Sunday, March 22, 2015

A life well lived

Note: This is not a normal running post, so most of you can (pardon the pun) run away now. It's going to be long with lots of pictures. But no running. Or trails. At all.

My dad passed away last week at the age of 78.  And all of those years were lived well, outside of a gradual decline in the last one.

He was born in beautiful (I'm sure somewhere on the city's website it's described that way) Garden City Kansas. His dad owned a gas station, so he grew up working on cars.

1956 - Apparently dad really like soda. Or milkshakes.
1956 - High school graduation picture.
Somewhere about this time dad met mom, one thing led to another and they got married.

I don't know the timing details, but around the time he got married he also started working in house construction. After a side trip working with a natural gas company (which involved checking far-flung wells, which were often home to rattlesnakes that he would have to dispatch - I was always amazed at the huge number of rattles he managed to collect), him and a friend bought a sort of odd business; and ice manufacturing company.

I have a LOT of memories from this place, which made a lot of ice using a process that created 300 pound hunks of nearly purely clear ice. As a kid, it was fascinating to be around this process; there were large frostbitten rooms where the ice was stored, a ridiculously scary machine that would reduce 50 pound blocks of ice into small chunks suitable for a pop, and a huge engine that ran the whole thing.

My first job (at maybe 12 or 13) was working there. Dad, showing a degree of confidence/bravery that stuns me to this day, entrusted myself and two of my friends to work the ridiculously scary machine during the summer, bagging the ice chunks for delivery throughout the western half of the state and parts of Colorado. It was a blast to work in a frosty room while outside it was often in the 100s. We learned skills that would never apply anywhere else, but more importantly, we learned what it meant to have a job and be responsible for what went on there. Even better, it was only a couple of hours a day, so we still had plenty of time to play and goof around (and we were really good at goofing around, although most of our summer time was spent playing sub-sandlot baseball).

A funny memory - when I got my first paycheck I noticed that some of it had been withheld. I knew I wasn't the best or fastest, but I didn't think I was bad enough to not get paid the whole amount. Then the concept of taxes and social security was explained to me.

I may have cried.

Another funny memory - a year or two after they bought the ice company, a new business moved into town that was going to use modern equipment and put us out of business. Within a few months they actually became a good customer; modern equipment was no match for the old, but very prolific equipment.

One of the things that I'll always remember is how my parents would load up us four kids and take us fishing or camping. A lot. Sometimes it would be just a weekend trip to a local reservoir and other times it would be a weeklong trip through Colorado. Fishing was always involved, but so was scampering on rocks and other outdoor stuff.

And as if that wasn't enough, dad became the Boy Scout troop leader, which meant even more outdoor adventures. Looking back on all this, I cannot imagine how he (and mom, who became the Girl Scout troop leader, which led a couple of times to me camping out with a huge group of girls!) managed to find the time to do all this.

There were four of us kids - two boys and two girls - and we were all roughly a year apart in age (remarkably, the middle two were born in the same calendar year).

It turned out that the ice business was a very good business to be in at that time. The railroads did not have refrigerated rail cars at that time, so they bought a LOT of ice for shipping beef from Garden City's prolific stockyards.

Remember, this was the 60s. My mom got a wig and we all took a shot at trying it on. And no, you won't see the picture of me wearing it. Ever.
This is really really hard to explain. Growing up in Kansas, pheasant hunting was a big deal. I believe my mom is holding the 30-30 Winchester that I had bought to go deer hunting with in Colorado. I'm pretty sure no deer were ever harmed by it.
A dad and his puppy.
Two things happened in the early 70s that resulted in a big change for us: the railroads started to embrace refrigerated rail cars (which took away a huge chunk of business for the ice plant), and we decided it would be a blast to run a campground in Colorado.

So in the summer of 1972, we packed up and moved to the town of Pagosa Springs, Colorado.

Garden City was not a huge place - maybe about 16,000 people - but Pagosa was downright tiny by comparison - maybe 1,500 people.

Dad chopping ice off the roof. It turns out that it snows in Colorado. Sometimes a lot.
Unfortunately, the timing of trying to get a new campground going could not have been worse, as it turned out, since this was when the first gas crisis got going. Suddenly, people were not keen on driving huge trucks towing huge trailers or RVs anymore, and the campground never actually got off the ground.

A LOT of snow.
And this was when I really started to find out about my dad's many talents.

First, he decided that maybe building and selling houses would be a good way to make a living. I couldn't believe that he actually knew how to do this. I mean, REALLY knew! He built an amazing house that is still the class of the neighborhood, but it turned out that people willing to pay for a classy house were not as common as people willing to pay less for something with a lot less class. And he didn't know how to build houses with a lot less class.

A dad and a smaller puppy.
Then he leased a small grocery store/gas station on the outside of town. It was a sleepy place that the previous owners felt good if they had a $200 day. Within a month he had turned it into a bustling place making four or five times that. How in the world did he know how to do that? He kept the books, ordered the inventory, and kept the place hopping.

As a fun thing, the whole family got involved - this was before self-serve gas stations even existed, so I got really good and filling up cars, checking their oil, and everything else that goes along with that.

As a not fun thing, a business like this is open long hours and never takes a day off, and once the lease got close to ending, he started looking around for something else. And extremely weirdly, he found it in becoming a banker. In managing the business, he had worked closely with the local bank, and it turned out they were impressed with his skills and hired him.

My dad the banker.

Eventually he ended up managing a savings and loan, where he stayed for many years.

I'm pretty sure he shared that cake.
In 2002 he retired (then was sucked back in part-time for a short bit).

I asked for an explanation. "He was the Chamber of Commerce President." Apparently the Chamber of Commerce is a far weirder group than I suspected.
Getting his veggies.
Dad thought it would be fun to learn to weave. It turned out to be far less exciting than expected and he soon moved on from that hobby.
Dad at his next hobby, running a quilting machine. 
Dad in Maryland with a newborn Danni.
Mom, dad, and grandma shivering at the Golden Gate Bridge viewing area.
A dad and yet another puppy.
Proving that he likes non-puppy animals too.

Every Lent for many years, dad and mom would make cole slaw from scratch for the Friday Fish Fries. Enough for about 300 people each Friday. They had it down to a science, but it was still a lot of work.

After retirement, mom and dad spent a lot of time camping, towing a fifth wheel all over the Southwest.

Danni got married on Kaui, so mom and dad flew out to see Hawaii for the first time.

One of the first things done after we got to the island was to hit a yard sale.

Somewhere on that island was a little town that had a bunch of cats hanging out. Dad sat down to rest and a cat jumped up on his lap. Again, it wasn't all about puppies.

The wedding was on a ridiculously remote beach. Here dad is having a beer with the local guy that guided us to the right place. (The car rental place would not have been impressed if they knew what our van was put through to get here.)

Enjoying the Hawaiian sun.
This was all of us in about 2011 or so.
I think this was in 2013, their last visit to California.
Dad lived a great life. He leaves behind a huge legacy and massive footprints to try to follow. And a huge extended family including mom, the four of us kids, eight grandchildren, two step-grandchildren, twenty two great grandchildren, and one great-great-grandson.

Family gatherings are really impressive!

And he will always be a part of them.

That's it - move along…

Thursday, March 5, 2015

How to avoid needing to buy a new belt

On January 4th I decided that running my first 100K on February 28th, the Razorback Endurance Race that was two whole months away, was a good idea. I was not daunted by the fact that, for the last two months, I had run exactly one race with double-digit mileage (Coastal Malibu Canyon 25K). After all, I still had two months to get into 100K shape.

Yes, there was a DNF at a 50K, but for the most part, things went well. Until I woke up with a cold a little over a week before the race. And now I was a bit worried.

I had high hopes the cold would go away before the 100K, but it didn't. Fortunately, it didn't get any worse either, so while I wasn't going into this race as perky as hoped, I still felt that a finish was well within reach.

As I explained in a previous thing, there were a couple of reasons for me to feel confident:
  • I had a 36 hour cutoff. That's a long time. Lots of rest breaks can be taken.
  • I could always switch to the flat course from the trail "relentless" course.
For fun, I created a comparison of the elevation charts for the two different courses. This was the first one, and I posted it to the Razorback Facebook site. I suspect that within ten minutes at least a dozen people had emailed the RD to change their course selection.

The green bit is the 2 mile paved course and the red bit is the 4.75 mile trail course.
So that others (and myself) could sleep better at night, I created a second version with a less horrific scale. (According to my Garmin, each trail lap had about 780 feet of climbing. Each paved lap had about 91 feet.)

Still, the fact that the trail course had a LOT more climbing than the paved course was impossible to avoid. The trail course, though, was also about a billion times prettier and more interesting than the paved course. For 100K on the paved course, I would have to do 31 laps. For the trail course, I would have to do only 13 laps.

I arrived at Harvey Bear Ranch County Park in San Martin at about 5AM, which gave me time to set up my tent before the 6AM start. The forecast was for scattered showers over the day, and I would need someplace dry to change and protect my stuff. It would also provide a place to grab quick naps and such.

It was still dark out at the race start, so headlamps were in use.

The trail course had a number of these old oak trees scattered around.
Before my first lap was done, the sun had risen and we could see the views we would be facing throughout the day.

Note the solar panels to the right. I don't think they ended up creating much power on this remarkably cloudy day.
At the end of the trail lap, we would join in with the paved lap runners and pass through the timing/aid station area.

Motivational signs like this were scattered along both courses. 

The trail course's climb was actually broken in two, and it always felt great to get to this point where the first part of the climb was done and you got to cruise along on some flats and downhill for a short bit.

Note the view. It was amazingly green out there.
A lot of the trail course was made up of fire roads, but there was a fair amount of single-track as well.

There was one particular area on the flat bit where a gang of cows chose to hang out and torment us runners. On the first lap while it was still dark, they were off to the side. On the second lap, this cow decided to try to intimidate me. It didn't work and I went past him calmly, but ready to scream like a two-year-old if he made any kind of a sudden move.

Playing chicken with cows was not covered by the pre-race FAQ.
On my third lap, they decided to team up on me. Again, it wasn't an issue, and as I kept getting closer they grudgingly gave way and let me use one of the trails.

Photo by Leahcim (not his real name). Brave pose by Yar (not his real name either) who, because he was in the 72 hour event, ended up on a first name basis with these cows.
My favorite picture of the cows was taken by Leahcim a bit later. I swear these cows would do just about anything to get their picture taken.

One thing that happened on the second loop was that I ended up tripping over a rock that was sticking up maybe a quarter of an inch from the ground. Sadly, there was nobody around to get my picture as I was laid out on the trail.

I never actually counted, but my guess is there were about a half-dozen cattle gates we had to go through on each lap. And every one of them had their own personality. (And no, I didn't purposely time it so that Yzztik, not her real name, always had to open them for me. I'm not that good.)

It was hard not to feel like you owned the trail once you were nearly done with a lap. "Well done Etak (not your real name)!"
Picture by Ettedanreb, not her real name, but a real 100M finisher!
Aynwat (not her real name) had spent the past couple of days providing medical support for the 72- and 48-hour runners. When she saw me struggling to get the top off my water bottle, she stepped in and saved me.

All morning long we could see fierce clouds circling around us, but we seemed a bit blessed since we remained dry, and even had bouts of sunshine.

But that was about to change.

On my fourth lap (which got me to mile 19), I had really struggled and for the first time started to realize that going 100K (62 miles) was maybe not going to happen. I had fully expected to get to at least the halfway point before things started falling apart, and was now worried.

I took a long break before starting my fifth lap, hoping that some rest would help, but it made little difference. My cold was making it clear that it was not happy and my legs were whining about all the climbing.

Brazen people in the house! And raise your hand if you're going to get your first 100 mile buckle!
At the end of my fifth lap I had pretty much decided that I really needed to drop to the 50K, which was graciously allowed by Ycart (not her real name) the RD. Doing the 50K meant I had to go for one more trail lap though.

And by now, the storm was getting serious about adding some spice to our day.

Also by now, a number of runners that had run the reasonably nearby Brazen Hellyer race stopped by to take in the atmosphere. Since the atmosphere was largely filled with a cold, windblown rain, they managed to take in their fill pretty quickly, and most took off.

One guy though, Occor (not his real name), decided to hang out some more. He really wanted to see what the trail course was like, so I invited him to tag along as I made my last lap.

Occor is not right in the head.
The trails had been bone dry and solid all day. I figured that since the rain was just starting, they would still be in pretty good shape.

I figured wrong.

The trails fell apart very quickly. They became the kind of sticky mud that clumps on your shoes and won't let go, adding several pounds of weight and making each step an adventure.

Selfie by Occor. I couldn't believe how happy he was to be struggling up this hill. It's worth noting that earlier in the day he had run a sub-two hour Half Marathon.
The Endorphin Dude was really struggling with the mud. Occor gave him a hug, kicked him in the butt, and told him to keep moving.

We took advantage of every opportunity to scrape off the mud. It was fruitless though since it would just all clump up again about four steps later.

Cleaning the shoes off using a barbed wire fence seemed like a good idea at the time.

The further we went, the more it rained, and the worse the trails got. This is a sequence taken on a particularly hairy uphill curve that was about 100 feet from the top of the climb.

The Endorphin Dude is always giving back, and selflessly kept this hill from sliding away.

It was about this time that we realized that this was going to be everyone's last trail lap. Between the damage we were doing to the trails and the damage the mud was doing to us, this couldn't keep up. Even if it stopped raining right then, it was going to take a few days for the trails to recover. (And the trails were indeed closed at about that point.)

A coyote is not impressed near the end of my sixth lap.
Once my sixth trail lap was done, I still had to do one and a half paved laps to get the miles up to 31.

At first the paved trail seemed like a blessing - no mud caking on your shoes and no hills sucking the life out of your legs. But my heart was not in the paved loop, and I was thrilled when I was done.

This was the Sign of Turnaround that you had to go out to for your "half lap" out-and-back bit.
I loved the wooden finisher medal and the Ultra Gam buff swag.
This race was my first shot at a buckle, and it was a bit humbling. I finished the 50K in a bit under 12 hours (by far my longest 50K ever), which meant I still had 24 hours to go if I wanted to continue. My cold was starting to really make its presence felt though, and it was an easy decision to stop.

And since the trail loop was no longer available, I would have had to get all my remaining miles on the paved loop, and that would have quickly become torture.

Above is what my elevation chart should have looked like with reasonably even pacing.

This is what it actually looked like, taking into account the breaks and such. After my fourth lap, I took a long rest, but I had no idea that it was an hour and a half - I thought it was about half that. It always amazes me how fast time goes by when you're not moving.

What's also a bit funny is how I was convinced that my fourth lap had taken about twice along as my third, but in reality it was almost identical - it just felt like it had taken twice as long. Obviously my mental game is not good.

This shows the trails I went on, with the trail loop on the right and the paved loop on the left.

This is the start area zoomed in; I like that it shows the detail of me hitting the porta-pottie a couple of times and the one time I headed out to the van to warm up.

There was only one place, near the top of the hill, where there turned out to be uncertainty about what trail we were supposed to be on. On the first lap, while we were still mostly in the dark and still grouped together a bit, we came to a split in the trail and everyone just took the obvious trail that got you to where you wanted to be. It wasn't until much later, when I saw a runner go straight at that turn, that I started to wonder if that right turn was correct. When I saw the above I realized that almost for sure I (and others) had likely been slightly cutting the course. It was kind of an interesting tradeoff; the way I went was a bit (maybe 100 feet) shorter, but was much steeper.

The end result was not affected much, but I now wish I had gone the longer route, if for no other reason than to have had a gentler climb. This was the only part of the course that could have been marked a bit better (there was actually a third trail option here as well).

Now that several days have passed, and I've had time to reflect, I'm mildly second-guessing my decision to drop to the 50K. I love that many friends stuck it out and managed distance PRs, and I wonder if I could have managed one as well. But I've done enough races now that I know better, and have to be fine with my decision - it was certainly the right one at the time. But a buckle…

The event was a lot of fun - I can't recommend the race enough. This was the first year the trail option was offered, which made it the first year I was willing to run it. The trails were awesome, even when that climb became so tough later in the day.

I honestly have no idea how the RD and all her volunteers managed to keep it together for such a long time - the 72 hour race started at 6PM on Thursday and the event wrapped up at 6PM on Sunday; that's a remarkably long time to have to deal with a bunch of sweaty runners, keeping straight who was running what course, making sure we were all well fed, and always instantly being able to answer the question that was on every runner's mind:

"How many miles are done now? And please oh please make it a big number. Lie if you have to."

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.