The joy of walking

I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits unless I spend four hours a day at least — and it is commonly more than that — sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields absoutely free from all worldly engagements.

– Henry David Thoreau, “Walking”

In recent days I have been doing quite a bit of sauntering, and as I saunter I often think of Thoreau. I had the privilege of visiting Walden Pond as a teenager. I was underwhelmed by its small size and its decidedly non-wild contemporary setting. It’s difficult to imagine the area back in Thoreau’s day, when he wrote:

I can easily walk ten, fifteen, twenty, any number of miles, commencing at my own door, without going by any house, without crossing a road except where the fox and the mink do. First along by the river, and then the brook, and then the meadow and the wood-side. There are square miles in my vicinity which have no inhabitant.

In my corner of the world, there are still places where it is possible to walk for some distance without seeing a house. I can even walk to some of those places from my own house, although I have to pass by many houses on the way to the trailhead. I wouldn’t want to live in total wilderness or total solitude, so that’s all right by me. Yet, like Thoreau, I do find peace and inspiration in those places that have not yet lost their wildness.

At walking speed I see things that I would have missed while running or cycling. Recently I spent a few moments watching two river otters in full courtship dance. No photos, sorry… while I’m watching something like that, reaching in my pocket for my phone to take a photo is the last thing on my mind.

In an effort to make peace with the place where I fell and broke my arm, I have hiked several miles of the Olympic Adventure Trail. It’s an easy, pleasant, relatively level trail. In several places the trail meanders through recent clear cuts — so it’s not exactly pristine — but those clear cuts open up views southward to the Olympics or northward to the strait and Vancouver Island.

At walking pace I was delighted to find calypso orchids on the OAT! There are at least 100 of them in the first mile from the trailhead. I have never noticed them on this trail before.

I’ve often put orchid photos in this blog, but to refresh your memory here is what they look like. They are tiny flowers, not much more than an inch across.

Calypso Orchids

The other day on the OAT, in the midst of all of these “normal” calypsos, I came across a pair of unicorns.

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Those, my friends, are “albino” calypso orchids! It’s not the greatest photo, but I hope you can see that the outer petals are pure white while the inner petals are muted compared to the “normal” flower. Over the past three years I have inspected hundreds of calypso orchids but I’ve never seen any like these before.

Yesterday we went out to the mouth of the Elwha River. I haven’t been to the mouth since before the dam removal project began. The mouth is now at least a quarter of a mile north of where it used to be! The silt that has flowed downriver from the dams has created a broad, easy-walking silty beach.

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At the water’s edge the river and the tide are joining forces to create small canyons, cutting vertical mini-cliffs through the silt. I took this photo looking straight down. The water here is about a foot below the edge of the silt.

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The configuration of this river delta changes from day to day, but the clear trend is growth of the land northward into the strait. A few hours after I took these photos, I was standing on a high ridge line looking down toward the strait, where I could clearly see the river’s current fanning out and outlined against the saltier water of the strait.

While I deeply miss running (and eagerly look forward to the day when I’m cleared to run again), I’m finding deep happiness in hours of leisurely walking. These are all steps in my journey, and each of them is to be savored. There is no going back, no other way but forward.

By walking one makes the road,
and upon glancing back
one sees the path
that will never be trod again.

– Antonio Machado

Slow and happy — here’s to the joy of walking!

Slowed but not stopped

A habit, once formed, can be a tough thing to break. I like to think that CFL’s and my activity streak is a good habit! I’ll confess that when I first broke my arm I had a tough time motivating myself to get outside and do something. But once I got used to my new temporary “normal,” I stopped feeling sorry for myself over my inability to run or cycle. I discovered that I enjoyed the challenge of finding interesting new ways to move for several miles each day.

During the first several days after my injury I was happy just to walk on a flat paved surface. Together we walked several sections of the Olympic Discovery Trail. I know that trail very well from many hundreds of running miles, but it’s been nice to slow down and share it while engaging in long, slow conversations.

Although I wasn’t able to capture them on camera (I struggle getting off quick one-handed shots), at the Morse Creek bridge we saw three adult bald eagles and a river otter. As a consolation prize I’ll offer you a long, slow look at the shadows on the bridge.

Morse Creek bridge

After five days and 28 miles of this leisurely walking, I was ready to try a bit more.

First up was a short hike to the always-spectacular Sol Duc Falls. It’s only 1.8 miles round-trip on a mostly level trail. Thanks to all the recent rains, we passed several raging streams on our way to the falls. The scale is difficult to capture in a photograph because the trees are so huge, but this stream is about 20 feet across.

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Sol Duc Falls itself was as high as I’ve ever seen it, with four cascades instead of the usual three.

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I must thank CFL for the spiky hairdo he gave me when he put on my headband for me.

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Sol Duc Falls served as a warm-up. That same day we also hiked several miles on a new (to us) and mostly level trail not far from this one.

The next day we chose a trail that soon turned into an impassible marshy puddle. We were disappointed with our low-mileage day, so the next day we covered 12.5 miles on the ODT before rewarding ourselves with local craft beer downtown.

Over the weekend we hit the hiking trails again. On our 11.5 mile meander along the Spruce Railroad Trail, we enjoyed the impossible-to-photograph deep ultramarine blues of Lake Crescent. We also spotted our first calypso orchids of 2014!

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Yesterday we drove way out to the Pacific coast to hike the Ozette Triangle. This trail starts at Lake Ozette and runs west 3 miles through the forest to the beach, then 3 miles south along the beach, and finally 3 miles back through the forest.

I did fine on the first leg. When we got to the beach, I felt like I had just stepped into a calendar photo.

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We stopped to snack and enjoy the view. There were many kinds of waterfowl, including dozens of black oystercatchers with their distinctive whistles. We heard sea lions barking at a near-shore island. We saw several gray whale spouts just beyond the surf line.

We then set out to walk along the beach. At first it was mostly sand and cobbles, but we didn’t get far before we found ourselves stepping from boulder to boulder and scrambling over driftwood logs. I quickly realized that this was going to be too tough to navigate with my arm in a sling. We reluctantly turned back. By the time we got back to the car, we’d covered 7.5 miles, but I was very tired. Still, it occurred to us that we were the oldest people out on that trail that day — by far. I was also the only person out there with a broken arm! So we congratulated ourselves on our attempt.

All told, I’ve walked (on pavement) and hiked (off-pavement) nearly 72 miles in the first ten days since breaking my arm. I may have been slowed by this injury, but I shall not be stopped.

One slow happy step at a time!

 

Good news and bad news

I had good news and bad news from the orthopedist yesterday.

The good news is that I had a very clean break! Just a sliver of separated bone. There is little to no swelling at the break site. There will probably be no ligament damage. I have full feeling everywhere on my arm, and full movement everywhere below the shoulder. Therefore I am already cleared to take my arm out of the sling for moments to hours (whatever feels comfortable) with only a few restrictions:

  • no movement of my arm laterally away from my shoulder
  • no weight bearing activity whatsoever with my left arm
  • if I feel any pain, stop doing whatever triggered the pain.

She encouraged me to walk as much as I like and was agreeable to the idea of a bike trainer (a device that turns your bike into a stationary cycle machine) as long as I don’t use my left arm. I don’t yet own a bike trainer but now I’m looking into getting one! She did warn me that I’ll quickly lose muscle strength and endurance over the coming weeks, and that I should not be looking for another PR when I run (or walk… we’ll see…) the NODM half marathon on June 1.

Now for the bad news.

My arm broke in a way that should not have happened from a “standing fall.” That is, the force of the left forearm hitting the ground is not normally enough to crack the humerus where it meets the shoulder. However, I was running (which added X amount of force) slightly downhill (which added another Y amount of force). You’ll remember from your high school algebra that X and Y are unknown and variable. Maybe it was enough force to justify the break, or maybe not. We don’t have any data on the forces at play in this case.

But I have a history of a previous fracture that “should not” have happened. I broke a bone in my left foot when I missed the last step of a flight way back in 2001. The chronic, lingering foot pain after that accident was the very thing that inspired me to start running in the first place! Now after 5+ years of fracture-free running I may have increased my bone density from the hips down. Everywhere else may be a different story.

Bottom line, the doctor is almost certain that I have osteoporosis. This doesn’t surprise me. I’ve known for years that I have almost all the risk factors:

  • I’m female
  • I’m white
  • I’m slim and always have been
  • I had an early (surgical) menopause
  • I now live at a high latitude where I get little sun exposure for much of the year (I do take supplemental vitamin D)
  • I’ve had a previous fracture
  • A DEXA scan at the time of my previous fracture showed that I already had osteopenia (borderline low bone density)

As for the few risk factors I don’t have:

  • I don’t have a family history of osteoporosis
  • I’ve never smoked.

As I say, this doesn’t come as a surprise. I run, cycle, hike, and walk with a conscious awareness that these activities are good for my bones (and for lots of other reasons). But somehow I’ve never gotten sufficiently motivated to do any weight training or other exercise above the hips.

All of that is about to change. Time to break out the hand weights! Time to start hiking with a heavier pack!

I’m scheduled for a bone density test in a few weeks. I’ll be tested in at least two places (my wrist and somewhere lower) so I’ll get an idea of how helpful the running has been for my bones.

After that, I suppose there will be a treatment plan, which I hope will include an exercise program to limit the damage and keep me as active and healthy as possible. I recently met a runner who took up running after her osteoporosis diagnosis and is doing just fine. So I have every reason to be optimistic.

Meanwhile I’ll start physical therapy on my arm on April 17, which will be two weeks after my injury. I’m looking forward to that!

And later on this misty, mild April afternoon I’ll go for a nice long walk. The activity streak shall endure.

One step at a time!

If there’s a rock on the trail

If there’s a rock on the trail, try to step over it. (If there are lots of rocks, dance your way through them!)

If you trip on a rock, try to regain your balance.

If you can’t regain your balance, try to fall gracefully.

If you go down too fast and hard to fall gracefully, then take your lumps, get yourself up, start running again, and finish the last 0.7 miles of your otherwise-awesome 11 mile trail run.

Then get yourself to the emergency room.

If you follow my running blog, Slow Happy Runner, you’ll know by now that a few days ago I tripped over a rock while trail running and wound up breaking my left arm just below the shoulder. No running or cycling for me for at least 4-6 weeks. Therefore no OAT Run trail half marathon on April 26, no Bikes and Brews group ride in Seattle on May 3. Even my local North Olympic Discovery half marathon on June 1 is looking iffy.

I’ll know more about the recovery prognosis and timeframe when I see the orthopedist tomorrow, but the writing on the wall is pretty clear. My priority now is to heal both quickly and well. As a lefty, I shudder at the thought of not regaining full use of my left arm. Once the bone has healed, I’ll want physical therapy and lots of it!

My right arm is trembling right now from the unaccustomed effort of pecking out letters on the keyboard one by one. Trying to feed myself is a chore. Cooking is nearly impossible. Brewing a batch of beer is out of the question.

I’m committed to continuing my activity streak, which is now at 461 days. I’m still walking daily, although it’s surprisingly difficult to walk several miles, even on a flat paved surface, while focusing on keeping one arm absolutely still in its sling.

Perhaps the toughest part was looking at all the gaps in my calendar after I removed all my planned training runs, bike rides, and brew days. I caught myself this morning wondering why I should bother getting out of bed if I couldn’t run, hike, ride, or brew. I don’t like thinking thoughts like that! So I know I’ll have to watch my attitude. I still have LOTS of reasons to get out of bed! It’s crucial that I find a way to feel happy in the midst of all of this.

Slow happy living, indeed!

On my walk today I made a point of looking for things that I don’t always have time to see when I’m running or riding. The salmonberries are starting to bloom. So is the evil, invasive, but undeniably beautiful Scotch Broom. Small black-and-white butterflies are suddenly everywhere. Parents and small children are out on the trail enjoying slow, wobbly bike rides. Spring has finally reached the Pacific Northwest!

Maybe I’ll make one simple practice — slowing down to observe — the focus of my coming days and weeks. This setback is temporary; meanwhile I still have my health and my desire to make the most of each day.

What did you do with this precious day of your life? And what will you do tomorrow?

One step at a time!

 

Fit and feral

As I was riding my bicycle today, it occurred to me that I do almost all of my running, and a fair percentage of my cycling and hiking, as a solo activity. CFL doesn’t run at all. We do try to bike and hike together, but often he’s working on a project with a deadline just as I’m itching to get out the door. This week, CFL is far away attending the funeral of a family member, so I’ve been busily entertaining myself with some big and audacious activities.

I make a practice of texting him after I’ve completed whatever it is I’m out there doing. He usually replies with something like, “Good job — you’re an animal!”

At first I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to be described as an animal, but at some point I decided to embrace the concept. I am an animal. A big part of the endorphin rush is that feeling of becoming attuned to my body and reveling in the things that my body can do.

Yesterday I ran 7+ miles of steep roads and muddy, even steeper trails. There is something magical about trail running that really brings out the animal in me. I bound along, sailing over rocks and roots. I giggle when I get my feet wet sloshing through mud puddles. My eyes and ears tune into the sights and sounds of the forest — this varied thrush, that raven, that mysterious swish of an unknown and unseen creature, those big tree limbs overhead creaking in the breeze. As I ran, I thought to myself: this is a feral activity — and I am feral.

When I run trails, I generally don’t set ambitious pace goals for myself. I’m out there to have fun and enjoy the beauties around me. Therefore I had no qualms about stopping to take a few photos. Tell me — would you want to hurry through places like these?

The little guy in the next photo is a rough-skinned newt. He’s cute, but don’t mess with him. He’s highly poisonous. The only creatures that can eat a rough-skinned newt and survive are some populations of garter snake, and only because they have evolved resistance to newt toxin. In response, the newts have become more and more toxic. It’s a classic case of co-evolution.

So that was yesterday. Today, however, putting aside the charms of stopping to view rough-skinned newts and other trail delights, I set out with an ambitious and very specific goal. I was going to ride my bike 17.5 miles east on the Olympic Discovery Trail, and then I was going to turn around and ride back. My longest bike ride to date had been the Portland Bridge Pedal last summer at 33 miles. I was going to beat that distance, and I was going to do it as quickly as possible.

Now, let’s think about this for a minute. I’m a female in my late 50s. My boyfriend is 1,200 miles away, literally graveside at the moment I’m starting my ride. My jumping-off point is a trailhead on a dead-end road about seven miles east of downtown. I’m going to ride on a “rails-to-trails” biking/running/walking trail that, for the most part, stays well away from well-traveled roads.

In the dozen years I’ve lived here, there has been only one attack on a lone female on the trail — she escaped successfully and the guy was caught. Still, I’ve seen all kinds of things on that trail. I’ve witnessed a moving domestic dispute: the girl bleeding, running after the guy and shouting, “Why did you hit me? Why are you leaving me?” I’ve watched the local police trying to lasso a runaway ram in a chase scene reminiscent of the Keystone Kops. Just a couple of weeks ago, I rescued a black Lab that some idiot had left chained in the back of a truck. The dog had jumped over the side and was hanging itself. I saved the dog’s life. So I’m not kidding when I say, you don’t know what you might encounter on the trail. It takes a certain amount of guts just to go out there alone.

I do it because I’m fit, I’m quick, I stay alert, and I will not let fear rule my life. I do it because I know I can do it.

So I got on my bike and off I went! On my eastbound leg I rode almost non-stop, pausing only at street crossings in Sequim. I flew along, barreling up and down the hills (aided a bit by what felt like a slight tail wind), all the way to my turnaround point at Sequim Bay State Park. Here I stopped to eat a small snack, text CFL, and take a couple of photos.

CFL replied to my text: “You go girl!” I texted  back: “I am so feral!”

Awash in endorphins, I started back. And immediately hit the headwind! For 17.5 miles I battled a 15 MPH headwind. I even dropped my hands down and fully utilized my drop handlebars in an effort to be more aerodynamic. It didn’t help all that much, but I felt ever so athletic.

I thought I’d get a break from the wind in the last couple of miles, which are hilly but heavily wooded. But it was windy there too. Windy and hilly. It took me about ten minutes longer to come all the way back than it had taken to go out, and I was really tired when I finished.

But I never, not even for one moment, doubted my ability to do it.

I rode my bike 35.23 miles solo, and I completed the ride in just a tick over 3 hours — my longest and fastest bike ride ever.

One of my favorite theories (don’t we all have a favorite theory?) is Albert Bandura’s theory of self-efficacy. Bandura defined self-efficacy as “one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed in specific situations.” It’s that sense of “I can” that empowers us when we dare to set big hairy audacious goals and then dare to achieve them. There’s a lot more to the theory, but that’s the gist. Because I have self-efficacy, I can decide to train for a marathon, and then go out and train for it, and then run it.

I occurred to me, as I was riding into the headwind today, that there is a connection between self-efficacy and experiencing myself as feral. Please bear with me for a couple hundred more words while I try to tease out this connection.

Last month I celebrated my second anniversary of becoming “post-corporate” — okay, I’ll say the word “retirement.” I truly feel that it’s taken all of two years to fully detox from corporate life.

When I finished my undergrad at UCLA lo these many years ago, I jumped into corporate life with the feeling that I would do great things and be amply rewarded for them. For the first few years, that was true. Then I married, had a child, took on a mortgage and a couple of car payments. Suddenly the stakes were higher — I needed my job and I couldn’t afford to screw up. I became cautious. I did whatever I had to do to get by and not much more than that. I lost the fire. I lost my sense of self-efficacy.

In the two years since I left the corporate world, I have had to re-learn how to relax. How to take deep abdominal breaths. How to sleep for as long as I need to sleep. How to fully live each day, wring it to exhaustion and deep satisfaction, and then let it go in anticipation of the next day. How to be feral.

I have let go of all that toxicity. I am no longer a garter snake facing down a rough-skinned newt and hoping I’m resistant enough to survive. I have come back to that more-innocent animal that I once must have been.

I have regained self-efficacy.

I am fit, I am feral, and I know that I can do the things I set out to do.

Oh, and I’m still a bit bashful about taking “selfies” — but here I am anyway.

I can’t wait to see what tomorrow will bring!

Hiking at the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge

I wake up every morning thinking about what I’m going to do for exercise that day. Some days, it’s easy — my calendar tells me it’s a running day so I run! Other days, I know I’ll be walking downtown in the evening for dinner or a special event.

On those mornings when I have no special plans with respect to exercise, I have to get creative about what I’m going to do.

The other day the big item on my calendar was my twice-monthly trip to Costco. Okay, so driving to Sequim was a given — but what could I do while I was over that way?

Somehow the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge popped into my head. Dungeness NWR is comprised of the entire length of Dungeness Spit along with a section of forested bluff top. Dungeness Spit, one of the world’s longest natural sand spits, extends into the Strait of Juan de Fuca and is more than 5.5 miles long.

I had visited Dungeness NWR only once before, in the summer of 2001, the year before I moved here. Why I never returned, I have no idea, but when I mentioned it to CFL, he was immediately enthusiastic. He hadn’t been there in years either!

Our timing was good — it was low tide and it looked like we’d have a few hours’ break from the rain. We parked the car at the first possible parking area so that we could walk the bluff top trail before hiking down to the spit itself.

The first view of the strait from the bluff top 140 feet above is stunning.

As you walk down the trail from the bluff top, more of the spit reveals itself.

Once you are down on the sand, it’s a long flat walk along a beautiful beach. The outer (strait-facing) side of the spit is the hiking side, while the inner (mainland-facing) side is off-limits to humans. This is where hundreds of water birds amass at various times of the year, whether as a migration stopover or as a home for some species who nest here. To see the birds, we needed to scramble onto the large driftwood logs that collect at the “summit” of the spit.

The logs themselves are so beautiful that we didn’t want to walk all over them, so we didn’t see that many birds. I’d forgotten to bring binoculars so we couldn’t do any serious birding anyway. But we certainly enjoyed the logs!

As we continued our hike along the beach, the Dungeness Lighthouse came into view. Can you see it there in the distance?

We turned around about two miles short of the lighthouse, as the afternoon was getting later and the sky was looking darker. Here you can see both sides of the spit, looking back toward the bluff.

On our way back I noticed an odd object on the sand. A jawbone! We think this was a juvenile seal, based on the fact that the rear molars appeared to be only partially erupted. It was probably 6-7 inches long.

By the time we got back to the car, we’d hiked ten miles. When we return — and we will — we’ll give ourselves enough time to get all the way out past the lighthouse. And I’ll remember to bring my binoculars so I can identify some of the birds!

It was too chilly!

To our great disappointment, we were unable to take part in the Chilly Hilly bike ride around Bainbridge Island yesterday. While the ride went off as scheduled for people who live nearby or in the Seattle area, the weather proved too daunting for us to venture forth from Port Angeles to get there.

We’re about 75 miles (an hour and 40 minutes driving time) northwest of Bainbridge. The weather forecast over that way yesterday was for temperatures in the mid 40s with occasional rain showers. It wouldn’t have been a fun bike ride, but it was probably doable.

When the alarm went off at 5:00 AM, it was snowing hard and our local forecast called for continuing snow — up to five inches of it — all day. Our part of the world was in the midst of its own little private winter! The snow wasn’t sticking at that early hour, but the thought of driving 75 miles on two-lane roads, then dealing with whatever the weather might turn out to be on Bainbridge — and then driving another 75 miles home! — was enough to cause me to turn off the alarm and go back to sleep.

The snow here did continue on and off all day. Everything gradually turned white. At most we had maybe 1/4″ on the ground. The real epicenter of the storm was northeast of us in Bellingham, where they got about a foot of snow.

I moped around the house for most of the day, then decided I might as well bundle up and go for a walk. At first CFL and I thought we’d walk down to the waterfront. We’d heard there were a hundred or more harbor seals there the other day, including several brand-new fuzzy babies! But we knew that if we walked downhill, the snow would probably turn to slushy rain at sea level. So we opted to walk uphill and enjoy the sight of snow falling through trees.

At some point I got the wacky idea of hiking the Peabody Creek trail. This is a low-country trail that begins just at the south end of town and winds about 3.5 miles upward along the creek to an elevation of about 1,100 feet.

The trail itself was muddy but clear of snow. Alongside the trail, the snow was sticking and creating beautiful designs in the fallen leaves and moss. Looking upwards, the dance of snowflakes among the big trees was simply magical.

I wish I could show you photos, but the snow falling on my iPhone caused the touch screen to shut down. I frantically stabbed at the virtual camera button several times before admitting defeat and putting the phone back in my pocket!

As we gained altitude, the trail itself began to turn white. There are several creek crossings over log bridges, and those bridges were becoming quite slippery. I didn’t want to risk hiking back down the way we’d come (it always seems more slippery going downhill), so we decided to take the first opportunity to exit the trail early and return by way of the nearby road.

Walking back down the road, we both realized that we’d forgotten to eat lunch and were starving. So we kept walking, all the way back down into town to our favorite pizza place. While we were there, the snow turned to rain, making for a less pleasant final leg of our walk.

We ended up walking almost nine miles and saw some beautiful, peaceful sights that helped me forget the disappointment of missing an event that I’d looked forward to for a long time.

Lesson learned! Next year, I won’t register for the Chilly Hilly ahead of time — I’ll wait for the weather forecast. Meanwhile, the activity streak remains intact.

It’s still raining, with more snow in the forecast for later this afternoon. I haven’t decided yet what I’ll do today. Bundle up and go out for a run, or just a walk? Or hit the treadmill?

So many ways to be slow and happy!

Staying active through the dead of winter

February can be tough sometimes. While the days are getting noticeably Ionger, winter still packs quite a punch. It can be difficult to motivate myself to get out there and stay active when the temperature is in the high 30s and the sky is gloomy with an intermittent drizzle. I confess, there are days when I just want to say “curse you, Activity Streak!” and snuggle more deeply into my favorite reading chair.

CFL and I recently made a quick trip down to southern Oregon to visit my dad. We contemplated bringing our bikes along, but then decided we’d just take it easy with long walks. We eagerly anticipated walking around downtown Eugene and Portland, stopping to take in a few local breweries and taprooms along the way.

All went as planned in Eugene, on the outbound leg of our trip. We enjoyed sharing flights of beers at Oakshire Brewing and Hop Valley Brewing, and had a great dinner at The Bier Stein, a brewpub boasting 24 taps and over 1,000 types of bottled beer.

Coming back northward toward Portland, however, we got caught up in heavy snow. We never had to put on chains, but trucks and cars pulling trailers did. At one point I-5 was blocked completely, with truckers stopped in the middle of the freeway to put on their chains. It took us two hours to drive five miles beyond the place that I took this photo.

By the time we reached Portland, we were in the midst of an ice storm. We crept into downtown, trying not to slide sideways on some of the same bridges that we’d pedaled over happily on our bikes during the Bridge Pedal last August.

We’d booked a room at the same motel we stayed at last summer. From this location it’s a quarter-mile walk to a light rail station that would take us directly to the middle of downtown. We were hungry; I eagerly anticipated a great dinner and an awesome IPA at Deschutes Brewery’s Portland brewpub.

The slightly frazzled reception desk clerk assured us that no matter how bad the weather, the light rail never shut down, thanks to super-duper new defrosting technology. So we bundled up and set off toward the train station.

It was 21 degrees with a 19 mile per hour wind. Freezing rain lashed our faces as we stumbled intrepidly to the station. We bought our round-trip passes and stood on the platform with a couple dozen other hardy souls. Then we began to hear rumblings: “We’ve been standing here for an hour.” The marquee display still indicated the expected arrival time for the next train, so we figured all those people had just lost track of time!

Then the marquee display changed. All trains in the system were shut down.

By this time we were very cold and very hungry. We trudged back. Earlier we’d heard that only one restaurant in the immediate area of the motel was open. It was a steakhouse, about two blocks past the motel. To get there, we had to walk into the blistering wind and navigate sidewalks and parking lots that were in the process of becoming encased in half an inch of ice.

By the time we arrived, my jacket was frozen stiff.

It turned out to be a steakhouse of the old-fashioned sort, meaning there was nothing for this vegetarian to eat but fries. The fries tasted a bit fishy but at that point I really didn’t care. Fortunately they did have some interesting beers on tap! 

The next morning our phones awoke us with an emergency alert imploring everyone in Portland not to go out if at all possible. We hung out at the motel until almost checkout time enjoying the view of the iced-over pool.

We then decided to make a run for it. Getting out of the parking lot was a bit scary but once we were on the freeway it was fine. By the time we were fifty miles into Washington, we had left most of the snow behind us.

Since then it’s rained every day here at home. I got my new bicycle on February 1 but so far I’ve only managed to ride it 25 miles, mostly right around the immediate neighborhood.

I surprised myself by buying a road bike. I didn’t think I wanted drop handlebars, but when I thought about what I enjoy doing on a bike — riding fast and riding long — a road bike became the obvious choice. I’m gradually getting used to the more aggressive riding posture. Mostly I keep my hands up top, but on a long flat stretch (which is scarce in my neighborhood) I can inch them down into the dropped position. Going downhill is still scary though! 

Fortunately, going uphill is much easier than it was on my old bike: that’s when I really notice that it weighs 19.5 pounds compared to my old bike at 33 pounds. I’m going to need that lightness and quick acceleration this coming Sunday when — whatever the weather — CFL and I will ride the Chilly Hilly. At 33 miles around Bainbridge Island with a total elevation gain of 2,675 feet, it will be my hilliest bike ride ever! I just wish I had more time between now and then to get comfortable on my new bike. 

But it does get tough to get out there  and feed the activity streak when the weather is lousy. This morning during a sunbreak I got out and ran along the waterfront. Thanks to all the rain, Ennis Creek was higher than I’ve ever seen it before.

During the last mile of my run, dark clouds loomed over the strait, the wind picked up, and the rain began. I caught this shot of sun, rain, and oncoming storm clouds during my after-run stretch time.

There was a flock of surf scoters in the water near the pier. I noticed with delight that the birds were forming boy/girl pairs. Spring is coming, and love is in the air!

I’d hoped to get out with my bike this afternoon, but the skies look inky again. My reading chair is calling me…

Tomorrow is another day! It will be activity streak day #414 to be precise. I don’t know yet how many miles I’ll be able to fit in, but one way or another I know I’ll drag myself out there and do something.

What about you? How is the dead of winter treating you? Any signs of spring yet where you are?

Days and miles — flying by!

Wow! Three weeks into the new year and I’m finally finding time to do a little blogging. I always take it as a good sign when I don’t have time to write — it means I’m out there squeezing every bit of life out of the hours and moments of each day.

Today marks 21 days into the new year, and I’ve already logged 168 miles. Wow! I’m averaging 8 miles a day! I don’t think I can maintain this pace indefinitely. On the other hand, once I start doing some long bike rides I’ll possibly move the average mileage even higher.

I did my traditional “January in Santa Barbara” trip recently. Unlike last year, which was very windy, the weather was perfect! I ran all four of the days I was there, including three simply wonderful barefoot runs on the beach. In past years I felt like a hero if I could manage a mile of barefoot running; this year I did beach runs of 2.5, 3.25, and 3.7 miles. I continue to be amazed at the things I can do that once were out of reach.

Views like this kept me inspired and coming back for more:

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Although this photo was taken across the street from the beach, an encounter with a female Acorn Woodpecker provided the other visual highlight of my time in Santa Barbara:

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It was a warm day and she was determined to drink, so she was patient with me while I took several shots.

During my time in Santa Barbara I managed to sneak in a couple of visits to Santa Barbara Brewing Company, where I sampled several of their excellent beers. What is a vacation without a little beer tourism?

Speaking of beer, CFL and I brewed an experimental batch recently. I created a simple SMASH (single malt and single hop) pale ale recipe. We divided the wort and pitched two different yeasts (American and Thames Valley). After several days, we further divided the proto-beer into six one-gallon jugs, which we dry-hopped (or not) in different ways. Don’t our little jugs look cute all bundled up and cozy in their matching towels?

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We bottled them a week ago and we’re anxiously awaiting side-by-side taste tests next week.

Tomorrow I’m going to see if I can ride my bike a little further up the hill than last time… I made it up Hurricane Ridge Road to mile 2 the other day, but I still have 15 more to go!

We’re busy! We’re happy! We’re not always so slow, but that’s okay. There is SO much to do and SO many miles yet to go!

A shiny new year deserves some big, bold plans

Happy New Year! As years go (and so they do, faster and faster it seems) 2013 was a rather great one. CFL’s and my casual decision last January 1 to “be more active” turned into a 365-day activity streak that is still going strong as we begin 2014.

CFL’s approach to it was rather casual, but he never missed a day — even if it meant setting out on the 2.1 mile uphill/downhill neighborhood “lap” at 11:45 PM.  Me? Of course I kept a spreadsheet, which now allows me to regale you with some numbers that still boggle my mind.

In 2013 I completed:

  • 1,001.14     run miles (including 2 half marathons, a full, & a 10K)
  •    307.47     bike miles (including 33 miles with 15,000+ others)
  •    134.73     hike miles
  •    720.73     walk miles

     2,164.07     total miles

Oh, and I drove just over 11,000 miles — much of which was long-distance driving to and from events (bike rides, concerts, brewfests, and the like) and trailheads.

We brewed 21 batches of beer, and made the leap from extract to all-grain brewing. We have a never-ending list of brewing equipment that we want to buy (a bigger brew kettle to prevent boilovers, a plate chiller to cool the wort more quickly, a couple of pumps to save CFL’s back, the list goes on and on).

So what’s in store for 2014?

I think I’ll run a little less, since I won’t be training for a full marathon and doing the super-long runs. I think 900 running miles is a good goal.

I plan to do a LOT more bike riding. I don’t have a specific mileage goal but I do have some events that CFL and I want to ride. I’ve got my eye on a new bike that I hope to buy before the end of January. I weighed my current bike and was astonished to learn that it weighs 33 pounds — no wonder I work so hard going uphill! The bike I’d like to buy will be at least 10 pounds lighter.

I’m looking at my calendar and figuring out how I’ll weave together training for and participating in multiple running and biking events throughout the year.

So far, the event schedule looks like this:

February 23: Bike Ride
The Chilly Hilly on February 23 — 33 miles around Bainbridge Island with 2,675 feet of elevation gain. I’ll need that new bike for those hills!

April 26: Trail Half Marathon
The Oat Run (Olympic Adventure Trail) — I’ll run this one and CFL may be a volunteer worker.

June 1: Half Marathon
North Olympic Discovery half marathon — this local race will be my fifth NODM and CFL’s first; he’s going to walk it.

August 3: Bike Ride
Ride the Hurricane is a 17-mile 5,000 foot climb up the Hurricane Ridge Road in Olympic National Park, followed by a rapid 17-mile descent! The road is closed to cars for the day. CFL has done this a few times. He tells me I may be ready to tackle it this summer. I think he’s nuts, but we’ll see…

August 10: Bike Ride
The Providence Bridge Pedal in Portland was so much fun last year that we’re going to do it again. Just us and over 15,000 other riders, riding over ten (count ‘em) Willamette River bridges on closed roads and freeways.

August 24: Bike Ride
The Tour de Victoria will be our first metric century — a 100K bike ride around downtown Victoria, BC and its surroundings.

October 12: Half/Full Marathon
We’ll be back in Victoria for this one. This is where I ran my marathon in 2013. For 2014 I plan to go back to the half (it will be my third Victoria half marathon), and CFL says he is going to walk the full marathon. We’ll see how he feels about that one when the time comes.

I’m sure other events will come up, and we’ll fit them in somehow. These are just the major ones that will require planning and preparation. We have several road trips planned as well, all of which will include some brewery tourism.

Yet even with all the training and traveling, we should have plenty of room on our calendars for hiking (I really need to do an overnight backpack trip this summer), walking around town, and hanging out with friends. And brewing, of course.

I’m guessing that we’ll end up doing at least 2,400 total miles this year. That seems like a worthy and achievable goal.

Right now, as I’m writing this, I’m thinking about an easy afternoon hike on a lowland forest trail. Although the sunsets are already noticeably later than two weeks ago, I’d better get out there while there is still plenty of daylight!

What’s on your calendar? What new goals have you set for yourself in 2014?

Slow and happy!