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.
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.
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, sadly, 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?
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 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. Like basking sharks.
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 the best two cuisines: 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.
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 human 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.
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 Bud (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 Bud 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 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. Etc….
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 [it’s Dennis!], 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 so many American breweries have begun brewing so competently (a far cry from the Miller High Life 80’s), 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: Bud 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.
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.
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.
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.
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?).
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:
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.
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.
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.
Speaking of movies, on the way back to Bangkok we had the aforementioned 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. Lengthwise. 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.
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.
I recently started an activity I call “Death by Onesies”. It’s a fun little excursion into the wonderful world of fitness. It’s only one lousy kilometer long–how hard could it be? Is what I asked until I started running up the first damn hill. My next question was, naturally, whose idea was this, anyway?
I’m in Oakland now with my wife and daughter, still touring the world. We’re right across the bay from San Francisco, a city everyone seems to love. Well, I’m going to reveal a little secret to the world now that no one, it appears, is really aware of.
Oakland is pretty nice, too.
Yes, it does have its blemishes, but what city doesn’t?
I’d been running in the hills above Oaktown for a few days when I remembered something. Back in the eighties (and nineties and beyond – did that guy ever really stop?), the best receiver in the NFL was Jerry Rice. I loved him. He was an underdog – he was small-ish and from some blip on the college football radar called Mississppi Valley Tennessee Authority College or something, and I, like most, love underdog stories.
One day I unlocked (one of) the key(s) to his greatness. Between seasons he would go to a little park in S.F. and run a four mile stretch of trail his teammates and any further athletes dumb enough to try it grew to loathe at a sub-cellular level. There were steep hills, and Jerry (and his friend Roger Craig, who showed Jerry the trail) was not walking them.
I decided to have my own fun here in Oakland. Right up the street from us is a little park where we watched the fireworks on the 4th of July and enjoyed the green green smells, if you know what I mean. It’s way up over the city, and to the west is a monstrously steep rise. To the left of it, looking toward the cities, is a smaller hill, or rather, a hill broken in two. Wouldn’t it be fun, I thought, to run up the big hill, down the two smaller ones, then back up on the small ones to the top?
I must have enjoyed too many smells.
Here’s a video of me laboring through an attempt:
What fun! I decided to add that to the end of my shorter training runs (5-8 Km), to heavily increase the fun factor. What a crazy funster I am!
Here are my times for the punitive Km in Oakland:
Jun. 24th – 9:10
Jun. 29th – 8:44
Jul. 2th – 8:12
Jul. 9th – 7:33
It was great to make that kind of progress with something as taxing as “Death by Onesies”. I can’t wait to get to our next stop – Salt Lake City – to make more progress.
California! Land of Sunshine, beautiful beaches, and, at least here in Oakland, the all-pervasive smell of weed. On July 4th, no less, we found ourselves in a little park that overlooked not only Oakland but also San Francisco, way back across the bay to the West. It soon became difficult to see the fireworks because of “smoke” from either the fireworks or, um…not.
At any rate, I did not want to tell you about watching fireworks through glasses formed out of marijuana smoke, which, now that I think about it, would actually be kind of cool….
B..but I wanted to tell you about why we are here. We are here to commune with every single solitary molecule our inner essence…WHOA! Guess we’ve already been in Cali too long. We are here to take care of Whisky and something called “Lani”. Whisky is a boxer, and “Lani” is either a boxer or an advanced form of extraterrestrial life sent here to study and learn from us. If the latter be true, “Lani” has really taken to her role, as proven by the boundless vigor with which she throws herself into neighborhood watchdog mode.
However, even should she be in reality a normal four-legged mammalian carnivorous acute-hearing slobbering drug-sniffing one-billion-strong species of domesticated wolf-sludge, “Lani” is, how shall I put it, “off”. She jumps too enthusiastically, as if she’s trying to prove that she is enthusiastic. She supposedly needs to be pet every three and a half minutes, which is too strict a schedule for most canines we have taken care of up until now.
Whisky is more traditional in the sense that he barks and jumps on you and eats your hand and stares at you uncomprehendingly when you quote Rick Moranis’ speech from Ghostbusters (1984): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hsmUzZEtVac
“Gozer [sp.?] the Traveller. He will come in one of the prechosen forms. During the Rectification of the Valdrani[sp.?], the Traveller came as a large and moving Torg[sp.?]! Then, during the third Replication of the Maketrik [sp.?] Supplicants, they chose a new form for ‘im. That of a giant Slor[sp.?]! Many Shuvs and Zuuls knew what it was like to be roasted in the depths of a Slor that day I can tell you!”
So he was perplexed. Whiskey stayed perplexed, perhaps because of that speech, for most of our stay in Oakland. I loved both of the dogs but I admit I had a special place in my heart for Whiskey. Whiskey was kicked in the head by a donkey as a puppy and to be polite and politically correct, I’ll just lie and say this stomping hasn’t affected him in any way and he has, in fact, all of his faculties intact.
Many times Whiskey “got it”. I can remember several instances where Whiskey “got it”, but I’m sure not going to tell you any of them. Instead, I see a wonderful, well-kempt (opposite of unkempt), handsome and powerfully built boxer standing there staring at me with a look that says, “Huh?”
Both of these dogs were remarkable specimens of caninitude, and if I was a judge at a Dog Show where both these dogs were entered I would pin a comely blue ribbon that says “First Place” on them, and I doubt that neither would be mad because neither of them won…one? I’ve definitely been here to long.
Though it would be humorous to come home and watch them wrassle over the real true first place winner–I’m sure that epic clash would go on for hours.
See, these two beasts were young and loaded to the gunwhales with surplus energy; so much that they could think of nothing to do with that energy except wrassle in the backyard and –WAIT! someone’s out on the street!–storm around the side of the house where a high wooden fence stood that was, apparently, what they were supposed to bark angrily at and at volume setting number 11 whenever they heard, smelled or sensed a presence behind it. Which was almost always.
But wait! What were we doing again? Oh yeah!
And it’s back to the backyard to wrassle some more and maybe grovel for a treat.
My biggest regret #1 is that we weren’t able to take them for walks. It would have been foolhardy, loosing these two cannons on the world with their energy, temperament, and chiseled muscular fury. Despite being warm, loving dogs, they were playful to a fault and would have shredded anything short of Max, the Rhodesian Ridgeback we took care of in Australia.
That being said, I can imagine a day in Oakland where I jog up the hill to the East, and do a long loop through Anthony Chabot National Park, where the sun shines in all of its fine California splendor, and the dogs patter over the landscape, feeling like kings. Their boxer muscles expand and contract, saying, no, screaming “Get the eff out of my way Here I come!”, and everyone would.
They would hardly stop to poop, which would break my all-important jogger’s rhythm, but when they finally do they drop mountains in the middle of the trail and I realize I’ve forgotten to bring “doggie bags” with me. Then a squirrel (and not, thankfully, a small child) appears, and I’m all but drawn and quartered as both dogs surge to the attack, bearing down like charging rhinos on the precocious interloper, until I’ve been dragged through the dirt face first and he is torn like the Constitution in Trump’s rough, unfeeling grip.
So yeah maybe taking them for a walk is not the best idea. Better to let them duke it out in the back yard, with the occasional “Bark-at-the-Fence Game” as a diversion. You know, when wrasslin’ gets boring.
Two final stories: 1.), I got into the ill-advised habit where, upon returning to the house after a jog or shopping, I would sprint out into the backyard with them and wrassle’ right there with ’em on the grass, hopefully avoiding doggie mines. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this breed of dog, you will quickly understand why they are thusly named, and you will also understand why the owners of the house cautioned me (especially me, not my wife) against playing this game, but if it should so happen that this game were played, that I best be “on my guard” in case I didn’t want one or both of my “testicles” to wind up “in the back of my throat” (not their exact words).
One of my, like, hugest regrets (#2) is that I did not film us all wrasslin’–especially me and Whiskey. We tussled with such unbounded fervor that even Lani kind of stayed “just out of reach,” respecting the fervor, even when I tried to momentarily shed myself from Whiskey and include her in our shenanigans. When Whiskey got started, it was very difficult to calm him down again, and he would literally begin steaming like a runaway train, until the borders between fun and “Bloodsport” were not only advanced upon, but leapt over in a gazelle-like bound. On two occasions I had to stop immediately and hold Whiskey gently, giving him all the love I could muster–out of fear, perhaps–until he realized he was back on a planet where he was loved, and he did not have to defend his life with his dying breath from terrifying alien invaders intent on killing and enslaving the populace. Which, really, couldn’t have been further from my mind.
Story #2: My Next Hugest Regret. Whenever the dogs wanted to rest a little, and the sun wasn’t too hot for them, they would lie, Sphinx-like, on the back lawn, with their front legs stretched out in front of them. They would lie like that, Lani more so than Whiskey, in a kind of gentle “catch-my-breath” moment. If you didn’t look close, you might be tempted to assume that they were not alert, and, in fact, relaxing hard core.
Perhaps this was true with Whiskey, I don’t really remember. But remember when I said that Lani was a little “off”? I noticed, or, more accurately, felt that I was being watched when she was like that. Which brings us to my next hugest regret (#3?). I should have done the following exercise on film, I’m really kicking myself that I did not.
For, to test my theory of being watched, I began strolling veeerryyy slowly over the back terrace, rolling my eyes innocently, even glancing out of the corner of my eyes her way. She sat there and panted, all innocent-like: “Just lyin’ here, mindin’ my own beeswhacks…” (dogs don’t spell well). Then I suddenly sprang as best as I could into my 50-year old Ninja attack pose, facing her.
I swear I have never seen a canine move faster than Lani did in that moment, springing into a low crouch with throbbing musculartude and a welder’s flame intensity in her eyes that said “KILL!”, but an aura that was all play.
If I had had time I would have wrassled with her then and there, but I was busy, and I couldn’t decide anyway if I should wrassle with her, hug her, or scream a banshee cry of joy:
Nothing we produce in all of our wildest imaginations, and our greatest, most innovative, productive, and well-executed machinations will EVER be as remotely impressive as Nature at its simplest, in its most mundane. If this is true then all of the injuries we suffer under the yoke of cruel civilization are easily healed and forgotten once we close our eyes to the yoke. What could be more hopeful than that?
I am deeply indebted to the owners of these dogs for giving me the opportunity to realize this, and to Lani for revealing this most obvious but important secret. I have loved many animals before this, but I don’t know if I’ve ever understood any as I did these two hellions, and I’m deeply grateful for it.
Most of us have very different ideas about what is bad or good, what sucks and what sucks worse, or even what’s right and wrong-for illustrations of this we need not look further than our country’s own opinions about its Great and Wise Leader.
However, one thing most of us can agree on is that fasting really sucks, and that fasting for more than an hour really, really sucks. My wife and I are currently doing a “Master Cleanse”, which was definitely a woman’s idea, and which, though I have no proof to back this claim up with, is supposed to make you feel, like, good afterwards. At least it made the choosing of the title of this article relatively easy.
To be honest, this isn’t the first time we’ve cleansed before, and won’t be the last, and I can honestly say I haven’t regretted any of them. This time, however, we’ll be doing it for a week, to make sure the results are especially good, presumably, and I’m definitely nervous. Our previous record was three days without food, which was fun enough.
OK I’m writing this in the throes of Day 1, well towards the end, where my body has begun to ask in a clear and firm voice, “WTF?” Day two will probably be a bad one as well, but from there it’s all downhill (or up?) as the body gets used to what you’re putting it through.
I just read an “article” (advertisement) about this super awesome wonder drug that Melania Trump takes that removes brain fog and improves cognitive and memory (which is, like, cognitive) prowess. I can even have a free trial.
I do not want a new wonder drug. I do not want Melania telling me how I can better my life. Who’s she to talk? But I will acknowledge that I do have a problem. This pesky brain cloud thing has been bothering me for a decade at least, my memory is pitiful, and I find it very difficult to concentrate.
Unlike many Americans, however, I refuse to fill the pockets of Pharmaceutical Companies if there’s any other solution available. As a consumer, I feel it’s my responsibility to send a message with what I buy or don’t buy to the people I approve or disapprove of. I’m thinking of you, Martin Shkreli.
Thanks to mic.com for the DoucheBag picture.
I believe it’s also my responsibility, not some doctor’s, not some Pharma Company’s, not no one’s responsibility, to take care of my own goddamn body. Am I two? Does I just sit back and let Mommy and Daddy take care of me or do I take my life into my own hands?
So here we are, as Day 1 of Hell Week, Part 1, fades sloth-like from us. There’s a pit inside my gut that gnaws and groans. I’m weak and weary, finding it difficult to get the energy up to write this or do anything else productive. Can’t wait till tomorrow, when I want to start the day with a five to ten Km run, depending on how I feel. I’ll do anything to keep my mind off of food.
I was surprised recently when I read somewhere on facebook that someone had met someone that heard of someone that ran an ultra marathon with something called an “Ultráman” (pronounced Ul – TRAH – meñ). As a sober, no-nonsense reporter with his head in the right place I naturally thought to myself, “How rad is that?”
I naturally decided to use my nearly one semester of well-paid for (and nearly paid off!👍🏼), acutely honed reporting skills to leap onto the trail of the specter spoken of only in the hushed tones of 1 Facebook post. Maybe. Many would have argued that such a source is hardly reliable enough to move anyone to put everything he has to the side (marital plans, making a good impression the first week on the job, quitting smoking, and an immensely difficult three-hundred piece Pinnochio puzzle, in my case) and chase shadows.
But I am not many. I have been born to run Mankind’s most foolish errands. Like delivering pizza to Bigfoot. That was me.
In short, I gathered what supplies I could muster and headed out to find the someone that had met the someone that had heard of someone that ran with the Ultráman. Two hours later I was back at my place after discovering how difficult a search for someone on Facebook can be without a laptop. But, having finally collected my key to unlocking this great mystery, and my resolve being thereby more stolen than ever before, I set out again. O..only to return six hours later because under “supplies” I had somehow NOT filed away any food.
The next morning I raced out to meet my fate. I remember feeling a tingling that extended from my elbow down to my hand; at least after I whacked my funny bone on the door knob when I left. I made my way to a nearby café that received the internet, ordered an empty cup, and began my search. After almost an hour I realized that which less experienced individuals than myself might have only figured out after hours and hours: the fruitless tapping and clicking on my keyboard was due to the malfunction i.e. total absence of a charging cable. I thanked the heavens above for my dozens of minutes of reporter training that helped extrapulate me as seemlessly from this dreadful imbroglio as possible, and took my leave.
The next morning I sat at the foot of my bed, where I could see the mirror on my dresser, and looked resolute. Three days of hopeless, wasted searching were not going to daunt me! Or undaunt me. Whichever of the two was positive. Or negative.
That day, I caught a break. While walking to my favorite café that received internet webs, I stumbled over, athletically, I’ll be it, a large paper bag brimming with empties. I could afford a tea!
In the café I made sure everyone noticed my tea. It was a great and triumphant moment for me. However, sitting down with it and opening my laptop, I had to face the facts that in over three days of heartbreaking, futile searching I had absolutely nothing to show. The mysterious fantom known only as “Ultráman” was just as easy to locate as my wallet with all of my credit cards in it.
I was going to have ask a friend of mine for a favor. You know, like in those crime movies where the desperate cops try one last ploy to solve the case, and the friend’s information ends up “breaking the case wide open”?
Well, since I technically had no friends there was no one I could ask to “break the case wide open” except myself, so I did. Unfortunately, “American Idol” was on too loud and I couldn’t hear what I was saying. I decided to take my defeat in stride and head off for another night’s well-earned rest. Tomorrow would be another day, where the strange mythical creature would most definitely hear my footprints. Ultráman, I’m on your trail!