Sunday, December 16, 2012

20 CHILDREN, 20 STONES

AT Overlooking Kent, CT.



Monday, July 23, 2012

53 MORE DAYS!!!

Yup, 53 more days until I take my first steps on the Long Trail.  For the next 3 months the 2 to 4 of you that follow me here can visit HERE to follow what I'm up to.

This is for Passionflower and Roboticus, who I had the good fortune to spend a few hours with on the AT:





CONGRATULATIONS!  ANOTHER STATE DOWN.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

MEASURING LIFE IN OUNCES

It's finally time for me to redirect anyone who reads this site to my Long Trail thru hike blog.  Until my trip is completed in mid October, I'll be putting up post on The Dusty Camel website but I'll always post a link here.  If you want to read about some amazing adventures, read through the blog entries for Ian and Andy's thru hikes of the Pacific Crest and Appalachian Trails.  Awesome stuff.

Everyday is Christmas at my house recently.  Here are some of my new goodies:





Here we go:

Todd On The Long Trail

Saturday, June 2, 2012

THE DEATH OF CYNICISM

I'm not sure when the seeds were planted.  Maybe it was hiking the Presidents in New Hampshire last August.  It may have been the hikes that S. and I went on every weekend last summer.  It may have been my loving relationship with the Appalachian Trail.  Or it could have been an aligning of the stars that are my obsession.  Whatever it was it removed the yoke of anger and self hatred I've been burdened with for decades.  Somewhere the violence I committed against myself finally fell beyond my reach.  In the past I've alluded to a difficult childhood.  I never talked openly about it because I was always afraid that if I opened the floodgate with no safety net waiting for me on the other side, it would have ended terribly.  There had to be light to balance against the darkness.  

So... I was sexually abused as a kid.   In the last year I've learned how it has effected every breath I've taken since the day it first happened.  That is the darkness.  As a dividing line between that life and this, I've decided to give myself the gift of hiking all 275 miles of the Long Trail in Vermont, from the VT/Mass border to Canada.  That is the light.  For me it's a pilgrimage, a way to take back what had been taken from me.  It is also my cause.   I'll be raising money for the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN).  Finally, and maybe most importantly, it's a chance for me to walk the spine of the Green Mountains, to fuck around and have fun in one of the most beautiful places on earth for 30 days!

So how did this come about?  In the clusterfuck that is my head, I pulled the pin on the idea and in a matter of 2 weeks was granted a month off from work, gained the support of a remarkable organization (www.thedustycamel.org/), was blessed with free or unbelievably discounted gear, bought a shitload of books, and maps, and planned the first 10 days of my trek.  It's forced me  to let go, as best I can for now, the cynicism and anger that has poisoned me for most of my life.  How the fuck can you be bitter when you have a small army of supporters; friends, family, relative strangers, all standing guard behind you?  I can't.  In the coming weeks I'll be rerouting this blog (for the 3 or 4 people that read it!) to the site that Ian of  The Dusty Camel is setting up for me.  I'll be taking part in their Treks For Charity program.  Know in advance that I'm going to completely fuck up when it comes to thanking all the people that have helped me. I've started a list.   I apologize in advance. 

Onward and upward.  FUCK YEAH!!!  

For 30 days in September this will be my home:




   

Sunday, May 27, 2012

CHAOS IN MOTION

The musicians I've always loved are the ones that create a sound not of this earth.  They're so unique, so visionary, that there are no reference points for what they create, no past that they seem to draw from.  Hendrix is the most well known and most obvious example of this other-worldly sound. Listen to "Castles Made Of Sand" and tell me he wasn't dropped from the sky.  Jazz Fusion guitarist Alan Holdsworth also seemed to have been transported from an alternate universe.  With his enormous hands he created chord structures that only he could have played and created a sound like that of a smooth yet dissonant horn.  Listen to his astonishing solo in "Devil Takes The Hindmost".

The genre of music that I played for over two decades, a chaotic sort of metal, was blessed by another of these visionaries.  Steeve Hurdle was a monster of a man, a dude whose jagged rhythms and oddly melodic dissonance informed every note I played from the day I first heard him in 1998 until the last day I ever picked up a guitar.   Steeve was able to create the soundtrack to the decades long car accident in my head and, while he  struggled with his own demons, he strangled those fucking things  every time he picked up a guitar.  Steeve died from post surgical complications this past week.  He'll be missed.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

MAURICE SENDAK

I had the good fortune to once meet the dude.  He was absolutely nuts in the best sense of the word.  A good portion of my childhood is best forgotten, but reading "Where The Wild Things Are" is something I hope to never forget.



"A little boy... sent me a charming card with a little drawing. I loved it. I answer all my children's letters — sometimes very hastily — but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, "Dear Jim: I loved your card." Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, "Jim loved your card so much he ate it." That to me was one of the highest compliments I've ever received. He didn't care that it was an original drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it."  Maurice Sendak



This is the ornery motherfucker in all his glory:





Saturday, May 5, 2012

PILGRIMAGE

pilgrimage |ˈpilgrəmij|
noun
a pilgrim's journey.
• a journey to a place associated with someone or something well known or respected




I'm not sure where the dividing line is between determination and obsession.  It's been the story of my life up to this point.  I can't quiet the unsettling shriek that's pushing me toward burning to the ground the entire life I've built in the last 5 years to attempt a 6 month walk that I pray will offer some degree of redemption and absolution.  It has been a life of relative stability that I'll be abandoning, at least in contrast to the chaos and self destruction of the previous decades, but I can't shake the feeling that at this moment I am just 'not dying'.

“Life is occupied in both perpetuating itself and in surpassing itself; if all it does is    maintain itself, then living is only not dying” Simone de Beauvoir

I'm also not sure where the dividing line between selfishness and salvation lies.  Why would I be willing to trade the comfort and safety of the life I've assembled here in NY/CT for something far less certain?  The answer lies, at least in part, in the question.  Comfortable and safe leave me numb.  There can be no change, at least in my life, without seismic shift; no transcendence without a good deal of mental and physical suffering.  It feels like there is nothing left to learn here.

Maybe at the end of my journey to find someone well known or respected I'll be able to find some version of myself that can prove to me that my life hasn't been one of wasted potential and enormous regret.  It sounds so fucking trite and just typing it out makes me feel like I'm writing some fucking self help book, but thats what I'm hoping to find. Whether I find it hiking from Springer to Katahdin or some other as yet undiscovered pilgrimage remains to be seen, but the trap has been set.

Enjoy...


Green Tunnel from Kevin Gallagher on Vimeo.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Sunday, April 22, 2012

AURORA BOREALIS

What am I hoping to find in the solitude and silence?  A way to be grateful for every morning that I'm lucky enough to be given, a way to reawaken the wonder I know I must have held somewhere in life, a way to fight the burnout that I feel doing a job where burnout is unacceptable.  I'm searching for a way to quell the poisoning cynicism that has rewired my view of the world, a way to not spend whatever time I have left here death driven and poisoned by my history, a way to not punish myself for my myriad failures, and to harness whatever it is that I find running in the woods and carry it through my week.  I want to again treat my patients with the compassion and empathy they deserve,  to endure when everything inside me wishes to retreat, and not count down the days, as I often do, until I'm unceremoniously removed from this life.

The difficulties in my life have encompassed everything from the most petty and insignificant to traumas and assaults that no human being should ever have to suffer through.  It's easy to accept the beauty and kindness in the world, more difficult to embrace and accept the painful reminders in this life that we are impermanent and insignificant, but it is another thing altogether to be a witness to your own death; the death of your childhood, of wonder, of hope, and desire.  I have been taught that I must, in order to have a life that is worth living, accept my past without judgement; to let it vanish into the nighttime sky that is my obsession.  Instead I have assembled these fractures as building blocks to construct a life that continuously looks backward, forever replaying those horrors, and using them as a blasting furnace in my writing and the music that I created for 23 years.  It is unsustainable.

The shedding of the past is a slow process.  There is no grand action, no gift of love, no holy symbol that can erase what cannot and will not ever be erased.  But there is a beauty that I know exists, that can soothe the savagery of my nearly 47 years on this planet.  It happens not only when I run, is not only found in the glacially bitter and desolate winter runs on the AT that I love so much, not only in those anxious early morning moments before I step out of the car on a long run, not only in the awe I feel when mind, body, and spirit, the holy trinity,  propel me effortlessly through my temple.  It can be found in the kindness and trust of my patients, the way my friends have wrapped their arms around me and done their best to protect me when I felt that there was nothing left.  It's in the way the five of us created a musical legacy that will always contain some of my finest and proudest moments.  It will forever be in the way Michelle wrapped her arms around me and held tightly, sacrificing her safety for mine, for 13 dizzying years, the way I have been given second and third and fourth chances in this life.  And I guess most significantly, it's in the dreams I'm finally allowing myself to have; to one day thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, to witness the Aurora Borealis, to again find what I had with Michelle, to rise up from the psychic ghetto of my life, and to feel love and gratitude where none had existed.

“God isn't the son of Memory; He's the son of Immediate Experience. You can't worship a spirit in spirit, unless you do it now. Wallowing in the past may be good literature. As wisdom, it's hopeless. Time Regained is Paradise Lost, and Time Lost is Paradise Regained. Let the dead bury their dead. If you want to live at every moment as it presents itself, you've got to die to every other moment.”   Aldous Huxley









Saturday, April 21, 2012

BASTARD SUMMER

  "I think that if I touched
  The earth.
  It would crumble;
  It is so sad and beautiful, So tremulously
  Like a dream"  

  ~Dylan Thomas  

                                

Once again the best laid plans of mice and men went astray.  I planned on a beautiful 15 and ended up with a walking 9.  I have to shake this feeling that each of these runs is a quickly disappearing gift before the bastard summer pushes me, breathless and mosquito swarmed, into the cool environs of the indoors.  I wait out the insect rhythms and cloying heat of the summer the way most wait out the winter; with it's savage cold, trees raped of their color, earth the texture of stone.  As much as I believe the craving for sunshine and lush landscape are an innate drive for most, I prefer the elements stripped back, jaws laid bare by the snow and tearing wind.  Though the AT in wintertime isn't absent of life, it is a silent and stoic kind of life; silent but for the yawning of dried and dead limbs and shuddering ice.  This counting down of days turned what should have been a sublime few hours in the woods into a stumbling hike.

On the drive home, at the Route 22/Appalachian Trail Metro North train stop, I spotted a van with an AT logo on the side and a group of about 10 people completing the last 20 feet of this:


Apparently they call these things 'puncheons'.  What a shitty name for something so fucking cool.  I hereby dub this the Bridge To Somewhere,

I'd been trying to find a project to work on on the AT to give something back and build up a little trail karma, but was never able to find anything on the Appalachian Trail Conservancy website.  They were winding down the project but I was told they might need someone to maintain a section of trail in the Pawling Nature Preserve section, a place I run through almost every weekend.  Once again, pulled back from the brink by this trail.  My knee still feels like shit, I'm irritated with myself for ignoring my body, but at least now I'll have the chance to give a little rather than take a lot.  




This is my Temple.



Only I could turn a beautifully sunny 70 degree day into a vision of the apocalypse.

Apocalypse Pt. II





Thursday, April 12, 2012

ZEN AND THE ART OF...







So...I totally fucked up the layout of this fucking blog.  After spending the last 2 hours trying to fix it I give up.  Maybe this weekend.


I've been rereading my copy of Zen And The Art Of Running to help me both in and out of the woods.  One of the more profound chapters talks about accepting challenging situations without attaching a mood or a feeling to them.  In other words, quads that feel like they're doused in kerosene  aren't good or bad, they just are.  It's the attachments that we make that give them power and influence over how we feel and make the nightmare factory come alive.  The idea is that by describing in a concrete way what the sensation or situation is and not placing an arbitrary emotion to it, it's easier to not come undone by the challenge.  Todays run was a challenge.  3100 feet of elevation gain over 16 rocky miles and to add to the difficulty I decided to run every mile as hard as I could.  In the past year I've settled into a pattern where I'm afraid that if I don't keep my pace down, walk the majority of hills, and eat a small feast, I'll bonk and end up having to walk my way out of the woods.  What this approach has guaranteed is that while the distance I can cover has increased, nothing else has improved with it.  There is a reason why I'm drawn to technical trails with lots of elevation gain/loss;I'm a shitty RUNNER.  I'm a pretty good hiker and good at picking my way through rock and root strewn trails, but  smooth and gently rolling singletrack forces me to actually run and I found it more challenging than any of the picking through rocks and roots I was doing.  In the past few weeks I've worked to fix that.  I've been running on smoother trails and I've been running them hard.  I'm running more of the climbs and, thanks to my Hokas, blasting the downhills.  I'd forgotten what it felt like to have really sore legs, legs that burned with Lactic Acid and not just the pain of bone and sinew that I'd been feeling for the last year.

About todays run; the weather couldn't have been anymore spectacular, which is still a strange thing for me to say.  There was a large chunk of my life where I didn't give a fuck about the weather, about the beauty of silence, or the redemptive quality of pushing my mind and body.  I felt strong right from the start.  My thoughts, as always, were scattershot but never devolved into the ugliness that they had in the past few weeks.  About 10 miles into the run I was able to put into practice some of my Zen And The Art Of... concepts when my hams and quads started to feel not so fresh.  At first I acknowledged that they did, indeed, feel like they had a nest of fire ants on them, but then cleaved that fact from any feelings I might have had about the sensation.   The burning wasn't pleasant or unpleasant, it was just burning.  Every time I felt like walking I told myself that what I was feeling wasn't pain, it was discipline.  It worked.  I ran every remotely runnable stretch of the AT.  Throughout the morning I also thought about Cheryl Strayed, author of the book Wild: From Lost To Found On The Pacific Crest Trail.  It's the autobiography of a woman, shattered by the death of her mom, the collapse of her marriage, and a flirtation with heroin who pieces her life back together by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. What I focused on while running today is the fact that Cheryl hiked for 50 (!) days in boots that were far too small for her, that bruised and blistered her feet, and eventually cost her 6 of her 10 toenails.  I kept telling myself if that woman could hike 50 fucking days in ill fitting boots and a pack that weighed more than half her body weight then I could certainly run some relatively small hills in Connecticut.  I'm terrible when it comes to summarizing novels, but Wild is one of the most moving books I've ever read.  The physical and psychic pain, the suffering and redemption are visceral and, unlike most books detailing hikes on the PCT or the AT, Wild is a story beautifully written.  Just buy it. 






















Saturday, April 7, 2012

A NOISELESS NOISE


“The unusual thing about quiet is that when you seek it, it is almost impossible to achieve. When you strive for quiet, you become impatient, and impatience is itself a noiseless noise. You can block every superficial sound, but, with each new layer extinguished, a next rises up, finer and more entrapping, until you arrive at last in the infinite attitude of your own riotous mind. Inside is where all the memories last like wells, and the unspoken wishes like golden buds, and the pain that you keep, lingering and implicit, staying inside, nesting inside, articulating, articulating, through to the day you die.”  Hilary Thayer Hamann









Sunday, April 1, 2012

MATERIAL POSSESSIONS

It's been a long time since I talked about gear, and a long time since I've written anything that wasn't too personal and too serious.  Todays post will contain no Emo whining, no deep philosophical discussions, nothing more than getting off talking about the crap that I strap to my feet and cover my pasty white and somewhat malformed ass with.  The following is the gear that I love:

Let's start with shoes.  I may very well be the Imelda Marcos of running shoes, or sneakers as some of my friends call them.  The only shoes that I've ever run a significant amount of trail miles in are made by La Sportiva.  Those Italians (or EYE-talians as they are known in some parts of the country) make some really nice fucking shoes.  I own almost every "Mountain Running" shoe they make and have put about 500 miles on a pair of Raptors that were graciously given to me by Stacy of  the remarkable WIlderness Running Company.  I climbed Mount Washington in them, ran my first marathon in them, and I sometimes wear them to work to annoy my coworkers because they stink to holy hell and make terrible squeaking noises (it sounds like I'm stepping on a baby) on the hospital floors .  I've also completely worn out their Crosslite and Fireblade models, and have a pair of Gore-Tex Wildcats which weigh a fucking ton but will be great for plowing through the swampy, muddy crap that I'll face this Spring/Summer.

My latest trail shoe purchase involves the company Hoka One One.  Hoka says F-You to minimalist running shoes by making a shoe that is reminiscent of those ridiculous Moon Boots that skiers wore after a long day on the mountain in the early 80's.  I decided to throw down an obscene $169 for their latest model, the Stinson B EVO.  When they arrived in the mail they were even more hideous than any photo I'd seen.  Throw up in mouth hideous.  Imagine a huge pile of Limes that had turned grey and rotten on the outside.  Now imagine them being as high off the ground as a monster truck.  You get the point.  When I tried them on they were like slices of heaven on my feet, only they were so soft that my un-repaired (yes, that is now a word) fractured left ankle rolled inward and the mid foot fit was way too loose.  The upper also had much less structure than other shoes I'd run in so I decided to swap them out for the Bondi B, the road model that many Ultra runners have been using for the last year.  Once again, slices of heaven, and more subtly hideous than the Stinson.  The sole was just firm enough to support my damaged ankles, the upper had more structure, and the mid-foot fit was perfect.  Since there are probably only 2 or 3 runners that read this blog I guess I should explain the thought behind the Hokas.  The idea is that over long distances, especially over rough terrain (like the Appalachian Trail) your feet get beaten the fuck up.  The extra cushion is supposed to, well, provide extra cushion and inhibit muscle breakdown.  And it does provide a nice, plush, Cadillac of a ride.  As far as the muscle breakdown, who knows, but it makes sense to me.  After two short runs I'm pretty excited to put some real miles on them.  I found them to be surprisingly stable, cushy, and the fit is dandy.  Having been a walking pharmacological experiment over the last 10 years I know all about the placebo effect, and I don't believe that these shoes are any placebo.  No magic bullet for an oft injured runner but I'm hoping that this will help me to increase my long runs and decrease my time laying in bed with ice packs and limping down the hallways at work.  Only time will tell.

FUCKING UGLY:

The lesser of two evils.

I don't need no stinking traction!


FUCKING HIDEOUS:



Like walking on (ugly) sunshine.




Who thought these colors were a good idea?



Okay, enough with the shoe treatise, on to the rest of the gear that I dig:

Icebreaker clothing...thinking about it brings a tear to my eye.  I am a stinky, disgusting man.  Even after multiple washings I never seem to be able to get the stink out of my synthetic running clothes.  Icebreaker clothes are made of Merino wool from what must be the softest lambs on the whole earth.  They fit well, withstand my attempts to run through pricker bushes and downed trees, and I can wear them 4 or 5 times in a row without washing them.  NO STINK!!!  NONE.  Expensive but worth it.  Next, Drymax socks.  Yes, they do stink after one wear, but I don't blister when I wear them, no matter how wet my feet are,  no matter how many hours.  They also don't seem to wear out.  I bought one pair last Christmas and wore them at least twice per week for the last 15 months and they're still in great shape.  Next up is my Ultimate Direction WASP hydration pack.  Pricker bushes, downed trees, blah blah blah and no tears. The buckles and clasps are still tight, and its comfortable enough to wear for 8 hours loaded down with 1.5 liters (Liters?  I'm an American, dammit!) of Gatorade, 8 gels, a camera, glasses w/ case, and enough extra clothing for an expedition.  It's one weakness is the hydration bladder.  It failed after about 8 months and even before that, the system to keep it sealed was pretty lousy.  The bite valve, though, is awesome.  I replaced it with a Camelbak, installed the Ultimate Direction bite valve, and I don't have to worry anymore about orange Gatorade spilling down my back.  I also enjoy my Salomon clothing quite a bit.  I've run in the Fast II jacket and Hawk mid layer for every chilly run in the last year+, run in freezing rain, snow, and wind, and they've yet to fail me.  The combination of an Icebreaker base layer, Hawk mid layer, and Fast jacket have kept me warm even when the temperatures dipped into the single digits.  And finally, I'm also a pretty big fan of my Garmin 305 watch.  I straddle the line between being a tech nerd and a nature boy, but I do like to know how many miles I've run, how slow I was, and how many feet of climbing I did.  I've fallen on it hard enough to rip the strap off my wrist (1st rib fracture of 2012), smashed it against trees, and dumped it at the bottom of my work bag, buried beneath cans of soda, books, and running gear with no ill effects.  The wristband sucks, so go and buy the nice velcro one from Amazon.  Otherwise, awesome!  So those are the goodies that keep me dry, warm, cool, hydrated, and comfortable

Rib Fracture Update:  I thought they were just bruised.  Apparently I was wrong.  These things fucking hurt!  Rib fracture #1 of 2012 didn't really hurt and running felt just fine.  Fracture number 2 has sucked.  Breathing sucks, sleeping sucks, ripping up a stone walkway for my Dad sucks, and tearing up grass and tilling soil for a new garden for my Uncle sucks.  Did I mention that breathing sucks?  Shut up crybaby.

I just read that Micah True, the protagonist in the novel Born To Run, was found dead while trail running in New Mexico's Gila Forest.  The book elicits strong opinions, none of which I care much about, but reading it (in 1 sitting) forever changed the way I viewed my running and my life away from the trails.  It made me realize the arbitrary nature of the marathon distance, showed me that running could be a way to rebuild rather than destroy myself for past sins, and it inspired me to try trail running.  I never ran another mile on the road.  It's a bummer that such an interesting and eccentric dude is dead.  The world needs less American Idols and more Caballo Blanco's.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

SAFETY GATE



evocative |iˈväkətiv|
adjective
bringing strong images, memories, or feelings to mind 

Evocative.  It's a word that comes up frequently in therapy, rarely in a positive context.  I guess for this season the images, memories, and feelings being dredged up are bittersweet, like the clanging together of childhood happiness and the disappointment of adulthood.  It's in the way that the scent of Ultrathon bug spray reminds me of her, or the moist earthen smell that seems to only hang in the air this time of year, or the way the verdant forest canopy has already begun to blot out the sky, or the cool 40 degree air against my legs before the sun has broken the horizon.  Soon it will be the gauze-like haze of Summer hung from the stars, the humid air stealing my breath, the sting of the sun on my pale Irish skin, rainstorms my only reprieve, nights spent dreaming of what, I'm not sure.  No wish or will can stop the bastard days of Summer.

So what the fuck does any of this have to do with running?  I don't know.  Somewhere along the line my mental well being became inextricably tied to being alone in the woods.  It's a very real possibility that if one didn't exist then neither could the other.  So I guess there isn't a word that I've written in the last year or so that hasn't been about both running and the rusting tilt-a-whirl that is my head.

Safety Gate         5/7/2007       Brewster, NY

If you want the first drops of rain against the cedar shakes
If you want to let loose the scent of reason
Dried brush and electrical storms
Misery without boundary and a long low moan into the tactile summer air
Then, please, come inside

I am waiting 
Aquamarine eyes set on the doorway 
The scent of lust and petroleum 
Aged lumber and hob nails penetrating wanting flesh
I am breathing
Tachypnic, infection born, your trepidation
The ant climbing the peony, the rattle of the last breath
Please, come inside

This flush of trees, thick skinned and darker than the night sky
My winding thought, ink blot against the deep grey before me
Alternating currents and Parkinsonian rhythm
The tar and the stone and the work of the sun
(I am these quiet surroundings, the murderers lair, the insect vibration, 
the fresh cut grass, the broken branch scraping against the screen door)
Please, come inside.






Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Staying in the Mo...OH FUCK, NOT AGAIN!!!

I'm starting to think that there's some sort of rhythm to life that I never took the time to notice in the past. I'm still not buying that bullshit that everything happens for a reason (children dying? suicide? molestation? Jersey Shore?), but it seems odd to me that I've been thinking and writing about mindfullness and being in the moment (there has to be a better way to say that) and this morning, on a short run, I had a gentle reminder of the benefits of not drifting off while I tear through the woods. One minute I was upright and the next minute I had been body slammed to the ground...again. A momentary lapse in concentration on a nearly smooth piece of single track and I went down like a bag of wet cement. It's amazing how quickly I can go from standing up straight to laying on the ground with my fist bunched up under my ribs, although this time it was the right side instead of the left (I like to keep my fractures symmetrical). It happens so quickly that it almost feels like someone shoved you to the ground. It was still a hell of a fucking run and things are finally starting to click for me again.


Parabola  (Tool)


We barely remember who or what came before this precious moment,
We are Choosing to be here right now. Hold on, stay inside...
This holy reality, this holy experience. Choosing to be here in...


This body. This body holding me. Be my reminder here that I am not alone in
This body, this body holding me, feeling eternal all this pain is an illusion.


Alive


This holy reality, in this holy experience. Choosing to be here in...


This body. This body holding me. Be my reminder here that I am not alone in
This body, this body holding me, feeling eternal all this pain is an illusion...
Of what it means to be alive


Swirling round with this familiar parable.
Spinning, weaving round each new experience.
Recognize this as a holy gift and celebrate this 
chance to be alive and breathing
chance to be alive and breathing.


This body holding me reminds me of my own mortality. 
Embrace this moment. Remember. we are eternal.
all this pain is an illusion.



Sunday, March 18, 2012

WHERE DOES EL DIABLO GO ON WEDNESDAYS?








She and I have spent the past few years talking about the middle ground in life, the space between extreme pleasure and extreme pain that the majority of the world lives in.  She understands that for me to feel anything at all my emotions have to redline, and that the minutiae of daily life bores me so greatly that I would rather feel incredible discomfort than feel nothing at all.  It's why I drift off in the middle of conversations about peoples food shopping or the yard work they did over the weekend, why I lose interest at work when things become too routine, why casual acquaintances seem superficial and useless.  None of those things even register on my pleasure/pain scale.  She and I both know that a life like this is unsustainable and will always have the potential to unravel quickly and with horrible results, so she's recommended that I practice mindfullness.  I know what she means, I understand the concept of being in the moment but my thought patterns are the equivalent of a car scraping down a guardrail.  To keep focused on one thought, one emotion, for even 30 seconds, is a Herculean task.  I know I have to have moments where I let the detritus of the past and expectations of the future fall away, but most times it seems as far beyond my reach as trying to hold the moon in my hands.

Saturday:

Yesterday it was 60 degrees out and sunny.  I cranked through my work so that I could head into the woods for an hour or so.  Looking dapper in my new Salomon short sleeve and Drymax socks (courtesy of my friend Stacy at Wilderness Running Company.  Did you get my email?) I headed out of the parking lot and into my Temple.  I tried to practice some of what she and I talked about on Wednesday; I listened to my breathing, felt the rocks and soft earth beneath my feet, but the more I tried to think about nothing the more I thought about thinking about nothing.  At some point I gave up and just let S. into my head, thought about thru-hiking the Appalachian trail, about doing some runs with a tent and sleeping bag to escape for a few days, thought about S. some more, and also let myself enjoy running on soft, dry trails for the first time in over a year.  It didn't feel at all like failure.  

Sunday:

This morning I ran the same loop after work.  I tried once again to quiet the chatter, to focus on nothing but my breathing and the next footstep, but had little success.  I believe part of the reason that I have such a difficult time being in the moment is because of something I mentioned in my last post.  I use my time out there to sift through all of the insane thoughts and feelings I've stored up for the week.  They run through my mind in a dizzying stream of conscience until I've exhausted them.  The best part of thinking about these things while I'm running is that I don't have the ability to make sense of them and remain upright at the same time. I suppose when I start running long again I'll be able to quiet my mind and practice some of the mindfullness techniques I've learned over the years, but for now I'll just let my thoughts spill like mercury across a marble floor and be satisfied with that.  This doesn't feel at all like failure.

The above photo is of me tempting the gods of thunder and lightning.  You might be able to make out the metal baton I'm holding skyward, but what you can't see is the massive lightning storm racing across the Hudson in my direction.  The gods blinked first.



"And I'll burn, like a roman fucking candle
 Burn, like a chasm in the night
 Burn, for a miniscule duration
 
Ecstatic immolation, incorrigible delight."  


Bad Religion-Turn On The Light 


  

Sunday, March 11, 2012

UNDOING




"In the middle of life it happens that death comes and measures man.  The visit is forgotten and life continues, but the suit is made, quietly" Tomas Transtromer.


Nothing should mean this much, not S., not running, nothing. Nothing should mean this much because sometimes the hinge gives way and the bottom has no bottom. I haven't taken a shower in three days, haven't changed my clothes since I left work Friday afternoon. I've left the house twice since then, both times for work. I worked 6:30 to 10:30 am yesterday and today, completely alone, the quiet hum of ventilation echoing down the bare walls of the hospital. I craved my bed and closed shades the way a junkie craves dope, and I was thankful that AMC has put season 1 of The Killing on Video On Demand. It offers 11 hours of solace. There are lessons to be learned on weekends like this, some less pleasant than others. If there is one lesson S. taught me, though, is that nothing lasts, nothing survives the barely visible fractures that this life inflicts upon us. Not relationships, not the flesh and bone that give shape to our bodies; nothing survives this life. So what's behind this spiral? How does the armor so quickly get stripped away? There is always, of course, the haunting, the bleach of our lives spilled into standing water. When I slow down, the haunting speeds up. Other than the haunting, it is a matter of anatomy and physiology, of a fucked up left foot that has left me running less than 20 miles in the last few weeks. The one thing that makes me feel so fucking alive is gone for now, and it's amazing how quickly the lie of invincibility comes undone. Nothing should matter this much.

 There are obvious reasons why running long distances makes me feel indomitable; the Endorphins, the pain as pleasure principle, the punk rock streak in me that says "I ran in the woods for 8 hours this weekend, what the fuck did you do?". These are all what we call in medicine incidental findings. They're not what I was looking for in the woods, but I stumbled upon them anyway. So what is it that I crave like a junkie? I found the answer while reading an article that ultramarathon runner Anton Krupicka wrote for Running Times magazine. He tried to find a way to answer the question "what do you think about when you're out there for so many hours?" and what he came up with was so simple and yet so profound. He said he didn't think, he listened. That simple statement explained to me so elegantly why I attempt to amass so many hours and miles alone in the woods every weekend. It is a time to let me listen through the chaos of my psyche, to shutter away the outside world and just breathe. It's a time for me to listen rather than speak, to give voice to what scares me, what makes me happy, what makes me so fucking sad sometimes, and allows me to heal from the pedestrian disappointments and sorrows of life as well as from the traumas of a life poorly lived. What's amazing is that the thoughts can't be corralled, can't be sorted or prioritized. When I stand in their way they reroute, like a river around a fallen tree. All I can do is let it flow, and it does. Sometimes sorting through the trash heap in my head takes a few minutes, sometimes a few hours, and other times the run ends before the excavating does. No matter the time it takes, it's a way to bring some sense of order to the chaos, to safely wrap and file away the wounds for another week, and on those transcendent days when I'm able to run for even a few minutes with a clear mind, it's the closest I'll ever come to finding god. Nothing should mean this much.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

PULLING SCARS


It feels as if there is something that needs to be written today, some thought or phrase standing watch wordlessly outside this door.  There are sentences lined up like soldiers to describe physical acts; of snow, mud, mountains, and there are words, ever more difficult to grasp, that speak of endorphins, of sweeping floorboards, of marching toward the screaming voice that is begging me to stop.  Somewhere in this swirling chaos is a concise thought, but for today I'll embrace the chaos  and just let it be.  

Looking through the photographs I've taken over the last year I was struck by just how many of them were of the sky.  On each weekend run I like to hold the camera at my waist, point it upward, and snap.  That view of the world, in all of it's impracticality, speaks of possibility, of a life far greater than the one I have lived, and will forever bewilder and inspire me.  I don't know the names or locations of the constellations, don't know where the planets might be found, but I can't imagine ever looking skyward, night time or day, and not standing in awe of how expansive it is, and how insignificant I am.











Sunday, February 26, 2012

STIMULUS

"Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more."  Christopher Hitchens

I've talked a lot about how my weekend runs build armor to shield me from the minefield of the coming week and also talked endlessly about how I gain a sense of serenity that I find no place else. What I haven't talked about is how my mid-week runs are absolutely fucking horrible. I dread them, I struggle through 3 and 4 mile runs, count down the miles and minutes until I can go home, and hate myself for doing so. While I was throwing down a massive 4 mile run this morning I started to think about why this has been happening to me in the last few months. I came up with a few theories, none of which I'm completely convinced of.

 Theory 1: Ever since I started taking care of the tangle of misdirected wiring in my head I've been told that my threshold for feeling any sort of emotion that matters is far higher than most. It takes a far greater stimulus for to engage me. It explains why Starkweather sounded the way we did; 15 to 30 minute long songs that swung wildly between beauty and dissonance, explains why I will not be satisfied running until I can run the Massanutten 100 Ultramarathon in Virginia, and it's certainly why my relationships have always burned too brightly to be sustainable. The daily activities and pleasures that make most people feel happy, sad, content, etc., make me feel nothing. The person that I go to see for one hour every week has been trying to convince me for years that there is a middle ground that doesn't involve wickedly manic episodes or glacial depressions, a life that can be satisfying and offer a level of contentment that has so far escaped me. I frustrate her. I would rather be the wax winged Icarus falling into the sea than to feel nothing at all. So maybe these weekday runs, with their monotonous and empty miles, aren't engaging enough to bump the meter enough to register as anything more than a chore for me. Maybe they don't allow enough time for me to burrow into the squalor of my mind and clean house for the coming week. Anyway, this seems the most reasonable of my explanations, probably because it's the most complicated.

 Theory 2: I have an unusual running schedule: 2-3 runs of no more than 5 miles each during the week and a run of 18-26 miles over the weekend. It has allowed me to so far remain injury free and worked well with my newly busy work schedule. Maybe I'm not banking enough overall miles and that's why I feel completely burned out for the week? It doesn't feel like that's the case physically. By Tuesday my legs may be a little bit stiff but I'm certainly not feeling hobbled or injured. That doesn't explain why these runs, which should be a breeze, are so fucking taxing. Maybe less weekend miles and more weekday miles are in order? That will be a tough one to swallow because once I ran 18 I wanted to run 20. When I ran 20 I wanted 22. When I ran 22 I wanted 26, and now that I've run 26 I want 31 (see theory number 1). I'll need to convince myself that it's the act of running, not the physical and emotional punishment that builds my defenses. Common sense? Yes. Easy for someone like me to accept? No.

 Theory 3: It seems to take me a pretty long time to warm up and get my legs moving. Maybe the short miles during the week never get me to the point where I feel primed and ready to go.

 Theory 4: Some fucked up amalgamation of theories 1 through 3.

 So what am I left with this Sunday morning at 9:45? One short run, some food shopping, and hours and hours of day that feel more like a minefield than a respite. I feel like I accomplished nothing and want to spend this beautifully sunny day laying in bed watching TV and reading the book 46 Days: Keeping Up With Jennifer Pharr Davis On The Appalachian Trail. It's a book written by Davis's husband documenting her record setting 46 day thru hike of the Appalachian Trail. So yes, rather than doing I'll be laying in bed reading about someone else doing. Blah Blah Blah.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

26.2

“From a certain point onward there is no longer any turning back. That is the point that must be reached.” Franz Kafka

I ran my first marathon yesterday. No timing chip, no free T-shirt, no bands, fuck, not even a start or finish line. I hadn't planned on running more than 15 miles, but as has been happening recently, I made a calculation as to how many miles would give me the peace and strength to face the week ahead of me and that's how far I ran. I mentioned before that it feels like I'm building armor when I'm doing those runs, that every mile cinches tight the Kevlar so that large problems become small ones, and small ones disappear into the ether. This was also the first run in a long time that taught me something about running itself; about planning, common sense (or lack thereof), and how the kindness of strangers can keep a hard run from becoming a death march.











So here's what I learned:

Though I get teased for being a meticulous over-planning freak, when embarking on a 26 mile run one should make sure to have enough food and water to last the full 26 miles. Common sense? You would think so.

At a certain point running hurts no more than walking; it just requires slightly more effort.

It's not wise to leave the car with no ID/Credit Card/$20 bill.

Even after 8 hours GU Chocolate Outrage tastes like heaven.

Throwing up in ones mouth at mile 3 is no reason to quit.

Eating a Turkey, Salami, and Swiss Cheese sandwich, Peppermint Patties, and Chocolate Milk does not constitute a spectacular pre run breakfast. See Above.

Common sense is a double edged sword. Running at all, let alone running longer distances, defies logic. Running them while lightheaded from dehydration and a lack of calories defies logic. At the same time, it's this perhaps misplaced determination that allows me to laugh at myself when thinking back at how I should have called it quits at mile 14 and also makes the crap that I have to deal with outside of the woods seem inconsequential. Failed friendships? Fuck it. Barely living above the poverty line? Fuck it. A nightmare factory for a brain? Fuck it. By the time I get back into my car what matters remains standing, what doesn't matter, does not.

The greatest lesson that I learned on my ill conceived journey is about the kindness of strangers. For the first 4-5 hours I saw not one person on the trail. At about mile 14 I started to worry about running out of fluids and also started rationing my Gu's. When I got within a mile of the turning point at Bull's Bridge in Kent, Connecticut, I came upon 3 hikers playing hooky from work. I asked them if they knew of a place for me to grab some water and one of them was kind enough to just empty her Camelbak into my hydration pack and also share some beef jerky with me. Having the water put my mind at ease, but that simple act reminded me that humans aren't always the plague that I make them out to be. It was a huge boost. Miles 17-18 put me back into panic mode. I was lightheaded and dizzy on a steep one mile climb, trying my best to squeeze out whatever Chocolate Outrage I may have missed from my used gel packets, and wondering if I would be able to turn things round. I always know that when a run starts to go sideways on me mentally that I'll be able to turn things around. This was the first time that the wheels were coming off physically and it completely freaked me out. Fast forward to about mile 20. I'm at the Wiley Shelter somewhere in CT desperately trying to get some water to come out of the pump near the lean-to when 2 trail runners come up behind me, ask what I'm doing, where I'd been running, etc, and again my hydration pack gets topped off!!! Once again, the act, the water, the cheering on gave me enough of a boost to keep shuffling along. They also told me that they'd check on me when they were heading back to their car and would give me whatever water and food I needed. I saw them almost 2 hours later, 2 miles from my car and in the running portion of my run/walk/shuffle routine and these people, these complete fucking strangers, cheered me on like I was winning the NYC Marathon. They offered up their water, their Clif Bars, and told me what an amazing accomplishment it was to run 26.2 miles on the gnarly Appalachian Trail. Though they'll never read this, Thank You.







I'd hoped to write something much more profound than what I've written so far, something to equal the beauty of the AT, something that captures the tiny slivers of life that I gain back every time I'm out there, but it's moments like this that language fails me.







"I have accepted fear as a part of life - specifically the fear of change.... I have gone ahead despite the pounding in the heart that says: turn back." Erica Jong