Monthly Archives: February 2014

Cranes, Wild Turkeys, and Death Valley Crossings


A very diverse trio...
A very diverse trio…

We have just moved.  In moving I decided that the stack of books, each book with a bookmark that seems to be inserted in a random pattern but only one per book (a good sign), should be read.  I have a bad habit of reading several books at a time.  It is not a good way to read books, but it suits my ever decreasing attention capabilities.  These were the first three to be finished and put on the almost well-ordered bookshelves.

The Birds of Heaven : Travels with Cranes — Peter Matthiessen, 2001

I have only seen two species of cranes; the Whooping Crane and the Sandhill Crane.  It only takes one glimpse, whether a crane is in the air or on the ground to know you have are seeing something special; almost unique.  They stand about four feet tall.  Their wings often span seven feet.  These dimensions, impressive as they may be, disappear as Matthiessen took me around the world and across the equator explaining where the various cranes of the world exist.  These great birds are not to be seen as separate parts of the landscape.  They are integral to the well-being of our environment, barometers of its state.  Weather and landscape of far distant lands became part of my mind’s eye as the pages were turned.

Matthiessen writes of one species in a way that should send any reader in search of more books about our winged creatures–any of them.  Whether talking of the cranes’ migration, courtship, eating, or simply the grace of their existence, his pages captivate and educate, and make me long for another trip to Malheur NWR in Oregon, the Klamath Basin along the California-Oregon border, or down to the Aransas NWR in Texas–all the while knowing there are other continents with large-winged relatives waiting to be seen.

Illumination in the Flatwoods : A season with the wild turkey — Joe Hutto, 1995

I am indebted to Burke Jones, down in Greensburg, Louisiana, for sending me a copy of this wonderfully worded and illustrated story of turkeys–from incubators to their departure to the wild, leaving their human parent behind.  We have seen Wild Turkeys in Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Kansas.  They were on the trails in Palo Duro Canyon in Texas as we ran one morning long ago.  We took notice of their color and later added a note on “their” page in the bird book in the car.  Other than a brief conversation about their unexpected beauty, little was remembered, until this book arrived.

Joe Hutto becomes a mother, father, sister, brother, protector, sleeping companion, doctor, and roost as he keeps first the eggs, then the poults, then the adults, and finally, the disappearing family, company.  He describes conversations, first imprints, up-all-nights with the hatchings, and his evolution into thinking like a turkey.  My image of turkeys as ungainly clowns that make silly noises disappeared as Hutto described conversations with his “family” and their walks through the Flatwoods.  His forests came alive through his words and sketches.  What we see as dangers (a rattlesnake) was explained by someone comfortable in the woods.  What we see as unexciting (a new creek crossing) was viewed through the eyes of curiously cautious young turkeys.

The descriptions of days become the lyrics and prose of nature singing her song as the young birds pass through childhood.  We miss so much as we walk through the woods because we don’t know how to see through someone or something else’s eyes.  Hutto gives us this vision, offers us a new way to pass through nature.

The Death Valley 300 : Near Death And Resurrection On The World’s Toughest Endurance Course — Richard Benyo, 1991

If I understand things today (the moratorium of the Badwater™ ultramarathon is in effect as I type), Badwater-with-no-licensing ceased to exist a few years ago.  Benyo’s book is of a time many years earlier, when a phone call or letter was all that was needed to tell of an intended crossing.  There were just enough people interested that a record would be kept, information passed in small circles, and the simplicity of accepting one of nature’s challenges was meet.

This is history.  In today’s vernacular, it is a race report.  It is several race reports from a place most of us simply cannot imagine.  My wife and I have passed through Death Valley a half dozen times, maybe more.  We have ran there.  We have camped there.  Sitting in a campground while the thermometer registers 118º does little to create the sensation of running past the campground on a ribbon of baking asphalt.  Between the covers of The Death Valley 300 is all the imagery one’s mind needs, especially if that one has been to “the Valley.”  There are stories of early crossings; the crossings before anyone knew any of the science needed to understand the physiology of endurance running in extreme heat.

We took the book with us on one trip through Death Valley.  We stopped a few miles east of Lone Pine.  We looked westerly, picking out Mt. Whitney and thought about seeing it with all the hours and miles behind you–so close, so far, so near, so unreachable–and then the footsteps for some would continue on.  We stopped on Townes Pass, looked both ways and tried to find the appropriate pages for connection.  Wind whistled and burned us as we stood on road’s edge trying to hear the footsteps that Benyo described.  There were no trademarks and no fees, but there were echoes we could hear.

We stopped at Badwater itself, the point in the park that cannot be licensed.  The point that is 282 feet below sea level.  We did one more misconception experiment.  We ran for about thirty minutes in 120ºF bone-dry air.  Benyo would take us the other 145 or so miles with his typewriter as we turned the pages of an excellent reliving.

On a related note

Living on the Wind : Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds — Scott Weidensaul

Conversations With an Eagle : the story of a remarkable relationship — Brenda Cox



—– Run gently out there —–

Fort Ebey Trail Runs — February 2014

The approach to the start–what we call the upper prairie at the Gun Battery

The starting area from the Gun Battery

The beautiful background does not show the bending grass, the dancing tree tops, or the white caps on the waters of the strait.  The people watching from here are friends, family, or race staff.  Their concern with the wind will be real, but not met with the same emotions as that of the runners waiting down on the lower prairie.

The starting line -- Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympic Mountains as a backdrop.
The starting line — Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympic Mountains as a backdrop.
Looking southeasterly across the strait--runners getting anxious--two minutes to...
Looking southeasterly across the strait–runners getting anxious–two minutes to…
Run goes to walk as they go into the woods--returning 10k or a half marathon later.
Run goes to walk as they go into the woods–returning 10k or a half marathon later.


The bottleneck as prairie and picnic area leads to the trail.





...and they're gone.
…and they’re gone.

Kathy Vaughn leads UltraPedestrian Ras into the woods to one of our many insignificant hills.




Only to emerge a couple of miles mile later–coming off Kyle’s Kettle Trail and safely finding their way across to Raider Creek Trail.  There were even rescue dawgs available to drag the downed, dawdling, or dismayed back to the recovery area.

Crossing -- Kyle's Kettle to Raider Creek
Crossing — Kyle’s Kettle to Raider Creek


Just going where they were told to go... into the woods.
Just going where they were told to go… into the woods.

Betsy Rogers, Matt Hagen (trying to pass), and Lisa Wood lead a train off the endless stretch of pavement and head up Raider Creek–never to be seen again while I had a camera.

Volunteers -- the backbone of any trail run.
Volunteers — the backbone of any trail run.
Cedar Hollow Trail -- empty at the moment.
Cedar Hollow Trail — empty at the moment.

The sun coming through the trees on Cedar Hollow Trail. The beauty of our forests totally hiding the wind that was blowing steady at 25 and gusting to 40; a preview of what was coming from the southeast.




The end — not really.  There were over two-hundred runners.  The breezes at the start turned into serious wind as the day and miles passed.  It was the usual-unusual gathering of many people who smile a lot and cope with changing conditions.  I got to put faces to names, managed a few conversations, wished I could run with someone, anyone, just to share the joy and beauty of our trails.

Thank you all for making my day so much easier by taking care of the park while you were here.  I had almost no trash to pick up.  Race Director Mark Taylor and Northwest Trail Runs are to be commended for putting on the event while being considerate of our park.

—– Run Gently Out There —–

The Inconsistency of Shoe Sizes

In an uninteresting sort of note: As my feet grew accustomed to the running lasting longer and longer the sizes changed. When I started running I went from the size 10½ for the three types of tennis shoes I wore to size 11 in the two (NB 670 and Saucony Shadow) running shoes that were my beginning platforms.

At the end of the first year or so — one foot measured at 11¼; the other at 11½. I bought all shoes (NB, Sako, adidas, Saucony, Kangaroos, Avia, and Turntec) at size 12. It was all so simple with a somewhat uniformity of sizing across brands and models with brands.

About ten years later, the somewhat dainty left foot had increased to an even size 12. The other was at 12 3/8. There were almost no brands of shoes made in size 12½. My shoes of choice then were NB, Montrail, ASICS, and Brooks. All were bought in size 13. Adjustments for size variations were done with socks of varying thicknesses.

Time passed and a few shoes started making size 12½. I bought a few pair of adidas, Saucony, and Salomon (?) at 12½. The introduction of the 12½ created a heretofore unseen problem — sizing within a brand was different across models. I wore size 13 in Saucony Peregrine, but size 12½ in Saucony Kinvara. Why was there a difference within a brand?

Since 2010 I have taken advantage of close-out sales by rationalizing the use of shoes that aren’t quite the right size. There are several brands/models (but not all models within a brand) that I buy in size 12½, but — big but — I do not wear them for longer than three hours. They are comfortable, light, flexible, and all that stuff, but my feet fill them up during that last hour. Brooks, NB, and Saucony in size 13 are laced up for days when I expect to be out longer than three hours. The shoe with the designed-in rock plate or the homemade rock plate need is based on the rocks; friendly or pointy-side-up?

Shoe sizing is an arbitrary sort of thing, certainly not governed by an apparent uniformity of standards or quality control. I don’t worry a lot about drop and other design numbers, but size (mine, not the shoe’s) also comes into play. As the lighter materials, thinner soles, and overall flimsy-is-everything became more important, durability vanished. The days when I could [reasonably] expect many months and even more miles seem to be gone. I stay close to 200 pounds (14 stone for our New Zealand contingent) and today’s light, flexible, thin-soled shoes will not put up with the beating of the old clunky shoes of yesteryear (as recently as 2010). For our pilgrimage (el camino de Santiago) in 2004, I got a pair of Montrail Vitesse out of the box, wore them for about 600 miles across northern Spain, and then wore them for several more months as running shoes when we returned to the U.S. I think those long-lasting shoe days are gone forever.

 —– Run Gently Out There —–