Saturday, December 23, 2017

The War on Christmas

The cat doesn't care about Christmas

The war on Christmas?

No, the war on me.

 It’s July and dark days approach. Plastic Christmas trees already.
Outside, a blazing 115 degrees.
Yet, synthetic pine wears a mantel of pretend chemical snow.
I shudder and turn away from the conflict to come.

By August, the skeletons of Halloween appear. The shells of dead people cheer me.
But the Santa demons with blank eyes lurk in the back store shelves. They await Halloween’s demise, ready to induce a retail frenzy of mindless manic mayhem. I dodge a whizzing bullet.

 The store ads hatch out of their rotten, stinking corporate lairs in September. Not daring to fully emerge, but enough to hint of the chaos to come. Dread creeps into my mind. Random firefight.

Mindless, droning, torturous Christmas music seeps out; a cancer on my brain. Only October, but skulls give way to over-priced strings of holiday lights. I mourn the end of Halloween knowing the nightmare begins. I retreat to the trenches.

Outdoor decorations appear on homes, though it’s not yet Thanksgiving. What the hell is wrong with you? I fight the urge to punch cutesy blow-up figures. Vile Santas and reindeer; elves in helicopters.

PLEASE, NO! Already war weary.

Full on December assault. Inattentive drivers  fill the streets, shopping, shopping, shopping. Horrid music invades every public space. Jingle Bells–stab my eyes out. My mood sinks lower. Vapid ads everywhere for cars, flooring, clothes, electronics, food, candy, perfume, booze....IT NEVER ENDS.

All the F**KING CHEER. I fake enthusiasm and put up a tree. Wait for the end of the battle.

Finally, it stops. Blessed calm. Peace.

Then the post war sales begin.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Estrella Mountain 8k XterraTrail Race Report

This race was a replacement for Black Canyon Xterra, which got flooded out. In Arizona, where it rarely rained. The local news showed a raging wall of water in what normally is a timid creek. The massive rain storm made the requisite stream crossings hazardous, so the race organizer probably didn’t want to have to do water rescues. I had the option of transferring to another race, so I picked Estrella Mountain. It was the wrong choice.

I had done trail races in this park before. At the last one, I fell and my lacerated knee required six stitches to repair. This weighed on my mind because I was nervous about it happening again. Trail running always had this danger of self-inflicted injury. It was fun when I was relaxed and not worried about bodily injury. It was not fun when I belly-flopped against the stony, unyielding ground and bled all over my leg. I would pick up my knees and run with small steps and still sometimes trip on a rock. I ran slower than I would on pavement out of fear. Sooner or later, though, my clumsiness caught up with me.

This area had many rocks; so many rocks. I hate rocks. I did training runs on rugged trails, but not like this. This park had it in for me, just waiting to catch me off guard. I knew it was coming at some point.

The race started with the typical lack of fanfare. Xterra is usually pretty laid back. Most times, I am left by myself, as much faster runners bolt away, but for some reason, I always had people around me. I couldn’t believe they were as slow as I was. I ran cautiously, tripping a few times, but always caught myself. The hills were a lot of effort, but not extreme to the point that I thought I was dying. I felt tired, though. I was 1.5 miles in and thought, how the hell am I going to finish? This was not a good feeling when I had some three miles to go. I kept climbing.

 On the last mile and a quarter I passed someone I knew and said “Hopefully, I won’t trip,” and promptly did so. Four whole miles I had made it without harm, but the downhill waited to snare me. Out of nowhere, I caught my foot and suddenly hit the ground, with no chance to slow my  momentum. My first thought was I hope I don’t need stitches. My second thought was I am stupid. Oh my god my knee really hurts! It was bleeding profusely. I got up gingerly and brushed the dust off my leg. I tried to wash the wound off with some water, but it was hopelessly dirty with mushy tissue. People stopped to ask how I was doing. How the hell should I know? The blood was dripping down my leg, but all I could do was keep going, limping like a lame pirate. I was alert, but not happy about my crippled state.  I tried to “run” because I was about .75 miles from the end. 

I hobbled towards the finish line, passed a photographer and managed to trip again. Now I had two wounded knees. Trying to run in pain didn’t make for a fast time. Undoubtedly, my two bloody, dripping knees were a spectacle as people cheered at the sight of my finish. Total time was 64:27 for 4.79 miles. 

I got a medal and medical bills.

The first aid guy tried to clean the dirt out of the raw flesh. He lifted a big flap of loose flesh and predicted fifteen stitches. Great! He suggested I go to an ER, rather than urgent care because the wound was deep. Medics at Xterra races can’t do much because they lack the equipment. This was depressing. I dreaded huge medical bills and a long wait. I usually go to urgent care to have my wounds cleaned, but they can be hit or miss. Some don’t have x-ray machines. Some have doctors who don’t know what they are doing. Sometimes, the wait is still not short. 

I had the foresight to bring my insurance card with me, because what could have possibly gone wrong running on a rocky trail? I stopped at an ER on the way home. They cleaned up the wound, washing out still more dirt. They numbed the knee, sewed eleven stitches and put on vast amounts of dressing. An x-ray showed no broken bones. They wanted to do an MRI, because some radiologist who probably wasn’t on my insurance plan thought the knee might have a tear. I was tired, dirty and hungry after being there for four hours and I didn’t want to wait  indefinitely to have a procedure that I may not even need. I refused the crutches they gave me. Why do I have to battle with these people? I broke down and wore the knee immobilizer only to the car. I couldn’t get my leg in the car with it on, so I ripped it off and tossed it on the seat. Who knows what I will end up paying for this device that I had on for five minutes?

I didn’t bother mentioning my banged up elbow at the ER, but I noticed it was painfully swollen when I got home. It still hurts two weeks later, but I will ignore it. I never got the MRI. The swelling was in the front and not in the knee, anyway, and was fine once most of the skin grew back.

So, not only did I incur medical bills, I lost the entry fee for another triathlon race the following weekend. Immersing a stitched wound in dirty Tempe Town Lake water at that race wasn’t recommended. I would have probably end up banging it again, anyway, and it hurt to even walk. I couldn’t bend my leg enough to ride a bike.

Damn rocks.

Thursday, October 19, 2017


Sometimes, I get a stupid notion that I want to do something. Organized bike rides are usually fun or at least a chance to ride somewhere different. Biking new places is interesting and makes me happy. This ride was one that I had always wanted to try. With an event name, “Skull Valley”, it had to be cool. It would be hilly, but I could deal with that. Or so I thought. This “challenge” would turn out to be in the “I thought it was a good idea at the time” category.

Since I had been training for the hilly Santa Barbara Triathlon in August, I would supposedly be in somewhat good shape for this ride. The summer heat sucks out my energy, though, and most of the rides, I was miserable and tired and didn’t average more than twelve miles per hour. I optimistically thought I could finish in four and half hours based on my mediocre training speed, but the climbing elevation was estimated from 2900 to 5000, so completion time was uncertain.

These events always attract the demented cyclists who usually finish in half the time that I do. I never see these people after the start. If I was lucky, a few stragglers would accompany me to the bitter end. My plan was not to mosey too long at the aid stations, but not to kill myself either. Fifty some miles was a long way, since I hadn’t ridden that many miles in training.

The morning of the ride, I drove up in the dark. This was stressful, but I was too cheap to get a hotel. Living in Phoenix, I forget that this state has a whole lot of nothing once past the urban areas. I drove past empty country side. The roads were deserted, which was great because other drivers irritate me.

Prescott Courthouse

I blundered around Prescott, which isn’t all that big anyway, parked and got ready. The cold shocked me. What the hell was I supposed to do? I didn’t know how to dress and debated whether to wear a jacket on the ride. Phoenix had been in the high sixties to low seventies in the morning. Fifties was just strange after driving only an hour and a half. The ride started by the Prescott Courthouse. This part of town reminded me of the Midwest, with the tall trees that graced the square.

The ride started and of course I was in the rear. We had a police escort through town, which made me feel like I had to hurry. I didn’t want to keep the cops waiting. Usually, I don’t like to start out hard because I pay for it later on. 

We climbed for eight miles. Was this hill ever going to end? I noticed a fair number of roadside memorials of crosses with flowers. I wondered how hazardous this two-lane country road was.

After the hill was a long descent for nineteen miles. I could live with that. The countryside was bleaker, like a high altitude chaparral with few trees.  About mile twenty was Skull Valley. The town looked like it had a water source because it was so green. Tall, lovely cottonwood trees lined the road. Skull Valley was named for all the Indian skeletons white settlers found. A massive battle between two tribes resulted in numerous unburied bodies. Then the settlers had to deal with the Yavapai Indians who remained. Ultimately, another massacre occurred. Maybe the place is haunted with ghosts seeking revenge against the present inhabitants. 

At mile twenty-six was an aid station. I got off the bike to use the porta potty. It was on a trailer, which meant I had to walk up a ramp. My legs were shaky. This did not bode well as I was only halfway through the ride and I needed functioning legs. 

The aid station had boiled potatoes, which I liked, and sliced cucumber, which mystified me. Whose idea was that? Cucumbers have few calories, no carbohydrates and no salt. Basically, it was a useless food, especially for strenuous physical activity. Maybe it would be good if it was hot out, which it wasn’t.

The first half had taken me less than two hours. Maybe I would make the second half in about the same time and finish under four hours. Unfortunately, what goes down, must go up.      
Someone told me that the rest of the course went downhill for six miles, then uphill for fifteen. This was utter bullshit. Maybe her version of up and down was different from mine. The climb started right after the aid station. The wind was picking up by this point and not to my advantage. After the turning point, when the route went north again at Highway 89, it really started to suck. The road was straight and monotonous. It looked level, but I was only going eight miles per hour. This was what cyclists refer to as a false flat, a particular evil phenomenon that played tricks on the mind. This was a discouraging affront to my ego and made me despair. At this rate, it was going to take three more hours to finish. I stopped at mile thirty-six to recover from my mental funk at the aid station. A bar was located in the back part of the lot. How tempting to just chuck it all and have a beer.

After that, the twisting road really climbed. At least it wasn’t so boring that I wanted to stab my eyes out. Normally, riding a bike up hills was fun, but this was more work than I wanted and it was exhausting. Just when I thought it eased off, it climbed some more, like some evil dream. It was almost humorous and certainly insane. At one point I saw the road in front of me steeply climbing the mountain and thought you have to be kidding! I kept waiting for a downhill to come that didn’t. I tried not to think about how much time I was taking. 

The hills had some stunning vistas to take my mind off the pain. The mountains were rocky, with tall pine tree forests. The green valleys were far below. The road cut through the side of the mountain and the terrain steeply dropped off below. 

At about mile fifty, the road finally descended towards Prescott. At a sharp descent, going thirty miles per hour, a side wind threatened to blow me over. I had to slow down. Even  downhill was difficult. I finally rolled into the courthouse square. OH MY GOD, THAT WAS SO HARD. I saw the time, with all the stops, I was at 4:55. Really? That time was disappointing. Moving time without all the stops was 4:35. The climbing elevation was “only” 3,700 feet, but it felt like 5,700 with all the undulations. The 5,000 foot altitude probably didn’t help. Altitude is sneaky and tiring. 

This ride was humbling and it kicked me in the butt. It was over my abilities and training. I couldn’t decide if it was a good idea in the end to do it, but it certainly was an “experience.” Experience as in I will never do that again

Until I forget how hard it was and foolishly sign up for another round of punishment.  

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Santa Barbara Long Triathlon Race Report

I like California beach towns. They have ambience, sand and surf and, best of all, cool weather. The environment is totally different from summer-hell-on-earth Phoenix. No heat exhaustion. I have lost interest in subjecting myself to that. Plus, after seventeen years of triathlons, I was bored with local races.

I had been thinking about doing this race for a long time, but hesitated to do so. The course is open, so cars and people are a problem. The swim is in the ocean, which can be unpredictable. The distances are weird: one mile ocean swim, 34 mile bike and a ten mile run. But southern California races tend to be well-run and worth the trip for the scenery alone. Plus, it was an excuse to see my cousin and her husband, who had moved to Ventura from New England a few years ago.

While beach towns are nice, driving to them is not. The drive is 460 miles and most of it is either boring, annoying, or both. The stretch from the Arizona border through the desert past Palm Springs is a test of an effort not to turn into a raving maniac from the tedium. While I like the Sonoran desert, this part of the Mohave is so butt-ugly, that it has the menacing power to render life meaningless enough to drive off a cliff. How do people live there and not go crazy? And why are there still palm tree stubs with no tops in Desert Center? Do they not have enough self-respect to tear down the monuments to their futile existence?

Once the ass-end interior of the desert is past, the endless suburbia begins and continues for hundreds of miles. I stopped several times to maintain my sanity. Driving is not my joy. Too long, alone in a car, and I want to tear my hair out. The road was clogged with trucks. Why the hell do they have to occupy ALL the lanes? Get the hell out of my way.

I hit an inexplicably clear patch and breezed through the Hollywood area on 210. Then I hit the 101. The 101 in California is cursed. Cars inexplicably slow down for no reason. This can go on multiple times for as long as a car is on this damned highway. I had sixty miles of stop and go and it tested my patience. California, you suck! How can anyone live here?

I finally reached my cousins’s house in Ventura.

The next day we drove to Santa Barbara in an RV. I could never drive these tanks–I can’t back up a Corolla, let alone this monster. It wasn’t that huge compared to other houses on wheels, but it was beyond my meager backing-up skills.

Surfers futilely waiting for waves.

The ocean in Santa Barbara was blessedly smooth. Surfers floated on their boards in the water waiting for waves that never came. Some of these races I have done required fighting surf and risking being pummeled with the force of waves. It could be the Xterra of swimming–a rough, exciting adventure that I never wanted to repeat. I could deal with smooth. Smooth salt water is good. Smooth salt water is fast. Rough salt water is death.

Race morning, I rode my bike to the site in the dark. I had a headlamp and hoped no one would run me over, though not much was stirring. The temperature was in the low sixties, but it was so damp that it didn’t feel cold. Fog hugged the coast.

I was in the next-to-last group to start. I was nervous and only wanted to get the swim over with. We wouldn’t venture very far from shore, but it was still too much for me. It was a beach start, so when it was time, I got past three small waves and started swimming. Really, that’s the best you can do, ocean? Weirdly, it was easy, like the current was pushing me out. This was unique. I got past the first buoy and swam the outside length. The water was a little choppy in the middle, but I had been in much worse. I tried to keep going and time dragged. I wanted to be done. At the turn around, the water was unnaturally smooth and unbelievably lake-like. At the final length into the shore, I swam faster just to get the swim over with. The sixty-five degree water made me feel cold by that point, even with a full wetsuit.

Finally, at the shore, I struggled through eight inches of loose sand and promptly did a face-plant. Really embarrassing. My watch said 49 minutes and the swim cutoff was 50 minutes. I could still race if I didn’t make it, but I wanted to reach the timing mat before the time expired. With sand all over me, I ran and beat the cutoff by six seconds.

Transition: not flow-through and of course I was at the far end.

I shed the grit and got on my bike. The fog still hung around and was in no hurry to leave. That was fine with me. The start of the bike was relatively flat, then climbs the first of three hills. The route goes past plant nurseries, avocado and citrus farms and large houses. I wasn’t sure if the houses were private or commercial, but they looked massive. Lots of rich people live in this area, so some of them might have been mansions for the landed gentry.

As I climbed the hill, the distant views were obscured by mist. Even my sunglasses were dewed up. This was an odd sensation when most of the time in the desert, the moisture is being sucked out of every pore in my body. I welcomed the coolness.

The bike course was a byzantine series of loops connected by straight road. Luckily, the route was well marked or I would have been hopelessly lost. My speed was in between lollygagging and killing myself. I rode past large trees overhanging the road. Shade is good. 

At about mile twenty-five, the last hill began. The first two hadn’t been that long or steep. This one climbed. And climbed. And climbed. For two miles. Just when I thought it was done, it wasn’t. It was enjoyable in a sick sort of way. Me against the hill. Just try to crush me. I actually passed weaker riders. Yes, you got dropped by an old lady.

The last part was flattish going back into town. I passed the park two miles from the end. The fog hadn’t burned off yet.

I rolled into transition and began the run. Of course most people were done. Hopefully, they wouldn’t eat all the food before I got to it.

I didn’t feel exhausted, but not peppy, either. The run course isn’t closed, so I had to watch for pedestrians, cars, pedicabs, skateboarders and whatnot. At least they had the sense to stay out of my way because I get really cranky at this point in a race. If you got in my way, I would just as soon run you over. Unfortunately, in the beach parking lots, cars would randomly cut in front of me, then stop for no reason. Come on, already! One lady cut in front of me, then was counting her money for the valet parking, all the while blocking my way. I fought the urge to bang on her expensive car.

The route was marked with chalk arrows on the road. Unlike the bike marking, these were ambiguous. Unknown to me, I missed a critical turn into a park that continued onto residential streets. I realized that I was lost when, after four miles, I came to a four lane intersection with no indication where to go. I was screwed. Where do I go? This is the worst feeling in a race, when after all the effort, it comes to nothing. I didn’t know what to do, so I started back, hoping that a jog in the road would make up the missing miles. At the mile nine marker, I knew I was two miles short. After all the effort to get to this point, I wasn’t going to have a short run. I did what I do when I was hopelessly lost; make up my own route. I doubled back to for the missing miles.  

Embarrassed, I hoped no one would notice my folly. I ran past a clip-board guy who said a rather unfriendly “hello.” It was less “hello” and more “what the fuck are you doing?” I ignored him and went on. Someone commented at an aid station that I had been past here several times. I told her I had screwed up the turnaround. No really, I just wanted to wander randomly around this race course.

I made up the miles and ran to the finish line. What a letdown. Somehow, it wasn’t as fun when I screwed up. I searched for race food and couldn’t find it. Most people were gone. I felt like crying. A kind volunteer took pity and steered me to what was left. The food was fruit and pasta salad, but it was better than nothing. Who knows what they had before everyone else ate it?

The run took me about two hours, which was what I figured in my low expectations. If I had known the proper route and had not stopped to wonder where the hell I was, it might have been a better run. Getting lost ruined my motivation to hurt myself and go harder.
Total time was five hours, thirty-seven minutes, which was better than the six hours I thought would be. I had survived the swim, and the bike course was worth the trip. The weather had been perfect. I didn’t have a great race, but the experience was unique. I don’t think I will be riding a bike in fog again anytime soon. But I will be back to race in a California beach town–as soon as I forget the awful drive.

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.