The City of Flowers

Vista 18

You spend thirty-five years with someone and you probably have a few things in common. A few things you both like to do. Places you both like to go. You likely have different favorite children but for everything else, you think alike. For Karen and me, it’s Victoria BC. We love coming here. We celebrated our anniversary last night at a swanky restaurant perched atop a tall hotel overlooking the harbor.

Sheringham Lighthouse

Today, we drove up the West Coast Hwy to Port Renfrew. If you’ve ever been to Maui, think the road to Hana – curves, more curves, and yet more curves with a few single lane bridges mixed in for fun. Along the way, we stopped off at the Sheringham Lighthouse and China Beach.

China Beach

We like to stay at the Empress when we visit but finally bought a fractional hotel condo. We intend to work from here every September and perhaps other times of year to get a better feel for the place as we think about where we might like to retire.

Japanese Gardens

Of course, we always visit Butchart Gardens. Without the summer crowds, we were able to stroll and enjoy the gardens in a much more relaxed way than on previous trips. Wherever we end up at forty-five, fifty-five, or sixty-five years of marriage, I picture it colored with flowers.

Butchart Gardens

Dog Park by the Sea

Sentier Transcanadien

Point zero on the Trans Canada Trail (AKA Sentier Transcanadien) starts in Victoria BC. Literally a couple of miles from my condo along the coast. I know because I was there today. Just past St. Ann’s Academy and through the middle of Beacon Hill Park. This initial 4.5 mile section is termed the Dallas Road Waterfront.

I didn’t have to cut through Beacon Hill Park, but with a maze of endless grass trails that pass fragrant flower gardens, why would I choose a route along an urban street? I ran up over the hump of Beacon Hill itself for the view it provided of the Straight of Juan de Fuca.

The Straight of Juan de Fuca

The Dallas Road Waterfront trail is asphalt, not as bad as cement, and it is an urban trail after all. What I found more amazing than the view was the dog park that ran alongside it for a good mile.

Dog Park by the Sea

This park for pampered pups didn’t end until it literally collided with the ocean. And that is point zero of the Trans Canada Trail.

The Lane of Pain

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Friday morning, 100 miles earlier

According to tribal history, the Ute people have roamed the lands of the Routt National Forest since the beginning of time. They were the first peoples to inhabit Colorado and eons before they adopted the horse from the Spanish, they formed the first human Colorado mountain trails. This weekend, Eric and Anthony relied upon the Ute spirits to give them strength as they roamed the trails above Steamboat Springs for the Run Rabbit Run 100 mile ultra.

The start to the tenth annual Run Rabbit Run

Anthony brought Ellen along for the trip. They went to school together with Eric at Beloit College. Ellen ran on the women’s track and cross country teams while Anthony and Eric ran on the men’s teams. Anthony and Ellen married in 2019, just like Brit and Eric, as if they’d predicted the pandemic. Ellen is a nurse, studying to be a nurse practitioner. Anthony is a biologist/ecologist, studying to be a mechanical engineer. They say you never stop learning.

Across the creek at Fish Creek Falls

Brit, Margot, Ellen and I crewed Eric and Anthony at the first aid station we could reach, Fish Creek Falls. It’s a three and a half mile drive outside of town. Eric came in a few minutes under pace feeling strong, not in the top ten, but after ninety minutes of running, within range. He didn’t ask for all the gels he’d planned to consume, which left us wondering if he was running too hard.

Anthony at Fisk Creek Falls

It’s funny Anthony looks to be running by himself above because he was with a large pack of other runners at this point twelve miles into the race. Like Eric, he was essentially on his planned pace. True to his analytical nature, Anthony would run the entire distance to plan. Eric was another story.

Siobhan and Tracy

The women were fun to watch run through aid stations or out on the trail because they shared such strong camaraderie and spirit. A couple of 40-49 year olds are pictured here crossing the bridge over Fish Creek – local trail runner Siobhan Pritchard from Steamboat and Tracey Larsen from Breckenridge.

Addy Rastall won the women tortoises race

Addy Rastall, also of Steamboat, paced neck and neck the entire 100 miles with Heidi Farfel from Carbondale. They would eventually finish first and second – top ten overall. I’ll finish the women theme with the pair below with Fish Creek Falls in the background. Their bib numbers aren’t visible so I couldn’t get their personal details.

The race timing provided online tracking at a dozen checkpoints, counting the finish. This allowed us (the crew) to meet up with our runners at the few aid stations where we were allowed to crew without having to hang out all day waiting, because we could estimate their arrival based on their pace. Eric hit the Dry Lake aid station about two hours under pace and in fourth place. We panicked upon this discovery but beat Eric to the Olympian Hall aid station a good fifteen minutes ahead of him. This was where I planned to join Eric as a pacer for the segment termed the Lane of Pain – a twelve mile segment with an 8% grade for the first three miles.

While waiting for Eric’s arrival, the wind kicked up and the rain fell hard. I looked for Eric under a tent like the boy in Cat in the Hat staring out the window for Thing 1 and Thing 2 thinking if the sun will not shine, it is too wet to play. I shall sit under this tent on this cold, cold, wet day. But Eric showed up still in fourth place and ready to run up that steep, muddy hill. I was more dead weight than a pacer and couldn’t keep up with Eric. Three miles later, I reached the summit about a minute behind him. He continued on for another three-plus mile loop while I waited for him at the aid station.

We knew I wasn’t fit for the full twelve miles and planned to rejoin Eric for the drop down the six mile descent back to the Olympian Hall aid station. The Lane of Pain route was a figure eight with the aid station at the intersection. The descent was twice as long as the ascent, but consequently much more shallow with generous switchbacks. Eric paused for maybe one minute at the aid station and launched back down the single track as the darkness of night replaced the light of day.

I couldn’t keep up with Eric on the way down the Lane of Pain anymore than I could going up. He left me in oxygen debt almost immediately. Just as well as my headlamp didn’t provide enough lumens for me to run too fast. I ran as fast as I could in the darkness but fell three times. Once by tripping over a tree root. I fell hard on that one. Then by slipping in the mud. Lastly, I rolled my ankle. Fortunately, the mechanics of my ankles allow me to run again right away. A blessing for trails. Eric reached the bottom in third place. With over half the course behind him, he was running fast and we were concerned he might blow up and DNF. A couple of hours later, Ellen and I crewed Eric as he completed the Lane of Pain.

Ellen crews her husband

We drove Matt, another of Eric’s running buddies, up to the Dry Lake aid station on Buffalo Pass to pace Eric for the final thirty-plus miles overnight. His original pace would have had him finish at 8am. With his competitive bid, we were now projecting a finish between 4am and 6am, assuming he finished at all.

Fortunately for the crew, Eric crossed the finish line at 6am – after twenty-two hours and twenty-three minutes in first place for the tortoises division. The only person to complete the course ahead of him was the first place finisher for the hares division which started four hours after the tortoises. Eric would have placed twelfth had he competed with the hares, something he’ll have to consider for his second 100 mile ultra.

In an event where it’s common to drop out, Anthony finished as well at the more gentlemanly hour of 12:30 in the afternoon. Both runners felt strong to the end as they completed their very first 100 mile ultras. They celebrated by purchasing leather belts in town to go with their customary award belt buckles.

Run Rabbit Run

I ran four and a half miles yesterday, my first exercise beyond walking in the last two weeks.  It felt so good.  The soreness in my legs this morning is a welcomed sign that I’m back on track to train for a marathon.  Maybe not an October marathon anymore, but one while I am still sixty.  I have until next April.

I met with my cardiologist Friday and she assured me my heart is healthy.  She scheduled more exams and visits with other specialists to determine what triggers my irregular heartbeat, but other than it forcing me to walk on some runs, my health isn’t in danger.  She cleared me to run again.  She’s a runner.  She gets me.

After a couple of melancholy weeks, I left her office almost manic.  I can imagine how the importance I assign to running might appear juvenile to others, but it’s my North Star.  It’s been a constant throughout my life.  My successes and failures running mirror other aspects of my life.  Having this almost inane abstraction to real life helps me cope.  I’m a runner.  There are worse habits.

My next big running event won’t really involve me running.  I’m going to serve as crew chief for my son-in-law as he runs the Run Rabbit Run 100 miler in Steamboat next month.  It’s an elite event with some of the world’s best ultra trail runners.  The photo above is of Addie Bracy, the female winner of last year’s event.  With a $75,000 overall purse, $15,000 will go to each of the men and women’s winners.  As crew chief, I’ll have unimpeded access to all of it.  Life is good.

Wild Horses

Summer is over. This weekend’s weather was meant for running. I sat on the couch this morning with the doors wide open so that my one dog who doesn’t like to go outdoors when the grass is wet from the overnight rain could enjoy the cool air.

I’ll meet with a cardiologist next Friday. She’ll review what I’ve already seen with my untrained eyes. The anomalous electro cardiogram readings. Video showing the valves of my heart push blood via a sonar-generated echo cardiogram. She’ll diagnose the likely cause, tell me my condition is mild and suggest treatment for what my ignorant readings have already led me to believe – I’ve enjoyed too much coffee in my lifetime. I cancelled my online auto-delivery of a coffee and chicory creole blend this morning. I’m struggling to find a decaf version.

Childhood living 
Is easy to do
The things you wanted 
I bought them for you

When I was young, healthy and strong, I imagined myself a race horse. It wasn’t a stretch of my imagination. I ran NCAA track and cross country. I lived in an athletic dorm overflowing with Texan football players. I thought of us all as race horses. Tirelessly trained and running for the entertainment of others. I didn’t feel cheapened by it though, I imagined my body was that of a powerful animal and I liked it.

I think of different things when I run and I sometimes still recall how I used to consider myself a race horse. I try to reimagine myself that way. The daydream is different now. I’m no longer on the track racing alongside other stallions. I picture myself as a wild horse galloping through an alpine meadow. I’m alone now, having left the younger horses to sprint and fight and mate. I’m looking for a place painted with wildflowers where I can lay down to rest.

Wild horses 
Couldn’t drag me away
Wild, wild horses 
Couldn’t drag me away

The Day Running Died

The last twenty-four hours have done their best to kill running as I know it. First, a local running hero for me, who regularly runs extreme, elite events around the world, who writes a top-rated running blog and is invited to those world class events all-expenses-paid because of her influence, who does everything I’ver ever wanted to do as a runner and for that is my hero, fell down while cleaning her dog and broke her arm and ribs and punctured her lung. Apparently she’d exceeded her limits washing her dog. Then, this morning, my doctor told me to stop running.

***Insert expletive here***

I mean, running is what I do.  I’m a runner.  I’ve been writing a runner’s blog for over ten years.  It has several hundred subscribers.  That’s what I use to promote my novels.  I was training for a marathon in October.  I’m still sort of processing.  I have to take a daily baby aspirin now.

***Insert a more creative expletive here, the first one was insufficient***

To be fair, I only have to stop running until I complete a more exhaustive cardiology exam and treatment, but that marathon is now out-of-reach. Hopefully I’ll be fit enough to run the half marathon since my sister is flying into town to run the half. I know this is actually good that I learned a thing or two about my health condition and it’s all temporal, but I went in there this morning expecting to be told to lose some weight. I was ready for that. Not this.

Boulder Marathon Training – Week One

Yesterday, I completed week one of yet another ten week plan to prep for the Boulder Marathon. I’ve been down this road before. Seems like just last year I trained for this marathon with only ten weeks of running. There’s more riding on this one though. This time around, I’ll be running a marathon at sixty years of age.

Like last year, I’m not starting completely out-of-shape. Last year I’d been running weekends. This year, I’ve gone a full month without running, but I squeezed in some good hiking in July. Those four days of backpacking with Rob in the Mount Zirkel Widlerness Area set me up directionally for marathon training. I’ve lost three pounds since that hike. So, I feel like I have a leg up on these ten weeks.

I setup a mileage plan. Not overly aggressive, I won’t strive for over seventy miles in a single week. And really, I doubt I’ll run more than fifty. The primary goal though starting out is consistency. I targeted thirty-five miles this first week, and next, but the bigger goal was to run every day. I hit thirty-four miles. Close enough. I ran all seven days and that’s the victory I’m taking out of week one.

One particular run, Tuesday I think, felt pretty good because the weather was a bit cooler. Several of the runs have seriously sucked. Saturday was one of those. It was also my longest run at seven miles, but I walked a bit in every one of those miles. Not sure why. Could have been heat and humidity. Maybe I didn’t recover fully from Friday’s late afternoon run. My heart kept racing to over 170 beats per minute and I just had to stop running.

I developed a pattern of running for two or three telephone poles and then walking one. I relabelled my run an interval workout. If you’re going to establish hard-to-reach goals for yourself, you need a few tricks like that. I don’t have a coach looking over my shoulder so I take some liberties. I’m trying not to get too psyched out about not being able to control my heart rate. It felt horrible though. At around 170 bpm, my legs forced themselves to walk. Then my heartbeat would immediately shoot up to about 180 and I’d feel dizzy and nauseous for 10 or 20 seconds. My heart rate maxed out at 185. That’s kind of scary when you’re sixty.

The weather will be cooler though in October for the marathon. And I expect I’ll be a few pounds lighter. It’ll be hard to maintain my consistency with some upcoming travel plans – Austin later this month and British Columbia in September. I’m mapping out my running routes now though. Nine more weeks to go.

I ended the day babysitting Margot. At ten months, she can stand and take a few steps. And she loves stuffing her cheeks with avocado.

Mount Sanitas

Sanitas is Latin for “health”. One of Boulder’s most popular urban trails, Sanitas is named for the Sanitarium that lies at its base. It was a quarry in the early twentieth century, owned by the University of Colorado. I’ve lived here over thirty years and today was the first time for me to hike it. Sort of like living in NYC and never visiting Ellis Island.

I started from the Hotel Boulderado, giving me a bit less than a mile walk along Mapleton Avenue to the trail head. Karen and I are spending the weekend downtown like tourists to celebrate our thirty-fifth anniversary. You can see the trail begins quite pedestrian. The top photo shows the length of the easy part running through Sanitas Valley. There’s a dirt, single track trail that mirrors it to the east along the Dakota Ridge.

Goat Trail

Goat Trail, pictured above, intersects part way up and leads down to a neighborhood. It looks like a good run. I hiked rather than ran because I’m not in good enough shape just now to run this grade. I could maybe run the bottom portion, but the grade doubles if not triples in steepness closer to the top. Near the very top, you have to scramble and use your hands in places.

There were runners, of course. This is Boulder. I’d need to lose twenty pounds to run the full, three-plus mile loop. I got in over five miles including the stretch along Mapleton Ave. in a little under two hours. There’s a ton of sun exposure. I recommend letting the western sun dip below the ridge in the late afternoon if you hike this in the summer. Hard to believe that a small city lies at the base of all this, just over my shoulder.

The Trail and Me

Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area

Sometimes, the trail conspires against me. It conspires with the rocks, the trees, and the water to take me out. To trip me up or even drown me. To let me know that perhaps I’m getting too old to be there.

The trail has always talked to me. I felt the presence of a wolf hiking alongside me eleven years ago on the 500 mile Colorado Trail. From that experience, I adopted my trail name, El Lobo. El Lobo was both a protective trail spirit and a guide leading me to wonderful experiences.

Hiking and backpacking has always been a tremendous experience that completely transfixes my mind to the trail. Hiking ten hour days, my eyes are focused on my footfalls while the alpine nature renews my soul. There’s an energy transfer in this ecosystem. Usually nature recharges my body. Sometimes the flow is reverse. It’s a give and take.

***

My experience in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area started off with my body sacrificing fragments of flesh and blood to the Wyoming Trail. My brain may have been foggy from one-too-many IPAs the night before. I awoke at 5:30 and hit the trail by 7am. I only had one cup of coffee which is a bit light for me. Within minutes, at my first creek crossing, I slipped on a rock and partially fell into the water, slamming my shin so hard into a rock that the instantly forming bruise looked like a compound fracture. I was fine though and continued onward.

Not long after, I was negotiating my way over a large tree that was blown down across the trail. I didn’t need to stand up on my feet, but I did. As I stepped off, I’d forgotten about my pack. The weight tipped me backwards and I fell blindly into some logs. A stick lodged into my calf that I only fully removed at the ER last weekend. The infection was obvious at that point. I was given seven days worth of antibiotics.

Most of my falls and scrapes were in the first two hours of hiking. I slipped in some fast-moving water later in the day, although honestly, the cold water felt good at that point. It must have looked dramatic as Rob reached out his hand to me and I grabbed it to be pulled from the dangerous torrent. Emotionally, it was just another reminder that I wasn’t physically fit enough to be out there. Good thing I don’t backpack alone.

Long story short, I found my trail legs. I was physically exhausted at the end each day and my feet were extremely sore starting out each new day, but that trek was in my wheelhouse. I did get down on myself initially out on the trail and I’m still wondering what I need to do to improve. There are physical things that went well and some that didn’t. My planks and squats paid off. My stamina throughout the entire day was weak. I can work with those things. What has me a bit psyched out is my poor balance on the trail. Some of that is strength, but some of it is age.

Researching how to stave off the loss of balance that comes with age is part of what I’ve enjoyed the last ten years as I’ve focused on fitness in my fifties. I like researching and experimenting workout-related routines. The answer is very likely to get out on the trail more. So, five days after my big backpacking trip, I hiked with Brittany and Margot in Eldorado Canyon.

Eldorado Canyon

Now that I’m in my sixties, I don’t doubt that I’ll need to moderate my hikes. I demonstrated I can still run a marathon last October, thirty-five pounds heavier and five years older than my previous marathon, if I just run slow enough. Four days on the trail might be one day too many. Certainly, bushwhacking through miles of blown-down trees is something to avoid on future hikes.

But I will return to the trail for epic adventures. I planned to hike the Maroon Bells Loop this summer but couldn’t pull it off. That will be next summer. That might be three days. The trail just gives back so much, I can’t imagine not being out there. One of my favorite experiences is drinking unfiltered water from the absolute headwaters of this nation’s rivers. Dipping my water bottle into the water running off a snowpack in the basin of a thirteen or fourteen thousand foot peak. It’s like being at the head of the line for the world’s water supply. Being out there is so special. We went two full days without seeing another soul. This is why I live in Colorado.

Mount Zirkel Wilderness

Rocky Mountain blue columbine

I try to get out for a big backpacking adventure every year or so. Big is probably an understatement, at least for this weekend’s hike through the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area near Steamboat Springs. This hike tested my limits. The alpine meadows full of flowers alone was worth the death-defying trek across massive boulder fields, under, over and around miles of blow-down, across rushing creeks and over high mountain passes.

Rosaceae

This yellow mountain rose looks very similar to the pink mountain rose I saw in Beaver Creek last weekend. There were thousands of them along the trail.

Arnica

I call this a Rocky Mountain daisy, but my plant app gives the highest confidence to a type of arnica. I think daisy’s might have more flower pedals. These were everywhere.

Silvery Lupine

I saw of lot of these lupine in Beaver Creek last weekend too. These were usually mixed in with the arnica on the trails near Steamboat.

Alpine Tundra

My goal this outing was to hike from the Seedhouse trailhead to the Wyoming border and back. Rather than out and back, we returned on a set of other trails that looped around Mount Zirkel. For my buddy Rob, this would complete his journey across the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) in Colorado. I’ve hiked much of it with him. Rob has also completed much of the CDT in Northern New Mexico. Wyoming might be next.

Trail Legs

Within the first two hours hiking these sixty miles around Mount Zirkel, I slipped off a rock into a creek, fell backwards off a log because I mis-judged the balance of my pack, and there was something else where I somehow avoided death that I just can’t recall right now. I spent the first couple of hours gaining my trail legs. Each fall damaged my shins to the point of not being certain I didn’t need medical attention. I still have part of a tree branch stuck under my skin on the left shin that you can’t see in this photo.

The Wyoming Trail at the Wyoming Border

The falls took their toll on my confidence. I wondered if I was too old at sixty to be attempting such physically challenging endeavors. In time, I gained my trail legs and I knew I belonged out there.

Alpine Meadow

The joy of hiking through miles of alpine meadows like above makes it worthwhile to reach these remote high country ecosystems. Normally hikers would avoid trampling on such delicate plants, but in many cases in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness, there was no trail.

Red Dirt Pass

The photo above is from our campsite after hiking across an eight mile stretch, mostly above tree line with no trail. I would not have had the skills to do this without Rob. We had to just work ourselves south toward this pass. I stared at this pass all night because I wasn’t confident my legs could endure the trek. You can’t see the boulder field in the middle of this basin, but traversing those rocks was challenging without any strength left in my legs. We worked our way up through the trees on the left, crossed some snow fields, and hiked up over the pass in between the two patches of snow on the top, far left of the photo. It took much of the morning, again with no trail. We saw no other hikers for the previous two days, until we crossed that pass.

Mount Zirkel

There were so many times during this sixty-mile, four-days of backpacking that I wasn’t sure I could complete the trip. Of course, halfway into the loop, I was as far in as I was out, and I knew how difficult the trail behind me was, so there was no turning around. My scariest moment was crossing a creek on a log raised a good ten feet over the water. Not an easy feat with a thirty-pound pack. Half way across, my legs started to shake. I have a condition, mostly in my hands and forearms, called an essential tremor. When I’m fatigued enough, the shaking hits my legs too. I knew I was going to fall into the fast-running water if I didn’t get off that log, so I started to run to the far end, about fifteen feet to the shore. It was a death-defying act for sure and I probably shouldn’t be here to tell the story, but it gets better. Sitting on the far side was the ranger, older than me by a good ten years, who’d recently built the log bridge. He said, “This one was high enough that it shouldn’t get washed away.”

Full Team Hike

Eric, Brit and Ellie all joined me for a hike today. That makes three two-hour hikes in three days. At altitude. Good training for next week’s sixty mile backpacking adventure along the Continental Divide Trail. Those will be ten hour days with a thirty-five pound pack, so probably not a great comparison, but good prep nonetheless.

Karen watched Margot so both Eric and Brit could hike together. She said Margot had a nice nap but woke up crabby. Karen earned her grandma stripes while we all enjoyed a post-hike lunch on a restaurant patio.

Although I was focused on hiking the last three days for the workout, being able to hike with my kids made it super special. I’ve always been happy that my girls are athletic and like the outdoors. They are more artsy and intellectual than I ever was, but they can hike a 14er any day of the week. They got those other attributes from their mother, but I’ll take some credit for the sporty contribution.

Brit ran a half marathon recently as part of working off her pregnancy weight. And Ellie and I made plans to start hiking weekends up near Golden. Those are my girls.

I struggled to keep up with Eric, he’s a competitive ultra runner, on the seventeen hundred feet of elevation up to Beaver Lake, while the girls took a slower pace – taking pictures. They’re sporty, but not that sporty.

Village to Village

Ellie woke up early enough to join me on the trail this morning. We chose the Village-to-Village Trail, a six mile jaunt from Beaver Creek to Bachelor Gulch. It began with the same climb as yesterday’s hike along the Beaver Lake Trail, then veered right after a mile or so and mostly side-hilled over to the Ritz Carlton.

The views were of aspen and wild flowers. We identified some of them.

The white flower above is Wild Strawberry, the parent plant of most cultivated strawberries.

We thought this looked like a rose when we came upon it, and sure enough, my PlantNet app identified it as Wood’s Rose.

Larkspur was also pervasive along the trail, along with alpine daisies.

Eric will join us this afternoon. Meanwhile, the girls are walking around Vail while I babysit Margot again.

Beaver Creek

My first hike of the holiday weekend was seven miles out and back to Beaver Lake. It was uphill the entire route out, but not steep until the final half mile.

Ellie should have hiked it with me but we stayed up late going to a concert the night before. John Fogerty played all his CCR classics and never stopped rockin’ from start to finish. He’s 77 but jumped around onstage more than Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen ever did in his prime.

So I hiked it solo after a donut for breakfast. Afterward, I found myself sitting all sweaty on the Beaver Creek Chop House patio, eating a beefy burger and quaffing down a Vail Brewing IPA. The Chop House was just off the trailhead. You have to love the convenience of resorts.

I met up with the girls after lunch. I strolled Margo around while they shopped for dresses.

The girls left me with Margot while they strolled around town some more. I hear her waking up from her nap, so time for me to go.

Summer is Here

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I dusted off my hydration pack this weekend. With 102° yesterday and 90° today, without hydration, running was an existential life choice. With a belly bigger than Dallas, I feel the choice was made for me. I had to get out there and acclimate myself. This summer’s not trending any cooler.

I have only one tank top to my name, a TrackSmith racing singlet gifted to me over Christmas by my brother-in-law. I chose wisely to wear it Saturday for the really hot one. I’ll need more if I hope to survive this summer.

I ran five each day, walking roughly two miles of them. I shamelessly count my walking as part of the run distance. I’m conditioning myself for a sixty-mile backpacking adventure next month at altitude. Should be cooler at twelve thousand feet where these fields of blooming bindweed and prairie dogs will be replaced by alpine buttercups and mountain goats. Ah, summer.

Birthdays

With our birthdays two days apart, Ellie and I typically share our celebrations. Something kept getting in the way every weekend and our party was delayed by four weeks. This weekend was sketchy as well with eight inches of snow in the forecast, but it was just a cold rain and didn’t stick to the roads. So, Ellie got her electric guitar and I finally got my Doc Martins.

If Ellie turned twenty, that means I must now be sixty. And Brit would be thirty. With the obvious cognitive decline I must experiencing at this advanced age, I appreciate the easy math to recall my girls’ ages. I know what you’re thinking, with my girls being born a full ten years apart, but same wife. We’ll celebrate thirty-five years together this summer.

I could point out the adversities I’ve encountered over my sixty-year span, but they’re drowned in a sea of blessings and I can only think of how good my life has been. Good friends. A growing family. I’m ready for the next sixty.

Oh, and Margot turned eight months.

Fall River Road

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We couldn’t start at the trailhead to the Aspenglen Deer Mountain Loop trail. The camping road was still closed for the season. So we parked about fifty yards down from the Fall River ranger booth in a wideout and walked down the campsite road until it came to the trail, just past the bridge over Fall River. That was today, on a windless morning.

Colorado is deep into spring break mode this weekend.  We figured the crowds at ski resorts would be bigger this year, so Karen booked us into a lodge on Fall River Road, one mile before the ranger booth. Estes Park is asleep compared to the ski resorts. We can hear the Fall River running outside our window. The sound is of peace and bliss.

I expect to hike the same trail tomorrow. We’ll steer right on the loop instead of the left we took today. And we’ll aim to hike further. Then, we will pause for lunch before ending the afternoon with pedicures. I’m a gentleman hiker.

A Tale of Two Gerasimov’s

Valery on the left and Vitaly on the right

I should be thankful that Putin’s special military operation in Ukraine is driving sales of my Full Spectrum Cyberwar novel.  Not that the sales are meaningful but they are better than zero.  I initially considered the war to be life imitating art, my book being the “art”.  I blogged about it partly because I found that interesting and, to be honest, partly to further drive sales with some self-promotion.  But now this actualization of my story is leading to character assassination.  Like something out of the Twilight Zone, the characters in my story are being killed in real life.

Allow me to provide more context.  Every novel contains an obligatory disclaimer about events and characters described within as not actually describing real events or persons.  Clearly, that is meaningless for the historical fiction genre.  And I can tell you that it’s just basically bullshit for all novels.  There’s nothing made up about key characters.

My General Alexander (Sasha) Volkov in Full Spectrum Cyberwar was patterned after the real-life General Valery Gerasimov, a major general in the Russian military.  His relevancy was that he published the Gerasimov Doctrine, an essay on hybrid warfare and essentially what my book was all about.

Gerasimov’s essay detailed asymmetrical actions that combine the use of special forces and information warfare that create “a permanently operating front through the entire territory of the enemy state.”  Russia’s interference in our 2016 elections was a component of such hybrid warfare, making it relevant for my story.

Long story, short, I freaked out a little when I read about General Vitaly Gerasimov being killed in the battle over Kharkiv.  Turns out that Vitaly and Valery are two different major generals, but I initially assumed the first name was a typo and had to perform some research to confirm that.

So maybe this is a non-issue, but a key character in my Cyber War I novel, Sam Sumner, was patterned after Sheldon Adelson, and he died a year ago.  Of course, he was 86 years old, but still.  Spooky. Also, Andrei in Full Spectrum Cyberwar is patterned after the Ukrainian hacker, Maksym Igor Popov – still living as far as I know. I intend to monitor the content in my ebook versions to make sure the characters’ storylines don’t disappear as they die in real life.

The Hero

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My little sister and I toughed out a difficult 2020 together. I know, most everyone did. Our year was heavy with the sadness of caring for our mother on hospice. Normally we are separated by a thousand miles. If there was a silver lining, it was that the work-from-home nature of my job meant I was able to be there with her and my brother in our mom’s house for the entire year.

We were all able to be there for each other, as family should be. I don’t recall exactly how I felt when it was over in January of last year, I recall being a bit emotional. Nancy dealt with it by training for a half marathon. I was more than happy to join her.

Other family members traveled from across the country to join us and together, we turned hard memories into a celebration. With Covid limiting mom’s service to a Zoom video call, the weekend took on special meaning.

I’m grateful to my sisters and nieces for joining us in Austin. They came because they understood how their presence would contribute to the mental health of all of us. And it did.

In a small sense, my family’s actions were heroic. This is a time, for all of us, when we need strong actions, big steps, meaningful contributions. And it occurs to me, at a time when the world needs a hero, that we have one.

“I need ammunition, not a ride.”

Forgive the politics, but my blog receives enough views from Russia and we all have to do what we can.

Full Spectrum Cyberwar

Life imitating art. I don’t claim to be especially prescient, but the Russian-Ukraine conflict and Nord Stream 2 was the obvious background for the story I wanted to tell on hybrid warfare. My novel, Full Spectrum Cyberwar tells the story of what is currently playing out this week.

The graphic above illustrates how current affairs have impacted my book sales. I typically sell one book per month, so it’s easy to note trending from a zero sales line. The top graphic displays ebooks in orange and print in gray. Roughly half these are from the UK and roughly half are my second book Full Spectrum Cyberwar. The bottom graphic displays page reads from an Amazon program termed Kindle Page Reads. It allows Amazon Kindle Unlimited subscribers to buy by the page rather than commit to an actual book purchase. The royalties are significantly less, and I don’t have to opt-in to selling in this program, but it’s less about the revenue and more about getting people to read my book.

Especially with the Kindle pages-read program, the trend in my book sales is clearly correlated with Russia’s attack on Ukraine. Readers are searching for things like GRU and Nord Stream 2 paired with the term cyberwar. Hard to be proud of that, but the anti-mimesis is interesting nonetheless.

Run Nan, Run

My little sister Nancy said she was thinking about running the Austin Half Marathon. I dared her to. Then I double dared her. And then I said if she would run it, I’d run it with her. It would be my third Austin Half. By the time we were finished daring each other to train through the winter, my brother, another of my sisters (I have countless sisters and grew up playing with paper dolls), and two of my many nieces all found themselves day-drinking in a swanky Austin hotel.

I wasn’t always playing with paper dolls while growing up. My brother is five or six years older, depending on the season, and taught me to play sports. He taught me to throw and hit a ball right-handed. Turns out I’m left-handed.

After a day and a half partying in downtown Austin, Nan and I found our way to the starting line Sunday morning. I gifted her the tech t-shirt the Christmas before last. A tip for other self-published authors; never overlook the opportunity of leveraging your siblings as billboards.

Nan was still smiling at mile 12 as she crossed the bridge over Lamar. Youth.

As we passed the Capitol, with maybe 200 yards to go, Nan had the audacity to ask me how much further we had to run. Thinking back, that was most of our conversation over the 13 mile course.

My sister Sandy captured our final steps on video, proof of another Austin Half completed.

Sandy led our nieces, Michelle and Brook up and down South Congress for the 5K.

They finished, hardly breaking a sweat. But then it was only forty-some degrees outside, which is chilly for Austin.

We all found ourselves at the finish for a team photo. And before everyone returned home to our five respective states, I turned them on to the amazing fries at Hyde Park Bar and Grill.

Running Sunrise to Sunset

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It’s not unusual for long runs, marathons and half marathons, to begin at sunrise. A 100K (62 mile) ultra will take you from sunrise to sunset. My son-in-law Eric is taking his first steps in this photo above in the Black Canyon 100K Ultra yesterday.

I wasn’t there to crew this time around, so I began my morning viewing the photos stream into my mobile. It seemed a no brainer to then choose “ultra” for my starter word in my morning Wordle ritual and I was rewarded with a hole-in-one, guessing correctly on the first row. Still, I was jealous of Eric’s parents getting to crew him to glory. Eric’s running mate, Matthew is standing to the right in the photo above.

Margot was the youngest member of the crew, held here in the early morning hours by her grandmother, Julie.

Eric called Brit a third of the way into the run to tell her he was considering dropping out. He felt that he had heat exhaustion. Black Canyon is high-altitude desert north of Phoenix. My response to that is, if you have never DNF’d in an ultra, then you haven’t run enough ultras. Brit told him to tough it out to the next aid station to see how he felt. Ten hours later, he was crossing this finish line.

Cyberpunk Runner

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I met with Ellie today at Atomic Bob’s Burgers in Golden for lunch. A bit of a hole-in-the-wall but decent burgers. Running afterwards wasn’t easy on a full stomach and I found myself walking a bit. And it was windier than Alexa led me to believe, but it was a good sun and nice to get outside.

I’ve noticed a surge in book sales this past week from the UK, followed up by more reads than usual from the UK on this blog. I thought maybe they were finding my book by searching for Crimea or Ukraine since my second novel touches on that topic. Reviewing the analytics on it though showed the clicks coming from queries for cyber, cybersecurity and cyberpunk. Cyber, cyber, cyber.

Could still be related to the current events between Putin and the Ukraine. My book details the Russian use of cyberwar as a prelude to combat, hence the title – Full Spectrum Cyberwar. There are some good non-fiction reads out there if you want to brush up on the topic, as the Brits are apparently doing. I recommend fiction though, to keep things light.

A Winter’s Run

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With seven miles on the LoBo Trail today, I’ve had my first winter’s run of the season. I started out the year with a cold and hit the elliptical during the dark hours of the work week once I could breathe again, so this was a late start to my winter running routine. I could not have asked for a more perfect winter’s day to get outside.

It snowed a couple of times during the last week, so visually, the trail was in season. I wore the wrong shoes, my Hoka Rocket X road shoes, so I had zero traction for much of the trail. That wasn’t ideal but I know now that I need to transition my gear. That’s what the first run of any given season is all about – the learning curve.

Karen and I are talking about snowshoeing tomorrow. Brit has been walking with Margot nearly every day, acclimating her to become a Colorado girl. She’s a little snow princess.

Turkmenistan

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Gates of Hell

I’m triple vaxxed.  I don’t care about your politics, this is not a political statement.  I’m just saying.  I also received the flu shot along with two shots for Shingles because I’m in that demographic.  Regardless, on New Year’s Eve, I came down with a cold.  Insert your favorite profanity <here>.  At least the home test says I’m negative on Covid, I’ll test for reals tomorrow at a drive-through.

So, this is how I’ll start 2022.  Could be worse.  My first home in Boulder County was near ground zero of the recent fire that destroyed 1000 homes.  Looks like my block was spared although I have yet to perform a drive-by.  But that has me thinking about just how worse things could get in 2022.  Bad times have been trending for a couple of years now and I’ve yet to see anything to suggest a reversal of fortune.

Like anyone else stuck in the house to avoid exposing others to my malady, I’ve dedicated my morning to the keyboard, tapping out queries to explore just how bad things could get in 2022.  Turns out, things can get plenty bad.  Until you’re dead, things can always get worse.

I started by reviewing all the Covid stats published by seemingly bonafide health organizations.  No surprise, the stats are trending in a bad direction.  But everyone knows this.  I wanted to know what everyone doesn’t know.  I wanted to find the next shoe to drop.  So, I targetted my browser at the deep web.  If you’re not familiar with that iceberg metaphor, the known web sites, those indexed by Google, etc., constitute just the tip of the iceberg.  Most web sites are unsearchable and hence, underwater – the deep web.  This is where I searched for our pending doom and this is what I discovered.

You’ll find this hard to collaborate because Turkmenistan doesn’t publish their Covid stats.  Leveraging my several decades of IT and cybersecurity skills, I discovered cases around the city of Ashgabat where people who’ve tested positive three times, and who have subsequently died after their third infection, have come back to life.  Sort of.  They’re not really alive, they’re dead, but they’re zombies.  The living dead.

I don’t want to cause a panic. If you’re wondering why I suspected Turkmenistan, it’s because that country is home to the Gates of Hell, so it was a logical first place to search for zombies.  I know that without an extensive background in researching these kinds of things online like I have, you won’t be able to confirm any of what I’ve shared here.  I’m sure that frustrates you.  If you have friends though who are in IT, especially cybersecurity, and they have these skills, ask them to start looking into this for you.  If 2022 does bring about a zombie apocalypse, you’re going to want to be prepared.

Be safe.

Counting Families at Christmas

The four generations in this photo sum up what this year’s Christmas was all about. Depending on how you count them, my Christmas included at least nine families getting together.

There were young cousins – Margot and Ollie.

There were older cousins – Rachel and Ellie.

There were cousins from different schools.

And first cousins once removed.

There were aunts.

And grand-aunts.

And more grand-aunts.

Oh, so many grand-aunts.

And grand-uncles.

Oh, so many grand-uncles.

There were double-chin competitions with grandparents.

And moms holding babies wrapped as presents.

The holidays are nearing an end. Mine were blessed with family as I hope yours were.