Lily Mountain Trail

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After my Keurig run, Karen told me to enjoy the Keurig one more time, then pack up.  The Covid’s comin’.  Gear up to hit the trail.  We got as far as Estes Park where we thought we could get some grub.  We were greeted with signs like this, reminding us of just the other week when it was that way at home too.  We were happy with the takeout from Bird & Jim.  And they had a better sign.

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The girls took our flight in stride.  One more road trip for old times, I heard one of them say.  Ellie Rose will go off to the Colorado School of Mines this fall, leaving Karen and me to discover our new normal as empty nesters.  Ellie Rose should be safe in the mines.

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Estes Park did have good food, but we found ourselves surrounded by the Colorado Mountain elk herd that’s been ranging these slopes for eons, or at least since 1913 when the then extinct herd was reintroduced from Wyoming.

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We waited for the elk to fall asleep and made our escape under the cover of darkness.  With the next morning’s sunlight, we found ourselves on the Lily Mountain Trail.

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Karen told us this trail would lead to a new world.  A place free from the horrors of 2020.  She told us we would be happy in this new place.

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When we got there, we saw this.  We knew this hike was the right choice for the Memorial Day weekend.  Karen was right.

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New generations will blaze new trails up here in Karen’s woods.  Summer is coming, calling all of us outdoors, hopefully not like sirens to the rocks.  Wear a buff on the trail.

Runner’s Pandemic Etiquette

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Knock on wood, I’m starting to gain traction with my running routine.  I’m back home for a few days and was worried the altitude would discourage me, but I’ve discovered that if you run slow enough, altitude doesn’t matter.  Damned race director won’t cancel this October’s Boulder Marathon, so I’ve got some training to do.

I’ve been gleaning post-shutdown trail running etiquette that I don’t mind sharing with you.  Seems like most people get why runners would run without a mask, but many are in fact wearing them.  I would tell you this is because runners and bikers are all about the gear.  A bandana is just one more thing they get to wear.

Regardless, the manner on the trail is this.  Runners wear their bandana around their neck, and then raise it to cover their mouth and nose as they pass another runner on the trail.  I’ve experienced this on both the LoBo Trail and East Boulder Trail.  Anecdotal, I know, but that’s what you get from a runner’s blog.

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I wasn’t wearing a mask or bandana myself, but will be for future trail runs.  I’ve been conscientious about wearing one when I go out, it just didn’t seem needed or practical for running.  But a light-weight scarf hanging around my neck, that I only raise over my nose as needed, doesn’t bother me at all.  In fact, it might be helpful to protect my skin from UV rays.  After looking for a Shoes & Brews bandana, I ordered a purpuse-built, all-white, runners neck gaiter.  The new normal will include stylish neck-wear.

 

Keurig Runner

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The uber that picked me up was like out of some Ridley Scott movie.  In the age of Covid, a transparent plastic curtain held up by gray duct tape was all that separated me from the driver.  Viral transmission was too viable for my comfort level, so I squeezed the metal strip on my mask tighter over my nose.

There were less drivers on I-35 than on Mars.  Still, traffic slowed down through downtown where the highway splits into the lower and upper ramps.  It always does.

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The line at security was empty, but I stood behind two guys in TSA-Pre, because I was TSA-Pre.  There was no line at the airport lounge, but unless you were a well-connected woman, you had to order your cerveza take-away.

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I’m on a coffee run for Karen.  She has this thing for Taste of San Antonio.  You can’t buy it where I’m from.  I’ll be back for more soon.

Guitar Hero

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There are three Guitar Center shops in the Austin metro, one right here in Round Rock.  All are closed, of course, so I ordered this left-handed acoustic-electric online.  Their Dallas shipping site is closed too, so it has to ship from California.  That’s okay, I’ll wait.  I’m just glad it’s in-stock.  Left-handed guitars are less available.

I’m mostly ambidextrous.  I write and eat left-handed, but can do both with my right hand.  I play sports right-handed.  I can’t throw left-handed but can switch hit.  I can play guitar right-handed, but it doesn’t feel comfortable.  Finding a quality left-handed guitar at an affordable price made me happy.

I need something new to keep my sanity in check.  I’ve been staying with my mom in Texas since late January and even without the apocalyptic social distancing conditions, I can’t get out much.  I can no longer go for long runs on the weekends.  I work ten-hour days, when I’m not working twelve, in a small office on the phone and computer, and I really need some sort of release afterward.  I like a beer at the end of the day, but drinking doesn’t do that much for me.  If I have to watch any more news, my head will explode.

I never played an instrument growing up, but took guitar lessons before I turned fifty.  I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed it.  I swear, it released more endorphins than distance runs.  I didn’t keep it up.  After a small health scare at fifty-one, I turned my focus to massive running, and later to writing.  A man can only have so many hobbies.

I feel it’s time to turn back to music.  I’m still able to go for some short runs a few days each week, but I’m losing interest in writing and reading.  And at my current weight, running is hard.  I feel like music is what I need to get through these trying days and nights.

Isolated a thousand miles away from my wife and family, music is the cure.  Don’t ask me to tell you the name of songs or bands, but I can sit in a dark room and listen to music for hours.  Playing music will be orders of magnitude more satisfying.

How are you coping?

Snow & Rain

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Our first call of the day was before 6 am mountain time.  We facetime because I can’t get a strong enough signal for a voice call and need to leverage the wifi with a video app.  Karen doesn’t let me see her that early in the morning, so I stare at the ceiling fan while she watches me sip my second cup of coffee.

She said, because it was snowing, she might not walk today.  She often walks while talking over the phone to other friends while they walk remotely.  I told her there is no better time to walk in Colorado than under falling snow.  With no wind and 30°, the snow filters out the sound and you can hear your heart beat in the silence.  I was jealous.

I was also motivated and ran a few miles after work.  In the rain.  It’ll be raining here in Austin for as many days as the weather lady could forecast into the future.  Inside the house, the overcast is dreary.  But out on the trail, man, running in the warm Texas rain rivals the Colorado snowfall.  The rain poured down on me, cleansing me of sorrow and grief.  And the trail, which has been quite crowded on the weekends, was as empty as Times Square.

Karen also told me this am that she’s noticed nature sounding louder with all the cars off the street.  The morning birds’ chirping is deafening.  I reminded her that it is spring.  She stood by her statement, the birds are louder.  I agree with her now that I had my run.  This post-apocalyptic nature is special.  Get outside and hear it for yourself.

 

The Morning After

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Not enough is being written about this story.  I just paid less for a gallon of gasoline than I did my senior year of high school.  Maybe not adjusted for inflation, but this is a running blog.  Go to economist.com if you have higher math expectations.

I also ventured out to the grocer – HEB on FM620.  I was hesitant after all the stories I heard yesterday about zombie hoards butchering one another over diet coke and almond milk. I’m paraphrasing my brother-in-law from his recent experience at the HEB in Northwest Hills.

The shelves were half empty but the masses were absent.  They likely ran out of real estate to store more goods.  I felt almost guilty with some of my purchases.  I tried to make good decisions.  In the end, I hoarded Malbec and after-shower conditioner.  I love how Texas grocers sell wine.  I’ll weather this storm.

Running Through Sadness

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ATX Half

I’ve been running the Brushy Creek Regional Trail for the last four weeks.  Just on weekends as that’s all I have time for.  I target twelve miles by not turning around until I’ve run six.  On more than half my runs, today included, I walk in the final three miles.  An optimistic strategy that I don’t recommend to swimmers in the ocean.

My legs aren’t fatigued.  I am.  Just emotionally drained.  They say it’s mind over matter, and it is.

I try to start back up again and find myself running every other quarter mile.  Conveniently, the BCRT has stone mile markers every quarter mile.  It’s a fair argument that I’m not currently in shape to be attempting twelve mile runs, and that’s okay.  Walking is just as good.  It’s nice to get out.

As you see in the photo above, I recently completed the Austin Half Marathon without walking.  The 9:30 mile pace wasn’t up to my standards.  In shape, I run an 8:00 mile pace for a full marathon.  Still, that run felt really good.

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Mom is on hospice and I’m in Round Rock helping my brother care for her.  I wouldn’t call either of us ideal care givers.  Sorry mom, we’re your boys.

I’ve followed my facebook friends’ similar stories.  My high school friends are all in the same position.  So are many of my friends back at home.  But it’s not about us.  It’s about our ailing parents.

I can’t imagine what mom is going through.  I see it, every day.  I don’t like seeing it – as I said before, it’s emotionally draining.  A part of me is dying with her.  I feel it in my runs where I end up walking.  But I’m glad to be part of it.  To give back.  She raised seven children, much of it as a single, working parent.  I’ve been impressed with her my entire life.

Born in 1933, mom represents the silent generation.  Known for their heads-down work ethic, I’ll never compare.  I hope I’m as strong at the end of my time.  She should be bed-bound by now but continues to shuffle around the house, squeezing the blood out of my wrist as she holds on.  I literally feel her tenacity.  Every day I can spend with her will reinforce my memories.

My wife traveled to be with her when I had to travel for work.  I felt so guilty enjoying my respite.  The king-sized, Marriott bed felt like a vacation compared to my twin bed here where my feet hang off the end.  My sister who lives in the area will begin to help as her FMLA is approved next week.  It’s a family affair.  It’s sad.  And I have to stop writing because I’m starting to cry.

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The ATX Half

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They serve chips n queso after the Austin Half Marathon.  If the 95% humidity didn’t give it away already, that’s how you know this run is in Texas.  This food and drink was in the VIP tent.  I’m a gentleman runner.

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My Imogene Pass running t-shirt struck up a lot of shout-outs throughout the course.  One young lady actually rubbed my back as she passed me and commented on the IPR.  That might have got her fired in the workplace.  I was already a little freaked out about the coronavirus amidst sixteen thousand runners.

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I’m not in the best shape to run a half.  After my experience in Aspen last summer, I expected to maybe walk the last two or three miles, but I felt comfortable the entire course – even on the hills in the final three miles.

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My brother-in-law played with the Rite Flyers at the six mile point along Cesar Chavez.  I’ve run this half before, and the full marathon maybe four times.  Tough course, but one of my favorite runs.

Digital Tracking

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Just when you thought you were safe, talking to people…

It’s possible to pair public information about yourself with private information about yourself – to de-anonymize the data with a strong level of confidence.  And if you can do this yourself, so can others, to your personal data.  If anyone can find some studies that prove me right, post links in the comments.  Otherwise, it makes for a better story if you simply assume I’m right, as you read the rest of this blog post.

As evidence, I offer you this graphic of my pages-read stat from Amazon.  It shows two pages read on Tuesday and three read on Thursday.  First thing about those numbers is that they are atypical.

Typically, my pages-read stats are zero for longer stretches of time.  Then, when they are not at zero, they hover around 25 or around 100.  Apparently, Kindle Unlimited readers average 25 pages read in a day, on the days they read.  Maybe some also average 100 pages read, or maybe there’s yet another reason for that lesser cluster.  I don’t know.

I do know who that reader is, because I talked to him on both those days.  He told me what he read.  Good ‘ole HUMINT.  The benefit of my super low stats, is that I can easily correlate what he told me with what I see in my stats.  I know that every move on this trend line is my collaborator reading my book.  Imagine the fun I could have.

I could post his progress online, in this blog, for the digital world to see.  I’m correlating two sources of his digital footprint, one gathered from a public conversation, the other obtained from somewhere else his tracks are being published, seemingly anonymously – Amazon Books.

I was able to de-anonymize my Amazon author stats out of the law of small numbers, in my case, typically zero, then only two and three, and because the reader told me he was reading pages.  Because I know these stats are his, I can assume pages read in subsequent days where I don’t talk to him, will be his.  Net, net, I will know his reading pace.  I’ll know if he finishes the book, with further correlation with what I know to be the book length.

I don’t think he’s overly concerned.  I showed him what I was doing.  His response?  “Privacy is a thing of the past.”

 

Winter Secret

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I think the park rangers were a few weeks late in posting this sign, but it’s still helpful advice nonetheless.  The trail was less muddy this weekend, but there were some ice patches that could take you out.

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It was a weekend for good signs.  This one is posted at the Westside Tavern, advertising their spin on a White Russian – normally milk (White), Bailey’s and vodka (Russian).  Reminded me of the signs at El Arroyo’s in Austin.

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The sign that most caught my attention this weekend was that it’s winter.  I’ll get outside to run when I can but what I need more than anything right now is consistency, so I plan to mostly run indoors on my elliptical.  It’s not a Peloton, but it was a gift for my wife – before buying workout gear for your wife was cool.

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I’ve put enough miles on this thing that I believe I’ve figured out how it actually calculates miles.  It appears to be based on RPMs.  If I maintain 60 RPMs, I complete 5 miles in 60 minutes for 5 MPH, or 12 minute miles.  That can’t be anywhere near accurate, but I don’t care about the stats.  I can tell if I’m pushing myself, and I can do that, low impact, on this machine.  It’s going to be my go-to workout this winter.

I Used to Run

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Trails with safety chains are real trails.  Brit and I ran along this southern half of the Greenbelt, Wednesday.  We ran the northern half, Tuesday.  We ran on Town Lake, Thursday and Friday.  We joined the downtown Fleet Feet running team this morning at 6:30 am and experienced an awesome sunrise over the calm water.  This week in Austin might make me a real runner again.

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My son-in-law’s college track buddy Dan introduced us to the Fleet Feet running team.  They meet up every Friday.  This is Dan in the red shirt standing alongside Eric at the 360 Greenbelt trailhead.  It felt good to run with the Fleet Feet team.  At best, they were half my age and some were fairly elite, but I didn’t feel out-of-place.  Runners are always such nice people.

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I’m still a good twenty pounds over weight and super slow when I run on my own.  I don’t wear a watch but figure I run a ten minute mile pace or slower.  I surprised myself today with a nine minute pace.  Running with others is good for speed.  Running with Brit is helping me to run faster.

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Running six out of the last seven days might give me the momentum to become a regular runner again.  I’d like that, although I need to work on my stamina.  The 6:30 am start time was rough.  Brit snapped this photo of me at 10 am.

Zilker Park

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I ran my all-time favorite trail this morning – the Greenbelt that follows Barton Creek for seven miles upstream from Zilker Park.  Ryan, Brittany and I ran up three miles before turning around for a six miler, while Eric and Dan got in eight miles.

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Deep in the heart of a city with a million people, we saw less than a half dozen other runners and bikers on the trail.  The 45° might have been too cold for most Texans.  One biker was dressed up for the North Pole.  I could have used my gloves for the first mile, but it warmed up nicely.

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I used to run the Greenbelt almost daily when I last lived in Austin.  Eric found a stretch today where Lance holds the fastest time on Strava.  His college running buddy Dan recently ran a sub three-hour marathon.  The two of them have a shot at beating Lance, so I’m guessing we’ll return later in the week.

The Gift of Glove

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I returned to the mud and ice on the East Boulder Trail this morning.  Early, before too much trail mud had thawed.  It had been two weeks since I last survived this trail.  Sitting by itself, on the makeshift shelf of the trailhead sign, was the running glove I’d lost to this trail two weeks earlier, on one of my falls.

When the trail gives back like that, right at the start, I know I’m going to have a great run.  I was pretty bummed when I discovered I’d lost it.  Wonder how long it sat there on that sign.  As long as two weeks.

I didn’t fall today but trail conditions remain treacherous.  Nice temps though this weekend.  Finally.

Ironic that winter is starting on such a nice day, after having wintered the coldest, snowiest fall I’ve seen in over twenty-five years.  I’m looking forward to some nice running weather for the holidays.

 

The Trail Conspiracy

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Brittany likes to dine at classy restaurants, the night before she runs a half marathon.  We all have our routines.  And it was her birthday.

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This is a pic taken at the start of the race.  By the looks of things, she appears to be in last place.

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That’s Brit’s friend Megan, running in the black top.  She’s known Megan for most of her twenty-eight years.

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You just know they’re pushing each other.

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Good friends finish together.  Brittany said after her kick, she felt alright, her legs were sore but she was able to sprint a bit.

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This is what my run looked like today.  On the speed spectrum, I ran massively slow, but the random treachery of the ground conspiring with the weather made it one helluva workout.  Which path would you choose running down this hill?

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The course asked many such decisions of me today.  Like life, I didn’t always make good ones.  Eventually, all safe paths ended, making all decisions look poor in retrospect.  Sometimes my only choice was between suffocating mud, and a knee-high glacier.  Sometimes there were no choices and the endings were still either mud or snow.  By picking up my head more, especially on uphill climbs, I learned to read the trail more in advance.  My strategy was to crowdsource the best route by setting my aim along the thin brown line.

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Post-holing, ankle-deep, through fields of snow was exhausting, but I was there for the workout.  I forgot sunscreen, and the sun glare off the snow was intense, so I kept my run short to avoid sunburn in the 45° weather.  I fell twice on the return, once after post-holing to my knee.  I fell forward and my face slammed into a pile of mud and ice.  I ran half the distance that Brit did, but it was a great run.

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Brittany might be running faster than me just now.  I know Eric is.  But I’ve been running too.  I can’t remember the last time I fell trail running.  I would say that today, the trail won, but I’ll be back there running tomorrow.

 

 

 

Writing Naked

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Here’s a photo of me after my eight mile run today, because this is still a running blog dammit.  With that said, this post might be more about writing.  Naked.

For me, the two hobbies are tightly linked.  I write my stories in my head while I’m running.  I mean, what do you think about when you’re running?  I write stories.

A number of people asked me if I wrote down the speech I gave at my daughter’s wedding this summer, because I didn’t read from a piece a paper and they thought it sounded “from the heart”.  I feel like I wrote it down.  The weekend before, I wrote it down in my head during a long drive to Aspen.  So to a degree, it was rehearsed.

I hope my writing sounds from the heart.  I hope it sounds real.  Honest.

I published a book earlier this year, but I won’t be stuffing it in anyone’s stocking this Christmas.  Despite being a product manager, spending half my days practicing product marketing, I sort of suck at self-promotion.  Clearly, I know how to do it.  You can see I’m wearing my favorite self-promo shirt in this photo, but it doesn’t come naturally to me.

My goal is to develop writing skills, and self-publishing competence, over the course of years as I approach retirement.  I don’t need to be immediately successful.  I hope to be better once I have the time to truly focus on writing.  My skills advanced considerably from my first book to my second.  I’ll be happy to maintain that pace.

The writing in my second novel was much tighter.  My editor on my first book told me I was the King of fragmented sentences.  I did write some awkward sentences.  She added semi-colons to a number of them.  Initially, I accepted those edits, but I went back later and rejected half of them.  I discovered that I have a certain writing style that I’d like to keep.  I have a habit of writing one long sentence, followed by a shorter sentence, followed by a single-word sentence.

It’s not a constant cadence, but a regular rhythm.  I speak like this too.  Sometimes.

Once I discovered my pattern, I decided that I liked it.  It’s my personal style.  I’m not going to shy away from it, even if it’s wrong.  It’s my personal poetry.

I do need to gain more confidence in self promotion if I’m going to continue self publishing.  It’s strange because when I’m writing, I’m full of confidence.  I have preferences that might appear tame.  I write what is called “closed-door” sex scenes, but I do write about intimacy.  That’s not because I’m shy, it’s because that’s what I prefer to read.  At least, in my genre of tech thrillers.

Autobiographical fiction became popular during the era of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe.  Many people still say that all fiction is autobiographical.  I don’t think about that while I’m writing.  It’s after publishing, when friends start to question me on some of my characters, that I realize, holy shit, this might be a memoir.  And I become insecure, wanting it to sell to the anonymous public, but I stop promoting it to friends.

I’m going to have to get over that if I want to become a writer.  It’s not writing if it’s not naked.  Genuine.

I can try to put on a robe afterward, but the marketing phase of publishing is not the time to become shy.  Still, if you’re on my Christmas list this year, don’t expect one of my own books.  I’d be remiss, and totally suck at self-promotion, if I didn’t implore you to gift one to yourself.  And at a time when we all reflect on our gratitude for all everyone has given us, thank you for reading my books and my blog, and for not critiquing my fragmented sentences.