Saturday, August 16, 2014

Bike tour gear: hammocking across the USA with Hammock Quilts gear review

Biking across any expanse of land will ask a lot of a person and her gear.  There isn't really volume on a bike to have sentimental items, superstitions, or luxuries.  If it's getting packed, it's getting used. In my case, I needed to sleep out safely in 20-30° weather to wake up refreshed enough to do it again the next day.

I chose a hammock system as my tent with amazing down quilts that nicely compliment my hammock and make it usable all four seasons.  Details and in depth reviews below.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Bike tour is pau, bring on the epilogue

I rode my bike from Long Beach, Washington to Hampton, New Hampshire and had 20 miles by crow's flight until I hit the Atlantic Ocean.  I stalled on that penultimate day and camped inland instead of making that hour and a half push to THE BEACH.  I needed one night more to collect myself and to come to terms with the fact that I was going to see the ATLANTIC and end this ride.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What I Saw of the Ultra D-Day Run

I made it to Omaha Beach, Normandy, France 70 years and three days after the Allies landed.  The scene today was of course beautiful, eerie, solemn, and hauntingly sober, but only because I knew a little of the history before I got there.  Otherwise you could possibly mistake it for any other ocean beach.  Shells and rocks in soft sand, a man flies a kite, children rough house and cry out SAVE ME! SAVE ME!, dogs splash in waves, boats launch to tow skiers and to go fish, houses encroach on the shore in a fight for amazing views, someone writes I LOVE YOU in the sand with a stick where the waves will soon wash it away.

I suppose life must go on and it does, even here among monuments, engraved sculptures, cement bunkers, and flags. 

On the beach just past the high water mark stood seven US flags on thin wooden rods with simple computer paper print outs.  PFC K. Mister and names of his fallen comrades stick out in a neat line as if to say seven of us charged the beach and were mowed down in this very formation.

It's clear these flags for each individual soldier are newly placed.  Someone some 70 years later has never forgotten who or where or how and has crafted these humble markers and traveled to plant them here.

I tear up for these men who are now 5x7" flags and a stapled strip of paper with Times New Roman size 12 font.  I cry for their friend who has never left Omaha Beach but returns like a sea turtle who finds the exact strip of sand to lay eggs.

In this way we continue to have sea turtles but we also continue to have fresh grief and remembrance for all who were at the Battle of Normandy.

I am torn between annoyance and relief at "regular life" stuff around these markers and monuments.  On the one hand, is not throwing a frisbee or BBQing on the beach here absolutely inappropriate?  On the other, is not freeing from the grip of violence to embrace and participate in all things not war even more wrong?

The I LOVE YOU in the sand seems at once distasteful and trite but also courageous and hopeful.  Either the person had no idea what beach this is or what happened here or they do and the knowledge of the horrors makes any and all expressions of compassion and nonviolence extremely powerful.

I two days I'll join thirteen other runners to run 100 miles along the sites and beaches of this battle and I know I'll come closer to an answer and understanding of living among ghosts.

permanent memorial at Omaha Beach, Normandy.


June 12th, 2014

We run at noon.  I woke up and put my team gear on.  I am wearing the USA flag and this is my first time representing the nation on an individual level--liberty ports abroad and military postings excluded.  I ate breakfast early and sat and talked with the other runners.  I and Audrey and Alvine Gentilhomme, the French twin runners, were to go to a school near the starting line and talk with a couple classes of school kids.  A class corresponded with me the length of my bike trip and I was going to finally meet them in person.

We made the 40 minute drive and I almost forgot I had a 100 miles to run later in the day.  I brought no food and little water and it was not brightest execution of a prerace fueling plan.  It was wonderful to meet the kids and they asked all sorts of questions about life with Bike.  They prepared hand drawn pictures and notes, some in English and some in French and gave them to me as they filed out of the room.  They were on their way to the starting line as well to participate in the send off.  I was very touched and was very grateful for their enthusiasm and bike art.

Alvine, Audrey, and I said aloha/au revoir to the kids and hopped in for a 15 minute ride to rejoin the rest of the runners.  We gathered at Utah Beach, the western and northern most point of our course to start the run.  The plan would be for the fourteen of us to stick together, behind a pacer, with various running clubs who would send runners in a relay.  I was curious to see how that would work out over one hundred miles as I find it damn near impossible to sync up two runners' bodies over a 20 mile training run but I left that to be a problem for when we started to get out of whack hopefully much later in the run.

We got the signal to start walking and we took off on the sand of Utah Beach, east and along the water.  We met up with a group of kids and each of us took a child by the hand and we walked to a field and a grandstand where much was said in French and I stood there and caught every tenth word or so.  Opening remarks complete by the mayors of the villages along the route and Laurent, the RD and head honcho.  We gathered around a field where we waited for Roland, another organizer, to parachute in with the flags of the US, Britain, France, Canada, Poland, Belgium, and Germany.  We watched him make a successful and safe tandem landing and the kids ran to collect the flags to present to us.  As a group again we ran with the flags of our nations briefly and got on with the miles--though once out of sight of the crowd Laurent's promise of a very special moment--a very special surprise-- came to life.  The fourteen of us loaded into a troop transport truck circa 1944 and we drove a couple kilometers to a trail head.

the fourteen ultra runners before the ultra running.  photo by UDDT staff

On with the miles

We ran down double track through farmers' fields.  Much of the pathway was cleared by the farmers themselves who not only granted use for this run but volunteered their time and equipment to make the route passable.  We ran along, us fourteen, pacers, relay runners, motorbikes with film crew.  There would always be company and cameras on this run, even on this rugged stretch.

At checkpoints we stopped and could refill bottles and grab food from our drop bags that we prepared the night before.  I felt like a runt of the litter as fourteen runners, our pacer, our entourage hit the aid station at the same time and made getting aid more like a land grab.  I needed to toilet badly but as there wasn't a facility, I had to make due while I waited for the feeding frenzy to calm down so I could return and grab my bag when there was less risk for death by stampede or Black Friday-esque shopping tragedy.  Is that wrong to compare these in light of the hallowed grounds on which we were?

We'd get the signal to get ready and always sent off with a shrill whistle blast.  The terrain was mostly roads and flat early on which was a shock to most of us I think as a lot of the runners were mountain trail types. 

We made it to the German Cemetery where we ran a couple loops for purposes of photographs and such.  At each site, one runner was to place sand from Utah Beach somewhere at the memorial and possibly answer questions with camera crews.  I walked around the cemetery and was amazed at the size.  Thomas, one of the German runners, told me there were 21,000 men buried here.  Twenty-one thousand.   I looked at the ages and headstones and from what I saw it was a lot of 19, 20, 22 year olds.  I saw a tragedy at every headstone and grave and could not care less if they were German or not.  With that much emotion welling in the German Cemetery, I knew the American Cemetery would be overwhelming.

The German Cemetery is off the coast a bit, back in La Cambe.  We left there and made our way back seaside by way of farm fields and stretches of France I know I'd never have seen otherwise.  Tall grasses and single track and electric fences and farm fields and back country roads...  We approached Point du Hoc from the south and prepared for another ceremony.  Point du Hoc made me lose it.  I walked away from the main group and looked down at the cliffs that tried to thwart the US Army Ranger Assault Group but instead was the rock face that the Rangers climbed to infamy and glory but at a highly lethal cost.  Surrounding the memorial and south of the cliffs, huge divots in the earth are still visible from the shells blasts from the US Navy.  The earth has not filled those in yet in the 70 years since the rounds exploded.  It was hard to be there and stand where shells landed and bullets left and keep my composure.  To see a battlefield years later with only placards and obelisks as historical markers is one thing, but to see the unmistakable hallmarks of violence and know you're standing where young men died and killed is a haunting and crushing experience.

We were gathered and again shot off along the coast towards the next check point.  My good friend and American compatriot did not make the start so I knew I had a 100% chance of being selected as the runner who places the sand for the cameras.  As we approached the climb up to the American Cemetery, I overheard a complaint from someone-- why is it the US cemetery is the only one with rules? You're not allowed to run or lay in the grass or picnic here.  I didn't bother with a retort out loud but I was grateful there was a forced guideline for decorum.

We walked up a steep path to the entrance and I was already overcome with emotion before I saw a headstone.  I worked to keep my shit together because we still had a long way to go for the rest of the run, but the initial glimpse of the rows and rows of white crosses, standing in a perfect formation together, hit me.  

There is a huge statue of a very muscular, powerful, sculpted man with his arms and eyes stretched skyward and is surrounded by tall columns.  There were still flags and flowers at the foot of the sculpture, likely left over from the anniversary.  I took my handful of sand from the beaches that likely could have been the last thing a lot of the guys in the graves behind me saw.  What do you do that could possibly be a fitting enough thank you or apology to those guys?  With many tears, I placed the heap of sand at the base of the statue, propped up a simply crafted American Flag in it, and placed a kiss at the sculpture's base.

Behind me stood 9,837 soldiers, likely most of them younger than me when they died.  More of their comrades were shipped home to be buried in accordance with their family wishes, and more still fought further campaigns and died later in the conflict.  Nine thousand, eight hundred and thirty-seven men of the thousands more now stand the forever watch.  At this post they are symbolic and stern and will never stand relieved.

One can argue that these deaths of these young men in armed conflict and in service to our nation were perhaps the most justified of any in war, but there is no amount of ceremony, heroic artwork, flag waving, or impassioned speeches that makes me see anything other than tragedy at each of these sites.

As a veteran of a passive aggressive war ground out on the waters of the Arabian Gulf, I can not pretend to understand the depths of terror these men witnessed.  As a sister to an Iraq vet and a friend to plenty who've gone and come back from Iraq and Afghanistan, I see second hand the impacts of violence.

My heart breaks for each of those men buried in France, and their loved ones, but also for the Germans that killed them.  There is tragedy in every casualty and every shell blast and every round fired. I care not for direction the shells traveled.

The Superintendent of the American Cemetery and I spoke at length about the place and he thanked me for coming over to France to do this run.  Cameras zoomed in and I was not at all doing this for any record or performance and felt slightly violated and trod upon during such an overwhelming moment.  I thanked the supe for his careful watch over this place, and long after the main body of runners and cameras left to make the mile or so to the checkpoint, I hustled out of there not quite ready to say good bye to the 9,837 guys left on that bluff.

photo by Michel Rama.  Me and the supe at the US cemetary
 That for me was truly the culminating moment of the entire event.  I knew some of the history of the sites we traveled past and felt deeply at each nation's cemetery.  The Brits in Bayeux, the Canadians at Beny-sur-Mer...At each checkpoint there was a memorial or a historically significant (today) tactically vital feature (1944) that inspires tourist attractions and cafes (today) and extreme, focused, direct, all out violence (1944).  It is hard to hold both these in the same space, but in 70 years I suppose we must all move on.

It was invigorating to see the towns and villages celebrate the liberators still almost a century later.  Flags of America, Britain, Canada, Belgium, Poland, and France hung from streets and in shop windows.  I watched as people who lived in an occupied France truly celebrate freedom, earned with blood from allied nations.  To see their gratitude and sheer relief at being free French restored my patriotism in a way I never thought possible.  I remembered why as an idiot high schooler I felt called to service and I think it was because of the stories and feats of men in service through all our conflicts--that legacy I wanted something in common with.  Ours is a different time however, and my participation in the military does not leave me feeling the hero or just.  I can almost forgive myself for my hand in the second Gulf War because I joined initially out of respect for the legacy the greatest generation left us and believed I needed to serve and contribute.  I didn't question the morality of it didn't see much of a difference in necessity between fighting the nazis and fighting terrorism.  I went and learned to question and if nothing else, I've taken away a profound respect for those that bring about and maintain peace.

Our finish line was in Caen.  We ran through thousands of cheering children.  I don't know that Justin Beiber makes a more excited or attended arrival.  We ran and slapped hands with the thousands of kids on our way to the memorial to raise  our nations' flags together as a token of hope for a peaceful future.

finish.  photo by Ultra D-Day

As I have returned back to the US from France and seen the long standing effects on the earth and a people, I have strengthened my commitment to a non-violent life.  There might be some cause some day that must be quelled with arms, but my hope would be to keep national guardsmen stacking sandbags in preparation for a hurricane and our navy and marines jetting off to respond to humanitarian crises.  I don't know how much an apology from one human, 80,90 years late does for anyone, but maybe I'll make it an apology to the future.  I'm sorry for the violence we allow to happen and that we then justify with our participation.  I'm sorry that memorials paint our fallen as heroic dead, immortalized with sacrifice like an immaculate transformation from human to legend.  This will be a stretch, but a month after you run a hundred miler, you have a belt buckle to show for your efforts and your foul stench, the physical devastation, the floated prayers and pain and WHY THE FUCK IS THIS HAPPENINGs are gone and forgotten.  In this way we remember our war dead.  Beautiful, pristine, white head stones and lists engraved in stones in small towns across the country and medals sent home and mounted on walls.  We call up our friends and say hey remember when, and the worst bits seem to be the funniest.   We tell young people aw go join a running club/the service because it'll give you discipline, and thus the cycle continues. 

I wish to see a sterner warning of the true human toll.  There is no glory from war and there are no marches or solemn taps that can possibly make the loss of a son or daughter worth "it" to a family.  I wish we would display the gruesome lessons from millennia of war.  I am a simple person and I concede there are forces bigger than my possible grasp of the world and geo-political dynamics.  I am sure there is no such simple solution to tensions around the world and sadly think world peace is as far away from us as it has ever been.  In that light, why not give the people a hero?

To K. Mister and his comrades who died on the beaches of Normandy, to the French, Germans, Polish, British, Canadian, Italian, humans who died as individuals embroiled in international conflict because they had to be there, your sacrifice is freshly remembered and mourned by me.



What I Saw of the Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run


Pre-Race, 17-18 July

I pedaled from Washington to Vermont and the only thing between me and the beach was the Vermont 100 mile endurance run and a few days' ride to the shore.  I took a break from my cross country bike tour to run the Vermont 100 mile endurance run.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Vermont post race

I finished the Vermont 100 yesterday and am overall very, very, very happy with the experience.  I came in search of a reset and restart for my ultra career and I think I did that.  I was 0% DNF, 100% in a good head space, and impressed with super quads from all that biking.  I am most happy with this: I set a time goal and missed it by hours and crossed the finish line anyway happy to be there (I'd heard rumors of seats and cots and the promise land did not disappoint) and didn't care to pick apart "mistakes" from my run.  I ran well, had to show some grit when stuff got gnarly, and didn't give a damn about finishing times while I was in it.  If I wanted to keep a conversation going, I slowed to stay with some incredible people in a low or two (both theirs and mine).  I actually managed to enjoy the miles.  It's been a while since I've run like that and with this tenth finish, I remember why I was called to do that first one.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Aloha to Austrailian Marathon Magazine Readers!

A while back someone contacted me about using a piece for their magazine and the day has come that it's now published out there in the internet!  I am excited to finally be a "published writer" and grateful for the opportunity to be in touch with more runners and readers.  I will soon be in need of a major project with the bike tour almost done and I'm thinking getting fast and reliable at the marathon might be it.  I'll be tracking down internet advice and training plans soon.  Let's be friends, Marathon Running.  

Pre Race: Vermont 100

Bike will take it easy while I race the VT100
 As Hardrockers limp away to ice their wounds and rehash stories of ridiculous endurance and mountain weather, those of us running the Vermont 100 enjoy a week left of fitness and non-swollen legs.  I'm excited and think it's for real this time.  My headspace differs from previous races in recent past because I'm not here because I forced myself or because I "need to."  I'm here because I have developed ridiculous quads and need to put these bad girls to use for good not evil. 

I'm excited. 

I got to hike a 17 mile leg of the AT (Appalachian Trail) yesterday with some thru hikers and I was happy with my fitness and how great it felt to be back on trails in the woods.  I really love mountains and forests and singletrack.  Every time I wear a headlamp at camp I get all twitterpated.  It's time to run a 100. 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Be fearless--DNFs are the end of a race not the world

C2M tried to warn me but it's taken 3 years...
Ay mate it's not the end of the world.  I am so glad I got that out of my system.  There is something so corny about Thomas Edison's thousands of attempts to make a lightbulb before he finally made one.  Sure sure if he quit at attempt 208 he'd never have gotten there, ostensibly someone else would have, and we'd never have those damn overly sentimental posters that say things like but now we have thousands of ways to not make a lightbulb.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Gem of Bike Tour Travels--Mill City Running

Minnesota became my midwestern oasis almost immediately upon crossing the western border.  No hard grudges against South Dakota, but I found Minnesota to be much more enjoyable and chock full of good people.  I also got my running legs back there, largely because I broke down and decided that it was time to get a pair of running shoes again.  I had the Ultra D-Day run coming up and I wasn't comfortable with the idea of a 100 miler off of thousands of cycling miles so I asked the google who sold running shoes in Minneapolis--specifically Altras which can be hard to find.