Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Latin Music RockNRoll Half Marathon - Miami, Nov 18, 2012

I don't like Miami. I really never have, and the few times I've been there are spent anxious to leave. Admittedly, not much of that time is spent in South Beach, an area that I only really enjoyed during the trip for this race. But... still.

South Beach is beautiful. It's just too bad that it's surrounded by Miami.

I arrived for the race on Saturday and hurried to pick up my packet so that I could meet up with the GORUCK Ft Lauderdale class that would be finishing around 1300hrs. It meant a short stay in Miami Proper.... and I was good with that. The afternoon was spent in Lauderdale with good people, football, and drinks. Definitely a step up from Miami, but I had to get there eventually.

My hotel was downtown, and there is very little (ok... nothing) to do down there. I ate some pasta that wasn't very good but was very expensive, and then I retired to my room. The race was set for 630 AM, and parking in South Beach is a noteworthy nightmare. So, I was out by 0400 to find a spot. As it turned out, that was way too early. I ended up laying on a rock wall with a few dozen other early risers and waiting for something to happen. But, regardless, I was there and enjoying the rest.

I met a couple from Denver that had come down specifically for a bike race that day. It was moved up a week (probably to avoid the Rock N Roll race) and they decided to do the half instead. Good people. I'd run in to the husband a couple times on the course as we had similar paces.

One good aspect of an early arrival was being able to watch every one else show up. If you're looking for eye-candy, Miami races are your thing. I don't know the volumetric amount of silicone that crossed that finish line, but it was considerable. They may be plastic... but hot women is what I'm saying...

I was in the fourth corral (surprisingly given what I thought was a fast time I put down on the registration) and was off about 10 minutes after the elites. I was hesitant to go hard since it was my third half marathon in 14 days, but I felt great. Plus, I knew we were headed for a cloudless day and that it was going to warm up considerably. The bands were few and far between (something I notice regularly at these 'rock and roll' races.. it's a good thing I don't do them for the on-course bands), and as I crossed over the first causeway bridge around mile 6, I noticed that I felt great. My legs were solid and I was making good time. I decided to push it, dropping my pace by about 0:30/mile and pressed through the halfway point.

It was around this point that I ran past the exchange point for the relay. Seeing all these fresh runners standing and waiting on a baton annoyed me, because I was certain they'd be soon behind me on rested legs. The realization pushed me harder. I crossed back over the Maria Tuttle Causeway toward the beach and stared into the rising sun, bright and irritating. There isn't a lot of shade in the area, and each minute was warmer than the next. These factors as much as my fatigue and long miles in recent weeks made my energy flag.

The final, small bridge near the Coast Guard Station was merely a blip on the course map but really drained me. As we turned onto the barrier island, I was pushing with everything I had for the last mile. Thankfully, we were back among the spectators, and their energy gave me what little fuel I used to spring forward. I had hoped to get in under 1:54, but I cruised in at 1:54:06, a new PR for the half.

The post-race party was relaxing - drinks and all the food freebies on the beach - and I was content to sit and watch the runners funnel through. (Again... people-watching is a must at this event.) With my parents in town in Orlando, though, I eventually made my way back to the hotel and a shower before jumping on the road.

The race was well-organized (as opposed to the thin band support on the course, the ease with which it is run is why I enjoy the RnR races) and a nice atmosphere. Sadly, I still hate Miami and doubt I'll be returning anytime soon. But, there are a couple Rock n Roll races in 2013 that I am looking at running.

Just not down there. Cuz Miami sucks

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Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon - Nov 10, 2012

I am not a big fan of Disney. I have nothing against the place, but it's crowded, loud, and full of tourists. I rarely make my way to that side of town because it's a) too far and b) full of tourists. I know they bring money into the community.... but jebus.

Anyway, so I made my way to packet pickup (which was surprisingly disorganized) and back that night for the race. Starting at 10PM, the race ended at Epcot, and runners were allowed to enjoy the Food and Wine Festival touting treats from around the world. I had heard good things about this event but never been. Yes, like I said, I avoid Disney like the plague. Because of the tourists, you see...

We parked at the finish line and Disney bussed us back to the start at the Wild World of Sports Complex. This was very well-organized... even with the hundreds of buses needed (there were 12,000 runners, but I could have sworn there were 12 million). The starting line festival was great and the crowd lounged around the grass awaiting the late-night start. We were split into corrals, and I found myself in the first one. I could only assume that was because Disney races are great for the less-serious runners, so they showed up in force. My expected finish time put me closer to the front. So, I entered my corral and patiently waited for the gun.

People who know me are aware that I'm not a particularly friendly guy. I'm funny and personable, yes... but I don't talk to people. If I end up in a conversation with someone, it's because they talk to me. Well... when a cute little runner from San Diego chats me up at the start line, who am I to argue? It's just too bad Kelly was flying back across the country at 8 AM the next morning. But... I suppose that's reason for me to find a destination race to run with her.

Anywho, I digress. The cannon/gun/bottle rocket fuse was lit (by some cartoon character, I'm sure), and we were off. An interesting thing about Disney races is how phenomenally boring they are for vast stretches before overloading you with brightly-lit goodness. We ran down dark side streets before turning into Animal Kingdom (sadly, a park I've never actually been in. You know.. cuz I hate tourists) and running around the park. Playing the guessing game of 'is that animal or racer feces that I smell' is a good time. It was a nice mile or so in the park, and it's here that Disney shines. You see what makes it a special place, and they even run you through some of the back lots to make you feel special.

Then, it's back onto a dimly lit road... usually the same one (as was in this case) that you ran down to get to the park. We turned into MGM Hollywood Studios next, and this is really where Disney kicked ass. The lights on the main streets were illuminated and were fantastic. I actually gasped as I came around one corner. It was really impressive. Well done, Mouse. That mile went by far too fast.

And, again back into the dark woods. Here, I started to run low thanks to an upset stomach. Thankfully, those 'newbie' runners that I mentioned before bring a lot of course support for them. So, we were still a significant distance from the finish line when herds of people appeared lining the course. Friends and family cheered, and I assumed it was for me as I always did. Only once have I actually had someone waiting for me at a finish line, and her encouragement was more along the lines of 'hurry up, bum' than 'you can do it!'

I wasn't at the optimal point in my training, so I chose not to push too hard. Still, I came around the corner to the fog and laser light to cross the line in 1:58:06, a respectable time and one of my top 5s.

Though I had planned to head straight home (it's midnight, by the way), I ventured into the park and partook of some good eats. I couldn't meet up with any of the three people I knew to be wandering the park, and I didn't stay long. Still, it was nearly 330 AM when I eventually reached home, tired and disgusting. Thankfully, I had taken an extra shirt and my TAC pants with me (love those things... so useful).

A great race with good scenery and organization. Given how much I ended up enjoying the Food and Wine Festival afterward, I can say that I will likely run it next year if my schedule permits. I admit this because - after a race - almost all of us are tourists.

I still have every intention of avoiding the area during normal business hours.

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Xterra Wildhorse Trail Half Marathon - Tampa, Nov 4, 2012

This was less a race and more an experience.

Let me start at the beginning. I am a runner. It's taken me a while to admit that, mostly because it makes me sound more bad-ass than I am. Let me be clear. I am in no way bad-ass.

But, I have come to the realization that I am a runner. I sign up for races at the drop of a hat and only do laundry because I'm out of workout gear. Oh, yea, I guess I might as well throw those few work clothes in at the same time.

So, when some of my GORUCK buddies threw out the Xterra Wildhorse Trail Half Marathon to me, I couldn't rightly refuse. It was over in Tampa and not far from friends. I signed up, and we ended up with five of us poor souls ready to head out and conquer the woods.

Little did I realize it was going to take so long that I should have had my mail forwarded.

The drive to the location was pleasant if frightening as we wondered if the desolate surroundings were the site of some sort of backwoods shenanigans. Ever seen that movie The Lottery where the small town selects a townsperson to sacrifice to the Gods to stay prosperous? What about Children of the Corn? Take your pick... these fields were spooooooky at 6 AM.

But, we found the other racers and took our places in line to start. We were quite the group, looking out of place to say the least. It was myself, a tiny hot-chick, a yeti-looking Sasquatch, what appeared to be a homeless man, and a stout version of a short Mr. Clean. To further separate us from the 'normals,' we agreed to do 25 push-ups at each mile point. It would make for 325 total. I was being mocked because - though I was the strongest runner of the group - I wasn't the clear push-up champion. Yea... whatever.

We ran a mile and did 25 pushups. At mile 2, we were falling behind most of the field of 330 runners, but we did another 25. By mile three, two of our group were huffing and puffing like chain smokers, and all but three of the five had completely given up on the full '25 pushups per mile' plan.

We had fallen behind most of the field and began a steady routine of rests at the mile points, a few minutes of jogging, and walking to the next mile point. It made for a long day, and fewer and fewer pushups were done at each stop.

Other than by me. Who am I? I'm the 325-count push-up champion, that's who! I was actually well-rested even at the race's finish line, and I felt bad watching my teammates struggle across. We finished in a rather-unimpressive 3 hours and 30 minutes, but we weren't last. Looking back, it was a good experience if not a race.

It was a nice race, I suppose, but a bit hot (when you're on the course 2 hours longer than you're used to, that happens). But, I really enjoyed spending time with my GORUCK buddies and relaxing for the race and weekend. It was nice to take it easy and enjoy the trail, and anytime we get together... entertainment follows.

The best thing I can say is that I ran into someone wearing a shirt for the Canadian Death Race. What is this extreme event, you ask? Well, so did I. SO, I looked it up, and as soon as registration opens for the 2013 race in Grande Cache, Alberta, I'm in.

But, it's also nice to say that I kicked their asses at the push-ups.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Marine Corps Half Marathon - Jacksonville, Oct 6, 2012

My fall plans made for an example in excess. I filled my weekends with races and football games to the point that I had none free. I hadn't factored in the cost to my sleep, though.

The week prior to the Marine Corps Half Marathon in Jacksonville, I had spent my time wandering the small towns of central Pennsylvania and running a trail marathon in Lock Haven. I was wrecked from giardia and burned by the 6,000 feet of elevation gain. My body was barely ready to get back to training in a week much less commit to a race. Yet, I was already registered for the race in Jacksonville and heard good things about the environment surrounding the race and course itself.

I convinced myself to drive up the morning the race and shoot back down I-95 afterward. Then, a pretty girl asked me if I wanted to make a weekend of it and throw in the Bears-Jaguars game on Sunday. Well, momma didn't raise no idiot (all previous actions I have been accused of notwithstanding).

So, I made the drive up Friday night and made it to the race start early the next morning. The crowd was thinner than I expected for a half marathon with such high-profile, military support. As a military nut, the fact that the opening gun was a howitzer was enough alone to warrant my participation. There are few difficult courses in Florida, and any you find that way are mainly due to overpasses or bridges. Jacksonville's race started with an out-and-back across the Main Street and Acosta Bridges, and it hit people hard.

Following that, though, was a race along the water that was quite peaceful. The law enforcement folks were polite and it was a quiet run. My sore legs from the previous week hit me hard at mile 11 as we climbed the ramp to descend back toward the starting line, and it slowed me considerably. Still, my goal at this point was to finish strong (and get back to the girl... what? Priorities...). I came back within view of Everbank Field (home of the hapless Jaguars) and turned toward the finish, a high archway formed by the guns of two howitzers. Marines lined the finishing chute and one handed me my medal as I crossed in 2:13:24, a somewhat depressing time and actually my slowest half marathon. Given my health and recent racing, though, I was happy. Having finished in a time 20 minutes slower than my PR, it meant that I wasn't even tired.

The Jacksonville Marine Corps Half is a well-organized race and has much the same fanfare as the MCM in Washington, DC, albeit to a smaller extent. So, I was surprised to see such a small field running it. Still, it was a nice race, and I'd certainly return if my schedule allowed it.

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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Race Planning for 2012/13

Much like my brief and ill-advised foray into
home-waterboarding, this is all behind me.
Well, anyone that talks to me on a semi-regular basis knows that my fall weekends have entailed little more than football games and races since August. I haven't slept in my own bed on a Saturday night since the NFL preseason started, quite the accomplishment and one that doesn't show signs of changing in the near future. I freely admit this is my own fault and recognized it as such in the early summer when I was forced to layout a calendar with my events coded in to prevent me
from signing up for multiple events on one weekend. This, unfortunately, led to me missing out on other races when friends invited me to them later in the year.

It's okay. They suck anyway. My friends, not the events. I would imagine the events were hella-fun.

Well, I hit the ground running in September with a mountain climbing trip in Colorado followed by a long weekend in New York City for a GORUCK Challenge and ensuing shenanigans. It was at this point that I wondered if I had made a serious mistake. But, a (relative) calm followed in which I spent weekends in Tallahassee for football games (interspersed with a trail marathon - the Megatransect - in Pennsylvania) to recharge.

Note: I can't believe I just included the Mega in a comment about "relative calm." It wasn't. At all.

But, as I progressed through the fall, I started looking toward the spring. It's racing season after all. Temperatures in Central Florida have cooled to the point that runs outside are pleasant with the sun still up. This joyous occurrence means that I can train longer and run further. Perhaps... a spring marathon?

I began looking at chances to run in the spring, and there are a lot. Most cities treat the spring as prime running season, and there are no shortages of opportunities. Sadly, I have little to no willpower.

I want to do them all.

My schedule now has some races for which I have already registered (the Gasparilla Michelob Challenge, for instance) next to others that fit my schedule but haven't convinced me to pull the trigger. Sadly, this 'Spring' planning has stretched into next fall. I'm already signed up for one race in September 2013 and would be registered for another that month if the site was accepting them (damn you, Mega).

Some highlights of my 2013 planning?

Pennsylvania Megatransect - September (What? I had to include it!)
*Team Death Race - September (This one may actually kill me. Fingers crossed!)
Canadian Death Race - August (It's like America's, only longer due to the exchange rate.)
Oslo Rock N Roll Half Marathon - June (Minus? Not a full. Plus? Hot Scandinavian chicks!)
Marine Corps Marathon - October (Wanted to do it for a couple years. Can't wait.)
*Michelob Ultra Challenge - Feb (Four races - A half marathon, 15K, 8K, and 5K - in 30 hours.)
The American River 50 Miler - April (Oh, why the $&#* not!)
* - Already registered

It's like looking into a blistered utopian
future full of Gu blocks and nipple vaseline
I admit that it's unlikely I will get to all of the seven 'highlight' events (this doesn't even touch on all the local races that I'm thinking of doing), but I expect to run 5 or 6. If any of my readers are up for one, drop me a line. Masochism is always more fun with friends...

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Megatransect Race - A trail marathon with several twists

Sometime late last year, I came across the website for the Megatransect Race in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. I don't recall the circumstances that surrounded my stumbling across it. It may have been a fellow runner's suggestion or a googling of the phrase 'batshit crazy running ideas,' but I discovered this race that took place in the mountains of central Pennsylvania a short drive from my childhood home in Carlisle. It was of a slightly undetermined length (the website gives the rather vague description of a 25+ mile race), largely due to the fact that it can't be compared to any other race out there, marathon or otherwise. The route changes year-to-year, though several highlights are included in each running, so even comparing it to previous Megas is not an apples-to-apples type thing.

It may be marathon length, but calling the Mega a trail marathon is to completely ignore what makes the Mega... the Mega.

I tried to sign up last year. The race was in September. It was July. I was about 7 months too late. See, registration opens for the Mega on Jan 1st at noon... and is full by 1:30. The field is extremely limited thanks to the trail restrictions, and it's an extremely popular race. So, I set my phone to remind me on New Year's eve to not get so wasted that I couldn't fill out a race form at noon the next day.

The 2012 race filled up in 30 minutes, but I was in. Some friends weren't so lucky. So, as the 2012 calendar slowly clicked toward September, I alone waited for the trip to Pennsylvania.

I flew up on Thursday, choosing to stay the night in my old hometown and cruise past the few places I could remember from my youth. The house I grew up in looked exactly the same. The streets were familiar... but so much smaller. The early fall weather was amazing as I walked down High Street past Dickinson College and an intersection that makes an appearance in my book coughGetitHerecough. My elementary school looked completely different. The hamburger that I had for dinner (and the one for lunch the next day) at Scalles was blessedly the same. It reminded me of what fall seasons were supposed to be like and gave me hope that the weather would be ideal for the race that Saturday.

I spent Friday night in State College, a respectably-sized town about 30 mins south of Lock Haven that is known for being the home of Penn State more than anything else. I had an early morning, so I didn't get to experience the thrills of PSU partying. But, I found myself wondering what brings out-of-staters to the college. It's a nice place... but it's in the middle of nowhere.

The Mountain was angry that day, my friend
The next morning, I was on the road early and arrived at the Castanea Picnic Grounds to find a growing mob of camelbak-wearing hikers and runners. The Mega is an odd race in that a wide spectrum of competitors crawls out of that early morning fog. You'll see your singlet-wearing road runners lined up next to full-spandex suited trail runners. Mountain climbers trot out from the starting line as the distance runners pull away. Each competitor had their strong and weak points, and it made for an interesting day.

The first three miles were on a gently sloping road. Here, the lithe distance runners pulled away. I kept a steady pace thanks to concerns over whether or not I'd even be able to finish. Two weeks earlier, I had been diagnosed with giardia (mountain water stomach fungus, for you laypeople), and the pain and discomfort I felt was only amplified by the antibiotic regimen I had to endure. Suffice it to say, I did not train in the final two weeks and my body was so racked with trying to heal itself that keeping my legs in running shape was not high on its priority list.

I wasn't sure I could climb a ladder much less a mountain. Still, I stepped off and finished the opening road section at about a 9 min/mile pace. Not my fastest, but I wasn't sprinting. I was simply dreading what the rest of the day had in store. As a show of camaraderie with my growing GORUCK family, I wore a GRC shirt and my GR1 ruck with some snacks and a water bladder. I can say with all honesty that it was nice to hear periodic comments about GORUCK and people running next to me asking about my challenges.

We GRTs are everywhere. After 3 miles, I turned with the pack of runners into the trees... and stopped.

Trail run my backside.

The trails comprising the Mega route are thick, steep, and rocky. About 50% of the trail is actually 'runnable,' and only half of that is safely runnable. You're taking your life (and your knees and ankles) into your own hands if you run many of the sections. That's not to say we walked... we climbed. Fast.

The first trail section was difficult in that the 700 or so runners were still largely bunched up. With different skill sets, some people hiked up the hills faster while others excelled on the road work. This meant many people had to fight past the slower climbers for miles 4-6. It was painstakingly slow, more so than any race start I can recall. Most runners know what I mean when I say that the first mile of any major race is a stutter step/slalom exercise as you dive around other runners. This was ten times worse than that.

It was at around Mile 5 that I came upon what I'll call the Mega Mantra. Other racers understand that some people (largely rookies) start out the Mega fast and hit a wall thanks to the rigorous course. Or, they assume these people that sprinted by them on the road will get caught on the hills. Or, the hill-climbing speed demons will be caught and passed once the pack emerges from the trees. So, the mantra I heard every time I passed someone...

"Heh... we'll catch him on the flat sections."

About halfway up the boulders. Great view. Awful trail.
With the questions surrounding my stomach and overall body weakness coupled with my lack of knowledge about the Mega, I feared they were right. What did I know about what I was getting into? As it turns out, they were wrong and likely just projecting. But, more on that later.

Because, at Mile 6, we hit the boulder field. This is the epitome of the Mega. If you've seen any albums of Mega pictures, 3/4 of it is this. It's beautiful, and from the top you can see out over Lock Haven and much of the river valley below. But, it's about 2/3 of a mile straight up and over boulders. It taxes the calves and quadriceps as well as whatever mental preparation you were able to bring. Still, taking a break every few hundred feet to turn around and take in the view is a great way to recharge the batteries. Fortunately, I had scaled similar boulder fields in Colorado only weeks earlier. I pushed through...

Yea.. this is a 'trail' race
Across the boulder field, I met more GRTs and we tackled Rattlesnake Ridge. A couple miles further, we reached the Mile 10 (and, eventually what would be the Mile 17) aid station. Peanut butter sandwiches. Gatorade. Chocolate. Peanuts. It was heaven.

And, as I refueled, the leader came into the aid station. Only, he was at Mile 17.

Damn it.

I plunged back into the woods, alone and determined to run the section I could... even the rocky sections that had me bounding down the trail more than running. It was parkour in Pennsylvania, wooded with a roof of reds, yellows, and greens. Leaves fell around me as I ran, skipped, and bounced through the trees.

It was pretty damn cool.

I reached a small creek. It was about 1030 in the morning, but the trees kept the sun at bay. Only a cool, muggy breeze sneaked past the denuded trees. I crossed the slippery rocks and found the section of the race evilly referred to as K2 in reference to the soul-sucking mountain on the border between China and Pakistan that is the Earth's second tallest.

They use this picture in ads to imply you
can actually run a good portion of this race
This section of the race included rope work to keep you from killing yourself. Using the thick blue line, I pulled myself up the 30 feet to the ridge and tip-toed along it. With some places only 8 inches wide, the trail had a steep dropoff to the floor 50 feet below. It was technical and tough. I hated this part and found it the most difficult of the entire route. It seemed unending.

But, end it did. The trail opened a bit and I ran. Miles 12-14 disappeared beneath my feet. The field of runners was so disperse now that I could go 5-10 minutes without seeing another competitor. Breaking into the open at 14.5 miles, I found the 'midpoint' aid station. I call it that because it was actually more than halfway, but the mountain only allowed for aid sections to be placed at certain spots. I took a break here for several minutes, even 'ruck flopping' on to the ground to relax. Much peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were enjoyed. There was much rejoicing. Racers drifted in and rested.

I heard horror stories. The race organizers had placed ATVs at sections along the route and all were equipped with radios. Other racers had overheard the support crews talking.

One woman had cracked her skull open and had to be carried out. Another had dislocated her wrist. Yet another had a broken ankle.

As my GORUCK family would say... this race wasn't nothin'.

As I watched people drift in, drained and dehydrated, I realized that I was gaining nothing by sitting. I stood up and started walking to the trail. I started jogging. I started running. Another mile down the trail, we once again cut into the trees. Up and up and up... I came across a guy that recognized my GORUCK shirt, though he hadn't done one. Brad said his brother-in-law had. We passed the next several miles talking about why we wanted to do something so stupid. Together, we made it to the Mile 17 aid station.

We were back at the top of the mountain. It had to be downhill from here, right? I was so excited to reach the aid station - knowing I had a chance to tend to a growing blister on my right foot had driven me for the last few miles - but I stayed there mere minutes. I apparently reboot quickly... I was once more in the trees, this time with my eyes set on the Mile 22 aid station. Maps were hanging at the stops, and I thought it was fairly level through to 22.

The Rote Overlook: A race highlight
My legs were burning by this point, so I took the opportunity to break into a trot and stretch them out. I passed handfuls of people stretching out sore muscles in the thick underbrush. They appeared thankful to have a wide enough trail to pull off to the side. We dipped slightly and then rose once more, reaching the Rote Overlook. I stopped here for the view of the valley. Most impressive and beautiful in the early afternoon sun. Sadly, I couldn't stay long as a group of racers were coming behind me, and I feared being stuck behind them should the trail narrow. I ducked into the trees and left the clearing behind. And, we descended.

Down to Mile 22's station. "Only four more miles," I heard. One up, three down. "Yeah," another worker said, "He says that, but I'm not sure it's true."

Well, the initial run to the mountain was 3 miles of open road. I can't be that far from breaking out of the woods, right?

To you, mountain,
I wave two middle fingers
Oh, yes. Yes I can. Cuz Mile 23 was straight MFing UP. The 'K2' section was technically difficult... this part just sucked. It was demoralizing to have just run down the mountain for two miles only to have to go back up. The trail narrowed to shoulder width, and passing anyone was out of the question. Unfortunately, though we started this section spread out, it was inevitable that people would get eaten for lunch here. All it took was one person to start bonking, and we piled into each other like a folding accordion, forced to slow to our leader's pace.

No one complained.

I had reached Mile 22 at 2PM and been on the course for seven hours. Given my health leading up to the race, I was just hoping to get in under 10 hours. I had nothing to compare the race to other than some GRTs' times from the previous year. I figured I could beat them. My stomach left that question up in the air. But, with 4 miles to go, I was 7 hours in. Hell, I thought, I can do this in under 8 hours!

Hell no, I couldn't. Cuz Mile 23 sucked a big ole bag of excrement.

Though it wasn't raining as it had been in 2011 (I heard horror stories of that race the entire day), the trees kept the moisture on the trails. Dirt quickly turned to mud and people slid all over the mountain. We crept towards the top of the hill only to come face to face.... with more gawdam boulders.

A boulder field, evilly reminiscent of Mile 6, stretched out before us. It was here that people's souls died. I actually saw it happen. The color drained from people's faces, and I saw some of them get that look in their eyes like Bill Paxton's character in Aliens.

Game over, man.... GAME OVER!

If I still had any hope for an 8 hour finish after the climb up, those boulders ground it into dust and spit all over it. Thirty frustrating minutes later, I crested the top of the field. It wasn't nearly as high or long as the first boulder section, but it was so demoralizing after believing yourself to be on the home stretch. Plus, my legs were jello. I compensated by placing my foot on the next boulder and pushing on my knee, upward on my hands. It gave my upper legs some rest, but it was exhausting.

Cresting this section, we smelled the open air. We found an open section of actual, vehicle-capable trail and begin running. I passed exhausted hikers ("Bah! He'll wear out... we'll pass him once we get out of the trees!") and was passed by a blur as a runner, barely in control, sped down the trail. I darted past the spot where the Mile 3 water stop had been hours earlier and broke into downtown Castanea (Note: I use the term 'downtown' extremely loosely here). Blessed downhill sections spread out before me and I ran a solid, steady pace for a mile and half.

Then, I came to the infamous green mile. This final section before the turn back to the start/finish runs parallel to the elevated roadway and between it and a sprawling field of corn. It's essentially a grass-covered path along the spillway, and it's beauty was offset by the fact that you could see the end of it... and it appeared to be 8 miles away. By this point, racers are spread out every few hundred feet, and passing is rare. Most at this point are concerned less with their time than they are with ensuring their place in the finishing chute. People glance over shoulders regularly to see if they are being chased. If you look and the person behind you is running... you start running. It was comical in its own, sadistic way.

The road cut back under an overpass and passed some old houses... and more corn. Up one more low hill, and the finish line appeared in the distance. I picked up my speed around the parking lots and lined myself up for the sprint to the finish... The smell of pizza and signs for beer gave me strength I didn't know I had, and I dashed through the archway. 8:21. Eight hours and twenty one minutes. Ho-Lee-Crap.

They had BBQ for us, but I went straight to the pizza and smoothie. That banana smoothie (and the two that followed it) were pure heaven. I admired my Mega X medal (it was the tenth anniversary of
It's like a pot of liquid gold at the end
of a rainbow of tortuous water-boarding
the race) and marveled at the people around me. It was quite the gathering of old and young, men and women. The Lock Haven University running teams helped along the course - high off in the mountains - and they drifted in to grateful applause and thank-yous. I caught up with Brad, who finished about 20 minutes behind me with his brothers-in-law. I found several GRTs and traded stories and came across other people that recognized my shirt and asked me about the Challenge.

I was nauseous and weak. Exhausted and exhilarated. I recovered quickly - quicker than I expected - and completed a half marathon the next weekend. I can now honestly say that I have completed a trail marathon (the final race distance was 26.7 miles according to several GPS devices), but the Mega is anything but. It can only be compared to itself, and only then with a grain of salt. It poured down rain in 2011. The route was a mile and half longer in 2012. Aspects from year to year are the same, but it's always a new path.

Always a new path.

Any competitor - GRT, runner, swimmer, or similar - is always looking for a new path. Whether its a muddy trench carved by those that are ahead of you... right around the corner.. or a leaf-covered path that seems to have been undisturbed for eons, we are always looking for new paths.

People ask me why I do this crazy stuff (often with a rucksack full of bricks, though I smartly opted out of that for the Mega), and I am pleased to know that I've found others that share my own personal brand of competitive psychosis - not with each other necessarily, but with ourselves. People ask why I do it, and all I can think to say is that I am always looking for a new path.

Old paths are boring and commonplace. I've been down those. What's over there... what's on top of K2 or Mount Yale, or across the finish line at the Vermont Death Race? Those are the paths I want to see...

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Thursday, October 4, 2012

Active MLB Park #27: Citi Field

As part of my continuing efforts to hit every active Major League Baseball park, I'm getting down to the bare minimum remaining. I've tried to isolate those into manageable groups that will allow me to cross a couple off at a time during my travels, but it's to the point that I don't have much leeway in that regard. Given that I'm a Dodger fan living on the east coast, I found it somewhat interesting that the first division I was able to completely cross of was the American League West.

Now, I can cross off another - The National League East.

Sadly, though there are 32 parks in the Majors and I've been to over 32 in my life, the trend toward building new stadiums means that I've had to play catch-up with teams Ive already visited. The New York teams hit me twice by opening new parks for the Mets and Yankees in the same year. Suddenly, I was down two.

The facade of the park is, sadly, the best part

I rectified part of that a couple weeks ago when I visited Citi Field for a game between the Mets and the Nationals. The Mets lost and lost badly, and I'd love to say it was because they were out-classed by a team that would go on to win the division. But, the Mets lost because they are a horrible team. They dropped popped foul balls. They threw the ball around the infield time and time again, resulting in zero outs and a carousel of baserunners. The team was awful.

The park was only marginally better.

I had heard such great things about Citi Field and was genuinely looking forward to visiting the park. But, though the layout and atmosphere in the concourses was intriguing, there was little else that I found interesting. The fans were obnoxious and loud (not in a good way), but I chalk this up to not only being New Yorkers but being Mets fans. They have reason to be surly given the team's recent performances.

The food was lackluster and the location of the park (right near the old Shea Stadium) wasn't ideal. That being said, I enjoyed my time at the game I saw at Shea and (be prepared for hypocrisy), I much preferred the old stadium to the new. Shea was a cool place. Citi Field is not.

But, I was able to cross off another stadium and check off the NL East. Surprisingly, though I only have 5 active parks left to see, they span all four remaining divisions. This will make it hard to hit multiple stadiums on one trip.

Those remaining:

Chase Field - Phoenix (Diamondbacks)
Petco Park - San Diego (Padres)
Miller Park - Milwaukee (Brewers)
Comerica Park - Detroit (Tigers)
Yankee Stadium - New York (Yankees)

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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

GORUCK Challenge - 9/11 Tribute

This one was my own fault. I mean, I volunteered to fly up to New York City mere days after climbing mountains in Colorado. I could have stayed home and enjoyed the first weekend of the NFL. I had tickets to an FSU game that would have been fun. It's my own fault. But, when a pretty girl tells me she has a place to stay in Hell's Kitchen only a few minutes' walk from Times Square... and it's $60 a night... I can't rightly say 'no,' can I?

Not when it's the GORUCK Challenge 9/11 memorial ruck, I can't.

View from the apartment
I've been to NYC several times, but experiencing the city (a city I LOVE, by the way) during 9/11 tribute time is something special. I landed on Friday afternoon and did what GRTs (Goruck alumni, for you lay-people) are wont to do. I met up with others to drink. This would be something oft-repeated over the course of the long weekend.

Eight of us (I think...? Was it more? Seeing double makes it hard to count.) joined forces to rent an apartment on the 44th floor of a nice complex, and it worked out great. We drank. We ate. We napped (some of us). And, then we met up near the NY Stock Exchange with three full classes of ruckers intent on showing their respect to those that perished 11 years earlier in the only way we knew how: We would punish ourselves for no reason whatsoever.

Oh, it made sense. Don't look at me like that.

About 90 ruckers stepped off at Wall Street (mere feet from where George Washington took the first presidential oath of office) and headed toward the East River. There, on the side of the syringe-laden waters, we did PT for about an hour. Bear crawls. Push-ups. Inchworms. Squats. 403.... 403... 403.

Welcome party along the East River
403. Four-hundred and three. That's the number of first responders that entered the twin towers that day and never made it out. As we held that push-up position, and GRC cadre barked out abstract terms like respect, honor, and commitment, I thought about those 403 and what they were thinking as they ran inside.

Push-ups are nothing.

We were sticky, sweaty, and emotionally drained... perfect time for some water PT. In the East River. This was healthy. We also found a log that NYC bums appeared to use as a toilet. Also... very healthy. This log was then lugged all over lower Manhattan.

Seriously, stop looking at me like that. It totally makes sense.

For 8 hours, we fought the night, our cadre (Chris), that log, and drunken New Yorkers. Then, the rains hit and hit hard. We handed off the log to another class and took their coupons (sand and plywood) in exchange. Good riddance to the craplog...

We jumped in the Hudson River. We buddy carried through a neighborhood comprised largely of people with chauffeurs and expense accounts. We played the most insane, sadistic version of Duck, Duck, Goose around the Washington Park fountain that I have ever seen. We blindly ignored the "Don't Get in Fountain" signs as we bobbed up and down reciting the Spongebob Squarepants theme song (okay, you know what? Fine.. it doesn't make sense.) It was exhausting and inspiring. We fought our way back to Ground Zero only to be detoured by Chris after he found a flooded and muddy baseball field.

The 9/11 patch
We split into teams and crawled, crab-walked, and bear-crawled around the bases. It pays to be a winner. It also pays to cheat... which means it devolved into a disastrous, disgusting mud fight on the banks of the lower East Side. To think, if Chris had been arrested earlier that night (a distinct possibility given the night's events and the cops' warnings), we would have missed out on that lovely event.

We had time hacks to the end point. Casualties mounted as we neared... Chris wasn't happy with our pace even though we were moving faster than we had in the past 12 hours. We had all of our coupons and six casualties to carry as we made the final push.

We survived. Chris, a sadistic bastard that I had met over beers after the July 4th ruck in DC and who had led our climbs out in Colorado, handed out patches to some desperately thankful new GRTs and alumni alike. The special 9/11 patch we received will always remind me of the 403...

Class 238 - Hoorah

The 9/11 ruck wasn't more difficult or crazier than the others I've done, but it meant something different. That's for sure. Several of us went down to Ground Zero on 9/11 to 'feel' the atmosphere. Not knowing what to expect, I braced myself for a solemn morning.

O'Hara's Bar at the foot of the Towers on 9/11/12
Instead, we found laughter and friendship. Firefighters from all over the country converged on local bars amid the bonds of brotherhood. They'd never met each other, but they shared something... much like GRTs that have never met. Having someone stop me because I am in a GORUCK shirt and talk to me like an old friend is oddly calming. And, this is coming from someone that hates talking to other people more than he hates eating green peas. [Note: I really hate green peas.]

On 9/11, there are cops everywhere. Ostensibly, it's to secure the area and prevent anything dangerous from happening while keeping the thousands of on-lookers at bay. But, I talked to several of these guys and saw it in their faces. They weren't there because they were working. They were there because they wanted to be. They were making pilgrimages of their own, even if it was on the clock.

New York is a great city. The traffic is horrible. The people are aloof and largely dispassionate to those around them. But, that's because they have to be. There are just too many of them walking around. I ran around Central Park in the days following the ruck and had a great time. People were everywhere, but I might as well have been by myself (or, at most, with my running buddy, Cary). It's amazing to be surrounded by people and feel so independent.

Some people hate the big city... if my job allowed me to live there, I would in a heartbeat....

It's worth noting that I deleted about 1500 words from the end of this blog that went into some detail as to how the rest of the long weekend panned out. As I reread it, the stories of friends ripping off their pants in bars, getting roofied and wandering the streets until 8AM, and passing out face-first on an Ottoman didn't come across as 'high culture.' Plus, I would have felt bad identifying them (especially the one that decided to sleep walk and urinate all over the apartment).

But, they know who they are...

It's worth noting that we DID go see Phantom of the Opera. Yea, that's right. It wasn't all about the drinking.

I'd seen the play before, but it was quite good.

Then, we went drinking.

Lower Manhattan from the deck of the Empire Sate Building

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Monday, October 1, 2012

GORUCK Ascent 2012- Resentment to Redemption

"Hey, let's go climb some big-ass mountains!"

There was a time (I call these years my "smart years"), when I had those stupid conversations with friends in bars... and they stayed there. I'd wake up the next day and ignore the fact that I'd promised my friends - mere hours earlier - that I'd drive to Vegas with them next weekend or pool our money for a jetski. When you're drunk in a bar, everything asinine sounds like the best idea you've ever had. If I followed through with any number of inane plans, I'd be living in Key West and running a bar that sold only Pina Coladas, tacos, and fortune cookies. The Hunt for Red October and the Back to the Future trilogy would be played on a loop over the bar.

Don't judge me.

Back then, my friends and I would never bring up our convoluted, drunken plans the next day for fear that one of us may have actually been serious. Ah, the good ole days.

Now, when I come up with something stupid to do... it only makes MORE sense in the morning. Stupid alcohol... killing brain cells and whatnot. Sadly, my travels have introduced me to others with similar failings, and we egg each other on.

"Yea, filling a beer bottle full of tequila and chugging it DOES sound like a good idea!"

"Well, I suppose you COULD do that, but why not do it while carrying a huge rucksack full of bricks?"

Yea, why not...

So, as a graduate of the GORUCK College of Poor Decision-Making (read about some of my poor decisions in Savannah, Washington DC, or the GORUCK Challenge in general), I latched on to some of these buffoons for some jackassery in the Collegiate Peaks area of Colorado where we would be climbing 14,000 ft peaks in a masochistic ritual that has become known as GORUCK Ascent.

This exercise in insanity began (for me) on the Thursday before Labor Day at Cadre Brian's place near Nederland, CO. I say "for me" because I opted out of the optional Gun Day on Wednesday. Though the opportunity to fire off hundreds of rounds of ammo with America's Special Forces was enticing, the price was a bit much for my tastes. Plus, since I have a standing invitation from a friend (when we doing that again, Geoff?) to go back up to Quantico and play war with the USMC Competitive shooting team, I have been wholly spoiled. In one day last year, we blasted through thousands of rounds of ammo thanks to the SVT, AK-47, M110, A5, PKMs, M4, MP5... No offense to the GORUCK folks, but you can't compete with that.

So, we arrived Thursday and spent it learning rope skills and applying them. We built tag lines and come-alongs... and we rappelled off the face of nearby cliffs. It was pretty bad-ass. I can honestly say that I learned stuff that has come in handy since. That's something that I can't even say that about college, though one would assume math would be useful at some point...

I can honestly say I kicked ass at this
Then, at 10PM, we piled into the buses for a 3-hour drive southward to the mountains. Now, I should take a moment here to discuss my packing list. I wore TAC pants, compression shorts, boots, a t-shirt, and a hat. In my pack I had:

- two pairs of socks
- compass
- headlamp
- change of compressions
- fleece
- wind/rainbreaker
- Gloves
- Knit cap
- my tent
- sleeping bag
- lickies/chewies
- toothbrush
- Advil

There ya have it. I used it all, though the fleece would be a bit of a burden until the last night. My pack wasn't overly full like many others. (Cadre Chris spent an hour systematically destroying the rucks of others. "What's this? You don't need eight pair of underwear!"). I returned a couple things to my car (like a spare pair of shorts and my bulky DSLR camera), but I used what I took.

And, we were off... The Collegiate Peaks range gets in name thanks to the apparent competition of early explorers to claim the peaks for their Alma Maters. It was like us planting our flag on the moon... but with beer instead of Tang. The range has impressive peaks such as Mt. Harvard, Mt. Princeton, Mt. Oxford, and Mt. My-Daddy-Paid-for-College-Thanks-to-Oil-Money.

We arrived at 0100 hrs and started to climb Mt. Yale, a quite lovely hike that we were told would put us at the summit around sunrise. There were 37 of us at the start. One dropped out almost immediately. Chain-smoking at the trailhead prior to stepping off is not recommended.

The peak of Mt. Yale (14,202')
[Note: Awesome pics by Mike Petrucci]
The trail led us up to about 11,000 feet through some beautiful - if dark - countryside. A full moon was right around the corner, so we had a nice view even at that time of the morning and kept most of our headlamps off. Eventually, we broke from the trail and took a short break while we waited on some of the trailing hikers to catch up. We were blazing our way across the East Ridge. At night. This wasn't hiking, this was bouldering, leaping from ledge to ledge and struggling around narrow-to-non-existent paths. After the 8th false summit and thousandth expletive (it's amazing how they echo around a canyon's confines), we could see the end. The route, hazardous and steep, claimed more of our number including two cadre that had apparently failed to recon it. They brought their dogs and couldn't negotiate the trail with them. They had to turn back.

We reached the top of Mt. Yale (14,202 ft) and waited on others strung out for a half mile behind us. Of the 37 that started, 31 reached the summit... impressive when you consider that we hadn't made camp, yet. We still had all of our gear, including tents and sleeping bags, strapped to our rucks.

We started down and got lost. Even with a cadre. I won't go into details, because the 6-hour trek down the mountain turned into a huge goat-screw. This was the 'resentment' part of the trip. The lack of route recon coupled with the inability of our team leads to get us off the hill was extremely irritating. I voiced this opinion frequently and loudly. Others shared my discontent but not to the degree that I did.

I was annoyed.

We eventually reached camp, but I was ready to call a taxi for home. After setting up tents, we were treated to a mix of burgers, MREs, and stew. I understand this was different from the previous year in which food was harder to come by. Well, 2012 was essentially a camping trip with good people and not an orchestrated event with time hacks and cached food. I was okay with that.

Land Nav Instruction
The next day we spent the morning learning land navigation (MGRS) from Rob, and I can confidently say that I will be okay in the middle of nowhere with a map and a compass. Very interesting. The afternoon was spent with Matt learning emergency survival skills. Again, great stuff. I could do an entire blog just on what these two guys taught me. But, I digress.

While we were learning how to build shelters (ours was awesome... I'm just sayin'), Cadre Brian came around asking what we each wanted to do on Sunday. We could leave right after dinner and - staying up all night - attempt a double climb of Mt. Harvard (the highest peak in the local area) and Mt. Columbia. Or, we could set out early the next morning for an attempt on Columbia only. A third option had us maintaining the camp.

People were tired. No one jumped at the double peak.

Except me. I went there to climb mountains, and I wasn't going to miss the daddy of the local scene. Through some lobbying, I was able to increase the number of poor decision-makers. Like I said, all we need in order to be convinced to do something is for a person to ask us. We're idiots.

The top of frozen Mt. Harvard (14,402')
We ate a brief dinner of cardboard and smoke and made our way into the night. No offense to the others that were at Ascent, but this team was awesome. We tore through the night and were hours ahead of our pace. We'd hoped to make it to the roof of Harvard (14,402 ft) by 5AM.

We were there at 0230.

As the highest point for miles, the wind was howling. We were cold. We took a quick picture, then damn near jumped off the side. At 5AM, we took a well-deserved break at 12k ft for 45 minutes. It was cold. I'd have rather we kept moving. We assaulted Mt Columbia.

The scree face of Mt. Columbia
looking back at parts of our team
We went the wrong way, blazing a trail up a 60 degree, scree-covered slope. This surpassed the cascading boulders of Mt. Yale as the 'Bad Idea' champion of the trip. In the winter, I'm told that the route we took is a class-4 climb requiring ice crampons. Yea... so that happened.

After a brutal climb in which we leaped up three feet only to slide back two... over and over... we reached the ridge. Mt. Columbia was within reach, and we were still ahead of schedule. Of course, we went the hard way, so finding either 8-year-olds or geriatrics that had summited (14,079 ft) via the 'easy' way was slightly strange. But, we bagged both mountains.

Adding in the ascent of Pikes Peak that I completed with my buddy before the formal GORUCK Ascent began, it made for four 14ers in five days. Having come from sea level only 16 hours prior to my Pikes summit, I'll call that impressive.

The 'A' Team at the top of Mt Columbia (14,079')
14er #4 for the week
We returned to Cadre Brian's place on Sunday, all of us asleep as the bus driver careened along mountain roads, to find beer and a pig roast waiting for us... as well as the GORUCK Trek team that had just completed Boulder. It was drunken, exhausted, hungry hilarity, and I found it hard to leave my new Ascent comrades.


Would I do it again...? Probably not. It was a good time but a bit pricey when you consider flights, hotels, car, and gear. This is especially true when one considers that I've done the Collegiates. Admittedly, there are other 14ers in the range, but I don't think I'd be jazzed about heading back there. Now, if someone pulls together something similar for another Colorado area or something up in Alaska, I can be down with that.

But, if any GRTs out there are considering Ascent, it's worth your time.

Yale looking East

Descending Columbia
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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Active MLB Park #26: Marlins Park

In my unending quest to do everything... everywhere... I am working my way through all 32 active MLB parks, enjoying a ballgame and stadium concession offerings. Baseball has been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember, having played when I was younger and continuing with amateur ball in Gainesville, Austin, and Orlando. Most of my trips involve baseball to some extent (see my two-week road trip from a couple weeks ago as an example), and I slip references of it into most of my fiction. It plays a not insignificant role in my novel, Number 181.

I soon found that my random treks to the stadiums that work and personal travel placed me near was adding up to quite the tally, so I took it upon myself to hit all the active parks in Major League Baseball. It's been a great ride given that it's led to me visiting a couple cities I wouldn't normally have taken the time to stop in (I would have avoided the Ballpark at Arlington, for instance, due to my general disgust with Dallas-Fort Worth). The plan was to hit 5-7 parks a year, but this has made for some re-visits given the trend toward building new parks that has flourished in recent years (AT&T Park, Citi Field, Turner Field, Target Field... Marlins Park).

I'm over 32 parks now. Unfortunately, it's not the ACTIVE 32. Well, I crossed off Marlins Park this weekend thanks to the Dodgers yearly visit. It's a shame that Dem Bums only visited for one, 3-game set this year. Being so far from Dodger games is frustrating. The off-year trips to Tampa Bay are few and far between, but I'm hoping the league reorganization that leads to more inter-league play will result in more LA-TB games on the bay.

But, as to Marlins Park, major props to the city for the retractable roof. Evening monsoons are quite common in Florida this time of year, and last night was no different. Thankfully, it was a cool, dry 80 degrees inside the dome. Very nice. The stadium is laid out nicely, and I love that they use real grass. Turf, even the new stuff, is horrible to play on. It just feels wrong.

Batting Practice at Marlins park

Speaking of wrong, I'm going to go off page here a bit and repeat an oft-discussed irritation I have. Full length baseball pants. It used to be that nearly everyone wore the 3/4 pants and flashed stirrups or stirrup-socks. That's extremely rare now, and it sucks. The long pants look horrible, and I'm convinced their parachute-like qualities slow down runners. I blame Manny Ramirez... a detestable man (who played for my Dodgers for a time... and played reasonably well) whose attire put fans more in the mind of MC Hammer than a baseball player. The guy looked like a flying squirrel in those pants. I believe they were 5 sizes too big... maybe to allow room for rapid growth due to performance-enhancing drugs...

Anyway... Marlins Park. Well laid out... nice fans... everything is in Spanish. Not as a second language... it's literally in Spanish. Fortunately, 80% of my teammates are Hispanic, and I've picked up the baseball slang. Still... it was off-putting.

But, the food... my God the food. Hands down, Marlins Park has the best food in Maor League Baseball. The Taste of Miami area behind the left field bleachers may be the best food in all of Miami. Get a pork sandwich and thank me later. The selection (though expensive) is great. I ended up grabbing a hamburger after that.. just to gauge how they do with the more common ballpark fare... and it was amazing. Topped it off with a soft pretzel that was excellent (and second only to the Wetzel's Pretzel at Dodger Stadium), and you've got a nice showing of all the major ballpark food groups.

Go for the food. Stay for the baseball.

All in all, a great experience. Marlins Park wins the #1 spot for food, but it doesn't do quite enough to crack the top 3 of the parks I've visited. The weather (even in the dome) may have contributed to that given that the city skyline in the distance was clouded over. Regardless, the top three still sit as this:

1. Fenway Park - Boston Red Sox
2. PNC Park - Pittsburgh Pirates
3. Progressive Field - Cleveland Indians

I've still got one more park lined up to visit this year, but the list of those left is getting shorter and shorter.

Petco Park - San Diego Padres
Chase Field - Arizona Diamondbacks
Miller Park - Milwaukee Brewers
Comerica Field - Detroit Tigers
Citi Field - New York Mets (soon.....)
Yankee Stadium - New York Yankees

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Saturday, July 28, 2012

And, the winner is.... um, no one?

Well, given the number of texts I received in recent weeks, it's clear that a good number of my readers and blog followers put forth a respectable amount of effort toward determining what the (easy) answer was to the (complicated) question posed during my TwitOnARoadTwip2012 (trademark pending) roadtrip.

Sadly, no one answered the question correctly. The answer would have been the easy part. It was finding the question that was more difficult. But, as time has passed and I've received a good number of 'ugh, I give up' texts - I'll spoil it for everyone.

It's worth nothing that one person was almost on the right track. But, since her on-the-right-track guess was one of a dozen that essentially parroted my blog back to me, I couldn't give her the benefit of the doubt.

So, what's the question?

Step 1: The clue is in the hint
Notice the underlines? There was a reason for that. Also notice that the statement begins with an underlined question mark.

Step 2: Find other underlined text
The reader that came the closest recognized the underlined 'A' but didn't take it to the next step. Here, it helps to know two things.

1) I have a history minor. It's military history. I love codes. But, I recognize few others do... so I would use the easiest one to identify.
2) I take a lot of pride in my writing, so if something seems jilted or unnatural, it's worth noting.

So, what did I do? Well...

Step 3: The question revealed

So, if you read the first letter of each paragrpah, the question presents itself. I had to use unusually stilted language to start a few of the paragraphs, and I hoped that (along with the underline) would draw attention. It apparently did not.

The question? Average race time. The answer (thanks to some simple math and my two race reports)?


No soup for you. You come back, one year... cuz then I'll be doing another road trip and you can try again!

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Saturday, July 21, 2012

First Look: The sequel to Number 181

It's been a busy several months putting pen back to paper (or, in this case, fingers to keyboard) trying to write down Shawn Kidd's next adventure. I'm through the framework of a first draft, though I know that I still have more to go back and add. I was in such a rush to get my thoughts down, I put placeholders in some areas... Strange, I know. But, Shawn wasn't going to wait on me before he started making waves. He pulled me along, so I had to go.

But, since things are beginning to come together, it seemed appropriate to give you guys a bit of a peek at the sequel to Number 181. The excerpt below is from word 1 of the sequel.


Raul Rojas felt exhilarated as the car bounced down the rutted road. Nearing seventy years old, he found that few things in life coaxed any real emotion from him anymore. Yet, he found himself badgering his driver with repeated entreaties to hurry as the caravan made its way along the rough roads of eastern Paraguay. Rojas had lived his entire life within a day’s drive of where he now sat, and he could find their destination blindfolded.

Still, he asked once more how long they’d be.

“We are nearly there, jefe,” came the reply. The young man behind the wheel didn’t turn as he answered, choosing instead to keep his eyes on the dark road in front of him. The thin shafts of light that traced outward from the lead car twenty yards ahead of them helped, but the beams of the pick-up trucks that trailed behind slashed across the car’s mirrors and blinded him every few seconds. The effect was harrowing in the midnight fog and exacerbated by the incessant prodding by Rojas. The elderly man still instilled fear in his men, though. If he wanted to risk blowing a tire or striking some wandering goat, his men would press on.

“Yes, yes, Manuel. I’m certain you find my badgering annoying, but this is certainly a meeting for the ages.” The sedan rocked as one of the right wheels dropped into a deep cut caused by the early spring showers. Manuel’s foot bit down hard on the pedal and forced the car to bounce wildly back onto the comparatively-level dirt road. The jostling slammed Rojas roughly against the sedan’s roof, but as he had the previous times, he simply ignored the impact.

A soft glow formed off to the right as the crumbled road began a lazy turn in that direction. Though they were only ten miles from Foz de IguaƧu, a tourist destination just over the border into Brazil, no light from that city reached the quiet plains. Instead, the squat buildings that served as Rojas’ family business appeared around a sharp bend and the trio of vehicles passed a long, low metal sign.

Rojas Agrochemical.

Born into family money, Raul Rojas leveraged his land holdings and government contacts to establish a sprawling agricultural empire with his chemical plants at its heart. The business was lucrative to the point that he and his two sons could live in luxury, but they padded their profits by devoting any unused factory space to the low-tech processing of drugs. What started as a hobby, an experiment in chemistry, had turned into the largest production ring in the region. And, it had turned Rojas into an unlikely kingpin.

Rojas had a nervous disposition and was quick to anger, two traits that did not mesh together well. His reputation as a just and fair employer among his agricultural workers was offset with his brutal and impulsive nature with the employees of his illegal ventures. Retribution was severe and immediate. Men had simply disappeared. At the heart of it stood this short, balding man whose suits appeared two sizes too large as they hung from his wiry frame. The wisps of gray hair that remained may have indicated an aging businessman, but many a missing person had underestimated Rojas or assumed he had softened with age.

Still wary of drawing the attention of local and regional law enforcement, though, Rojas tended to avoid high-profile dealings and the transfer of large amounts of product. But, tonight, he was making an exception.

“This is thrilling, Manuel,” Rojas said as the car turned toward one of the darker buildings in the back, a lone floodlight marking a rusted metal door.

“What is, jefe?”

“Our organization has been evolving and making its presence known on the global stage. Tonight, we will be doing business with one of the foremost men in his field and securing our future. It is truly a great time for us.”

The cars came to a stop, and the three other vehicles poured out their passengers into the small clearing near the doorway. The seven men took up protective positions between the sedan and building, one of the larger men forcefully directing them. They were armed with a mix of available weapons, and Rojas scoffed at the image for a moment. Except for his lieutenant, the men were dressed sloppily and showed little professionalism, any sense of order and discipline failing them immediately after exiting the car. The various firearms they presented swung randomly through the night searching for nonexistent targets.

The guns.

Sadly, each man carried a different firearm, and Rojas took it as a the clearest sign that his organization would never gain the respect it deserved if he didn’t take a more active role. One man spun a Baretta 9mm hand gun on his finger. Another awkwardly cradled a Soviet-made AK-47 on his hip. Still another stared down the sights of a SPAS-12 shotgun. It was a formidable display to be sure, but it also reeked of amateurism and chaos. Order and symmetry commanded respect, and Rojas’ team was as asymmetrical as one could be. This meeting would help change that, though.

“Hector!” Rojas yelled as his driver jumped from the car to open the door for his boss.

The burly lieutenant turned from directing the men and stomped back toward the sedan. He was well over six and a half feet tall and nearly 250 lbs, but he moved deliberately. The 38 year old had been in Rojas’ employ for the better part of a quarter century but had the misfortune to be cursed by bad luck for nearly all of it. Even so, it appeared the cloud was now long gone. In recent months, he had begun to dress better and stand taller, his wardrobe having slowly improved to match his buoyed demeanor. Rojas was pleased with the change as it played well into his ideas for a more professional force.

“Yes, jefe?” The man’s voice was low with a tinge of exasperation in it, but Rojas didn’t notice.

“We are certain he is here?” Rojas attempted to straighten the suit’s soft wrinkles that he had received during the hour-long drive from his home. He ran his hands down over the sleeves to ensure none of the dust they had kicked up upon their arrival had settled on them. His heart raced as it had years ago when he first entered the drug business. He felt alive.

“We are, jefe. Diego is inside with him even now. They have one of the weapons for our… evaluation. Diego assures me he has seen ten others and believes there are considerably more.”

“Excellent! This will indeed be a big day for us. Let’s get inside.” Rojas strode purposefully toward the door and rapped loudly on the metal frame. He pressed it open without waiting for an answer, and his men followed him silently inside.

The walls of the interior were lined with empty crates and rotted boxes, the forgotten trash of Rojas’ legitimate business dealings. Each crate had held tanks of chemical fertilizing agent or test crops at one point, but the frames were all aged and thoughtlessly discarded in the dimly lit room. All, that is, with the exception of one crate that had been upended in the center of the room to form a table of sorts.

On it sat the most beautiful thing Rojas could remember seeing. The compact submachine gun seemed to pulse under the single, overhead light and his eyes remained locked on its sleek lines. Heckler and Koch designed the MP5 decades ago, but dozens of military groups around the world still used the weapon, many exclusively, thanks to its reliability, light weight, and abundant supply of ammunition. Even the lowliest of groups had boxes of 9 mm rounds lying around. The gun appeared to be in pristine shape and was, in fact, brand new. It, along with a significant number of others like it, disappeared from a transport truck in Germany ten months earlier and had somehow ended up in the hands of the man that stood across the crates from Rojas.

Rojas fascination with the gun distracted him for a short time, but once his eyes fell on its seller, his heart jumped. The man was well-known in mercenary circles for being both brutal and fair, two characteristics others might find at odds with one another. Rojas saw it for what it was. If you dealt fairly with the man, he would do so in turn. Cross him at your own peril.

Rojas had never met him before, but the shoulders were broader than he’d expected. The dark thermal shirt and chest gear he wore tapered to a thin midsection that disappeared into black cargo pants. Though his arms were crossed, the man held them in a way that allowed Rojas to make out the handgun and knife blade stored in the folds and hooks on the man’s vest. It was the eyes, though, that sent Rojas’ mind reeling. Bright blue eyes sparkled through the black mask and bore down on the Paraguayan. They were the only exposed skin on the man’s body, but even the tiny amount of light in the room caught them dancing evilly.

Rojas had met the Norwegian.

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Friday, July 13, 2012

Twit on a Road Trip [Finale]

As the sun rose on Thursday, my TwitOnARoadTrip2012 time was winding down following the events of  GORUCK DC. Though we were drained from the previous day's efforts, we were able to make our way to Dupont Circle to throw back drinks with Brent, Lou, Jason, and assorted GORUCK family at James Hoban's Irish Bar. Fatigue and alcohol quickly took their toll on our ragged group, though, and we slowly broke apart to our homes, hotels, and squares of carpeted floor. July 4th, 2012 was in the books.

Very few people would be able to function after the day we had, but we awoke and made our way to the National Mall and Smithsonian Museum of American History - an impressive home to war artifacts, the fabled Star-Spangled Banner from Fort McHenry, and the Gunboat Philadelphia. Any grand plans we had to further investigate our nation's capitol disappeared at the first mention of finding a bar. This is not an uncommon occurrence when GRTs congregate in large numbers. Hell, it's usually true when we are wandering the streets alone, too.

Elephant & Castle. The sign across the road called to us, so we opted for an afternoon of rejuvenation and cellular repair, drinking up a storm and causing a general uproar. We were loud and slightly obnoxious. I say 'slightly' in reference to our own scale. When compared to societal norms, we were off the chart.

Relaxing together offered the chance to experience the best aspect of GRCs and the GRT family. Sharing stories and drinks, we talked the afternoon away. It's impressive how quickly people that you've just met can become like old friends. Sweating together during a challenge - any of life's challenges - has the strange ability to add depth and respect in any relationship. Friends, both new and old, bonded to bring the conversation to hilarious and felonious levels.

As a starter, I told the story of my epic 1988 National Spelling Bee victory and ensuing controversy.

Going back to the night before, Chris repeated the hilarious and extremely disturbing way Cadre Lou hoped to create a "T-1000 baby."

Your argument is invalid
Eventually, we started discussing when we'd get together again and talked upcoming GRCs to choose from. Kevin erupted in annoyance. "We don't have to do a GORUCK every time we hang out!"
Recounting the horrors and heroes from the day before, we enjoyed the A/C while the sun marched across the sky. Drunken discussions were had on the acceptability of hand-holding during a GRC. The topic of disease-infested ponds was touched upon. I blame the previous day's GORUCK and dehydration for the disaster that followed.

A fuzzy fifteen minutes later, we had women exchange an orange peel from mouth to mouth... followed by two guys doing the same thing. We then requisitioned a shopping cart and proceeded to roll all over Pentagon City. One of us did handstands on the bike rack outside a Costco.

Crazy. At 3PM... on a Thursday. We are not well in the head.

Ending up at one of the bars near the mall, we waited as one of our number attempted to get a new phone. [NOTE: Don't trust a pelican case in your ruck to protect an iPhone during GRCs. Just in case you were considering it...] Doing so, we ran into some GRTs from another July 4th class (remember.. there were five) and chatted up the differences in our experiences. At least, I think that's what we did. We were getting smashed.

To bring it all together, we headed out to GORUCK HQ in DC and threw back some beers with cadre. It was nice seeing some of them in their native habitat, and since none of my past cadre were in
GRHQ: Behind the Curtain
attendance I had a unique relationship. No one in the room had yelled at me to do divebomber push-ups or pick up an effing log. We all hit a couple Georgetown bars and closed out the night as friends.

It was a great bookend to my road trip, so after breakfast with my GRT family, I jumped in the car and made the executive decision to push on toward home for the night. It made for a long drive and I didn't get to the house until after 1AM, but it was worth it. I was going to need the entire weekend to relax and get myself in some semblance of order for Monday.

Monday... Work... I did it up hard for over two weeks and came out of it with a ton of new memories and more than a few new friends. I came up with ideas for future vacations and found new people that shared my passion for stupid crap that would be willing to do them with me. That's the best you can ask for, and I can't wait until the next one. It's only been five days, but I'm having GORUCK withdrawal. I'm having GRT withdrawal. And, I can't wait for the next trip.

Eagerness is one thing... but where to? I heard Jason Aldean's "Fly Over States" several times over those many miles, and it really hit home with me how little people in our big cities know of our country and how much we take for granted. When I drove to Florida from San Francisco, I was struck by how far apart people were. Hundreds of miles separated cities and homes. The west-east trip showed me how big our country is, but this trip showed me how close together we are. I visited Civil War sites and realized how near everything was - even 150 years ago. Louisville, considered by most to be in a culturally 'southern' state, was a Union bastion. The two capitol cities, Richmond and DC, were 90 miles apart. I left Washington, DC at nearly 1:00 PM and was in my Florida bed that night. We are so much closer than we think. We think in terms of 'here' and 'there,' but we share the same land and air. I could have spent days in some of the cities I blitzkrieged through on my drive - Louisville, Nashville, Chattanooga, Lafayette, Cleveland. This country is full of amazing places and fascinating people. My trip gave my dozens of ideas for future travels. If I do half of them, I'll see more of this country than 95% of Americans, and that's too bad. Go check out your country - not in pictures or television... GO - and let me know what you think.


Twit On A Road Trip: By The Numbers

Miles Covered: 5309
Days on the Road: 15
States Visited: 16 (plus Washington, DC)
New states checked off the list: 3 (Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota)
Countries Visisted: 2 (Canada is a country... for now...)
Half Marathons Completed: 2
Bricks purchased: 16
GORUCKs completed: 1
Patches earned/received: 4
ToaRT2012-Related Facebook Updates: 181 (I'm not joking. I counted. Irony... or destiny?)
ToaRT2012-Related Tweets: 94
Blog Updates (including this one): 11
"Halls of Fame" visited: 3
 Oil changes: 1
Highest Mileage Day: Day 15 - 852 miles from DC to Florida
Most Expensive Gas: $3.67/gal (New York)
Least Expensive Gas: $3.04/gal (Georgia)
Gallons Purchased: 134
Average mpg: 39.6
Baseball Games attended: 7 (4 MiLB/ 3 MLB)
Active MLB Parks left to see: 7 (down from 10 pre-trip)
Most nights spent in one city: 3 (tie; Buffalo and DC)
College Campuses Visited: 9
People Convinced I was David Boreanaz: 4 1/2*
Beers drank: Countless. And priceless. And now I'm even more senseless.

*One woman asked if I was the actor  on 'that show.'
Knowing my Boreanaz history, I asked, "Bones?"
She said, "No... that's not it."

? - For those of you still following along, the prize is up for grabs.
Both the question and answer are out there somewhere.

 I'd like to give to thanks to my 2007 Honda Civic for making all of this possible. She was a champ.

5309 Miles of the eastern United States
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