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Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Run in the Desert

We spent Thanksgiving with family in Nevada. With a long run (17 miles) scheduled for this weekend, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to get in a run with some new scenery.

I scoped out my terrain on Friday via 4 wheeler guided by my wife's cousin's husband David. We stuck to the road I was planning to run until it began to bore him. Suddenly, to my great pleasure he abandoned the road and led us out across the desert. "Through", "over", and "among", were the adjectives which preceded our route as opposed to more docile adjectives like "around" and "between" as I was erroneously expecting. More than once I commented to him that I had no idea a 4 wheeler could possibly handle what now had wheel ruts traced across it. The scrub brush and tumble weeds had to be pretty big before he would bother to avoid them. More than once I watched him ride away, emerging from what I had just been looking for a way around. I gamely followed.

The down side to our foray was that it really didn't scope out my route. There was no way I was going to run the baffling matrix of canyons, gullies and salt flats we had explored on 4 wheels.

So I stuck to the original plan and on Saturday morning, headed out on Power Line Rd. straight into the heart of the desert. I had literally planned to run nearly 9 miles due west following (you guessed it) an endless stretch of power poles to a reservoir at the base of the distant mountains, then turn around and follow the same path in reverse.

Running west the sun rose behind me, and after several dim miles, well beyond the last house or fence, I noticed the first tenuous rays of sun light reflecting off the mountains 10 miles away. With eager anticipation of its warmth, I monitored the line of yellow light as it charged down the mountains and then raced across the desert toward me. We collided somewhere around mile 4 and with pleasure I felt the penetration of the radiant rays through the back of my tights and balaclava. The crackling dry air was well below freezing and had long since caused my Camelbak water valve and supply hose to freeze solid. The balaclava I had thrown into my backpack "just in case" had been hastily thrown over my frozen ears before even 2 miles had ticked past and now began to absorb some warmth into the dark fabric. I slung my Camelbak hose stiffly out to the side and held the valve in my hand hoping it would also absorb some heat and melt the cylinder of ice blocking my hydration. It would be 10 more miles before I could extract enough of a trickle to wet my lips.

Warmth made room for thoughts less related to survival and more along the lines of form and focus. The sections of loose sand plus the elevation (4,000') were taking a toll on my pace and I knew it. I checked in on my pace between miles 3 and 4. No land speed records were in jeopardy. My only objective was to keep running until I found the reservoir, then turn around and do it again, in reverse, with the sun in my eyes. At around 5.5 miles I realized the plan wouldn't happen just like that.

At a right angle to the triple strands of power line I had been following, lay a wire fence across my path. A cattle grate lay across the road with a fence post sporting a "No Trespassing" sign. "In the middle of the desert?" I thought. As if this were not enough, a large black dog emerged 1/8 mile down the road atop a small hill. He disappeared and then reappeared one hill closer at full volume. A detour was becoming likely. As the dog continued to approach and call for reinforcements, I beat a hasty retreat with glances over my shoulder every few hundred feet. The pursuit ended long before I ceased looking for it, and every groan or pop of my backpack spun me 180 degrees prepared for battle.

I was now forced to calculate with difficulty some simple sums in spite of acute oxygen deprivation. If I had turned back at 5.5 miles (I had), then I was going to lack 6 miles. Taking one of the side paths in the desert seemed about as wise as getting off the highway in San Francisco without a GPS, so I considered my options as I retraced the last few miles. The best I could come up with was to follow a road I had crossed near mile 2 which followed a small creek still flowing with several inches of water. I had jumped the icy water at a narrow point and wondered at the fact that Power Line road seemed to approach both sides of the creek, but had no crossing. In time, I jumped back across and began to follow a new road north. By my advanced mathematical calculations, I needed to cover 3 more miles before I turned back to again retrace my steps.

I followed this creek as prescribed, noting a layer of ice spanning the entire width in wider slower sections. But, I misjudged my distance and turned back short of 3 miles. Because it was "out and back" my error cost me double.

I finished in just over 2 and a 1/4 hours but fell just shy of 17 miles. I was ready to be done running by the time I jogged into the gravel drive way, and the sight of my family sitting at breakfast sealed the deal.

3 cups of coffee, an ice bath, and a monstrous breakfast put the finishing touches on a splendid run.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

I have decided to re-post this - edited slightly from last year. This coming weekend will commence the slaughter of another generation. Merry Christmas!!

Tis' the season to be chopping.

And for what? For why?

Is it not lunacy to assault a healthy, young tree just reaching the glory of its youth, yank it from its moorings, and impel it to a service so ghastly unnatural?
See, here stands young fir - struggling to survive in a vast and brutal world of wind, ice, rain, and sun, remarkably resilient, handsome and proud.

See, here comes you - accelerated by stress, absent in mind and unwittingly conspiratorial in the pretense of holiday festivity.

An innocent falls to the ground.

With morbid ceremony it's strapped to the roof of your sedan, and what was once established and secure is now jostled and catapulted. No longer the wind gently caressing its boughs, or flexing its bark in a torrential storm. Rather now, a frightening gale assaults its skirts, or its crown if by some merciful stroke you strap it on head first.

The victim will now subsist on chlorinated tap water with a brew of chemicals designed to prolong the process of slow death. As if the Creator had not worked perfection, you will then bedeck it with bows or ribbons, and without exception, an array of gaudy lights - blinking in such random sequence that the subject appears always indecently clad.

Then Christmas being past, as if it had not served you well in your festive revelry, you reject it with disdain and abandon it to a troop of Boy Scouts - for what purpose only they know.

But don't be so self righteous and smug thinking of your plastic tree.

You are no better, yea, possibly worse with your synthetic replica. You give false expectation to the choppers who will insult, prod, and cajole our Creator's otherwise beautiful trees that may lack "perfect shape," or may be "too airy," or "too dense" in comparison to the manufactured forest. Though insulted, these are the lucky ones. Though none is ever deemed perfect, the unlucky chosen are paraded before their 6', 7', and 8' "pre-lit" counterparts -- lopsided, flocked, and accoutered with a fishnet stocking without even the courtesy of a cardboard box to hide their shame, over the river and through the woods to a house of horrors inconceivable to so noble a creation.

You will call yourself festive for erecting such an atrocity. Yes, you'll likely even claim a moral high ground above those abstaining from this ritual. But herein I admonish, and even boldly recommend a cessation of such unnatural acts. Is it not possible to spare such noble creations? I acknowledge it is not my place to change your mind or your customs, but at least for my part I choose to resist this annual slaughter.

I choose - to pout whenever my wife talks of "going to get the tree."
I choose - to lobby for the lesser of 2 evils - the 6' pre-lit version (That takes less than 2 minutes to set up and thus be done with my part of the activity).
I choose - when all else fails, to strap the tree on head first or lay it in the bed of my truck covered with a new tarp.

With these thoughts in mind I've composed a eulogy in memory of the fallen.
Please pause for a moment of solemn silence before enjoying these verses.

T'was the Month Before Christmas

T'was the month before Christmas and all through the wood,
Wee creatures scurried madly, while timidly stood,

Stately stewards of the forest, gentle-hearted and grand,
Their progeny balanced in an urbanite's hand.

The time was upon them, they'd seen it before,
When tree choppers come in traditions of yore.

The finest among them would tremble and yaw
As the choppers assaulted with axe and with saw.

Chopper families will come with members aloof,
Then drive away arguing - young Fir on their roof.

Yet the wisest among them knows its place,
A resource that benefits an inhuman race.

Begrudged though by some they know their station,
to warm and protect the rest of creation.

As timber or edifice great honor they'd know,
Or cabin or palace where children would grow.

The aged among them know the saw as a stage,
and the axe as finger on a life's next page.

The aged among them stand with no fear,
But remain yet perplexed when the youth disappear.

The plight of the youngsters - now pondered anew,
Was assumed to be ill, but if only they knew:


If back in the forest the other Trees knew,
Of their young ones alight with red, green, and blue,

Of tinsel, candy canes, and more shamefully yet,
Smiling families in photos amongst branches set.

The same branches of those removed forcefully so,
From a family of Firs formed long ago.

What revolt would arise from so many Trees,
If such senseless traditions were revealed to these.

What fear might be levied upon humankind,
If the choppers would come again heeding no mind,

Entering the forest with axes and saws,
Unaware of new anger ragged and raw.

And into the Trees the choppers would go,
And never return - one way tracks in the snow.

Merry Christmas - To the little Trees.