Sunday, January 27, 2013

Mammoth: Eastern Sierra getaway

I've lived in California for just over 10 years now (how did that happen?), and every time I visit the Sierra - no matter what the trip is - I think to myself "I must return soon". And then a year or two will pass, and I'll return and wonder why it took me so long to get back, especially when I consider that it isn't a long trip from LA.  In just a few hours, a person can easily find him/herself on a lonely road, passing cattle and the occasional ghost town with the lights of the city far behind and craggy mountains looming large.

Thanks to a timely semester break, Michael and I did enjoy a quick jaunt up to Mammoth Lakes.  We'd been in the area years ago over a bitterly cold Memorial Day weekend but had not returned since.  Going at this time of the year obviously promised to be a different trip - rather than hiking and kayaking, we planned to take advantage of the snow!  After hearing about skiing at Mammoth for years, we'd finally experience it ourselves. Thanks to my semester break, we left the LA area Wednesday afternoon and arrived at our destination in the early evening.  As we headed north, I kept asking "Where is the snow" because we drove through the Mojave, dotted with Joshua Trees and then gained in altitude but the landscape still felt fairly desert-like.  Driving into the town of Mammoth Lakes, the snow was piled up, and Michael could finally reply "Here is the snow!".  It seemed to appear as soon as we turned west and headed into the mountains - duh.

Skiing in Mammoth ended up being an experience of extremes - a terrible ski day followed up by an amazing day!  Thursday, we woke up early and headed out, hitting the mountain around 9:00 am and on the chairlift by 9:05 or so.  In comparison to skiing in Colorado, I couldn't believe two aspects: a. how warm it was!  b. how short the lift lines were!  In terms of the first surprise, I welcomed the warmer temperatures.  Colorado was bitterly cold, so heading outside and discovering that it wasn't too cold - well, that was a treat.  I knew that we were visiting Mammoth on off days, but I still couldn't get over the fact that there literally were no lift lines!  Unfortunately, my appreciation for Mammoth ended there on Thursday as I experienced the worst ski day of my life.  Okay, the second-worst ski day (the worst was definitely when I tore my meniscus). The snow was fresh and thick, and I am not very skilled at skiing through powder - yes,  I prefer the groomed, manicured slopes.  Added to the snow, which fell throughout the morning, visibility went from kind of crappy to just plain terrible.  I couldn't see anything in front of me and even took my goggles off, hoping that would help (which it did, initially, sort of).

We made it through about 4 runs in the morning - runs with lots of stops and starts - before I begged for  a break.  I felt so off because I couldn't see ANYTHING, and it really affected my confidence.  During our break, I picked up a new pair of goggles that would, I hoped, improve the visibility.  Returning to the mountain with new gear in tow, we felt better when we started out in the afternoon.  We probably had two decent runs before we were fighting the visibility issue again.  Not only were we totally frustrated, we were also exhausted by the early afternoon.  So, we called it a day.

Here I am before the fog gathered!

The forecast for Friday called for similar weather, except between the 8:00-9:00 hour, so we were on the slopes by 8:40, determined to at least get in a few good runs.  As the morning wore on, the weather held, and we both enjoyed a perfect day of skiing!  First of all, we couldn't believe how gorgeous it was - I mean, we knew that it was supposed to be amazing, but we couldn't see anything on Thursday.  So, the views of the Sierra just took us by surprise on Friday.  And we couldn't have wished for a better day of skiing - amazing snow, a beautiful day, and very few people on the slopes.  We were the only people on some of the runs!  

Looking down at the clouds - the trees appeared to be sugar-coated!

Enjoying the blue skies!

Taking in some liquid pleasure at lunch - Mammoth Brewing Company's Epic IPA hit the spot!

After lunch, we skied a few more runs but then decided to stop while we were ahead, at least in terms of skiing.  We were both happy and exhausted and didn't want to push it too much and risk injury (ah, the joys of getting older).  No doubt Thursday's challenging experience on the slopes highlighted how great Friday was, so we tried to take advantage of the conditions as much as we could but were tired by the early afternoon.  Before tucking in for the evening, however, we stopped at the Mammoth Brewing Company.  We certainly enjoyed drinking their IPA at lunch, and it seemed like a logical place to grab a drink.  Apparently plenty of other people coming off the mountain also wanted to grab a drink because it was packed!  While not a traditional bar (they only sell 'tastings' rather than pints), I was a huge fan of their beers, especially their holiday selection - the Dopplebock and Eisbock were amazing, and it was the perfect way to say farewell to Mammoth.
The view from the car - See you next time!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

In defense of lazy days and weekends

This weekend has not, perhaps, been full-fledged lazy, in that sit-around-in-bed-until-ten-AM-lazy, but the past few days have felt like a break, and not even "much-needed" since school just resumed on January 7.  However, who am I to complain about a long weekend so soon on the heels of Christmas break?

I do, though, feel a bit guilt-ridden about my sloth-like state these days. In my original vision of January, this would be the month that I would return, reenergized and excited about 2013 and all of its potential and would re-enter the world of active people.  Despite the chipper nature of my last post (yay, I can run!), I need to be honest about running and the fact that I still need to take it slow and not accrue lots of miles.  Averaging less than 10 miles per week has humbled me, but I'll get over it - as long as I can eventually work back to at least crossing the double-digit threshold.  I plan to return to ART (active release therapy) and see if that will bring on faster improvements.  Still, running is running, and I am happy about the small progress that I have made.  But, I have yet to embrace a commitment to any training, despite finally signing up for the Wildflower Oly course the day before prices dramatically increased.  I was sure that would kick me into gear, yet this has yet to happen, interestingly enough.

Because I'm at the end of the semester (our break falls after Christmas, not before), my workload is lighter than it will probably be again until the end of May.  So, I am taking full advantage of the opportunity to be lazy.  To begin, I read the book "Gone Girl" within 24 hours or so and even jettisoned all workout plans in order to finish it.  Seriously.  The ended proved somewhat disappointing to me, but for sheer entertainment, the book delivers.

This weekend has also presented me with ample opportunity to play and take advantage of good weather and little work.  Accordingly, we have indulged in an unusually 'fun' weekend.  We went to LACMA on Friday night, meeting a colleague from work and staying out until 10 pm - crazy night out!  I commented to Michael that we had turned into the LA-equivalent of the New York "bridge-and-tunnel-crowd", you know, going out to the big city is a 'big deal'.  It was totally worth it, especially seeing people goofing around the lamp posts:

(Not sure if the photo comes out, but there is a guy wearing a zebra mask - he periodically put it on, pranced around, and then took it off).

I'm not a huge Stanley Kubrick fan, but I did enjoy the exhibit on his work - both film and photography.  It was also interesting to see some of the letters and telegrams between him and other people (like Nabokov!).  If I had a higher tolerance for blood and also suspense (I like suspense, but the bloody-suspense movies are too much for me), I'd definitely spend some time watching "The Shining" and also "A Clockwork Orange".  However, I fear that I'd spend most of the movies with my hands covering my eyes.  The other exhibit that we wandered into was a small room featuring some of Mapplethorpe's more controversial pieces (they were at the center of the 1980's "Culture Wars").  I wouldn't censor them, but I admit that much of the penis shots did provoke an embarrassed exchange between me and Michael.  Yes, I have the maturity of a kid at times.  I hoped that reading Patti Smith's "Just Kids" would allow me to appreciate these photographs more, but that didn't happen, perhaps because they were so focused on some of the more controversial pieces and the homoerotic nature of the pieces?  Or, again, it could be because of my lack of maturity.

Then, last night, after much cajoling by Michael, I ended up seeing "The Hobbit" with him.  We gorged ourselves on beers and wings beforehand because the movie was so long, which, I think, put me in the right frame of mind for the movie.  I had somewhat low expectations, after reading reviews and listening to people talk about the length, and while I did find myself thinking "It must end right at this point" at least 3 times, I definitely enjoyed the experience.  I do think that Peter Jackson is trying to turn it into something that the book was not.  He constantly links it to the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the idea of good and evil rather than letting it be a more playful story which is my experience with the book.  But it was a good outing for a Saturday night!

And today?  It looks to be more laziness, this time in the form of football.  Despite the heartbreak that we experienced last weekend when the Broncos (or donkeys) lost to the Ravens - and they lost, the Ravens didn't win - and the emotional hangover that followed, it is January and it is the final weekend before the Super Bowl so we'll try to enjoy it.  The Denver loss does present problems - I can't stand the Patriots (ugh, Brady and Belichick), but Flacco isn't much better.  Michael said that he hoped the score was 0-0.  Wishful thinking!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Assessing my running game

As a teacher, my colleagues and I probably throw around the terms assess, assessment, and evaluation far too much just to avoid the reality - that we are GRADING our students.  Gasp!

So, when I laced up my shoes today, I started to thinking about my run in terms of grades - would it be a good run (A-/B+) or kind of crappy (C range or below)?  I realize that some people use actual charts and data in order to evaluate their runs, rides or other active ventures, and I do have a garmin which gives me more data than I used to have.  But, I still prefer the inexact science of assessing a run or ride based on how I feel.  While heart rate monitors and lactic threshold training serve more serious athletes, checking in with my body and, lately, gauging the different aches and pains I've experienced, is probably better suited for my aging body.

Today, as I started out the run and nothing felt 'off' initially, I thought - wow, this might be a good run!  I might be at 90% today.  Woo-hoo - that is an A-!  I was a bit nervous about such optimism so early on (it's like reading an essay, of which I've read my fair share this weekend, and the opening paragraph is great but the rest of the paper just turns to shit), but the rest of the run continued at a faster clip than I've seen in ages and, even better, I felt really good for the entire four-and-a-half mile run.  This comes as a huge relief because, in recent weeks, I've spent far too much time worrying about my ability to continue to run in the short and long term.  The plantar fasciitis combined with the tailbone injury sidelined me, and the few runs that I managed to squeeze out were fraught with physical pain and frustration, and I would have given myself a C- for most of them.  So, to finally go out and enjoy a run a is a true delight!

Being injured, especially when it isn't something major but small yet debilitating issues (like plantar fasciitis), probably challenges the active individual more than any big event possibly can.  Perhaps I'm wrong there, but having to sit and wait and see is definitely not my strength.  For the PF, I tried as many different approaches that I possibly could, excepting acupuncture, and I'm not sure that it was ONE trick or another or if the multi-pronged attack worked.  But, after resting for about 3 weeks, doing lots of stretches with a tennis ball and a frozen water bottle, 2 sessions of active release therapy, buying two pairs of new shoes (one of which definitely works; the other pair, well, I may have just wasted a pretty penny on them), using the Strassburg sock, and, finally, getting custom insoles when I was Boulder, it seems that I'm finally running pain-free.  I do credit much of my recovery to the insoles.  I had read some articles that recommended insoles, other articles that recommended bare-foot running, so I wasn't sure about going the insole route.  However, over Christmas, I saw my cousin, who runs crazy ultra-marathons, and he advised me to get insoles.   So, I went to an insole store in Boulder, In-Step, and liked the owner who is a runner and had tons to say about plantar fasciitis.  I don't love running with the insoles, but they do seem to be helping, and I'll take whatever is working!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

A slow start to 2013

I know, the ubiquitous 'new year' post finally comes, just 12 days into the so-called new year.  Returning to work this week was a bit rough on Monday, but then eased up around the edges and ended up being a FAST week - I thought that Thursday was Wednesday, which never happens!

Despite the speedy week back at the grind, I've felt that the year is off to a plodding start.  No doubt my current physical limitations have contributed to this sense, especially as I read/hear about everyone else's resolutions and how they began implementing them immediately.  I find that I am in a holding pattern - not just in terms of physical activity but other aspects of my life - which does not easily facilitate a "go get 'em" attitude.

2012 was a pretty fantastic and kind of a 'bold' year for me with trips to old and familiar places (San Francisco, Colorado, Seattle) combined with new adventures (Oregon, Vancouver, Nicaragua) and pushing myself a bit more 'athletically'.  I also turned 40 which, whether I like it or not, did mark a bit of a milestone and ushered in a new decade of my life and all that comes with that.  Currently, I feel that the "all that comes with that" includes more visits to doctors' offices, but there are positives to the forties - I'm probably (knock on wood) more financially stable than I've ever been.  That, of course, could change in an instance, but for now, I'll try to enjoy it.  Despite minor physical stuff, I do have my health, so does Michael, and we enjoy spending time with each other, our dogs and our friends and family.  So, cheers to that!

2013 seems to herald more of the same.  While there might be some major life changes (no, I'm not preggers, but I will be vague and obtuse about the possibility), I've planned out some of the year, and much of it looks a lot like 2012.  Will try to complete another half-ironman this summer, will do some traveling, will go to Nicaragua for work...  Not to diminish these plans - I recognize that I'm fortunate to find satisfaction from much in my life - but there isn't anything new and big and bold happening.

With that in mind, I'd like to focus on improving on past accomplishments.  For instance, Wildflower 2013 (for which I have yet to register) - I'd love to improve my time but also enjoy the experience this year.  For Vineman, a PR would be fantastic, and I'm going to aim for that!  And Nicaragua - I need to figure out a personal focus for this trip rather than just pulling the "I'm-just-chaperoning-card" which doesn't make the trip as fulfilling for me as it could be.

This blather seems narrowly focused on myself and my personal priorities and goals.  What is funny is that most of my life does not have anything to do with any of these events that seem to comprise my world when I write about them here.  Realizing how small all of this is in the grand scheme of life does, perhaps, give me a healthy perspective.  And, as I write about the transition between one year to the next, I wonder how meaningful the transition really is or is everything just on a continuum upon which I/we/society imposes some false sense of beginnings and ends?

Okay, deep thoughts for a Saturday.  I'm now off to grade some papers (I have a never-ending supply these days) and watch the Broncos vs. Ravens.  Go Donkeys!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Colorado at Christmas - Play hard, suffer harder

Yes, it's 2013, and I've clearly missed all of the usual benchmarks (happy holidays! all the best of 2012! goals for 2013!).  Those may yet come, just delayed, a bit like this post which finds me back in balmy Southern CA.  Balmy, compared to the chilly temperatures in Colorado!

The short version of my break would be this: Indulged in almost every way possible - way too much food, drink, and adrenaline.  I don't regret the food and drink, but the adrenaline rush left me limping into the new year, literally, with a bruised tailbone.  I fear that this blog thing has veered from documenting my *awesome* life (please note the ironic tone) to a catalogue of woes and injuries.

Lest I complain too much, I should say that I had a great time in Colorado.  We had fun in Boulder as we finished up Christmas shopping and also bought cheese and booze for my family, whom we met met up with in Keystone for 6 days of fun in the snow.  Finally, we returned to Boulder for the new year.  Despite my apprehension about skiing, hitting the slopes was one of the highlights of the trip.  We arrived in Keystone on the 25th, and skied the 26th-29th.  Michael and I spent the first day on our own, finding our "ski legs", a quicker process than I expected, and then proceeded to explore most of the blues on the mountain over the next few days.  We enjoyed spending time on the slopes with different groups and people - various siblings and even my 74-year-old father!  Before our trip, I worried about my knee, as always, and I was concerned that some of my recent nagging pains would trouble me.  However, it appears that skiing is a great activity for someone suffering from plantar fasciitis and a weird hip pain because I had no issues with those on my skis!  We finished our days with plenty of good food and drink, and I usually played at least one or two games of foosball with my nephew to top off the night.

While in Keystone, I discovered the thrill that comes with tubing, an activity that I had observed and that seemed fairly innocuous, families schlepping their tube(s) up a hill and then heading down the hill with said tube.  We had reservations for tubing on Saturday night, and I wasn't feeling super excited about it, especially because the temperatures started to drop and it was well below 20 degrees by the time we started our tubing experience.  Still, it did look like fun in the informational video that we were required to watch before we headed out to the dark and grabbed our tubes.  This was NOT the idea that I had in my mind - there were 5 or 6 different "tracks" for tubing, music was blaring and disco lights were glowing.  Okay, I could have fun with this.  I decided to go down one "run" - Michael and I hooked on to each other, they gave us a hard spin and we were flying down the track!  I kept my eyes closed the first time down, and then decided that it was tons of fun and that we should do it again.  Which we did, and I kept my eyes open this time!  The third time (charm, supposedly?), we hooked up with my niece, going as a group of three, and we were on a different track, one that was much steeper, allowing for more speed and more air!  It was on this run that I met my tubing waterloo.  I was so focused on holding on to the two tubes that I forgot to concentrate on keeping my back up.  Big mistake - my backside took a pretty hard hit.  I tried to not freak out because my niece was there, but I called it a day, or a night, turning in my tube and waiting for everyone else in the group to finish.  Meanwhile, I kept cursing myself and my bad decision to participate in tubing, although how was I to know that it presented such dangers?  As my sister-in-law, a doctor, later said to me - "There is an age at which one can no longer do tubing.  It varies for everyone, but you are at that age."

After freaking out that I had seriously tweaked my back, I came to realize that I had probably *just* bruised my tailbone.  Definitely one of the worst bruises that I've ever had (and in one of the most inconvenient places), but I don't think that I'm suffering from long-term damage.  It did, however, put a bit of a damper on the rest of the trip for me, and I've been fairly grumpy, in part from lack of activity and in part from the ache-ness.  I did, however, learn an important lesson about tubing and my body - we do not get along!

I did feel somewhat gratified that I used the icepacks and the arnica gel that I took to Colorado with me.  Perhaps if I hadn't taken them, none of this would have happened?  Or maybe I would have had to invest in more packs and more arnica.  Who, by the way, travels with such accessories?  I do, obviously, and they sure came in handy!