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.

A visit to Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park, located a few hours north east of Los Angeles, is a part of the country I’ve always wanted to visit. It’s a massive national park that encompasses many natural wonders, including the lowest elevation point in North America (282 feet below sea level). It’s a place with the hottest recorded temperature (134 F), and given it’s remoteness and lack of development, it sorta feels like another planet.

I recently spent the day exploring the park and doing a few short hikes.  Because it was January, the cooler weather allowed me to test out some Terramar Sports base layers in the field.

Death Valley National Park

The valley floor is about 5,000 feet below

After driving for about 2 hours from the Las Vegas strip, I entered the park from the east on Route 190. Our first stop was Dante’s View, a viewpoint atop a series of switchbacks. Looking down at Death Valley and the surrounding mountains, it’s hard to get a sense of scale, but easy to get a sense of the park: vast, quiet, dry and still.

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Looking northwest from Dante’s View in my Climasense Ecolator 1/4 Zip

I was happy to have an extra layer at Dante’s view because the wind was blowing strong and steady, and my blue Terramar 1/4 zip worked out great. After a short hike and some photos, we continued to the valley floor, some 5,000 feet below.

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Looking north at Badwater Basin

After a brief stop at Furnace Creek ranch, we continued south to Badwater Basin – the lowest point in North America and the site of vast salt-flats.

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Salt and mineral deposits in Badwater Basin

Here the wind was gone, the sun beat down, and I could only imagine the unrelenting heat that one must feel during the summer. We walked around and took photos, and my green Terramar dry-fit Helix Tee kept me cool and comfortable (and visible!).

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Wondering around and keeping cool at Badwater Basin in my Terramar Helix Tee

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Fun fact: salt flats taste salty!

A highlight of the trip was a detour along Artists Drive, a 9-mile loop through multi-hued volcanic and sedimentary hills.

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View along Artist’s Drive

“This is a place that hints of secrets, that tucks its beauty deep inside narrow canyons, buries its treasures beneath tones of earth, hoards its water beneath the soil. And continues to attract a never-ending stream of humans intent upon wresting those secrets from their hiding places. In the process, they venture far into dark, secluded canyons. They dig deep into the earth. They explore holes in the ground. And as some seek riches, others search for the mysterious. The unknown. The Mythical.” – John Soennichsen

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Death Valley National Park

Near the center of the park we visited Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, a beautiful and picturesque collection of dunes and brush, the highest one is about a hundred feet tall.

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Dunes in central Death Valley near Stovepipe Wells

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Exploring the dunes in my Terramar Ecolator 1/4 Zip

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Our final stop was a trailhead down a long, unpaved road on the western edge of the park. Racing the sunset we started a short, flat hike up a canyon to a creek bed. The dry earth slowly became a trickle of water, then a small stream, and eventually a series of pools and small cascades. Hoping between rocks and scrambling over a few boulders, we ended our hike at a waterfall called Darwin Falls. The water was flowing, and it was a nice quiet place to sit for a few minutes before leaving the park. On our way back to the park we even saw a bat circling some water, no doubt searching for a sunset snack.

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I recommend visiting the park to anyone who cherishes the outdoors in one of it’s purist forms, however I’d recommend spending at least one night in the park because it’s so large.  For those interested in learning more about the ecology, history and inhabitants of Death Valley I highly recommend Live! From Death Valley by John Soennichsen

Panorama Trail

And here I sit in the sun on a wide, smooth, sloping rock.

 

Before me flows the river. Clear and cold, home to fish and smooth stones, inviting sweaty hikers to dip their dusty feet and welcoming me for a quick dip to cool down and clean off.

 

Straight ahead is the forest. Thick and full, green with moss and leaves, trees, grey and brown and red, others dead and bleached paled by the sun.

 

To the left a scramble of stones, piled upon each other and scattered, slowing the water into pools and trickles, the sound is soothing enough for me to nap in the sun for a few minutes.

 

Squirrels creep about in search of food, tiny lizards and frogs enjoy the rocks near the waters edge. Blue feathered birds bounce from tree to tree.

 

To the right beyond the sandy shallows is a small foot bridge, another of the thousands of photo opportunities, It acts as the final gateway for this tranquil water before gravity leads to a violent drop, Nevada Falls. Even in September, during this historic 2014 drought, the water flows.

 

Beyond the falls lay the Yosemite Valley. Hard to absorb in scale and mass, its walls and trees and river and cliffs simply astound those lucky enough to visit.

 

Behind me Liberty Cap blocks my view of Half Dome, other worldly these granite monuments stand, grey and green against the deep blue above.

 

This place, this rock, this experience is special. I hope to return to this rock again one day. And to continue to be astonished by the natural world and it’s beauty.
Alex and Andrea are awake now, so it’s time to hike down the winding granite steps to the shuttle then the car then to campsite 144 for cold beer, a refreshing swim in the river, hearty dinner and wine by the fire.

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

Paragliding in Santa Barbara

Last summer I made my first visit to Santa Barbra California and I was blown away by the beauty of the entire area. I’ve been all up and down the east coast from Maine to Key West, all over Florida, the gulf coast, San Diego to Big Sur, and I’ve spent some time in the Pacific Northwest coast but Santa Barbara might be the most beautiful part of the country I’ve seen. Big, majestic mountains surround the charming and clean town.  Picturesque palms line bike paths and parks, sailboats fill the harbor and there are wide, bright beaches everywhere. Combine that with near perfect weather and the vibrancy that comes along with a few local colleges, and you have a pretty special place.

Palms at Sunset in Santa Barbara

Palms at Sunset in Santa Barbara

It was biking along one of those palm lined paths one day when I I looked up to see a few people flying above one afternoon, suspended below a parachute like contraption and gently gliding back and forth above the beach.

This, I thought, looks likes fun.

When they landed I asked them what they were up to and how to get involved. Here’s the definition according to everyone’s favorite source, wikipedia:

Paragliding is the recreational and competitive adventure sport of flying paragliders: lightweight, free-flying, foot-launched glider aircraft with no rigid primary structure.[1] The pilot sits in a harness suspended below a fabric wing consisting of a large number of interconnected and baffled cells. Wing shape is maintained by its suspension lines, the pressure of air entering vents in the front of the wing and the aerodynamic forces of the air flowing over the outside.

The guys explained there was a company that does training for beginners right up the road, and to check out there website. So that day I learned more about Eagle Paragliding, did some more research and started to get excited.

A few months and a few emails later and my buddy Mike and I made the trek “up the hill” at Elings Park to join Eagle Paragliding for a full day lesson.

View of the Sky and the Pacific from the top of the hill at Ellings Park

View of the Sky and the Pacific from the top of the hill at Elings Park

After filling out a ton of paperwork and waivers, we got fitted for gear (helmets, radios, harnesses and wings) and the instructors demonstrated how it all works together. In it’s simplest terms, you strap your legs, waist and chest into a big, padded backpack that’s connected through a series of cords (risers) at the hip to a wide parachute style wing that inflates when you give it a pull into the wind and provides the lift you need to stay air bound. You control your speed and direction with pressure on these hip connections and also by pulling on hand levers that act as “brakes”.

We watched the instructors inflate the wings a few times by running forward and maintaining the right amount of pressure and force on the wing, then we each gave it a shot a few times.

Strapped into the harness, getting a feel for the risers, brakes and wing

Strapped into the harness, getting a feel for the risers, brakes and wing

Building "the wall" with the wing.

Building “the wall” with the wing.

Getting the wing ready to fly takes a lot of practice. One method for spreading it out evenly is to let it catch the wind for a second to “build a wall” before letting it lay flat on the ground before takeoff. But one of the trickiest parts was keeping control of the wing once it left the ground. It seemed very touchy – one second its floating evenly the next second its a wrinkled ball of nylon and string all bundled up. But after practicing we got a better idea of how to control it by feeling the pressures and making slight adjustments.

We then sat at the forward edge of the hill and had a preflight briefing. Here we talked about take off, flight plans, turning in the air and landing. At this point, after training for about an hour and a half, we prepared to make our first launches into the sky.

At this point I’m thinking to myself, is this safe?  I thought I had a good understanding of how it all works, but the idea of flinging myself into the air, completely reliant on this equipment and my own abilities to control it was a little daunting.

But, like the kid at the top of an intimidating sledding hill or the teenager behind the wheel alone for the first time: At some point the only way to learn is to do.

And so, we did.

Inflating the wing

Inflating the wing

Running toward the instructor at full speed until the wing lifts and inflates with air, we push forward until the wing speed and our speed match, push forward until it’s even and steady, and push until it creates enough lift that your feet leave the ground and you’re suspended 6 inches, 12 inches, 6 feet, 20 feet above the air.

And then, you’re flying.

Getting up to speed

Getting up to speed

Feeling the lift and take off

Feeling the lift and take off

Floating towards the Pacific

Floating towards the Pacific

 

Stepping into the foot rest and harness

Stepping into the footrest and harness

Enjoying the views, making turns

Prepping for the landing approach

Prepping for approach

Touchdown

Touchdown

Once you’ve made your first flight, your only thought is to gather your gear, get to the van as quick as you can for a ride back up the hill and do it all over again!

My buddy Mike in flight

My buddy Mike in flight

We did about 6 flights before lunch and about 6 after, and had a great time.

It was a really good chance to try something new and unique, enjoy nature and push our bodies to try something we’ve only seen James Bond or Batman do in the movies.

I think it’s also good to do something every once in a while that scares you a little bit. Find the edge and cross it. It’s not often we do that these days, but I think its important to figure out what your capable of. That, and its just fun.

Anyway, big thanks to the good folks at Eagle and my buddy Mike for joining and taking some photos.

Time to get off the computer for a bit, but stay tuned!