Thursday, April 28, 2011

Picacho Peak (Arizona's answer to Angel's Landing)

We have driven by Picacho Peak hundreds of times. It's on the way to Tucson from Phoenix. It's also the site of a Civil War battle, for which they perform a re-enactment every year, guns and all. It shoots straight up out of the flat desert like a knuckle sandwich, taking you two thousand feet into the desert stratosphere.

Anna and I have tried to hike it twice already
. We failed the first time when I forgot
my wallet and a Ranger
would not let us
mail in a bill. "You really shouldn't be driving without your wallet anyway?" So us two patrons patronized back home to Tucson. The second time a killer storm was rolling across the desert in front of us as we stepped up to the trail. Today was different. Today was normal. With wallets in pockets and the best weather on earth (93 degrees without a cloud or breeze) we made the hike!

It's a hidden gem and well worth the time. If you ever visit we will take you, and it won't disappoint. Some hikes tend to bore or seem too long. Hunter Trail, built by the CCC in the 1930's is the perfect mix of length and variety. We heard and saw hawks, a pack of coyotes
making a kill, and lizards galore. And it was a heart-pumper. A real full-body workout that left both of us a little more than nervous. We finished the hike excited to do it again someday. And with
empty canteens and dusty shoes we walked into a near-by Dairy Queen for some dipped awesomeness.

ps- Don't be like us and scoff at the
Ranger when he says "two liters per person is a must."

Tomorrow's headline could have been: "Desert native and wife die of dehydration 2.1 miles from I-10 Interstate and local gas station."

No need to flirt with the Darwin awards.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A plug for Kobe

Sure I've got a big "to-do" list today and appointments at the hospital. Sure I'm off to a late start. But if I don't get my hit early, I begin getting nervous, shaky, and cranky. I limited myself to just a glance this morning and it made me pause in gratitude. On the front page was a picture of Kobe giving a high-five to Odom. He has a menacing stare, like an arrow bearing down on its target. And you see...passion. Passion! It seems in recent years NBA talk has dwindled down to:
"They are thugs, self-centered, and selfish."
"They don't care about winning, just the money."
"They don't play team ball."
But this morning that picture of Kobe took me back to 1992-1993, a year during one of the glory decades of the NBA. A year when every other house in Phoenix had a "Suns fan yes I am"

sign on their window and car. A year when passion dominated the game. A year when I cried after the Suns lost in triple overtime to Jordan's Bulls in the Finals. It was tragic. I still remember the feel of Grandpa and Grandma Budge's thick brown carpet as I rolled on the floor in agony. As a 10 year old I could feel and see the pain in Barkley, Majerle, Ainge, and Johnson's faces. I wanted to throw a dart at Pippen, Jordan, and Longley. Passion.
Kobe, this morning, you rock, and you are rocking more and more as the years go by.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Professional Running and a Beard

I'm sure you have heard the joke:

"What's the difference between a teacher and a pizza? Answer: The pizza can feed a family of four."

I like it, not only because it's almost true, but I can apply it to a lot of things I spend my time doing. Consider my running. I've logged thousands of miles. I've worn out pairs of shoes. And I've raced in probably fifty races by now. And the difference between me as a runner and a pizza is...? You guessed it. I couldn't sustain Ghandi with what I make as a runner. I could put a shirt on his back, but that's about it.

Except for last night. I won forty bucks in prize money at the Sabino Canyon sunset race for finishing first in my age group and fifth overall! Yes, I brag. And if you ever read Runner's World or know any runners, you will quickly find that runners are probably the humblest braggers you know, in a proud sort of way. They brag when they run well. When they run poorly, they don't quit. They put their shoes on again the next morning and hit the road in prep for a future race. That's the humble nature of runners.

When they run well, the endorphins last long past their shelf life. You literally believe you could take Everest if given a chance. (I think our bodies were designed to be sore after a race just so God could prevent a misguided runner from actually taking a hike up Everest in a state of delusional euphoria. Lactic acid can bring you back to reality, quickly).

Just observe a local marathon someday. See how the runners who fared well behave after the race. They bounce around on blisters, high-fiving everyone and cheering on the later runners. They will gladly pick up all the cups that fall when tired runners collapse into the water table trying to reach a cup at the finish line. And they will invariably take their shirts off. They are bronze. They are sweaty. This is the bragger inside every runner. (As an aside, the later runners at the finish don't take their shirts off. It's a strange phenomenon).

But of any athlete I know, runners have the right to brag when they do well. The training is hard. The competition is painful. The outcome is variable. Few sports induce pain in the preparation, competition, and recovery stages. Running is one of them. I think boxing is another, or rowing, or cross country skiing, and probably figure skating and ice hockey, okay so maybe there are many sports defined by their monopoly on pain. However, when is the last time you saw a hockey player turn around and high-five his opponent just after he smashed him into the glass? Runners are friends with the competition. For a really amazing story on this see: Just drop down to the part the reads, "And then I saw Derartu Tulu," and go from there. You won't waste your time with that article like you are doing with this blog.

So you see, runners are your friends, in any walk or run of life. Can we just please brag when we do well? I promise you won't get tired of it because it won't happen often. Holding back the happy effects of the runner's high is like trying to tell Santa to stop "Ho-Hoing." A physiologic impossibility.

So there I was last night under the full moon in Sabino Canyon National Park, high-fiving and picking up cups to put in the trash. And I was proud to be able to feed a family of four, even if only for one night. And no, I did not take my shirt off.

As a post script I wanted to mention the satisfaction of a beard. There is nothing better than trimming one. When trimmed, I look down into the sink, see my clipped hair and think: "I know I'm lazy and have much to be desired but at least I can count on you, hair, to keep on trucking away, 24-7." If only I could work as hard as hair.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Born to Ride

I stole into the road cycling crowd. By stumbling across a "Tricats" jersey in a thrift store and with the gift of a road bike for my birthday a while back, I am able to play the part better than a jack-o-lantern on Halloween. I am a runner, not a cyclist. But I try. And try I did last Saturday at the 21st annual Tour de Mesa.
For a husband, and kid, with over a hundred thousand in debt, running appeals to me for practical reasons. For about thirty-five bucks a year I can take my sport anywhere. I've taken it through downtown Boston, Pittsburgh, Paris, Masada, Ghana and the beaches of Mexico. I've even hit the pavement on a dirt track in a small farming villa in Brazil. But of all those runs my favorite is still the one I staged across the field of Gettysburg on a hot day in July. My brother-in-law and I were like kids on Christmas morning after that run, at least that's what I remember. But most of my runs are on my local roads here in Tucson, and that's just as good because when I run it feels good to be alive, no matter where I am. I'd like to say I was born to run, but someone wrote about that already.
Born to ride? I'm not so sure after Saturday. In fact, I'm not so sure anybody was born to ride. Take the comedy of horrors I witnessed during the race. Things you just never see at your local 5K run:
First: You have a bunch of adults straddling a bike with skinny wheels. To maintain balance, we whip our thighs and knees at right angles to the bike. Check out a biker trying to balance at a stoplight sometime, he may remind you of a ballerina on wheels. So there you are at the start of the race, a bunch of adults posing like ballerinas on bikes. Oh, we do our best to look good. From the sweet uniforms, shades, and helmets, we exude coolness. Runners have nothing on bikers when it comes to workout attire.
Second: The draft concept. The idea is clever. With a group of two or more riders, you race in single file. If you are drafting you try and bring your front wheel right up next to the rider in front of you. The physics of his motion will suck you right along. I expend 60% of my energy drafting where I would be using 90% riding alone. Drafting rocks.

(There is a similar technique in running, but since runners usually don't move faster than 10 or 12 miles an hour, it doesn't really help to conserve energy.)

But drafting is dangerous. Ten miles into my race last Saturday I found a good group to draft with. All four of us took turns leading and following. But at one intersection a rider slowed and the two behind him smashed right into his rear. The front rider was pummeled to the ground. I hopped off my bike and ran to where he lay in the road, his feet still clipped into the bike. He had a two inch gash above his right eye and his eye balls were shifting back and forth horizontally in saccadic fashion. In a matter of twenty seconds this Paul, if his recollection of his name is correct, had no idea where he was or what he was doing. I freed his feet from his bike and then another biker showed up saying, "I'm an ER doc, what happened." Needless to say, I was not needed much after that. So I took off. For some reason a line from Mission Impossible came to mind as I was riding away from the accident. "Man down Ethan, man down."

Third: You just can't stop to pick up a twenty you see on the ground. If you are out running and see money on the trail, you stop and pick it up. Then you spend the rest of the run wondering how many ice cream cones you will buy with it. You don't have that luxury if you spot money during a bike rice. But there it was. A big, fat twenty lying in the road. I imagine a biker was fishing in his back pocket for goo when he accidentally pulled out the twenty. He wouldn't know his post-race BBQ money was missing until that juicy burger was on a plate in front of him. Isn't there a Greek tragedy based on a similar situation? Anyway, I couldn't pick up that twenty because if I stopped I would have been mowed down by the twenty riders immediately behind me. Some lucky runner would get it though. For the rest of the race I rode over new bike tubes, expensive water bottles, unused CO2 cartridges, and more good stuff. For a retired dumpster diver, that was hard to do.

Fourth: History repeats itself in a bike race. So there I was drafting behind three other riders at the 45 mile mark. A physically fit father, his daughter, and a sixty-year-old with a yellow Alaska jersey. They were fast. They were cool too. All business and no play. Then a police officer at an intersection held up both his arms to stop oncoming traffic as we passed through. The fit father thought the cop was telling him to stop, so he did. His daughter piled right into him, followed by the Alaska man, and once again I barely missed crashing. Man down Spencer, man down. This one happened to be a little more bloody. I won't give you the details but just imagine what a chain ring can do to a man's ankle with the right velocity and angle. I was looking around for an ER doc after that one. So in one morning I saw more blood cycling than I ever have in all my time running. Talk about cool.

So there it is, ballerinas on bikes, dangerously drafting and passing up twenty's on the ground only to be on the ground minutes later in an awful crash. But gosh we look cool doing it! Happy trails...