Tag Archives: humor

A Tour of the Trail

Ok, except for my son losing his next-to-last baby tooth, it’s been a rather slow unexciting week since Ragnar last weekend. I took my legs for a two mile test drive around the neighborhood Tuesday just to be sure they still worked and they were ok, albeit a little tired. My muscles were wary of the exercise. “What’s going on here?” legs asked brain. “You better not be putting us through that hell again! I swear, we’ll give out right here in the Azaleas!”

“Relax,” brain replied. “It’s just a little two mile jaunt to keep you from getting lazy. If you’re good, I’ll reward you with a nice foam roll later.”

“Really? A foam roll?”

So that went well, but I took it easy for the rest of the week until Saturday morning. In lieu of some exciting adventure, I thought I would take you on a tour of the trail I ran.

Some new trails recently opened up at Skyline park including a couple of loops that, according to the map, were fairly level (an elevation gain of 280 feet over six miles). I woke up early to catch my legs unaware, hoping to get in a few miles before they knew what hit them.

granite-falls-trailFrom the parking lot, I took the Turnbuckle trail to the first loop, Granite Falls. The route would wind through the above pictured valley and intersect with another loop, Chuckwalla.

It started off nice and the elevation gain was minimal. However, soon there were deep washes to cross and small hills to climb. I had brief flashbacks to the Yellow Loop at Ragnar and broke out in cold sweats. My legs woke up, “What’s going on here? Hey! Where are we?” Brain was wise though and slowed the pace, walking the ups and running the downs and flats with about 200 breaks to take pictures. It was a gorgeous, cool November morning.

saguaro-cactus

two-barrel-cacti
Two Barrel Cacti

Take a look at the above two pics. One of the most fascinating things about the desert, to me, is how plants and animals adapt. Saguaro cacti, among others, often grow under a bush or tree such as the Palo Verde. The shade helps them survive the hot sun. Personally, I prefer a hat and some iced tea.

trail-at-sunrise
This is just a picture of me on stilts and a really tall cactus in the background.

chuckwalla-trailheadAfter almost two miles on Granite Falls, I crossed to the Chuckwalla trail. This is where things got interesting. As the trail took off into near unexplored territory, I found a dead body! The flesh had decayed and rotted away so all that was left was the skeleton. I could see the ribs and everything!

saguaro-cactus-skeletonYeah, it’s a Saguaro cactus skeleton. Did I have you going? When it rains, such cacti soak up the water into a fleshy center and the ribs expand allowing it to survive long periods without rain. The surface of the cactus, or skin, has a waxy coating to keep the moisture from evaporating. What a wise design!

saguaro-bootThe needles keep large prey away from the smaller critters who make the cactus their home. The hard white shell-looking thing with a hole is actually a scar that forms when birds such as woodpeckers dig in. It’s rare to find one like this, intact. Sometimes, it’s called a boot for the shape. Woodpeckers burrow the holes and typically stay for one season then move, leaving a vacancy for other birds. They used to have a timeshare type of agreement but that led to all sorts of lawsuits so now it’s more of a co-op. Here are some other pics.

Below is a petroglyph I found left by the Yavapai Indians of a studly warrior. Impressive. I bet he lost his other arm fighting off a bear or mountain lion to protect his tribe.

studly-warriorAs for the wildlife, I didn’t see much running around, but I did see signs that they had been there. The sand in the washes had lots of tracks: coyotes, quail and below is a pic of a javelina hoofprint. They travel the trails at night searching for trail mix and popcorn dropped by unwitting tourists.

javelina-hoofprintBy now you’re saying, “Ok Doug, how much running did you actually do with all this picture-taking?” As I said, I took it easy and didn’t check my pace. Legs and brain worked out an agreement and everyone was happy with it.

field-of-chollasHere is a field of Cholla cacti at sunrise, also known as Jumping Chollas. They strike fear into the hearts of all Arizona hikers and trail runners. You will be running by, minding your own business saying, “Oh, look at the pretty cactus holes” when all of a sudden Hah! one launches itself at you and digs into your leg. You will lose a pound of flesh getting that sucker out. Ok, well, they don’t really fly off the plant at you. It just seems that way. And the hooks on the needles will make you want to leave it in.

“That? Oh, that’s just a souvenir of my trip to Phoenix. I’ve named it Cholly.”

Here’s a picture of the Cholla balls (for lack of a better term). They are all over the place, patiently waiting for an unsuspecting passerby with tall white socks.

cholla-ballsOne brave critter that’s not afraid of these balls is the pack rat. They gather sticks and leaves to build a burrow then place these strategically around the outside to keep predators at bay. Tough little creatures. I once saw one with a patch over one eye and asked him how he got it. He said, “Don’t ask,” then flicked his cigarette butt at me. [shiver]

pack-rat-nest
Pack rat nest
sad-saguaro
This is just a sad Saguaro that needs a blue pill.

prayer-circleTowards the end of my run, I came across this structure (above). I got excited and thought, Cool! It must be an old prayer circle or maybe a famous tribal leader was buried there. I approached with reverence and wondered at the history of the site. Then I saw what was at the center.

markerIt was a survey marker from the Army Corps of Engineers. So I didn’t feel bad about stepping all over it to get the shots!

turnbuckle-markerAnd so Chuckwalla turned back to Granite Falls which connected once again with Turnbuckle and soon I was within a half mile of the parking lot. Rounding a corner, I swallowed the last gulp of water and let out a satisfying belch as two young girls came into view, jumping with surprise.

“It was a rat,” I said. “Watch out for the one with the patch.”

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and maybe learned something about the desert. If not, I hope you had a nice nap.

Cool runnings, my friends!

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Howling Halloween 5k

The focus of my running for the past few years has been mainly on half marathons with a couple of 5k’s thrown in for fun. This year, one of my favorite 5k’s has gone the way of the Sony Walkman – disappeared, vanished, all but forgotten with no regard for its contribution to society and its inspiration to countless masses yearning to break free from the bonds of conformity, existing merely as a dust-covered memory in the dark shadows of our minds. Uh, where was I? Oh, so I was looking for a fun Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas themed run as I haven’t done one before.

Using the power of Facebook, I put out an APB to see if any of my local friends had one they were doing. Crickets. So I searched and found a Halloween themed 5k at a nearby park complete with glow-in-the-dark shirts and medals (which doubled as bottle openers) and even had a Groupon. Jackpot!

the-howling-night-runAgain, I harnessed Facebook to see if anyone wanted to run it with me. One friend offhandedly showed some mild interest, so I quickly pressured him into signing up with his wife and we were set!

Now I needed a costume. So I hit the Goodwill store and saw that they had clown wigs (or maybe they were shower poufs). Perfect! I had a red nose at home and picked up a big bow tie at another store. Clowns are funny, I thought. Oh sure, clowns have gotten a bad rap lately, but I won’t look like one of them. I’ll be a happy clown spreading good cheer and laughter.

WARNING:  The picture below is not for the faint of heart. Do not scroll down if you have a pacemaker or high blood pressure. Pregnant women in their third trimester should consult their gynecologist.

I parked and got out of the car. Various people were milling about, none of whom were in costume, of course. Although as more people arrived, a few princesses and aliens popped up. It was a nighttime run on an unlighted course so we all had headlamps.

Here’s a picture of me that my friend, Steve, took.

skittles-nightmareI call it the Skittles Nightmare. Now, in my defense, it was unusually hot and that wig made my head sweat. It hasn’t seen that much hair since I turned 40. The red nose made me sound like Rosie O’Donnell and I couldn’t breath with it, so that disappeared. As for the look on my face… don’t know what to tell you… it’s a cyclops clown with a five o’clock shadow who just ate a lemon.

Needless to say, I did not spread laughter and cheer wherever I went. Women gasped and little children ran away.

It was dark when we started the race. I was a few steps ahead of Steve and, as we passed through the starting arch, they flashed a strobe light in our eyes just as we ran over the timing sensor bump. I stumbled and looked back to warn Steve but he was already doing the zombie two-step, nearly doing a face plant. I should have given him my rubber nose, I thought.

It was a well set up course with the expected ghosts and ghouls hanging in the trees. The first half mile had a slight incline but after that it was a very pleasant level course. As I said, it was a warm night and I paced myself comfortably. A little boy and his mom were running alongside of me. He wore a black suit with skeleton bones and a skull mask. He yelled something unintelligible through his mask about the heat, then ripped it off and pitched it to the ground taking off like a cheetah, his mom in pursuit.

Around the halfway mark, I came upon a table on the side of the road with a man laying on top and a crazy doctor cutting him in half with a saw. There were some girls near me and we all approached to get a closer look. The patient had a turkey baster or something and squirted us with it. My shorts now had a wet spot, but it was dark so it was ok.

Towards the end there were some Sheriff’s deputies and my first thought was to yell, Don’t arrest me. I’m not one of those creepy clowns. I’m part of the race. But instead, I shone my light in their eyes as I passed. The funny thing is, the bright clown colors attracted bugs. I must have swallowed the equivalent of a trucker’s windshield by the end of the race. Speedy Steve waited at the finish line to cheer me in and a cute little zombie girl handed me a medal. “Don’t eat my brains,” I teased as she inched closer to her mother.

I was looking for the water station as my mouth was coated with wings and legs and, upon finding it, discovered there were no cups left. It was like that milk commercial where the guy finds himself surrounded by delicious cookies and starts chowing down, only to find the milk carton empty and that he has died and gone to hell.

“I have some water in my truck,” Steve offered.

“Oh, I’m ok,” I choked. “I do too. (hack, hack)”

Overall, it was a pretty fun race although $45 is steep for a 5k. I wouldn’t have done it without the Groupon. For the next 5k fun run, I will plan further ahead and get my kids to join me. I thanked Steve and his wife, Cece, for joining me then headed home to my family and a bottle of nut brown home brew.

Tonight I will take my kids trick-or-treating. Parker as an old man. Carson as a Phantom. The clown outfit is nicely tucked away until next year.

This Friday is the Ragnar trail relay and I’ll have a full report after it’s over.

Cool runnings to you, my friends!

Sunrise Run, an Old Man and a Phantom

Have you ever been running down a trail and you don’t lift your foot high enough and end up kicking a rock way out in front of you? Yeah, that happened to me only it wasn’t just a few feet down the trail.

There I was out for an early morning six mile trail run, contemplating such things as the economy and how to stop the pigeons from eating my winter grass seed, and my legs were getting a little tired. My right foot rolled a rock underneath which rolled right onto my left foot in mid-stride and I ended up kicking that sucker a good 10 yards. A placekicker couldn’t have done better. It flew along the trail and rolled off the downhill side where it smacked into a creosote bush. A bird flew out, “Bastard!” it said in birdspeak.

But I’m ahead of myself. My original plan for the weekend was to run a six mile trail run Saturday morning with some jackrabbits (that’s what I call anyone who’s faster than me, including Mrs. Crabbles down at the senior center with her fancy four-wheeled walker), run four more that night and another three Sunday morning. This was all in preparation for the Ragnar trail relay in two weeks. I told Gwen if I didn’t survive to spread my ashes across some local trails and my favorite recliner in the family room so I could be forever close to them.

Saturday morning, I got up at 4:30 and was all ready to go. I chickened out. All I could think about was this group of people impatiently waiting for me at the end of the trail, wondering whether to send out a search party or move on to power pilates before a nice brunch of kale and açai berries.

I texted an excuse and instead headed to a closer park. With an hour before sunrise, I donned the hydration pack, switched on my headlamp and took off down the trail. There was a nice cool breeze blowing and I thought about how cool it would be to have a cape. I made a mental note.

Two-thirds of the course was a gentle incline with some dips and washes. Lots of horse droppings as this trail is next to a horse arena and includes some water troughs. I wouldn’t mind the droppings so much since they quickly disintegrate to nothing, it’s just that they’re so big, and right in the middle of the trail. I’ve often thought that next to the dog poop baggy dispenser at the trailhead, they should have a Glad bag dispenser for horse poop. One distracted step and you would go down faster than a slick-shoed bowling pro in a hockey rink.

As the sun rose, I stopped to snap some pics. Alas, the iPhone camera just doesn’t do it justice. This, however, is why I like running trails and just being in the outdoors. I never get tired of God’s awesome creation. One day they’ll find my body hanging by my shorts snagged at the top of a Saguaro cactus, camera in hand as I tried to get that perfect shot of a Cactus Wren feeding her young.

estrella-sunrise-saguaroestrella-sunrise-horizonsun-peeking-outIt was a three mile loop of trails that I did twice and, though my pace was slower than I would have liked, I felt pretty good afterwards.

Saturday night I didn’t get in the four miler as planned. We (me, my wife and boys) went to a Halloween party and Haunted Hike at Estrella Mountain Park instead. The ranger there is terrific and they had games like Eat-Brains-On-A-String and Stick-Your-Hand-In-A-Bucket-Of-Goo-And-Find-The-Bugs, plus crafts, live snakes and other critters.

Parker was an Old Man and Carson called himself a Phantom, but he looked like the Grim Reaper to me so I’ll call him the Phantom Reaper.

old-manphantom-reaperCarson’s skeleton hand is actually a bag holder. You put the candy in his hand and it disappears. The same thing happens when you put it in his mouth, you just gotta watch your fingers.

Parker’s costume is just hilarious. Even the expression on his face reminds me of dad. Whoops, I mean a different grumpy old man.

After the fun and games, we went on a hike. I thought it would be a short quarter mile loop like they did two years ago, but it was a mile and a half up the mountain. So we didn’t have water, we used our phones as flashlights and the boys were wearing black dress shoes. I don’t think they enjoyed it as much as I did.

haunted-hike

There were probably two hundred people on that hike. Occasionally, somebody would pop out of the bushes and scare the kids. One guy was hidden up the hill making noises like a cat. He had us going for a minute as there are bobcats in the area. “Is that a mountain lion?” “That sounds like a sick coyote, look out.” But then he started laughing.

Near the top was a full size skeleton in hiking gear laying on the side of the trail. The ranger said, “Look at the hat” and moved on. I looked at the hat and it had the name of a nearby competitor mountain park. The message was clear: don’t cross Ranger Tippy. Great view of the city lights from up there.

The next morning, I woke up early and got out for a three miler around the neighborhood. The birds were chirping, the sun was shining brightly and there was a smell of manure in the air from the adjacent farms. Ahh, this wonderful weather is what brings the snowbirds (that’s local slang for seasonal visitors fleeing south to avoid the snow). Traffic gets thick with them so we build golf courses to try and spread them out.

My legs were a bit heavy and I think I may have pushed the trail run too hard. Two weeks until Ragnar. I have mixed emotions about it, sort a of nervous anxiety about my performance (no honeymoon cracks, please). Not as excited as I should be.

Next weekend is a Halloween 5k, then there’s the Rock ‘n’ Roll half, followed by the Sun Health half and a Kiss Me I’m Irish race with my boys. Been doing at least three half marathons a year for a while and I’m considering reducing that to one next season. Maybe do some more 5k’s with my boys instead. We’ll see. 5k’s are almost as expensive as HMs anymore. I’m running out of stuff around the house to sell on Craigslist, and it’s only a matter of time before Gwen finds out her favorite sweater is missing.

Cool runnings to you, my friends!

Bees, Chollas and Horses, Oh My!

Last week’s runs and the hike on Saturday went so much better than the previous two weeks. A few things changed. First, the weather is cooler which means there is more oxygen in the air and fewer bugs. I find it’s better to bring my own fuel rather than rely on the occasional gnat. They just don’t satisfy.

Second, I got over whatever virus or bacteria was feasting on my insides – probably swallowed a bad gnat. All the blood in my body was torn between fighting off the microscopic invasion and supplying oxygen to my muscles as I forced my legs to run. I should’ve known better when my vision got spotty, my head whirled and the bees buzzing the cactus flowers started to look like tiny fairies with blue hair.

“Mister, are you ok?” a kind passerby would ask.

“These must be the retired fairies.”

“Ok then. Have a nice day.”

And third, I stopped pushing so hard. The trail runs became slower paced hikes and my distance runs were done on the road. Once my body got the rest it needed, the runs became pleasurable again. I lifted my head to take in the sights again which, since I run in the evenings, include Burrowing Owls and the rare bat chasing a moth under the streetlight.

Twice last week my boys joined me for an easy two-mile run. Actually, they turned into walks when the little one got a side stitch after three blocks, but I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world. I love it when they join me. The older one is a different story. He’ll literally run in circles around me because he can’t stand to go so slow. “Come on, dad. Where’s the next turn.”

“Save your energy, son, (huff, puff) so you’ll have something left (puff, huff) at the end.” Who am I kidding? The kid has boundless energy and weighs only as much as one of my shoes. He’s all knees, elbows and big feet. When he stands on his toes he shoots up another foot. When he sticks his tongue out he looks like a zipper. When he… well, you get the picture. He’s built to run. Wish I could convince him to join the school cross country team. “No way! That’s hard work.”

On my trail run last Saturday, I wised up and took the Turnbuckle trail loop the opposite direction from the last two times so I would be going down the switchbacks instead of up them. It was much easier as the incline (560 feet) was spread out over half the loop. I did stop to take several pictures, though. What did you expect? I may have to curb this photographic desire during the Ragnar relay.

I mentioned bees earlier. For some reason, the restrooms at the park attract bees. Flies I can understand, but bees? They buzz the toilets and sinks, scaring away small children (which might explain all the yellow bushes around there). I can tell you I won’t be eating any of their honey. So the park people put buckets of water behind the building in an attempt to attract them away from the toilets. The lure worked for a while as you can see from the bucket of dead bees below. But only the slow ones fell for it. The smart bees figured it out when their brother buzzers didn’t come back. “Don’t go over there, Harry! It’s a trick. You can’t swim!”

Here are some pictures from along the trail. Fall in the Valley of the Sun is different from other places. We don’t have it. But the desert has a rugged beauty that I appreciate more as I learn more about it and experience it.

turnbuckle-1turnbuckle-4turnbuckle-5turnbuckle-7selfieFor example, the below pic of a Jumping Cholla cactus. It looks innocent enough, but the mere name of it strikes fear into the hearts of hikers all across the southwest. I’ve heard countless horror stories of people and pets being attacked by these predators. Did you ever see the Star Trek episode where they’re on the planet and one of the red shirts gets hit by a flower that pops up and shoots tiny darts? Yeah, that’s this.

“Doug, I was walking by minding my own business getting ready to throw bread crumbs out for the cute little quail, when all of a sudden this cactus barb jumped out at me and stuck into my leg! It was horrible. Now my Hello Kitty tattoo is disfigured.”

jumping-chollaYes indeed. You have to watch out for these suckers because the needles have little hooks on the ends and pulling them out is far more painful than getting them in you. The pic below is a whole forest of them. They looked down on me ominously, daring me to pass. I felt like Indiana Jones running through the temple, leaping over skeletons with the little golden statue as poisonous darts and spears whizzed by overhead. At least, that’s how it was in my head.

cholla-forestBut once you know the warning signs – bits of clothing, flesh and tufts of fur on the ground – you can avoid them for the most part. Once, I saw a whole sock stuck to one. Poor guy, wonder what happened to his foot. [shiver]

After that, I quickly came to the high point of the trail where in the past I would take a short break and continue on down. But this time I felt good and decided to hike the extra .33 miles up to the vista point. It was quite a bit steeper and mountain goat rugged, and it began with this sign:

vista-trail-3My first thought was, how did they get this pole up here? Sherpa? Here is what the trail looked like:

vista-trail-1Yes, there is a trail there. I’ll admit I stopped a few times to catch my breath and look around. At one point, I heard voices behind me, “F— this! F— that! Blank, blank Fat Cat…” I stopped and turned around and saw a stream of teenage boys coming up the trail. One of them had a pack on his back with rap music blaring. I let them pass.

A few minutes later we all reached the top and were in awe of the view. Thankfully, they had turned the music off. It turned out they were from a local high school.

vista-point-2vista-point-3The trek back down was enjoyable. No trips, stumbles or resulting landslides. No cholla bristles in my tushy. Towards the end, I did come across some people on horseback.

“Beautiful day!” I said to the lady.

“It sure is!” she responded and stopped. I assumed she was waiting for me to pass, so I advanced, but her horse had stopped to pee. This thing was like the Old Faithful geyser, splattering shoes, socks, rocks and cacti. Bugs and beetles fled like rats. I would have gasped, but prudently closed my mouth instead.

I looked up at the lady. She said, “He does that. That’s my boy,” and gave its neck a pat then walked on or pranced or whatever horses do and we passed each other. I gingerly stepped over the Rio Grande with my now spotted shoes and continued around the corner to the end of the trail.

horsesThe entire hike totaled just over four miles with the vista point added in and I felt really good afterwards.

That afternoon, the fam and I went to a new theater in the neighborhood with the largest screen in Arizona – although we were in a smaller adjacent theater – and saw “Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life.” I wasn’t sure about the movie, but was pleasantly surprised. I liked the message it gave about releasing imagination and creativity. Plus, there was a bar in the lobby.

theater-with-barI got to bring my local microbrew ale into the movie and kick back in my recliner. Yes, the seats reclined. Ahh, what a great Saturday!

Cool runnings to you, my friends!

Ghosts and Gatorade

Oy, I’ve been dragging this past week. We don’t have fall color changes here in the  Valley of the Sun (pretty much brown year round) but one of the signs that the season has changed besides Count Chocula, Boo Berry and Frankenberry cereals appearing on the shelves, is we get sick. Pretty much a certainty, just like when the kids return to school after summer break.

“What did you learn in school today, son?”

“That there’s a case of strep going around.”

Thursday night in the wee hours of the morning, I got a chill. Not a spooky chill like there was a ghost in the room – although I’m pretty sure late uncle Eddie gets his kicks moving my glasses while I’m sleeping – but the chill you get when you’re hot and cold at the same time. Gwen would later tell me I had a fever. I woke up having to pee really badly but I was barely keeping warm under the covers. Laying there in misery for what seemed like an hour, I finally went for it. I thought, I’ll run! Yeah, that didn’t go so well.

The second I stood, I started shivering and banged my shin on the edge of the box frame. Gwen stirred and I whispered, “Shh, it’s just me vacuuming,” thinking that would appease her because she hates to do it. I did the shiver-shuffle to the bathroom groping for the walls afraid I was going to pass out. Wouldn’t she love to find me on the bathroom floor in the morning with my underpants around my ankles and a bruised shin.

As badly as I was shaking, I decided it was better to sit down. If worse came to worst, I would blame the kids.

After another couple hours of sleep, I felt better and went to work where there is a thermostat war raging between the receptionist and the financial executive.

Friday night I wanted to get in six miles so that I could hit a trail on Saturday. I managed to run most of the first three miles, then all of a sudden I felt weak, like my energy reserves had petered out and I got really thirsty. One word popped into my head: sugar. I smacked my lips, boy, a grape soda would be really good right now!

For the next three miles, most of which I walked, I weighed the arguments in my mind: grape soda or Gatorade. Gatorade has the nutrients, electrolytes and carbs my body needs. Grape soda has sugar. Gatorade comes in a bigger bottle but man the carbonation and strong flavor of grape soda would sure be satisfying…  and on it went. I kid you not.

The minute I got home, I grabbed my car keys and told my wife I was going out for a drink. What did I get? Both of them. While slamming the grape soda in the QT parking lot, I thought, I’ll save the Gatorade for my hike in the morning. When I got home, Gwen was in bed so I sat and watched Star Trek (original series episode, yes, I’m a proud Trekkie) and drank the Gatorade.

I sat there, basking in my hydration, rubbing my extended belly. “I think I’ll name you… Graporade,” I told it and belched my kids’ full names.

The next morning, I felt fine and was looking forward to a three mile hike in the brisk desert air. If you read my last blog, you know how the Turnbuckle trail got the best of me last week. So now I was out for revenge. This week I’ll conquer those switchbacks!

Guess I should have known I was in for it when I stood at the trailhead setting my Runkeeper app and a lady with a walking stick said, “You look lost. Do you need help with the trails?”

“No, I’m just testing my Life-Alert button.” I never saw her again.

The difference between this hike and last week’s hike is that last week was a run, or an attempt at it. This week would be a moderately paced hike.

I did well up until the switchbacks. Once I started up those, again my energy reserves gave out and I felt weak, wishing I had brought some fuel. I had my Camelback with ice water (which I finally figured out how to properly use, which is another story), but no snacks. It was just a three miler. Who brings snacks?

I started looking around at the vegetation. Didn’t the Yavapai use that plant for food? Or was it for starting fires? As I continued up, I slowed down and could feel my head starting to swim. Not a good sign. I rested on a rock and began to make my peace with God. “Doug!” I looked up, “Yes, Father. I am ready.”

“It’s Doug Irby! Heeeyy!” Coming down the trail was my buddy, Steve, his family and some other friends waving and yelling. I couldn’t help but smile. Good, a large group. They can distribute my body weight.

“How’s it going?” We chatted for a few minutes and I tried not to complain, always truly happy to see friends. Then he told me he just did 22 push-ups out on the vista point. “That’s nice,” I said.

“Wanna see?” as he pulled out his phone.

“I believe you” and I watched the little high-speed video of him cranking out push-ups like a hyperactive cricket against a gorgeous mountain backdrop. That’s not natural, I thought. There’s something wrong with him. But it was then I decided that the Insanity classes had really done him well and I should find a way to make that work.

The problem is, I am gone eleven hours a day, Monday through Friday, and sit nine hours of it at a desk. It is much too sedentary. I remember an article last year in Runner’s World that cardio exercise loses most of its health benefits when you sit for so long. I do have a stand-up/sit down workstation but movement is what’s needed. Here’s a link to a similar article I found online.

Maybe old uncle Eddie is just doing his part to get me my morning cardio with the daily glasses search.

Here’s to hoping this week is better because Ragnar is closing in. I did just order some nighttime running gear so that’s exciting.

Cool runnings, my friends!

Switchbacks and Haircuts

Saturday’s trail run was interesting. My younger son, Carson, wanted to come so Gwen came along to hike a newly opened trail with him while I ran. This time I wanted to increase my distance so I looked at the nice colorized map they had posted and picked out a three mile loop with a section of trail I had not done before. “I’ll just go around this one twice,” I told her.

The new Granite Falls trail, which they would take, split off in a quarter mile from the Turnbuckle trail that I had chosen.

gwen-and-carsonIt was a beautiful morning – the birds were chirping, a breeze was blowing and my hair looked good. Off I went ahead of them.

Boy, this starts off steep, I thought as I went up along the mountainside. I looked over at the new trail noticing how nice and level it was, winding between the hills. I hustled as much as I could (and pushed too hard too early – rookie mistake) and thought, Hope I can get around the corner soon so they don’t see how slow I’m going. Gwen would later show me her phone, “Here’s a picture I took of the trail. You’re right there,” she said pointing to my red shirt. I KNEW I should have worn the camo shirt.

Around the corner the trail leveled out and I booked it. Woo hoo! Now I’m cooking with gas! A gradual but mild incline around to the back of the mountain. As I was about to turn another corner, I heard voices behind me and saw Gwen and Carson coming around the bend.

What the heck?! How did they get so close? Carson raised his arms and ran down the trail “Weeee!” We had passed the split-off for their trail, so I yelled, “You’re on the wrong trail!” They both froze and looked at me. It was then that I noticed it wasn’t them. It was another mother and her daughter and I think I scared the crap out of them.

“Is that man threatening us? Stay close, Susie!” I turned and continued around the corner, determining that anything else I said would only come across as creepy. I’ll just put some distance between us.

I came around the back of the mountain and my eyes grew as big as cueballs at the sight of what awaited: The Switchbacks from Hell.

switchbacks-from-hell“That doesn’t look so bad, Doug. What are you complaining about?” This picture doesn’t do it justice because you can’t see the angle at which I’m looking up. I actually got a crick in my neck.  They’re tiny in the picture, but if you look closely you can see used oxygen canisters along the path. Base Camp 4 is just beyond that bush on the left.

Along the way, I came across far wiser people than I who took this way down. One flushed man said, “I’ve hiked the Grand Canyon before and this is worse.” He told me about a short trail near the top that leads to a vista point.

Another lady on her way down with a dog only laughed when I asked if I was almost there. Her dog pooped on the trail to accentuate the absurdity of my question.

Huffing and puffing, I climbed the switchbacks one at a time, taking frequent rest stops disguised as photo ops. Somewhere around halfway, the lady and her daughter caught up to me and quickly passed. The mom pulled out her phone while grabbing her daughter’s hand – predialed to 9-1-1 no doubt. I had in mind to say something clever and witty but was too winded to speak.

Eventually, I made it to the top and felt immensely proud! Here is a panoramic shot.

pano-from-the-peakThe path straight ahead leads to the vista point which was tempting but it was a quarter mile further and I was way behind already.

Obviously, the downhill was faster and I ran most of it, satisfactorily passing the lady and her daughter. I got to the bottom and thought, there’s no way I’m doing that twice. So I intended to catch up to Gwen and Carson along the other trail, but she was already waiting under a tree, taking my picture.

meWhen I got home, I decided to go get my hair cut. A friend had given me a card for a free haircut with the VIP treatment at Sport Clips. Have you heard of this place? It was amazing! You go in and there’s a big screen tv in the waiting area showing football.

After exchanging the standard greeting grunts with the other guys, I sat and watched Notre Dame. Then she called me back, sat me down and cut my hair. As always, I produced a plastic baggie and asked her to save the clippings. “Someday, scientists will find a way to reattach them and I want to be prepared.”

After that, she said, “This way,” and walked into a dimly lit back room. I was a little worried. “If this is about the hair, you can keep it,” I told her. “Bald is beautiful.”

There in the little room were a couple of chairs and sinks. Oh, she just wants to rinse my hair, I thought. She had me sit down and lean back with my head in the sink. Then she pulled up a footrest and turned on the chair. Yes, she “turned on” the chair. It was a massaging recliner! How cool is that? Actually, it was more like one of those vibrating tabletop electric football games that shakes the little players up and down the field. But it was nice and I was pretty sure the whole rig  would have me vibrating across the floor and bumping into a wall. Then she massaged my scalp and put a hot towel on my face (not sure what that was about). After a few minutes of that, she dried my head and brought me back out front where she turned on a neck massager and did my neck and shoulders.

“This is heaven on a lollipop stick!” I said, glancing to the guys in the bleachers whose mouths were hanging open. Seriously, after it was over I wanted a cigarette. I didn’t care what my hair looked like. Hair? What hair? Don’t tell Gwen, but on the way out I grabbed about five more of those cards.

That night, I ran another three miles around the hood and slept soundly, dreaming about electric football games and being tased on the trail by protective mothers.

Cool runnings to you, my friends!

Bunnies, Monkeys & Richard Simmons

This morning I had a leg cramp. I knew it was coming. I just didn’t know exactly when. It teased me last night, lurking just out of sight in my left calf then popping its head out every few minutes. Every time it twitched I massaged and rubbed it profusely! It only taunted harder, “Try as you may, you can’t stop me! I’ll wait until you’re asleep tonight dreaming about unicorns or some crap, then… BLAMMO!!!”

My boy, Parker, had a boys bible study last night in a community about 12 miles away, so after work I changed into my running supersuit, drove him out there and ran a nice four mile jaunt during his meeting. It was a beautiful area at the foot of a mountain so the roads had some mild ups and downs. A little bit of a challenge and I may have pushed a little hard because the night was cool and I felt like I could run forever.

About halfway along, I came to a park and turning around some bushes, behold, a family of cute little cottontail rabbits were romping and frolicking! There were at least five of them and when they saw me, much like quail, three of them fled in terror, “Flee! Flee!” they cried and dove into the bushes, leaving little pellets in fear. So that’s where Easter eggs come from, I thought.

mr-and-mrs-bugs-bunnyTwo of them remained and I heard one say to the other, “Don’t make any sudden moves, Martha. I’m sure it’s as scared of us as we are of it.” I slowly reached for my phone to get a pic (one of these days I’m going to make a quick-draw holster for it) and as soon as I got the shot they farted and dove into the bushes. “What, no Easter eggs?!” I shouted.

Later at home watching tv, my calf began twitching and you know the rest. At four in the morning it hit. I kept my mouth closed trying not to wake Gwen and sounded much like Frankenstein might after looking into a mirror for the first time, “mmMMMMMMMmm!!”

So then of course, as I laid there recovering wiping the tears from my eyes, I thought, I’ve got to get up in an hour anyway and there’s no way I’m falling back asleep. 

flg-x-adventure-parkOn Saturday, we took our boys to an Extreme Adventure park in Flagstaff. It was our birthday gift to them since both are in September. I was worried that it would be too scary for Carson, our younger son. But after the first time through, they didn’t want to stop. It was like watching monkeys swing through the trees on their way to a banana festival. They were a blur. They went through the kids course four times and want to go back soon.

monkeys-in-the-treesA little ways off, beyond some trees was the adult course where occasionally we would hear a scream. I asked the guide if there was a weight limit. She looked at my belly then said, “Well, the cables are tested for 1,000 pounds.”

“Does that mean no?”

Embarrassed, she said, “Oh yeah. No problem.”

I made a mental note to come back. Today was for the kids.

Now I have to tell you about Insanity! My friend, Steve, was leading his first Insanity class at EOS last Friday morning and when his wife mentioned it, I asked if I could get in. I’ve never done one before and wanted to support him and see what it was like.

insanityIgnorance is bliss because if I had known what I was in for, it would have been a lot harder to get out of bed at 4am. I brought a water bottle and hand towel for the sweat. In hindsight, a beach towel would have been better.

He started the music and we all watched as he demonstrated the moves. That looks like a good workout, I thought. Although I couldn’t make out much of what he was saying over the music, I did hear, “You can all join in anytime!”

It was going well and I was keeping up until, among the cacophony, I heard one word: Burpees. Nobody told me there would be Burpees! I looked around to see if anyone else was going to sit this one out and they were all smiling. Dang it! I managed some pushups but by the time I got up off my knees, which cracked like dry timber, everyone was back down for the next pushup.

There were some girls breakdancing 80s style and jumping, kicking and clapping like Richard Simmons on crack, and God bless them for their energy, but I was proud of myself just for not passing out. When we finished, I tossed my sweat-glossed mat onto the pile. It would probably stick to the wall if I threw it. We hi-fived and took the above group shot.

In the parking lot, I sat in the car staring at my arms hanging limply at my sides. I’ll have to steer with my lips, I thought. I stumbled into the house past my family still sleeping blissfully, dreaming of unicorns, and showered before heading back out to work where I could nap.

Truth be told, I enjoyed the class overall and wish I could do it regularly. That time of day is not happening for me, though. Steve is a great teacher and full of energy and wit and I am happy for him.

Tonight is intervals. The only time I feel fast when I run. In fact, sometimes I slick back what hair I have left so it sticks out in back and looks like I’m running fast even when I’m tying my shoes.

Cool runnings, my friends, and have a great week!

A Dark Alley

Wednesday evening’s trail run was fun (he said with a straight face). I had been looking forward to it all day. My boss wanted to discuss ideas for some upcoming ads and I said, “Trail run!”

“What?”

“Cactus and critters!”

“Doug’s gone to la la land. Anyone else have ideas?”

The thing is, I have an hour commute and normally get home a little after 5:00pm. So I left work at 4:00 and thought, Ok, I’ll get home, change into my running clothes and be at the trailhead by 5:30. The sun sets at 6:39pm so that would be perfect. I could do the longer trail! But I could almost hear the fates laughing at my well-laid plan, “Not so fast, George Banks.” [name the movie]

By the time I got through rush-hour traffic, changed, and read a magazine (I’ll let your imagination interpret that) and got to the trailhead, it was 6:30. Crap! I’ve got nine minutes until the daylight’s gone. So, disappointed, I opted for the shorter two mile trail.

Now, you would think that Wednesday evening would not be a popular day to hit the outdoors but the lot was full! It was like the cafeteria on Free Soft Serve Day at the old folks home.

All right, I’ve got to hustle, I thought as I strapped on my hydration pack, passing pedestrians left and right, feeling speedy. But I saw the moon and couldn’t help myself.

“Wow, look at that big beautiful moon,” I said to a Cactus Wren while pulling out my phone for a snapshot.

big-beautiful-moonIt looked bigger in person, I promise! Can you see it? There, just over the mountaintop? No, it’s not an airplane or speck on the lens. Google Grand Lunar Illusion.

Then it got dark. Now I know why the Ragnar people say to do a couple of training runs in the dark. I didn’t have a headlamp and all depth perception went away, so every step was a tightrope walk on the precipice of oblivion. Well, maybe not that bad but a misstep certainly could have meant a big skidding raspberry on my tush.

Uphill wasn’t bad. Downhill was out of control. The trail was littered with Ruggles (non-running folk) and I was constantly calling out, “On your left,” which means nothing to them. They either ignored me or stopped and turned around with a look of confusion.

“I can’t stop! Gang way!” as I careened on by.

Now, with no depth perception it’s impossible to tell whether a line on the trail is a step up or a step down – or even a step at all. I was busy looking at the elderly couple ahead of me, trying to decide how best to let them know I was coming up behind them without scaring them, when I came upon such a step, and it was a downer. There was a loud popping sound (probably a disk in my back giving way under the sudden strain, “You bastard! Why do you treat us like this? We’ve done nothing to you!”) as my foot landed a good six inches below where I expected it to. I let out a “Hiyah!” that must have sent horses galloping for miles. As for the old couple, I can only hope they were wearing their Depends.

I recovered with as much grace as I could muster and wished them a good evening as I trotted by. Their eyes were as big as cueballs and the lady had her hand on her chest.

Well, now I know to be prepared. The days are getting shorter and I may have to shift my running schedule around.

Until next time, cool runnings to you, my friends!

And The Thunder Rolls

Well, the jury is out on these new Bluetooth earbuds. The features and convenience are nice, but they have these rubber cups that seal them into my ears. No wax needed. They block outside noises very effectively, but they also trap noises inside. Yes, my head makes noises, doesn’t everyone’s? All my internal workings reverberate along the ear canal and it sounds like a blacksmiths convention in there. My breathing is really amplified, like an asthmatic making an obscene phone call, which might actually turn me on if my footfalls didn’t sound like Japanese Taiko drums. Am I alone here or have you experienced this too?

I discovered I was wearing them wrong when I saw Shalane Flanagan wearing some in an ad in Runner’s World. Apparently, the cord goes around behind the neck. I had been wearing them cinched up under my chin like a little boy with a cowboy hat.

So my long run came up last weekend and, let’s face it, who looks forward to the long run? I find myself looking for things to do around the house. Hmm, that tree could use some trimming. Where’s the chainsaw? Oh, and the shower drain needs to be de-hairballed. Good.

But Sunday evening came and I could put it off no longer. One thing that does motivate me for the long run is a good audiobook or a thought-provoking podcast. So I donned my earbuds and grabbed my phone and headed out the door for a 60 minute run around the neighborhood.

Earlier in the day, we went to a pot luck where I may have had a few garlic meatballs. Then a few more. So for dinner, I decided to go light and cut up some celery, carrots and had a few slices of thin crust garlic spinach pizza. I was confident no vampires would come near me that night. Well, I don’t know if it was the meatballs or the veggies or what, but halfway into the run my gut felt like a balloon. I did a quick glance back to be sure the coast was clear and let ‘er rip. Although I couldn’t hear anything because of the earbuds, it just felt loud. You know what I mean? My cheeks rattled. Grateful for once to be heading into the wind, I trotted onward, cracking thunder for about a block. After another glance back – not to check for people, but to be sure I wasn’t trailing a garlic vapor cloud – I quickly turned a corner.

The nights here in the Valley of the Sun are indeed cooler now, but also more humid, so it makes the runs a bit harder and I don’t worry about pace as much. But I don’t mind a hard run this time of year because I know that if I push, it will pay off when the weather cools.

Rounding a corner, I headed into the final mile. Running in the evenings poses a problem with being able to see obstacles, particularly on a sidewalk that is partly in shadow and could be uneven in spots. The sidewalk was lined with trees and bushes and whatever debris they may shed. So I didn’t worry when I stepped on a leaf, until it went Pop! It was a pop that I could hear through my hermetically sealed earbuds. You see, the recent rains chased all kinds of critters from their underground lairs. This one was a sewer cockroach. And there were more, I soon discovered. I tried to avoid them but it was useless. There were too many. It was like tap dancing on bubblewrap.

After that little Fred Astaire moment, I came across a cute house with an immaculate front lawn and deftly wiped my shoes on it before continuing. Hey, you don’t know! That stuff could be good grass fertilizer.

When I got home, I felt really good. Lighter for some reason. I also felt good because earlier in the day I had weighed myself and had dropped another seven pounds! Some simple diet adjustments and increased running frequency are really making a difference. I had checked out a diet book from the library, The Joy of Tapeworms, but I don’t think I’ll be needing it.

The earbuds, I don’t know… a little too soundproof for my comfort. I prefer to be more aware of my surroundings.

Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Desert.two-trails

The weekly Wednesday evening trail run was fun last week. I didn’t see any snakes or panicking quail, but the run felt good. My time is getting better around the two mile loop and I think it’s time to move over to the three miler.

On the uphill part, which is the first half of the loop, I passed a lady heading down. We exchanged the standard greeting grunts and, as I passed her I thought, I’m going to beat her back to the parking lot! So I ran uphill. And in about 50 feet I stopped to catch my breath. Then I ran again. And in about 25 feet, I stopped to catch my breath. Now, I’m no mathematician, but I do know that if you go half the distance, then half that distance and continue that way, you will never get where you are going. So I “power-walked” the rest of the uphill part. Then came the downhill and away I went. Although, I did stop to take this picture of Buckeye, AZ.

city-view

I was like a deer, darting this way and that down the trail. Dodging a loose rock here and cactus needles there. Look out for that horse poop! Leaping and prancing [stop to pet the doggies] more running, until finally I came to the bottom and saw the lady coming down the other trail approaching the bridge where they converged.

“Hey! Didn’t I just pass you?” she asked. “Did you run?”

“Well, it’s easier going downhill,” I replied trying not to sound out of breath and turning a little blue from the effort.

We chatted as we crossed the bridge to the parking lot. She said she saw a baby rattlesnake and some quail and told me about some kids cutting cross-country. I told her about the dogs I petted.

There is always something to enjoy in a run, even the long runs. Find it and savor it.

Cool runnings to you, my friends!

Trail Tales and Tails

Last night’s trail run was awesome. Not because I nailed the run – the trail has a 400 foot elevation gain, plus I stopped every 50 feet to take a picture of something – but I saw critters! Oh, yes I did!

That is one of the best parts of being outdoors. I love the rugged beauty, the colors of the sky as the sun rises and sets, reflecting vividly off the scattered clouds and city smog. And I like looking for critters. It’s always interesting to me how creatures survive in the desert. They’re smart, that’s how. They peek out at me from the shade of a bush and one will say to the other, “Look at that big critter out in the sun in ninety-five degree heat! And it’s running! I give it two-to-one against making it to the parking lot.” And they high five each other.

Well, after overdoing it in previous weeks, I took a “rest” rest day two days ago, as opposed to an “active” rest day like the plan calls for. I massaged and babied my feet and calves and did the tennis ball foot roll, you know the one, and felt great going into the run.

The first critters I came across were a covey of quail. As I crossed the bridge to the trailhead, they warbled and whooped and about a dozen of them skittered up the wash yelling, “Flee! Flee! A human!” A couple of the little walnuts couldn’t manage and tumbled back down. Quail. Cool. I thought.

For about the first kilometer, I walked, gradually picking up the pace. There are a number of trails in Skyline Park that I have yet to explore, but currently I run a 2.16 mile loop. The first half of which is all uphill which is the way I like it. Then I can run back down and feel like a seasoned trail runner.

Trail switchback
Mountain Wash trail going from left to the saddle on top.

After the warmup, I run as I can taking walk breaks up the steep inclines. A drawback is the residue of another critter that shares these trails: horses. Gotta watch where you put your foot. As I rounded the curve shown above, I stopped to take the picture and swig some water. The bottle I used (past tense) was a cool little ditty, ergonomically shaped to fit snuggly in the back of my shorts – don’t go there! – against the small of my back. It was a major award that I won in one of Coach Jenny’s early Challenge contests for who deserves one the most. I submitted a picture of a skeleton in running gear complaining about the heat in Phoenix. Winner! Anyway, I pulled it out of my shorts – don’t go there! – and popped the top to sip some nice refreshing H2O, and it broke. “Oh man! Are you kidding me?” I said to the bush critters. Well, I just unscrewed it and drank, of course, but it annoyed me. I liked that bottle. Then I snapped another picture of a creosote bush and continued to the top and over.

Creosote Bush
Creosote bush in bloom. The leaves smell like rain when you rub them in your fingers. You know what rain smells like – wet dirt.

Now came the fun part, running downhill. Like a giddy teenager. I still haven’t mastered this technique. They say you are not supposed to run with your feet pointed straight down as it’s hard on the toes (and toenails) and tires your quads faster. But I have a fear of rolling my ankles if I turn sideways. Guess I should slow down a little.

So, there I was, minding my own business, barreling down the trail like a runaway freight train when I saw a rattlesnake across the path.

rattler
Rattlesnake. Taking its sweet time crossing the trail.

I’ll admit, my first thought was Awesome! and I stopped to take a picture. Then I thought, I wonder if there are more, and looked around. We were alone. So I waited for him to cross the trail. Sure, I could have hopped over him, but I figured why risk damage to my nether region. With my luck, I would get the one snake in the world that can strike three feet straight up from a prone position. But he was moving pretty slowly, wobbling his head back and forth like he was three sheets to the wind.

“Don’t let me interrupt your evening stroll.” I said. After a minute or two, I moved on and continued my barreling.

Coming up the other way, a big guy approached with earbuds and a lot of sweat. Judging by the look on his face, he was pissed off about something. Maybe his girlfriend just broke up with him. Or it could have been the elevation climb. I stopped him to tell him about the snake and he grunted an acknowledgement.

Towards the end of the trail I came up behind a couple. They were stopped and she was holding a camera. “Enough with the pictures,” he said. “We’re here, out in it!” I greeted them as I passed then stopped and took out my phone for a picture.

If I hadn’t recently been on an informative hike with a park ranger, I would have missed it all together, attributing it to a buildup of debris from the rain last week. That’s a pack rat nest! When I moved in for a closer look, a little face with black beady eyes ducked inside. I held my phone up to get the shot and the couple moved passed me. Probably wondering why I was taking a picture of a pile of sticks.

pack rat
Pat rack nest. It’s difficult to get a sense of the dimension and depth from this picture.

I finished the run feeling very satisfied. The critters… the scenery… and what made me cherish it a little more was the fact that it would be my only trail run for the week. I need to slowly build up to more time on the trails. In the meantime, my distance runs will be on the streets with an entirely different set of critters.

Cool runnings my friends!