Sunday, April 22, 2012


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


  "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


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


“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


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.


The lesser of two evils.

I don't need no stinking traction!


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.