The First Taste

My brother and I must have been about eleven and ten, respectively, when we were allowed to try our first sip of beer. It was summer vacation, and it was time for our yearly trip to Cape Cod. Usually we stayed at a little cottage in Chatham at the end of the street, but this one year it was occupied, and we stayed the first night or two at Hotel El Dumpo out on the highway a little.

The cottage was a story in itself. It was just a teeny thing, as the word ‘cottage’ implies, and it didn’t even have walls that went up to the ceiling, which meant that I spent a lot of my time proving I could climb over the top into the next bedroom.

Hardly broke anything.

There was a collection of authentic record albums there-so ancient was the place-and that is where I discovered ‘The First Family’. Comedians imitating presidents is as old as the hills, but it offered me a hilarious, behind the scenes glimpse into Camelot-the Kennedy administration. Check it out on Spotify.

I loved that place; I’m guessing we all did. My brother and I had room to mess around outside, and our parents could relax inside in the twelve minutes per day when we weren’t bothering them. The beach was only a short bike ride away, and we made the most of every summer there. I don’t even want to guess how many fiddler crabs I tortured, or remember my first horrible sunburn, which I also got there.

All of that is nice, except for, um, all of it, but the real story of the cottage predates our first visits there. It goes way, way back in time, before Kennedy, even, to a time when most people had no idea what the Cape was, except for the lucky ones who lived there.

My grandfather used to go down there every now and then-I picture him being kind of a trailblazer since most of the Cape wasn’t developed yet. He knew his way around eastern Massachusetts, and played golf on most of the courses there. One of the things he didn’t know his way around, however, was a business opportunity.

It all seems so simple now. All he had to do was scrounge up a few thousand dollars, buy some land, and wait. He would’ve easily been a millionaire. In reality, there was no money to scrounge. First the Depression happened, then the war, then came the house in Brockton, which he had to pay for on one income.

Looking back though, it’s hard not to wonder if he hadn’t, in fact, let the “big one” slip away. It was hard, growing up in our house, inside a cauldron of negativity, not to believe that our family was always doomed to let the big one slip away.

So there we were in Hotel El Dumpo, playing hearts (a great game the aforementioned grandfather taught us at an early age) and waiting for the night to pass, so we could move into the cottage. My Dad was pounding back his usual allotment of beer, my Mom was working through…whatever it was she was drinking, and I suddenly piped up and asked if we could try some.

My Dad said yes.

Talk about a can of worms.

We were only allowed to fill half a Dixie cup full of the stuff, but it didn’t matter-there’s no way either of us were getting it down. But we were excited. We couldn’t stop giggling. I had to go into the bathroom and try and drink it there, since my Dad was making us both laugh in the main part of the room. After about 83 tries, a million nervous snickers, and 250 attempts at chiding myself into being more of a serious man, I finally gave up and gave the now-very-warm cup to my father, who downed it quickly.

My brother had also failed miserably, and that was the end of our alcohol consumption.

Ha ha.

What happened between that day and the next twenty years or so? At which point did alcohol become more than some taboo adult pick-me-up and more of an issue? How did it manage to play such a prominent role in our lives and health?

It’s ridiculous of me to say that things would’ve been different if Dad had said no that day. If it wasn’t then it would’ve been a different occasion. But somehow a part of me is forced to wonder what if? Would our futures have turned out differently? Would we have been healthier and happier? Would my father still be around? Would this specter not continue to haunt our subconsciousness day in and day out?

Would we have been able to finally nail the big one?

Ankgor-The Longest Day

I woke up around 1:20 the morning of the race, anxious and having to wizz. There was sadly no sleeping after that, since I had planned to get up at two anyway. I either really love ultra marathons or I have a screw loose, probably both.

The next hour or so was spent doing ultra marathon prep stuff like making sure my gear was ready: drinking coffee, greasing myself up from head to toe, drinking more coffee, and preparing to take my pre-race crap-the most important prep stuff thingy of all. I wanted to get it right.

Naturally, the results of my efforts on the toilet were nothing to post on facebook (!), and I was left with something else to be nervous about; like, ‘what if my bowels fail during the hot part of the day and I end up looking like some weird zebra-human, with a white upper body and a soiled lower half? ‘ But I did not want to talk about my disappointments at the bottom of my toilet bowl.

All in all I felt ready for the challenge. The Ultra Trail Ankgor was actually composed of five races, the shortest being 16 Km, then 32K, a dress-up (optional) party marathon, 64 Km, and my race, all 128.8 Km of her. There were also nordic walkers…walking there too, but I have no idea where they started from or how far they went. Because I don’t like Vikings.

For those of you scoring at home, my race was over 3 Marathons long, and would stretch over a day where temps were projected to reach 94 degrees at least. I had trained well in Thailand, and was definitely ready for the heat. It remained to be seen, however, how my legs would handle the distance. The good news was that my last race (50K) had more elevation gain (2700M) than the UTA (2300M), despite being two and a half times shorter. In short, my big race had one hill on it:

After this hill there’s only 100 K left!

So there was that to kind of look forward to. On the other hand, I had never run anything longer than 69K or so…so gulp. But that was in mud. And in Belgium.

Anyway I finished race prep and carefully loaded up for the walk to a different hotel, where the shuttle to the temples and the start line was, some 15K away. We stopped in our lobby to shoot an exciting pre-race video that I might include here depending on how my hair looked, and naturally unloaded my supplies to do the filming. By the time we got to the hotel ten minutes later I realized I had no headlamp.

It was about 2:50, the bus was leaving in ten minutes, and if I wanted to see the ground I was going to be running over-advisable when you run through jungles and over rocky fields-I would have to run back to the hotel and find my headlamp fast.

Here we see another illustration of what we’re up against in life: mistakes will happen, problems will arise, but if you want to make it anywhere-in life or to the finish line of an ultrayou have to press on and make the best of it. That’s a lesson I’ve learned running ultras, and while I’m at it, I might as well list off some very special benefits one has when running these races. I’ve done so in bold-try and make a game of finding them…

My headlamp was in the lobby where I had unloaded it for the video, and I made it back just in time to hop on one of the buses.

It was weird on the bus to the temples. The world was completely asleep-we were the only fools awake at that hour-but everyone on the bus was excited. There was one youngin’, for example, Bjorn, whose voice could most likely be heard in the other buses as he explained to Gordon, a runner from England I had met picking up my bib, that it was his first ultra marathon and he had only run one marathon and his favorite color was blue and he was from Chicago and, well, we heard his life story.

After twenty minutes of snaking through the Cambodian jungle and past ghostly temple ruins, we made it to the starting area. I was proud to say that I was first!-at the toilets. There were six, but two of the guys’ toilets were full of cleaning supplies, so I ended up attempting to crap like a boss on a women’s toilet-how gentlemanly!

I failed again on this toilet.

The start of the race was at the famous Elephant Terrace, virtually the center of the magnificent ruins of Angkor, a UNESCO site and one of the, if not the largest temple complex in the world. For those of you uninitiated with the site, check this out from National Geographic:

And for those allergic to reading, go here:

It was apparent, even at 4:00 AM, that it was to be a day immersed in amazing archeological accomplishments, as well as beautiful natural landscapes and incredible athletic feats.

At the start of the race my wife/coach and I met David from Taiwan-the “accidental sweeper”.  A sweeper is the runner who does not compete but stays at the back of the pack to provide assistance to the runners who have been bitten by poisonous snakes or alligators, busied themselves too long with bubble wrap, ensnared themselves in a gympie-gympie stinging bush, been maimed by wolverines, shot by hunters or the Soviet commandoes in ‘Red Dawn’, or are just dehydrated and too weak to continue, with the latter being the most likely (barely). 

David came in last in every event he ever entered-hence accidental sweeper-and there was good reason for that.  His nutrition for the race was, um… unorthodox.  David had started talking with us about beer before the start (4:00 AM). 

“When the sun comes up I’ll get my first beer,” he said. 

I thought that was great.  These races are supposed to be fun, first and foremost, why not get stupid doing it?

Well, maybe because you won’t finish (David didn’t), but it’s worth a try.  At least you have the right mindset.  Why go out there trying to prove something that can’t really be proven?

Just after the start…

Anyway, I left David to…other pursuits, and moved up the pack a little.  After 15-20 Km or so, I began running with Mr. Oh (sp.?) from Korea.

“‘Oh’ as in ‘oh how beautiful!'” he told me, his arms spread wide and his smiling face turned to the sun.  Mr. Oh had a positive, gushing personality that made me want to run with him everywhere, if only to see if he would gush the whole time.

Somewhere I saw a guy from Holland dumping inside a clump of not-high-enough bushes.  Jus’ sayin’.  No, seriously, it was at this time that I realized that my time had also come.  The slow construction of a bowel colossus, sped up by my consumption of dates (maybe next time I’ll try beer) and loosened by all of the running, was nearing completion.  A race helper pointed me to a clean, comfortable toilet behind a temple.  I made sure to gloat when I came out of the toilet to find the Dutchman arriving there.

After my pit stop, I challenged myself to catch up to Mr. Oh. Running comfortably but consistently at the same pace, I met up with Bjorn! The kid from Chicago on the bus! When he told me he was from Chicago I said, “I know, you were loud on the bus.”  

He laughed and told me how nervous he had been. I also learned he was 23 and running his first ultra. He was so cute! He had picked a good one.  Yes, his first ultra was 64 Km long, which is long for a first attempt, and the temperatures would soar up to about 95 that day, but the race was about as flat as could be. Remember the only hill? Here’s Bjorn on top:

Feeling great! Should we tell Bjorn he’s only halfway?

The land-scapes of every ultra marathon I’ve ever seen are breathtaking

Each and every step should be savored , just like in real life.

It was good to run with Bjorn; I felt like a big brother or, more accurately (gulp), his father.  I hope I provided him with some inspiration to keep pressing on when things got tight-like when he ran low on water and was miles and miles away from an aid station. 

Watch your step!

Then, what a surprise, we were joined by Mr. Oh!  We all had a great time running through the villages where everyone between the ages of three and 80 were out cheering us on.  One boy about four ran out and handed me a cold bottle of water.

It’s all about the people.  Whether you’re running in a race like this one or going through life, it is boring, sad, and unhealthy to try to go at it alone.  In an ultra marathon running with someone, or being in contact with the locals, only helps you finish.  Given a choice, would you rather have a nice car, spiffy clothes, or a good friend?  When times are rough, how is another moon pie going to help?

Running ultras gives you the chance, almost unavoidably, to meet people and forge lasting friendships with like-minded crazies like you. 

About three and a half hours in, we arrived at the first and only hill.  It was something like 250-300 meters high, but it would be harder than those of us who didn’t pay attention to the race briefing that morning expected.  The hill would not be scaled by some tame forest trail that snaked its way around the hill to the top.  There was a temple up there and what felt like a zillion steps that led straight up to it.

Yay!

There is almost nothing more fulfilling than completing an ultra marathon.  Running an ultra is tough, and it requires discipline and heart, and if you don’t grow them fast, you will not reach your goal.

Every step is a challenge, as was every step on our hill. There is nothing metaphorical about it, nothing that can be argued away or dismissed-it is that way.  Therefore, completion equals something true and real, every time, whether you’re first or 441st, as I think I was in Belgium.  It was muddy. 

Are we there yet?

It was exhausting, plodding away through the midday heat, but I was well prepared and made it through those stretches where the sun was particularly merciless and into another patch of Cambodian jungle.

Every ten kilometers or so another aid station popped up trailside with awesome race helpers who offered us not only water and energy drinks, but also FREE FOOD!

How’s the venison?

This race was pretty bare bones, selection-wise:  bananas and apples, other…fruits? and a choice of several dried fruits-loaded, sadly, with sugar.  I suppose a lot of runners might have been disappointed with the buffet, but it was perfect for me.  I’ve seen aid stations that offered not only several kinds of fruit, but also (salted) tomatoes and cucumbers, carrot sticks, PB&J sandwiches, energy bars and drinks, chocolate bars and potato chips, mashed potatoes, noodle soup, wine and beer, steaks, sarsaparilla, ocelot spleens, narwhal horns-OK, those last three were a total and complete lie 🤥 but you get the point.  Some of these aid stations are very well stocked, almost to a fault. 

The organizers of the UTA had provided us with maybe not what a lot of us wanted, but definitely what we needed. And that was perfect for me. I never understood how eating chocolate and potato chips is supposed to make you more healthy, anyway.

Amazing sights, not so amazing R&R options…

AND, additionally, each racer was offered the opportunity to get a FREE TAN!  At least on the parts of their bodies that were exposed.  Naturally, at the end of the race, runners would receive FREE BEER!-always a highlight.  Often the organizers wimp out and provide alcohol-free beverages.  Once, however, I took part in the Olympic 50K, which did not have a physical finish line per se, but damn well had a barrel of delicious, chilled Washington State IPA right there instead-a trade I’d take any day.

Me (background, in black) halfway. Just over eight hours.

But I digress… the first half of this race was something I can truly be proud of.  If I had run the 64K race, I would have finished 16th or so out of 75-unthinkable for me.  The only way that could’ve happened was if I had been ready for the race.

Are we there yet?

An ultra forces you to become as healthy as humanly possible

You don’t “just run” one.  You have to be disciplined and consistent with your training and nutrition.  Because you are (hopefully) exercising more and eating healthier, you will feel better about yourself and the prospects of getting up in the morning.  One must also train their mentals, though: something has to change in your mind to attempt the race, and then you must train knowing you’re going to complete it.  Whining about the workouts or food in the latter stages of training increases your chances of a DNF (Did Not Finish).

Keep on truckin’

Somewhere around the 60 K mark disaster struck, however.  On Christmas Day last year my wife organized a surprise: Thai massages.  For most people these would have been a real treat:  Thai massages go into the deep tissue responsible for alignment and overall muscle health.  But I had been training intensely; some of my runs had been almost eight hours long.  This fact poses a problem.  There are ways to grope intensely trained muscles and ways one shouldn’t.  Our masseurs were talented enough, but they knew nothing about my training and, long story short: massaged a time bomb into my leg.

After one training session following the massage my calf was hurt, and my wife said she didn’t like how it looked.

Me (left side), lagging…

It’s important to pay attention to everything, no matter how small or unrelated it may seem.  Ultras teach us to attend to every detail, because everything you do matters.  Every step you take, the way you land and spring forward, the way you breathe, the way you eat and train-it all makes a difference.

  Ultras force you to take life as it was meant to be: meaningful.

Gordon looking better than I ever will…

Back to Km 60: I started to feel a nagging pain at the top of my calf.  By the halfway point, my calf was all but shot.  My wife did her best to massage some life into and drain some of the pain out of it at the halfway point, but just standing up to begin the second half was torture.  Even something as beneficial as a Thai massage can ruin an otherwise perfect day.

There is perhaps nothing that is developed more effectively when training for ultra marathons than a Persistent Mindset.  Life will provide you with limitless opportunities to be too tired or hurt, too hungry, too lazy, too dumb, too smarmy(!) -too ANYTHING to continue striving.  Sooner or later, if you want to reach your goal, you’re going to have to dig down deep and continue fighting where there’s no fight to be found.

Which is why I slowly hobbled my way to the start of my ‘back nine’.  I knew it was going to be rough from there on out (a ridiculous understatement), but was still optimistic.  I hoped to walk it out for a bit and loosen the terrible tightness in my calf. 

My wife watched me limp off and said to herself, “He’s not going to make it.”

The heat bore down in its afternoon fury.  

The second half of the race, unlike the first half, would be a solitary experience. All of the other races were finished, and most of the villages were behind us as well. It would only be the racers of the longest race, the aid station helpers, and Mr. Sun…

I found a method or ‘gait’ that allowed me to continue to jog at a very slow pace over short stretches.  After the next aid station at about Km 74, however, we entered what I will call the “Death Zone”-after areas on extremely high mountains where death is more certain with each passing second spent there. 

My Death Zone was ’only’ 12 Km long, but almost perfectly straight and endless-it felt more like 52 Km.  There is a huge, probably man-made body of water (it’s perfectly straight on three sides and has 90 degree angles in the West), and your mind, from the first time you see it not long after leaving the aid station at 76K, comforts you by telling you the next aid station is at the end of the long side of this reservoir (?). The reservoir, however, is really huge, and also seems endless. That fact, combined with the heat, was unbelievably draining.  There would be no more running.  

When my wife arrived at 96 Km a while later, she did not like what she saw.  My calf was swollen and very warm.  The pain had spread into the back of my thigh, and even my Achilles tendon was affected.  She did what she could, but it came down to a choice:

Did I want to be a hard-ass and risk possible permanent injury to prove something, or did I want to be sensible and accept it.  Three weeks later, I still cannot walk without pain.  I won’t be running anytime soon.  I am certain I could have finished that race, but I know in my heart I made the right decision.  

I dropped.

Ultras teach you that there are times when it’s better to quit and it’s OK to do so-one dreaded DNF does not a failed life equate.  There is a time and a place for everything, and though you may have lost the battle, in the grand scheme of things there’s always a chance to win the war.

Unless of course you willed yourself into a permanent injury.

Oh, time for another benefit: ultras improve your figure.  Duh.

It’s safe to say you’ll burn a few calories running one:

In addition, runs like this one at the far end of the planet help give you a world view. You learn we are all in this together: we’re striving for the same things, have the same hopes and fears, and all find it funny when someone tries to complete a 128.8 K ultra marathon in shoes like these:

You can almost smell them!!

The holes were there pre-race.  Make sure you have, like, shoes, for the race-why I didn’t is a story in itself.  Suffice to say that you can’t really find any shoes in SE Asia in size 11 or larger, and definitely no barefoot shoes. I’m hoping my DNF is more understandable now.

But enough doom & gloom:

Congratulations on finishing your first ultra, Bjorn!
Congratulations Gordon Parkinson, who, despite the dim conditions, finished fourth!

The bad news about running Ultra Marathons is that once you start, you’ll never want to stop.  It’s hard to stop doing the amazing when life is trying to drown you with dull, boring conventionality.  

I can still be proud of 96K!

Point me to the next one…

The Woes Me See In OCD

Yeah this article is going to have a humorous bent to it, so if you’re suffering from this condition and you are sensitive about it maybe it’s best to, I don’t know, go put on a comely sweater, argyle socks and the Bee Gees “Massachusetts” (I Will Remember Massachusetts 4X), where the Australian-born singer who was born in Massachusetts leaves his home state to go to San Francisco and then comes back because, apparently, he forgot to turn on the lights?

I reserve the right to make fun of OCD because I suffer from its symptoms, as my loving wife and supportive daughters remind me of at freakish regularity. Although I have been and will probably be reprimanded for making light of it and and not publicly treating it as “no laughing matter”, it is very difficult for me not to do so, since the jokes come so easily just thinking about it.

I also don’t like double negatives.

At least it’s easy to tell whose coffee is whose…

Consider the two cups on the left. A normal person would see two cups of coffee and be done with his/her thoughts on the matter. I however, wonder why I wrote that the cups are on the left and not on the right, and why the cup on the right (left) was made slightly more oval than the left (right) one. What was wrong with the porcelain… um…blower? the day he made the cup? It bothers me, and I very much disapprove of such lapses in the porcelainic arts, but am strangely unirked by the same crimes when writing. Like when I create words like ‘porcelainic’ and ‘unirked’.

Come to think of it, I am bothered by it, since these words now appear on my screen marked with an eye-catching red dotted line underneath that is stretched taut and sawing away on my composure like this (be patient and hardy-you must watch until the horrifying end to know how I truly feel (but OK if you’re fainthearted DO NOT watch this (I could be mean and tell you to watch it anyway but I’m a good guy (OMG I’m trapped in an endless loop of parentheses, being crushed into ever smaller thought portions (remember that Trash Room (?!) in the first Star Wars? I don’t.), with no hope of escape!)))).

I escaped. But seriously, all kidding aside, how can you not laugh at my thought process in the paragraph above. Not being able to laugh at sick thoughts like that is not being able to laugh at Trump, which, technically, is no laughing matter, since he is the President and Great Exalted Leader of our increasingly mediocre country.

I am also bothered by the whole left/right thing up there, since it does not look neat.

There are some of you who would argue that the right (left) cup is round- not oval at all-and I am glad for you, since your eyes are unable to waste their time noticing such peculiarities. But we persons of keener eyesight beg to differ. We notice slight differences and spend, unfortunately, too much time dealing with these differences. I do not believe living this way is normal or healthy, unless one is white, in which case it is acceptable and should be encouraged, since alternatives, like mass murder and child pornography, are less harmless.

That would be a cool name for a character in an OCD crime novel I probably won’t write: ‘Les Harmless’. Since no one in their right minds would buy it. Here I go again. Those two sentences don’t fit well together, like the cups in the example above-there’s a disharmony of intent, whatever the fuc- that is. ‘Disharmony of Intent’ sounds like a rotten Hip Hop band, one that would cover the Bee Gees hit “Massachusetts”, until it was totally dead with scratches, overdubs, underdubs, and, dare I say, a tuba.

Why did the lights go out in Massachusetts? And what’s to remember about it? The power outages we had growing up, usually snow-induced, were unusual, but sort of like having power only dimmer. No need to sing about it.

Doing the “research” for this article, I stumbled upon a website that sells Trump merchandise. What do they sell there? What kind of person points to a Trump merchandise and says, “I want that!” And then spends his hard-earned money on it? I digress, but it’s almost impossible to stay away from the topic, the way I find it impossible not to joke about OCD:

Are you down with OCD?
Yeah! You know me!

With humble apologies to Naughty by Nature.

But this idea (I mean that one five paragraphs ago, remember?) begs further analysis. You know, that it’s OK for white people to have this disorder. I have read in some medical circles that OCD is a medical issue for persons of every race and color, which is, like, race.

I do not want to argue with anyone in the medical community because I have, like, no facts or anything, but can you picture ANY person of color fussing over trash the way I do. And maybe, yes, there are individuals who have color on their skin but still have the same symptoms that lead me to save the small plastic bags in order to better pack paper and plastic wrappers into a tidy, room-saving bundle. To which I respond (to myself) “Is Mike Tirico really black?” Are you really a woman if you stand by and watch Trump prey on other women? Is Bruce Jenner really a man? Gee these questions are getting confusing now…

Having a culture and an identity is cool. What’s cool about OCD? Now there’s a challenge: write a book/ do a show about someone cool with OCD.

Just found this: www.healthboards.com/…/301836-ocd-cool.html, a page on the internet that apparently talks about OCD. I wanted to link you to an article they have about it being cool now to have OCD but every time I try to get to the article, I am informed that my IP address has been banned. At the top of the page is another message that says I haven’t signed in yet, and I should ‘click here’ to do so. When I do, I get to that same page again and am still banned. I tried to sign in with the ‘sign in’ button, but I only return to the same page again where I’m banned. How do they know? #spooky…

I have now perused several different media outlets, mostly from experts in their field, at least I’m led to the impression that they are, and two things come to mind when leafing through their mountains of information. 1.), Nobody seems to know what causes OCD. Gee, but isn’t OCD a pesky little bugger? And 2.), A whole lot of information about OCD is delivered in a very serious manner, and many articles go into great detail when discussing OCD horror stories, implying that having to turn the lights on and off five times-because the number 5 is “good”-is the first step down the road to epic, total, and very painful annihilation. Ouch!

I’m sure, first of all, that these insinuations are exactly what OCD sufferers need to set their mind at ease. OCD is all about anxieties; the fears one has about this or that are magnified, and a sufferer performs this task or engages in that behavior to alleviate these issues. How is drawing more attention to these issues and magnifying their significance going to help?

I hope one can at least see now why I choose to poke fun at my issues, since they are not to be respected as normal, desirable behavior anyway. Which brings me to the other point.

No one knows what causes OCD. If that doesn’t sound like a crock of shit I don’t know what does. Ask a person of color if the powers that be are lousy at locating things they deem despicable. There’s terrorists around the world about whom we can say with the utmost certainty, thanks to superior American technological wizardry made in Taiwan, that they stand and crinkle, or squat and fold, or sit and crinkle, etc.

I understand. It’s great for business if the customers are scared. If you haven’t learned this yet I feel sorry for you. Anyway, if you’re scared about OCD and its affects on your life, and the doctors and pharmacists advise you to pump yourself up with Prozac and Zoloft, what are you going to do? How is the cause supposed to be addressed if you’re zonked on Zoloft? O…oh yeah, nobody knows what causes it. How convenient.

I am the last person to tell people not to listen to doctors or medical professionals, mainly because of the lawsuits that might follow, but, and, as I say, I have no medical training whatsoever, you may use my advice or not as you see fit-if you suffer from OCD you are in DESPERATE need a nice fat doobie.

Thanks to Alexas_Fotos on Pixabay for this inspiring and possibly racist image.

I would like to see the statistics on the relationship between people with OCD and being high strung. I know many people with OCD, and many who are high strung, and they all have the same address. Wait that joke didn’t work. But you get my drift. I hope.

I think we can all agree that stress and being high strung is not healthy-why not try something that really works? Is it so hard to go with the flow? To be laid back? Are you afraid to miss something?

Try to be high strung when you’re high. Try to obsess and fuss when you’re high. If you are or can you’re not high enough. Or have a real problem (try Zoloft!). Or both!

The point I’m trying to make which will be so picked apart, destroyed, ignored, deflected, and distracted from by the powers that be, since the drugs THEY sell mean big business, as do the therapies, is that your health is your own responsibility. Not some psychiatrist’s, not Johnson & Johnson’s, Roche’s, or Bayer’s, not even some Manic Preacher‘s.

Finally, it would be remiss not to address trauma here. OCD would never be able to gain a foothold in one’s subconsciousness without trauma, usually emotional. Like for example your parents divorce when you were ten, or Tyree’s Helmut Catch.

If you’ve gone through trauma and not busied yourself with it to put it behind you, assuming you’re an adult, shame on you. If you think you can remain unaffected by trauma, dream on.

As part of our intense analysis of the disorder, please watch the following, starting at 8:23-8:27:

This legendary 2003 Swedish film, one of the only ones that has made its way into the virtually impregnable American fortress of “culture” (with the possible exception of Owe, if that was Swedish), features a character played by something called Fares Fares, who cannot leave a car without beeping thrice, twice with a hand and once with his head. It becomes so compulsive (or obsessive?) he even returns to his cracked up car, despite being on the run from the police directly behind him, to beep again. In minutes 103:03 to 103:30:

This example will also be on the midterm, in the section entitled Scandinavian Movies of 2003 Containing Characters With OCD And One Who Does…This.

In closing, I’d like to remind OCD sufferers that I am one of you. That’s me spending way too much time “organizing” the trash. That’s also me at the beach wasting energy trying to get ALL of the sand off of his towel. If you’re wondering why someone driving by you on the highway just beeped driving under the bridge-that was me. Someone told me once as a joke it’s good luck to do that, and even if it was a joke I’m not going to be the one to ignore the free chance of acquiring good luck, or, God forbid, cause bad luck to bring misfortune, pestilence, and oval coffee cups into my life.

I hope I’ve at least managed to entertain you. Being able to laugh at yourself is important, because it teaches you that you have a future in comedy and should quit your day job immediately. A sense of humor about this condition is the first step in healing, since it’s impossible to laugh at OCD and not consider your behavior silly, WHICH IT IS! The tricky part is that, once you’re able to laugh at the symptoms of OCD, it’s time to address the causes. That can be messy.

8 1/2 (12 1/2) Spectacular Benefits of Running Ultra Marathons

Most of us, when asked “Do you want to run 50 Kilometers up and down grueling forest paths for what seems like 62 hours until your breaking point is reached and you’re ready to lie down in the fetal position, probably in forest dung, with your thumb in your mouth and a ‘just let me die here alone’ look on your face?”, would not answer “No.”

We would answer “HELL NO!”

And we would be right, in a sense.  In First World countries of fluffy pillows and moon pies, it’s hard to see a world in which an ultra marathon would play any role, much less an integral one.

Like most people, ultra runners begin in the HELL NO, larval stage of this journey.  Some may be brave enough to be curious, as in: “What if?”

“What if I did run that far?”

And they might even train a little, right up until the day when they reach their first ascent, after which they find themselves in a fetal position, yearning for a moon pie.

In this article I will offer the poorly tallied 8 1/2 awesome benefits of running an ultra marathon, which will make you want to finally get up off of your a..um..accubita and challenge yourself.

I recently took part in the Ultra Trail Angkor, a 128.8 Km event that takes runners through the immense and beautiful UNESCO temple ruins in Cambodia.  One does not start off a running career with a race of this length, obviously, one starts off small and progresses to the longer distances.  Which brings me to my first benefit:

1), In order to complete, or even attempt, an ultra marathon, you have to believe you can do it.  The races are expensive (for poor slobs like me), and you wouldn’t want to invest a lot of money into running one if you didn’t think you could make it.  Something has to happen with your mindset that allows you to attempt the feat. 

A positive mindset is what we all need anytime we want to change for the better.  It is a conviction that change is possible and that the goals are reachable.  No improvements in your life are achievable without it. 

On the morning of the race I got up at 1:27 because I had to tinkle and couldn’t sleep any more.  [Bonus Benefit: you learn fast that if your heart is set on something your body falls into line, in this case by not needing a full night of sleep.]

My gear and supplies soon accounted for, I carefully loaded up for the walk to a different hotel, where the shuttle to the starting line, some 15K away would be loading.  Stopping in our lobby to shoot an exciting pre-race video, I naturally unloaded my supplies to do the filming.  By the time we got to the hotel ten minutes later I realized I had no headlamp. 

It was about 2:50, the bus was leaving in ten minutes, and if I wanted to see the rocky, twisted jungle floor I was going to be running over, I would have to run back to the hotel and find my headlamp fast.

2.), Here is yet another illustration of what we’re up against in life: unscripted problems will arise, but if you want to make it anywhere you have to make the best of it.  Whether running a race or in a job interview, panicking and getting frustrated only worsens the end result.  Running ultras forces you to keep calm and positive longer.

It was weird on the bus to the temples. The world was completely asleep-we were the only fools awake at that hour-but everyone on the bus was excited. We heard Bjorn telling Gordon excitedly, for example, that it was his first Ultra, in a voice that might have woken the dead. 

Congratulations to both of them-Bjorn for finishing and Gordon for finishing fourth! 

Bjorn feeling good. Should we tell him he’s only halfway?

At the start of the race my wife/coach and I met David from Taiwan-the”accidental sweeper”.  A sweeper is the runner who does not compete but stays at the back of the pack to provide assistance to the runners who have been bitten by poisonous snakes or alligators, busied themselves too long with bubble wrap, ensnared themselves in a gympie-gympie stinging bush, been maimed by wolverines, shot by hunters or the Soviet commandoes in ‘Red Dawn’, or are just dehydrated and too weak to continue, with the latter being the most likely (barely). 

David came in last in every event he ever entered-hence accidental sweeper-and there was good reason for that.  His nutrition for the race was, um… unorthodox.  David had started talking with us about beer before the start (4:00 AM). 

“When the sun comes up I’ll get my first beer,” he said. 

I thought that was great.  These races are supposed to be fun, first and foremost, why not get stupid doing it?

Well, maybe because you won’t finish (David didn’t), but it’s worth a try.  At least you have the right mindset.  Why go out there trying to prove something that can’t really be proven?

Anyway, I left David to…other pursuits, and moved up the pack a little.  After 15-20 Km or so, I began running with Mr. Oh (sp.?) from Korea.

“‘Oh’ as in ‘oh how beautiful!'” he told me, his arms spread wide and his smiling face turned to the sun.  Mr. Oh had a positive, gushing personality that made me want to run with him everywhere, if only to see if he would gush the whole time.

Somewhere I saw a guy from Holland dumping inside a clump of not-high-enough bushes.  Jus’ sayin’.  No, seriously, it was at this time that I realized that my time had also come.  The slow construction of a bowel colossus, sped up by my consumption of dates (maybe next time I’ll try beer) and loosened by all of the running, was nearing completion.  A race helper pointed me to a clean, comfortable toilet behind a temple.  I made sure to gloat when I came out of the toilet to find the Dutchman arriving there.

3.), When your heart is set on a goal, things will work out in your favor.  As noted in #2, when you keep an even keel and be patient, problems will all but solve themselves.  My example-going to the bathroom-obviously could be from any walk of life; under-standing the philosophy hidden therein is a useful tool that will carry one through many rough patches in life.

After my pit stop, I challenged myself to catch up to Mr. Oh. Running comfortably but consistently at the same pace, I met up with Bjorn! The kid from the bus from Chicago! When he told me he was from Chicago I said, “I know, you were loud on the bus.”  

He laughed and told me how nervous he had been. I also learned he was 23 and running his first ultra. He was so cute! He had picked a good one.  Yes, his first ultra was 64 Km long, which is long for a first attempt, and the temperatures would soar up to about 95 that day, but the race was about as flat as could be. The only hill:

After this hill there’s only 100 KM left!

This picture hints at Bonus Benefit #2, but only slightly, because I have, like,  a UFon 2 1/2, and kindergarten children can draw better pictures than I can take.  B.B.# 2: The landscapes of every ultra marathon I’ve ever seen are breathtaking.  They ALL have to be seen, but not necessarily during a race, that’s why this benefit is only in the minor leagues.

It was good to run with Bjorn; I felt like a big brother or, more accurately (gulp), his father.  I hope I provided him with some inspiration to keep pressing on when things got tight-like when he ran low on water and was miles and miles away from an aid station. 

Then, what a surprise, we were joined by Mr. Oh!  We all had a great time running through the villages where everyone between the ages of three and 80 were out cheering us on.  One boy about four ran out and handed me a cold bottle of water.

4.), It’s all about the people.  Whether you’re running in a race like this one or going through life, it is boring, sad, and unhealthy to try to go at it alone.  In an ultra marathon running with someone, or being in contact with the locals, only helps you finish.  Given a choice, would you rather have a nice car, spiffy clothes, a comfy accubita or a good friend?  When times are rough, how is another moon pie going to help?

Running ultras gives you the chance, almost unavoidably, to meet people and forge lasting friendships with like-minded crazies like you. 

About three and a half hours in, we arrived at the first and only hill.  It was something like 250-300 meters high, but it would be harder than those of us who didn’t pay attention to the race briefing that morning expected.  The hill would not be scaled by some tame forest trail that snaked its way around the hill to the top.  There was a temple up there and what felt like a zillion steps that led straight up to it.

Yay!

  5.), There is almost nothing more fulfilling than completing an ultra marathon.  The pride and satisfaction one feels after challenging yourself to take it to the limit and beyond, and to see the trials and hardships all the way through from square one to the finish line are truly priceless rewards one keeps for a lifetime. Running an ultra is tough, and it requires discipline and heart, and if you don’t grow them fast, you will not reach your goal.

Every step is a challenge, as was every step on our hill. There is nothing metaphorical about it, nothing that can be argued away or dismissed-it is that way.  Therefore, completion equals something true and real, every time, whether you’re first or 441st, as I think I was once in Belgium.  It was muddy. 

It was exhausting, plodding away through the midday heat, but I was well prepared and made it through those stretches where the sun was particularly merciless and into another patch of Cambodian jungle.

We passed one aid station after another slowly, which brings me to my next great benefit.

6.) FREE STUFF!  Every ten kilometers or so another aid station popped up trailside with awesome race helpers who offered us not only water and energy drinks, but also free food. 

This race was pretty bare bones, selection-wise:  bananas and apples, and a choice of several dried fruits- loaded, sadly, with sugar.  I suppose a lot of runners might have been disappointed with the buffet, but it was perfect for me.  I’ve seen aid stations that offered not only several kinds of fruit, but also (salted) tomatoes and cucumbers, carrot sticks, energy bars and drinks, chocolate bars and potato chips, mashed potatoes, noodle soup, wine and beer, steaks, sarsaparilla, ocelot spleens, narwhal horns-OK, those last three were a total and complete lie 🤥 but you get the point.  Some of these aid stations are very well stocked, almost to a fault. 

AND, additionally, each racer was offered the opportunity to get a FREE TAN!  At least on the parts of their bodies that were exposed.  But the best thing a runner can receive doing an ultra is the FREE BEER at the end of the race.  Often the organizers wimp out and provide alcohol-free beverages.  Once, however, I took part in the Olympic 50K, which did not have a physical finish line per se, but damn well had a barrel of delicious, chilled Washington State IPA right there instead-a trade I’d take any day.

Theoretically, the Olympic 50 K might be a good first ultra to run, you can read why it might not be HERE.

But I digress… the first half of this race was something I can truly be proud of.  If I had run the 64K race, I would have finished 16th or so out of 75-unthinkable for me.  The only way that could’ve happened was if I had been prepared for the race.

7.), An ultra forces you to become as healthy as humanly possible.  You don’t “just run” one.  You have to be disciplined and consistent with your training and nutrition.  Because you are (hopefully) exercising more and eating healthier, you will feel better about yourself and the prospects of getting up in the morning.  One must also train their mentals, though: as I’ve said in #1, something has to change in your mind just to attempt the race.  This change should be reinforced, so that if you are still whining about the workouts or food in the latter stages of training, your chances of a DNF (Did Not Finish) rise.

This fitness level, physical and mental are exactly what goal-orientated people tend to have, whether they run or not.  Training for ultras show you how its done.

Somewhere around the 60 K mark disaster struck, however.  On Christmas Day last year my wife organized a surprise: Thai massages.  For most people these would have been a real treat:  Thai massages go into the deep tissue responsible for alignment and overall muscle health.  But I had been training intensely; some of my runs had been almost eight hours long.  This fact poses a problem.  There are ways to grope intensely trained muscles and ways one shouldn’t.  Our masseurs were talented enough, but they knew nothing about my training and massaged a time bomb into my leg.

After one training session following the massage my calf was hurt, and my wife said she didn’t like how it looks.

8.),  It’s important to pay attention to everything, no matter how small or unrelated it may seem.  Ultras teach us to attend to every detail, because everything you do matters.  Every step you take, the way you land and spring forward, the way you breathe, the way you eat and train-it all makes a difference.

Life is a grind that wears you down with monotony and tedious tasks, like ironing.  Most people start ‘blurring’ their lives-not paying attention to things they feel are unimportant: the ride to work or shopping, housework, for males: listening, etc.  It’s a natural reaction when one is bored or unfulfilled.  Ultras force you to take life as it was meant to be: meaningful.

Back to Km 60: I started to feel a nagging pain at the top of my calf.  By the halfway point, my calf was all but shot.  My wife did her best to massage some life into and drain some of the pain out of it but just standing up to begin the second half was torture.  Even something as beneficial as a Thai massage can ruin an otherwise perfect day.

9.), There is perhaps nothing that is developed more effectively when training for ultra marathons than a Persistent Mindset.  Life will provide you with limitless opportunities in life to be too tired or hurt, too hungry, too lazy, too dumb, too smarmy(!) -too ANYTHING to continue striving.  Sooner or later, if you want to reach your goal, you’re going to have to dig down deep and continue fighting where there’s no fight to be found.

Which is why I slowly hobbled my way to the start of my ‘back nine’.  I knew it was going to be rough from there on out (a ridiculous understatement), but was still optimistic.  I hoped to walk it out for a bit and loosen the terrible tightness in my calf. 

My wife watched me limp off and said to herself, “He’s not going to make it.”

The heat bore down in its afternoon fury.  

I found a method or ‘gait’ that allowed me to continue to jog at a very slow pace over short stretches.  After the next aid station at about Km 74, however, we entered what I will call the “Death Zone”-after areas on extremely high mountains where death is more certain with each passing second spent there. 

My Death Zone was ’only’ 12 Km long, but almost perfectly straight and endless-it felt more like 52 Km.  That fact, combined with the heat, was unbelievably draining.  There would be no more running.  

When my wife arrived at 96 Km, she did not like what she saw.  My calf was swollen and very warm.  The pain had spread into the back of my thigh, and even my Achilles tendon was affected.  She did what she could, but it came down to a choice:

Did I want to be a hard-ass and risk possible permanent injury to prove something, or did I want to be sensible and accept it.  Three weeks later, I still cannot walk without pain.  I won’t be running anytime soon.  I am certain I could have finished that race, but I know in my heart I made the right decision.  

I dropped.

10.), Ultras teach you that there are times when it’s better to quit and it’s OK to do so-one dreaded DNF does not a failed life equate.  There is a time and a place for everything, and though you  may have lost the battle, in the grand scheme of things there’s always a chance to win the war.

Unless of course you willed yourself into a permanent injury.

11.), It’s also safe to say you’ll burn a few calories along the way:

Because this piece is already too long, I’ll just mention that the eleventh benefit of ultras is the most obvious: ultras improve your figure.  Duh.

12.), And because ultras are run everywhere, they give you the chance to meet people from all over, from New York to New Zealand.  You’ll gain a broad world view.  And see scorpions, maybe.  I did.

12 1/2.), The SWAG!!  After completing the Ultra Marathon of your choice, you’ll be rewarded at the finish line with a prize selected especially for you.  A..and everyone else who finishes.  Since I did not finish my race, I’ve only counted this as half a benefit, so you may even have more rewards than I do! 

Examples of Swag are medals, cool trucker hats  (Squamish 50/50):

Different colors for the amount of times you’ve finished? Oh, I’m all over that!!

whatever this is:

Real wood!

                                     

…T-shirts, and one of the most coveted (and ugliest!) objects in all of ultra running: the Western States Belt Buckle.

Then there is the Pounamu Pendant one receives when finishing the Tarawera 100 Miler in New Zealand.  Pounamu is a green jade that the Maoris considered so valuable they would never sell it, but instead give it to someone who had earned it.  What better way to remind you of your ability to do the unthinkable with your life than wearing something priceless around your neck.

Finally, these are the shoes I was in the whole time:

You can almost smell them!!

      (see benefit #9)

     The holes were there pre-race.  Make sure you have, like, shoes, for the race-why I didn’t is a story in itself, for another time.  I’m hoping my DNF is more understandable now.

The bad news about running Ultra Marathons is that once you start, you’ll never want to stop.  It’s hard to stop doing the amazing when life is trying to drown you with dull, boring conventionality.  

Point me to the next one…

To Be Allergic, or…Not?

I remember my first few allergy attacks way back around 1980-81. I was in sixth grade, and I was in music class for one of them, and I just couldn’t stop sneezing. My eyes started to itch, and that was the part that would really cost me so much misery over the next 20 years or so.

Allergy attacks can really only be understood by people who go through them themselves. I’ve told people before that I want to scratch my own eyes out, and it doesn’t make any real impression. Perhaps they were curious-you know, there’s something you don’t see every day…hmmm….

Yes the attacks were bad from then until the end of 1989. But starting in 1990, when I was stationed in Germany, they became intolerable. Starting around January 7th every year, I would have between 5-10 attacks every day where I was unable to do anything else (bad if you’re in the infantry), all the way through until the end of June.

One captain, who once told me he caused a Russian fighter jet to crash by throwing his helmet up into the air, ordered me on one occasion to stop rubbing my eyes. Tee-hee.

So I was sent to the ‘hospital’, where soldiers are trained to perform, like, medical stuff, to be tested for allergies. Fortunately, I had a real doctor to perform the test, and he informed me that I was allergic to ALL European tree pollen. At least I knew what was what.

He started me on Desensitization Therapy, where you’re injected small doses of the pollens you’re allergic too and thereby acclimated to that which causes so much misery. Thinking back on it now, it seems kind of odd that this therapy was supposed to work by exposing the patient to MORE of what clearly harms him, but, to be fair, the procedure did lead to a mild lessening of my woes.

The problem was that the injections are (or, were) administered daily, and before the season. That’s OK if you have a job where you’re doing nothing all day, like soldiering (I can say that since I was one), but after I left the Army, I got a job in Germany where the last two week before Christmas were the busiest workdays of the year, and there was no way I could make the appointments.

What now?

Many of you allergentlemen and -women out there will already know what next.

Cortisone.

Cortisone is a wonderful medicine that walloped those allergies into submission after only one injection! Swell! With barely any side effects. Kinda.

I’m not going to go into any details here except to say that it is advisable to consider other options before injecting it once, and repeated usage is at best unwise. I tried my best-with positive thinking-to fight my way through my allergy season for the first few years in Germany, but after several weeks (usually 2, tops), I would collapse in an eye-rubbing, sneezing wheezing mess, and make my way to my next cortisone injection.

Somewhere near the end of the 90’s I was sitting at the dinner table with my in-laws, when my father-in-law mentioned that changing my diet would help me get my allergies under control. Two things about him: 1.), Mr. Pork is the last person who should be giving any nutritional advice to anyone, and 2.), my father-in-law always has to be right (and usually is).

Over the next couple of years, my wife and I talked about it more frequently, even more so after she went vegetarian. Also over the next couple of years-I intensified my love for the double cheeseburger, especially those flame-broiled ones from Burger Thing. Yeesh.

Around 2004 I had had enough. My allergies had the upper hand every year from January 7th until July, and ragweed had arrived in Germany. “An allergogenic time-bomb” was how the newspaper put it. It was. We had moved to the edge of town where the only thing between our property and the farmer’s fields were a long long line of ragweed bushes? plants? In short, August now became an allergy month.

I took one last loving look at a flame-broiled double cheeseburger from Burger Thing, brushed the hair out of its sesame seeds, dabbed the grease from its ‘cheeks’, (best part of a cow!!), and said with quavering voice goodbye. We haven’t spoken since then. I hear she’s married to a dentist from Minnesota.

I went vegetarian around 2004, sick of having no control over the itching of my eyes, the running of my nose, and all of that sneezing. As the season began in 2005, I was nervous. Who said this is really going to work? I wondered. So many people enjoy meat, and I know hardly any with allergies. Cancer and heart disease, yes, but no allergies. Then it was the middle of January. The end of January. February. And no bad attacks.

Sure they came around, but more of a cordial visit, like: “How’ve you been?” “Oh, my shingles are acting up but..” “My son just took a spelling test, and the only word he spelled right was ‘illiterate'” -kind of thing. My eyes tickled, but itched for no length of time, my nose ran a little but it was winter. I sneezed. By June I’d say my allergies were about 75-80% better and, more importantly, I did not need any Cortisone.

Did I take some allergy medications? Yes, but they also hadn’t helped in years prior. 2005 was a revelation. It breaks down like this: everything happens for a reason. If you’ve got bad allergies, there’s a reason for that, and getting jacked to fight an all-out war with lasers, phasers, and a mace against your symptoms means you’ve whupped the symptoms (if you win), but the problem is still there in Stealth Mode.

There must have been something that caused the body’s incorrect reaction to pollen. Trees have been around for a gazillion years, we’ve been around for, what 2 or 3 million years-why have these allergies just suddenly ‘appeared’ over the last 100 years or so. Well, because I don’t want to piss off the wrong consumer groups, I’ll just say you are what you eat.

Your body needs a change, is how African shamans would put it.

Fast forward to 2020. It is now February 2nd. Groundhogs Day. I haven’t had a cortisone shot since 2004. I haven’t taken an allergy pill in ten years or so. I’ve even gone (93%) Vegan, and reaped countless benefits in the overall health and endurance fronts, so much so that I started to compete in Triathlons in 2009 and am now the ultimate ultra marathon runner. Ultimate here meaning “wicked gung-ho” and not, like, good. Although I have surprised myself.

I recently ran 96 Km in an event in Asia, during allergy season, without one hint of a reaction. If you think I’d consider going back to meat now, you’re nuts.

Coincidentally, for those of you new to this topic or kind of on the fence, I recommend the great new documentary “Gamechangers” on Netflix.

Kite of Gold?

I remember one year my brother and I decided we absolutely had to have one of those cool plastic painted kites for three dollars, and my Dad, for whatever reason, acquiesced. The day was windy, and a manly sea-breeze blew from East to West, parallel to the beach, as if it were doing that bodybuilding pose where you turn to one side and everyone can be amazed that you not only have biceps but that even the muscles on your back have muscles on them.

What wondrous beauty! Can I get ice cream?

After six and a half minutes of watching the kite be aloft and wheel to and fro in the sea breeze, both of us were bored and alerted our parents that we were ready to do something else. My father, rightly peeved, grabbed the controls and took over kite enjoyment duties. On a whim I urged him to let out some line and see how high that baby could fly.

It was already very high.

My Dad obliged, probably curious as well, and we watched as the kite soared what seemed like miles up into the stratosphere. Which is where, predictably, in that masculine wind, the almost quality string snapped and the kite dive-bombed like dignity or respect in this modern world over the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

My Dad was always cheap and was certainly not going to let three dollars go to waste. One time he picked us up at the golf course and, because my friend Scott wanted to ride in the car to our house and not on his bicycle, took 50 cents to drive my friend there and hold the aforementioned bike out the window the whole time.

As I said the kite had been VERY high, and was now out of sight around the curvature of the Earth. I think my father was gone for the next four hours, but he did come back with his three dollar kite.

Which we never flew again.

Insert meaningful moral here.

RIP Big D. 1934-2019

They don’t make ’em like they used to…

Unimportant Stuff Made Sexy

Feb 23-24, 2018

OK we’re going to shift gears a little here and talk less about training and more about the in between stuff that’s only discussed by extreme nerds, like me. Stuff like Nutrition. Mental Preparation. Sexy running underwear, that kind of thing. Last week (Feb. 10th-17th) we were in Andalusia – beautiful Southwest Spain – with a handful of customers of ours to do some body-weight training and to show them if not how to eat right then at least how to eat a little better.

We decided we’d sacrifice our strict nutrition plan for the greater good – so we wouldn’t drive them off, maybe? – and go vegetarian with fish. Lots of veggies. Wholegrain products. A delicious paella, et cetera.

For us it was very difficult to take a step backward, but we didn’t let on and braved these for most non-existent but for us very real nutritional roadblocks. We try to stay vegan and gluten-free. No eggs. No milk. No bread, for those who don’t know, and, obviously, UNFORTUNATELY, no beer. Crying emoji.

Suffice to say we hardly got off the toilet once we got back, but it was our decision so we tried to put a good face on. We planned our next cleanse.

Since we’ve been back we’ve been very consistent with our nutrition, so much so that by Wednesday I was feeling really good about myself. Lighter, cleaner, clearer in my head. We stayed vegan and gluten-free until Friday when, after another long, hard day (week!) of work we capitulated and ordered pizza. No meat and no fish, but cheese and glutens as far as the eye could see.

On Saturday I got up and visited Deucelsdorf. After the Saturday morning course, two hours later, I paid another visit and painted the town brown. Halfway through my four-hour run afterwards I had to enter a restaurant and paint again.

All week I had great training sessions and was glad at how I was pro-gressing. But on Saturday, instead of a four-hour run, I made only 2:51, and I only made that because I had a banana with me.

No matter what nutritional guidelines you follow, you had better be sure you are optimizing them and following them consistently. My body is very sensitive to change and therefore it’s very easy to pinpoint the moment I went wrong. If you’re body isn’t that sensitive you’d better start paying more attention to this “in between stuff” before it bites you in the ass:

-Ask yourself if the food you eat is really doing you good.

-Ask yourself if you’ve been sticking to your plan – or if you have one!

-Ask yourself if you’ve got a positive mindset.

-Are you taking enough breaks and using those breaks to regenerate?

-Ask yourself if and why you have to cheat your diet or training.

-Are you enjoying the process, or do you take shortcuts?

-Plus sexy underwear..

An Experience for All Ages

When I was about ten we visited Cape Cod. Most of our summers involved this yearly ritual, it was something I enjoyed and something I know my parents did too, excepting of course for the two proto-humans they had to put up with who were always hungry and never hesitated to pout or fight.

Times have changed, water levels as well, and the Chatham beach we spent so many summers on is but a mere shell of its former self. Back then, to get to the beach, you walked past a typical American beach shack that sold hot dogs and hamburgers and cookies and chips and Suzy Q’s and plastic rafts, fish nets, coolers, and styrofoam buoys to strap on and avoid, like, drowning with. You know, good old fashioned American fun stuff that’s so great for you and the environment!

My brother and I did not need styrofoam buoys because we swum, like, good, but we did want everything else in the store, especially the comic books they sold from a turning display rack at the door. Fortunately, they also sold beer, so my parents could be content to enjoy a day at the beach with two whining brats.

Anyway, after walking past this beach shack, there was some marshland where the cat o’ nine tails grew tall and the marsh scents grew strong at low tide. After the marsh the beach began, and stretched for a short distance to the left and a long ways to the right. The area to the left was shorter because it was interrupted by water-there was a small bay that channeled out into the ocean. In the back of this bay a small river fjorded its way into the marshland, and I have to say it was in this area that I spent some of the most memorable and regrettable moments of my childhood.

In the middle of these marshes were pools dotting the landscape, and these were all bordered by small wet dunes freckled with thousands of fiddler crab holes. Hermit crabs and regular, toe-piercing crabs peopled these pools as well, as did minnows and even some eels, and it was amazing to discover all of these creatures and see them in their natural habitats. That was the memorable part.

It also turned out to be easy to learn how to stick your finger down into the sand behind and below the fiddler crabs, forcing them up and out of their holes, where you can then catch them and tear their big claws off.

I had issues.

And yes, this was the regrettable part. But, over time, this fascinating world in the marshes trumped my appetite for destruction, and has led me to enjoy a life in complete and utter fascination, respect, and hands-off curiosity when it comes to the world of nature.

This fascination also led me to wonder about the rivulet at the back of the bay as well. I guess I must have thought that since the water traveled faster there that it might contain larger, faster, and even more interesting creatures in there. Like basking sharks.

25-foot long playmate…

Thanks to David Mark on Pixabay for the pic!

You’ll notice that this feller has no teeth (well, it does but they’re teensy), which is why it would have been totally OK for me to play with him, had I found him in my rivulet at the back of the bay. It only eats, like, water and tiny bugs floating in it, called ‘floaties’.

But unfortunately there were no basking sharks in my rivulet. As a matter of fact, I never found any creatures there. What I found, after taking a few tentative steps forward on the mussel-strewn, muddy bottom, was that the land fell away towards the middle where I couldn’t see because of the rushing waters and the mud I had kicked up. It fell straight down, I don’t know how far, because my lungs were halfway filled with water and, I realized, I was in grave danger of drowning.

I flailed myself up to the surface long enough to see how far my parents were across the bay. They would never be able to get to me in time. I went down again. Everything was getting dark, but I still continued to flail. Somehow my brain got me to realize that the underwater cliff I had fallen over was still very close, and in shallow water. I sputtered that way and somehow managed to grab hold of the bottom and drag myself out of the depths.

I remember shaking for a little bit, once I was on solid ground, and being very embarrassed. It was something I’ve spent a lifetime making sure I never repeat.

Many bible-wavers out there might say God was punishing me for my treatment of the fiddler crabs, and if you think the Almighty whiles his hours away with keeping his big scorecard of rewards and punishments then be my guest.

I, however, like to think of it another way. Up until that point in my life (and beyond!), I had spent my time sheltered in a middle class house, enjoying the best America could offer when it came to recreational activities and various combinations of fast foods and sweets. America also offered me nothing in the way of real life lessons, unless you count the million spankings my wonderful childhood was sprinkled with, like molten sparks in a gingerbread house, although I can’t for the life me say why you would find them there.

Almost drowning is a pretty important life lesson, especially if you can pull yourself to safety. Especially if there’s no one around to save your ass. It teaches you to be responsible for your actions, to be accountable to yourself. I don’t even see the experience as anything negative-and I hope anyone who reads this won’t either. I wouldn’t recommend the experience to anyone, but I hope it’s easy to see why it’s nothing to bawl and bitch about.

Maybe I should’ve worn me one of them stupid styrofoam thingies.

Mountain of Hope and its Problem Child

The Olympic Peninsula had always been high on my list of my places to visit-and has held a special place in my heart-ever since my uncle worked as a forest ranger there around 1966 and wrote how beautiful it was. Growing up and learning who my father was as a person, and, in turn, who his father was as a person, I learned to appreciate every positive influence out there in the world that managed to sway things to a more healthy balance.

Like most homes, ours was filled with many tears-and hurrahs-and most of the former had their source in my grandfather and the person he molded my father into. My uncle, the baby of his family, was gifted with remarkable size, athletic skills, and intelligence, which made it all the more difficult for him to grow up in a house with a prison guard as a father. He did what many people before him have also done: he tried to break out. Step one was finding this job at the opposite end of the country, far away from anything or anyone he knew. He read Kerouac, I still have the book he bought in Quinault with the receipt from the General Store there. The incredible scenery and the freedom to become himself enabled him to enjoy some of the happiest moments of his short life.

Step two, unfortunately, was to sign up for Officer’s Candidate School and go off to do his duty in Vietnam. Perhaps he saw this as a continuation of his plan to become his own man. Perhaps he saw this as well as taking a step for himself that the old man would approve of-a kind of added bonus. What was neglected in these clever plans was the reality of bullets.

At any rate, the Peninsula was always THE place for me where a person could go to really bring out the best in himself. A Ying to the Yang in Vietnam, or any other insane place or condition in this world. Circumstances fell into place this year and we were finally able to visit the area. Almost immediately I began looking for Ultra Marathons. What better way to experience these wonderful forests than doing what you love to do there.

I’ll admit I wasn’t sold on the Olympic Marathon 50K right away. Other races up and down the western side of Washington seemed more impressive-you should see the pictures! There was one in particular-the Backcountry Rise- that allowed you to see Mt. Saint Helens, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Hood over the course of 50K that really called to me. The homepage for the The Olympic 50K barely had any pictures at all. Then fate interceded and deemed the Backcountry Race as unapproachable-it was sold out-and the Olympic was cheapest, closest to us, and closest to Lake Quinault, where the Ranger Station was located at which my uncle worked.

One of the first things I did after signing up, like most trail runners do, was to check the elevation profile of the race. At first glance I thought 2700 meters of elevation gain was a lot for 50K, but since I was trying to work my way up to 100K, I figured I may as well get used to it. My next perusal showed me that there were really only two huge inclines in the entire race. One immense climb up to the top of Mt. Townsend, and a smaller one up to Mount Zion.

Two “hills”! That’s it! I figured I could suck it up for those two and basically knock out a 50K Ultra Marathon as a fun little side activity. When you consider that the ascent and descent of Mt. Townsend stretched for almost fourteen kilometers, there’s a huge portion of the race put behind you ‘right away’, and the approach there is mostly flat or downhill. That’s almost half the race we’re talking about now! Dare I consider it an ‘easy’ run?

The second ‘hill’, Mt. Zion, like the first, consisted of a relatively short, steep ascent, followed by a little downhill stretch, then a longer, steeper, more difficult, proper ascent. After conquering Mt. Townsend, I told myself in perhaps a maddened, alcohol-induced stupor, Mt. Zion would seem like child’s play. Snort.

September 12th rolled around and we immediately got lost on the highway heading up there because the construction sites there led us in every direction possible except the one we wanted to head in, and our GPS threw its little bit-hands in the air and booted itself into a trance. You should have seen these construction sites-I would have done the same. We found our way back towards Quilcene thanks to pure and absolute luck and even made it to the meeting point with plenty of time to spare before the briefing, but not to, like, stretch.

The day was overcast and hinted at rain, the air was cool-ish, fresh and invigorating-it was perfect runner’s weather.

Coming in from Quilcene, we rambled over one less-traveled forest road after another, and the marks of civilization were put behind us swiftly, until the only sign of our presence on this Earth was the road under our rental car. Towering, flourishing, lush green Nature swallowed us whole. Cedars and pine trees that provided shade and umbrellas grew tall and plentiful everywhere. Everything smelled alive and…healthy! We felt we were in the right place, doing something we really should be doing-something that made sense. Except for the car, maybe.

But for one thing this little jaunt would have been a perfect bonding experience with the world of nature around us-leave mankind to muck things up. For, as we watched this road twist and roll ahead of us, we also couldn’t help noticing the occasional turnoffs that led to these dead ends with towering mounds in them. It was impossible not to notice these turnoffs because most of them were filled with a car or two, and most of those had disgorged its cargo, which consisted of two to five rednecks eager to get out in the woods on the weekend and shoot at cans. Or, depending on the level of alcohol in their bloodstream, hopefully not passing airplanes.

Spectacular.

Well, we made it to the middle of nowhere where the “starting line” was located. There was a long slice of non-lush landscape on the left where the racers could park their cars in the mud and, on the right, there was another smaller slice of flat-ish land where some of the runners and organizers had camped, a scorer’s table, an aid station filled with yum-yums, and, at the back, another of these infamous mounds that would become a source of frustration in the near future.

I collected my bib from a helpful helper and had enough time to affix it before the race briefing began, and I noticed that I was surrounded by a small horde of very likable persons. Too often at these things-probably the more well-known, competitive races- I find myself bumping into god-wannabes (yes that’s a thing because I just invented it) who have no time for you because they are ‘in the zone’ and are aiming to make their mark.

I would like to say there was a noble feeling of espirit-de-corps flowing around and through us all, but more likely it was just an urge to get together with like minded folks and goof around for a while. Still, it made a hell of a lot more sense than shooting at cans.

Then Brud (not his real name) showed up. After the race briefing, which was, true to the atmosphere and audience, laid back, humorous and in no way tedious, our friendly neighborhood race director who might be Colin or maybe the other guy whose name I can’t seem to remember informed us that not only was Brud turning 50 in 2019 and celebrating by running in 50 Ultra Marathons throughout the year (this was to be the cause of my Disappointment Second Most Huge), he had also spent the entire ferry ride over from Seattle throwing up, and not from sea sickness, if you know what I mean.

We were then moved, or, pointed to the left, where the starting line was not located. It was more of an unmarked starting ‘area’ and, if you think about it, do you really need an inflatable, “official” starting line at all, much less 50 miles into nowhere? We’re adults, we’ll make it work.

A countdown was fabricated and Colin or the other guy yelled go.

There were enough guns in the woods already.

I love to start last, especially to remind myself that the place I’m in really does not matter at all, but also to survey the field as it heads out. Our course took us downhill back down the road we came in on, and I was afforded a great view of the field stretching out into the infant stages of the 50K race. It was hard not to notice the person I’m guessing later won the race-Chris Reed- who had no desire to waste the downhill and flat beginning portion of the race by pacing himself. He was so far ahead after two minutes or so I think I snorted. Like, “Well, I guess I won’t be seeing him again!”

The first leg of the race was equally balanced out by the joy of being immersed in such beautiful, lush scenery, and the horror of hearing the first objects thud softly to the forest floor after falling out of what had become an irreparable situation at the bottom of my rucksack. Where once had been bottom was now only air, which meant I would have to carry my necessities for about 15 kilometers to the aid station at Rhodies, where my drop bag was.

At least I was traveling light!

After 7,5 miles and only slight elevation gain the path turned upwards and we began our ascent up Mt. Townsend. As I said, it had been raining, which kept the temperatures comfortable but, as we headed up ever higher, what could have been magnificent views were blocked by fog and low hanging clouds. Should’ve asked for a refund…

It’s just over two miles of relatively steep ascent to a flattening of the trail and the first Aid Station at Silver Creek. I found it to be well-stocked, and even though it was basically a tableful of fruit, some sweets and chips, maybe something for the carnivores-I didn’t notice-and some drinks, it looked like a endless buffet line of goodies in my eyes, and the only thing I enjoyed more than the two pieces of banana and one slice of apple I ate was leaving the rest of the food for the people behind me.

It was time to tackle the meat of the race. The path from Silver Creek up to the peak of Mt. Townsend is just about three miles of straight up. I spent most of that time power walking and chatting with Zoe Marzluff, a 26 year old experienced Ultra runner from Vashon Island, and Jose Ramirez, a 35 year old from Olympia who was running his first Ultra Marathon. It was a great experience with them exchanging stories and advice, and keeping our minds off the difficulty of the task at hand. Jose even offered to take one of my “extra” water bottles in his rucksack to Rhodies, which made it a lot easier to transport my shit for another ten K or so.

After a few kilometers we spread out a little; Jose fell back and I pushed on ahead of Zoe. Not long thereafter I reached an intersection where I knew the path to the right headed up to the peak and back, and the path to the left headed back down towards Rhodies. I got to the top of Mt. Townsend and passed a sign there which was illegible thanks to me not having my glasses on, and I zoomed right on past it, because I had not been paying 100% attention to the part of the race briefing where we were told the sign was the turnaround point at the top of the mountain. In my defense visibility was very low, and it was impossible to tell if we were at the top of something or, like, the middle.

Somewhere around this peak I ran over a ridge and got to a point where the clouds and fog broke a little, and I found myself staring down into the abyss over both sides of the trail. That was something I had always wanted to experience during a race and it was breathtaking. The run up to the peak had been far less taxing than I had anticipated, and I truly felt on top of the world. It was easy to enjoy each every precious moment and step.

After two hundred meters or so I was called back by a fellow runner who convinced me I had gone too far, and I gladly turned around. The run back down the mountain was pure joy, and I rolled into Rhodies feeling great and looked forward to dumping my load (!) and changing into fresh shorts, underwear, and socks.

Yes, the race was only 50K and I usually don’t need to change for something like this, but I’m gearing up for longer runs and wanted to practice. So, despite the handicap of having no changing room and kids running around everywhere, I moved kind of behind a parked car and slid into something more comfortable. Yes, I also sacrificed precious minutes of race time for an experiment but it was a good experience and I felt fresher afterwards, especially after smearing some Anti-Chafe Material X hopefully inconspicuously onto several sensitive nether regions.

The long downhill slide from the peak past Rhodies and down into the next Aid Station at Deadfall (the Deadfall?) continued for about seven miles. The best news about that was that the race was suddenly two-thirds over! Piece of cake.

The bad news was that the climb up Mt. Zion began right after Deadfall. After more bananas, apple slices, and maybe a slice of tomato (and, OK, an Oreo), I darted up the path and onto the second largest climb of the day. It was around this time that I fell in lockstep with probably John Hager from Redmond, WA. I seem to remember his name started with a “J”. We tried to chat and I remember him being a good guy, but the going was really tough here. For some reason the climb seemed to be harder and steeper than Mt. Townsend, even though Mt. Zion was way teenier.

Then we started running downhill again. Gulp. I realized I was confused-there was no way we could already be at the top of Mt. Zion and, in fact, we had arrived at the aforementioned dropoff that both mountains had about a third of the way up. Once we hit the bottom of this dropoff, the real challenge began. The next 2 miles or so would be some of the most challenging moments of my life.

It’s hard without pictures to convey how difficult this climb was, but picture a trail that is as absolutely steep as it possibly can be without forcing its passersby to actually climb and you may begin to comprehend. I looked up up up this infernal hill and saw a trail that might as well have been glued to the side of a skyscraper. Only buildings are flat-this trail had rocks and roots and twists and ditches everywhere.

I was hurting-bad. I had to “sit” a couple of times on logs sticking into the path that had miraculously NOT rolled down the mountains’ skirt. John had pressed on, plodding ever upward. Watching him go, I wistfully wished to have begun running at his age (32) or younger, and to have more of his youthful vigor.

So I snailed my way up the mountain alone. I stopped repeatedly, standing there in a squat with my elbows on my thighs; I tried to put my hands on my hips for a bit, I tried anything that would help me get another step or two up Mt. Zion.

And at repeated intervals I would follow the trail uphill and see…nothing except more up. How much more up could there possibly be, I whined to myself. I’ve already gone so much up. There can’t be but hardly any more up to go! I must be about 9/10ths of the way through this up.

I’m way upper than Mt. Townsend now! I must be way upper than, like, an Alp or something! HOW MUCH MORE UP CAN THERE POSSIBLY BE?????? In fact, the way up Mt. Zion has no end to its upness-through pure exhaustion alone do the race’s participants mentally convince themselves that they are traveling downhill, or are on flat ground, or have finished the race, where in fact they have disappeared forever into the ether long ago.

Eff Mt. Zion.

I only ramble on so much about this climb so that you might begin to understand how hard it really was, even though no information short of planting you on the trail and pointing uphill will do it. At one point, finally near the top, I said to myself that that was it. I would never do another Ultra again. Just so it’s said, the incline up Mt. Zion is around three miles long. Up Mt. Townsend it’s about six. I’d rather do the latter three times than the former once.

After FINALLY reaching the top of Mt. Zion it’s four miles downhill, and after that about three more in a slight rise to the finish “line”. The worst is behind you, and it’s just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other until you can pour yourself a cold one from the keg of delicious Upper Left beer.

As I puttered over these last few miles, I caught up to and chatted with Shannon Douglas, who turned 29 that day-who would CHOOSE to celebrate like that?? I couldn’t help noticing her shoes, and I remembered I had seen her back at Rhodies where her husband, on crutches, had paid her a visit and cheered her on. It was hard to see what I saw, know what I know, and NOT tell her what I wanted to say. Which was that I already knew how her husband got hurt, and was sure it would happen to her, too, at some point.

And here I must also pause and insert a word of thanks to the person responsible for forming me into a respectable Ultra Marathon runner, capable of running injury-free for so long and completing truly difficult feats like this one. Shout out to my wife and coach, the most singularly, intensely special person I have ever met. We don’t need to mention that nothing would be possible without you.

Here’s where I got a little confused. We were passed there by someone named Jason about two miles out. After that, I bid Shannon adieu and made my last pathetic push toward the finish…zone. Shortly thereafter I passed Jason, not believing I still had enough energy to jog, much less pass anyone. I finished a half minute ahead of Jason, but if you check the results, he’s listed a half minute ahead of me!(?) No comprendo.

Who cares. I was personally greeted by a horde of cheering race fans in a very festive mood as well as Colin or the other one, who shook everyone’s hand as they passed the finish line. It was there that I learned that I was not the only one who had not completely enjoyed the ascent up Mt. Zion, and I also learned that there are a lot of competent beer brewers in Washington State! Damn that beer was good.

Which brings me to the day’s list of thoughtful musings:

-I have lived in Germany for more than a quarter of a century and can proudly say that I have acquired a sensitive tongue when it comes to beer. Although I consider Germany to be the Hub of the Beer Brewing Art, I have since been pleasantly surprised to see where so many American breweries have taken these skills, especially in the Northwest. It’s now four months later and that wonderful taste of finish line beer, as well as several stupendous micro-brews down Poulsbo way, still dance on my tongue. I’ll put a lot of these beers up against anyone, anywhere, anytime. The only problem with it is, and this is where Germany is so superior, who in God’s name can afford it??

-As I said, at the back of the finish line area thingy, there was another of these backstop mounds. I later learned that someone had christened it Gunshot Mountain, and it was possible to enter a select, elite society of individuals known as the Quarry Club simply by continuing to run past the finish line and up Gunshot Mt.. Damn, should’ve read the home page better.

-Referring to the Disappointment Second Most Huge: Brud did indeed finish the race (the 37th or so of the year) and all I can say about his project is “WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THAT?”

-My Disappointment Most Huge: When I signed up for the race I was asked something I had never been asked. On the entrance form it said right there in black and white that if I were to put down a song I wanted to hear when I crossed the finish line, then they would play it. Oh, goody!! Being a sober, serious, semi-intelligent, middle-aged man, I settled on “Another One Rides the Bus” from Weird Al. I couldn’t resist. Unfortunately, the project never realized itself because, as Colin (maybe) said in exactly these words: “We couldn’t repatch the digital mainframe with the coagulated thromboid services network. Thingy.” Or something.

In closing, looking upon this adventure from afar, both geologically and chronologically, I see Mt. Townsend always in the back of mind, shining there, representing some special version of me or all of us, standing for potential and opportunity, ready and waiting to welcome us with brash reality, truth, and hope. Its bastard playmate, Mt. Zion, is for me the hard road we must travel to get there.

Just knowing both are there provide me with an overwhelming feeling of comfort and gratitude, for everything this life is and could be. No one can talk away a mountain.

10 Hours on a Sri Lankan Bus in Thailand.

For those pitifully few of you who haven’t yet read “Sri Lanka: Bus Ride to Hell”, it might be prudent to take a break from these musings and immerse yourself there for a bit, as the background information there contributes directly to the material for this article. Well, for the title, anyway.

We recently took two ten-hour bus trips from Bangkok up North to Chiang Mai and back. It provided us with a number of interesting and mirthful experiences which I certainly would like to share.

This would hopefully not happen to us…

The buses in Thailand are not as magnificently adorned as their counterparts in Sri Lanka, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. Many have simple color schemes, without bats, or explosions, or tanks, or flying tigeroctopi. If that is even a thing.

The insides are relatively neat and do not crush their passengers with, first and foremost, the odor of curry, which is also a plus. Traveling by bus is a popular method of getting about in Thailand, but there is fortunately none of the stupefyingly irresponsible overcrowding one witnesses in Sri Lanka.

In fact, the buses themselves aren’t all that disagreeable, which made us all the more ready, as well as the low low prices, to utilize this mode of transport again.

Comfort

The first thing I noticed this time on the bus was that, sitting in the front row, there was a heck of lot of leg room. For someone who was three and a half feet tall. There are overhead bins on these buses but they are only about as tall and wide as a mail slot, and my rucksack was certainly not going to fit up there, which meant it went under my feet. Also under my legs were my shoes-since I was planning on sleeping I wanted to maximize my Comfortabilty Quotient (CQ)-and my Trader Joe’s bag full o’ goodies for the trip. With my legs jammed into the small space between seat and wall, and above my necessities for the trip, I felt like one of those poor traditional Chinese women who had their feet broken to fit into ever smaller pairs of shoes.

Tiny feet are cool.

Culinary Delights

Within the first half hour of our trip a smartly dressed female steward person-yes, that’s a thing here on buses-moved through the aisle and passed out cardboard and plastic boxes o’ yum-yums. Like for example cold mini pizzas with croissants (as a dessert) or, for breakfast, a “chocolate”-filled bun with some very wretched Thai cookies (as a…dessert?).

Cookies come pre-mushed in a 100% plastic container. Fly (right side) is optional.

I’m guessing the main ingredient here is paste. Yes, I tried them. Because they were free. And regretted it terribly. Until my next bowel movement. which brings me to my next wonderful experience:

Passing water

Before nodding off into a gently-rocked sleep, I made sure to visit the toilet in the back of the bus, which was an unusually high amount of no fun due to the overflowing trough around the porcelain gullet. I’m going to give the bus company the benefit of the doubt-primarily because I don’t want to think of the alternative-and say the three-inch deep liquid covering the floor was water. I was not going in there.

Thankfully, I’m pretty spry for my age and leaned into the bathroom from its ‘mini-foyer’ far enough toilet-wards to pour my bladder juice mostly in the toilet.

Break time!

Going wee-wee in this manner may sound disgusting and inconsiderate to the other passengers but I don’t care and I also knew, in my defense, that we were headed for a rest area and would be ‘put out’ there later. That is also one of the interesting facets of these long distance bus trips in Thailand: after five or six hours the bus stops at a rest area and everyone is tenderly screamed at in Thai to wake up and get off the bus. We were not told in any language, unfortunately, that we were to bring our bus ticket into the restaurant. A free meal awaited all of the passengers with one. Oh, well.

The cafeteria-styled restaurant served up a choice of maybe meat or fish or feet with maybe noodles or rice-we couldn’t tell and no one spoke English. It cost us, being without tickets, about $0.37.

In our Alpha-wave state of half slumber we relaxed and enjoyed the hearty mystery meal, which was produced on a conveyer belt and glowed with the nuclear energy of some of the spiciest…spices ever to garnish a meal, for upwards of eight minutes before hopefully everyone was herded back onto the bus for the next leg of our journey.

Sweet Dreams

A word about the ‘gentle sleep’ mentioned above. On the way up North, we had a normal-heighted (?) bus, while on the way back we rode in a double decker. The double deckers are a little more comfortable but, and I cannot emphasize this enough, avoid them if you plan to close your eyes at all. Any background in physics will tell you that the higher and more top-heavy a bus is, the more it will swing and sway like the S.S. Minnow when the weather starts to get rough, until, and this is true, I felt like the Hulk had a hold of one of my legs and was whomping me around like he did to Thor or Loki in one of the million Avengers movies. Please watch these scenes again somehow and consider it your homework.

Entertainment

Speaking of movies, on the way back to Bangkok we had the afore-mentioned woman as a stewardess person, but on the way up we had a guy who performed his stewardship competently and well. There was something about him, however, that made me think he took the job only because his girlfriend got pregnant and was, at heart, a tried and true headbanger. Maybe I’m only saying that because of the DVD he slipped in for us passengers to enjoy-and boy did we.

I’ll also mention here that we noticed that when trying to watch “Grace and Frankie” on Netflix, a safety code appears on the screen to make sure no immature elements are viewing that highly immoral, sex- and violence-ridden merriment.

Our steward seemed to have no such qualms about improper content when he slipped in a zombie movie. Not just any zombie-a Thai zombie movie. And not just any Thai zombie movie-one of the goriest, bloodiest zombie movies ever. As special effects go, it was not as bad as Plan 9 From Outer Space, which, admittedly, set the bar pretty low, but not as high as the first Star Wars movie-I think it was called ‘War in the Stars’.

My daughter’s favorite scene was when the heroine, played by someone never heard from again, exchanged her fully capable, zombie-slashin’ short sword for a pair of hammers she could barely lift. Presumably because she was not worthy.

My favorite scene was when this heroine-who apparently nailed the role because of her ability to sweat and moan in battle (with zombies)-sitting in the background, chops a zombie approaching her from the foreground in half. We’re left viewing her framed by two slimy, mucal halves of a zombie. I’m guessing zombie insides are much more slimy and mucinous than their human counterparts.

He must have eaten the cookies…

Thanks to ErikaWittlieb on Pixabay for this beautiful image.

On a side note here-and this is true-did you know that the mucin from snail slime trails is a beauty trend now?

I’d rather stay ugly.

Moving, Bus-themed Moral

I guess it would be easy to say ‘The important thing is that you got where you wanted to go’, but I don’t like thinking this way. It allows you to continue believing you somehow don’t deserve to travel comfortably. I’d rather consider bus rides like this one a challenge. I want to enjoy things like this, though it seems impossible, because of the many terrible circumstances and because there’s a wretched Thai zombie movie on that’s difficult to watch because it’s in Thai with no subtitles, because it truly sucks, and because there’s so much blood spurting everywhere it’s hard to find the characters. If you can enjoy things like this despite everything working against you, then it becomes easier to manage the more difficult challenges that life throws at you.

Like dealing with the 6 million people on Fitbit that don’t know the difference between ‘your’ and ‘you’re’. That is, however, another story.