Cough Cough Coffee

The obvious thing would be to run every foot of trail in our big backyard. Of course, this isn’t the style of project I’m looking for. The idea is to become intimately familiar with the hills themselves, not to simply see them all.

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50 Pizzas Project

Not all goals need to have prima facie importance. This isn’t high school debate. Denying yourself an adventure because it isn’t “serious” enough is a tragedy.

Travel is serious, and aficionados will attest that the opportunity to meet and relate to other people in their space should be treasured. But travel can be abstract, or worse: commodified.

Somehow, the moment you quantify your travel goals they become trivial to many. The more specific your goals, the more disdain they seem to attract. Or apathy. At least until folks turn super grey and start collecting national park walking stick steel decorative pins.

Well my friends, get ready to roll your eyes, because I’m announcing my big plan for 2019.

My travel goal is to eat pizza in each of the fifty states of the USA within the calendar year!

Let’s talk about what that entails.

The Parameters

This is my goal, so I can set it up my way. The rules are simple. Consume a slice of pizza at a fixed latitude and longitude in the USA. I can be in a car, but the car must be parked. I can eat slices from the same pizza in multiple states; there need not be fifty separate pizzas.

Good style is a different matter. Ideally I’d find a new, local pizza venue in each state. I’d talk to somebody new, perhaps even drink a beer, run a new trail and make some new friends. I’d love to climb a pitch or even crank down on plastic in each state. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

In some states I already have an opinion. In Alaska, the pizza must come from the Moose’s Tooth. That’s probably my favorite pizza in the country. In Arizona, it needs to be from Flagstaff’s Pizzicletta. Which is a good competitor for the pizza GOAT. In Hawai`i, it should come out of my family’s oven.

Again. Let’s keep in mind the context. This is my first “Fifty in 50” sort of goals. I haven’t even been to all the fifty states in my life. I have a full time job with a desk. We can always iterate on these goals. Just the goal of visiting each state feels worthy to me. In a calendar year? Adventure! In the process of visiting each state, I expect to learn a considerable amount.

Finally, with good style as a secondary goal, we can always make multiple attempts on some of the more remote states like Alabama and the Carolinas.

The Origin

I shamelessly poached this idea from one of Brendan Leonard’s recent IG posts. He mentioned eating pizza in 36 states so far this year. That was quite a thought. I’ve been lucky enough to hit most of the American West in the past few years, so fifty felt within reach. It also just happened to hit after the Outdoor Arts & Rec Trail Running Film Festival, which appears to have inspired a group trip to the White Mountains next year for the Presidential Traverse. Adventure begets Adventure.

Micro Adventures

Certain states I’m familiar with. I know how to operate Arizona and Colorado. I spent almost a decade in Texas. I’m close to Oregon. I’ll be in Hawaii for New Year’s Day. But that’s not what this challenge is about. I’m looking to learn how to get to new places.

Tornado Alley

Here’s a sketch of my plan. I’ll fly into Fargo on a Friday night. I’ll each a pizza and drive down, hitting South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa the next day. I’ve got a friend who’s a physics professor in Lincoln, Nebraska, so I’m hoping to at least meet up with him along the way. (Surprise, Frank!) Kansas City lives across two states, and I can eventually drop through Oklahoma and into Dallas.

New England

I mentioned the Presidential Traverse. The timing isn’t clear yet, but I’d love to check out the Green and the White mountains in a 10-day period, as well as Maine. I’ve got a great friend who also happens to be a physics professor at Boston University. She’s keen on my goal. So Massachusetts seems to be a great hub to spoke out for a bunch of pizzas.

Chattanooga

I’ve heard some crazy stories about bouldering over a lake filled with Alligator Gar. It seems like there is so much to do outdoors in Chattanooga - and infrastructure to do it - that this is a no-brainer. It’s been on my list for a while. Chattanooga is also close to Georgia and Alabama, and I’m considering a four to five day trip that finishes with a drive north to Lexington.

The Caribbean

A different kind of coastal environment than I grew up in, the Gulf coast is a place I’ve been curious about for a while. If I can get on to some islands, so much the better! Why not eat 60 slices? Although this might just end up being a road trip from Houston to Florida.

So yes. 50 Pizzas (slices)

It’s a silly goal, but having the capacity to travel that far in a calendar year can lead to all kinds of trouble. The point is exposure to new things, new places and new people. Pizza is just the vessel, it not the excuse. If it takes me a few years of “Fifty in 50” projects to wrap my head around this country, then so be it. Maybe I’ll make this a habit.

I’m itching to get started, and will post updates periodically here and on IG. If I really get bored over Christmastime, I’ll even set up a map.

Synthesis Part III : Strategy

Word Vomit

I don’t think I’ve ever had to vomit during a race. After a race, absolutely. I puked on the feet of my friend Katie after finishing my first 100 Miler at Bighorn. I almost puked on Jamil while ordering beers after the finish of an impromptu running of the Whiskey Basin 55k (props to Jubilee for letting me sign up at check in!).

Waves of post run nausea are explainable. Your body knows its done, and gets to cool down. If you’re nauseous during a race, you probably went off nutrition or have pushed too hard. So far I’ve been lucky to avoid much of that. The heat at Javelina was a notable exception, and a good reminder that you can’t always strategize your way out of suffering.

Of course, you can prepare for suffering. Some folks have embraced nausea as a part of our sport. Some appear to actively train for it. While it’s fair to say that I’m not much of a beer miler, using the silly and fun to motivate serious training is a flavor of strategy I can get behind.

Joyful Aside

On a quick run Fremont, I was listening to cuttings from the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack. I’m not sure what inspired me to drag that up - although it harkens back to a complicated relationship with life in graduate school.

There is so much to say here, but my soul congealed on three main ideas. First, freedom - the life worth living - requires a vessel. Second, so much of our own stupid, self-involved, ill-conceived bullshit creates ridiculous scenarios that, when so presented, require outrageous feats of bridge burning and bullet dodging to avoid being captured, pinned down and otherwise held from moving forward. Jack Sparrow is not an honorable character but he is a human one. Third, classical music is extremely powerful, and I am shocked that It’s not more popular.

This is a blog series on progression. So what? These thoughts represent a way forward. This may be an observation only a mathematician could love, but the fact that I could see that a solution did exist unleashed a torrent of joy that I had to fight to stay on my feet.

Pillars

  1. Documentation over Production. I lifted this from Gary Vanyerchuk. Not only is this approach easier to implement, it also cuts harder and gets closer to the truth. Since we live on the tail now, and authenticity is back in style, its better to leave the high production stuff to the professionals.

  2. Unravel the things. All the things. You do it anyway, just formalize it. Take a working holiday, just be explicit about it. Listen to classical music loudly. Wear your western hat on the runs. Only promise the things you want on your horizon. Yeah this sounds vague, I just don’t have a clear picture on this yet. But I know what the spirit is. I think the moral here is accept that you are different and will annoy, disappoint, and confound others.

  3. FILGO. Yes. FILGO.

Synthesis Part II : Dreams

The Entrepreneur

My friend Abram has started a trail running business, and has built up enough adventure experience to finally crack the mainstream. I’m proud of him. If you’re looking for adventure with some luxe, by all means check him out.

I’ve tried my hand in a similar space for a while, but getting traction while having the tech job is not easy. Personal growth is slow, but again, this is part of it. But it really did get me thinking about my own failure to manifest thought to form.

I’m not panicked. I’m not worried. I’m psyched. This means that it going to happen.

While it sucks to have reality hit you in the face, I fucking love it. I will go out of my way to avoid it - we all do. I will run flat out, uphill, in the red, as far away as I can get from acknowledging my failures. We’re trained to do do that. But. When exposed in polite conversation, reality punches you in the face. And it is absolutely the best feeling in the world. You remember what you are you aiming for. You remember what you’re trying to accomplish.

The obligatory and oblique reference to running 100 miles should be obvious.

The Dreams

So I had to ask myself. What do I want to do? What space do I want to play in?

  • I want to be familiar, to be a neighbor, in a variety of places. Cascadia, Hawaii, the Sierra, Phoenix and Flagstaff, El Paso and Hill Country, and everywhere in Colorado.

  • I want to travel to places I don’t yet know and meet folks who do know them well.

  • I want to play in the mountains as a climber, a skier, a runner and an alpinist.

  • I want to play in the mathematical physics space, and even help with educating interested people.

  • I want to create visual art. I want make videos and stills that helps promote mindful consideration of logic, science, adventure and nutrition. To promote a new sort of human culture that strives away physically consumable objects and ties to a specific place, to one that engages new people in new spaces, and really explores both the depths of the human mind as well as the body. To really incentivize folks to live by trying hard. To promote sheer effort and willpower. To acknowledge the roots of depression and oppression and to take advantage of the raw power of our present technology and cultural openness to eliminate its stranglehold over our capabilities. To see it for what it is - and therefore to see ourselves for what we are - living organisms in a complex system with an enormous capacity for.

  • I want to resolve the conflict between a being tied to a place and wandering my spaces. Somehow I think that’s tied up with the conflicting paradigms of ownership and stewardship.

Synthesizing these dreams into strategies is our next installment, and a good chuck of the hard work.

Synthesis Part I : Context

Each time I get to the depths of professional despair, as I begin plotting a manifestation of my dissatisfaction, as the call of the outdoors becomes stronger and stronger, as I want to throw out my disdain for quasi-urban luxury and reload vanlife, something interesting happens.

Literally. Something at work becomes interesting.

I’m lucky enough to be employed in space that is exclusive, lenient and creative. It’s not satisfying, but it is very engaging. And that’s the rub. Satisfaction is a macro emotion, engagement is a microscopic one.

When I’m getting ready to pull the plug, I know exactly what I want to do. To some extent this act of writing is a manifestation of that. As I become more engaged, that clarify fades. Slowly.

And with it does my fitness level. My intensity of emotion for travel and the outdoors. 

But other things decline as well. Like the frequency of panic attacks.

Of course, there are yet more confounders to consider. The first is the season. It’s hard to be content when the sun sets before five and rises after seven. It’s hard to be always psyched when its cold and dark. Biologically, we’re driven inside to think about life, to read, to huddle, to avoid getting hypothermic. But that also means the trails are wide open and logistically easy.

Summer 100 Miler season is also a tremendous psychological burden. The depression that can sneak in under the guise of recovery is real, sparsely documented and lasting.

So, while taking a momentary pause from big endeavors to enjoy the community at the original Trail Running Film Festival this weekend, I think it’s worth a bit of inward investigation in purpose.

Cold Snap.

What's the difference between being out of breath and becoming hypothermic? It's hard for me to tell in real time.

Earlier this Spring I was running up Mt. Si. It wasn't warm. The snow level was below 2000 ft. I felt fine almost the whole way up, but it was not the usual, high traffic day on the mountain.

When running up, I passed two older Japanese men with proper packs and poles. I had spikes and extra warm gear, but the snow made progress slow. The trail to the summit basin rises about 3300 ft over four miles. What I love about this trail is how easy it is to get into hypnotic training rythem. What I learned during this excursion is that this might be a problem.

The last switch of the trail had at least 18 inches of soft snow. It wasn't exactly breaking trail, but it was very sloppy for the last half mile.

Plodding my way up the last bit in snow-buried, rocky gully, I noticed that I couldn't feel my fingers.

Being mostly alone on the summit of a peak in the snow, this is not a great sensation to have. Whether it was my body temperature dropping or not, the chill quickly spread into my wrists and forerms.

From the comfort of a desk, I can see now that this was more hypoxia than hypothermia. I was almost certainly pushing too hard. But try to tell this to somebody in real time. My toes went numb. I scrambled to put on another jacket, but couldn't jab my lifeless hands through the sleeves. I cried out and tried again. I dropped my pack and shoot out my hands. My heart was racing. Focus. I pushed my other hand through, and pulled the layer on.

My feet were numb when I crammed my hands back into their gloves.

I crammed a gel and a stroopwafel, shuffled down the trail while restuffing my pack, until I finally took off running. It took at least a mile before I could feel my extermities again.

Something to work on

I wish I could say this was an isolated incident. As the temperatures begin to fall again, these experiences will start to recur. Last Saturday I found myself shivering alone in the fog at the top of a nearby summit. I’d been going for almost two hours without eating. The capacity to shift between the micro and macro perspective while adventuring an important skill. Gah. So much to work on.

Ultra Progression

There more I explore this sport, the deeper I want to go. I want to run longer, in more places, more often. I'm psyched to visit new and difficult terrain, but I'm also drawn back to the same events year after year. These are two, very human mindsets: one of exploration and one of community. As 2019 approaches, I am struggling to balance these two.

I want to feel better when running long. I want to be faster. I want to go further and be out longer. I also want to finish what I've started (Hardrock). I want to hang with my wildly dispersed set of adventure friends more!

To that end, I've been thinking a lot about how to model progress in this sport. One hundred miles is a reasonable benchmark. It took me three seasons to attempt and finish a 100M race, but there is a huge variance in that timeline. Hell, there is huge variance in people's first 50k finishing times. As 2019 approaches, I'm struggling to define where I am in ultrarunning, and where I want to go. Here’s my first attempt.

Metrics

Unlike climbing which affords a somewhat universal system of grades, trail running is pretty broad. The only two natural hierarchies that come to mind are distance and time.

Distance feels like a good metric for personal evolution, although with people now regularly running the AT and folks running across the US, this metric loses focus quickly.

Time is helpful in a micro sense, when comparing individual efforts across a course. A sub-three marathoner might have some great leg speed, but this doesn’t translate far into the mountains. The trail running skillset feels more broad.

Besides, for me at least, trail running is equally about the practice of adventure as it is the practice of sport.

Goals

With something as nebulous to optimize as “adventure”, we had better define some objectives if we hope to have any success in modeling our progress. Here are some categories that keep coming up, and some associated artificial benchmarks.

  1. Time : The more we run, the faster we get.

    1. 100M in 24 hr

    2. 50k in 4 hr

  2. Volume : The more we run, the more we run, repeat.

    1. 6 100M in 1 yr

    2. One Big. Long Trail.

  3. Objective : Do big things often.

    1. Circumambulate some PNW Volcanos

    2. The Flagstaff Fearsome 4

    3. Run across the Grand Canyon

Progression

The adventure projects we take on shape our running career, so it behooves us to pick them well. With a foundation in mind, there does seem to be a hierarchy of things to do. There are races to participate in and famous adventures routes to run. Sometimes you get lucky, like with Hardrock, where races become attractors that are more akin to an annual festival than a singular event.

Like individual climbing routes, we model our progression on what other folks have done, both for training as well as culture exposure. Moving past other people’s projects into new and bigger things - pushing the trail running soul forward in a meaningful way - is probably the best proxy of mastery I can think of.

To close our initial foray into this discussion, here is a short list of some the ideas that come to mind along this vein:

UP North Loop

Owyhee Canyonlands Adventure

Finding Traction

Mt Hood to Mt Adams

Ticklist From Town

Before trail running there was hiking

I hiked alone. I didn't have a car. I bussed from West Seattle all the way out to Issaquah or North Bend. From there it was easy to hitch the last few miles to various trailheads around town, or even walk!

I have fond memories of troubleshooting the bus routes while hunting bus stops and back roads. Many hours were spent in my room with maps and pamphlets, figuring out which trails I could access by foot and by transit.

There were failures

Once after work, I set out for Grand Ridge from the Issaquah PCC on a broiling summer day. This was unplanned and I was cocky. Out of water and energy, I stumbled down the I-90 horse trail to the Seattle Concrete’s trailer office, where the sole employee was kind enough to let me fill my water bottles.

There were surprises

Last year I went home to O`ahu at Christmastime. I ran from Waikiki to Kailua over the Pali, using trails and abandoned roads wherever possible. I grew up with nightmares of missing the last bus and having to walk home from school, and now I can’t wait to do it again.

A lot has changed

Having a car has allowed these local trails to really open up. I can and do run in Snoqualmie Valley any day of the week. The trails deep in the Middle Fork are no longer strangers, and the summertime haul up Snoqualmie Mountain or Guye peak is no longer dependent on the kindness of strangers.

I’m grateful, to be sure. But the luxury of a car has displaced the elegance of looking up at a peak from town and running out to it. I get the sense that this style is shared by the mountain runners in the Alps, and human powered adventure stories are constantly flowing out of Colorado.

Besides, this method virtually always carries the benefit of coffee at the start and beer at the finish.

The Ticklist From Town

To this end, I have started to compile a list of short town-to-trail runs east of Lake Washington. Aside from the aesthetic pleasure of starting and ending in civilization, I expect these routes to help familiarize me with lesser known towns and trails. I also see an opportunity for some longer, easier runs in the snow-socked winter months.

These will live in a tab we launched called “ticklist”. It’s barebones right now, but we have some pretty rad plans to dress it up with some data design.

A final remark

Running trails repeatedly helps bind you to a place. Moving by foot lays down a richer set of memories than driving. You really know a place you repeatedly run in. I’m sure the Ticklist From Town style helps to make trails more accessible and make us more connected with the towns around us. If we are disgusted by the road sections, so much the better! Let’s work to minimize them! The suburban strip mall or box store barn plainly do not have the same aesthetic as a café-lined cobblestone street in the Pyraneés. So what. Connecting the storefront to the trailhead with our feet, with our sweat, with our intentions may help bring the outdoors closer to us and our fellow humans.