in the backpack which my wife carried; we were going to switch off, but somehow i never took a turn… i guess because i was carrying the saw.

i was running around with the five year old jumping over logs and bush whacking our way to trees that seem ideal from a distance.  this went on for a while but soon my wife got tired and the excitement slowly wore away.  we were all pretty cold and went back to the car, disappointed and freezing, trying to figure out our next move.  as we sat there in the car warming our hands with the little heater vents, we saw one of the workers doing something near by.  at this point i was thinking refund.  how can i get my money back, there are no suitable trees here.  i went over to talk to the guy and told him that we couldn’t find anything.  without thinking he said to go up the road about another mile and there were a bunch of trees there.

i went back in the car and relayed the information to my wife.  we drove up to the spot he was talking about, and i started to get out of the car.  i decided that the wife and kids should stay in the car where it was warm;  i would scout around and call them for approval if i found anything good.  up here the snow on the ground was much thicker.  i had a much more difficult time moving about.  after too long i had found what seemed to be the perfect tree.  i walked around it several times making sure it was without defects.
after almost 2 hours of looking around and hiking up and down steep hills in very cold and now windy conditions, this tree was looking really good.  i ran back to the car full of jubilant excitement and told the family that i found the perfect tree.  my wife looked somewhat disbelieving because i had said this a couple times earlier.  this time i grabbed the 18 month old and my wife and the 5 yo followed behind cautiously.

i crossed the road and stood just at the edge on the snow covered shoulder.  i looked back for my lagging family and yelled out “this way!”  i stepped through the snow and started heading into the woods where my perfect tree was waiting for us.  after about three steps into the snow i realized that it was not a shoulder, but in fact a ditch that lined this road.  a very deep ditch. as i took that one endless step into the ditch i realized i was going to fall.  i had my 18 month old in one arm and would have crush him… if my reflexes didn’t take over.  as i sank down into the ditch my arms went up. and as my arms went up my child was ejected out of my arms and flew some five feet away into a pillow of soft snow.  at least i think it was soft.  no matter he cried like crazy.  my wife who was cautiously standing back the whole time could not restrain herself from laughing after seeing that the baby was ok.  it must have looked crazy funny from where she was.

after some confusion i finally found my tree again.  i showed her the tree and like any good used car salesman, i had her loving the tree as well.  i picked a good place to start sawing and began.  the saw blade kept getting bound up and i had to have my wife push one direction as i cut away.  the tree finally fell and it was so heavy that it broke a few of its branches on the way down.  i guess these “real” trees are a little heavier than the “parking lot” trees.  i drug this thing back to my little car and proceeded to put it on top.  i stood back and looked at my setup, and it kind of looked like a tree with a car underneath it. you know, like the tree had fallen and crushed my car.  i’m sure it was just an optical illusion.  i tied it up and drove off.

as i was driving back, and the family was asleep. i started to do a little math. i could see about 4 feet of tree sticking out the back of my car. i could see the tip of the tree passing the nose of my car.  this tree was over 20 feet tall!  we have vaulted ceilings in our house but i doubt they are 20 feet tall.

it did not fit in our house. not even close.  i had to cut almost 4 feet off the bottom, and it was still just barely fit.  this thing was almost six feet in diameter, the base of the tree was about 8 inches thick and the bottom row of branches spread almost 6 feet in diameter.  i had to build a custom tree stand for this monster, and we had to buy extra decorations since we had never had anything this huge before.  this tree was full of bark and it had pretty good sized pine cones all over it, and it dripped tree sap the entire time it stayed in our living room.  on christmas day our presents were covered in sticky gooey tree sap.

i don’t remember anything that anyone got that year.  i hardly remember christmas day for that matter.  but some how, the year we had the giant tree, was the most memorable christmas ever.

note: this was not taken from national lampoon’s christmas vacation…admittedly it is very similar, but it is my own story.

recently we’ve been having some pretty cold weather in colorado.  it’s not even winter yet!  as some of you probably already know, and perhaps some people are just now finding out….i ride in very cold weather.   perhaps i shouldn’t, since i already have some permanent skin wounds from a couple years ago. most people that know me in real life, think i’m crazy for riding in below freezing temperatures.  i don’t mind, i kind of like the label “crazy”, better than “cold weather bike rider” or “gutter bunny.”  the reason i do it, is not for the label that goes along with such a feat, i do it because i don’t like being afraid of things, especially weather.  i guess it would be a different story if i didn’t want to do it in the first place.

yesterday i packed all my stuff and drove down to my park-n-ride spot.  even the car drive was cold.  i think the outside temperature was 4F or -16C, but my car heater takes a long time to warm up, so i wasn’t feeling any heat.  i brought plenty of clothes, but most of them were laying on the passenger’s seat next to me.  i parked the car, and gradually put on each layer of clothing as i prepared to go outside. it’s always interesting getting those final layers of clothing on when it’s cold.

i packed my iphone in my jersey pocket making sure the chord wasn’t tangled with zippers or what not.  ran the ear buds up and put them in my ears.  i didn’t turn them on yet, but just having them in my ears started taking the edge off the ambient traffic noise.  i put the balaclava over my head and more noises disappeared.  i began to feel more and more detached from the things around me.  finally the helmet went on and the straps tightened …and for that moment i was totally, but acutely introverted.  i guess you can compare the isolation feeling you get when you submerge yourself in a swimming pool.  i felt like an astronaut at that point.  i couldn’t feel very much through all my layers, thick socks, ski gloves, blocked hearing. i could see perfectly however, with my ski goggles.  as i got on the bike and started moving, i could feel little cold breezes that had found their way through the seams of my clothing.  it felt a little uncomfortable, but i let it go.

as i rode through the snow covered bike path i was the only one.  it felt so smooth and quiet riding along the path with some psychedelic music from the warhols playing through my earbuds.  since it was the bike path i had no cars to worry about, and since it was so cold i had no other bikes to worry about.  my studded tires were gripping the icy patches pretty well, and for the moment, the path was very straight.  the cool breezes were now starting to feel pretty good on my slightly overheated body.   in between songs i could hear myself breathing…and on occasion i could even hear myself talking.  i still felt pretty isolated from my surroundings.  which was kind of weird, because cycling usually brings me closer to the environment around me.  not sure if i enjoy it as much this way, but very interesting none the less.

the only thing that really bothered me were my toes.  i could feel them getting colder and colder with each turn of the pedals.  every now and then i would have to pedal standing up just to try and bring some much needed blood back down to my toes.  this seemed to do the job for now, but i was still less than half of the way to my destination.

as i got further along, i started to feel really good. i was overheating a bit and i hadden’t been drinking any water because my water bottle was frozen solid.  i was sweating like crazy, i could feel my balaclava drenched, and pieces of my face were now feeling really cold.  i started to worry about getting frost bite and damaging more of my already damaged skin.  still, i pressed on since i only had about 4 more miles to go.

i finally got to work drenched in sweat, freezing, and late for a meeting.  i quickly got into the shower and as i removed my shoes, and sock, i could feel the toes starting to burn.  quickly i reached down and squeezed the toes as hard as i could hoping to stop the blood from gushing through… or keep it from doing whatever it was that was causing so much pain.   i am no stranger to this feeling,  i’ve had times when i had to scream in public before just because he pain was so bad.  there was no screaming today, i think the squeezing did the trick.  the shower was much shorter than i wanted, because i was pressured by the fact that i was already late for my meeting.

i was starving most of the day.  riding in the cold causes my metabolism to switch into extra high gear, and there is no hope.  i tried to snack as much as i could and had in a big lunch.  by the time the quitting-hour was bestowed upon me, i was finally content .

the hardest part of any day that i ride to work, is the riding back part.  on cold snowy days the ride home is especially tough.  most of my clothes are still a little damp….including the gloves.  nothing worse than heading out into the cold with wet clothes.  fortunately the clothes that were closest to my body were the driest.

the ride back to my car was similar to the ride in, with the exception of light.  it was completely dark, and all i had was my little led head light to guide me.  talk about total sensory deprivation.  i couldn’t feel the weather, i couldn’t hear anything but my music, and now, i couldn’t even see very much.  kind of a helen keller ride… all i could do is feel the inertia and gravity pulling me along.  my memory tried to fill in the dark parts from my partial vision.

i didn’t plan on it, but it was very much an adrenalin rush. .. for 17.4 miles or 28km i rode through a barely lit, partially plowed, snow covered bike path.  not a person around, next to the river that runs through an ugly industrial part of denver.  there were occasions when i would hit an icy patch on a turn and the bike would slightly drift for a few cm, causing my heart to spike.  i never fell, never really came close, but the thought of falling really kept me gripped the entire time.

so that’s kind of what it’s like for me to ride in the bitter cold.  i have many days ahead to perfect my gear and every year it’s the same.  some days i feel it, and some days i don’t want anything to do with cold weather.