Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Cattle Drive

*photo by Yitka Winn

Most all recreation was east of the crest when I was a kid. Suburban loaded with a week’s worth of food, a hardly functional boat in tow full of camping and fishing gear. Years later it’s a Subaru instead of Suburban, bicycles replaced the motor-boat—‘same same but different’—heading to eWA still creates the same Disney-like feeling; warm, relaxed, and smiling.


 “Hammer on, that’s him up on the ridge.”

 I’m chasing a greyhound in the high country. It’s wearing a red hat, moves fast on the ridge-lines but stubbles up and down the hills. A tormenting beacon I can’t seem to catch. It’s a Montana sky—plain to see where a person is going; up then down, then up again. Grabbing sage brush as an e-brake around the corners, we’ll descend more than two thousand feet in just over two miles, run through a marsh, duck under a low rail-road bridge, cross a river and finish in the Umtanum Ridge parking lot in the Yakima River Canyon. 


 James is calm. The Disney feeling these days comes from James’ races (http://www.rainshadow-running.blogspot.com/ ); whether a person is first or last, Varner will be waiting at the line with a smile, hug, and high-five. “Welcome back.” He’ll say. 


 “The Greyhound can’t be caught” thinking to myself and taking in the amazing views of the river canyon down below, I started smell and see things I hadn’t been all day. 

 I gave-in a little started to enjoy the terrain. No one else in sight and an open face two miles wide by two miles deep, I finally found rhythm; reached mad pace and was floating and gliding as if putting a clean line down an open face of fresh thigh deep snow. For the first time all day it’s pure and simple. 

 I reach the marsh and lift my head, there’s a skinny runner moving slow right in front of me, can’t weigh more than a hundred and thirty pounds sopping wet, he’s wearing a red hat—it’s the Greyhound. I don’t think, just pass, then he passes, we duck under the railroad bridge, run over the river bridge single file and sprint towards a line spray painted in the gravel. 

 Today was a reminder: as in life, race your own race but have a plan. I’d been thinking about catching the Greyhound all day—didn’t really think about what would happen if I actually did. 

 El Segundo, 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

“He died that day because his body had served its purpose. His soul had done what it came to do, learned what it came to learn, and then was free to leave.”

― Garth Stein, The Art of Racing in the Rain

DAY 1:
It’s a bear.

Quarter inch sticks snapping, clumsy and thrashing it sounded big and awkward and heading right at me.

It was a dry heat in mid-August; you eat lunch and it cooks in your stomach. We were spread out all across the beach, Al had his book and flotation, mom had her towel and dad was asleep. Just long enough to get nervous, the mind races—too big to be a rattlesnake, too small to be a bear, "holy shit, is it a cougar?" “what the hell is that noise?”

Fifty yards down the beach there is a sand ramp, it drops strait into Lake Roosevelt at about forty five degrees. Near the top of the ramp there is a short vertical face and on top of the face is a ledge, and on top of the ledge is Rusty—our dog.

He was doing the Supine-Golden-Retreiver-Backdance, signature move, upside down and legs poinging towards the sky.


Winter of 8th grade I decided to be a soccer player who wrestled, dislocated my right knee, and got pretty down on life; that Christmas I unwrapped one gift—it was a picture of a Golden Retriever.


Day 5
Water ski boat camping was a summer tradition. Ski until your hands blister and fight off whatever obnoxious bug is in season for seven days.

I own one sleeping bag. It’s goose down; designed for cold and acts as saran wrap in the heat. The stars are close, a person feels like they can reach up and grab the Milky Way when they’re away from the city lights. But there it is again—some goddamn sound putting me on edge. This time it’s coming from the water.

Sturgeon can’t walk, I’m too tired to fight, out of my clammy bag and stumbling into the moonlight.

Rusty saunters out of the water, stands inches away, and shakes the lake onto my PJs.


It feels like life gets busy with pointless stuff as we get older. Dogs don’t care. Rusty was transparent of my families emotions. If a person has a reflexive version of themselves, it is most certainly their dog. At fifteen years, Rusty was a family member.

The collective put him down on Monday.

Seek up.
Don’t for a minute take it for granted.

Your pal,

Friday, February 17, 2012

So This is Christmas

“Careful, the bike is pretty... Heavy.” The eighty pound bike dangling weigtless above his head, gripped by the nose and tail of Tuktuk’s frame. Gear and aluminium dangled above his head just long enough to cast his statue in my memory.


“Oh, no worries.” I felt awkward and out of place, stumbling numb, snotty, and shivering on the soft shoulder of the highway.

The temperature dropped with the sun an hour ago, about the same time I pulled off into the soft gravel shoulder of a long strait highway with a nasty crosswind; I’d been riding since first light, navigated downtown phoenix, and its' striat-a-way outskirts lined with junk car lots and barking dogs. Just outside Phoenix is a land of circa 1980 muscle cars and amatour NASCAR drivers; not cycling friendly roads. It was about one hundred and twenty miles or so until I’d had enough.

Hitch hiking and touring go hand in hand—if you’re tired of riding or the riding gets tough, stop, put out your thumb—and the adventure will continue.


Dan muscled the dangling handlebars and awkwardness of it all super well, Tuktuk floated onto the bed of his truck like a feather while I stumbled around numbly in my tights.

“Get in.” I didn’t argue.


We talked about hunting mountain lions, women, and trucks. The cab smelt like tree sap and stale chewing tobacco. Glancing into the back seat, Dan had tools, tree clippers, and a GladWare food container with what looked like a chicken leg and brown rice next to a gallon jug of water. Cheap magnetic signs slapped on the side doors read: ‘Dan’s Tree Service’. I found it odd to have a tree service in the desert but appreciated the ride.

I learned Dan was heading to tow a friend whose truck broke down in the town I needed to be, about the same time he erupted: “Gadamn Truck.” Swerving off to the side of the road.

It’s dark now, and I can hear the wind still blowing as he climbs out of the cab.

Five minutes later he opens the door, wind flinging it open. I’m toasty warm and thinking about the first beer. He turns off the key, the SuperDuty Deisel hum sputters, looks over at me: “diesel fuel… Everywhere”


Turns out Danno blew a fuel injector: “Sorry bud, I’m gunna be here awhile. You’d better get gowin to wherever it is you need to be.”

Dan lifted Tuktuk from the bed like a small piece of wood, bounced her upright, and off into the darkness and wind we went.

I finished day one in the dark on a lonesome highway in eastern Arizona. There weren’t any cars. There wasn’t much sound other than the damn cross wind. I rolled into a town named Sloam; one hotel with a car on cinder-blocks out front; had to wake the weather faced office woman. No one else staying there—just me, Tuktuk, and a cold dirty bed.


The trip finally found rhythm—ride from sun-up till sunset, try to hitch-hike, check into the local hotel, go run the along the irrigation ditches, then pizza. I tend to rush through life as it is but on this trip I needed to ride over 400 miles in less than three days so I could join another tour that started in San Diego.

A thousand mile Google map Lollipop; the second half supported from San Deigo to Palm Desert to Ocean Side to San Diego and with company, the first half—solo, towing gear, and started in Pheonix. The quality of running at sunset on irrigation ditches back dropped by mountains I’d ride over the next morning, pastelled by night colors was a Christmas gift.

This was a Christmas Tour; December 23rd – January 1st.


“Hey man, hey… Hey you need some grass?” He pulled out what looked like sage, no bag. A gracious fistful--dropping a piece on the sidewalk it didn’t bounce, more so plopped.

I hadn't really talked to many folks in the last few days and just from below sea level, over a 6,000ft coastal mountain range from the desert, and had been racing the sun to the Pacific, dodging and swerving around homeless people in the dark on the bike-path that leads to Dog Beach (Ocean Beach, San Diego).

I thought about telling this to the young guy with skinny legs in cut-off jean shorts, but instead thanked him kindly, stared at the steps in front of me, and then followed them up to a group of guys swaggering on the porch.

“Is this San Diego Backpacker’s Hostel?”

“Hey man, nice tights.” The guy with sage getting impatient now.

Shouldering Tuktuk, we limped up the stairs into a dodgy black hole; the San Diego Backpacker’s Hostel on Newport Ave.

Check-in felt like a homeless shelter: old blanket, overworked front-desk-person with a huge heart, plastic wrapped mattress, and body odor. I got drunk and loud with misfits; this was Christmas, and it felt alive.


There’s another Hostel in San Deigo on the other side of town, and for forty some years they’ve been putting on a bike tour. Started by Pro-road racers who needed miles and wanted to bring family, the tour is now carried on by their children; it epitomizes why I like endurance. The accommodations are church floors and community centers and the food is a group effort, the price is cheap, and the company is world class.

Stand out characters from the San Deigo Hostel Tour:

Captain Steve: Did a lap around the planet in a sailboat he built himself, set a speed record and was bracing for media impact (2008); he arrived back in San Diego the same day Micheal Jackson died—robbed of recognition, all he has to show for it is stories and memories; worth more than money as far as I’m concerned. Steve lives on his boat in San Diego. He travels via human power.

Drew: Drew rides Time Trial bike. He is a scientist of cycling, no solid foods just homemade liquid formula while riding, shorter crank length, on a Power Crank, bigger gears, and ear-plugs so he can hear himself breath; I thrive on people like Drew who aren’t consumer hip, and constantly searching for the perfect ride—he laughs a lot and rides like we did after school on Fridays in the spring. Its guys like Drew that keep cycling fun.

The Irishman: Opening night of the tour we were to give a reason for being on a bicycle ride while we ought be with family: The Irishman, who now practices law in London, opened with story-teller’s welcome; he spoke of his beautiful heritage and the mother land, and offered: “When I come to the states people always like to tell me, ‘Oh, my great-great grandmother is from Ireland’.” He throws a vocalic pause in here, the crowed of sixty tired cyclist already riding the edge of their metal folding chair in the Pine Valley Community Center.

“And I just tell them, lady, I don’t give a damn.”

The Irishman and I got along. He wore no cycling specific equiptment the entire 400+ miles, part in statement to the redicoulessness of the scene and part hard-ass; literally, the Irishman was one of the original paddy cabs (people who tow lazy people behind their bike in the city) in London. I learned a lot about life and being a diplomatic business person from the Irishman; think tactfully outside the box, and be polite.


By the numbers: I ran and rode over a thousand miles in about eight days.

Heading down to San Louis Obispo in a few weeks to explore the trails, roads, and swim in the ocean.

click follow on the right side of this page if you're keen to hear about it.

Thanks for reading.

More to come.

Your pal,