Easy landmark for going back

Today’s Blurb

24 January 2015

The Wind’s Many Faces… an excerpt

But there were no ravens when we stopped in Death Valley at Emigrant Campground. We had come in from Beatty through one of the Nevada entrances, paused at the one-way sign to the ghost town of Leadfield, wished for more time, and headed on over Daylight Pass. Our thermometer showed 112 degrees Fahrenheit when we put up the tent that evening. At first there was no motion anywhere. We put the tent up, changed to running stuff, and headed down the hill to get rid of several hours of sitting-in-the-car stiffness. We ended our run coming back up the valley to the campground in gently moving air.

Kathy commented on the wind we were starting to feel—the hot breath of the air still heated by the sun was in conflict with the valley’s shaded regions. As the sun slid behind the distant Sierras and the nearby Panamints, newly formed shadows cooled the heated air of the day. These fingers of relatively cool, heavy air pushed down the hillsides to the valley floor, displacing the hot air. An evening wind was being born.

Flying grit and sand drove us inside the tent as the wind increased. Lying inside a small tent listening to the wind, when the wind starts rocking the tent, does not put me to sleep. I was sure our tent, with us inside, would soon be a blue and silver tumbleweed rolling down the jeep road we had run just a few hours ago. I could see the couple in the RV from Illinois recording us on their camcorder as we bounced and tumbled out toward Mesquite Flat. I got out and placed car-sized rocks on the corners of the tent. We slept the same as we would the night before an ultra—fitfully and with one eye toward the coming dawn.

We crawled out in the predawn quiet only Death Valley knows, the quiet of the last few stars winking out, the quiet of air so still we were sure we would hear the sun coming up over the Amargosa Range. The wind of last evening was gone to wherever winds go, one of those places we sometimes try to run to so we can find out where the winds go. I rolled the rocks back as Kathy packed sleeping bags and tent. The sun cast long shadows that we chased toward Lone Pine in that windless quiet of morning.The prairie (the Palouse)

I often wonder if our shadows feel the wind, know more of what it brings than we do with our civilization-diminished senses. Wind-driven rain on a warm summer day is better than any shower I’ve ever had. Wind-driven rain on a trail cooled and darkened by January’s heavy clouds cannot be warmed by any jacket I’ve worn. Breezes not yet winds gently chase us down winding trails in early fall. Winds soon to be gales make us clumsy and hold us back from the protection of the woods in winter. Which wind awaits?

The winds that cause you to stop and look, to notice the blackness out there just beyond arm’s reach, to make you wish you had learned a bit more about reading the sky, have as many names as there are countries—abroholos, austru, barat, borasco, etesian, and levant, the fictional “Maria,” and our Chinook, Diablo, and the Santa Anas, the Knik Wind, and the Kona storm.

Those winds whose names we know welcome us, beckon us to run in their familiar patterns. They become friends we run with because we know them and what they bring. It is the misbehaving winds, the coyote winds that give us so much trouble. There are winds that are full of mischief and wile; winds that shift from temperate coastal winds to dry, cold Arctic winds; winds that become thunderstorms and pelt us with hail; or, in the heat of a summer day, winds that go away and leave us to suffer in air that doesn’t move at all.

—– Run Gently Out There —–

21 January 2015…
There are times when I am trying to find something to write about running that none of the tangents in my mind seem to have any inclination to intersect. I have commented here and there or now and then about the disconnects of conversations while running and duly noted internally that the same randomness applies whether running alone or not. In my case it applies to thoughts along the trail.

First, I warmed up...
First, I warmed up…

I once referred to “the blackboard in my mind” as if we each have one. I have no training as a psy-anything—too scary to think of knowing why I might or might not be doing something. I know when I was studying I could go for a walk and replay a math problem over and over; writing and erasing on my blackboard as I walked. I was at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington. The campus with its many wide sidewalks seemed perfectly made for contemplative strolls. I don’t know if any of my teachers felt my walks did me any good, but at least I got my homework done.

It never worked with running. I can recall running on pavement and entering the “zone” as it became a marketing phrase. I could go to a track and knew I needed to start the watch because I would go off into one daydream or another and lose track of how long I had been running laps. I recall getting to one intersection or another and the mental shock of realizing how far I had apparently ran with no conscious recollection of those last miles. How many were there? Much to my surprise I realized this was not a good thing and thought about how to avoid it.

A short time later I came to one of a half a dozen, or more, places along the roads where a trail of one kind or another was available. Why had I never gone down it before? There being no quick answer and the chance that the Cheshire Cat might be down there, I left the asphalt shoulder of the road. Okay, now it just happened. How did the Cheshire Cat get in there? There is a part of Alice’s conversation with the Cheshire Cat that is directly applicable to trail running, sometimes to ultras, but I did not know that then. Alice asks the Cheshire Cat, “Where I ought to go?” or something close to that. The reply is, “Well, where do you want to get to?” or something close to that. I went along the trail about fifty yards and found myself at the first decision point: a fork in the trail.

The run is over -- time to sit and watch for whales.
The run is over — time to sit and watch for whales.

—–Run Gently Out There—–

10 January 2015

Disjointed thoughts about the weather

Last week’s fog is nowhere to be found. The tops of the trees that hid in the mist can be seen again. Fog comes in for a week at a time or for a few hours with little concern for it being morning or afternoon. It can be thick enough to make me wish I had a jacket, but can vanish with just fifty feet of elevation change. Splotches of fog appear on the waters of Admiralty Strait to map the temperature clashes between air and water.Fog in the tall treesWalking on the bluff trail we can see above water and fog. The Olympic Mountains are slowly becoming whitened with snow. The jagged mountaintops, seldom bare, are now rounded with the early snows of fall. Winter awaits, barely two weeks away. These early chills and moisture; do they foretell of snow on our trails instead of a post card view away across the strait? The tree tops behind us are starting to dance–gently, barely whispering of wind.
b_fog_wind_2“Wind, but no wind chill.” I once used those words to start one of my columns. Yesterday as we returned from the bluff trail above Ebey’s Landing the wind suddenly made its presence felt. The actual temperature was about 40ºF, a not uncomfortable temperature for us as we ran along the trail just off tree’s edge a little over two-hundred feet above the water. We had both glanced at the tree tops as we hiked, acknowledging and commenting the soon to be felt wind. Out in front of us we could see the waves becoming more active. The wind was out of the southeast–a direction that allows a fetch (a wonderful wind word: the distance an uninterrupted wind travels) of fifty or more miles. A wind that on other days would push the tide up, giving it the power to rearrange the driftwood. Today it was only enough to make us glad to turn our backs on it as we started across the prairie.
b_fog_wind_3Kathy mentioned an upcoming trip to the other side of the mountains; to the open hillsides of the Palouse, Washington’s grain belt. We will get to walk, hike, or run in an area where no trails are needed and the wind moves clouds way overhead while pushing us up one side and along the ridge. Routes will be chosen according to the direction the clouds move. A vague notice of darkening clouds might take place. There is a chance of thunder storms in these almost treeless hills.b_fog_wind_4Ice? The nearness to winter solstice means the sun does not get high in the sky; does not stay long enough to melt the mornings frost. The high pressure system has kept cold and clear skies for us for the past five days. The giant high and low pressure systems out in the Pacific Ocean and the rain shadow we live in here on Whidbey Island keep our weather ever changing, but rarely at the extremes encountered in other parts of North America.
When was the wind storm at Rockport State Park? 2011? We went to see eagles, but got sidetracked and hiked around the wind damage done in the park. A short ‘out of the car for a few minutes’ turned into an hour and more of walking, pausing to take a picture, pausing to try to imagine the noise and the ground shaking as a giant shattered, then came crashing down. Pick up a stick and try to break it. Now think of the power provided by the wind to break a “stick” five or six feet in diameter.Wow?  That is a 7, maybe 8 foot diameter tree trunk that has broken.That is a seven-, maybe eight-foot diameter tree trunk that has broken by the wind.
Wind fetch Wind fetch
The wind and the tide. The weather and the water. The beach that is walkable almost everyday becomes unpassable as a wind with a long fetch matches direction with the incoming tide. The moon joins in to create a higher than usual tide. The view from Partridge Point is hypnotizing. Waves are pushed higher and no two waves break the same way. No surfers are seen today. The waves they want are here, but too near the bottom of the bluff. There are too many pieces of driftwood with no particular place to be–the tide, wind, currents, and the whim of nature are for the enjoyment of gulls and an occasional eagle, but not for man.I will not run the beach today
We have sunsets over our mountains–colored by the day’s weather bringers.b_fog_wind_8Weather is just as much a part of our hiking, walking, or running as it is a part of our daily lives. The books grew from training, nutrition, and injury to include weather, how to read the sky, why the tides and fogs and … a few from my shelves:

Weather Wisdom — Albert Lee
Wind: How the Flow of Air Has Shaped LIfe, Myth, & the Land — Jan DeBlieu
Living on the Wind: Across the Hemispheres with Migratory Birds — Scott Weidensaul
The Weather Book — Jack Williams
Climatology: An Atmospheric Science — Hidore / Oliver
Beyond the Moon : A Conversational, Common Sense Guide to Understanding the Tides — James Greig McCully
Blame it on the Rain: How Weather Has Changed History — Laura Lee
The Weather of the Pacific Northwest — Cliff Mass
Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning — Richard Hinckley Allen

—–Run gently out there—–


  • I completed the requisite 100-mile trail run, but I was well-trained and never thought of it as an unending pain-racking sort of thing.
  •  I worked outside in temperatures well below zero; -44ºF the coldest, but only for an hour or so at a time.
  • I have gone hungry, but never in a life-threatening sort of way, just the odd day or two, here and there.
  • There was a time or two when my whole body shook from the aftereffects of a foolish action.

An aid station was always nearby. A place to warm my hands was always nearby. A place of safety was almost always nearby.

I just finished reading “Alone on the Ice : The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration” by David Roberts. The book is about the 1913 Australasian Antarctic Expedition, in part. It is primarily about Sir Douglas Mawson’s heroic solo return, on foot, across approximately 300 miles of Antarctica; the last 100 miles to be done alone as death had taken his two fellow explorers.

Sir Douglas Mawson of Adelaide, South Australia, Australia had no aid stations with smiling faces; no nearby building with heater awaiting, and he could not afford the least bit of foolish action. He would have no sly smile followed by an internal voice saying, “Best not to do that again.” It is a book to be read with time to pause, look out the window, and wonder in awe about something your imagination cannot replicate. “Alone on the Ice” is about heroic exploration.

 **********Book Reviews of My Book**********

My thanks for the time and work these wonderful people took to read and write reviews of my book, Run Gently Out There.  I hope their comments will be helpful and encourage you to buy a copy—running is not required, but might enhance the stories.

Iris Sutcliffe — ManicRunday

John Vaupel  — Trail Running Club

Kristen Lodge — independent blogger

Audra Rundle — writer at The Clymb

Kristin Ohm-Pederson, Trail Runner Canada www.trailrunner.ca on page 27 http://trailrunner.ca/home/?p=3249


2 thoughts on “Today’s Blurb

  1. Hi John. I briefly met you at the ferry today. Recap. Ran Siskiyou 1999 5:24:01, you beat me my 22 min. 3rd for you, 10th for me. 2000 5:04:01. Best ever. I’ll look into your book. Perhaps it will but the ultra bug back in me! Thanks

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