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.