Friday, August 17, 2012

Mountain Man Race Report

No race pictures of me because they were hideous
 After suffering for weeks in 110 plus degree weather, I didn’t care that I didn’t have enough air to breathe in this race. It takes place at Upper Lake Mary near Flagstaff at an elevation of 7,000 feet. As I was driving, a downpour lowered the air temperature from 81 to 59 degrees. When I got out of the air the rain cooled pine-scented air was wonderful.
I don’t react well to altitude. I sometimes get splitting headaches and I can’t sleep at night. Most commonly, I just get lethargic. The tiredness hit me when I got to my hotel room. I took a nap, but I didn’t want to move.

Downtown Flagstaff awaited, though. I always have to see the spectacle of weirdos, musicians, students and freaks that gather there.

Wheeler Park is the epicenter of people watching. A concert is always going on in the summer on Saturday nights. This is what attracted the entertaining mix of denizens. A young girl was singing. She had a strong voice and her version of Disney pop songs was good, but I thought her rendition of the Etta James “At Last” lacked depth.

As I was listening to her, a man with a giant tractor tire and hula hoops showed up. According to the drunk man talking to him, I think he had some show with the hula hoops . He opened a violin case and took out a pair of saws to play. He was waiting until the concert was over. In the meantime he let kids and adults play with the hula hoops. Five people with varying abilities attempted to master the skill of twirling the hoops.

I looked over the crowd and saw a women holding up a bunny. It was to give the animal a better view, but the creature didn’t look like it wanted to be there. She held it like a baby and walked off with another one in a stroller.

I watched the show of old people, young people, hippies and tourists for a while, then left.

I didn’t sleep well. I kept waking up every three hours.

The next morning, on the drive to Lake Mary, at a hideous hour of the morning, The moon, Jupiter and Venus were in formation, plus a bright orange star. I saw a bright shooting star in the dark sky. I hoped it was a good omen.

I set up and did a warm up run so I wouldn’t be so nervous starting the swim. I saw my coach on the way out. I still felt like I couldn’t breath. I was too tired to move in the thin air. I had to get motivated to race somehow.

On the way from transition to the swim start I talked to people I knew. I went down the pier and got into the water.

The water was warmer than the air and a mist was over the surface and was almost completely opaque and was brown on the surface, but white underwater. I felt a general all over chest tightness, but no panic. High altitude swimming is tricky and kind of scary. It’s a fine balance to avoid the feeling of suffocation and going fast enough to actually move.

I couldn’t get into a rhythm until after the last turn. I would swim a little, get out of breath and have to stop and rest. My form felt bad . I didn’t have any buoys to count off to distract me from the distance. I finally slowed down a little more near the end and swam steadily without resting so much. It felt like a mediocre swim, but I was surprised to see my watch only read forty one minutes, which was flying for me. It seemed a lot longer than that. It didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere on the swim.

As usual, I was mostly alone on the bike course. It’s easier to get oxygen, but not enough that climbing steep hills isn’t difficult. The ride goes by the lake, past fields of sunflowers and pine trees. It felt deliciously cool at the start. It felt slow on the way out because of humongous climb. I always forget that the way out is usually longer than coming back and I think my ride really sucks. The rest of the field is returning already and this makes me feel even more slow. This time it was ten minutes slower going out. I averaged 14 mph going out, maybe 18 mph coming back.

I kept myself fed, which is a balancing act to try to stay upright on the bike while stuffing chewy food in my mouth. I wasn’t hungry and it was difficult to eat because of the gummy texture. I needed it, though, to fuel the run. It felt like it was getting hot by then, the sun searing through the clouds. . I didn’t feel wiped out after the bike like I usually am, a feeling that isn’t helpful when a 10k run awaits . Total bike time was 1:31:15.

The first mile of the run always is harder than it would appear to be. It looks downhill, but it doesn’t feel that way. By the time my legs got used to running after the hilly bike, the hill was looming. This hill is BIG with over a mile to climb. It’s steep and difficult to run up at 7,000 feet. The weak merely walk up it. I got up the hill entirely running, but it hurt with a dull, heavy pain. The fun part was running down the hill. I was happy. Gravity was my friend because it was free speed. At the bottom, though, the elation went away and I felt tired. I tried not to think how far away the finish line was. The last two miles seemed forever. I looked at the cheery, yellow masses of sunflowers for distraction. Pretty flowers chase away the pain. Final run time was 66:36, which was my best for this race.

Total race time was 3:29, a time that might be very slow to some people, but I didn’t care. I usually beat myself up because I can’t be fast in this race with its thin air and the hilly terrain. I decided to accept it as it is-a brutally difficult event that fights with me every mile and finds every weakness. It abuses my body, but I don’t let it punish my mind

Monday, August 13, 2012


Wabash River
 Some people might wonder why anyone would want to go to any of their high school class reunions, let alone the fortieth one. Especially if you hated high school and just wanted to get the hell out as fast as possible. My daughter was baffled as to why I would even consider going.

My high school is in West Lafayette, Indiana. Growing up, I developed a distaste for Indiana and for any location in the Midwest. A muddy, wide Wabash River separates it from Lafayette on the other side. Nothing exciting ever happened there. The visual monotony of flat green corn and soy bean fields with an occasional pig farm thrown in ground me down with its tedium. In the winter, the sun never broke through the clouds and the buildings were ugly and gray to match. Midwest steamy summers were enervating.

Even years later, I longed for anything to break the horizon when I traveled there. I am spoiled by the beauty of open skies and mountains of the southwest, unlike that of the Midwest where the horizon closed in. I got excited when I first saw windmills outside of Lafayette that are similar to the ones in Palm Springs, California. It was something vertical to look at besides dried up corn. I missed them as I traveled north on I-65, a highway that put me in a bored daze.

Remodel Interior of W. Lafayette H.S.
 West Lafayette is the home of Purdue University. It is known for it’s engineering school, of which I had absolutely no interest in as a student, and its utilitarian brick buildings are utterly devoid of charm. My father was a chemistry professor there. Many of my high school classmates were children of Purdue professors or of doctors. This created a very smart populace of students. Someone was always smarter than me or had perfect SAT’s. One guy in our class was doing college graduate work in math. I felt a lot of pressure to get good grades. The smart people were also over-achievers, excelling school and in numerous school activities like track, debate, drama and the National Honor Society. I was in band and studied ballet-not exactly impressive. I was a decent student, but not at the top of the class. High school was where I realized I was merely average.

In high school everyone had their cliques. The jocks, the cheerleaders, the druggies, the smart people would associate only with each other. I didn’t fit into these cliques or have a social network. I hung out with some nice people, but I wasn’t very close with anyone. I didn’t go to the prom. I wanted out as soon as possible. I found the atmosphere was stifling and lonely. I didn’t feel emotionally invested or involved in school.

When I went to high school from 1968-1972, it was the era of social upheaval-the Civil Rights Act, demonstrations against the Vietnam War, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, and Watergate. Even in conservative Indiana, in an mostly all white high school, it affected the students. Liberal ideas snuck into the populace. Short skirts and bell bottom jeans were in. Guys had longer hair and sideburns. Some people started an alternative creative writing publication to the school newspaper. My high school class valedictorian upset people with his speech expressing his leftist political views regarding the Vietnam War.

Now it is the time of the internet and social media. I was leery of “friending” some of these classmates on Facebook, assuming that they would be the same people, but it turned out to be beneficial. I found out other people had gone through a divorce and understood how I felt. Other people had parents with Alzheimer’s. Some shared my interests in birding and mountain biking. I found my ironman sherpa through Facebook to help me carry my stuff after the race. What happened decades ago didn’t matter.

Despite my negative high school experience, I found out that reunions were still fun. I may not have had many fond memories to share, but my classmates are interesting people to talk to. The social strata disappeared and appearances mattered less. It also re-affirmed acceptance. No one judged me or made fun of me because I was different or unpopular like they did in high school. We had all grown up and weren’t the horrible teenagers that we had been.

It no longer mattered what group I was in or who I had hung around with. The jocks talked to everyone, not just other jocks. The former druggies were off drugs-at least the ones that showed up and the cheerleaders had multiple kids. Our parents are aging along with us, some of us got divorced, we had children and some had grandchildren. We shared the same joy and trauma of life and were different people now.

Part of the draw of a reunion is the need to connect with the past. Whether people loved or hated high school, it was part of who we are. We look where we have been to see where we have gone and were curious as to what had happened to classmates we had known. I don’t know how many people as teenagers expected their lives to be as they are now or how they felt about it.

Some people had impressive lives as doctors, lawyers, professors and even an women airline pilot and a tugboat captain. Most had an air of confidence and were at ease with themselves. I don’t know if I had the same air, but I could fake it. I don’t know what their lives are actually like under the surface.

Sculpture that used to be inside the entrance.
 We toured the high school and most of it was unrecognizable. Additions and reorganization of the building made it much different than when I had gone there. I was a little surprised that I didn’t have much sense of deja vu or a feeling that I had spent a lot of time in the place. I felt indifferent and certainly not nostalgic. It was a mere structure that didn’t trigger any memories.

Some things changed in town and some had stayed the same. The familiarity both attracted and repulsed me. A drive-in that had been around since the Fifties didn’t have food that is as good as in the past. A new pedestrian bridge in Lafayette over the Wabash made crossing the river a lot more pleasant. An old ice cream place from my childhood still had good ice cream. I wanted to love or at least like the town that I grew up in, but couldn’t. It didn’t fit me.

While I was there, I visited my parents’ grave. The cemetery is on a wooded hill, surrounded by busy streets. The mature trees shield visitors from the traffic. I took pictures and wished I had something to leave on the graves. I was sad to be there. Another part of my past was gone. They should have had better deaths. My father died of cancer in his sixties, my mother of Alzheimers in her eighties.

In a place that I had inhabited for many years, time had flowed on relentlessly like the brown water of the Wabash River. I was in awe of its power. Forty years had flashed by. Some people had aged and changed in appearance. Others looked much the same as in high school, just with gray hair. I think we all had some scars we weren’t showing.