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?”


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


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.

Couch to Marathon in 6 Weeks -- My Ill-Advised 6-Week Marathon Training Plan

There's a scene in Something About Mary where that psycho hitchhiker has a brilliant business idea -- 7 Minute Abs. You know, it's just like 8 Minute Abs, but better (and it's guaranteed). Well, I'm your psycho hitchhiker, and you can get rid of your 24- or 30-week marathon training programs, because I have a 6-week program that blows those out of the water.

First, a major disclaimer: this is not an ideal way to train for a marathon. In fact, this may lead to injury. But if you only have 6 weeks to get in shape to run a marathon, this plan just might work for you. Just don't expect to set any PRs.

Some backstory. Four weeks ago I received an email from the Jerusalem Ministry of Tourism inviting me to run the Jerusalem Marathon. The trip includes a tour of some of the major sights in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. I thought for a second, and just for a second about how tired and out of shape I had been feeling. I also thought about how the 10 extra Christmas/New Years pounds were starting to feel like permanent residents, not merely holiday visitors. After seeing the date of the Jerusalem Marathon, and how quickly it was approaching, I thought about how difficult it would be to get myself fit enough to complete a marathon in six weeks, but this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and there was no way I was going to turn it down.

So, after sending a quick "of course I'll do it" email, I changed into some running clothes and started my six week plan. That day I went out and ran harder than I had in months, and it hurt. My previous running over the previous few months, really since my last race in May, 2014, had been leisurely 5 milers at my friend's dog's pace (which is a lot of stop and go, because the dog gets tired and pretends to pee every few minutes). I was running fairly regularly, so wasn't literally a "Couch to Marathon" situation, it was more like a lazy-ass-ex-ultra-runner-burnout-eating-and-drinking-too-much-to-run-more-than-five-miles to Marathon training program. Again, a big fat warning: use this plan at your own risk, don't expect to PR your marathon, but you may just get fit enough to finish your marathon with a smile.

The plan's coming, but first a word about...

Strength and Mobility

This is the most important thing for me. I use a strength circuit plan from Competitor magazine. I feel that it hits all the muscle groups, and if I do 2-3 sets, it really kicks my ass, and I start to feel stronger after a couple weeks. I also do the MYRTL mobility routine after nearly every run. This keeps my hips from tightening up, and I can feel a difference in my flexibility when I do the routine regularly. I feel that both of these steps, along with using The Stick and the foam roller every night allowed me to increase the quantity and quality of my running while at the same time avoid injury, drop weight (at least 5 pounds so far), and increase my overall body strength.

Here's the 6-Week Couch to Marathon Training Plan (click the link, or check out the form below):

Thanks for reading and check back in a couple weeks to see the results.

Heading to the Holy Land and Other Upcoming Adventures

I usually sit down in January and plan out a race and training schedule for the upcoming year. Not this year. I didn't really have any plans except for a vague desire to run the Wonderland Trail at some point this summer, but to be honest, it could wait until next year, or maybe the year after. My motivation has been low, and the lottery and race entrance process doesn't help. It's hard to plan a race a year in advance. I have problems planning what I'm going to do next week and trying to squeeze runs in between the multi-colored Google calendar boxes.

I have a love/hate relationship with racing. I love racing when I'm doing it, but I get bad anxiety in the weeks and months before a big race. I lose sleep, I dream about the race, I get grumpy and stressed, and it's not just the normal tapering blues. It sucks, but what's really crazy is that I generally have a good time at races, I talk to people on the trail, I hang out before and after, thank all the volunteers, not to mention all the self-discovery and the mental and physical lessons that come with a long race.

I've been running consistently, but not very much, just enough to be fun, and to stay within a 10 pound weight-gain threshold, but then all of these opportunities started to come at me. I have a hard time saying no, so when I received an email from the Jerusalem Ministry of Tourism offering a trip to the Holy Land to run the Jerusalem Marathon, I immediately emailed them back and said I'd love to. Well, first I let out a high pitch squeal, then I emailed them, then I realized that I would be running a marathon in 5 weeks. On the road. The last road marathon I ran was three years ago, and I didn't think I'd ever run another one, but here I am, putting together a 5-Week Couch to Marathon Plan.

Who doesn't find religion at mile 22 of a marathon?

Then, I got a message from a friend asking if I'd be interested in doing the High Sierra Trail in July, and of course I was, and I realized that that would be great training for a Wonderland Trail Loop in August or September, and what better use of all that fitness than the Bigfoot 120 in October. I went back and forth on that one, and the marketing (read price increase) finally got me to click the bright green Submit button, so I'll be doing that in October.

120 mile of singletrack through the mountains of Washington? Count me in.

I didn't set out to make a list of races and adventures, but I guess a list just kind of came to me, and I'll be racing, and I'll be nervous and anxious in the months leading up to each of these, but I'm sure that I'll love every step of the journey. Here is my unmotivated, not wanting to plan too far in advance, unambitious race list:

March: Jerusalem Marathon
May: Georgia running trip
July: High Sierra Trail
August or September: Wonderland Trail
October: Bigfoot 120

I love it when a plan comes together.

The Trail Animals

I usually try to conserve my energy before a group run. I’ll sit on the ground, tie and re-tie my shoes, and pretend to stretch. But this run was different, this was the first meeting of the Dirty Running Trail Animals, and this group would not abide the conservation of energy.

I started the group for my kids, because I can talk all day about how they need to put down the iPhones, turn off the TV and video games, and get out in nature, but I feel that it is somewhat my responsibility to provide the means. I invited some friends with kids the same age and let them know that we were going to get out, run a couple trail miles, climb a few hills, and catch the sunset at the top of the mountain. Double Peak isn’t really a mountain, but for the kids at the bottom of the hill, looking up to the top, it must have looked like one.

I wasn’t stretching on the side of the road when most of the kids started showing up, I was climbing up a random trail because my son wanted to see where it went. It wasn’t really even a trail, although I’m sure coyotes used it as one. We quickly climbed above the cars, and when I told him that it was time to turn, he did so begrudgingly.

The kids started rolling in, and by 4:00, there were over 20 of them itching to start. I gathered the kids together as the parents stood off to the side and told them the two rules: help each other out, and have fun. I gave them a short course overview…run up the hill, take a left on the Secret Trail, then a right on the Super Secret Trail, then up an even steeper trail where they would have to scale some rocks, then to the top where they could play on the playground and watch the sunset. After the sunset, we would run down the dirt path back to the cars.

Life balance sounds good on paper, all clean and seperate with equal percentages for work, play, family, and hobbies. I’ve never been one for balance, so I’m throwing in the towel on that. There is no life balance, just life, and I’m going to share it with family and friends whether they like it or not, and they don’t always like it. As we were leaving, I had to practically drag my teenage daughter out the door, threatening to confiscate her phone for the week if she didn’t join. It would have been much easier to let her stay at home and just take my younger kids who were dying to run, but as she stood at the top, arm around her younger sister’s waist as the setting sun painted the feathered clouds in red and orange…at that moment, I knew that we were all exactly where we needed to be.

As we ran down the wide and steep dirt path next to the road, I watched the kids, leaning forward into the downhill, still running on their toes without fear of falling, and the adults, yelling after them to slow, to be careful, leaning back on our heels because we know what happens when we trip or turn an ankle on the smallest bump in the trail. I could have kept yelling, but they weren’t going to stop or slow down. They had gravity on their side, wind rushing by their ears, and fearless hearts, running like animals to the night.

Thanks for reading.

The Difficult Route

My youngest recently asked my wife where dreams come from and my wife told her that dreams are all the thoughts and feelings that we push down in our minds and when we dream, we get rid of these thoughts, kind of like taking out the trash. This conversation replayed in my head as I raced against the New Year’s Eve sunset in the uncharacteristic biting cold, struggling with sharp, short breaths in the frosty air, and wiping the tears that had suddenly welled up in my eyes. I forced myself to stop at a quiet point at the top of a climb and take in the ocean view, attempting to process the sadness of the last few months.

Writing usually helps, but I haven’t been doing much of that. The specifics are too personal to share, at least for now, but if I don’t get something out, If I don’t process these emotions, I’m worried that they will slowly build up, that they will somehow win.

I prefer the trail to the road, I prefer hills to flats, and I prefer dirty to clean. My favorite routes are winding, hilly, difficult, covered in rocks and branches that scrape and tear at my legs. These routes are challenging, but these are the ones I choose, over and over again, and I prefer them to the straight paths, the flat and boring routes.

One of my favorites is this offshoot trail near my house. It drops about a mile from the main trail on a steep downhill — a narrow, seldom used path covered with ankle-breaking rocks, roots and branches. It’s another mile uphill. It’s steep, but not steep enough to walk. And after all of this effort, all of these twists and turns, you rejoin the main trail about 30 yards from where you left it in the first place. You wind up in nearly the same spot, but dirtier, more tired, and sometimes a little bloodier than where you left in the first place.

One of the best books I've read in the last couple of years is Wild. I just went to the movie with my wife, and the part that struck me when watching the movie was a piece of advice from Cheryl Strayed’s mother about putting yourself in the way of beauty.

My New Year’s Eve run included what so many of my runs do, a stop at the top of Double Peak. It was actually the second time I’d been up there that day. The first was to see the rare snow flurries in North County. The last time I saw snow here was in 1990, and I wanted my kids to see it, even if it wasn’t sticking on the ground, so we headed to the highest point in the area. I found myself there again on that busy New Year’s Eve, surrounded by people with the same idea, people who wanted to put themselves in the way of beauty, to experience the last sunset of the year. The sweat and cold were working against me, but I tried to wait, and I was mad at myself for not bringing my phone, because it was the last sunset of the year, and all I wanted to do was watch it with my family. I set off for home while the sun hovered above the Pacific Ocean.

The sun was 10 minutes from the horizon and I was 12 minutes from my house, so I pushed, tempoing the mile and a half home, navigating the darkening trails, and sprinting the last quarter mile, but by the time I opened the door and felt the comfort of the heated house, dinner on the stove and kids under blankets watching TV, the sun had fallen and the dark blue was turning black.

Every year for the last seven, I have organized a New Year’s Day hike slash run, and the run has grown in popularity over the years, so popular that I received a call from the ranger telling me that I would not be able to hold the run anymore. This was kind of a relief, because I really don’t like organizing these runs. They add stress to my life, and the anxiety always builds a few days out from the run and doesn’t let up until I have ordered a post-run beer at stone. I love seeing everyone, and I love sharing the trails with friends and family, but the ranger was right, the run had become too big for the trail. I canceled the run, but let people know that I would still be there at 10 am on New Year’s Day and nothing was stopping them from joining.

It was a magical day for me. I hiked with my family and some close friends to the top, then ran with my two youngest kids who insisted on running down the steep hill as I trailed them, trying hard to push the thoughts of twisted ankles, face plants, and scraped knees out of my head. They ran with joy, jumping off rocks, smiling, breathing hard, and laughing. This is what I wanted on New Year’s Eve, this is what made me sprint home, racing the sun in the hopes of sharing this moment with my family.

I told my kids about the scene from the movie, about putting yourself in the way of beauty, and that this year we are going to try to get out more, to camp, to see more sunsets, to surf, hike, play in the dirt, and to take the trail that doesn’t lead anywhere.

This is what I want running to be for me this year — no race goals, distance goals, or time goals. I want, no, I need to take those trails, the pointless, winding trails that will take me up and down steep hills, force me to resort to hands-on-knees hiking over rocks, through bushes, and bounding down hills with tears in my eyes, and child’s laughter in my heart because I know the trail is long, the way will be difficult, but it always leads me home.

Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year.

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