Thursday, August 10, 2017


This summer has been more miserable than past summers or at least seemed that way. August is the sweaty, smelly crotch of summer--the worst of the worst. It hasn't helped that the cat needed an expensive procedure, that my HOA has demanded a pricey house painting and that I needed a root canal. How much suckier can it get? Or maybe I shouldn't ask. Summer, you have inspired this poem:

This tree decided it didn't want to live anymore.

It creeps in. Not so bad in early June.
A whisper of morning cool. Fiery sun disappears into softer night.
The cat ventures out. Garden plants are not yet withered into dry husks beaten down by hot, white light.
I can live with this. My life isn’t over.

Why is it so fucking hot? Misery pervades every activity. Sweat drips from every pore, crying a puddle of despair. Torrid, heavy air a bludgeon, beating down anyone hapless enough to venture outside. A violent, unrelenting, malevolent force. The cat goes out; comes back to lay in a panting heap.

Just one little cloud to block the sun? A hint of less heat? Is that a raindrop? One little breeze? The cat stays in.

Endless. Pointless. Life. Why bother doing anything? Moving is too much effort. My energy drains. Intense dry heat replaced by intense humid heat. Trees fall over in the wind; lack the will to stand up. Big black bugs emerge to herald apocalyptic despair. Cicadas rasp a death rattle. The cat goes out, comes back in and throws up.

I will survive. Summer is a mere six months. It creeps out. It leaves scars. The cat still goes out.

A Writer's Workshop doodle by Connor Rickett

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Cactus Man Olympic Race Report

Cactus Man Olympic Triathlon was invented by Four Peaks with six weeks notice because all of usual race organizations didn’t feel like putting on any events this spring at Tempe Town Lake. One in particular, that shall remain nameless, gave lame excuses as to why the plug was pulled, but I suspect the issue was money.  The spring triathlon season is short in the desert. Too soon and the water is too cold. Too late, and the sun fries the participants. This only leaves April and May.

Race morning, I awoke after a bad night of sleep and questioned why I was doing this while driving to Tempe at O’ Dark Thirty. I felt less than terrible, though. I will survive.

Two weeks previously, I had broken my toe. A rock got in the way of my foot while I waded into a lake to swim. I realized something was wrong when I tried running and it hurt. A lot. The top of my middle toe was an angry looking purple. But it wasn’t a bad break and the pain went away. I could still swim, bike and run and no treatment was required. The toe only ached a little. The injury played with my mind, though. I would think oh my god, my toe’s broken! Then I would forget about it.

We lined up at the swim start to get into the water. A ramp led into the lake. What was just beyond the ramp was a mystery because the water was so murky. I gingerly walked down the ramp. I feared stubbing my toe again. Rocks were lurking in the soup, so I stepped cautiously and swam to the start line. My toe had survived.

The swim went better than expected, which shocked me. Most of the time it’s an ordeal that ranges from uncomfortable to terrifying. I get over run by faster swimmers who don’t care if I am in their way. I run out of energy and it takes me everything to finish. Most of the time, I am just miserable in the water and hate every minute of it. I hoped to be a little less mediocre this time and was actually a little faster. I didn’t stop much, except for trying to sight buoys while blinded by the sun. I got off route because I couldn’t see them and had to veer left to get back on course. It would have helped to have kayakers for guidance.  I felt fairly comfortable and didn’t panic. The water temperature was 68 degrees and the surface was pretty calm. The lack of swimmers helped. My goal was to not expend excess energy thrashing around in panic while sighting. It seemed to help.

I got out of the water without harm to my toe and ran through transition. I put my bike stuff on in a daze and rode off. The bike ride was tedious, but relatively uncrowded with cyclists. Every race in Tempe has about the same route and it gets old. Up Rio Salado to Priest, down the freeway ramp; blah, blah, blah. The trouble with an olympic distance was that this boring route is done twice. I amused myself by admiring a flock of white Egrets in the Salt River bed, which was visible from a bridge. I also picked off slower riders. My toe was behaving itself.

I kept passing a guy wearing a tee shirt, running shoes and running shorts, who would then pass me again. Most experienced triathletes wouldn’t be caught dead riding the bike in running shoes. This may sound elitist, but running shoes are difficult to pedal in. The mushy soles lose energy. Bike shoes soles are stiff. It also violated the mandatory “must look cool on the bike” code. He was obviously a newbie and would have probably have been faster with better equipment. I passed him one last time and finally dropped him. At least I beat someone. Total time was about what I was aiming for. My plan was to ride conservatively the first lap, harder on the second. They ended up being even.

The weather remained fairly cool by the time I hit the run. The lake banks usually create a heat bowl and the sun showed a welcome modicum of mercy. I didn’t have high expectations of a great time, but I got gradually faster every mile. The discomfort was manageable. At minimum, that is all I can hope for–not to slow down. A run where I don’t suffer too much was good. The course was empty on the second lap, since the rest of world had finished already. At least I wasn’t last. And my toe survived unscathed.

Total time was 3:38. I was third in my age group, but the person ahead of me had a 31 minute split for a 10k, which I doubted was a valid run. This was bullshit. Even the overall winners didn’t have that fast a run split. Did she cheat? Did she not do the second lap and not tell anyone? Was it an innocent mistake? A timing issue? Oddly, though, she got her medal at age group awards.

I debated questioning it. Still, it didn’t seem right that the overall winners’ run splits ranked behind hers. When I emailed the race director and pointed out that the second place person in the 60-64 age group probably didn’t have a 31 minute 10k, he deleted her immediately. I was now second.

Age group placing is mostly meaningless for me, since the number of people in my age group can be sparse. To be second sounds good, but in some races, it is the prize for showing up. Still, being there counts.

I don’t do these races to for time compared to everyone else, anyway, because being faster than most of the field is impossible. I would have quit a long time ago if I hadn’t accepted that. Even exceeding my previous times would be a rare event at this point. I can’t even beat myself anymore.

But at my age, I can still punish myself, get out of breath and train endless hours just to be able to pass Gym Shoe Guy on the bike. As long as the toe bones stay intact.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Road Junk

The Road to Tedium

I ride my bike past the debris of civilization.

Scattered on the side of the road.

Blown off, thrown off, flown off.

Tire scraps, styrofoam cups, plastic sheets, paper, broken car bumpers, wood pieces, bolts.

Grocery bags stuck on trees.

Dirt strewn cloth.

The evidence of “progress.”

Cars, dump trucks, semis, landscapers’ weed-filled trailers
thunder by.

Choking, thick exhaust.

Bang! Truck hits a bump.

Where they planning on breakfast?
Spews dust and diesel.

Rotten garbage smell.

I scan the ground for treasure.

Garbage is a paint brush.

A tire printing press.

I used actual chicken wire for this piece.
Chicken wire abstraction.

Plastic patterns.

Beauty from ugly.

Trash is not mere discard.

Or only proof of slobs passing.

But a distraction from the mundane.

A fine "brush."

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Desert Classic Duathlon Race Report

Before the rain REALLY started.

In the desert, the assumption is that rain is not likely to occur. That assumption is wrong, at least in February, which likes to pretend it’s winter. Since the Desert Duathlon in McDowell Mountain Park usually occurs in February, every few years the weather is bad. Gully-washing, road flooding, sweep-the-car-away-in-a-rushing-torrent-of-water bad. The days before the race, the prediction was 100% to rain. The question was when and how hard.

Being a weather nerd, I looked at the hourly prediction. The best chance of maybe not raining hard was during the hours of 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. A possibility of hope existed. I brought what passed for rain gear–a jacket that repelled water, but wouldn’t keep me dry. As a rule, I usually try to avoid riding a bike in rain. It’s unpleasant and cold. Water from the wheels soaks my butt in a freezing, unpleasant stream of mud and road dirt gets on my legs.

Driving in the rain feeds my anxiety. The roads are slippery and my wheels spin if I accelerate too fast. When I first moved here, a heavy rain storm flooded my back yard. The pouring rain stopped, so I thought it was safe and in minutes a rushing wall of water came over my fence. Welcome to the desert! So, I was nervous about encountering large pools of water and getting trapped in a river. The race might be cancelled, or even worse, I might have to ride the road bike route with my mountain bike. The road in the park made me want to stab my eyes out with it’s unrelenting climb and rough pavement.

I got there early because I thought it would take longer to drive there. The roads weren’t flooded. The rain had mercifully held off and the trails were still fairly dry. Maybe this thing could actually happen. I debated what to wear on the run. The light rain was intermittent, but not too bad. The rain gods were still kind, so far.

The first 5k run started for the mountain bikers. The road bikers started later, so they had a half hour more to worry about the weather. Of course everyone got ahead of me right at the start. I was going to end up last, so it didn’t matter anyway. Trail running was a lot of effort. Instead of shuffling, I had to pick my feet up to avoid tripping on rocks. The trail undulated, gradually went up halfway, then down, so attempting a “fast” pace was strenuous. It sprinkled lightly at times. I did it in 34:58. I was at the right speed for me. I got back to transition and was disappointed to not see a timing mat, so my run time would include preparing to bike.

I took my jacket and arm warmers on the bike, even though I didn’t need them yet, since I was sweaty from the run. I would be out for a long time. I climbed the road, then turned right onto Pemberton Trail. About four miles into the ride, it turned from light drizzle to raining steadily. The conditions were about to get tougher. I stopped to put on a jacket, but left the arm warmers off, thinking they would be too warm. I was following someone for a while. We were the only two people out there. Then she got away and I was alone.

Puddles formed on the trail. I tried to avoid them, but couldn’t every time. Thankfully, the washes weren’t filled with water. Mud splashed me and my yellow jacket was dotted with brown spots. I got colder, but I didn’t want to stop. My jacket was wet, but it was warmer with it on. I rode more cautiously than if the trail was dry because it was slippery. The wind picked up and increased the sensation of being wet and cold.

Some parts of the trail had sticky mud. My bike made noises from all the gunk caked in the chain. Hopefully, the bike wouldn’t have a mechanical failure because help was a long distance away. The trail was now downhill and had rocky and clay sections. I stopped before the road and put my arm warmers on because going fast down the road would be even colder. I was on the edge of hypothermia, but not shivering yet. My hands and feet felt numb. The bike flew down the road.

I finally hit transition after about two hours. I was the last mountain biker off the course. This was a fate that I had learned to resign myself to. Mostly the hardcore competitors do the mountain bike races and they are fast and have fancy bikes. They have SKILLS. I don’t, not being able to descend nor climb well. My bike is old. Plus, I am a touch lazy. I value self-preservation over speed.

I was still cold and left my jacket and arm warmers on for the run; something I would never do otherwise. The desert isn’t supposed to be this way. The sun is supposed to come out and heat me up. I remember another rainy duathlon I did where I made the mistake of thinking that I would warm up right away and I didn’t and paid the price.

The first mile was slow because I was so cold I could barely move. My feet were still numb and felt like blocks. Slick mud made the steep downhills sketchy. The second mile was better and by the third mile my feet were thawed out and I finally felt warm again. I took off my jacket. The last mile went through the Clay Pit, which had gooey, slippery mud patches. It was well named. Any large mammals would have sunk into the muck. I passed someone who stopped to try to get the mud off her shoes. I knew the effort would be futile, but I also quickly tried to scrape off the mud on the rocks while running because it weighed my shoes down  Final run was 39:35.

After about three and a half hours, I finished. I was only next to dead last. As the only one in my age group, I got first.

Too disgusting even for my car.

I felt dazed from the cold and the exhaustion. A normal person would have stayed home and been warm and dry, but where’s the fun in that? Riding in the rain sucks, though. My bike was so disgusting that I made a feeble attempt to clean off the slimy mud before putting it in the car. My rock-bottom car cleanliness standards weren’t that low.

 It was badass to defy the elements, but badassery has its price. Maybe by next week, I will have warmed up.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Prey

Hawk overhead. Red-tail. Rufus feathers shine in the light.
He soars on the thermals.
Beady, sharp, soulless eyes
hunt for prey.

Below fat, obscenely white-skinned
maggot with wings. Bumbling flight.

It’s Cupid!
A tasty morsel.

Hawk readies to dive.
Glides ever lower.
Then snatch! Talons seize chubby baby legs.

“No! No! No!” Cupid squeaks.
“Don’t eat me!”

Hawk perches on a high tree branch;
grasping ready to rip into juicy fat flesh of the pinned, wriggling Cupid.

“Why should I not eat you, winged worm?”

“I bring love into the world” says Cupid.

“Love? What is love?” Hawk’s talons grasp tighter.

“Did I say love?” Cupid’s wings trembles.

“Yes, you said love.”

“No you said love. I just said what you called it. I didn’t say love,” Cupid babbled.

“You are so stupid that I need to eat you now.”

“I am cute.”

“You are ugly. And also a good meal.” Hawk pecks at a fat arm with his beak.

“Ouch! I am diseased. I am infected with braindeadopia. If you eat me, your brain will rot.”

“I will take that chance,” as the hawk tears off a chunk of flesh.

Cupid screams.

“You are both stupid.” An Orange-Crowned Bobbleyboob snatches Cupid away and flies off.

Valentine's, you are a huge mound of shit.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

P.F. Chang's Half Marathon Race Report

This race was on January 15th, but it might as well have been Friday the 13th. The bad luck seeped over.

I had gotten through the whole holiday bad-eating season relatively unscathed. Little did I know that the fat pounds were laying in wait to show up two days before the race. Of course, a little too much sea salt probably didn’t help. Were the pounds fat or water? Either way, they  were a disadvantage. The theory was each pound would slow me down so many seconds per mile. I hoped that the fat/water pounds would magically evaporate in sweat during the race.

I only do this race every three years or so because it’s a giant hassle. The organizers force a participant to go downtown to pick up their bib, which I hate. Downtown has parking issues, one way streets and pedestrians to dodge. The particular garage that I picked had a mysterious machine to take my payment, but I couldn’t figure it out after many tries. I put in my debit card this way, then another. Nothing from the machine indicated its existence with a receipt. People behind me waited patiently for my brain to engage. I finally gave up and found an actual human, who told me that I had already paid. I escaped from the clutches of the garage into middle of the afternoon rush hour traffic.

Race morning was treacherous as well. I had planned out where to park, but I wasn’t sure if I was in the right garage because it had no name. No Name garage had the gates up, so I figured it was okay to park there and that I wouldn’t get towed or ticketed. It was dark anyway, and hard to see. I don’t like driving at zero-dark-thirty. Plus, the streets were curved. If they aren’t in a grid, it confuses me.

I had to figure out what direction to walk. I never go in this part of town, so I was disoriented in the dark. On this quest to get to the start line, my gut rumbled warning signs of imminent danger. Of course, as is always the case, no porta potties were nearby. I dashed behind some grass plants. I covered up the evidence with gravel and hoped no one would smell it. I suspect I wouldn’t be the only one to publicly defecate on the ASU campus. Luckily, it was deserted.

The corrals were the usual body jam. They are based on theoretic assumptions of finish time, which almost never come true. I don’t like people that much anyway and to be densely packed in with strangers was so much worse . Adding to the irritation were people taking selfies. The polite thing to do was to stay out of their picture, but I was cranky and didn’t care.

The race started and we waited. And waited. With so many people it took me ten minutes just to get to the actual start line.

Finally, I was running. Why am I doing this again? To beat my previous time? For self-flagellation? The first section passed by an exciting power plant. I remembered running by this at the end of a past marathon and wanting to cry from the misery.

So many runners were in my way. I had to weave in an out of the masses. My start was cautious, because it was a long way and because of a nasty hill at mile nine. My run wasn’t as fast as I wanted, though. The road felt like a false flat; seemed like it should be easier, but wasn’t. I was getting hot with the exertion. The other people that wore long sleeved tops baffled me. Why weren’t they roasting like me?

The runners thinned out, but got weirder. A barefoot Elvis? How the hell did he do that? My feet hurt enough in cushioned running shoes, let alone without anything between my feet and the road. I couldn’t imagine how much it would hurt to run over glass, rocks and whatever other debris was in the road. Not to mention it looked ridiculous.

Two guys ahead of me were carrying large flags. Every half marathon seems to have at least one flag carrier. I admired the fortitude of trying to run with a large flag, but it must have been exhausting.

Once in a while I went by a band. Some were good and some were eighties bands that I didn’t care for. Eighties music can vanish from existence as far as I was concerned. The bands were momentary distractions from the discomfort. The roads still were at a slight incline. When the hell were they going to go downhill again?

Every once in a while I passed perky people cheering. In an impressive show of coordination some actual cheerleaders in short skirts had climbed on top of each other to form a pyramid. That was a lot of enthusiasm.

I passed a bar with an outdoor patio, adjacent to the opposite lane. Patrons who had had a good amount  themselves were trying to lure runners to take a cup of beer. Some took them up on it, dodging traffic to get to it. This was not a good idea. Beer was not worth bodily injury.

The miles still weren’t as fast as I wanted and it was depressing because I was trying so hard. The older I get, the more speed is a struggle. Maybe my expectations about what I could do were unrealistic. This race was going downhill, every way but literally.

The dreaded mile nine approached. This mile was an awful memory from the last time. On the side of the road I saw a cute row of little terriers dressed in different-colored matching sweater designs. They were just chilling and not doing their usual behavior yapping and generally freaking out. The road went sharply uphill, which was unwelcome. The sight of a man in a wheelchair and a person pushing someone in a wheelchair made me appreciate my working legs.

I kept chugging up the hill and strangely had energy. Then it hit me.

Toilet! Now! My gut screamed at me. The nearest port-a-potty was up the road in the opposite lane with runners passing it down the hill. Could I make the turn around and come back to it? No. My definition of a good run was one where I wasn’t violently forced to find the nearest toilet and this wasn’t a good run.

I dashed across the road, while avoiding people to dive into the john, just in time. This sucked because it was that much more time lost. I got out and wove through people again to get back to where I was. The route went down, then up again. That was special. I ran faster to make up time. I was finally going downhill and gravity was my friend. I had three miles left, so I knew I wouldn’t die.

The lovely downhill went on for a while and I was running the way I wanted to. Then it died and so did my legs. The last aid station had beer. This was tempting, because I was in pain, but I passed. It would just slow me down more and my gut was unpredictable. The last few miles of a half marathon always were a painfest that made me question my reason for living. I barely held on to the mediocre speed I had had before, but the pain would soon be over. I sped up the last quarter mile because I wanted it to be over with. Lots of bystanders were cheering.

Finally, the giant arch of the finish line. My final time was 2:13, which wasn’t what I wanted, but it was the best I could do. It probably would have been 2:11:30 without the potty stop and maybe 2:09 without the water/fat extra pounds. Who knows? I tell myself it’s the process of the physical challenge, not the time result. The magical experience of a personal record would have been nice, but that rarely happens. The human zoo had been amusing. I even beat Barefoot Elvis.   

Next time, no sea salt.