Randomizing the Routine

My left calf is spasming at random. My spine feels misaligned. My muscles ache and my throat, nose and voice are still raw. It’s the day morning after a surreal few days, and I wonder to myself, “is this what my body will feel like when I’m 80 years old?”

And yet these are the symptoms I bring upon myself. Many of us do. The triathletes rash, the crossfitters blister, the joggers sprained ankle. Through use and abuse we push our bodies beyond the comfort zone to prove that goals are worth achieving and challenges are more meaningful when they’re difficult. When you focus on that, then the pain, exhaustion and discomfort become secondary. This a few weeks ago my goal was to participate in the Southern California Ragnar Relay, and trust me, there was plenty of pain, exhaustion and discomfort along the way.

Van 1 at the start #socalragnar #terramartribe #thighlightreel

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Ragnar Relays are a series of events in which teams of 12 people run a designated route in a series of individual legs. Once the race starts, one member from each team runs to a checkpoint where the second team member is awaiting a handoff, and the running continues so forth. I participated in the 2015 Southern California race between Huntington Beach and San Diego. Much like the increasingly popular Tough Mudder and Color Runs, Ragnar Relays appeal to active people seeking a novel experience, a physical challenge and camaraderie with teammates. Our team was split into two groups of six, each occupying a rented Chevy Tahoe.

My group crammed into our SUV with runners and gear and food and supplies in stow, and darted from checkpoint to checkpoint. We each of took a turn running as a cool Friday morning warmed up into the a hot afternoon. My first leg took me down a suburban bike path and along some industrial buildings, eventually crossing through some neighborhoods and ending at a local school. Along the way I got a some cheers of encouragement from a few strangers and a few high-fives from some random kids.

After handing off the snap bracelet (which acts as a baton), I caught my breath and headed back to the SUV. From there we drove to the next exchange, where the next runner was handed the baton. It continued like this for much of the day until all six of us had finished and the other SUV of six people took over for a few hours.

During this break, time seemed to slow down. After we had cooled off and changed clothes, the day seemed pass much more slowly. We stopped at a local burger place for lunch and drove to the start of the next round at a beachfront parking lot in Oceanside. A jukebox played random music as we enjoyed some fries, a few beers and a few rounds of darts at a local bar. Then the sun went down some of us went to the beach to lay down and relax.

Laying flat on the cold sand, hearing the waves crash and trying to stay warm, we chatted and watched planes cross the sky high above. I wasn’t able to get any sleep, but it was nice to be able to take a few moments and be still, quiet, and to experience something so unusual. We talked about the importance of keeping life interesting. We agreed that it’s good to find ways to break the routine and surprise yourself every once in a while.

Flash forward a few hours later I’m running down the sidewalk of a seemingly endless hill in the middle of some residential neighborhood near Vista, CA. I’m wearing my race-mandated reflective vest, my trusty Terramar Helix Tee and equipped with a headlamp and blinking taillight. It’s probably close to midnight as I pass the houses filled with sleeping families before climbing a very challenging hill, and ending at next exchange and my team.

It’s about 2am by the time the six of us are done with our second shift, and at this point we’re all very exhausted. After we parked at the headquarters of Taylormade Golf in Carlsbad, I grab a sleeping bag in hopes of getting a few hours sleep. I was directed to the “Designated Sleeping Area” by volunteers, located in the middle of a driving range across the street. The grass is wet with dew but I find a quiet spot, take off my shoes and start to relax.

PSSSSSSSTTTT Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick! Suddenly I’m jarred awake by a sound I don’t recognise, at first I think a neighbor’s air mattress has punctured. Then somebody yells “RUN!”, something you never want to hear when you’re sleeping or in a crowd for that matter. The sprinkler system had turned on and suddenly a oscillating jet of water was drenching everything in its path. Fortunately I was able to gather my things and scramble out of range, but some other people weren’t as lucky.

After the adrenaline of being jarred awake had passed, I set up in a new location, and moments later the entire scene repeated when different sprinklers kicked-on nearby. Grumpy and dead-tired I gathered my things and walk back to the parking lot on essentially zero sleep. I spent the rest of the night sitting on a curb and in line for hot chocolate, waiting for sunrise.

At about 5am our SUV’s group begins running again, commencing our final shift. At about 7 o’clock I was handed the bracelet and I ran into the early morning light. The air was cool, but clear, and it was a perfect morning for a jog. I ran due west and ended at the beach just north of Torrey Pines.

I think there’s something inside all of us that instinctively knows when the ocean is near. Maybe it’s the salt in the air or the flatness of the horizon, but when the hills became flat and grass turned into marsh, knowing that the ocean was around the corner was a huge motivation for the final push. I totalled about 14 miles during my the three runs in 19 hours, our team completing the 182 miles over 29 hours (197th place out of 732 teams).

Next morning, as I struggled to walk straight, I’m comforted by the memory of a crazy weekend. I have some photos, a finisher’s medal and a tee shirt, and the pride that comes with accomplishing something mentally and physically challenging. I’m not a rich man but what I do have is a treasure trove of life experiences. It’s times like these that add to my vault of memories, evidence of my unyielding desire to expand the resume of my life.

It seems I’m fueled by random. I see virtue in experiences that are strange, unexpected or challenging. Because when I’m 80 years old, my body slows and it’s my time to check out, I don’t want to regret a single missed opportunity. So as much as it sucks being awoken by a sprinkler in the middle of a golf course at 3 in the morning, I realize it could be worse – I could be at home in a warm bed like every other night that week.

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LA’s Backyard

Established over a hundred years ago and covering over 700,000 acres, the Angeles National Forest is a massive undeveloped area on the northern edge of LA’s sprawl. The forest contains the San Gabriel Mountains, several campgrounds and hiking areas. The numerous peaks and valleys, chaparral vegetation, quiet dessert-like climate and lack of development make you feel like you’re out in the wild, despite being less than an hour drive from downtown (depending on traffic of course!).

Looking West from Chilao Campground

Looking West from Chilao Campground

It’s a sharp contrast to the strip-malls and freeways, and also to the glitz and sparkle of the LA’s beach life. If the western-facing beaches are LA’s front yard, the quiet eastern peaks of the Angeles National Forest acts as it’s backyard.

And like the backyards of our youth, the forest is great for reconnecting with nature. Recently some friends and I spent a night camping at the Manzanita Loop of the Chilao Campground. We pitched our tents on soft sand on the leeward side of some rocks, protecting us from the occasional wind. We stoked a fire and enjoyed cold beers and watched the sun slowly paint the sky as it descended far across the valley and below the distant horizon. At an elevation of 5,300′ the temperatures dropped significantly as the night progressed, but my Terramar Climasense Ecolator layers kept me warm and dry, especially the 1/4 zip fleece and full zip hoodie.

Terramar's 1/4 zip fleece with

Terramar’s 1/4 zip fleece with dual surface knitting system (high loft grid channels for enhanced breatability and effective layering for cold weather)

Terramar Full Zip hoodie with heavyweight thermoregulation comfort technology kept me warm as the temps dropped

Terramar Full Zip hoodie with heavyweight thermoregulation comfort technology kept me warm as the temps dropped

The morning day we continued up Route 2 and did some hiking along the Islip Saddle, logging some (snowy) miles on the Pacific Crest Trail and stopping for lunch at the Little Jimmy Campground.

Who needs a bed when you've got views like these

Who needs a bed when you’ve got views like these

Although I’ve only visited a few times, I highly recommend visiting the Angeles National Forest for a scenic drive, a day hike, a backpacking trip or just to get out of the city. It’s a great resource for residents of Southern California and visitors alike alike, and serves the purpose of any great backyard – a place to go and play outside.

Elliott Smith Top 4

The cover of 'Figure 8'
The cover of ‘Figure 8’

Many consider Los Angeles, California the Entertainment Capital of the World. It is where people go to chase their dreams, to make it big.

Some stay, some go, some just pass through. Few leave their mark, many more don’t.

On Sunset Boulevard I recently visited a place where one musician has left his mark, even if he doesn’t know it.

You might not know the name Elliott Smith, but you’ve probably heard his music. He was heavily featured on the Soundtrack for “Good Will Hunting”. His style incorporates whisper-soft singing over simple acoustic guitar with lyrics that can be mellow yet haunting. Much of his music is both simple and complex, the sort of music that’s best enjoyed at night and while not distracted. 

The cover of his album Figure 8 is a black and white photo of Elliot standing in front of a mural of curved red and black lines. It’s pretty simple and straightforward, probably one of dozens of other promotional photos taken that day at various places near the music studio.

But like the cover of the Beatles’ Abby Road or Bob Dylan’s The Freewheelin’, this simple image and place has now become eternally linked with this artist and his music.

The wall is located on the South Side of Sunset Boulevard next to a McDonalds and a Mexican Taqueria, and recently I went to check it out.

2013-11-15 12.46.41The red and black swirling lines were accompanied by a combination of graffiti tags, tributes and lyrics. The wall has been painted, and repainted many times since the albums release in 2000 and become an ever-evolving place of expression for fans and as well as graffiti “artists”.

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Inspired by visiting the wall, I figured I’d put together a list of 4 of his songs I’ve enjoyed most over the years.

Junk Bond Trader – Figure 8

Unlike many of his other songs, this one is best listened to at a high volume.  In this relatively uptempo song the piano and bells drive a strong momentum. The song’s energy peaks towards the end, before seemingly being cut short. The energy is punctuated with this line at about the 2:50 mark:

Now I’m a policeman directing traffic, keeping everything moving, everything static.
I’m the hitchhiker you recognize passing, on your way to some everlasting…

St. Ides Heaven – Self Titled

This song paints a vision of world through a lens smeared by the effects of drugs and alcohol. It’s performed with the honesty of a man dealing with addiction and regret, and his voice and guitar tell the story of a guy walking alone late at night with cloudy vision. Through it you see a blurry vision of the moon above the artist and a darkness within.

High on amphetamines
The moon is a light bulb breaking
It’ll go around with anyone
But it won’t come down for anyone

Pitseleh – X/O

A prototypical example of the artist’s style, Pitseleh combines simple acoustic guitar, heartfelt lyrics, and whispering melodic singing. It’s the kind of song that easily melts into his other works, yet can stand up on its own.

The first time I saw you, I knew it would never last
I’m not half what I wish I was

Say Yes – X/O

Say Yes is the kind of song that sounds like it was recorded on a cassette tape sitting cross legged on the floor of an upstairs bedroom of a suburban home. The short song is full of lyrics which tap into the universal desire to be desired, doubtful optimism, and heartbreak. It’s stripped-down and clean, and the message boils down to a simple yet profound request – “say yes.”

I could be, another fool, or an exception to the rule
you tell me, the morning after.

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Griffith Park by night

Living the in the vast sprawl of Los Angeles, sometimes it’s nice to get away from the crowds and the freeways.

The other night a friend and I took a long hike all around Griffith Park to view the lunar eclipse.

I’ve hiked in Griffith Park before, usually under a hot sun on a clear day, but at night the park takes on a whole new feel. It’s more quiet, more empty and more wild. We heard birds calling in the distance and kept our eyes peeled for coyotes or snakes (fortunately we didn’t see either, although there were a few times when an errant tree branch appeared quite serpentine in the moonlight).

It was nice to be able to hike in the cool air, to look at the vast city below with it’s sparkling lights. Above the city helicopters flew low, planes flew high, the moon rose brightly until the vail of the eclipse – the reflection of all of earth’s sunrises and sunsets painting the moon amber and red.

We hiked about 6 miles, from 7pm-1am. I kept all my photo gear, snacks, water (and some bourbon) secure in my Lowepro backpack, and stayed warm with my favorite Terramar base layer.

I didn’t get any great photos of the moon that night, but I did get a few of the view.

This was my first hike by moonlight, but it certainly won’t be my last.

Griffith Observatory over downtown

Griffith Observatory overlooking Los Angeles

Downtown Los Angeles Skyline

Downtown Los Angeles by Night

Blur over downtown LA

A long exposure photo with motion blur

Food of the World in Los Angeles: Singapore

I stopped by Singapore’s Banana Leaf at the Farmers Market near the Grove the other day for a quick snack and some Malaysian food as part of my quest to eat local food from all over the world.
Banana Leaf at the Grove in LA

The Farmers Market is a part of the Grove, a huge complex in the heart of LA that has lots of stores and shops, restaurants, a food court and produce stands. It’s a cool place to window shop, see some unique things, do some shopping or grab lunch. We didn’t have a ton of time or much of an appetite so we just split a few apps – the Curry Puff (below) and a Roti Parathan.
Banana Leaf at the Grove in LA

The Puff was deep fried, filled with warmed seasoned vegetables and served with a delicious sweet chili sauce. The Roti was a warm, thin bread served with a coconut curry dipping sauce. Both were flavorful, but I bet the real action is in the main dishes, which I”ll have to come back and try.Banana Leaf at the Grove in LA

For more Food of the World of Los Angeles, check out my posts on the food of VietnamShanghai and Ethiopia.

Slice of the LA Fashion District

I did some xmas shopping this year in Los Angeles’ Fashion District, a sprawling complex of storefronts and warehouses near downtown where people buy and sell all kinds of stuff. It’s a real experience to walk through, one I recommend, especially Santee Alley.

Here are some photos I snapped after I finished shopping. They’ve been treated with a Photoshop Action called Winter Breeze which can be downloaded here.

 

Slice of the LA fashion district(click to enlarge)

15-Minute Phone Photography Excersize

I was motivated tonight to take some photos with my iPhone 4 while on a break at work. Earlier I’ve viewed a some interesting videos, specifically one about using ‘light’ as the subject of photography for a quick 15-minute exersize. Below are some of the pics I took around the Staples Center and LA Live.

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