Learning How to Run


I set out to write a Father’s Day post about how I get my kids to run with me, how we head out to the trails and how I impart my endless wisdom through tough lessons learned through struggle, overcoming obstacles, and sometimes even pushing through limits. I had a list of How to Get Your Kids to Love Running in Ten Easy Steps. Those lists are bullshit.

Relationships are complicated. I don’t know how to get my kids to love running as much as I do, just as I don’t know how to get them to love the taste of pickled garlic as much as I do. Sometimes I’ll play them a song that I love. We usually blast some music after dinner, and you know how you have a history with a song, maybe it was the one you played when you drove home from your first real love’s house at 1 AM, heart ready to burst, and lips sore from making out for hours, and the windows rolled down because you wanted everyone to hear how much this song meant to you. You play that song now and all those emotions come back, and at the end of the song you want the people that you are playing it for to share those feelings, that excitement and thrill of young love, and then they look at you and say something like, it was nice, but the lyrics were kind of stupid, I mean did she really just say “I want to hold the hand inside you?”

Running has woven itself through my life, it connects me to my wife, to friends who have helped through some tough emotional times, and it has helped me drop a couple bad habits. My kids don’t run often. I don’t force it on them. They all have their current passions. My youngest is a soccer player and at this point she is probably logging more miles on the pitch than I am on the trails. I love to watch her play. She is small, but she is relentless, and she gets pushed around a lot by bigger girls, but she never ever gives up. I love watching the fight in her.

She just got a pair of light blue shoes from New Balance. Her favorite color. We run an aid station at the San Diego 100 Mile Race, and my kids come and help every year. Our aid station is at mile 43 of the race, after the toughest climb during the hottest part of the day. This year was especially hot, and people came into our aid station looking like they had experienced every level of hell. My youngest was in charge of the ice baths and as the runners stumbled in, heat-drunk, she offered to sponge down their heads and necks with ice water, and she soaked their hats and bandanas into the ice bath. She was tired and muddy after eight hours of being on ice bath duty. Her hands were bright red, and her new baby blue shoes were now brown, and even after a few washes, they are more a lighter shade of brown than blue. I think she likes them that way.

I can’t wait to get new running shoes dirty. The dirt tells stories, and there is nothing as boring, yet full of promise as a new shoe. The stories aren’t all good. There are plenty of bland, boring stories, dirt from the same trail run over and over, the layers stacking on top of each other. But someday, your shoe may be wet and cold after a stream crossing in the French Alps and those stories wash away the layers of local dust.

My son is always moving. I ran a 5K with him last year, and he spent as much time off the route exploring boulders that made perfect launching pads, just the right height to do a 360, than he spent on the trail. People would pass us, kids his age, and I looked for that competitive spirit in him, the feeling that I have, that competitive drive that will not let that person pass me, or that pushes me to catch that guy in front of me with all the expensive gear. I have to do it. My son doesn’t give a shit. Which is good.

His current passion is skateboarding. If you’ve ever spent some time at a skatepark, and if you can filter out the language and the occasional scent of weed in the air, you will see a bunch of kids and adults rooting for each other, supporting each other, looking out for each other, and teaching each other. There is a bond between skateboarders. It’s an outsider sport with a high degree of risk and skill. They fall a lot. They pretend to not be hurt a lot, and they bleed a lot. There is a bond of shared pain, and also knowing how many times it takes to practice a trick before you land it. There isn’t a lot of cheering, but the looks speak volumes, the head nod acknowledging how hard that last one was, or banging the board against the wood a couple times when they are really impressed. My son has been practicing a kickflip for months. He goes through a pair of shoes nearly every month, always worn out in the same spot, the top of the front left shoe right above the pinky toe. That part drags over the velcro and spins the board as the back foot pushes down and launches the tail into the air.

After the last mass shooting, my son and I took our dog for a walk. I felt the darkness around me and I knew that if I turned on the TV or went on social media, I would be crushed by the hatred and speculation and blame and sadness. We got back from our walk and I couldn’t go inside. I asked him if he wanted to play catch, and he grabbed our gloves and we threw the ball back and forth, not saying much, just listening to that perfect sound, the repetitive snap of the ball hitting that spot in the back of the glove. On that day, being outside and together, that was enough.

If relationships are complicated, a father’s relationship with his teen daughter is complicated like walking through a minefield while blindfolded and being chased by a pack of wilds dogs. I have learned that there are things that you just can’t say, and I have also learned that I have no idea what those things are.

I recently read an article about the two types of fun, type one fun and type two fun. Type one fun is intrinsically fun. You are actually having fun when doing the activity. Type two fun is a struggle, it’s painful, and the fun usually comes after the experience when you reminisce with your friends about how you made it through, how you suffered together, and what a great feeling it was to accomplish whatever it was you set out to do. It’s easy dealing with kids when they are young. They are full of love and adventure, and they look up to you and they run to give you a hug when you pick them up from school. Some relationships are more difficult. I’m lucky, my relationship with my daughter is good, but it’s changing from that type one daddy’s little girl relationship. She makes me laugh, she gives me a kiss good morning and she smiles when I drop her off at school, quickly glancing around to make sure nobody is watching before giving me a kiss on the cheek and telling me she loves me. It’s more of a struggle. I get more emotional with her, choking up at the smallest things, like watching her play her clarinet or trombone in her school’s jazz ensemble, or symphony. Hell, I have to hold back tears when I hear her practicing scales in her bedroom.

I love watching her run. She hates to run, or at least that’s what she tells me. It’s my thing, running, but she loves the feeling after she runs. She is her happiest when I pick her up from track. With that post-workout endorphin rush, she is like so many other runners that deal with the pain and suffering just for the feeling they get after they finish, the type two fun. It’s different for me, I love the feel of running, I love the people I run with, and I love the stillness that comes on those rare occasions where everything just flows. But there are days when it sucks. Days when I have pushed too hard and ended up dehydrated, laying on a random road in the mountains while my friend hitchhikes to our car miles away, and drives back to pick me up. Those are the most memorable runs, the runs I never tire of talking about, and the runs that transform a post-run mediocre hamburger and draft beer to the level of Michelin-starred excellence.

New Balance sent shoes to me and my kids, and asked me to try them out. My initial goal was to get the three of them together in their bright new shoes, and hit the trails for a family run, taking pictures along the way, stopping on the hill above my house to enjoy the sun as it dipped into the ocean. I wanted to get it done before Father’s Day. This weekend is Father’s Day and my youngest daughter has soccer practice, my oldest daughter has a Senior Recital (where I’m sure I’ll cry), and my son would rather attempt his 6,834th kickflip. The idyllic family run is not going to happen this weekend, but the shoes are well used. My youngest daughter’s shoes are brown from the mud of the SD 100 trails and the soles are worn from playing soccer in the streets before school, my son has already started wearing a hole in the top of his, and my daughter will wear hers out through the painful heat of summer cross country practice, hating the running, but loving how it makes her feel after, and how it changes her.

Running continues to weave itself through our family, unstructured with that sweet mix of elation and agony, like that old song that I keep playing for my kids until they discover their own.

10 Things I Love About Trail Running

I've been injured for what feels like years, but is more like months, and at the moment, I'm feeling completely sentimental about trail running. I can’t remember the last time I’ve logged a run longer than 15 miles, and while I’m working hard to overcome an Achilles injury with PT, yoga, cross-training, and even the occasional 5 mile run, it’s just not the same as packing up the car to head out for a day in the mountains. So, while I’m feeling all romantic about trail running, I thought I’d buy it a nice Pinot Noir, rub its shoulders and slip into a velvety robe while I list the things that I love about it.

Connection with the Land

I love the connection I have with the land when I’m out there. I love looking at a peak miles away, and thinking that’s where I’m headed. I love moving over a difficult trail, picking my way up a steep line, bouncing over rocks, and then throwing myself down a hill without a fucking care in the world, flying by people wearing 10 pound hiking boots and using trekking poles to carefully plant each foot. I like my intimate knowledge of each and every bump in the trails I run regularly, knowing that around this next corner I can push a little harder on the steep uphill because it will level out pretty soon, and the next downhill is the perfect spot to open up on and stretch the legs, not having to think about where the feet are landing because this is the perfect line.

Nothing makes me happier than sharing trails with my kids

The People

It would be hard to find another group of people that doesn’t like other people as much as trail runners don’t like other people. The trail has a way of distilling people to their bodily functions. Men and women blowing snot, farting, burping, pulling off to take a piss or the occasional, nonchalant dump, and I’m seriously not just talking about guys (see Equality below). Have you ever been to a runner party or a pre-race dinner? Most runners can’t come up with more than three words to string together in a social setting (unless it has something to do with running), but get us on the trails and it's like an episode of The View had a 3-way with The Man Show and Oprah.

My running friends say the most inspirational things

The Shower

And the shower beer. This is the best part of my day, especially in the summer, after a hot, dry and dusty run. I’ll just sit there as the dirt brown water swirls down the drain and sip a cold beer, and if I listen hard enough I can hear angels singing.

Food

No, not the liquefied calories partaken during the run, but the post-run feast. I read on Wikipedia that you can eat as much as you want of whatever you want for an hour after you run, especially if you keep your heart rate strictly in Zone 3, so take advantage of that window. There is something special about a post-run burrito, and the only time I can keep a straight face and say “wow, this Arby’s Beef ‘N Cheddar is delicious" is after a long day in the mountains.

Equality

You want to see democracy in action, run a trail race. If there is some kind of genetic, sex or age advantage that runners display on the roads, it is severely diminished on the trails, where the main advantage is toughness.

I like to play a game whenever I run an ultra. I look around me, judging the other runners with the cutting eye and bitchiness of Regina from Mean Girls. I pick out who is going to finish well and who is going to drop. Without fail, I'm wrong on close to 100% of my picks (just like last time I went to Vegas). The triathlete that I picked to win, the one with the shaved legs where you can see every vein feeding the massive calves came in limping behind the 63 year old grandma wearing Crocs and a fanny pack. Experience, smarts and grit does a lot to level the playing field on the trails more than any other sport I can think of, which is a good thing because I’m not getting any younger or fitter (and I can wear the shit out of a pair of Crocs).

Beer

It doesn’t necessarily relate to trail running; I just like beer.

The Not Running Part

The planning, the hanging out before or after a tough race, the scouring over maps and elevation profiles, watching Salomon running videos, the endless discussions about barefoot vs. minimalist vs. zero drop vs. platform cushioning vs. whatever the next big thing that will force our perfect, favorite pair of trail shoes to be discontinued. All this time spent on what is supposed to be the simplest sport. There must be some kind of special punishment we crave in turning the basic task of putting one foot in front of another into a complex science.

The chemical rubbery smell when you open a new box of running shoes

The Silence

I try to meditate. I try to sit on my meditation pillow, breathe slowly, quiet my mind, but then that picture of Jessica Alba comes to mind, the one where’s she’s wearing a bikini and she’s suntanning, and then I think about how she made a billion dollars selling bad sunscreen, and then about how bad Fantastic Four was, and then about Sin City, and on and on until the Buddha bangs the gong in my meditation app on my iPhone, and the Buddha says "great job today," and I say "thanks Buddha, but how much spiritual growth has actually occurred?" and the Buddha doesn’t answer because it’s just an app on the phone. I also try to reach this stillness when I take yoga, but I'm mostly just concentrating really hard on not farting.

The only times where my mind isn’t turning around on a hamster wheel, and is still enough where time bends, and I can’t remember the last 30 minutes, or 20 miles that just passed have happened while on a run. Something about the rhythmic, deep breaths, and the repeated patting of feet can make the time slip by in stillness. It’s not always like that, and most of the time it isn't. Usually, my thoughts bounce from one thing to the next while running, whether it be a problem, or an idea that needs to be fed a little more, or even the career arc of Jessica Alba, but those moments of stillness are a welcome sliver of quiet in my noisy life.

Free Therapy

The fact that no matter what happens during the day, the stress, the sadness, the anger, the anxiety, nothing is ever worse after spending some time on the trails (except for my Achilles), and most things are a little better.

I can't wait to get back on the trails for some long runs, if for no other reason than to remind me why running hurts so bad, and why so many people hate it, because all this romance is starting to scare me.


Getting High With My Kids

Wellman's Divide


5 Tips on Overnight Backpacking with Kids


If you’re reading this you probably already realize the benefits of being outside. I try to get out on the trails as much as possible, but when I’m gone, it feels like about half the time I’m out there, I’m thinking of my family back home. When I did the High Sierra Trail in August, I made it a goal to start bringing my family along on overnight backpacking trips. One of the first things I did when I returned from that trip was to block out a couple days on the calendar for a trip with my kids. I picked an overnighter in San Jacinto because it’s close, and I know the trails up there pretty well. It’s also a fairly easy summit for someone that is in pretty good shape, and the view from the top is amazing. It received a glowing Yelp! review from none other than John Muir.

The view from San Jacinto is the most sublime spectacle to be found anywhere on this earth!
— John Muir

The trip couldn’t have gone any better. The kids had a great time, and I spent half the time choked up at how great it was to be out there with them, and the other half amazed at how well they were getting along with each other. My son is ten and my daughter is eight. They love each other, and are either best friends, or at each others’ throats because of a perceived sigh or eye roll. In the mountains, it was all love, cooperation, and laughter.

Their goal was to summit the 10,834 foot peak, but my goal was just to get them out there in the wilderness, carrying a pack and enjoying a couple of days of unplugged beauty. For me, the summit was secondary.

This was our first overnighter, but we have done plenty of dayhikes and camping trips, and there are a few things that I got right, making this trip one of my favorites.

Involve the kids in the planning process


Even though the trails were well marked, and I have been on the route a number of times, I still bought a topo map and let them trace our route to the summit with their small fingers, adding up the mileage sections and picking a campsite.

The first day would be two miles from the tram to Round Valley campsite. I figured this would be a good, short intro to hiking with a pack. We ordered the packs online, and they helped pick them out. We went with the Gossamer Gear Quiksaks because they are lightweight, big enough to carry their sleeping bags and pajamas, and they would double as a good daypack that I would carry with our food and water for the hike to the summit on the 2nd day.



The next day we would hike 4 miles up to the summit, then another 4 miles back to our campsite where we stored the packs, then another two miles to the tram. This was a long day, but I figured we’d go as far as we could and if it was no longer fun for the kids, we’d turn around.

We made a trip to REI a couple days before the trip. They picked out their meals, choosing a big 3-serving bag of mac and cheese for dinner. The first night, they found a big rock to share and took turns spooning the cheesy goodness out of the foil backpacker’s meal. I stood behind them just watching them take turns digging their spoons in the foil patch, sun setting over the meadow, enjoying the quiet of dusk descending on the mountain.



Have a good story


They always want a story at night, and I’ve told so many that I have run out of good ideas. So, I start telling them the story of a boy named Daniel, a boy who moved from New Jersey to Southern California with his mom and he got bullied because he was the new kid in school. He loved karate, but his karate was no match for the Cobra Kai. Enter a nice, old, Japanese maintenance man, Mr. Miyagi.

“Dad, is this the karate kid?”

“Maybe. Want me to stop?”

“No.”

So, I spent the next 15 minutes telling the story of Daniel and his crush on Ali and the creative teaching methods of Mr. Miyagi. They loved the story, and my 8-year-old daughter hung on every word. The first thing she did when we got home the next day was to search Netflix for The Karate Kid.

Let them share in the work


It takes me about 5 minutes to set up a tent. It takes me about 30 minutes to set up a tent with help. That 30 minutes is well spent.

I also could have carried everything in my pack, but it was important to them to help with the load, so they each carried their own packs with their sleeping bags, flip flops, pajamas, and a bottle of water. It wasn’t a total of more than five or six pounds, but they were contributing. It made the hike to and from the campsite more difficult for them, but their sense of accomplishment far outweighed the difficulty.

I let the kids find the route. I let them read all the signs and choose which direction to go. There were a couple of mistakes, but they learned quickly. We also took turns setting the pace. I’ve run with people that always have to lead, and it’s annoying as hell. There’s an advantage to leading, all of a sudden you feel a little stronger, and you can also control the pace, slowing down if you’re tired and speeding up if you feel good. It’s important to share that responsibility and advantage with everyone. Kids like to go out fast when they’re in front, but they quickly learn to slow down and keep a consistent, all-day pace.




Teach them how to squat


There are few things as liberating as peeing off the side of a mountain. It’s easy for a guy, but hiking with my daughter is different. I expected it to be some kind of natural thing that she would just know how to squat and pee without soaking her tights, shoes and legs. Once she got it down, it was great. I won’t get into the number two details, but I had to teach them how to dig a hole and bury their poop without getting too dirty. It was more or less successful, or at least I was more successful than they were, but they learned a valuable life skill. Oh yeah, Purell is essential.

There was also a lot of farting talk on the trail. My son loved learning about altitoots, and in that respect it wasn’t much different than the trail talk that I’m used to.

Don’t force your experience on them


Sometimes you want to pass on these experiences, and you want others to have the same experience that you have whether it be a love for the mountains, or even something like a book, a movie, or a restaurant (no matter how hard I try, I can’t get my wife to recognize the genius of Kenny Powers). You can’t have that experience for them, and it makes it worse to push it on them. I lowered my expectations with the kids. After all, twelve miles round trip at an elevation of nearly 11,000 feet is pretty tough for anyone, especially coming from sea level, and I have seen grown men in pretty good shape turn around on the route up to San Jacinto. Some friends even joked about bringing my own summit sign and busting it out at Wellman’s Divide (which is only 1 mile up from where we camped, and offers a pretty amazing view). They wouldn’t know the difference. I didn’t make my own summit sign, but turning around there was definitely an option.

My kids had other thoughts. While my goal was to enjoy the journey, the summit was way more important to the kids than it was to me. Towards the top of the climb, there’s this long, hot, exposed section and their spirits were low. I mentioned turning around, and that it had been such a great day and they had both done so well. They both looked at me like I was speaking a different language, and they gave me the look that all men and insane people know. They came to summit.

The Summit Push


We worked over the boulders at the peak, my son leading the way as I helped my daughter over some of the more difficult features. When they got to the top it was pure joy, and fist pumps, and hands raised in the air. We all looked around and I pointed out some of the other peaks, including the only mountain in Southern California that was higher than where we stood, Mt. San Gorgonio. We watched the planes fly below us and the clouds moving at eye level. We were alone up there, so I told them that on the count of 3 we should yell and scream as loud as we could.

“What should I say,” my son asked.

“You can say whatever you want. I’m going to howl like a wolf, because you are my wolf pack and I just feel like howling.”

So, we let loose until our throats cracked. Then we sat and ate the bison and bacon bars that we had been saving for the summit. They were delicious, but everything tastes better above 10,000 feet.



As we were making the long hike back to the tram, my son couldn’t stop smiling and talking about how he had conquered the mountain. He was using the language of a warrior, and I thought it would be a good teaching opportunity. I started lecturing him about how I viewed it as more of a bonding with the mountain, and about how you can never really conquer nature, it will be here longer than us, and the most we can do is respect nature and share it. I stopped short of making him hug the nearest tree when I saw that his smile was fading and his eyes had that look that kids’ eyes get when they are thinking about anything other than what you are currently saying.

“Yeah, bud, you conquered it, good job.”

And the smile came back and he climbed the nearest rock and jumped off. The respect will come, but it will come on his terms, and it’s my job to make sure that they have every opportunity to nurture that love.

On the drive home, my son told me he had a hiking plan for us. Next year, he wants to climb the highest peak in Southern California, San Gorgonio. The following year, Whitney, then the next year, the JMT. I look forward to howling from the tops of many more mountains with them.



High Sierra Trail -- Trip Report and Gear List


This is the most beautiful place on Earth. There are many such places. Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind the image of the ideal place, the right place, the one true home, known or unknown, actual or visionary.
— Edward Abbey
 The main thing that I realize when I head to the mountains is that I need to head to the mountains more often.

The calm, the beauty, the perfect sound of a river as you fall asleep. Those memories fade, and the long drive to and from the trailhead bookend what seems like a trail dream full of mountain summits, hundred mile views from peaks that leave barely enough oxygen to gasp and thank whatever it was that made this view, this quiet and vivid painting that can only be seen by taking that step onto the trail. You can’t get this at the Sequoia visitor center, or the crowded campgrounds with full trash bins and loud music and people too weighed down by their own fear to take those first steps.

Maybe it’s a good thing. It keeps the trail quiet, shared by those who are willing to put in the work, to climb, to sleep in the cold, and to look across a mountain range, point in the distance and think, with a mix of excitement and just a little bit of fear, that is where I am going.

It’s difficult to plan a trip in the backcountry, to get all the gear, figure out the permit lottery, arrange the time off of work and the time away from family. I get it, but it has to be done. At least every couple of years. There are moments and memories that remain. Soaking tired muscles in a cold river at Crabtree Meadow, knowing that the closest car is tens of thousands of hard-won steps away. That piece of the wild stays with you, that place, that most beautiful place on Earth.

Because out there, the destination is always secondary. The quiet morning along a river, the post-dinner talk in a quiet meadow as the day faded, the waking up in the middle of the night to be lulled back to sleep by a thick blanket of stars, the visible belt of your own galaxy, the suffering and sweat on the trail, the blood, and the work that it takes to climb up and over a mountain, those are the things that stick with you when you’re back in front of a computer screen trying to shrink your email inbox from 800 to the 50 that absolutely must be answered today. In the back of your mind is that wild, that freedom and you take a deep breath and know that you’ll be back out there again, that you must get back out there again.

Day 1/2–5.8 Miles to Mehrten Creek Crossing

As we made the windy, hot and crowded drive up to Sequoia National Park, spirits were low. We could tell it was going to be tough to find a campsite. With no reservations, booked campsites, and no first-come-first-served sites available, we asked the Ranger if we could start our hike a day early. He had no problem with that as long as we were able to get two miles from the trailhead at Crescent Meadow. We decided to order some food at the Sequoia Visitor’s Center which included the most disgusting guacamole I’ve ever seen. The lines of tourists waiting for their pizza stretched out the door, and as I looked up from the guacamole (which is an insult to guacamole, because this was nothing like guacamole…it was a cylindrical pale-greenish tube of semi-soft foodlike product, pinched off at both ends, and something that I would expect to come from my dog’s ass, but even my dog would look away in shame at having produced this atrocity) I saw a man’s ass cascading over a bench, pants halfway down said ass, and what can only be described as the dark and hairy entrance of Hell. It was time to get on the trail.

We ended up splitting the first day’s mileage into two days. This got us away from the crowds, and it also allowed us to acclimate the first couple of days before we put some big mileage in. It worked out well, as our first night we camped at Mehrten Creek, and it was nice to get away from the crowds.


Day 1 — 9.8 Miles to Hamilton Lake

Hamilton Lake is surrounded by mountains and is perfect.

We were warned about the deer at the Ranger Station. “They’ll steal your clothes,” he said, “they have a taste for salt.” The deer were brave, getting within a couple feet of me. They were cute at first, but became a nuisance when you realized you only have one pair of running shorts, and the long underwear probably wouldn’t be too comfortable on the ascent up Mt. Whitney. I stuck around the campsite, shooing the deer away until it became dark, then I tucked in for the night.

As soon as I closed my eyes, I heard what I imagined to be a 500-lb. man sprinting down the trail toward me at about a 3:50/mile pace, shaking the ground with every step. I bolted upright and by the time I could focus, I saw the 8-point buck, who had been in our campsite all day, bound across the river and disappear in the dusk and trees. Shining a flashlight to where the buck had come from, Toby saw a bear lumbering up the hill. I didn’t get too much sleep that night, and in the morning we saw the buck once again, but this time it had a gash along its side, four claws wide running across its right haunch. He arguably had a worse night’s sleep.

Hamilton Lake

Day 2 — 22.5 Miles to Kern River Hot Springs

This was a long day that included a beautiful climb past Precipice Lake and a majestic view at Kaweah Gap of the Great Western Divide, a rattlesnake encounter, and a long, hot descent to the Kern River.

At Kaweah Gap

Day 3 — 16.3 Miles to Crabtree Meadow

This morning was beautiful. I slowed down to get some time by myself as the we walked along the Kern. The mountain walls on both sides kept it cool in the morning as the trail followed the river. We did a key swap with Kyle, who was running the other direction. This is the best way to do this trail if you can swing it. We switched cars with Kyle before the trip and ran in opposite directions. This saved us about 10 hours of driving time around the Sierras. Kyle did the whole trail in an impressive two days. Crabtree Meadow was a great spot to camp, and it has possibly the best camp toilet in the history of camp toilets.

Along the Kern

Curing sore muscles at Crabtree Meadow

Do Epic Shit

Day 4 — 18.3 Miles to Whitney Portal

Does anyone read these recaps? Just get out there and do it. Words can’t really describe the hike from Guitar Lake, the struggle of going up above 14,000 feet, and words definitely don’t do the view from the summit of Mt. Whitney justice, so I’m not even going to try. I will say the descent from the top of Whitney to Whitney Portal is too crowded, and it’s hard to adjust to going from the backcountry to the Whitney trail, but if you haven’t done the climb to Whitney, don’t let that deter you. It’s just a different experience than the rest of the trail. The cheeseburgers, fries and beer at Whitney Portal are as delicious as I remember them.



Guitar Lake

On the way up to Whitney

A quick stop at 14,505 feet

Gear

Speed is a function of weight, and that is why I care so much about what goes into my pack. I take pride in a light pack (11 pounds, 19 with food), because I know that I need all the help I can get. I wasn’t in the best shape when I left for the HST and I knew that I would need to shave all the ounces I could to not hold the others back. Not only that, but I like the idea of ultralight as a general approach to life, a way to limit stuff to the essentials and nothing more. To live light, to carry food, shelter, clothing, and everything you need to survive a long walk in the wilderness in a small pack is the ultimate freedom.

I kept my basic set-up from the John Muir Trail, a GoLite poncho tarp and a water resistant bivy for shelter, but I switched out the one pound Western Mountaineering bag for a slightly heavier quilt bag from Enlightened Equipment. I absolutely loved my quilt. It kept me warm and gave me more freedom to move around than the mummy bag did. I also added a couple ounces of weight with a new, more comfortable sleeping pad, the Therm-A-Rest XLite. We planned our itinerary so that every night we slept at a campground with a bear box, so I didn’t need to bring a bear canister. That saved a lot of weight and pack-space, and was a luxury that I didn’t have on the JMT.

Sleeping set-up at Crabtree Meadow

A few of my favorite things:

The Enlightened Equipment 800-fill quilt. This thing was magical. When I returned home, I ordered two more sleeping bags from them because I want to take the kids backpacking this summer.

The Delorme inReach. I went back and forth with this. For one thing, it’s heavy. It also goes against what I love about being in the mountains; being disconnected and untethered for a short time. On the other hand, I was leaving my wife for a week, and I at least owed it to her to let her know that I was safe. I miss my family so much when I leave, and getting a couple of messages from them (the inReach provides for two-way messaging) on the trail made me smile, especially the one that read “Beckett wants me to tell you he hurt his nuts twice today.”

The stuff on my feet. This is arguably the most important gear choice, and I went with Injinji 2.0 trail socks and Hoka Challenger ATR running shoes. It turned out to be a great choice. I didn’t suffer from any foot discomfort, no blisters, and the Hokas did great on the trail, although they were pretty worn by the end.

Runderwear. Because this picture made up for the 37 grams (237 grams when filled).



Something I wish I had brought:

Camp sandals. I didn’t have the time to make these, but the other guys all had these sandals that were made from string and shoe inserts (here’s how to make them).

I kept the food simple, Pop Tarts (the Trader Joe’s “healthy” kind) and coffee for breakfast, bars, jerky and trail mix for lunch (Epic Bars, USANA’s Nuts N Berries bars, and Picky bars were staples), an 800-calorie backpacker meal for dinner. I threw in some gels, chews, Rocketfuel Coffee shots, Snickers bars and Honey Stinger Waffles to snack on throughout the day. I was able to get in about 3,000 calories per day, and I never felt lacking.

Here is my entire gear list (including weights).

Thanks for reading. For a detailed description of the High Sierra Trail, we all found this site useful.


The 7-Day "I Ain't Doing Shit" Challenge

I had this scratch on my face for about a year and it just wouldn't heal. I finally went to the doctor (after waiting a year, because that's how long it takes to go through all the stages from pretending it's nothing to, oh maybe this might be a problem because it hasn't healed in AN ENTIRE YEAR, to finally, oh no, I have a full blown case of cyberchondria). My wife finally took matters into her own hands. She called the dermatologist, set an appointment, packed me a sack lunch with my name and a smiley face on the front, and laid out my favorite pair of velcro no-tie shoes, because, you know, once around the tree and into the hole, twice into the hole, then around the tree...who knows?

To my utter amazement, I wasn't dying of stage-5 side of face cancer that had jumped the skull and leaked to my brain (take that, WebMD), but I did have a relatively mild case of basal cell carcinoma due to years of being out in the sun when I was a kid, and not wearing sunscreen. I don't blame my parents, because I grew up in the era of no seatbelts, no helmets, and no supervision. Making it to the beach alive and in one piece was such an accomplishment, especially after that quick stop at Razor Bladey Knife Shop. Sunscreen was an afterthought. I remember being on the lake with my dad and uncles in the 70s and they literally rubbed the oil from a can of pork and beans on themselves to get a better tan. Pork and beans. Seriously, how did we all make it through that decade?

I had Mohs surgery on Monday. It's a fun process comprised of scraping off layers of your face and testing them until you are cancer free. I was reassured that my particular case of carcinoma looked mild, but as I left for the surgery, my wonderful wife, who loves hospital dramas and ER reality shows (she actually follows pathologists on Instagram for a "how did they die" mystery of the day) told me about this one time there was a guy who went in to get the Mohs surgery and came out with half a face, then she showed me the picture, and I was sure it was either Two-Face from Batman, or the guy from the cover of The Evil Dead 2.

Fortunately, I still have all my skin and it only took one scrape to get rid of the cancer, but that didn't stop me from using the "cancer survivor" line for the rest of the day. I didn't have to do dishes, I got to watch True Detective by myself, and the kids didn't argue at dinner for about 5 minutes, but then someone rolled their eyes at someone else, and it was on. Some slights cannot be ignored. I tried calling the Make a Wish Foundation, but I guess they have something against a "hall pass" in Vegas wish.

Use your sunscreen, kids.

I was given strict orders of no running or surfing for a week. Actually, the orders weren't that strict. My doctor looked at me and smiled (and I detected the slightest eye roll...luckily, my kids weren't there to see my cowardice), and told me that I could run or surf, but I just had to be congruent, which I didn't really understand, but took to mean that if I wanted to be an idiot, I would have to be okay with the consequences. "If you come back in a week and have an infected face, and I have to go in and get rid of the infection and re-do the stitches, I'm perfectly fine with that," she said with a smile, and then gave me a list of infections from staph to E-coli that she has seen in her patients who try to resume their activities too soon after the surgery.

We had a couple friends over for dinner last night, and I told them that I was fine with the break from running, even looking forward to it, and what followed was more sarcasm, eye rolling, laughter, and stories about how I ran during phlegm-filled lung sickness, bad weather (even when it drops below 60 here in San Diego), and the wildfires a couple years back. I've changed, I told them, I'm actually enjoying the break. They laughed at me again and reminded me it was the first day, and by the seventh, I'd be Bubbles from The Wire. I took this as a challenge, something I could really get behind, dig deep, and push my limits, so it was born. The 7-Day "I Ain't Doing Shit" Challenge.

I see these challenges all the time, The 30-Day Squat Challenge, The 4-Week Raw Dinosaur Meat and Lettuce Challenge, the 14-Day Cold-Pressed $15/Bottle Juice Cleanse, so I figured I'd make my own. Want to join me?

Here are the details of The 7-Day "I Ain't Doing Shit" Challenge:

1. Don't Do Shit. No running, no surfing, no lifting weights, no bike trainer sessions in the office while catching up on old episodes of Archer.

2. Eat and drink well. My family says I get stressed and angry when I don't exercise, but I DON'T F*(@#ING AGREE. Good food and drink help.

3. Get on Facebook and Instagram and laugh at all the people posting pictures of their races and trail runs in the mountains. They are missing some good TV.

That's it. Day 2 is here, and it's already going well. I'm feeling awesome, and I'm ready to crack open some pork and beans for lunch, cover myself in the grease, slap on my Speedo, and get my tan on.



What My 10-Year-Old Taught Me About Racing

It's nice to be reminded what it means to have fun, to run with a light heart and an energy that can't be contained. My wife, my two youngest kids, and I pulled up on a grey morning to run the Children for Children 5K. The 11-year-old race director, Natasha, organized the race to raise money for a children's charity, and she did an amazing job. She even handed out personalized, hand-written thank-you cards to everyone who ran the race. More 11-year-olds should be race directors.

My son, Beck, had been talking about this 5K since I told him that I signed us up for it a couple weeks ago, and the morning of the race, he couldn't stand still. There was no conserving energy, no feigned calm, just bouncing and jumping off every raised surface he could find, 360 spins and sprints to the next obstacle. This was before the race had even started.

Once the 5K did start, it was the same, no focus on the competition, no concern about passing the people in font of us or being caught by those behind, just detours to climb rocks, jump off boulders, and quick stops to read signs that marked the historic trail. He probably added 5 minutes of extra running to his time, but I didn't say anything about it. There was no reason to interrupt the pure enjoyment of the trails.

As he started to tire with about a half mile to go, I pointed out some boys a hundred yards or so up the trail, and told him he could probably catch them. I now regret injecting my own competitive motivations into his race, but it seemed to work, and he picked up the pace. I told him that it always hurts close to the finish line, but this is the time to accept the pain and to imagine himself crossing the finish line knowing that he had run well and with joy. As he sprinted to the line, dropping me for what I'm positive will not be the last time, I was able to watch as he finished, arms raised in victory. It didn't matter who finished before or after him, he had won.


Finding My Religion at the Jerusalem Marathon

We runners like to add importance and meaning to what others see as a simple, but at the same time painful and tedious method of exercise. My running friends and I half-joke about our Sunday services on the church of the trail, and speak quietly about transcending pain and finding peace after hours and hours of running. We talk about passion, and the spiritual journey of pushing beyond  what we think is possible. That is what made the Jerusalem Marathon such a natural fit. I was fortunate enough to have received an invitation about 7 weeks ago to run the marathon, and what better place for a running pilgrimage than Jerusalem?

Before the run, we walked. We toured sites holy to millions, and I tried to get out of the way as the religious pilgrims walked where they believed Jesus walked with his cross, or prayed at a wall that is said to be so holy that when you pray there, your prayers are closest to God's ear.

Pilgrims walk the Via Dolorosa

All of the sites were beautiful, but one stuck out for me, and maybe it was the lack of sleep and a jet-lagged clouded brain, but as we toured the Tower of David that first night, and descended through thousands of years of history, I couldn't help but think about the task we were to set upon in a few days. Dig deep. That is what we do, and for some reason, some of us continue to dig, to scratch away the layers, searching for something, that next moment of clarity, that flow, that high that comes with a faster time, or a longer distance, or a greater challenge as we push through barriers of pain, as we dig deeper.

Tower of David

We descended through an old prison with rusty bars on the windows and graffiti on the walls, a Star of David scratched by a member of the Jewish resistance on the eve of 1947's War of Independence. The stairs led us down a stratified window to thousands of years of Jerusalem's history, from King Herod's water system, to the fortifications of the first temple from the 8th century BC. As we ascended the stairs and stood on top of the Tower of David that first night, overlooking the old city and the hills surrounding Jerusalem, I couldn’t contain my excitement. I haven’t wanted to run a road marathon in years, but I couldn’t wait to run around and through this city.

The run started easy, as most do. I probably went out faster than what I was trained for, and my brain wasn't quite ready for simple math...the conversion of kilometers to miles, so I wasn't 100% sure what my pace was until the halfway point where I realized I was going too fast. I talked to the runner next to me about marathons and times, and told him my goal was to break four. He looked at me and laughed, and told me I was running too fast. Let the digging commence.

Running through The Old City

We were told that the marathon took advantage of Jerusalem's unique topography, which meant that there were a lot of hills. The hills weren't too long, but there were definitely a lot of them. There was also amazing crowd support. The music, from teenagers belting out one of my daughter's favorite songs, "Are You Mine" with all their heart to a couple of guys drumming and singing traditional Arabic music, was amazing and varied. There was always something to listen to or look at. Aside from the amazing views of Jerusalem from the hills, there were families lining the course, street performers, people in costumes on stilts, towering over the runners, and I will never forget running past the Jaffa Gate into The Old City.


I wasn't prepared to run a marathon, and it showed in the last 6 miles. That is where the digging started, and as the suffering set in on some of the hills, breaking me to a walk, I thought of the excavation at The Tower Of David. That is what we do, we strip away layer after layer of pain until we are down to the essentials, to the most basic instinct of "I must move forward," to the singular thought, finish. Towards the end of the marathon, every runner who passed me or who I passed (admittedly more of the former than the latter), had that bond, that cult of suffering, a shared purpose and common goal, and as we ran, overshadowed by this ancient city of holy sites, and relics, pushing through the pain together, turning the corner to the finish line, grabbing a small, plastic Israeli flag, the excavation complete. And, I got a Popsicle at the end.

Things to do at the Jerusalem marathon

Be ready for hills, and by that I mean train for longer than 5 weeks.

Take a picture with some of the finest members of the Israeli Defense Force (they are friendlier than they look).

I've never felt safer at a race

At the top of the Haz Promenade, one of the last big climbs, you'll see a bunch of kids and families. These are schoolchildren and they'll go crazy if you run by and give them high fives.

Eat some dates and hummus at the aid stations (aid station sponsored by Adam Sandler's new movie, Don't Run With the Zohan).


Look around. You are running in one of the most interesting and historic cities on earth. Take in the beauty, the history and talk to the people who are running with you. They are proud of Jerusalem, as well they should be.

After the race, and the post-run beer, head to Mahane Yahuda Market and eat a sabich, then walk through the market stuffing down all the samples you can handle. You just ran a marathon, it's okay.


Plan a recovery trip to The Dead Sea. Soak in the healing waters of the mineral baths (they smell like ass, but they do miracles for sore muscles), then cover yourself in mud and go float in the buoyant waters. You'll find out exactly where you chafed, but it's worth it.


Travel with a group. I was lucky enough to have been invited to go on this trip with a number of other writers, journalists, runners and photographers. We would absolutely be the most boring cast of MTV's The Real World Israel ever (there were no drunken hot-tub hookups), but runners know how to bond, and the seemingly endless meals, the talk of adventures, races, training and families filled the hours with nonstop laughter. It will be a trip that none of us will soon forget, and full of memories and bonds that will last a lifetime.

5 things to not do on your trip to Israel

Ask for a BRIEF summary of the Israeli and Arab conflict (expect to be there for awhile).

Pose like an immature 10-year-old on top of historic artifacts.


Try to find something to eat in Jerusalem after sunset on a Friday.

Expect to lose any weight, even after running a marathon. The food there is just too good.

And finally, don't expect to go to Jerusalem and not be moved by the experience. It is a special place, a holy place, and no matter what you believe, there is a feeling here of history, of destruction and creation, and of diverse people, with different beliefs, forced to coexist, because of the sacred meaning that this ancient city holds for them.


More info on the Jerusalem Marathon


Some other reports from my traveling companions

Heather from Dietitian on the Run (Jerusalem 1/2 Marathon Report)
Lee from The Manual (Craft Beer in Jerusalem)

Disclosure: My trip was funded by the Israeli Tourism Board. All opinions are my own.

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