(hopefully) becoming a runner part 1

It all started when I read “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall. No, not really, it didn’t start there nor have I ever read the book which from my knowledge talks about how humans are uniquely born to run. It started because I wanted to have more stamina for kayaking with Mallory in the various bays and rivers we have in Northern California. With kayaking being mostly limited to the longer summer days, I also needed to find a way to remain active during the winter months. Since I got hit by a car while cycling, I haven’t been able to find the same drive with cycling that I once had. I thought maybe running could fill this empty hole that cycling had left.

I find my emotional state is directly tied to how much physical activity I have in a day and now that I’ve worked in an office for the past 6-7 years instead of outside at a plant nursery, it’s more important than ever to stretch, stay nimble, and get my heart rate up. I played a lot of team sports growing up and running was something we had to do but did not want to do. It was only until high school where I discovered cross country running. I never joined cross country team but I was inspired by the trail running shoes and running races through tough terrain. It was hiking on steroids! From there, I dated several people who were into running whether it was triathlons or strictly running for the joy of it. Time to time I would run for fitness (a couple miles here and there) and I also ran a few small 5ks but nothing beyond that.

Like anything in life, we like to think the ideas we have are our own but in reality, it’s probably a mix of self-interest and what we’ve been exposed to through others we’ve come in contact with. I’d say most of the time , we need to know something exists before we have interest in it. We find out it exists through others. It may and is typically not an immediate response, you might be exposed to something over years and then finally, it clicks, you start to pursue this thing. At that moment, you think, “Ah, what an original idea” but in reality, it’s because you’ve been exposed to it over time.

As I began down my running path, I learned my 40 dollars shoes although better than most would not cut it which began my dive into the tech side of the running industry. There is plenty to buy in the world of running and plenty of stuff that’s probably not necessary. From my research, what I found necessary is a good pair of shoes. This pair of shoes would help me avoid injury, run faster, jump higher, just like the PF Flyers in Sandlot (if you haven’t seen the film, please watch). OK, maybe not jump higher but definitely avoid injury and run faster. Avoiding injuries is something that has become increasingly important for me in my 30s. When fitting running shoes, I learned that you need to go up a size or at least have a thumbnail space because your feet swell on a run and normally throughout the day. I should know this from all the backpacking I do but I guess I just dealt with it. After searching reviews, youtube, and all other corners of the internet I decided on the Saucony Endorphin Speed, the 2019 running shoe of the year.

Now equipped with a new pair of flashy running shoes, I set off on my first runs. Typically around 2 miles in length. I found my pace to float around 9 minutes and 30 seconds a mile (~5:54 a km). It seemed slow to me but it was encouraging. I found it hard to fit running into my routine, even 30 minutes felt like so much time. It seems making something routine is a hard thing to do. I hoped by starting small, I wouldn’t get burned out. I remember when I started meditating and 2 minutes felt like an eternity but I was able to work up to 20-30 minute long meditations. And just like meditation, the longer the experience, the more benefit I was able to achieve. That runner’s high is no joke, I never feel bad emotionally after a run. It’s always, “I’m glad I did that.”

Being my competitive self, I wanted to experience growth and improvement rapidly. I wanted to increase my mileage quickly. I wanted to get faster ASAP. With this drive to improve at a rapid pace, I would start to run into issues, no pun intended. The push to become a “better” runner hurt my progress as I soon to develop various injuries. Notice the word better is in quotes because a better runner doesn’t necessarily mean getting fast quick, it means knowing your body and having patience. A lesson I would learn again and again on my path to becoming a runner.

Part 2 coming soon…

clam chowder, a crab sandwich, a hike, and some quiet

I’ve now been back living in Sonoma County for a year and ever since I moved back we’ve been wanting to get down to Spud Point Crab Company to get a crab sandwich and some chowder. Unfortunately, the lines can be very long on the weekend so we often pass it up in favor of something cooked out of our camper van. Fortunately, we both happened to be free on a Friday, a not so busy day on the coast compared to the weekends.

When a three day weekend is on the calendar, I find it nice to really take advantage of the first day. It sets up the stage for a fulfilling weekend. One of those weekends where you wake up on Saturday morning thinking it’s Sunday only to realize you have another day to enjoy without the pressures of work. We decided to take full advantage of our Friday and head to the coast for a rare meal out and a nice quiet hike.

Mallory taking Betty down for her first taste of ocean water at Coleman Beach, Bodega Head.

For us, it’s pretty simple to get to the coast. It involves no turns, just a willing old van. Lately I’ve been having a mysterious power draw while the van is off so I was happy when I turned the key and it started after two weeks of being parked. With Betty in tow, we loaded up the van for a trip to the coast and to catch that elusive crab sandwich that has evaded us for so many months.

We’ve been in the middle of a little oh so common January heat spell which made for a powerful sun that burned off any fog by the time we reached the coast. It was a beautiful day on along the coastline with offshore winds spraying off the lip of crashing waves. We passed Goat Rock State Park where there are opportunities to rock climb and skirted by Salmon Creek where a few surfers were out catching waves. A couple miles passed Salmon Creek and you come to the turn for Bodega Head. Previously, a place for potato farms,once a proposed nuclear site and now a state park.

Along this road you’ll drive along Bodega Bay, a pocket of protected water from the crashing waves of the Pacific. Crab pots stacked high on both sides of the road, harbors with new and old fishing boats, a few seafood restaurants, kayakers deploying crab traps and fishermen trying their luck from the banks. It’s a beautiful place that can get pretty busy on the weekends but was only moderately active on this Friday before noon.

Mallory chomping down on Spud Point’s crab sandwich.

We decided we would hike before our meal in the state park that you can find at the end of the road but those plans changed when we saw no dog signs. Coleman Beach allowed dogs so we stopped there and Betty got her first taste of ocean water. The wind was strong, enough that it blew us right back into the warm confines of the van and down the road for an earlier than expected meal at Spud Point. Surprisingly, there was parking and there was only one person in line. A rarity and it seemed our time had finally come. Two New England style clam chowders and a crab sandwich to split. We drove up the road to a pull out and enjoy our meal looking out over Bodega Bay. The clam chowder had a kick and was quite delicious. The crab sandwich was delicious too but maybe not as good as I remembered. Side note, these days, we often struggle to eat out because we can cook up some pretty good meals at home that can match what we get at restaurants (at least to our palates!) and save money while doing so. Still, we were satisfied and our bellies were warm. It was a nice treat to enjoy together and Mallory got to have her first taste of Spud Point Crab Company.

Crab sandwich from Spud Point Crab Company.

We then took Coleman Valley Road, a well known road in these parts that starts on the cliffs at the coast and rises through farmland while offering scenic vistas as far as the eyes can see. Off this road, you’re able to access one of the trailheads into the Willow Creek preserve. Here we got to enjoy a nice 6.5 mile loop that gave us respite from the constant wind we experienced on the coast. The trail is surrounded by Oak, Fir, and Bay forest with ferns and mushrooms coating the understory. One thing we noticed relatively quickly was the absence of noise. This was a hike that was truly medititave. Big breaths, sighs of “I’m here,” were common as we weaved our way through this beautiful preserve.

Trailhead sign for Willow Creek preserve off of Coleman Valley Road, Occidental, CA.

After the hike we dropped down into the small town of Occidental before making our way to Mimi’s Ice Cream in Sebastopol to top off an excellent day with Mimi’s Mud (Mallory’s favorite flavor of ice cream). A beautiful start to our three day weekend.

saturday morning, a cup of coffee and some seeds

I love an early morning, a fresh cup of coffee and day wide open to meander around the house with no plans. Opening the door, I can see the fog hanging low around the houses, the sun peeking over the tufts of trees and the cold air kissing my face. This isn’t the same scene at 2PM. No, this is only a view your treated with if you happen to be an early riser.

A common foggy morning.

I am not one to get bored at home. I don’t need plans to enjoy a day. No, quite the contrary. A day where the plan is to not have a plan. There is always a long list of different projects I can get my hands in. Whether it’s braising some meat throughout the day in the Dutch oven, fixing some steps, organizing tools, researching the next campsite or run.

Using a chopstick to help with seeding. This chopstick was part of a set given to us from a chef in Chicago. Notice the inlay. These little things make my heart smile.

This morning was devoted to getting some seeds planted. All cold weather veggies, flowers, and herbs. Although it’s the middle of January, I can get them started in the house and transplant outside. We’ve been getting kissed with light frosts but nothing that would kill the seedlings. They may grow slow during these months but sometimes I’m surprised the growth that will occur. In California we seem to have warm stretches scattered through the winter and we happen to be in one now. Days in the high 60s, even low 70s. Bad for drought, bad for fire season but great for plants that get to take as a stage of all the early season rain.

The trusty plastic melitta pour over has been with me for ten plus years. There’s something special about getting years of use out of a tool.

You can’t beat taking care of a task and drinking that first cup of coffee only to look up at the clock and realize it’s only 8am. These are the days that I cherish. I’m so blessed to have the life I have, to live around such beauty and to be surrounded by people (and dogs) that I love dearly. The regular ol’ day is a great day.

Solutions through “Problems”

Moles have been wrecking havoc and creating mounds throughout our small lawn. They turn up the soil and create mounds that will inevitably get sucked into our electric mower as it dulls the blade and creates a bare chunk of grass. The moles like to dine on what’s living underneath the soil such as worms and our soil has a lot of worms! Being in the flood zone along the Russian River, each flood deposits rich soil on our property, long before a house was built on this land.

We decided early on to live with the moles instead of trying to trap them, exterminate them, or buy one of those beeping deterrents off Amazon (they don’t work, for moles or gophers!). Also, because we grow our lawn organically and let the clippings compost, this soil is prime which gave me the idea to grab my shovel. I noticed the soil in these mole mounds was nicely turned, rich, soft and dark. I started to take a shovel to these mounds and deposit these pilings into a large container.

I then built a small sieve out of some leftover 1/4″ hardware cloth and some reclaimed 2x4s. Sifting this soil and adding some vermiculite made for the perfect potting soil and seed starting mix.

Soil Sieve built from leftover materials.

You can not buy this quality of soil through a bag at a store. Meanwhile, once the mound is leveled, I reseed the area and wait for the grass to grow back. It seems the moles in our area are more active in the winter. In the summer, when the lawn is used most, we don’t see many if any mole mounds being created.

Adding vermiculite to make the soil lighter, have more air, and retain water.

So, a problem turned into a solution. We now have great potting soil without leaving the house. Often the approach is to get rid of rodents, insects, like the cabbage moth eggs underneath the kale but when we do this, we are not seeing the bigger picture. I can let a few kale leaves have holes to have my other plants have a few extra pollinators (those eggs turn into butterflies). I can let some bad insects live without spraying because I know the predatory insects will begin to show up without the use of pesticides. I can live with moles because we don’t need a perfect lawn and now they’ve become our little soil farmers.

Yummy looking soil.

Note: If you want sterilized seed starting mix, try checking out this article on SFgate with some tips. It involves using an oven, steam or a microwave.

Note 2: If you don’t have Moles in your yard turning up your soil, you can use compost you made or soil you know is not contaminated. Sift the soil, add vermiculite and boom!

I’m a Morning Person

As most of my friends would attest to, I’m a morning person. Even in my party days, I’d be the first one up and about the next day. There’s something special about the mornings and a new day, a blank slate.

Have you ever been on one of those road trips that required you to wake up before dawn? Seeing the sun peak over the horizon as you drive to a fun destination. Often that’s a fishing or backpacking trip for me. A good early morning doesn’t always need a road trip. It can involve a nice cup of coffee, some good reading, a nice meditation, or a glowing fire.

I love those days where you feel like you’ve had a whole day of experiences before the clock hits noon. Of course, these days can require you to go to bed early to still get a full night’s rest but that’s not an issue for me typically. Night owl I am not. Maybe I’m the morning chickadee, the hummingbird thirsty to start the day.

I can remember when I moved into a straw bale constructed house and I was without power for two weeks as we set it up. Without lights, I found it hard to stay up an hour past sunset. I was more in line with rising and falling of the sun. There was something special about that. Something I enjoyed greatly and it just felt right.

Thich Nhat Hanh alongside Martin Luther King Jr.

This mantra I’m about to share is one I try to say each morning. I’ve probably shared this before but that’s only because I find it so valuable. It’s from the late Thich Nhat Hanh who recently passed away a few days ago. A great teacher who championed important causes like alongside Martin Luther King and beyond. A Buddhist monk who helped bring mindfulness to America and teach many to focus on the present and our breath. To be grateful, to enjoy each day, to not judge our emotions, and many other simple but profound ideas that just make sense to me.

“Waking up this morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.”

― Thich Nhat Hanh

Even if I do no meditation, that gives me a short pause before my thoughts rush to fill my newly awaken brain. Here’s to a new day!

Garden First, Fridge Second

A quick trip in the garden to retrieve some kale for omelettes.

Instead of reaching for the fridge to make my meals, I try to think about what I can incorporate from the garden. It’s worth taking those extra steps down to the garden to pick even the smallest of plants, a sprig of thyme, a few kale leaves, or green onions. No matter if most of my meal is store bought, it’s nice to get into the practice of going into the garden to pick our food. Not only do I get the benefits of fresh air and movement but I get to see how the plants are doing and what bird feeders need to be filled up. If the birds haven’t reminded me already! The addition of some greens or zucchini to a meal can stretch out store bought ingredients to make a cheap and healthy meal.

There’s no denying that a meal solely from the garden is something special but it’s also nice when the topping to a meal is from the garden such as some basil or parsley sliced thinly to give us some green to our meals. Sometimes we can feel lazy about going outside to grab some herbs for a meal but take the moment as a gift to explore the open air, the soil beneath your feet and our connection to this earth.

One egg breakfast omelette with home baked bread.