standing in the shade of the family tree.

"...as I have at last grasped that the task of understanding where one came from and how one came from it are not as simple as I would have supposed it to be when I was younger."
- Larry McMurtry from Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen

Just past 9:00 on Friday, October 8th I, along with my mother, stepfather, aunt and grandmother, safety-belted Lily Harper and Piper Bea into the car seats perched high in the rented van waiting to escort us all to a lovely little cabin near Denmark, Maine.

Lindsay waved good-soldierly from the porch, bound to home by classes meant to push forward her career but that, at that moment, could only have felt like obstacles to a getaway with her husband and children. My heart ached at the idea of leaving her behind and swelled with pride and love for her determination to foresee the long-ranging benefits of her sacrifice.

Already an hour beyond their normal bedtimes, Lil and Pipe were both wide-eyed-awake with an expectancy that they couldn't possibly have understood but that would sustain them for most of an 11-hour traversal of seven states.

My stepfather and I swapped driving duties throughout the nighttime hours and the rising sun found us making quick work of the small sliver of New Hampshire that wedged itself between the northeast corner of Massachusetts and the welcoming arms of southeastern Maine.  Breakfast was sought, pinpointed and devoured.  After a brief visit to the stately Portland Head Light on Cape Elizabeth, we circumnavigated sprawling Sebago Lake and reached the quieter confines of the woods surrounding Hancock Pond.

The crisp air, dazzling fall foliage and straight-from-my-daydreams cabin on the lake beckoned for us to step out of the van and officially get our vacationing under way. The next 9 days were to be filled with stunning examples of natural beauty, robust shared laughter, first time adventures and the collective embrace of nothing NEEDING to be done.

And the days would be spent together, doing only those things that we WANTED to do.  We gazed out on an endless ocean and a lake that had a visible end but no shortage of loveliness.  We were serenaded, hauntingly, by the loons and scolded and bullied by the neighborhood kingfisher.  A visit to a county fair that toed the New Hampshire border brought close encounters with cows, goats, carousels, bouncy-castles, carved bears and hearty chowders in heartier bread bowls.  Lily and Piper had their first official train ride and donned life vests for their first time in a canoe.  We drove through and hiked within the White Mountains and scaled the steps of the iconic Pemaquid Point Lighthouse.  We cooked and ate meals together.  Climbed in and out of the van together.  We woke in unison each morning to see what new adventure lay in store and, on a few occasions, decided together that it was a great day to do absolutely nothing...together.

Even in solitary moments, I reflected mostly on the joy of watching my daughters build and store memories of time spent with their father, grandparents, great-aunt and great-grandmother.  Sitting on our cabin-side dock and gazing out on a misty, nearly mystical foggy sunrise, I knew that even if the girls couldn't later recall all of the details of this trip, they should at least be able to piece my rememberings with the feelings of warmth and love being bestowed on them from each doting family member.

I managed a few runs (perhaps even a separate post's-worth) but I didn't find myself craving them the way that I often do at home.  Mortgage payments, work deadlines, home maintenance and the like amplify my need to run and those nuisances were nowhere to be found in New England.  Despite my sometimes short attention span, my appreciation of solitude and my not normally serving as a member of a constant party of 7, I couldn't come up with a good reason to strike off on my own and didn't want to.

I spent the first 10 or 11 years of my life living in a house that stood right next door to the home of my grandmother, aunt and uncle.  In fact, in my youngest years and before my uncle married and brought his bride home to live with him, that residence also housed my grandfather and the ancestors who raised him when his birth mother proved unready for the responsibility, my great-great grandfather and great-great grandmother.  In other words, I'd been privy to the inter-mingling of multiple generations, the protective comfort of the overhead branches of a tall and healthy family tree.

Looking back, I suppose I'd taken it for granted.  I too was certainly exposed to my fair share, perhaps more than my fair share, of doting.  That said, even though I wouldn't have known it then, mortgages were being paid (somehow), work AT work needed to be done and, at home, lawns begged to be mowed, leaking roofs cried out for new shingles and windows clamored for caulking.  Real life kept on making demands and casting long, dark shadows over the luxury, the treasure of having family all around.

But, for that one week in Maine, we'd escaped real life.  Unlike some of the vacations of my childhood, we didn't arrive at a less-than-advertised hotel, the van was more than up to its task and the weather didn't pummel us into a hasty and grumpy retreat.  The luxury, the treasure of having family all around refused to be banished to the shadows, was instead on full display.


abe pagoda.

I snuck in a final organized run in October and it was a fun one.  On the evening of October 21st, Pretzel City Sports, a/k/a Ron Horn (the madman), hosted its second annual Ghouls 'n Fools 6.2 Mile Trail Run on the ridge above Reading, Pennsylvania.

Kicking off at 7:00 PM, the run meandered its way through the woods, demanding the guiding power of either a headlamp or a flashlight.  The Pretzel City crew had been kind enough to hang reflective trail markers and/or glow sticks here or there, but navigation was still tricky. With the exception of a couple of road crossings, the route consisted of mostly technical single(or just slightly wider)track with a blanket of fallen leaves to mask the rocks, roots and downed logs.

Considering the odd demands of this race, I was surprised to find a parking lot busting at the seams with parked cars, cars looking for places to be parked and tons of runners, some in Halloween garb and others cloaked in their standard uniforms of streamlined running shorts and wicking tee-shirts.  I didn't know it at the time, but the night would end with almost 450 official finishers.  What I did know is that there were A LOT of people there to take part in the race.

Ron barked his signature ominous and hilarious pre-race instructions/threats before sending the throng shuffling off into a darkness broken only by the bobbing of headworn beams of light.

Photo courtesy of Derek Schultz
I also pulled off a signature move, placing myself foolishly too far back in the pack, resulting in a first mile that demanded the acrobatics of weaving through the crowd and maneuvering off and back onto the trail to get to where I should have been in the first place.  I am just smart enough to know that I have no business being anywhere near the front of a starting line pack while recognizing that I'm also unlikely to come in dead last.  My intelligence seems to poop out after that point and I end up placing myself firmly in the middle.  Someday (maybe) I will better learn where I belong.  On this night, 10 minutes of hard running were devoted solely to getting to where I should have been in the first place.  The upside to starting too far back instead of positioning yourself too far forward is that you get a psychological boost from passing runners instead of being passed.

Because of being in under the trees and as some of those trees were either evergreens or deciduous trees stubbornly clinging to the last of this season's leaves, I didn't enjoy the benefit of the night's full moon.  Instead, I relied on the light cast by my Black Diamond Sprinter headlamp (love it) and snuck some quick peeks into the beams thrown by those runners just ahead of me.

I'd put 4 miles and one water station behind me before getting my first glimpse of scenery outside of a narrow beam of artificial light.  Topping out on a high point and breaking out from under the trees, I was greeted by the sprawling lights of the city way down below and, high overhead, the towering red lights of Reading's iconic (though eternally peculiar) Pagoda perched on the edge of the ridge.  Passing beneath the out of place structure, I was further greeted by enthusiastic race supporters and the offer of my choice of beer or water (though conflicted, I went with the water).  A few strides later, the pagoda and its corresponding brightness vanished back into the darkness.

Thinking that all of the climbing was behind me (being unfamiliar with the course and unaided by sunlight, I have little idea of how much or how little elevation gain there was), I struggled a bit with an unexpected incline that presented itself soon thereafter.  It was the first time that night that my legs felt heavy.  After suffering a slowed pace for a couple of hundred yards, I sucked it up and got back to running hard.

Most of the remaining track was technical but manageable downhill before one last kicker that consisted of having to clamber over a guardrail before hitting a steep, rocky stretch that ultimately deposited me within sight of the finish line.

I passed the time clock at 52:44 and, as the start/finish was strategically located in the biergarten of the Reading Liederkranz (Did I mention that it's located on Spook Lane?  How Halloween-y.), I headed straight for the beer I'd passed up at the Pagoda water station.  Authentic German accordion music played by an authentic German (at least he looked the part) escorted me to a fine post-race thirst-quenching lager.

I'd ended up 39th out of 440 and, most importantly, I finished with a big smile on my face and two not-twisted ankles.


a humbling but beautiful day at blue marsh.

Today the 6th annual Blue's Cruise 50K was held at the Blue Mark Lake recreational area in Berks County, Pennsylvania.  This would be my second traversal of 31.1 miles and, like my first 50K, this was again an out-and-back course, requiring a run "out" of just over 15 miles, a turn around and a 15 mile run "back".

I took my camera but never bothered to take it from the car.  The weather was so beautiful that I just wanted to take it all in without pinning myself behind a lens.  Once the race began I wouldn't want to be saddled with a camera anyway and by the time I returned to the finish line I'd have little on my mind except hydration, sleep and painkillers.

I'm not going to give a full race report because, frankly, I'm too tired at the moment and don't want to wait to put up this post.  I do want to say how impressed I was with the race host, The Pagoda Pacers, a long-standing running group based in Reading, Pennsylvania.  I can't remember a start/finish line where everything felt so under control, so un-frantic.  The aid stations were numerous, enthusiastic and skillfully run.  If I weren't intent on getting to the end, I might have just started making random requests, as it seemed like each station had anything and everything a runner could think to ask for.  Least importantly but still impressive, the race swag was a high-quality zip-up Blue's Cruise 50K 2010 running jacket.

The course had been pounded by the tropical depression-induced storms that swept over the East Coast in the days prior but with weather breaking cool (50's/60's) and clear, the track wasn't nearly as sloppy as one might've expected.  I'd read and heard that the course was flat and there were certainly extended sections that were pretty featureless, but there were also numerous, if modest, elevation changes along the way with a pretty steep up and over climb starting around 10.5 miles that was even more challenging when you hit the other side of the slope coming back at 19.5 miles.

As for me, I was happy with the way I covered the first half of the course, especially considering that I hadn't logged nearly the quantity or quality of long runs that I should have for a race of this distance.  However, the combination of the poor training and an arch injury suffered fairly early in the race that bothered me more and more as the miles piled up turned my sub-9 minute mile pace into something far slower for most of the return trip.  Shortly after the turnaround I actually thought that a "Did Not Finish" was likely as the arch was really giving me trouble.  Thankfully, willpower and an eventual dulling (or psychological numbness) set in and found me running quicker miles over the last 3 miles than I'd managed through the 2nd third of the race.  Maybe I was just striving for the siren song of the finish line.

The final few hundred miles, after a couple of short late uphills, follow a downslope to the finish and I really enjoyed running that stretch knowing that I'd shook off some serious "call it a day" demons to get there.  I'd been running at a pace earlier that morning that had me daydreaming of a solid sub-5 hour time but by early afternoon I was thrilled at the prospect of getting in 15 minutes shy of 6 hours.

My calves (as evidenced in the photo below) and upper thighs were cramping but thankfully not in a crippling fashion.  Though I barely remember it, I apparently had a smile to offer as the finish line loomed.

Photo by Bill Reynolds
And I'm still smiling now as I sit on the couch with my legs kicked up, typing this bulletin and icing my arch.

if a beard runs in the woods.

After a fellow participant standing next to me at the start line of the Blue's Cruise 50K extended a warm handshake and complemented me on my beard, I took a look around and realized just how clean shaven an assembly it was.  Come to think of it, I think that's always the case.

I wonder which is more of an oddity, my being a runner at a beard competition or my being a beard-growing competitor at a running event?


fortune cookies and pre-race evidence.

Nice theory but, at least as far as tomorrow goes, don't expect me to be guiding any sleds.

Have I mentioned how much I love these shoes?  We'll see how they treat me over the course of 31.1 miles.  I'm not worried.

Darn Tough seamless-toe mesh socks (thanks for the hook-up, Justin) and Inov-8 debris gaiters.

Gloves? Really?  I'm playing the Boy Scout and these are the best running gloves I've seen (I can wear them in cool-to-cold weather without sweating and swearing in them).  That said, I bet they get carried to the car and stay there until I carry them back into the house tomorrow evening.  The hat and Garmin, however, are a must, especially if this undisciplined runner is going to have any chance of sticking to a pace.

Ultimate Direction bottles (thanks, Ben) and Roctane GU (godsend).

Nanas, sauce, granola and a protein bar that I hope will be palatable...Piper tried to eat it straight through the wrapper, so I'm taking that as a good sign.

That's more like it.