Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Paging Friday Harbor...

So the Captain has discovered, using his handy-dandy sitemeter map, that he has readers in Friday Harbor. This makes the Captain very happy, as Friday Harbor is one of his favorite places in the entire world. If you read this blog, by now you likely know that. But what you may not know is that the Captain will be in Friday Harbor this weekend! Yup, he's coming up for New Years, and he already can't wait to get there. He'll be getting there Thursday afternoon and leaving sometime Sunday. So, dear Friday Harbor readers, if you get this message, drop the Captain a comment. He'd love to buy you a beer or a cup of coffee.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Day of the Black Dog

The five of us started running at about 5am. We had twenty-four miles scheduled, our last long run before the Portland Marathon in 1996. It was dark and we were all half asleep. One of the guys, staring at the ground and apparently out of it, ran into one of those giant mailboxes- the kind you see around apartments or office buildings, the big metal ones- and knocked himself down. We heard a loud thud, followed by a grunt, and looked back to see him lying on the sidewalk groaning. He got up though and, after a good laugh and some good-natured ribbing, we ran on. From that day on, we called him “Thud.”

We had been using the same country road for an out and back training run course that whole summer. Every week, at about mile seven, this little black dog would come out of nowhere and run with us. He'd jump in there at mile seven, run with us to the turnaround, and then drop back off right where he'd started. There were no houses around, and he didn't have a collar or tags, so we never could figure out where he lived. But we got to liking him, and looked forward to having him along. Sometimes we'd even bring little dog treats to give him when we'd stop for a break. We didn't know his name so he just became "The Black Dog," or Black, Blackie. We would joke about him joining our running club, ask him if he'd paid his dues, call him our sixth training partner, talk about recruiting him for our Hood to Coast team. Even thought about getting him one of our club singlets. He was just one of the guys.

That day we had reached the turnaround and were almost back to the seven mile mark when this van came out of nowhere, speeding like mad, and nailed The Black Dog. Just nailed him. And kept right on going. I don't think The Black Dog ever knew what hit him. It was mercifully quick. It was dark and cold and wet and pouring down rain and we stood around him, all of us quietly staring at our little friend. There was nothing we could do. There was nothing to say. We just stood there. I don't know about the other guys, but I was glad it was raining so they couldn't see my tears. I don't know whether I was crying more out of sadness for the dog or rage at the driver. He didn't even slow down, just kept on going like nothing happened. None of us knew where The Black Dog lived, so we couldn't tell anyone. He didn't have tags, so we couldn't call anyone. Eventually, we just started running back. We hated to leave, but we didn't know what else to do. So we just ran.

I drove back later, thinking I'd bury him. I hadn't thought about where I would bury him or the fact that I didn't have a shovel. But it didn't matter, he was gone when I got there.

None of us will ever forget that day. We still talk about The Black Dog, make jokes about how maybe someday he'll be running with us in Heaven and stuff like that. How he’s on a long run in the Big Dog Park in the Sky. Whenever we talk about that day, we call it "The Day of the Black Dog." Sad as it was, we mostly remember how fun it was to have him with us.

Sometimes, when I’m running on a country road, I still imagine him running along beside me.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Identity and the Bicycle

Anyone who knows me knows that bicycles are a big part of my life. I have a number of them, some that come and go and a few that are priceless and stay around for a long time. I could easily live in a small studio so long as it had a garage for all my bikes (well, okay, and A LOT of bookshelves…). I ride everywhere, year-round, regardless of weather, and only reluctantly own a car. Bicycling is my “mode” for getting around, but more than that, it’s my lifestyle. Much of my art, many of my books, a lot of my clothes, my social life, and volunteer activities are related to cycling. But I guess until recently, I didn’t realize how much it had become my identity.

I was in this bar in NE Portland, called Zaytoons, chatting with some other barflies-er, uh, I mean patrons- and someone asked me, “Are you really riding a bike in this weather? Are you crazy? Don’t you have a car?”

“Sure, I have a car,” I replied, “but I’d rather ride. The weather isn’t that big a deal if you have the right gear.”

Then (and this was the moment of enlightenment I mentioned earlier), the bartender, Brandy, said, “Dude, don’t you know who that is?” Then, pretending to be me, she said, “Dude, I’m Ryan. I ride bikes. It’s what I do!”

Needless to say, that made me very happy. In fact, I think that will be my new mantra. Whenever I am frustrated with riding or feeling unmotivated, I will say to myself,

“Dude, I’m Ryan. I ride bikes. It’s what I do!”

Only I think in my mind I will hear it in Brandy’s voice, because it sounds a hell of a lot sexier when she says it.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Competitive Bicycle Commuting

Have you ever been driving down the freeway, with your cruise control on, and somebody passes you, only to slow down, and then when you catch up to them, they speed off again? Meanwhile you're on cruise control , so you know you're going a constant speed. Well, I've been having a similar experience during my bike commute. I ride at a pretty consistent pace. I'm not flying, but I'm not dawdling either, just cruising along comfortably. And every day, I see these people who, apparently, think the commute is a race. You know what I mean, you're sitting at a light, and someone pulls up next to you. When the light turns, they stand up and SPRINT! like they're trying to take Contador at the tape- pounding those pedals, throwing that bike left and right- only to have to stop and sit at the next light. Then they do it again, over and over, stop light after stop light, never really getting away from you. People do this to me every day. Meanwhile, I'm cruising along at a steady pace, my goal being to not have to unclip at the light- not to see how fast I can possibly get to it.

Another common thing is people flying by me ("ON YOUR LEFT!!!) only to settle back down to my pace or slower within a hundred yards or so. Then, when I catch back up to them, they sprint off again. And meanwhile, of course, I'm just cruising along at my steady pace.

I also often wonder, do people know how to use gears? I'm not sure. My commute home has a lot of uphills. Again, I'm not particularly fast, but I'm steady. So people will fly by me on the flats, then three blocks later I pass them on the uphill. I'm chuggin' along, the same speed (or a tiny bit slower) than when they were channeling Fausto on me three blocks back, but when I pass them they are grinding that drive train, looking like they're legs are in slow-motion and panting like my old black lab. And then, when they see me, they double the effort, though they usually still fall back- at least until the next flat.

I'm not sure where all these racers are racing off to. Why are they in such a hurry? As far as I can tell, we're not in a race. There are no podium girls at the stop lights. There are no crowds cheering for us, the old fat guy in the red devil suit is nowhere to be seen, I don't see Bob Roll or Al Trautwig anywhere, though I confess, in my mind Phil Liggett- with that gorgeous voice- sometimes narrates my commute:

"There he is, The Captain himself, poised at the light. The rain is coming down, the
exhaust fumes drift by, what can be going through the mind of The Captain right
now? But he's-oh look! The light has turned green! He's pedaling! He's going through
the intersection! He's taking the lane! He's definitely going to make it home in time
for dinner tonight!"

But I digress, (as I so often do). Now back to our commentary...

Are they late for a meeting? Do they just not know how to ride relaxed? Are they worried the hipster-bar will run out of PBR? Me, I'm just not in that big of a hurry. I like to get to work on time, but my office is not going anywhere, I don't have to chase it down. And it's not like they won't let me in the building if I'm not there by 7:56 am. And as for getting there (wherever there might be) before they run out of beer, this is Portland for Christ's sake, they're never going to run out of beer- ever! And certainly not before I get there.

So race on, competitive commuters. Just tell the bartender to save one for me.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

(Reverse) Seasonal Disaffected Disorder

I think I have reverse Seasonal Affected Disorder. The weather here has been unseasonably clear and sunny which- especially as someone who spends a lot of time playing outside regardless of the weather- should make me really happy. However, I find myself getting angry about it sometimes. Like when...

... the low-angle sun is shining in my eyes all the time, constantly half-blinding me when I'm on my bike or driving...

... I see how warm it has been, and how little precipitation we've had, because I know that means it will be a bad snow year...

... I feel like vegging out and watching a movie or reading, but then I look outside and it's sunny and clear, making me feel guilty for not being out there...

... People constantly ask me, "Aren't you cold?" because I'm not bundled up as much as they are. I always wonder, "Aren't you burning up in that? Bundled up like you're going on an arctic expedition?" But I know it's none of my business, so I keep my mouth shut...

... The heat in my office is on so high that it feels like a sauna (and restaurants, pubs, stores, etc. doing the same thing)...

And others. I grew up in Alaska and I am from Northern European stock, so maybe Oregon weather is just too nice for me. But it's funny to listen to coworkers and friends complaining that the weather is too "yucky" and how it's depressing them. Because I'm thinking, "Seriously? It's been sunny, dry, and in the high 40s low 50s for weeks. And it's freakin' DECEMBER for Christ's sake! Can we PLEASE have some freakin' WINTER around here finally?" I would be really happy with some really cold, dark days. The kind where it's the best thing in the world to get all cozy by the fire with some hot chocolate or bourbon (or both, in the same cup...) and read a good book.

But it is Oregon so- though it will never be like Alaska- I'm sure I'll get my wish soon enough.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Captain's Thoughts on Once A Runner

A friend gave me a copy of Again to Carthage, the follow up to John L. Parker’s Once a Runner. Though I have read Once a Runner before, it’s been fifteen years or so, so I thought I’d go back and read it again before starting the sequel. Is anyone else reading it, or has anyone read it recently? I’d like to share a few thoughts, for what they’re worth, and see what other people think.

Overall, I’d say Parker does a great job of capturing a lot about running, about being a runner. Reading the book, I quite often found myself relating to things the narrator or characters would say. So again, overall I think it’s good. I do have a few criticisms though, and I’m curious what others think; am I right? Am I way off base?

I think there’s definitely some elitism going on. I understand that the main characters are world and Olympic-caliber athletes, but I still found it annoying. In the first chapter, there’s a statement something to the effect that the chubby housewives and pudgy, middle-aged businessmen jogging at the track resembled Cassidy only in the way that a housecat resembles a lion. I find that type of stuff annoying. Some of my “fasthole” friends responded to this criticism by saying, “No dude, that’s exactly what it feels like.” These guys might be fast, but they’re not that fast- there are plenty of lions out there who could make them look like housecats. Later, there’s a mention of slower people being on the track with Cassidy and how his type would eat their type alive. Who decides the cut-off time/appearance between housecats and big cats of prey? This reminds me of that Pearl Izumi ad campaign (Run Like an Animal) and all the controversy around it. In my opinion, this is exactly the kind of elitist crap that keeps people from getting into the sport. On the other hand, I know there are some elitists out there who- though they may not say it in public- would be happy to go back to the way things used to be when runners “fit the bill” more. When runners were all bone-thin, running a marathon meant bleeding, losing toenails, and only the slowest of the slow dared take as long as four hours. When there were no charity runners, no walkers. When everyone thought you were crazy. But even these “elites” need to realize that in the grand scheme of things, they’re still housecats too.

I found myself relating to what Parker said about how once you’ve been a runner, you may quit running but you’ll never really stop being a runner. Even when I hadn’t been running for years and nothing about me resembled a runner, I still felt like one. I missed everything about it. So I was a little disappointed when, a few chapters later, he contradicted himself saying that there are those who start and then drift away because they were never really runners at all.

I also found The Breaking Down chapter interesting. All the things Cassidy was going through were classic symptoms of overtraining. If any of us went to a coach or trainer and said we were having those symptoms, he/she would tell us to back off. On the other hand, I’m not a world class athlete working toward the Olympics either, so who knows? I just found it interesting.

I kind of enjoyed the constant ragging on Runner’s World. I read it, but I don’t take it all that seriously. If I did, I’d probably never be able to run because apparently you’re not supposed to run without all the newest, sexiest, most expensive techie gear or ever run at all if you are sore or have the slightest ache or pain anywhere.

It’s an easy read, but I found myself getting tripped up occasionally on awkward sentences- especially the dialog. I think at times Parker was trying to hard to sound literary, and this was where he was weak. Where he shone was in capturing the running life- the running when you don’t want to, how good you feel after a run, the easy banter and camaraderie among runners, etc.

Before anyone shoots me for committing sacrilege against the great cult novel, let me say that I thought overall it was great and I enjoyed it, obviously enough to read it twice. I just had my few little criticisms and wanted to throw them out.

I’ve told you more than you ever wanted to know about what I think of the book; what about you?

Different lacing techniques...

I've been having pain in my right achilles off and on for the last two weeks. That scared me because I've had problems withmy achilles in the past, and I don't want to get injured and benched again. But I was reading a cycling magazine and it said that if the back of your cycling shoe sat too high on your heel or it was too tight it could aggravate your achilles. This caught my attention because, due to heel slippage, I always use that system of lacing that locks your heel down. It keeps my heel from slipping, but it also makes the upper pretty tight all around. So yesterday, just for the heck of it, I changed the way I laced my shoes, leaving the last eyelet unlaced. At first it felt odd, and my heel slipped a tad, but my achilles pain was gone! I am keeping my fingers crossed that it stays that way! When you pray to the running gods, please throw in a good word for The Captain.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Another Rose Festival Funny...

Yesterday I mentioned the three booths in the parking lot next to my office; now there are four. The fourth booth is there for evangelical purposes- lots of lost souls to save at the Rose Festival you know... On the side of the booth there is a banner which I assume was meant to ask, "Are you going to Heaven?" I say I assume so, because now it reads, in great big blue capital letters,

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Coincidence? I wonder...

Right now the Rose Festival is going on here in beautiful downtown Portland, Oregon. My office is right next to the park where it's taking place, so I'm looking down from my office window at some of the goings-on. Right across the street is a parking lot that is being rented out by vendors for booths during the festival. For the moment, there are only three large booths- an Army recruiting station, a Navy recruiting station, and right in between them (yes, seriously!) a relationship counseling booth! Their banner states "Something CAN be done." Coincidence? I doubt it. I can tell you from personal experience that military life is absolute murder on marriages. When I was in the Marine Corps they used to tell me, "If the Corps wanted you to have a wife, it would have issued you one!" It was said humorously- at least in most cases- but in the military, family does not come first- duty does. If your command says you're going overseas for a year and your family can't come, you are going and your family isn't, end of story. In the civilian world, you put your family first and that's respected; in the military, you don't have that option. That's brutal on marriage and family. I have the utmost respect for our servicemen and women and their families and I am sorry that they have to go through those long separations. I hope they all come home safely and soon to the families who love and miss them.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

"The Captain is out of the office but will return your calls when he returns..."

That is what my work voicemail will say tomorrow. Well, perhaps a slightly more professional version, but you get the picture. Why? Because as of noon tomorrow, the Captain in on vacation. He'll be leaving his office and going right straight here:

That's right. Friday Harbor. The Captain's favorite vacation destination. Well, there and a few other places in the San Juans. Going there for a few days of R&R. Also, it's the centennial of the city of Friday Harbor, and many people- including the Captain- will be dressing in "period-appropriate" attire.

The Captain will also be visiting a number of his friends who live there, sampling some of the delightful microbrews and salmon fish and chips from the Front Street Ale House, and staying at his favorite guest house anywhere, The Juniper Lane Guest House.

Full report to come when the Captain returns. Meanwhile, a few photos of past trips. Enjoy!

The Captain's bike and sunset from Lopez Village.

Sunset from Lopez Village.

Sunset and sailboat from Odlin Park.

Friday Harbor Grange Hall.

Friday Harbor, early morning.

Juniper Lane Guest House.

Kayakers, San Juan Island. If you look closely at the horizon (click the photo for a larger version) about a third of the way over from the left and just below the horizon, you can see the spray from an orca.

Lighthouse at Lime Kiln State Park.

Friday Harbor.

You've seen this one before, but too bad- the Captain likes it. With First Mate Hairdo at The Crab Shack, Friday Harbor.

Port of Friday Harbor.

Sunset at Fisherman's Bay.

Mt. Baker from Upright Channel.

The Captain's bike at Vita's. Vita's has a special place in the Captain's heart, as it was the first place he ever went in the San Juans. Plus, it's just a killler place.

Pacific Madrone, Upright Head.

The Captain checking out the scene at the harbor.

Foggy sunset, from Upright Head.
The Captain could bore you for hours with pictures and stories about the San Juans- and trust me, he will!- but for now he must go and have a beer with some friends. He'll talk to you when he comes back from the islands!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


A few days ago, the Captain's friend Gil saw his blog and asked him, "What does it mean when you say, 'I like to hash?'" Well, let the Captain tell you about hashing...

Hashing means participating in Hash House Harriers events, or hashes. There are about 2000 HHH groups around the world, and it dates back to 1938. It's simple, fun, and cheap. If you like to run, like to drink, and don't take yourself (or anyone else) too seriously, you should give it at try! If you google "Hash House Harriers + (your city)" you can almost certainly find a hash, if not several- Portland alone has 5 or more.

Now of course we all know the Captain loves to climb. But he can't climb all the time. And he doesn't want to spend every weekend in some stinky tent with Mr. Clean or some other mountain goat. Sometimes, the Captain needs to play a little. And that's why the Captain likes to hash.

The Hash House Harriers is a drinking club with a running problem. So there's always running, usually in unusual locations. Sometimes you run through a stream...

Sometimes you run through a stream, carrying your bike, even though there's a perfectly good bridge right there...

Sometimes you run to the top of Bald Hill, drink beer, and take pictures of your muddy feet...

...and then take pictures of the group...

Sometimes there's a super-soaker full of beer...

Sometimes you fall down, get your butt wet, and feel compelled to stick it out at the Captain...

Sometimes you feel compelled to stick your butt out at the Captain just for the hell of it...

But after all the running and butt-showing, there's religion. Religion is where you all get together, sing songs, tell stories...

...and accuse each other of "crimes on trail."

If you are accused of a crime on trail, people sing drinking songs and jeer you while you chug a beer. Sometimes out of a bedpan...

Sometimes after you drink the beer out of the bedpan, you feel compelled to wear the bedpan as a hat...

But after the running, the falling down, the butt showing, and religion, comes the partying...

Lots and lots of partying...

And girls...

Sometimes everyone wears red dresses...

And when the Captain says everyone, he means everyone!

Somtimes you cross-dress...

Sometimes you cross-dress and stand next to a guy wearing toilet lid...

Sometimes you cross-dress and chug from two bottles while sitting on the lap of a hot, lingerie-clad girl...
Sometimes you get to hang out with girls who are way too young and hot for you- like Scrubs...

And Trunk Monkee...

Sometimes you get to hang out with guys who are very cool even though they are better looking and more successful than you, like Ethan...

Sometimes you wonder, "Uh, is there a line?"

Sometimes you get really drunk...

...and start dancing...

Sometimes you get drunk and start dancing and take off your clothes...

Sometimes, you get so drunk that you need help dancing and taking off your clothes...

And that's all before ten on weeknights! Imagine hash camping trips, road trips, weekend getaways, etc.! But really, it's all just good clean fun. And all about the running. Really, I swear!

Well, If you're still reading this, and you haven't decided that the Captain is a slimeball, you may well be the kind of person who would love to hash. So go give it a try- Captain's orders!

Sunrise over Little Tohama, from Ingraham Flats, 2007