Friday, December 24, 2010

An imperfect Christmas

The day started with some whining, as it usually does, quieted by bacon on the stove and sugared cereal in their bowls. An hour later, we dropped off our 3-year-old twins and our 5-year-old boy at the daycare place in the gym. It was empty, as if we were the only parents audacious enough to do such a thing on Christmas Eve.
When we got home, there was one fit, then another, and then I burned the queso a bit as I fixed it for tonight's taco dinner at Kate's parents.
The kids took forever to get their shoes on, as they usually do, and halfway through the slog down the Interstate, the girls had to pee, which forced me to stop at a packed gas station full of chain stores, impatient shoppers and barely enough concrete to cover it all. A sign barred me from making the easy left turn back on the highway.
As we pulled in, a horribly cheesy song played on the radio. What happened to Jingle Bells, I mumbled. It was 55 degrees outside and the grass was the color of graham crackers. A dusting earlier that week had melted into the cracks of the sidewalks and driveways.
I stubbed my toe on the porch as I struggled to get inside with the boxes full of stuff for all the kids. Toys from China, most of it.
Dinner was good. Mexican food for Christmas. My queso was a hit.
Paper flew everywhere a half-hour later. The kids attacked their gifts like a swarm of piranha on a caribou. My son complained that he didn't get as much as the girls. We assured him he did. He refused to believe us.
My present was thoughtful but possibly too small. A receipt is floating around somewhere, maybe.
On the way home, a twin screamed half the time, then fell asleep. She's still awake as Santa taps his foot.
It's not a Hallmark card. It's real. It's an imperfect Christmas. And those are the ones worth remembering.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The feeling sorry-a-go-round

One thing I've noticed as a poker player, a member of the workforce and, most of all, as a parent, is how easy it is to feel sorry for yourself.
It's something I constantly battle. I've done much better in the last couple of years. I'm a better poker player because I don't let suckouts bother me as much. I'm a better worker because I've accepted the fact that my boss is trying to get stories accomplished, not screw me over with a heavy load (EVERYONE has a heavy load in the newspaper business these days).
But I still struggle with it as a parent.
I struggle after weekends like the last, when everyone else was having fun out in Vegas and I was at home with three little ones. It seems like on weekends when I'm already internally bitching, mourning all the fun stuff and life experiences and friends I have to miss because I'm a parent, the kids act the worst. It's possible that my tolerance is lower at those points then it should be, but it's also possible that the kids were, at times, whiny, loud little brats who got us up at 6 a.m. Saturday AND Sunday.
When I tweeted something like, Toddlers: All the exhaustion of Vegas and none of the debauchery, I really meant it. It was an exhausting weekend, as it always is, and if you have the AUDACITY to go out with friends and get home at the late late late late late hour of, um, 11:30 p.m., there's no recovering from it because sure enough, here come the kids at 6 a.m.
Never mind that getting them up at 6:30 a.m. on some weekdays is like trying to rouse a bear from hibernation and getting nearly the same reaction once they are sort of awake.
I have reminded myself over and over that I wanted to be a parent. But the feeling sorry still comes from the fact that the twins were not planned, they were a surprise, and this surprise was a life-changing doozy, the kind that happens after, say, you catch your hand in a garbage disposal. Yes, it's better than it was, but it's still hard, almost impossibly hard at times, the kind of hard that comes when you're on mile 23 of a marathon, only for us, it's almost every day.
The other issue, of course, is feeling sorry is catching. You've seen it as a poker player: Opponents whine about catching second bests, about not catching at all or about other players catching against them. It's easy, probably too easy, to fall into that line of thinking, that the world must be against you, or at least the poker Gods, if you don't hit with A-K every time and if someone's 37 percenter does hit.
Therefore, it's easy, probably too easy, to whine right along with your spouse and begin to have contests about who has it worse, about who got up at night while the other cleaned the kitchen for the 37th time in a row.
I have done well at letting things go, but it's so easy to fall back into the pattern, like those who work hard to lose weight, then put it back on.
This is my struggle. It's a vice I just can't let go.
I'd prefer cheesecake and nachos.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Poker: Your Guide to Life

Poker is no longer an obsession. It's barely even a pastime any longer. It's just something I love to do.
I can't tell you how freeing that is.
There are many ways I love to pass the time, one of the sad and wonderful things about having children is it forces you to make severe choices about your life (and I know there are many other things that probably compare to children, such as a busy job, a demanding girlfriend or heavy drinking). Even when I was married, I didn't have such handcuffs. If I wanted to play video games, I could. If I wanted to climb mountains every weekend, I did. If I wanted to, say, play several hours of poker every night, I did.
In that glorious past, I had enough free time to do maybe two or three things every night. I could play two hours of poker, then watch a movie and maybe even read an hour before I went to bed. So because I run and hit the gym, which I'm going to do, now I'm lucky if I get to do one of those things every night if I still want my eight hours of sleep, which my lifestyle as a runner somewhat demands.
Well, a year ago, I took a hard look at what I was choosing to do with my time. And I didn't like it. I wasn't reading books any longer. I was barely watching movies. No, what I was doing was watching sports, playing video games and, of course, playing a lot of online poker.
None of that was making me a better writer, or even a better person. Online poker was almost boring, in fact, and if it wasn't for Omaha I would have yanked my money out of there already. Video games were extremely fun, but again, they're not helping me write. And I'm going to watch my Jayhawks.
So I quit the video games, and, one day, I decided not to play online poker. And then the next I didn't play, and then the next, and fairly soon, it was weeks without playing, and now it's been a few months.
And I don't miss it.
This is an incredibly long introduction to Sunday's trip to Black Hawk to play a long, extended session with one of my best friends. We'll call him "Donovan."
I remember voting for a measure that would increase the betting limits to $100 per bet in Colorado. Before the betting limits was $5, so the max any game could bet was $5, meaning they were the most donkey-filled games you could ever imagine and people were usually winning pots with 8-2 suited. You would basically get a hand, close your eyes and bet $5 to the river and hope you didn't get sucked out on. You've played 2-4 limit poker before. Yeah. It was like that.
Well, the measure was approved by voters two years ago, and I remember being really excited and thrilled that we would essentially have 1-2 NLHE in Colorado.
And I didn't make it up there. At all, in fact, until Sunday.
Having kids also means I've had to choose what days I take to do what I want, and training for a marathon last year (and something I'm doing again soon) meant not really getting a chance to take a full day to play poker without the threat of divorce.
(It also means taking one road trip a year, and helping some of my best friends do their first Ironman in Arizona was more important than going to Vegas for the WPBT. Sigh.)
So I was really excited at the chance to see Donovan, who had to move away for a job. But I also was excited to play poker again. It had been a while.
And now I had nothing to prove.
This is why approaching the game this way is incredibly freeing. I don't feel the need to build a bankroll (even when I still keep a little money set aside for poker) or make badass plays or go against the best players and BE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD one day.
I just think it's fun to play.
Given that, I brought $300 to Black Hawk and had no concerns if I lost it. It was entertainment, not a chance to make money.
That didn't mean I threw around money like candy at a parade. I quickly discerned at the table that the players were a little better than $5 poker but not much better, and so playing tight-agressive, with a bit more raising preflop to keep them unbalanced, was going to either earn me money or get me sucked out on.
I don't have many hands for you because, to be honest, I got my fair share of good ones, and I didn't get sucked out on. When that happens, you don't have to be good, you just have to be solid.
The hand that got me started on the right path, after about $50-$60 in losses in the first couple of hours, was QQ in early position. I had four callers of course to my $12 raise, and we saw a flop of J-3-8 rainbow. I'm first to act, and I check to see what others are going to do (it's a dry board). A guy on the button, a loose player who had just won a monster pot by cracking a player's AA with 5-2 sooted bet $30. It's folded back to me and I call. I check to him again on the J turn, because the pot's fairly large now and the J worries me a bit. He bets $50. I count out my chips. If I call it'll leave me with another $50. So it's shove or fold. The fact that another J comes means he may not have one. Plus I don't like the way he's staring me down. I shove and he insta-folds. I don't love the way I played the hand, but it did allow me to put pressure on him rather than me betting and him shoving on me and putting the pressure point on me. Anyway, that gets me past my $200 buy-in.
I had several huge hands, including winning a huge pot when I flopped a full house with 6-6 (the only hand the whole night I think I really slowplayed), but one other hand was really big, even if I think it played itself.
I have J-Q suited and I call a small raise to $7. So do five others, and the flop comes 8-9-10. Not bad. But there's two spades out there, and while I know this is not Omaha, I'm first to act and I don't want anyone drawing out on me, so I bet $30. The guy to my left raises me another $100, the maximum, remember, he can bet.
Predictably the other three fold, one of them mumbling about having to fold his flush draw, and it gets back to me.
Well, that's a nice pot, and I'm happy with it now, given the way the board looks. If he has a set I'm ahead, and if he has a flush draw I'm way ahead. I"m not fucking around, in other words, and I raise him back another $100. This leaves me $29 behind, but I have to follow the rules. He just calls.
OK, so an 8 falls on the turn. This does not make me happy, not in the least, but I'm obviously committed, so I put in my $29 and he calls and turns over....9-10. Whew. I essentially double up to $500.
When I'm up, I'm usually a lot more patient with my hands, and in the middle of the session several times I lay down top pair/good kicker to decent players in multi-multi-way pots. I'm almost always right, and even when I can't see if I am, I don't care. It costs me, at the most, $25 to lay a hand down, and I've already seen far too many people at our table blow their stacks with similar hands.
By the end of the night, the predictable douchebag sits at our table, which is another reason why I don't love poker as much as I once did. Only the douchebag was a woman. Can a douchebag be a woman? That would make her LITERALLY a douchebag, huh?
Anyway, she was snippy and all that, but my favorite part was when she was coaching/imploring the fish at the table to play better (despite her own mediocre play). Why do people continue to do this?
I left at midnight for my long drive home up $520. That's my best win ever.
I have lately approached running and other activities of mine as hobbies, that these things are supposed to be fun, and so far it seems to be working.
Apparently it's not just a good way to approach poker. It's a good way to approach life.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Breathe deep against the gathering gloom

You may not believe this. In fact you won't believe it. But for a long time, I really hated running.
OK. That's not really true. I actually hated racing.
I ran half marathons and eventually the marathon for several reasons - the main one being it's much more of an adventure that way - but one of the reasons, in fact perhaps the overriding reason, was I hated the pain of the shorter distances.
I only sort of liked 10Ks and honestly could not stand 5Ks.
I would do my best to avoid them when I could, and when I couldn't, when the inevitable Fourth of July or Thanksgiving race came around, I would run them with a sense of dread.
I approached the races the way you would approach a session with the Pit of Despair in the Princess Bride.  I tried to block out the pain, putting myself in another place, and hoping (praying) that the aggressive metal would help me get my grr on.
Sometimes it worked. Other times it didn't. But always it was miserable. I remember asking my wife, "Am I really supposed to suffer THAT badly during a race?"
I did find some things that helped. I bought lighter shoes just for races, got a Garmin GPS to keep me honest and started taking medication for acid reflux, so my throat doesn't catch fire every time I run hard.
All that helped some. But the bigger issue was every time the gun went off, I felt trapped, like I was a prisoner being forced to run by wardens for sport.
As crazy as that sounds, in a sense, it was true. I have competitive, badass friends - as you saw in my previous post, I just got back from helping a few of them complete the Ironman - and when I raced, I felt a responsibility to run as hard as I could to not only keep up with them but not let them down. And they were justifying those fears without even realizing what they were doing, as every time I had a bad race (a race, by the way, that still beat 80 percent of the field but one I nor they were happy with at all), they would ask what went wrong, what happened, what I could do better next time. They weren't the only ones. I run an intervals track group on Wednesdays, and the coach of that track group would rightfully wonder about my times in a race, even if, he, too, didn't mean to be critical.
It's great to have badass friends. It pushes me to be much, much better than I ever thought I'd be. But there can be some pressure there. There was an episode of The Simpsons once where Marge feels pressure to keep up with some new, well-moneyed friends from the country club, and I felt what she was feeling, from an athletic sense.
It's so ironic, too, because I've never considered myself an athlete. Dribbling down a basketball court is challenging for me. I loved softball, mostly because I can't hit a baseball. Anything I did, whether it was bench pressing 300 pounds, climbing all the 14ers in Colorado or running a 6-minute mile, was because of hard work, not any kind of athletic gifts.
Still, I was feeling good this fall. After completing a marathon with a disappointing ending, I was running well, even if my results didn't always show it, and I knew I was due for a breakthrough. I ran 1:44 in a half marathon in October, a PR, and finished fifth in another trail half marathon two weeks earlier.
I had not really run a 5K all year, and I thought I had a good race in me in Arizona. I just had to do it.
And then, during a session of intervals with some tough friends (I usually finish near the end), we ran sections of 800 meters on a new track. The new track was significant because I didn't know where the splits were. I really wasn't even sure about the finish line. I would just have to run.
So I ran.
And I hit the 800 in right around 3 minutes.
That time's significant because that's the pace I would run for a mile. In the past that would hurt. But I just ran. And when I hit that time, I wasn't too gassed. Yeah, it hurt, but I didn't have to quit. I finished four more 800s and ran those pretty well too.
It's amazing what you can do when you don't know you're not supposed to be doing it, I tweeted.
So I approached that Arizona race with a different attitude. I was limiting myself. That night, my friends were encouraging, telling me it was a flat course, in cool weather, at sea level. But rather than let that put pressure on myself, I relaxed and just told them we would see how it would work out.
When the gun went off, I chanted my word, another mental exercise that I wrote about in the last post.
And I relaxed and found people to pace off. And I didn't look at my watch. I've said all that before.
But mostly I ran for fun.
It's fun, mostly, because what I've realized is pushing yourself isn't torture. Sure, it hurts, but letting go of the pressures we put on ourselves, whether its because of what we perceive from our friends or our leaders, is freeing, and pain is only temporary.
As proof, Thursday at that annual Thanksgiving race, where it all began six years ago, it was bitter cold, and I was still stiff from Saturday's race, and my feet were numb and I was stressed from getting Thanksgiving dinner together. But I smiled before the start, and I ran, and I ran 22:10, my best time at the event ever, despite a tough, hilly first mile that left me gassed right from the start. I finished 9th out of 119 in my age group for my first top-10 finish at such a large event.
And it was fun.
Pain really is only temporary. That race hurt for a while. Then it got better.
It always does.
When you're in the fire, breathe deep, my friends. Soon enough, it'll start to cool.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Cracking the iron ceiling

I am somewhat of a technical runner. Before a race, I've got so many wires coming out of me, you might think I've just left a hospital.
Ipod. Heart-rate monitor. And most of all, my GPS Garmin.
I love the Garmin. It tells me how far I've gone, how long I've run and how fast I'm going. It tells me this if I'm in Kansas, at home in Greeley, Colo., and if, like today, I'm in Tempe, Ariz. for the Ironman.
Now, no, I'm not doing an Ironman. Believe it or not, I am not insane. I know my limitations, and the Ironman is a bit beyond that. If you're scoring at home, it's a 2.4-mile swim (and I really don't swim very well), a 112-mile bike (and not only do I not have a bike I could ride beyond 20 miles, I've never ridden more than 65 miles in one sitting) and then you run a marathon (and yes, I've run a marathon, but I was shattered for a couple weeks after and didn't do, say, a full day's worth of hard exercise before I ran it).
Still, I am out here for some very dear running partners who have inspired me just about as much as anyone in my life who CAN do all those things, and they are capable of all those things. The Ironman is a big fucking deal, and I'm out here to soothe nerves, run errands and just be there.
So I am also, however, not above a little bit of selfishness, and since I am giving up my annual Vegas trip to be here (yeah, I know, sorry), I wanted to do something for myself.
Ah. The Ironman 5K. Perfect!
Now I'm not entirely crazy about 5Ks. I'd much rather run like an 8-mile trail adventure or something like that, and I've already got a Turkey Trot to run Thursday. But whatever. So I'm leaving the condo at 6 a.m. for a two-mile run to the start. It's a perfect warm-up to the start. It's a little chilly, so I've got my arm warmers on. I've also got some metal cranking in my ears. Both do the job.
The Ironman 5K is not a huge race, not like the event itself, but it is a pretty cool little event, and we'll get to run part of the course and finish where my friends will finish later.
I have a goal of 21:30. That would be a PR, and a nice one, too, as I've only broken 22 minutes once.
Tuscon is not sea level, but it is 1,500 feet, and that, folks, ain't 5,000.
In the last couple of months, I've had what you might call a mental breakthrough. I think I've detailed my head issues here a bit, mostly with my battles with the troll, that little monster who tells you to slow down, and I've had some bad races this summer partly because of them. But I also think I've made a couple changes to the way I'm approaching races, and they're paying off.
The first is to find a word that resonates with you. When you are suffering most during training, go to that word. It's given me a serious weapon in races. Mine is "fight." I said it a lot today.
The second is to ask myself why I race. Is it to suffer? Yeah, a bit. Is it to feel good about my accomplishment later? Yeah, definitely, that's addicting. But is it mostly because you enjoy it?
I had to come to terms with that. I wasn't out there to prove anything to anybody. I was out there to enjoy myself and run as hard as I could. Knowing that relaxes me. In the past I would try to build myself up and block out the pain as much as I could. That doesn't work for me. It just makes me tense. Now I just try to embrace the pain and, yes, enjoy it.
So when the gun went off, and the 5K quickly descended into a chaotic dash to the end, as it always does, I embraced it and looked for someone to pace off. That's another little thing I've done. I've found someone to pull me along.
Only my first mile was 6:25. Holy sheet. If I was in Colorado, that would scare me. I can run that time in a mile without really thinking about it, but running that, and then finishing a 5K, is a different deal.
But I felt good.
Pretty darn good actually.
So I decided to unplug. I hardly looked at the Garmin the rest of the race.
And when I no longer worried about my time, I ran the best ever.
20:40. That's a PR of more than a minute. Now, sure, the elevation made a difference. But so did my attitude, and so did relying on myself, and not a watch, to tell me how fast to go.
The Garmin is an awesome tool. I love it. But it's a ceiling. It forced limitations on me.
I'll still use it. I just may not listen to it anymore.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

One Day In Your Life

I'm not a curmudgeon. I'm not a crank. I'm (barely) not old enough to fit those profiles.
Yet I really didn't want anyone to make a big deal out of my birthday.
It was my 39th. So, really, who cares. I'm all for blowing out my 40th. That's a big milestone and deserves a celebration for making it this far without contracting some major disease, weighing 400 pounds or being thrown in jail. But 39? Eh.
Plus I was in a bit of a funk. Sometimes I get those. Does everyone? I'm not sure. My funks get to swirl around feeling like I'm getting screwed over at work because I have (what I think) is too much work. My funks tend to muck up feelings of unworthiness. My funks tend to splatter around frustration at my running, at not getting faster.
Funks are never warranted. I don't have any more work than anyone else in our short-staffed newsroom. And I'm running fine, better than ever, in fact, and clearly, if I really do want to be faster, I either need to lose a couple pounds and run my intervals harder or just be patient because I think a breakthrough is coming.
Those feelings of unworthiness are hard to shake though, and though I could clearly point to many people in my life, feeling a bit out of touch with them only makes it worse when you think about them. It was my fault, I thought, not others, for my unexplained loneliness.
Then I curse myself for feeling like a baby, as I clearly enjoy being alone, and it goes round and round into a big, boring monologue that no one can learn from. Let's just throw in some worries about the future and maybe I needed some meds.
Funks, though, are minor. It's not like I was even remotely seriously depressed or even sad. A good run wiped those feelings away most of the time, at least for a few hours. But still. I was in a lull.
So my birthday rolled around. I got up at 4:30 a.m. to run with a good friend who I hadn't seen in months. I normally would laugh at 4:30 a.m. for just a six-mile run (yes, even me), but, hell, it was my birthday. I figured I should enjoy it as much as possible.
And one of the runners pulled out a small cake that looked like a mountain. Pretty cool.
Then I signed on to Facebook, and holy cow. I probably got close to 100 birthday wishes. Pretty cool.
When I pulled in my garage that night, my girls swarmed over my car with balloons. Then Jayden poked his head out the door. "Happy Birthday Daddy," he said. They sang to me. VERY cool.
I don't really like pick-me-ups or special things done for me. I'm not like this needy person who likes constant reassurance about my state in people's lives.
But today, as I write this, the funk is gone.
Everyone, maybe even me, needs a special day. Thank God for birthdays.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

What I'm Doing (instead of playing poker)

I had no idea how much of a time sucker poker was until I stopped playing it.
It was not a conscious decision to stop playing. I still have money in my accounts. I still watch it on TV. I played it the other night in a fun home game and didn't want to leave after several hours.
But I'll be honest: I'm tired of the game. The easy pickings seem to be gone, and even in Rush Poker, I'm stuck trying to fleece a bunch of players who are every bit as tight as me, and a good majority of them are better, even at the modest limits I play.
But this sounds like whining. That's not the point of this post.
The point is to show you what I'm doing with my time.
• Writing - I know, writing is SO 2006. No one really blogs any longer, which breaks my heart, since I loved how blogs were encouraging people to write. There are a LOT of great writers out there, especially those who never thought they would be writers at all.
I'm still determined to update this blog at least once a week. I think the writing on this space is good for me.
But I'm also doing something else. For years one of my best friends has tried to get me to do the November Novel Writing Month. Well, I had a baby, and then I had baby twins, and then all those kids sapped most of time, and I thought there was no way I could write 50,000 words (fictional, no less) in a month.
But to be honest, I also thought it was a waste of time. When you're a professional writer, as I am (can't you tell?), writing is a joy, but it's also a job, and writing should have a purpose. Why should I spend hours a night to write something that will most likely never be read by anyone?
Well, I cheated a bit. I call it the twin handicap. I had a whole weekend to myself in mid-October, which these days is something like being the silly rabbit and stumbling upon a whole barrel of Trix. So I decided to spend three hours to see if I could crank out part of a story that was haunting my brain.
Well, 5,500 words later, I knew I was in this year.
I've now got 20,000 under my belt, and yeah, it's going to be with an asterik, but I'm going to finish.
I have discovered that purpose in this as well.
It's fun.

• Reading - I've read many books, knocking down my stack of "to-dos" to almost nothing. I haven't read like that in years.
Here were three of my favorites in the last few months:
1. Lit - Mary Karr writes with lush yet blistering prose about her alcoholism. I give this book my greatest complement: It made me a better writer.

2. Born to Run - I know what you're saying if you've read this blog at all in the last year. Well, DUH. But this book is wonderfully written and fascinating. I dare to say you'd like it even if you think people like me - and the people he writes about in this book - are completely nuts. It might even make you buy a pair of running shoes. Or ditch them and run barefoot.

3. Lost Vegas - Pauly's best writing in one book, so you don't have to store your laptop on a shelf. What's not to like? I read this in three days, even with my kids demanding juice boxes in between pages. Don't worry, I did get them some. Eventually.

• Watching movies - I've worked through my NetFlix queue on a good pace, even pausing to watch seasons 1 and 2 of Breaking Bad (um, you can release season 3 like right now please kthxbye). I went on a little horror fix, watching five Zombie movies and a vampire flick that did not involve teenagers gazing into each other's eyes, and, oh, Saw VI. I believe it has scarred me for life, or at least until I watch those herky-jerky claymation Christmas specials.
Here's a couple highlights from my recent movie orgy.

1. Dead Snow - The best zombie flick was not made by Romero. This is a German film about Nazi zombies, a chainsaw and sex in an outhouse, and really, what else do you need? How about the best opening scene I've seen from a horror movie in a long time.

2. Jennifer's Body - One of my favorite writers, Diablo Cody, and one of my favorite hotties, Megan Fox, combine to make an underrated horror film.

These two are not terrific movies, but they are good horror movies, and since most horror movies just really suck (when "Paranormal Activity," a good flick, is seen as a masterpiece you know the genre needs some work), that's enough.

Halloween is over so I can return to my usual serious, thought-provoking dramas that most of the public rightfully hates.
Here's one, and it was my favorite film of this year. Yes, it's subtle and slow, but it's also wonderful. Just awesome.
3. Phoebe in Wonderland.

What are you doing besides play poker these days?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sympathy for our devils

I am not a foodie.
I like your fancy foods as well as anyone, but dropping a car payment on a meal is not my cup of tea, or $20 sniffer of brandy. I can't afford it.
Food's never really been a big part of my life.
Then why, oh why, do I have more and more days when I can't stop thinking about it?
Sunday night I got home from my weekly night shift and almost had to put a lock on the fridge to prevent me from eating a plate of nachos, ice cream and cookies.
It's an ever-increasing battle. I want to eat more than I burn off.
I shake my head at what I ate in college. I used to consume small pizzas for dinner, boxed pasta for lunch and maybe some breakfast. Fruits and vegetables weren't really a priority. Yet my weight stayed the same.
I was lucky, and I really didn't realize how lucky I was until I hit my early 30s. I remember trying on a pair of Dockers one day (because that's how I roll beeotch) and having trouble snapping the button.
It would be insulting to those who battle their weight to say that I battled it as well. But even as my diet had evolved over time, including servings of fruits and, yes, even veggies with every meal, that was the first time I realized that how much I ate actually could affect what I weighed.
Fortunately, that summer, I started running, and my college weight, about 180 pounds, returned to me with little effort.
Only now I'm almost 40. Almost! And now that I'm a fairly serious runner, trying to set PRs, I'm as restrictive in my intake as I've ever been in my life.
And it's shed some light on our obesity problem. There is a general consensus that 75 percent of us will be overweight in the next 20 years. That's three-fourths of the population. That's pretty slovenly. If this were the old days, the Vikings could work us over pretty well because I doubt most of us could get off the couch to fight.
But this is not the old days, and that's precisely the problem. Here's my ultra-amazing-scientific discovery  thanks to my own diet: It's HARD not to be fat.
As a country, we work pretty hard. Most of the day. Sometimes more. Many of us adults have offspring, too. We struggle with this, and we don't even have a commute.
That means you either need to study, learn and read how to prepare quick, easy and healthy meals or spend whatever free time you can muster on cooking said meals.
Is that all? That's not all. Temptation is around every corner.
Seriously, sometimes I feel like a heroin addict with easy access to clean needles and a cheap high on every corner. When you're trying to watch what you eat, that's exactly what fast food restaurants look like. And our grocery stores are full - stuffed, if you can excuse the pun - of high-fat, high-salt crap.
There are whole AISLES dedicated to calories, and all of it looks pretty good.
If you do have offspring, as we do, said offspring likes to have cookies and candy and sweets around the house. Yes, you can limit what they eat - and we do, pretty strictly, I think, to the point where the kids consider frozen blueberries and yogurt a treat - but you're probably not in the business of completely taking sugar out of your kids' lives. I STILL remember the resentment I felt because my parents would not let me have sugar cereal, and even today, I have trouble not putting Fruity Pebbles in my cart because of that.
And our society seems to believe in having food around at all times. How many snacks and sweets are just....around at your work? Or has vending machines? Even a cup of coffee can be full of calories.
I can't imagine being on a diet with all that temptation floating around. Those who actually do lose weight must have the willpower of Ghandi.
Is that all? Well, no, of course not. Most of us spend all day at our desks. I do. That's not gonna help you shed pounds. So exercise is the thing. And, yeah, as many of you know, I've got that down.
Yes, I do, but I run 35-50 miles a week, some of it pretty fast, and spend a couple hours a week lifting. And I still have to watch my diet. So is the 20 minutes many spend on the Stairmaster really enough? Well, it's definitely better than nothing, but not really. And most of us do nothing, mostly because we don't know how to get started, and when we do get started, we generally overdo it, find out it hurts and stop.
There are solutions to all of these problems. I know that. I'm proof of that actually. But it's not only a struggle just to get started on them, it's a constant, evolving struggle. Let's say, for instance, I get hurt. I've been really lucky. I haven't been hurt in my five years of running. But it's probably inevitable at some point. When I do, will I exercise as hard if I have to give up running for six months? No. No way.
I used to look at fat people with a mild form of disgust. I could never understand why someone would do that to themselves. But I've since become a parent, become older and struggled with my own diet.
I'm not fighting the same fight as many of you. But I am fighting it. And it's harder than it should be.
I wound up having some of that ice cream Sunday night. I couldn't fight the temptation.
But I punished myself the next day with a hard tempo run. And then I thanked my own fortune that I had the opportunity to do it.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Denver Half Marathon

The time just sang in my head. 1:41. It was like the gold that drove men to chase metal in the mountains.
I had my eyes set on a PR, and not just any PR, but a personal best of almost four minutes.
It was, of course, very aggressive, and probably not within my reach. But I didn't care. I was going to go for it.
The plan, Sunday, was to hang with my training partner as long as I could. It's something I've worked on this year in my race. It's OK to let people pull you. Someone as fiercely independent as me always believed that I should rely on my own fire rather than let someone else stoke it for me. But that's not only stubborn, it's a little foolish. The best runners pace off others. Going at it alone, in fact, is considered foolish until the end.
OK, but I knew it was going to be tough, if not almost impossible. I'd had a tough year. Even though I'd done many races, including a marathon, the Pikes Peak Ascent and the recent trail half, none of them seemed to go particularly well. I had cramps in the marathon, nausea in the ascent and wilting heat in the trail half marathon.
A PR is like fool's gold. All courses are different, and I was getting too wrapped up in times this year. So I decided to enjoy this one. But enjoyment, for me, is going after a goal and attacking it. Maybe that's a little sick of me. It's probably more than a little sad.
It's also who I am.
• • •
We got in the elevator to head down to the starting line from the hotel and were joined by a mother and what looked like her two older daughters. I was struck by the different cultures that exist even in the running world.
They had on sweats and jackets. We had on shorts and a tank top with arm warmers and a light pair of gloves.
The message was obvious. They were hoping to finish. We were hoping for a PR. They were hoping for a good time. We were hoping for a good time. They're probably happier people, I said to my partners.
We slipped into the second wave (out of many) and waited.
I love those last few minutes before a race. Runners bounce up and down like kangaroos. They stretch. They shake their hands. They snuggle up against each other against the chill, and no one files a sexual discrimination suit. They listen to music. They hug good luck and give strangers fist bumps. And then the Star Spangled Banner starts.
You don't really realize what a beautiful anthem we have until you hear it moments before you are preparing yourself for pain and suffering and fun all at once. I always remind myself how fortunate I am to be there during this time, and that's meaningful on so many different levels. And then, almost right away, the gun goes off and the stampede starts.
I was worried about the 1,000 people ahead of me, but they moved forward quickly. I'm not an elite runner, not really, but I am fairly fast, and it's amazing to me to see so many people moving as quickly as me in a long race. It's heartening, actually, and a good balance to the constant, depressing news about our obesity rates. There are SOME people who still care about their bodies, I thought to myself, and wished all the other fellow runners behind me good luck for they were there, too, even if they were not as fast, and hoped the ones kicking my butt already wished the same for me.
The race went fine. It was a good day and I was moving quickly without much effort. The temperature, probably 40 at the start, helped a ton, as I would not have to stress about drinking a lot of fluid. I still haven't really got that, and if that sounds stupid, run for a mile at a fairly hard pace, then grab a cup of Gatorade, keep running and try to drink it.
The trouble - there's always trouble, isn't there - came at mile 4 or 5, when we crested a big hill. The hills came like paper cuts, and by the time that big hill hit, I was bleeding oxygen and unable to catch my breath. I can handle that for a while, even all 6 miles of a 10K, but I thought to myself that I still had 7 or 8 miles to go. And that's when I made the painful decision to let them go.
It was tough, but I knew it was a stretch, and honestly, I don't know if I'm a 1:41 runner. Not yet. I may never get there, and that's OK if not. I have improved every year.
Still, these are thoughts that don't come to you when you're in the heat of a run. I was discouraged, and any sense of discouragement is deadly when you're trying to run hard because all your body wants to do is quit.
Still, I looked at my watch and this time, the tough part of me won the mental battle against the Troll and told me to relax, settle down, have fun and, oh, by the way, YOU CAN STILL PR.
Oh. That's right. I wasn't dead or even bonking from the aggressive pace. I was just out of breath. It was a cool day, with a great atmosphere, and I had friends along the course all day.
So I looked for someone else to pace off. I traded positions with a couple people all day, but they didn't seem right. The metal in my head helped, but I still needed some motivation. I found it on the back of a T-shirt on the back of a 20-something guy.
"You'd better dig deep because you're falling behind," the T-shirt said.
I battled waves of nausea - I almost puked twice - and the occasional cramp as I pushed on, but they always were just waves, not tide pools (huh?), and I kept the T-shirt in my sights.
I passed him at mile 12.
Still, I knew it would be close after I plodded up a mile-long hill. I was proud not to have to walk this year, but a hill a mile long is always a killer when you are close to red-lining it anyway.
I was needing a fast, last mile, and I didn't know if I had it in me. I inched up to a 7:30 pace, a half-minute past my normal pace of 8-min miles, and hoped for the downhill to take me.
That's when I saw three of my good running friends, friends who are way faster than me, heading up the hill.
And I knew, when they settled by my side, that I was going to be carried to the finish.
It's unreal how much that helps, and my pace crept up to 7 minutes per mile and beyond. I was flying, and I felt OK. I was ready for the finish.
The last tenth of a mile is always the easiest and the hardest in a race, and it was almost as if the racing Gods were screwing with me, as the course was a bit long. Still, I sprinted in at the end and crossed the line a minute ahead of my best time.
That's 1:44:32, or a 7:59 pace, if you're scoring at home.
It's a good finish - 600th or so out of 9,000 runners - but it's nothing to brag too much about. Some of my friends are now invited to elite races. My running partners finished in the teens in their age groups. I was 87th out of about 600.
But this was my race, my good race, and the feeling you get from it, the good feeling, is overwhelming the soreness I'm feeling today.
Well, now it is, anyway. The aches, I'm afraid, may start winning here tonight.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Beta Challenged

We didn't go for the tropicals, the ones with the sharp fins and the striped bodies in three or four colors. Or the fish in Finding Nemo's tank. Or even the goldfish.
Those fish, we were told, required care. Salted water. Fancy food. Perfect temperatures. They were sensitive. They were not for the fish challenged.
We needed a beta, we were told.
Betas were easy, we were told. They could survive in all conditions. Sure, you could only have one in a tank, which was a bummer, but our tank was more of a trailer than a home anyway. It wasn't made for a school. It was made to be on top of my son's dresser so he could gaze lovingly into it and see the wonder of life.
And so we got a beta. And, yeah, he was pretty easy. Jayden named him Nemo, which, I thought, was pretty appropriate. Nemo was red. He was kind of pretty actually and pretty easy-going too (probably, truth be told, the most mellow in our family).
After about a year, he was looking a little gray. Well, the sad truth is, the life of a fish, while exciting, vivacious and thrilling, is not long. Fish believe it's better to burn out than fade away, and Nemo, sadly, faded away for good.
Jayden was sad. Then he asked if he could get another fish. Well, sure, we said. After all, by this time, we were fish experts. We kept a beta alive for a year! We were great fish parents!
Now we were cocky as all get out.
So we got another beta.
And he died in a month.
Oops. OK. Well that didn't go quite as well. But, you know, we went to a corporate pet store, and surely those places have some bad fish, sort of like the occasional pack of Chicken McNuggets that make you sick. It happens.
So we got another fish.
A beta.
This one was beautiful. He was pearl white, with a rainbow tail that seemed to change color every time it caught the light.
I found him floating in the water, his skin like ash, his tail green as pea soup, after two days.
OK, well, I felt bad about that one. So we cleaned the tank and scrubbed the rocks like volunteers at an oil spill and I changed the filter pad, and we got a new fish for the shiny, almost-new-like tank, and we put the fish in there after the water was conditioned, and he died two hours after we put him in the tank.
We had been exchanging the fish at the pet store - there's a two-week guarantee, apparently - but at this point Kate did not take the corpse back or else they might think we were dipping the poor creatures in Clorox or watching them flop around on the sink while we laughed like Jack Nicholson poking his head through a splintered door.
We waited a week or so, then went to the other corporate pet store. Our faces weren't on the wall yet at that place, and we bought another beta (half price, score!).
And it died in three weeks.
So we went back to the other store again, and they looked at my wife funny but gave her and Jayden another fish, and Brewster V (or is it VI, let me count, gimmie a second, OK, yeah, Brewster V) was home. I kept suggesting to Jayden that perhaps Brewster wasn't that great a name. Nemo worked pretty well. But he kept naming it Brewster. I think he's a little stubborn. I'm not sure where he gets that.
ANYWAY, the fish lasted a couple months, but sure enough, he was looking gray and then he died.
When my wife asked the fish guy at the pet store what was going on - maybe something we should have asked a few fishes ago - he asked how much I was feeding them.
As it turns out, I maybe, might, possibly have been overfeeding them a tad.
It turns out that fish are like most Americans. They can overeat.
Now I felt bad. Really bad. Sure, I doubt I killed all of them, but I no doubt killed some. And so I thought we were done with fish for a bit. I cleaned out the tank, dumped the rocks and let things chill.
Then my wife came home on Sunday with frogs.
That's right. Frogs. And shrimp.
The frogs, I thought, were a good idea. A change of pace. Surely we could not kill frogs as much as fish. Plus Kate bought shrimp, and shrimp were a great idea because they would eat the extra food on the bottom. Just, you know, in case I overfed them.
So I went in today, just to check on them. The frogs seemed fine. The shrimp seemed fine.
When I got home today, Kate had a plastic bag.
One frog was fine.
But it was time for another exchange.
We're on our third frog in two days now, and you have to wonder if, at some point, we're like the little girl in Finding Nemo. The one all the other fish were scared of. Maybe I'll wander in the pet store in a week or two. It is Halloween, after all, and everyone, even fish and frogs, deserve a good scare.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Blue Sky Half Marathon

It's a strange thing to look forward to a race.
I doubt if you asked an evil king's prisoners if they were looking forward to the day, you'd rarely get a yes, even on Fried Rat Day. No one looks forward to, say, the torture rack, do they?
And yet, despite me being a tiny bit facetious, racing really CAN be torture.
Now, sure, you could be one of those 5K runners who enjoys a nice jog through the crisp morning air during your city's annual Turkey Trot (and yes, I'm pretty sure your city has one of those). Hey, I love the Turkey Trot too. But that's not racing, and I'm not a casual joggers. I train too hard for that, and besides, I'm anal and competitive and kind of a jerk. Those qualities aren't the kind that fit with runners who like to high-five spectators.
It's funny, too, because I'm not out to win. I would be, if I had better lungs, legs and 15 years off my body. But I am out to beat my own time. I compete with myself, and I'm not happy when I leave a race unless I've given myself a good fight.
Even so, despite all that, I looked forward to the Blue Sky Half Marathon, even when I knew I would suffer.
This race, even if you do want to just jog it, demands suffering. It's not a turkey trot. In some ways, it's hell.
It's a half marathon (or a full, if you're really a sick fuck) on a dirt, somewhat rocky trail that climbs over a few giant hills and many small ones. If the big hills sap most of your energy, the smaller ones greedily snap up what's left. There's one aid station, about halfway through the course, so you carry your own fluid. It's dusty and there's always another hill to climb or dash down, even when it's almost over.
It's also beautiful, gorgeous, even, run by a small crew of volunteers who want others to love trail running as much as they do. They yell your name when they see you - they have to check your name off a list so they know you're not out there, lost or dying of a rattlesnake bite - and their personalized encouragement is nice to hear as you're trying to bust through the seventh circle of runner's hell. I did the race last year on a lark, just another half to do before the more "important" races, like the Denver Half, and I loved it so much that I swore I would do it again and take it more seriously.
After a couple months of long runs, the Pikes Peak Ascent, a few climbs and some trail running, I did, indeed, believe I was ready for it.
And as I started the race, it felt like I was right. I didn't feel great. Finding the magic on race day this year just doesn't seem to be in the cards. But I didn't feel horrible, either, and after the first two miles over somewhat flat terrain, I felt good about my pace, my stomach and my legs. I felt ready to fly even as I took it carefully, trying to reserve my mojo for the hills that were coming.
I didn't have any music with me - it's not allowed on a single-track trail marathon - so I would have to rely on my spirit, and not a screaming metal god, to get me going.
When the hills hit, I attacked them a bit at a time, telling myself that I would walk if I had to, but also that I would try to avoid walking as much as I possibly could. It's a tough balance. Walk too much and you lose your rhythm. Walk too little, and you go into oxygen deprivation, and then you're walking whether you want to or not.
I was thrilled, then, when I topped out around 6 miles, without walking at all and facing down the first big challenge and heading for the aid station.
And then the sun came out.
The temperature threatened to creep up beyond 80 degrees even before the sun hid for a while behind the clouds. The clouds did their best, but they could not hold off the sun's punishing rays forever, and sure enough, just as I began the toughest climb of the day, they came out and started baking my shoulders.
This is when I made my biggest mistake, my only real mistake, actually. I romped up those hills as best I could, crashed down the back side of the hills and even passed a few people as I charged up the road that led me back to the trail home. But I finished off my bottles, and then, when they asked me if I needed more drink, I said no.
As I made my way back over the big hill and headed for home, I had three miles left to go. Three miles seems like such a short way to me. It's a lark, a 25-minute run, and that's if I take it easy. I was still on pace to run two hours, or at least break last year's time by at least five minutes, and I didn't want to take the time to get fluid, even with someone right there with her pitcher.
Around mile 11, I knew I had made a big mistake. Around mile 12, I started shivering, even though I was hot, not cold. I'm no medical expert, but shivering, I knew, could not be good.
This was the time to dig deep and keep running, even if it wasn't as fast as I had hoped. Last year I finished off the race running 8-minute miles, but last year was cool, almost cold, and I didn't sweat much.  By the time I reached mile 12, my hat was soaked and my brow was salty.
But the difference between this race, and others, was my attitude. I've worked on my attitude a lot this year. They tell you to think of a word to say, over and over, during the tough moments, a word you can draw on when you need to push past the pain and go to work. My word, not surprisingly, is "fight."
Fight against the trolls in your head telling you to quit. Fight against the doubts in your head. Fight against your mistakes, even if they are stupid ones, like not drinking enough on a hot day. Fight against that heat. Fight against my own past, when I was picked on others for not being athletic and believing them even when I was.
Fight against all that. And when you go out with the intent of crossing a finish line, go kill it.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Misery really does love company

Last week as we attended Oktoberfest (or whatever the spelling is that reflects beer, brats and lots of inflatable kiddie stuff) in downtown Greeley, I ran into one of my running friends. He, like many of them, is mellow, happy and generally one of the nicer guys I've met. He is, in fact, pretty much the opposite of me. He's also one of the guys I try to emulate in my own personality, but most of the time I fail miserably.
He's also one of the few runners I know who has young children, just like me, and so I enjoy talking to him because he can actually relate to what it's like to feel as if your energy is constantly being squeezed like water out of a washcloth.
As we waited in line with my kids for their turn on the big inflatable slide, I was hoping my girls or Jayden would remain in the calm, satisfied state we were currently enjoying. They seem to have trouble holding this serene state for longer than three minutes, but nonetheless, I prayed they would keep it up.
No one, after all, enjoys dealing with a whinefest in front of your friends, and I'm as guilty as anyone about wondering what others must think of my skills as a parent. I don't lay awake at night worrying about that - I'm far too tired for that - but I do get embarrassed when my child, or children, as it usually goes, throws a fit in front of people. Especially in front of my friends. Especially in front of said friends who are typically easy-going, mellow, nice people who surely don't have the same problems with their children.
Only I was surprised, even shocked, when his boy, who was probably 6 or 7, kept whistling. It was a shrill, high-pitched call, if you will. It was annoying. It was exactly the kind of thing my kids would do, if they knew how to whistle.
"Don't you hate it," my friend said, obviously embarrassed, "when your kid is in a funk all day and you can't do anything about it?"
Um, yes, I do. That seems to happen just about every day, actually.
And then it hit me.
All parents go through what I go through.
I'm not alone.
And I'm sorry to say, it felt good to know that.
• • •
What is it about misery that makes us want others to go through it?
Well, if you're a parent, the biggest fear, other than your child getting hurt, some strange illness or maybe getting eaten by crocodiles, is fucking them up. It's easy to constantly question what you're doing as a parent. What TV show are you letting them watch? What are you feeding them? When do they go to bed? What are they wearing? What tantrums do you acknowledge, and how do you deal with them?
These days, it's much easier to question yourself, too, because of all the damn advice other parents love to offer on places like Facebook, Twitter and those hundreds of self-help Web sites, not to mention Dr. Phil and Oprah and social circles with real, live friends you talk to without typing in something on your cell phone.
It seems like parents trip over each other to talk about how perfect they are.
No one has made me question our own happy home than the twins turning 3.
3 is a hellish number. The holy trinity seems to be the only good thing associated with that number, and that's certainly true when you talk about the age of your toddlers. We hear all about the terrible twos, but that, I think, is a result of clever alliteration more than the truth. The terrible twos really aren't all that terrible. But 3? 3, my friend, sucks.
I can't remember a morning when we weren't dealing with at least one fit, probably because they can't find their Barbie or car or shoes, and if they can't find them, they're fighting over them. Or maybe it's that they want juice. Or a certain kind of cereal. Or they're just in a crappy mood and want to assert themselves, which is 93.2 percent of the time. Nighttime generally is the same way. Hush, you, on telling me they're probably tired. I know. That doesn't make the screaming any easier to take.
These tantrums are multiplied with twins, and they're even tripled, I'd say, because at least a third of their tantrums are a direct result of each other. One has a toy that the other is convinced is hers. One is wearing a blue shirt and the other one wanted to wear it. One wants to sit with Mommy while the other is forced, horrors upon horrors, to sit with Daddy.
To be blunt, I'm so, so burned out on it all, and it's by far my biggest challenge as a parent. Because not only do the tantrums make you feel constantly exhausted, they make you feel walked upon. Trampled upon, actually, like a desperate high school student in need of a date for homecoming.
I wish it weren't so, because 3 is also such a cute, cute age. It's uber cute, actually. Every day they say something that makes me laugh, and laugh hard, as cracked-corny as that sounds.
But to watch all that cuteness get warped and eventually possessed by a demon makes you want to stop it, and that means picking your battles and, many times, giving in. You don't want milk? OK, I'll get juice, because you just don't want to put up with 45 minutes of hellish screaming otherwise.
So you worry. You worry if you are raising spoiled brats. You wonder if other, more controlled, more thoughtful parents who let things roll off their backs could calmly explain why milk is important, and their 3-year-olds look at them with doe eyes and stop crying, drink their milk and then go on to become doctors and win pulitzer prizes while you picture your girls becoming, say, Paris Hilton.
At least I worry.
So maybe that's all I need is confirmation. I don't need to know I'm doing a good job. I need to know others, even the ones who seem perfect, really aren't.
Maybe that's shallow of me. But I'll worry about that in a couple years, when my girls are well past 3, and I have the energy.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Conflicted fun

I was asking myself what the last day of my life would be like.
I wondered Saturday morning if that day would be the day.
I never thought about death before I had kids when I went mountain climbing. I don't think that's because I never considered the possibility. I think that's because there was no real consequence if it happened.
Even after I got married, I figured Kate could find another guy. She was young, beautiful and without issues. Those women are rare. She'd be fine.
I valued my life. I wasn't cavalier about it in the least. Ten years ago, when a bunch of large rocks swept under my feet, threatened to swallow me under their granite and bashed into me, I fought for my life, flipping through the air to stop myself and walking 17 hours after I was hurt to get help from the hospital. When, four years later, I slipped and rolled toward a ledge, I desperately looked for a rock to wrap my leg around and found it.
But I knew, deep down, that if I did indeed die, I'd die doing something I loved and that it was my choice to put myself in danger to do it.
Thing is, these days, when I prepare to do something like Saturday's Little Pawnee-Pawnee traverse, I know I'm no longer making a choice for myself but for my family.
And I still don't know if it's fair.

• • •
The day looked to be another glorious one in the mountains. At least that's what said. I saw something completely different.
I saw a sullen sky that spit droplets of water on my climbing partner's windshield as she swept down the highway. Hmm. Lighting is always the biggest concern, and days like the one the clouds were predicting rarely produced lighting. But on a route like the one were planning to tackle, the rain is almost as bad because it soaks the rock, and wet rock is slick rock. If it was raining when we got to the trail, the hike would be over before it started.
But as we got higher, the sky got clearer, and by the time we reached the trailhead and parked, the sun and blue sky were pushing us to go on. In fact it looked like exactly the kind of day you need to do a long, dangerous traverse like the one that faced us.

• • •
Rules, like the one I discussed above (1. Never climb a tough route in the rain) helps salve my guilt over doing something dangerous when I've got twin 3 year-old girls, a 5-year-old boy and a haggard wife, but only some. It helps because you can convince yourself you're being smart, and when most climbers die when they're not being smart. Climbers die when they go off the route, don't stick with their plans, push their luck with the weather, forget to bring the right equipment or make a thousand other fairly easy mistakes that seem small and yet can turn really bad too quickly. It's happened this year. It happens every year.
In fact, it's easy to convince a guilty mind that EVERY death is because of some error that, of course, you would never make. But believe that and you're lying to yourself in the way addicts lie to themselves about just needing one last hit, or one last fling, or one last bet. A young guy died this year on the Maroon Bells when a rock hit him, causing him to fall. Another climber was severely hurt just this year on the very traverse we'd be attempting that day. In both those instances, no real mistakes were made by the climbers. They just got hurt, or killed, doing what they loved.

• • •
The day started out with some map reading, trying to find the best route up the mountain before we could start our climb of the ridge. Despite 200 climbing trips, this is still one of my biggest weaknesses. This time probably still took longer than it really should. It's a little tricky because the start isn't an obvious, jutting peak you can identify through any photos, and there was two alternative routes, neither one which stuck out or looked all that promising. You could either wander through a forest until you reached a grassy ridge or take a more direct route through cranky bushes and a growling boulderfield. We chose the second option.
Once we reached the ridge, it started easily enough, with some easy class 3 climbing. If you don't know, class 2 means walking off a trail, and class 3 or above means you'll need to use your hands as well as your feet. Class 4 is essentially hard class 3 climbing that's usually exposed, meaning a fall could hurt or even kill you.
I wish sometimes that I didn't love hard, class 4 routes as much as I do. But as we started into the trickiest part of the day, an exposed downclimb that many prefer to use a rope on, my voice shook a bit. I was afraid, of course, but the shaking, I have to admit, came from something.
I was pumped.

• • •
I'm not a junkie. Not really. I'm not the maniac I used to be, when I was doing 20 peaks a year, some of them difficult, even dangerous. I'd look at a weekend at home during the summer as a wasted opportunity. I climbed three peaks this year because I needed to be home more than usual this summer, and I honestly didn't miss it as much as I thought I would. Running is a good challenge for me now, and it seems to fulfill that other side of me. The side that needs some sort of adventure or goal. Maybe even a touch of pain.
But that other side needs a trip like Saturday's once a year. I still wish I didn't. But as we scampered across ledges and climbed our hearts out, I was giddy, like a teenager in love. It was just so much FUN. It's fun to get scratched by the rock and fun to have your foot graze open air and fun to be out there. Just out in the open. It's fun to accomplish a cool feat. It's fun to solve the puzzle of a route and use your whole body and be throughly exhausted. It's fun to see such beauty and rely on yourself.
And, yes, it's fun to go through something dangerous and make it through unscathed. I have felt a much deeper fear, too, now that the consequences of me getting hurt or killed is much more severe. Occasionally, that fear brings me to tears, as it did last year on what I consider to be the toughest 14er in the state.

I know if I die climbing, it's an incredibly selfish act, perhaps the most selfish act ever. It leaves my kids without a father, and even if someone else stepped in, it could scar them for life. And I'm taking a chance that that could happen. It's a small chance. I never felt like Saturday was beyond my abilities. But even a chance is also selfish. 
I have a response for the conflict. Climbing is a part of me and has been since I was 13. So how can I teach my kids how to live if I can't feel alive?
But that's an easy statement. And so it's not really an answer. It's just something I say to soothe my nerves before I throw on my backpack and head out into the wild.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Hello darkness and my old friend

When I was 13, the mountain you heard about more than any other was Longs Peak.
We were on our fifth or sixth trip to Estes Park by then, where we'd stay at the YMCA of the Rockies, and my interest in the mountains was just starting to percolate. My parents had already been bitten by the bug, though at that point it was more like a nibble.
Since we were on our fifth or sixth time on our summer vacation there from Kansas, I think, more than anything, my parents were looking for something to DO. We'd already been tourists, driving Trail Ridge Road, eating fudge in downtown Estes Park (and buying a Tee Shirt) and walking around Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, where the parking lot is so full these days that a park 'n' ride just to GET to the lake regularly fills up on the weekends, forcing cars to prowl about like sharks for an open spot.
Hey, I'm guessing we thought. What about all these mountains surrounding the Y-Camp and the little cabins where we stayed?
The YMCA offered a hiking program. You'd get a schedule at the beginning of the week, and every hike was graded just like it was a school. The pansy ones, usually attended by overweight, huffing, red-faced tourists and were usually something like looking for wildflowers, were rated F. Only a few got an A, and As were a big deal. Before the hikemasters would even let you go on an A hike, you had to pass a C hike, and even the C hikes would probably kill the red-faced tourists, or at least make them sweat out a good portion of the grease that consistently ran through their bloodstream.
Longs Peak was the ultimate A.
It's the tallest mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park. It's also an awesome site, home to an east face that will take your breath away if its 14,259 feet doesn't first. That east face is adored by rock climbers and gazed at by mountaineers like me with awe every time we see it. If there's a picture of a mountain that looks like a mountain SHOULD look like, well, this is one of them.
The thing is, the keyhole route, Longs' most popular route, doesn't even sniff the east face, and it's STILL a classic route, easily one of the best climbs in Colorado and one of its most challenging. It's 15 miles, almost 5,000 feet of elevation gain, and the last mile-and-a-half is over exposed, sometimes tricky scrambling. Most of it is above treeline, too, meaning a 2 a.m. start is not only recommended, it's mandatory.
People have figured this out, of course, and for decades, the keyhole route is probably the most popular route in Colorado. The 14ers, peaks above 14,000 feet, have become somewhat of a cult sensation in the last 15-20 years or so, and yet, Longs is still one of the most climbed peaks in Colorado and quite possibly the most climbed, despite the fact that I consider it one of the harder ones.
When my father tried it the first time, we came back from a horseback riding trip to find him wrapped in a triple-thick layer of blankets and his feet in hot water. The winds apparently were strong enough to blow him off the trail and pin him behind the rocks. When my mother tried it the first time, she made it, but fell from sheer exhaustion with a few miles to go and looked as if she'd been dragged by a mule when I found her back in the cabin.
Naturally, this made me want to try it.
Longs was so popular, the sign-up list usually filled up as soon as it was released by the YMCA staff. The hikemasters hated Longs because so many unprepared people wanted to do it to taste its glory. This mountain, after all, was the weekend warrior's Everest, a chance for desk workers and parents to get a somewhat dangerous adventure in and be back in time for Kentucky Fried Chicken and a shower. People erased names to get on the list. Others lied about their fitness and experience. Fights broke out.
All this hid the fact that Longs is, of course, a dangerous day. Usually at least one dies a year, and two have died this year, with a third death feared the very day I'm writing this. Others are hurt. It's not an amusement park ride, even if it tends to draw the same crowds.
So when my Dad and me, at 14, went down to the meeting place at midnight, we hadn't signed up for the list, but we hoped they would take pity on a father and his son on his last day in Estes Park hoping for a day together.
The hikemasters, who usually God-like graduate students or wise, older Colorado residents who tended to look at you like the way a rock star would look at a Hannah Montana fan, grumbled but allowed me to go along.
That day contributed to my love for the mountains as much as any other. I have since climbed it 16 times, and Sunday I led a group of rookies up Longs for the eighth time. We started in the dark, like always, and ended as dusk threatened to spill across the now-renovated parking lot.
It started out nasty, with a chilling wind that may have resembled what my Dad faced his first time up Longs. But the wind died down, the sun came out, and Longs, once again, welcomed me to its summit after I sacrificed a bit of blood and a lot more energy.
I'm sore today and was a little crankier this morning than usual. But that's OK. I'm showing others the way to a new passion. If they don't follow through on it, at least for one day they get to experience mine.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Summer Shocker

Well, the girls are exhausting us again, especially my wife, but me, too.
They're not sleeping well at night, and since they are 3, they have figured out that enough screaming and general crappiness in the attitude department will get them a trip to our bed, where they thrash around like weasels on black coffee.
I was thinking the other day how having small children is like having a chronic disease. It sounds really horrible to say that, given that there's not much positive about having a disease and there's PLENTY positive about having children (seriously, there is).
But when you go through a stretch like this, you're tired all the time, going to bed early, struggling in the middle of the night and spending far too much time on things that kinda suck, like tantrums, trying to get the kids to eat dinner and watching "Dora The Explorer."
Plus you don't get to leave the house very often. When you do, like my brilliant idea to go for a walk Sunday morning with the girls and their scooters, it starts well but turns into a pain-in-the-ass fest, like everything else. Whining from one twin or another gets louder and louder.
We've got  a couple more years of this, which is discouraging, to say the least. Parents insist I will miss these days. I keep insisting I won't. Rather, I miss my days in the mountains. I'm finally getting one Saturday, and I can't tell you how excited it makes me.
For one day, at least, I'll be healthy again.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Goat + Metal = Culture

I had no real reason to be nervous.
At least that's what I told myself as I headed to a death metal festival and goat roast in my town of Greeley.
Every metal concert I've attended, Megadeth, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Motley Crue, etc., etc., etc., was full of nice people. In fact, the only shows I've run into douchebags were concerts OTHER than metal shows. These people know how to take care of their aggression. They use music, not their fellow humans, for that.
Plus I was a metal guy. I mean, sure, I lacked a lot of the quantities, such as the long hair, a wardrobe of black T-shirts or tight ripped jeans. But that had as much to do with, well, a life, and a job, and a family, more than it did a personality. I loved the music and will always love it, and I wasn't just some dude who called himself a metal fan because I own a copy of Metallica's Black Album. I liked a lot of the newer bands, kept up with the older ones (I am liking Maiden's new release) and actually preferred the harder stuff, not just quasi-hard-rock bands like Linkin Park or the hair metal of the 80s.
Still, I was 38, and I was alone, and I changed out of my black Metallica T-shirt at the last second because it looked like I was trying too hard to fit in and settled on my usual "Colorado Outdoors Middle-Class Dad" look. You've seen it at the blogger gatherings. Thanks for not laughing.
I'll admit it, though, as I walked into the small Crabtree Brewery and Into The Pit (which, incidentally, is one of my favorite Testament songs), that I was instantly taken aback.
Out of the 250 or so standing around or waiting for the roasted goat, I was probably one of a half-dozen who was not wearing a black T-shirt, and almost all of them advertised a band named after some sort of impaling, scene in "Hostel" or, yes, a demonic ritual (though not as many as you think).
There were a few more girls than I expected, meaning there were girls there. They wore black T-shirts too, though a couple obviously there with their boyfriends wore mall outfits. There was the standard mosh pit, though most, probably worn down by the 2 p.m. start, just stood around and nodded their heads to the frantic drum beats, as if they were buzzed by the goat or dark beer with 11 percent alcohol (no shiola, and it was goood).
I hardly recognized any of the bands on those shirts. Not one person knew who I was, and that's unusual, too, given that I'm usually recognized by someone in a large crowd because my face is in the newspaper all the time. And I expected the music to be hardcore and rough around the edges, but this sounded like low, angry growls over a hyperactive beat, the kind of sound you'd hear from demons and a billion mosquitoes.
I felt completely out of place. I rarely feel that way. Maybe at really rich parties, right-wing, religious gatherings or country music concerts. That's about it.
I didn't expect to feel so strange. Again, I've been to metal shows. I wrote about this show, and I was excited about it and irritated when people expressed concerns about hosting metal music and a goat roast.  I wrote in the article that they were serving goats, not sacrificing them, and most of the meal was intended to be a joke about the way people perceive death metal. It's not like we ripped off pieces of the goat with our teeth or sucked out the eyes from the heads stabbed on stakes. They looked like chunks of barbecued beef and, quite frankly, were pretty damn good (and this comes from a barbecue critic given that I'm a Kansas City native).
But, I have to admit, I could understand those feelings of dread as I stood in line for my goat. I was a little nervous myself. I wanted to yell "I like metal, I really do" to somehow clear my name. It's not like I couldn't take care of myself if I needed to - it looked to me that I could either outrun or outmuscle almost of all them - but I did wonder if I fought with one, I would fight with them all, as if they were a flock of vampires, crows or black wolves that would pounce without hesitation against unknown blood.
Still, I've been trained to enter uncomfortable situations and make people trust me, and so I grabbed my goat and my beer, found a seat and chowed down, enjoying the delicious people watching around me.
Sure enough, the guy in charge of the festival found me and thanked me for the story. He also admitted to me he liked Phil Collins. See? People eventually trust me. I could probably ensure his death with that kind of information.
Later, I was thrashing out to one of the two bands I really came to see, Allegaeon.
I wrote about the bass player, a Greeley guy, and it turns out the guys were just signed to Metal Blade Records.
I've grown to like the rough vocals that accompany much of today's metal music. I still prefer cleaner singing, and I like it better when the rough vocals have a clean chorus, but I appreciate some of the best and more unique growlers in the business. It just took me a while. Hey, a long time ago, I know of a certain junior high student who thought Metallica was only screaming.
Anyway, so Allegaeon, just like most of the bands, feature those vocals, so most of you may not like it. But the guys can PLAY, and I have always loved technical music, the kind played by Dream Theater, Helloween or Iron Maiden. I continue to make the case that metal musicians are the finest in the business, possibly equaled only by classical or jazz players (and this form of music owes a great debt to classical music and avant garde jazz), and a band like Allegaeon shows why. I know at least one person who might like them. Check em out, Blood .
I loved it, and the band that followed, led by another Greeley guy, Cryogen, was nearly as good.
When that set ended, I left, satisfied, full of goat and good, aggressive music. It was time to go home and be a Dad, a runner and a kind of geeky guy who wanted to revisit an old favorite video game, Myth.
There are some cultures that you may appreciate and even feel a kinship with, but ultimately, you just don't belong. But you don't have to belong to a culture to appreciate it, even sometimes hang around the edges for a couple hours before you slip back into the shadows.
I'll be back next year.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Pikes Peak Ascent

I thought it strange that the woman sang "America The Beautiful" instead of our national anthem before the race.
Then I remembered where I was.
I was at the Pikes Peak Ascent, in Manitou Springs, which is just outside of Colorado Springs. If there's one mountain you probably know in Colorado, it's Pikes Peak. And the Ascent is, simply, a race up the peak.
Only it's really not quite that simple. The song they sing before the race isn't the only different thing about it. (And the reason for "America The Beautiful"? Well, the songwriter, Katharine Lee Bates, jotted down the beginnings of the song on the summit of Pikes Peak. But you probably remember that from your fifth grade music class). It's one of the most unique runs in the world. 
It goes up the Barr Trail all the way up the mountain, which makes it about 13.5 miles. That's an elevation gain of nearly 8,000 feet. I can't really put into perspective what that means. But I can try. Longs Peak, one of Colorado's more famous mountains and one of the tougher climbs, gains just under 5,000. 
So it's long, steep and on a trail. And three miles of it are above treeline. 
For some reason, I wanted to do it.
There are many good reasons actually. I love Pikes Peak because it's one of the more unique mountains in the country. It's a tourist trap. More than 500,000 visit the summit every year, most of them from people who drive or ride the train to the top. There's a gift store on the summit. There's even a camp in the middle of the trail where you can buy Gatorade and snacks. You might think this takes away from the experience but actually it adds to it: It's the only place I can buy a much-needed Mountain Dew after I've climbed a mountain.
I'd heard all about how great the race is from friends (and not to jump ahead but it was really great, maybe the best supported race I've ran, the volunteers were simply awesome).
But the main reason is it made me nervous.
There aren't many things that make me nervous much any longer. I know how to tackle some of the toughest mountains. I've run a marathon. I'm raising twins for God's sake. But I hadn't done anything like this, and that, I thought, was cool. I'd hiked Pikes twice but I had no real idea what to expect, despite advice (and good advice at that) from friends and the website.
So I listened to "America the Beautiful" with my eyes closed, trying to get into that frame of mind I always do before a race, meaning I not only expect to suffer, I want to enjoy it. There's just something about pushing yourself hard, much beyond what you think you can do, that I find satisfying. I realize others get the same satisfaction from beating "Guitar Hero." Sometimes, honestly, I'm jealous of those people.
When the gun went off, I went out hard. At least I think I did. I actually ran much slower than I would if I were doing a normal half marathon, not one that I hoped to run in four hours. But looking back, it was probably too hard. Spectators who lined the streets yelled at us almost right away to "slow down, slow down!" I ignored them, of course. I was running 11-minute miles! That's slower than even my training runs. It was my first mistake, and it's possible it was my most costly.
As the street seemed to turn into a 90-degree angle, I decided to stop pushing it so hard and walk it. Matt Carpenter, one of the best runners of this event, a local legend, really, says the same thing, to walk the steeper sections and run when the opportunity presents itself (in other worlds, when the trail isn't fucking steep).
OK. Well. I waited for it to get flatter. And I walked hard. And waited. It was not getting flatter. Three miles into the race, my time was on target for under four hours, but my legs were starting to tire a bit, already. That's what makes this race so damn tough, I guess, is the enormity of it.
At the dinner the night before, Bart Yasso, Runner's World's Chief Running Officer, said he thought this "half marathon" took the effort of a marathon, something I dismissed because, quite frankly, I'd already hiked it twice, and it was tough, but it didn't kill me. I even led a group of newbies up one year, and they did fine. 
I shouldn't have dismissed it because that dinner the night before was filled with amazing people. There were Ironman finishers and ultramarathoners (many who had ran 50 or 100-mile races) and extreme mountain climbers. A marathon was expected of you. Just to qualify for this race you had to run a half marathon in 2:10 (which honestly didn't strike me as that hard, but that's still not something just anyone can do). I honestly was instantly intimidated by the crew. What the hell did I get myself into, I thought, and I had to text some of my friends to calm me down. They reminded me I had a cool achievement, someone who's climbed all 54 14ers in Colorado, and sure, that's cool, but quite honestly that has more to do with persistence than real athletic ability, and the list of people who have done that continues to grow. 
As I continued up the trail, it finally flattened out, and I was able to run a bit. I loved this more than anything else during the day. It wasn't too high, too steep or too punishing. My joy was also short-lived, and the heat was a big reason.
At the start of the day, I wore a tank top and shorts. That's all I needed. That's nice but it's not good news for me. I discovered during the marathon that I sweat out a lot of salt, and eventually that can cause cramping. It's not a coincidence, I've discovered, that my best days come when it's cool.
By the time I climbed close to 10,000 feet, about halfway through the race, my legs were beginning to show signs of cramping. I was basically screwed if what happened to me during the marathon happened then. This wasn't a race you just "drop out" of if things go wrong. Remember, it's on a mountain. You either go back down or head on up. And the cutoff time at the top was 6:30. I was still on track to run four hours, but if my legs cramped up, there was no way I was going to make the cutoff.
So I took one of my sodium pills - one of my new solutions to this issue - and guzzled my Gatorade. I actually took four eight-ounce bottles up the peak with a fuel belt with me to drink in addition to whatever I could manage to take at the aid stations. I drank as much as I could then.
And then the last issue came.
The altitude has always been a worry for me. I've climbed almost 200 peaks, but at least some of those times I've gotten sick. And that same sick feeling in my stomach came almost instantly.
That started a long and torturous balancing act between making sure I ate enough and drank enough to keep the cramps at bay but not too much to make me puke. Starting then, I was nauseated most of the time, and yet I had to keep eating and drinking. I even had to choke down a banana for the potassium. It's honestly I wonder I kept it down.
That was my race the rest of the day. I wasn't able to run much, though I could occasionally, and by the time I reached the brutal, hot stretch that takes you from treeline to the top of the world, by far the steepest part of the day, I was shot, and I still had three miles to go.
Needless to say, I didn't exactly dominate that last part. I didn't even think about running. Walking it was hard enough, and every step I took only brought me into thinner air. 
One thing I always try to tell myself, however, was my fellow racers feel the same thing, and there was carnage all over the peak at this point, with people stopping every few feet to stretch or just sit with their face in their hands.
I reminded myself to keep moving. There have been many days on the peak when I start to get into a pattern of resting, then moving, then resting, and I couldn't do that in this case, even if all I really wanted to do, as I tried to keep my sickness, panting and cramps under control, was just sit on a rock for an hour.
The finish line did get there. I got my medal and my finisher's shirt. And then I got choked up.
Today was about setting aside a lot of crap thrown my way and finishing what I started.
Sometimes that's enough.

P.S. If you are curious, I finished in 5:15, which put me in the middle of the pack, though pretty far down in my age group and in males overall. And yes, I got "chicked" a LOT today. :)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Dear Asian Porn Spammers

I really, really appreciate the opportunity to see some of your girls. However, this blog is rated PG-13 (which means I'd better start watching my language), and I do not want people clicking on my comments section in the hopes of getting a rubout or two.
I'd prefer they expect whining about my kids, thinly veiled bragging about my latest adventure, VERY occasional poker stories, stuff about metal or high horse pontifications.
Therefore, I'm now moderating the comments. If you are NOT an Asian porn spammer/slapper, then rest assured your comment will be displayed pronto, even if you say something nasty about me. Heck, in certain instances, ESPECIALLY if you say something nasty about me.
If you ARE a spammer, rest assured that not only will your comments be obliterated into tiny pieces and shot into space, I will track you down and feed you to my pool of rabid vampire bats, hungry alligators and eviscerating pirana-like fish. Then I'll let my den of boa constrictors finish up the scraps. And I'll save your eyes for the velociraptors. Then I'll crucify and finally burn the last tiny tiny tiny pieces.
Nobody wants that. Especially you.

Love and sloppy kisses,

Monday, August 09, 2010

Who's that guy?

As we were driving up to Rocky Mountain National Park Friday, on our way to a lake visited by hundreds of thousands every year, it hit me.
I was that guy.
I was the guy with a family driving up with his kids in a mini-van to visit a lake that required no hiking to get to so I could walk with thousands of others and enjoy the "wilderness." I was fighting traffic, hunting for parking spaces and hoping to see an elk.
I used to make so much fun of that guy.
I even looked down on him.
I may have given you the wrong idea with my last post. It implied that I've struck an easy balance between my need for adventure and my responsibilities as a Dad and husband. I haven't. In fact, this summer, I've struggled with it a lot.
I knew that my time in the mountains being a badass would be severely limited once I had kids. I was OK with that. I had climbed all of the 14ers and many peaks in Rocky Mountain National Park. I didn't need to get out 20 times a year. In fact, I didn't want to.
But this year, the getting out has been, well, next to nothing. I've climbed once this year. Once. And while part of that is definitely my fault, the result of trips to Maui and Kansas, part of it is because I find, more and more, that my weekends are getting sucked away by the kids.
It's exactly the thing I feared most when we discussed having children.
I didn't want to become that guy.
And now I am.
• • •
There's something about being a mountaineer. It's not really a hobby. It's more of a lifestyle. It's a belief that the sacrifices you make to do it, and that includes time, energy, money, your own body and even, sometimes, friendships, are all worth the spiritual experiences you get out of it.
If it sounds like a religion, it really is. It's the closest thing I have to one.
Neglecting this part of my life could not come at a worse time because I need the inner peace. Outwardly, I'm not getting any of it. The girls are 3. I have decided that if 1 is the loneliest number, then 3 is the shittiest. We can count on tantrums daily because even if one is content, the other probably isn't. 3 is a combination of will, ear-splitting screams and countless thrashing over nothing. Kate woke me up just a few days ago during one of them, a tornado-like tantrum from a twin who wanted to sleep in our bed, and I wrestled for an hour with her, until, at 3 a.m., she decided to go to bed.
They are very cute right now, but so are kittens before they tear up your favorite chair.
This is exactly why I took up running, and I love running, far more than I ever thought I would. It satisfies my competitive side, which, I'm sorry to say, is a reason I climb mountains, and running the marathon was one of the most challenging things I've ever done, and that's exactly what I loved about it.
But I have so many memories of being out there, and in the summer, they're much more intense because that's the time I did them by far the most. It's probably the difference between Widespread Panic, which strikes me as sort of dull, and Widespread Panic on rainbow-colored pills. Summer is when I'm high on those rainbows.
Of course, uppers would not be complete without downers, and so those emotions are accompanied by guilt for even having the audacity to feel this way. My wife needed me this summer. She had hernia surgery, and I stayed home to help her with our little demons as they had to accept the fact that mommy could not pick them up any longer. She's really the one making the sacrifice. The hernia was a direct result of carrying the twins. I'm pretty certain she'd trade with me, as this surgery was the start of a long, painful road to get her body back, while I carved mine into a machine capable of running 26 miles.
Still, I am a firm believer that life is what you make it. It's up to you to experience it. So I really concentrated on enjoying the time with my family in the national park. And maybe the mountains sent me a sign for my patience.
In Sprague Lake, as I bumped into tourists complaining about the half-mile hike around the lake and tried not to roll my eyes, one of my friends said a magic world.
I've been out, easily, more than 200 times, many times miles and miles from the trailhead, into places few people visit a year, where I'd probably have to cut off my arm and eat it if I got stuck. I've seen thousands of elk and deer. But I have seen three moose in my life. Total.
This moose, therefore, was a special. And since I'm being a bit granola here, I took it as a sign.
You can't experience things like this unless you get out there. That's why I've always made the mountains a part of my life. But maybe it's OK that many of my experiences are different now. My kids were thrilled to see such a huge creature. So was I. Those experiences are still cool.
Like any conflict, though, there's no easy solution. I'm still torn. I still feel like I'm losing a part of who I am.
Next week, for just a moment, I'll flirt with my former life. I'm running the Pikes Peak Ascent. It's a run - yes, a run - up Pikes Peak. It's a grueling, bloody event from 6,000 feet to above 14,000 on one of the most famous mountains in America. I've hiked it twice, but obviously this is different. I'm nervous about it and excited at the same time. It's the same kind of uneasy, wonderful feeling I used to get staring down a knife ridge.
I'd missed those butterflies.
Right now flirtations are what I have. Maybe I'll accept that standing on the summit of Pikes Peak, as I'll finally have a chance to leave a part of me on the mountain. It's the part of me who isn't OK with scrambling along a half-mile hike alongside tourists. And for one glorious weekend, they're not allowed.