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Dirt is different everywhere. But it’s still dirt.

20 Mar

This evening’s update on… everything comes to you from a cheap camp chair plunked on a dusty limestone gravel driveway in a “recreational vehicle park” overlooking the mighty Mississippi. For one of these places, this particular place is actually quite nice; it is clean, friendly, quiet, and has places to walk and trees to stand under when the sun is high in the sky. It has an evocative view and history nearby enough where a culture day was in order today. We have been here two days. Before this, we were in a Louisiana state park that featured doubletrack cross country trails in low wood and field. Before that, a dusty and a bit faded “campground and cabins” in Ruidoso, NM (but wait, for one night we were in a state park in Texas) and before that, in Arizona for nearly two months. We are on the return leg of our first trip “out”. We hit the end of the bungee-run of a road trip in Tucson, and felt the pull back in the same way a baby duck does after bravely swimming out a foot or two from its mama. Not quite missing home (homesick?), but not compelled to venture further westward or northward or southward until taxes are done, our van gets a checkup, and we see our families.

It’s so funny how we get into these things. As with the alpacas, the conversation began, “wouldn’t it be cool if we…” and some frenetic googling and a few years and loose plans later, here we are, pretty much everything we own whittled down to what can fit in the cupboards of this van (and in a closet and the small loft of my mom’s garage.) I can’t even begin to describe the process we undertook – I don’t even know where the energy came from – to get the house sold, physically pull my body away after hugging my daughter, to say “see you guys latah” to dear friends, and take one last look in the rearview after hitting the Rhode Island border. And then establishing residency and a basecamp life at my mom’s in four months was kind of a weird experience, if only because she is such a good cook that it was a really hard thing to resist the temptation to stay. For one thing, we got to know the local dirt.

Carolina Dirt

Carolina Dirt is reddish in tone, sometimes black and peaty, but mostly red, clay-like in consistency, and easy on the ankles for trail running, nice and fast for riding on the mountain bike. When you get home from a ride, you have a trail tan – fine red silt running from the sock line up to the base of the shorts. If like me, you scrape your ankles with the backs of your shoes when you run, you will come home from trail runs with red streaks like dried blood between your calves. When you land from a fall, the red dirt mixed with gravel stains the knees and thighs, but generally doesn’t mess you up too badly. The air is clear. There are birds everywhere.  People – we – will drive for miles to hike or run or bike up red dirt in lyrical-sounding places like Pleasant Ridge, Dupont Forest, Paris Mountain, Pisgah Wilderness. The Carolina dirt gets under your nails and if you garden, it’s hard to get it out from under there. The dogs love to dig ditches and cool their bellies in the soil. It tracks in the house and mixes with dog dander. It colors the vacuum filters red. When my parents first moved to North Carolina in the 1980s I remember my sister, who got there before I did, writing to me that the soil was red clay. The first time I saw it, I didn’t really like it; it was not at all like the peaty, sandy soil I was used to in Rhode Island. But now when we travel home, we love to see it. We know we are getting close when we start seeing red clay and kudzu.

Dirt Poor

I do not know what it is like to be desperately poor. The closest I came was after dropping out of college, in North Carolina, when I was too embarrassed (proud?) to talk to my folks about it, and got through a few sucky months living on Marlboro Lights and Oodles of Noodles, mostly bought with sofa change. Healthcare happened through the emergency room and I relied on friends for rides. But it was short-lived. I was not born into it and didn’t have the right muscles for it and probably wouldn’t have survived had it gone on much longer. Also, I have lived a pretty sheltered life. In New England, you do not know dirt-poor. It takes a road trip through the South to understand dirt poor.

Georgia, Alabama, parts of Mississippi and Louisiana. Trails so lovely you could cry, but as you drive through areas to get to the trails with your sweet bike on the back, you pass trailers and shacks so derelict that stove-in roofs are one good storm away from being skylights. I mean, the Carolinas have this too. And actually parts of the Adirondacks, and the midwest, and everywhere -poverty is everwhere. But in the south, because it is warm, people turn their houses inside out. So everything is exposed. Entire lives up on porches in the form of stuff – appliances, furniture, parts of things. There are pecan groves right up next to power plants and strips of pawn shops, pop-up churches, Dollar General stores, gun stores. People don’t have much. There’s nothing around. There’s no access to anything. There’s no real industry. This is dirt poor.

We went to visit some Indian mounds – places where the natives built these earthen mounds – they are really incredible. Apparently they hauled baskets of dirt on their backs to build them. In the delta, they sort of make sense in a very practical way. During a flood, one could escape the waters by getting up on top of a mound. Nevermind the mystery surrounding their spiritual or communal reason for being. They are dirt piles to keep from drowning.

Many of the trailers are up on concrete blocks. We passed one that was build up on maybe twenty rows of concrete blocks. A modern-day mound.

Bayou dirt is close to water so that when running, it sometimes feels like you are running a path through swamp. In warmer weather, snakes and alligators create a real life obstacle course. Fortunately, the only trail critter I saw in Louisiana was an armadillo. Believe it or not, they are fast.

Texas is a big pile of rocks and dirt.

I had no expectations. Therefore, I was surprised.

Texas should just be its own country. It has a seashore with sandy, porous dirt trail and shady live oaks. It has hill country and mountains and canyons. Watch out for things called stickers that live in the pretty grass and hurt dogs’ feet. Texas is best when you can find a place with no fences. There are a lot of fences in Texas.

In Austin, right in the city, there are trails to explore. We took the dogs on a hike that started off of a highway behind an office park and quickly became remote and entirely scenic.

At Seminole Canyon, we ran and mountain biked on trails with fossils and pictographs and a 100 foot cliff dropping down to the Rio Grande. You could fit whole Rhode Islands into the ranches in West Texas. Marathon was a tiny town with blowing dirt and tumbleweeds, and public art and poverty. Texas is too big to be one thing.


If you go to New Mexico, head up to Silver City and to the Gila wilderness and ask a local directions to Dragonfly trail. Prairie grasses, tumbling streams and lone trees on hillsides make for lovely trailgoing. It is rocky, so watch out when you’re tired. Also nearby there is good dirt up on Boston Mine. You can see the whole town as you ride. It’s not easy going (for me it wasn’t) as it is gravelly and slidy. But it is fun.

In town, in the shops, the people talk dirt about each other.


Talk about being out of my element. Arizona trails are like cats: you want to snuggle but you have to always keep in mind that it could end up with you being seriously bloodied. So we were basically backed up to Seguro National Park, a place where you can pretty much ride or run forever. However, while the dirt is fine and flowy and not as skiddy as New Mexico, when you fall, it is always into a cactus. And the cactuses grab on and get in there (like really in there) and you may have to ask your husband later to take cactus needles out of your rearend with a pair of tweezers.

But it is seductive, sandy, reminiscent of long beach days, but no ocean. It is rough on dogs pads, on shoes, on mountain bike tires. It is dusty, and gets into everything. It is hard packed and hurts when you fall on it. It has holes in it in places from things that root (like Javalina) or live in it (like big spiders.) Coyote saunter around like they own the place, and the yipping is lovely and different from northern coyote yipping.

There is poverty here, too. The reservation just west of us was vast desert with tiny tiny pockets of residential scatterings. This is a place where one could disappear.

In the cities – in Tucson and Phoenix – I got to stay (for work) in box hotels and in both cases there were homeless people living right in the dirt outside of my window. It is dry and warm in the daytime, but I worried about them at night. In Casa Grande, Tom and I saw one homeless woman with a dog in a crate that was suspended from a shopping cart who we could not see but we could hear it happily barking as its owner talked to it. Where do you go at night when you are homeless, with a dog?

In the desert the rock is flat and layered like shale, and so it makes a lot of noise when you ride a bike down it. I’m sure we did our little part to whatever erosion/entropy issues the area naturally experiences during the summer monsoons.

Van Living and Dirt

So this is piggish of me, but Tom pretty much does the housework nowadays, since he is not working. Living in a van makes this easy, though. Basically, we have to shake out the three throw rugs we have and give a quick sweep down of the cork floor. He washes our clothes once a week and does the dishes most nights, and he cooks. Most of the dirt comes from the dogs. But living small also means that you don’t have as much stuff. It’s pretty much perfect if you hate housecleaning.

The thing is, when you live in a small space, you are outside more. You sit on the grass under a tree after dinner, instead of on a sofa. It’s just a different kind of dirt.

No more garden, but we have some plants.

We bought a couple of wee cacti at the desert museum, and from the free shelf we got a little pot which Tom planted something in (it hasn’t come up yet, so I will be surprised once it does.) We also got from the free shelf (that’s like, such a great concept and I wish every campground had one) a “garden in a can” which was basically a basil plant in planting soil in a can. It felt good to smell that smell of peat moss and potting soil, especially in the desert, and I spent a few minutes inhaling the scent of it and remembering our little vegetable garden we left in Rhode Island. So now as we travel back east we have our little garden. It rides in the little sink and then when we park it goes on the windowsill on the dashboad or outside on the picnic table, weather permitting. It is not tomatoes but it is a just enough dirt and green to be companionable. And in the tread of our tires, both van and bicyle – in the nooks and crannies of our shoes – under the fingernails and maybe in the crevices of our knees, we carry a little of the dirt from all of the places we have traveled to. It’s kind of cool, when you think about it.







Paris Mountain Ultra, October 2016 (and a little blog catching-up)

5 Nov

I wasn’t sure about signing up for any races this year. After last year’s DNF at Free To Run in the Berkshires, I realized I had way, way too much happening in my life to fully commit to training for anything. Having our house on the market and all of the stuff that goes along with that (improvements, getting rid of junk, etc) and getting used to working from home 8-6 every day was keeping me busy and maybe I was just a wee bit burnt out on running at the end of last year. I still ran on weekends with Georgia, through the winter, and a bit during the week, but mostly spent it doing yoga and walks with Tom and the dogs.

As Spring came on, I decided I would run a marathon in South Carolina while visiting family just over the border in NC. I signed up for Upstate Ultra’s Altamont Challenge, and started in on the training again. Knowing Altamont had some serious elevation gain, I did some hill training where possible in Rhode Island and then in April ran the race. It was my slowest marathon ever, but I had a great time running up and down the mountain road. The folks from Upstate Ultra and the Greenville running community were all so nice and welcoming. It felt good to be back.

While there, Matthew Hammersmith, the race director, told me about Paris Mountain Ultra, which happens in October. Not knowing if we’d be back, I put it in the back of my mind.

And then we sold the house.

There are whole blog posts I should have written this year about this strange, intense experience. Saying “see you later” to friends and to my 23 year-old daughter was surreal and hard. I had a couple of drafts started, but never found the time to sit down and finish them. Despite missing my daughter, I felt good leaving, knowing she is where she wants to be, with good people in her life.

We have had an amazing summer and fall. Just after the closing, with Tom and Coco in the truck, towing a small u-haul trailer, and me driving the van (with Charlie as co-pilot), we headed south, first stopping off in Glastonbury to see Tom’s family. On the way, we went through Delaware Water Gap, camped a few nights in Pennsylvania’s Caledonia State Park, saw Gettysburg, Antietam, camped in two spots on Skyline Drive in Virginia’s Shendoah Valley, and finally ended up in late July at our new Base Camp – Black Dog Farm in Tryon, NC.

Once settled in, we got busy exploring.

One thing about Tryon – it’s pretty far away from the coast, on the western edge of East Coast Standard time – so mornings are dark, even in summer. It can make it hard to get out of bed to run in the morning, especially with a retired person on no work schedule snoozing contentedly beside me.  The only consolation of rising before dawn was avoiding the heat of the day, so little by little, we got used to running in the pre-dawn, again.

At first, I thought perhaps I might put an Arizona race on the calendar. Arevaipa Runners puts on races around Phoenix all year long, and since we had plans to visit Arizona some time in the winter, I thought that could help motivate me to keep running. So that set some training in motion. In the hottest part of North Carolina’s summer, we headed to trails within an hour’s drive radius. All of these deserve their own blog posts, but in the interest of time, I’ll list them here with links, so that perhaps one time if you are visiting this way, you can try them yourself.

Mountain biking (which is a great cross-training for trails):

Duncan Park Hub City trail system, Spartanburg SC – great beginner trails to get your mountain biking legs back, on clay, in an urban spot, so bathrooms and services close by.

Pleasant Ridge JFA trail – Greenville, SC – the Upstate SORBA Ladies ride met here Thursday nights through late summer and introduced me to this incredibly fun and fast 6 mile loop. Maintained by SORBA, it features screaming downhills with just enough obstacles to make it interesting but not frustrating for an amateur like me. Good for running, too. They switch the trail direction each month to keep things interesting.

Bent Creek, Pisgah National Forest, Asheville NC – miles of trails from beginner to challenging.

Trail Running

Pink Beds, Pisgah National Forest, Asheville NC – a five mile woods loop, non-technical, in a beautiful spot.

Blue Wall Preserve, Palmetto Trail System, SC – We did two sections: From Lake Lanier, goes straight up Vaughn Gap (chest burner) and is a scream coming down. From Orchard Lake Campground, trail heads along a ridge through pristine woodland. Rarely used trail. Bring Bear spray. You can get some serious solitude miles here.

Green River Gamelands – Start across from Green River Cove tubing. Technical trails along river and rapids, up into the woods. Hunting in Sept – May so summer is best.

Mountains-to-Sea Trail – close to the parkway, limited to foot traffic, this a good trail for getting miles in. Not technical on the parkway portion.

Table Rock State Park, SC– A great place to learn how to fast hike.

We avoided Paris Mountain State Park, although it is used for hiking, trail running and mountain biking, it is about an hour away, and we had so much to explore that was closer. As you can probably guess by this blog post (after a year of no posting) that we’ve been busy.

By September, I learned we would be here a little longer than we thought, and gave Paris Mountain ultra a second look. I decided I would sign up for the 50K. Since we are leaving so late to go on the road, I thought it would not allow for a consistent training schedule, so I might as well put all the summer training to good use. I knew from reading about it that the Paris Mountain Ultra, in its third year, promised some good climbing and challenging trail. Tom signed up for the half marathon, and suddenly our training developed more focus. I had a month and a half to get into “local trail” shape.

As October 22nd approached, I felt pretty good. All of our runs had gone really well, including a 20 miler going up over Howard Gap into Saluda and down Pearson’s Falls Road, an epic half day in the hot sun. My legs felt strong. I had a bit of the mojo back I feel was lost last year. Although I am not racing as much, these training runs and rides and hikes had reminded me what I love about being out there. If you have the legs to take you far, you can see some amazing stuff that some people will never see.

My sister and her friend and friend’s daughter decided to volunteer, and knowing she would be there raised my spirits as well. Trail running is pretty boring to watch until your runner comes across the finish line, so I’ve rarely had family watch me race. Nancy, Ted and Mia were put to work immediately on making chili, and were there when we turned up at 6:30 a.m. It was a balmy 50 degrees, and I was ready for a long day on the trails. From looking at the previous year’s times, I was banking on about eight and a half hours on trail. My best 50K time is 6:30, on flattish trail, but I knew with the elevation gain my time would be much longer. Matt gave a pre-race meeting in the picnic shelter, where a roaring fire in the rustic fireplace kept the runners warm before starting. I tried to pay attention to most of it, but I figured I would probably get lost at some point (amazingly, I did not. First race ever where I did not get lost!)

At 7:28 we lined up on the road adjacent to the picnic shelter start-finish line, and promptly started at 7:30. I stayed near the back and settled in to a nice me-pace. That’s me with the plaid armbands.


The trail climbed up to an old waterworks feature, and then circled a lake on flattish trail for a few miles before crossing the park road and going over what I nicknamed “Rootsville” for a half mile, and then began its ascent up the mountain. Knowing I would climb this two more times today kept my pace tame. I fast-hiked, quickly getting dusted by a group of three guys ahead. I could hear a few people behind me, but for much of this part, I was alone.

The water is very low now, as it has been dry. After crossing a dry stream, the trail takes one more push before the split. 50Kers go left. I took a deep breath, a swig of water, and then banged a left, immediately encountering faster runners having completed the firetower loop coming back the other way. We waved enthusiastically at each other, and I pressed on along the ridge, this trail slightly uphill and quite scenic. At the remains of the old firetower, I turned to the person I had heard breathing behind me and introduced myself. Kasey was also from North Carolina, a Physical Therapist, and just my pace. We ran together as the trail began to descend the other side of the mountain – a smooth, flowy few miles that were pure heaven. After about 20 minutes, we were joined by another woman, Joann, and the three of us made our way up to the second lake. Joann had been on the trail a few weeks prior, and was wearing a GPS, so was able to keep us posted about when we would hit the first aid station at 8 miles. But first, we had some more ascending to do. It was great running with these two women. We kept busy telling each other our life stories – and of course, I have to be careful with being too distracted, because that’s when I usually fall. Surely enough, just before the first aid station, on a gnarly downhill, I took a superman style flight after hitting a root with my shoe. A moment in the air, followed by a thud in the leaves and dirt. It was comically loud. I did the usual bout of foul-mouthed swearing, sat up and took note of the dirt-covered, quickly-reddening left knee. All my parts moved fine, I was just a little sore. I got up, dusted off, and we gingerly headed down the trail. After awhile, I forgot all about it and we ran along swiftly. Another tough little climb took us up to the first aid station.

The first aid station was the longest I’d “raced” before an aid station appeared, ever. Not that we were exactly lightening fast, but in those eight miles, I’d polished off my two bottles of water. The aid station was unmanned, and featured, among the usual pretzels and bars, oddly, unopened packets of Oodles of Noodles. I wonder if that’s an ultra thing I don’t know about? Crunch down on uncooked noodles? Suck the salt out of the seasoning packets? We had a good laugh over that one.

After that, the trail descended slowly back down to the lake for several miles, and circled back through the start/finish. There was my sister! I gave her a big hug and she took note of my knee, asking if I wanted to clean it up. I figured it was better to leave it, as the blood had dried at that point and the dirt was sort of a band-aid, right? They told me there had been a mile kids’ race and that they had enjoyed volunteering but they would be going. I thanked them for being there and said goodbye before heading out on loop 2 with Kacey and Joann.

The second loop was a little slower on the uphills. It was warmer, now, and we three were tired, but our spirits were still high. Knowing we had another (albeit shorter) loop to complete after this one, we kept the pace sensible (read: a lot of walking.) Kacey’s IT band was starting to bother her after the firetower. I was rearing to go after the downhill started, feeling that feeling I get on the mountain bike and enthused about the upcoming flowy downhill. At the second lake, we took a group photo, and pressed on to the next climb. I got behind Kacey and Joann and just followed their feet as best as I could. Strong women! Kacey had a bad headache as well as the IT band. At the aid station, the water cask was nearly empty. I filled up on tailwind and we made note to tell them down below that the water was nearly out. I was getting close to that bonky feeling, until Kacey gave me one of her gels – a brand I can not recall, the flavor something like watermelon lime cherry cold medicine. It was awful but it did the trick. I came back from the dead, my feet no longer brushing rocks and roots. In my newly energized state, I started in on another distracting story when BAM! Down I went for fall number two of the day. Again, on a downhill, this time on rocky trail, my left knee and leg got scraped up a little more. Frustrated, I got up and we resumed our trail. At this point, Kacey’s IT band was screaming and she bade us go ahead. Joann took the lead and I followed her down the trail, past the lake and into the start/finish once more.

One thing about loops – it’s easier to feel done with the day when people are sitting around on lawn chairs and the car is invitingly nearby. I felt done. We no longer had Kacey with us and I wasn’t sure she’d do a third loop when she eventually came in. I ate some chips, refueled, and visited the ladies’ room. Joann was heading back out. A volunteer with a green ball cap eyed me and my bloody leg and asked if I had everything I needed for the third loop. “Hm, I’m considering stopping” I replied. He said, “No, no, this loop is much shorter, it’s much easier. No worries. Just go.” I thought that if I thought more about it, I wouldn’t go. Joann was leaving. I sucked it up and went with her. (Note: Kacey did indeed come in from the second loop and then went on to the third loop, to finish the day, even with a messed up IT band. Now that’s badass.)

That third climb sucked, but knowing it was the last one, I kept sane by remembering that at the top, I would be going right instead of left, onto the shorter trail. Joann led the way. I spent this last climb noticing all the little things I hadn’t noticed on the first pass. I felt better than the second climb. At the top, we were overjoyed that we finally got to take the right turn, and it led to a really lovely doubletrack trail, slightly downhill, that was pure bliss after the climb. We had a good flow going. While I was mentally done for the day, this was the perfect time to throw this section in – just easy enough to not challenge a tired body – just fast enough to feel fast after 26 miles of running/hiking. Joann kept me entertained with stories about her work, about South Carolina history, and her family. I took the front for awhile and just listened to her. At the bottom, we met back up with the lake trail and made our way in. On our second pass through, we had met a group of runners who had stopped for an elderly hiker who had fallen and broken an arm. I wondered whether she had gotten out okay as I passed the same spot on the way in to the finish line. I couldn’t believe I still felt as well as I did after 32 odd miles and we picked up the pace in the last mile. Up the hill we went, around the bend, and in to the finish. 8 hours, fifty two minutes. Tom was there to cheer me in – he had done his half in a little over 2 hours, 2nd fastest in his age group. The volunteers (awesome, every one of them) encouraged water and food. Joann and I talked a little more, we waited some to see if Kacey  would come in, and then I finally sat for a bit. Another 50K done; another adventure in the upstate SC area (who knew there were so many beautiful trails here?), and a great day meeting new friends on the trails.

Now that that is in the books, I am ready to hit the road in a couple of weeks and see what new trails we might see in the deep south as we slowly make our way west. It was great to be made to feel so welcome by Matt and his friends at Upstate Ultras and SCUM Runners. We will carry the SCUM runner bumper sticker proudly on our van.

















Feels like Christmas in July

24 Dec

It is a very mild christmas eve in Rhode Island. In fact, it has been mild here all fall, right into December. We have thrown open all of the windows, and despite both of us having little colds, have taken several walks today. Nature is confused. On a walk with Zoe at Oakland Beach this morning, we saw what I think were Greater Scaup floating on the waves at the beach, goose-like in their look and call, making a big fuss as if summer were suddenly back and the tourists might invade their beach. On Zoe’s road, a lone forsythia blossomed on a fat bush, bare enough to reveal a sweet little birds’ nest, empty for the day. Everyone is out and about, although it is not sunny. Everything is damp, but heck, it’s Christmas Eve, so people seem cheerful out there despite the lack of a white christmas.

Working from home, I am now afforded a fine view of the side yard, where two or three fat squirrels play all day long. One pretends to work at digging a place for a store of nuts or seeds; the other waits until the time is ripe and then, in a fit of spring-like energy, runs and pounces on the other’s tail. It’s pretty cute, and beats staring at the wall of a cubicle. When the snow finally comes, I won’t have to worry about digging out to get to the bus to get up to Providence to then spend a day worrying about getting home in the snow. My commute is quite short: put the dogs out, come back inside, refresh my coffee, and get to work. It hasn’t gotten old yet.

With a little more time in the mornings, I can now devote a good portion of it to a yoga lesson with, followed by a run or, with this mild weather, a solid bike ride. I am not really good at yoga, and I’m not a big fan of classes or gyms, because despite having done yoga for awhile now, I am the least limber person I know. I can’t touch my toes. I like Adriene’s classes because she seems like someone I would talk to on the street, and she always says in her videos that it doesn’t matter where you are, but to enjoy the journey. I always laugh at people who say that. Just when you stop to enjoy a moment, it’s gone. But when doing yoga with Adriene, I actually have those moments that seem to hang on for a bit – either I’m cursing her – “move on, woman!” – or I am relishing a twist that relieves a sore back muscle. I recommend her to you if you are a beginner or just like doing things by yourself at home. Following Adriene’s lesson, I sometimes do these hip exercises to strengthen weak muscles that caused some problems for me this year. It’s pretty funny how a woman who trained for and then ran across the state, and went on to hike/run the Pemi loop in a day with her crazy friends, has weak hip muscles, but I do. So I do the full six minutes but it is HARD. The cheerful instructor says to do them several times in a row. Really? Ha. I can barely get through six minutes. But I DO already feel the benefits of these activities. I can lift my knees higher, and have a stronger upstroke on the bike.

Living out here, it is hard sometimes to not be outside all of the time. Even when it is cold, we are surrounded by beautiful trail, especially now that the DeCoppet Preserve Trails have opened, just down the road. Tom and I spent a good portion of our weekends this Fall exploring these woods. There are lots of old cellar holes, stone walls, boulders and grown over fields. DeCoppet wanted the preserve to be given to the state with the explicit wish that it be kept hunting-free, for use of foot hiking only. We still wear blaze. You just never know.

We have rediscovered the joy of the long ride the past few weekends, riding to the ocean in Narragansett, over through the woods in Ashaway, and along the coast in Newport. My solo rides are ten to fifteen miles in the morning before work to check out what’s going on in the area, seeing the sun come up over dew-blanketed hay fields. We truly live in a Paradise.

We took the house off the market temporarily to freshen up our kitchen and fix some logs on the north side of the house. The log guys were here for a couple of weeks. They were very professional and we are so happy with their work. With all the construction noise, I took my laptop and tried out some of our local coffee shops. My favorite was Fresh Ground Garden Cafe. They make excellent sandwiches, and the coffee was good. I might go back, although I make a perfectly fine cup of coffee at home and have grown used to my routine over the past couple of months. But it is nice for a change.

Spring events

This is the week for signing up for races and lotteries before prices go up. I have my eye on a few for next year, but I am hesitant to sign up for anything without knowing our housing destiny. If we can’t sell the house this spring, I suppose I can run a race here. But I have been intrigued by races put on in North and South Carolina, in particular, one race which is claimed to be the hardest marathon in the country, and another, Quest for the Crest, claiming to be the hardest 50K. As my mother says, why? It is hard to explain. Either way, both require a level of training I am not sure I am prepared for, seeing as I have taken some time off of running until I can strengthen the hips. So, we’ll see. There’s always the opportunity for a bicycle adventure. I’ve been promising Mad Legs we’d do the Kancamagus Highway for years now. Maybe this is the year. Thank goodness my best friend and training partner is so tolerant of my whims. Whether it is running, hiking, biking or laying around watching movies on the couch, Tom goes along with whatever I want to do. Lucky me.

The most important part is the journey, right?

Happy Holidays.







I might buy you a drill

19 Jun

For Father’s Day, I was thinking, I might give the bird book

to the pre-school, down the street, and tell them, “not every tweet

is the same.” Or maybe I’ll whistle through my teeth, and send

in the wind, your name.

I might give a quarter to the homeless guy, say good morning

(you would), read the news and think, what a shame.

Out back, I might check on that seedling you pointed out

– now a tree – to me, higher than our heads as you promised

it would someday be.

I might look in the mirror at the schnoz, so like yours, long and broad

like a beak, what a nose, smelling all the best and worst. Like a dog.

Speaking of dogs,

I might walk, watch their paws against the dirt trail ahead of me.

Pay attention. I might miss what you might have seen.

All the dads, on their day, with their JC Penney ties, and drawings

of you, me, mom and us all.

In their voices, in their hands, their skin and their faces, there is you

with us still, laughing with abandon and ease.

You used to slap your knee, your head back, even if the joke was bad.

I miss you, but I am not sad.

Dames Across Rhode Island – an 80 mile run on the North-South Trail

11 Jun

The beginning

As a kid growing up in Newport, Rhode Island, the extent of my outdoor time was spent at the beach. For any excursion “off island” the joke was, you would need to pack a lunch. For hiking, there was not much available except for the much beloved Norman Bird Sanctuary in Middletown. To find hikes in nature when he was home from sea, my father had to look farther afield. In the 1970s, Ken Weber produced his first “Walks and Rambles in Rhode Island” book, and my dad picked any available kid not at the beach to join him on hikes off-island. I was often that kid. At the end of some thirty- or forty-minute drive over one or the other bridge, we would end in a dirt lot with a trailhead which would be the beginning of a day of discovery. Acres of club moss disappearing into stands of young pine… glacial erratics leaning haphazardly into hillsides of mountain laurel… hidden ponds with burping bullfrogs and elegant, prehistoric looking egrets… who knew such mysteries of nature existed in Rhode Island? As an adult, I continued the tradition, leading friends on Sunday hikes through strange little towns and management areas with names like Wood River Junction, Rockville, Summit, and Wickaboxet. And on some of these hikes, I learned that many of the trails were connected to create a trail across Rhode Island, called the North-South Trail. Starting in Burrillville at the Massachusetts border, the North-South Trail crosses Rhode Island vertically, ending at the beach in Charlestown.

I dreamed of a thru-hike. Perhaps a mountain bike attempt. Later, as a runner, I wondered if it could be run straight through. And then, Ben Nephew and Bob Jackman did it. In 2013, beating a previously set fastest-known time (FKT) of 20 hours, Ben Nephew completed the entire trail in 12 hours and change. 78 miles in less than 13 hours. It was inconceivable and took my breath away when I read about it.

I was training for something else last summer, an ultra by the name of Wakely Dam, a self-supported 33-mile run in a remote area of the Adirondacks. I decided to do part of the North-South Trail from Route 6 to Arcadia as a trial run, using my water filter, and packing food to carry on my adventure. Tom dropped me at Route 6 at six a.m. one Saturday morning and six hours later I was in Arcadia with an idea in my head. I bet I could do this whole thing, I thought. I could set a fastest known time for women to run this trail. It wouldn’t be twelve hours, like Ben Nephew, but there was a chance I could do it in 20. I could carry much of what I needed and have Tom meet me every ten miles with the extras. Never  mind I hadn’t yet run anything over 32 miles. I had a 50-mile race planned for the fall, and I knew if I built up to it, I could at least attempt it.

The planning started. Tom mentioned it might be worthwhile to open this up to trail running-friends. I sent a few e-mails out, and a feeler on Facebook. I had some tentative interest from some girlfriends. In the meantime, I spent the fall examining the trail in more detail. By January, it grew by word of mouth and within a few weeks, it had exploded into this event I had never really imagined it would be. Frankly, I was quite worried.  “I wonder if…” turned into “I will have to…”


The original crew. L-R Alison Cleary, Claire Gadrow, Brenda Morris, Anj Shaw.

Tonight, coming home South on the bus, in which I traveled 30 miles in less than an hour, it seems unbelievable to me that just last Saturday, I ran the length of the state with two other women, one of whom set the fastest-known-time for women on the North-South trail of sixteen hours, fifty two minutes.



We arrived at the Park-and-Ride at the Towers on Route 1 Friday, June 5th, at 10:15 p.m. Three of us – Claire Gadrow, myself, and Alison Cleary – quickly pulled out our drop bags (we each had two) and put them into Eric Winn’s car. Eric would serve as overall Crew Lead for us, driving us up to the start of the trail, running us to the Massachusetts border, and then driving his car southward to the various trail / road intersections to allow for mobile aid stations.  It was dark up in Buck Hill Management area. Eric parked and we piled out, making last minute adjustments to packs and filling water bottles. Around 11:55 we headed up the Prosser trail, negotiating a few intersections and relying on memory (Claire had been the one to run this section most recently) to get us up to the border. It was a fairly fast run/hike up to the state line. I had hiking poles with me and used them intermittently, trying to get used to them again, as I had not used them in over a year. Our headlamps created bobbing tunnels of light. Eric kept a flashlight as well, to see the trail junctions. Once at the border, Eric snapped a photo of the three of us aaanst12and we leapt off down the trail into the dark at 12:25 p.m. A mile further, we signed in at the trail register. I think I forgot to put the date but I did state it was the Dames Across Rhode Island, signed my name, and passed the book to my right. We ran on.

At the junction with a trail back to his car, Eric left us. I was glad to have the poles as we slalomed along through basketball sized rocks along a singletrack hugged by fern overgrowth. My eyes stayed on the two women in front of me. I didn’t like to be first, because I knew that they are both faster than me and it was better that they set the pace and allow me to fall back a bit. I am used to running alone, and was comforted just by their lights and conversation ahead. I was feeling pretty good, but I did wish Brenda, our fourth Dame, was there. She was home with her daughter and had written that she may join us the next morning (she unfortunately was not able to join us for the run at all.) Morning seemed a long way off. I knew that my pace would seem snail-like to the girls ahead of me, and felt bad that maybe they didn’t want to leave me alone. We had all agreed to stay together until dawn, but it was clear that had Brenda been there, it might have been possible to split into groups of two. Oh well. I did my best to keep up, determined to save some in the tank for later. Alison was good about reminding Claire to walk the ups. Alison and I both seemed to bomb the downs, which helped me catch up to Claire, who was more evenly paced with both up and down.

We were having a heck of a good time for one a.m. An owl swooped low into the beam of my headlamp. We came along by the pond and heard big bull frogs singing. Pretty soon, the trail popped back out onto Buck Hill Road, which we crossed, and then ran down Staghead Lane through a quiet neighborhood. A lemonade stand from the day before stood at the end of one driveway. Most lights were out. A long uphill, a last turn past the house at which, during one training run, Alison and I had seen a big german shepherd. It was good he was asleep inside. Soon we were under the power lines. Claire told us that during her training run she had been lost somewhere here. I looked down the power lines and the moon briefly came out from the clouds, illuminating the long grasses beneath the lines. Ahead, Eric’s car was parked at the base of the dirt road. We quickly grabbed more water and moved on.

The next section was a few miles of a zig-zag of dirt road, which we quickly traversed. At mile seven, the markers abruptly turned left into the woods, onto the Walkabout Trail. The Walkabout Trail – more affectionately known as the Stumbleabout Trail – was designed by 300 bored Australian sailors waiting for their ship to be repaired, back in the 1960s.. At night, the footing can be tricky, and the trail markers, interspersed with red, orange, and blue local trail markers, are hard to spot. Luckily for us, Claire and I had run through this section only a few weeks before. The poles helped me a lot here. Crossing a little brook was a hop, skip, lean on a pole, and jump. There were campers here, and I reminded Claire and Alison, like some old granny, to keep their voices down. Quite suddenly the trail emerged by the pond and the bathhouse where we knew there was a spigot.

photo by Claire Gadrow

photo by Claire Gadrow

We refilled water, went to the bathroom, and returned to the trail. We got turned around in the campground and added about a half of a mile. We rejoined the trail just north of the campground entrance, coming out onto Route 44. A car passed by honking its horn. We crossed, and headed down Durfee Hill Road. The trail tucked briefly into the woods here, emerging once again onto the road, where Eric’s car waited. I re-watered, and grabbed more food to carry. I tried to open a package of Tailwind, but I couldn’t, and asked Eric for a knife. “This would be a great time for the cops to come by, eh?” I joked. Eric, with a knife, and three women on the side of the road.

I was hungry. Claire leaned in and mentioned she was going to take off, because she needed to stretch her legs and go a little faster, but that Alison would stay with me. I mentioned that the trail went up Durfee Hill and was trail for awhile, but it would be fine. I said to Alison that I had food to eat, and would walk a bit, and she should go on ahead. After a couple of minutes, both Alison and Claire were far ahead, and I was finishing my first breakfast. I picked up my pace and began to run, watching Alison’s red flashing backlight recede ahead of me.


Resigned to running alone, I kept vigilant about trail markers. I had tossed my poles into Eric’s car at the last stop, believing I would not need them. The trail, a double track with loose stone and sand, rose gently at first and then began the climb up Durfee Hill. I power walked and looked up at the moon and trees. It was anything but quiet. Crickets, frogs, the wind in the trees, owls, all entertained me as I climbed. I had my powerful handheld flashlight in addition to my headlamp to check markers. I saw no sign of Claire or Alison, but I wasn’t too worried. This section was familiar to me from our training run, so I followed along and let the miles pass.

At the top of the hill, the trail leveled for awhile. I could no longer see a moon, as either the clouds had thickened or the moon had moved to make way for dawn or both. I thought about where I was. The trail runs along a ridge, and has several intersections. Eventually it goes through a gravel pit, then descends as the road turns from dirt to paved, into civilization. From there, a few miles of paved road roll south and southwest toward the Connecticut border. A right turn up Snake Hill Road slowed me to a fast walk. The road went on. Along the border, it curved around a pond, revealing a lightened sky to the east. At the dike at Killingly Pond, I snapped a photograph of the emerging day. It was a bad photo. As it turns out, Alison snapped the same scene, so here is hers:

Killingly Pond. Photo courtesy Alison Cleary.

Killingly Pond. Photo courtesy Alison Cleary.

I could have stood there much longer. I wanted to linger, but the ultrarunner in me nudged me to move move move. I wasn’t tired, but maybe a little dismayed that all I was doing was running through, not seeing or really experiencing what was around me as the sun came up. I also realized that to do that would require much more time than I was willing to give to the endeavor. Perhaps a future through-hike over more days would allow for more sitting and experiencing. I moved ahead back into the woods. Another mile or so, and it was fully light. The trail jogged left and I remembered Claire looking at the guide and saying, during the training run, that we weren’t far from Shady Acres now. I got halfway down this juncture when I saw Eric up ahead, running toward me. Hey! Hi! I expected him to turn and run with me but he just said, “where are the other two?” I said I didn’t know — I had been far behind them, and I hadn’t passed them. He had been waiting at his car on Riley Chase Road, and when they didn’t arrive, he got worried. We ran along, wondering what could have happened. The trail went out onto a road, then left over the border, onto Pond Road. I mentioned that maybe they had been talking and missed that turn (it turns out that this is probably what happened.) We ran along til we got to the car on Riley Chase Road. I put on bug spray, mixed some Tailwind, grabbed a half a sandwich, and kept going. I crossed Route 101 where the CT welcome sign is, and now was on road for awhile. After a couple of miles, the road went right, then the trail turned left into the woods on this beautiful old road (now just a trail) with rhododendron, an old mill, mill race, and pond. I had really dug this spot during the training run and now picked my way up the wet trail. At some point, I had to pee, and did so among the greenery. As I came out, I heard voices behind me. Claire and Alison caught up as the trail turned south. We reconnected and the pace picked up as we were not far now from Shady Acres, our first marathon done. Eric stood at the base of the trail and said “where were you???”


We came out to the parking lot of Shady Acres. It was 6:15 and Claire was ready to run. She switched into road shoes and grabbed some Tailwind and was gone. I told Alison to go ahead, that I was fine running alone, but she wanted to stay and run with me at a slower pace. Apparently when they missed the turn, they were doing eight-minute miles! My 5K pace – not something I could maintain for more than a few miles. I told Alison she had nothing to worry about. We crossed Route 6 and I ate an apple. Soon we turned off of Route 6 and headed down some very pretty country lanes in Foster.


Alison and I chatted as we ran. She is a scientist, and we talked about her upcoming six month stint in Norway. The miles went along. Now it was warming up, and the roads were more exposed. Johnson Road in Foster took about forever. We passed Amber Ridge alpaca farm, friends of ours from our farming days. Then along came the the golf course, and miles of hay field. Eventually, this road ended on Moosup Valley Road, which we took west, and then after a half mile, south again on a gravel downhill. This road snaked around past a cemetery that read “Coventry” and I thought to myself, we are already in Coventry??? Finally, after nearly running out of water, we came upon Rice City Baptist Church, where Annette, our second crew lead, was waiting. She took our picture, her dog offered us kisses, and she basically got our water bottles filled and us on our way.

Coming in to Rice City. Photo by Annette Florciak

Coming in to Rice City. Photo by Annette Florciak

We crossed Route 14 and ran along down the narrow shoulder. I have biked this many times. It is one of my favorite bike routes. At the bottom of the hill, the road crossed an old bridge and, ahead, the trail turned south again, into a lovely pine-carpeted trail. Easy running for a bit, into a field of wildflowers. Alison skipped while I sang. A narrow deer path crossed the field to the woods on the other side. When I had run this alone the summer before, this field had stumped me. Now, knowing where the trail lay, I felt freer. Back in the woods, the trail came out at a little falls at Carbuncle Pond. I stopped to look. Alison kept going. I have to appreciate this, I thought. I have to give it some time.

I wet my Trail Animals Running Club Buff and put it back on my head. I ran to catch up to Alison. A box turtle was in the trail, so I stopped to pet him. The trail climbed straight up a bank. Alison, from California, cannot understand why New Englanders do not know about switchbacks. At the top, a doubletrack road gently descended, banked for mountain bikes. We flew.

The fields are alive!!! Photo by Alison Cleary

The fields are alive!!! Photo by Alison Cleary

The trestle trail eventually becomes the bike path I take to work from Coventry a few days a week in summer. Here, it was a pitted track humped by motorcycles’ tire-digging jumps. A high trestle crosses the river. We stopped to take a picture, and then came out on the roads.

Dirt road brought us to Nicholas Farm Preserve. This trail was fun because they were foresting a big swath in the middle, making way for deer and bird habitat. I called this section “low-tech” and it was trail I could have run all day long. Slightly technical, downhill all the way, Alison and I took a slightly faster pace and rumbled down. We passed the halfway point sign of the NS trail (“39 miles to the Atlantic Ocean!”) and I was feeling pretty good. We came out onto a dirt road, one which I had forgotten was quite long. In fact, it was about four miles of dirt and paved road, little shade, hot late-morning sun. Alison and I were nearing to be out of water again. The road discouraged me. Two motorcycles passed us, the lead rider looked like a guy who, just the week before, had sold Tom and me our new-used van. I waved, just in case. Small world.

“I think it’s just around that next curve.” I said for the third time. Alison wasn’t having it. This part was slow going.

Finally, the trail turned left off of the road. Into the field I remembered from last summer. We go straight – NOT up the hill. Down left into the ravine, along the barely walkable stream-trail. We passed a snapping turtle laying eggs in the sand. It was surreal.

At this point, we were both out of water, my shorts were quite swampy from chafe and the little red cousin, and for the first time, I thought about quitting. We weren’t quite at 46 miles. I knew we were close to Arcadia and the next water stop, but I was cooked. I groaned a little. Alison plunged forward. Then, in the distance, we saw Eric. “Come on. Come on!” he hollered, and we ran.

At Stepstone Falls: “Eric I am seriously done. I might not finish.” “You’re fine. Get moving.”

Home trails. Arcadia is just a few miles from home. Maybe that’s what did it. We edged along the stream, in the shade, and the trail got easier. With some food in my belly, the cranks disappeared. I ran again.

Sweet trail dawg. Photo by Annette Florciak.

Sweet trail dawg. Photo by Annette Florciak.

Four miles later, Annette was waiting at the white church on 165. A couple of weeks prior, I had parked here and run trails. There was no sweet ride home waiting for me there today. Fifty miles. A few steps more would be the furthest I had ever run. I crossed 165 behind Alison and we went up the Bald Hill trail at a fast hike. At Annette’s car, I had switched out my backpack for the one that holds a big water bladder on my back. It is not the best for trail running, but the way I was drinking water, the other pack with the little bottles was just not cutting it. It turned out to be a wise decision.

I love this part of Arcadia. I have a history with it. I lived on Arcadia Road with Zoë for about two years in my first house. I explored all of these trails with her, and with Tom, too. The dam at Browning Mill, gentle Arcadia trail, just nice stuff to run on, soothed my frazzled nerves.

I was actually looking forward to the boulder field and rock garden. After all, we had plenty of water, and I was running with one of the best trail runners in Rhode Island. Alison was feeling much better and I marveled at her quick stepping ahead of me, trying to mimic her. I found I could keep up. This is my favorite kind of trail. We were light and sure-footed. It was a great couple of miles.

photo by Claire Gadrow

photo by Claire Gadrow

Another stop at Baker Pines, at route 3, still home turf. We picked up Janet for the final 23 miles. I was happy to see her, but once again felt like the slow-man out. I don’t mind, really, but it takes some adjusting to go from running two to running three. Janet had fresh legs and was really enjoying herself. I love people who love the trails.

This part is part of my run commute to the bus. At any time, I could turn left and be home within the hour.

After another pit stop, I came out behind Alison and Janet onto Buttonwoods at the dog run. We walked up the hill in the hot sun, right onto Carolina Nooseneck and into some shade, again. This road is lovely… Old Meadowbrook Farm and the cows. Janet texted Tom for me to let him know where we were. This was starting to feel achievable, like I just might finish this thing. We got out onto route 138, and I just got into a groove, and we trucked right along. I surprised myself here as I thought it would be pure drudgery. Left on Meadowbrook Road and then back into the woods. Wheeee!


I was feeling pretty good but I was in a zone. Meadowbrook trail is just a straight shot south on soft dirt. The sun was high and clear. No more clouds. I wondered whether I was going to lose my stride and have to finish in the dark. This started becoming an obsession with me. What time was it? Was it four o’clock? Because if it is four, I want my fucking headlamp. That’s what I kept thinking. It was weird, a dreamlike state. I was so sleepy, suddenly, like I could just lie down on the side of the trail and nap.aaamonkeysleep

I wasn’t paying any attention to Alison and Janet. I was on a track. Moving moving moving.


We came out into Carolina and up ahead, I see this group of women, and Eric, and I hear Janet call hellooooo! I was not prepared for this, and I am trying to think of why there are these women here, and my mind cannot put two and two together. Janet and Alison stopped to talk but I slipped around the bunch and kept moving, afraid that if I stopped, I couldn’t go again. Eric ran a little with me, asking how I was. I told him I was really beat. Then all of them were running alongside, and Janet, Eric and Alison moved ahead. I started feeling a little discouraged. How long ago had Claire passed through? About an hour, they said. Wow. Wow, I thought. I really suck. I’m so slow. A woman beside me said, “Oh no way. You guys are incredible. You are doing great.” I looked sideways at her and slowed to a walk. “You can go ahead” I said. “I’m really tired and I am going to walk.” “That’s okay.” she said. “I’m Janet’s friend Mary.” Mary walked with me, and when I ran, she ran with me. We were far back now from the other women and Eric. “I’m sorry I’m so slow.” I said. She said, “well, I have nothing else to do all day.”

We all congregated at the Pine Hill Road stop. We were nearing the final miles. My friend Tina from work showed up with orange slices. Eric made me take 3 Aleve. “But I don’t take this stuff normally” I said. “Shut up and take it. You’ll feel better.”

How do people know these things?

Mary stayed with me the next couple of miles. She has long, graceful legs, and a light, sunny complexion that makes her look a little like a fairy with a ball cap. I kept it at a run, knowing it was downhill to flat to the field and Alton Pond Fishing Access area on Route 91. I think I walked a little as we came out to the field. It was breezy on the field, with crows circling, and nothing growing yet. Stumps of brown, and the dirt track down the middle. I listened to Mary tell me about herself and her family. It helped me not think about what I was doing.

Suddenly, Alton Pond appeared, and more people. Sara and Aaron were there, Sara ready to run in a sparkly running skirt. Aaron held their baby and offered me neatly sliced peanut butter and jellies. I ate one and instantly felt guilty and nauseous. Guilty because I had recommended what he should have at this stop (not really understanding that by that late in the game, food is just… not. for. me.)

with my RISD Balls snot band. Ready to go from Alton Fishing Access / Meadowbrook Pond.

with my RISD Balls snot band. Ready to go from Alton Fishing Access / Meadowbrook Pond.

He poured me a cold Coca Cola. Coke and V8 had been magic potion from mile 46 onward. It kept me from quitting, and gave me legs in the boulder field. I downed the Coke, thanked him earnestly, and… ready? Sara, Mary and I crossed Route 91. Once again, a steady plonk plonk plonk as we ran down the highway. Left on New King’s Factory Road with an unfortunate slight uphill. Not made better on Shamunanunanunanunanunanunuck Hill Road (seriously, I don’t know how we pronounce half the roads in Rhode Island.) I think we just walked that whole thing. Maybe I half-heartedly jogged a few feet. What time was it? Is it five o’clock? Because if it is five, I really, really want my headlamp. I do NOT want to be stuck out in the woods at night without it. This road is so pretty, so charming, so New England. No time for views, we pressed on.


At Burdickville, once we turned back into the woods, Mary meant business. No more coddling. Not quite mean, but a little more than suggestively, she turned up the pace and started to holler at me to get it in gear. I don’t think she once stopped coaching me down the rest of the trail. Sarah ran behind me, her GPS beeping encouragingly every so often. “Keep up this pace” she said, just above a whisper, “and you will totally be under 20 hours.” Really??? Really. But I still want my headlamp! The doubletrack that seemed eternal a month ago in training now just flies by as we once again meet up with Eric at a road crossing. “I want my headlamp!” I yelled. He yelled back “You don’t need it!”

On the Vin Gormley Trail, home trails once again. Tom and I run here all the time. We just ran it last week, as a matter of fact. In a low voice, Sara mentioned, from behind, that I am trucking. I felt it. I felt disembodied. The sun was getting low behind the trees. I raced along what I know of the trail, all memory, not really seeing. I stumbled a bit here and there on roots. Walk the ups. I thought of Claire, who does not like to walk the ups, and who by this time must be already finished. Amazing. We came out onto Buckeye Brook Road and far ahead I could see Tom! He was our last aid station. I know I had to run then, especially if he was taking a photograph. Also, I could not hug him, or I might not keep going. He filled my water pack and I retrieved my headlamp-safety-blankie from Eric’s car.

We jetted along the trail in Vin Gormley. It was probably the fastest I had run all day. A mile from the end of the woods, once again, Eric joined us. Now it was both Mary and he coaching Sara and me along. We were nearing the end… the trail at this point goes on forever and ever, around the campground, over a hillock, through some piney woods, and finally, finally, out onto the road.

I put it in gear and off we went. Mary shouted to some people in a house “this woman just ran 76 miles across Rhode Island!!!” I ran, without looking, without thinking, just running. “Here we go!!! Across Route 1!”

The last mile, I became very un-tired and very straight-going. Just run. Mary alongside. I felt Sara back there but couldn’t turn around. I had to had to had to keep running. I was almost done. Keep plonking down that road. Counting. Thinking, I did NOT need my headlamp after all. Not wanting to guess the hour. One more turn. We came around the corner and the smell of beach roses hit me hard. I could see people up on the rocks and I could hear them in the parking lot because they were cheering! It was so cool! Claire was already dressed, had had time to go and get her beautiful dog Pearl, having finished a couple of hours before. I was suddenly quite weepy. Very proud of Claire. Tom was clapping and I just passed them all, ran across the sand, and right up to my knees into the surf.

Coming in with Mary at the finish. Photo by Janet Sanderson

Coming in with Mary at the finish. Photo by Janet Sanderson

photo Nancy Freeman.

photo Nancy Freeman.

photo by Tom Shaw

photo by Tom Shaw

It was a good finish.

In some ways, it seemed like it happened too fast. Like a wedding, or Christmas vacation, or that first kiss.

But now I know I have crossed the state on foot, beating sunset, beating 20 hours, beating my own doubts.


Three dames ran across Rhode Island, establishing the fastest known time for women on the North-South Trail. Claire Marcille Gadrow killed it with a time of 16 hours 52 minutes, followed by Alison Cleary in 19:37, and myself in 19:44. It was amazing, beautiful, and the hardest run I’ve ever done. 80 miles for Claire and Alison (since they lost the trail around 5:30 a.m.) and 78 for me. And 2 from the trailhead to the Mass border. Pretty awesome.

Claire Gadrow is a sub-three hour elite masters marathoner from Narragansett, Rhode Island. After being seriously injured while competing at a horse show in October, Claire decided to sign on for Dames Across Rhode Island to see if ultras are REALLY what she is built for, as people have told her. In the process of setting the fastest known time for women, Claire made some new friends, fought with boulders, and learned to use swear words in new and interesting ways.

Alison Cleary competes with the Shenipsit Striders and has won or placed in her age group in several challenging trail races around New England. A  recent PhD graduate from URI whose research will take her to Norway this July to further her work in zooplankton ecology, Alison chose this adventure in order to give one last shout of appreciation to her adopted state of Rhode Island. Between skipping through fields of wildflowers and talking about how the first thing she will learn in Norway is how to avoid being eaten by a polar bear, she is perhaps the most interesting woman one could ever choose to run with.

Anj Shaw has been running and biking since 2005.  The furthest she had run before this was 50 miles in 11 hours at the November 2014 Stonecat Trail races in Ipswich, Massachusetts. She organized and planned Dames Across Rhode Island, raising $450 through for her friend Tyson Cluever, who was diagnosed recently with brain cancer. Now that she has run across the smallest state, what’s next for Anj? ‘Maybe I’ll run across all 50, starting with the next smallest – Delaware!’ Anj lives with her husband, Tom, and two corgis on a little farm in West Kingston, Rhode Island.

Dames Across Rhode Island event on Facebook

Persephone finally digs herself out

26 Apr

Cellar hole, South Kingston land trust trail, January 2015

I realize I haven’t written here since December. I have had many adventures this winter in which I shoveled snow, shoveled more snow, ran in snow, worried about ice dams and the weight of snow on the barn’s roof, slipped and fallen in snow, and driven in snow. The snow didn’t stop until… well, we had a few flakes last week, and it’s April.


…and then the snow came, in February.

But it *really* stopped in March. And although I did get out there and run in the stuff, I slowed down some this winter.


A beautiful winter run in Canonchet preserve. Farm field and woods. January 2015


Curious monkey with Mister Monkey, coldest run ever. 2015.

Part of it was that I did not have a specific race I was training for. Despite my perhaps overly-ambitious plan to run the 80 mile North South Trail in June, I didn’t have any marathons on the calendar. I signed up for the Quonset Point half marathon because it was cheap and it was going to happen on my birthday. For the most part, Tom and I spent our winter hibernating, and running some.


Farm scene, Kenyon village, February 2015


Headstone, Kenyon village, February 2015


Monkey done. No more snow, please.

Around mid-March, we learned that my Dad was not doing well, and so I made plans to get to North Carolina. We all scrambled to get there. My Dad’s reputation of being hardy and history of bouncing back made me slightly doubtful of all of the hubbub, but then I got a second call that my plans better be firm. I flew in on Wednesday, March 25th. In some ways, it was like a reunion, because all of his kids were there. We got to spend three long days talking, singing Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel (badly), and eating my mom’s wonderful dinners. My Dad, Bill Janes, died on Saturday morning, March 28th.

My Dad.


Two artists sketching. Christmas 2014.

I could wax poetic about my father, what he did, what he meant to us, what he MEANS to me, how fair and wise he was, how giving and courageous and curious he was (he put the curious in Curious Monkey) and what a lover of justice, the environment, and family he was. He has many fans. I’m not sure I have the words. He was just a really cool guy. He was tough when he needed to be. He liked to hike and run. He loved being outside. He loved his kids and grandkids. And his dogs. He loved to eat. He loved my mom.

The day he died, we were all there. He was home. It was sweet and sad.

After being pretty much cooped up in the house for three days, we all kind of burst forth into this sunny day. I took my rental car and went for a run in Blue Walls Preserve.

waterfallnc bluewallnc

It was hard. Lots of climbing. But it was beautiful and that’s what my dad would have done, if it were him in my running shoes.

He left a wonderful legacy, and he also left us all with a tremendous chest cold. I spent the next three weeks with the worst cold I have had in years. I am still not over the cough.

A week after he died, my grand-niece Diana was born. I still haven’t seen her because of my cold. I intend to make a trail animal out of that kid. Lily and Jake are great parents so far and I am so proud of them.

When I say I didn’t make plans this winter, I was a little bit lying. I DID put myself on two waiting lists for trail races. Right around the time that Dad died, I found out I was going to be running both the TARC (Trail Animals Running Club) Spring Classic Trail 50K, and the 21 mile Wapack and Back (without the “and back.”) I was happy, because it meant I finally had a goal, but I couldn’t seriously train until the cold let up. Maybe the cold was a physical way to grieve. I don’t know. I did get on the bike one or two days. And out on the road I went. Eight miles here, three miles there. The week I got back, my good friend Georgia got me out for a 24 miler on the East Bay Bike Path. It was a glorious sunny day, with a high wind. The birds were singing. I thought about Bill, and had a moment where I fell apart. Like a passing shower, I recovered quickly. Just one little bird did it.

Then, on April 12th, I ran the Quonset Half Marathon put on by Ocean State Multisports for my birthday. It was a great day and I felt strong despite the chest congestion and coughing. I finished in two hours, and of course, had wonderful birthday cake that evening to celebrate. The following weekend, my friend Georgia invited me to run the More Half Marathon in New York City with her. My friend Bonnie from work loaned me a RISD Road Kill jersey, which I wore to both half marathons.


Georgia and I had a great time in the city. I saw my childhood friend MLE in Brooklyn. We had dinner and many smootchie moments. She was a little bit Janes kid growing up and so it was nice to celebrate Bill’s life with her. The next day, I ran central park. And once again, coming up over a hill and seeing the dogwood in bloom, I had a passing shower moment. Just utter, gut crunching sadness that passed almost as soon as it came.

Since I was running for Georgia’s daughter, who had hurt her knee, we kept the pace light, and even ran with Ang the last mile. We finished in 2:14.

Going from a season of “signed up for nothing” to race almost every weekend, yesterday I did the TARC Spring Classic 50K. This endurance run takes place in Weston, Massachussetts. Tom and I had been here before when volunteering for the TARC 50 and 100 miler, a few years ago. We arrived bright and early, and dragged my gear from the car to the fenceline by the horse area. I wasn’t nervous. I have gotten my share in of longer trail runs and like I said, I wasn’t afraid to get out and run in the snow. But I hadn’t run all week due to a little pain in my hamstring. The day before, I had ridden 41 miles on the road bike, hoping that would give me some warm up for the owie hamstring and serve as my “back to back” endurance effort I needed in preparation for the North South Trail in June. I had a goal time of six hours, thirty minutes. It was about 40 degrees at the start, a bright sunny day promising temps in the 50s by the afternoon. I was a little over-dressed to start with, and didn’t know too many of the other runners. I did get to meet a woman from TARC who deals with their merchandise. She was super friendly and helpful, and I couldn’t help but buy a TARC jacket. I went out on lap one wearing the jacket. It would come off by lap two.

First lap, I went out conservatively, in the herd, running slowly, stopping occasionally when everyone else ahead of me stopped. Things thinned out about mile two. The course was delightful. Not a lot of rocks and roots, like Rhode Island, but a lot of leafy lanes and doubletrack. Some good hills. A lot of turns, all well marked. TARC puts on a good race. As I came in from lap one, I knew I needed to take off some clothes, and maybe fix a bunched sock. So I did that, and ate, and went to the porto-let, and all in all spent far too much time at the snack table.



TARC Spring classic trail map


TARC Spring classic, in my head.


Second lap was hard. I was alone, having lost a buddy who had been chatting with me and telling me stories. I was mostly alone, and failed to recognize where I was, so everything seemed longer. I knew from the first lap that there was this last.   left.   turn.  It came right before the finish, and it was followed by a little climb, a drop, and then an exit onto doubletrack that led straight to the finish line. I could not wait for that left turn. Where is it? Maybe I went the wrong way. Come on. Where’s that turn. Where’s that f**king last left turn??? A right turn. Another right turn. A long straightaway… some singletrack with some stones, rocky, rooty, muddy, hop a creek, another right turn. Another straightaway. And finally… The Last F**king Left Turn.

Third lap, back out. I took less time at the aid station. Time was cooking. I got in to a groove, and reconnected with my buddy Pete. Pete was from Massachusetts and works as an IT guy, and comes from a big family. His sister is an artist. Hearing all of these stories, lap three really flew by.

Lap four, I lost Pete, and was on my own again. But there was a group of marathoners who were finishing up their last lap, and they were having a trail party. They sat on my heel, which was fine, entertaining me with their talk. I kept my pace even and tried not to think too hard about my hamstring. I caught up with Pete at the end of this loop.

My fifth and final lap, Pete and I agreed to stick together to make it more bearable. Everyone was tired. The half marathoners and marathoners were for the most part done, so it was quieter out on the trails. We ran with Brenda, a Trail Animals regular, and she kept us talking and alert throughout. Tradition dictated I “say goodbye” to different trail features as it would be the last time I would be seeing them (until next year.) Goodbye steep hill. Goodbye lovely farm. Goodbye ferny glade. GOODBYE LAST F**KING LEFT TURN. I didn’t think about my dad during the race. Each of my loops was maddeningly consistent: 1:15 with 2-5 minutes at the aid station. I finished with a time of seven hours.


Finish line, 2015 TARC Spring classic. Smiling because done.

I hugged Brenda and Pete, and then invaded the aid station. M&Ms, oreos, fig newtons, cheetoes, leftover potatoes, corn chips, half an apple, an orange, a snack bar, two cups of straight coca cola. The last of the runners were coming in, and we cheered for them. The two guys in kilts. The determined last runner. We all sat or stood around, on tarps, in chairs, or changing to fresh clothes. Finally, Tom and I decided to hit the road.

As we pulled up Bell Schoolhouse Road, Tom pointed out the great blue heron alighting from a pine tree at the base of the hill. Suddenly, the seven hour day gave way and I choked on a sob, and had another passing shower where I was filled with such loss and sadness that my Dad was gone, and I would never see him again.

It was over before it started. Winter seems endless. We await that final F**king left turn. A bird takes off. Something pushes through the earth and blooms.


What would you do?

21 Oct

Gosh, today a squirrel jumped on a transformer and in a series of explosions managed to shut down the entire Downcity.

Here is how it went down in my building.

10:21. The lights flickered, and went dead.

10:22. Multiple exclamations ranging anywhere from “Oh, Fog and Hail!” to “What is going on?” (answer: power is out!)

10:23. Ruminations in the dark. (please note: In cube hell, there is no way to tell if it is night or day.) Someone starts eating a ham sandwich.

10:23. Bathroom break!

10:25. Out in the hallway, elevator emergency bell is ringing. Ring ring! RIIIIIING RIIING!!!! Muffled shouts. I holler at the middle elevator door. “We hear you! But I think the power is out!”

10:26. Curious Monkey decides to take the city beat and goes for a walk.

My route:


Ironically, the above route sort of looks like a squirrel.


If you turned the map with East at the top, it sort of does.

Anyway, man! that picture above is the likeness of one evil looking squirrel, isn’t it?. The kind of squirrel that would jump on a power transformer to… to… transform itself into a super electro-charged squirrel!

Because, WHY ELSE?

All squirrel-related conspiracy theories aside, during my walk, I noticed that the city had turned itself inside-out:


There were people outside of their offices, standing there on the sidewalk. What to do? What to doooooo?

Many were on their personal telephony devices, talking talking talking to SOMEONE about how they were just in the middle of all this work and oh my lord the power went out and no one knows what is going on???!!!

Many were not talking, but merely staring at their phones. Because the phones might impart some Very Important Message about What To Do In Case Of A Power Outage.

I bet twitter looked all like this:

OMG this is soooooo weird- apocalypse??? #poweroutageProvidence


Man outside of gtech said it was terrorists #poweroutageProvidence


WHEN can I go BACK TO WORK???!!! #poweroutageProvidence

Actually, I made that last one up.

In any case, as I took a seat on a park bench with a strategic view of black smoke billowing out of 15 West (OMG Fire in RISD dorm??? #poweroutageProvidence) which was AKSHULLY from them firing up an old stinky generator, I struck up a conversation with my RISD pal Dave Chandler about all the outrage from the outage. #poweroutrageProvidence.

We humans are pathetically unprepared. I mean, what do we do? We kind of stand there. As I walked by the parking garage on Dorrance St., an attendant was commenting to a passerby that “all my lifts are down. All these cars are stuck.” I envisioned what would happen if this were a for-real-OMG-apocalypse! and rather than it being this giant panic, I think it would be a resigned sigh. And then, once the internet goes down, tears.

courtesy giphy.gif

Further down Dorrance, there was a food truck guy. After Portland, when I see a food truck, I look again. This was your regular old food truck, nothing fancy, but the guy was cooking for his one customer. They seemed okay. No power? No problem. I’ll have three weinuhs up the arm, all the way.

On my return loop, via the upper part of the squirrel’s tail and back (if you are tracking the route, as certainly you may be inclined to follow in these historic footsteps of Curious Monkey’s walk on The Day The Powah Went Out Because of A Squirrel in Providence Downcity) I started thinking about last Friday’s College Leadership Rhode Island session. It was an interesting day. An amazing day. It happened here: Harrington Hall, right near the prison, in Cranston, RI.

In the morning, upon arriving, none of us knew what in creation this building was. We only knew it was near hell (the DMV) in Cranston. An imposing brick structure built in the 30s or 40s. Some guys out front, smoking. I wasn’t sure this was the place. I was glad I was wicked early, because I circled the building about five times before deciding it was the right place.

When I walked in, I saw some conference tables and some tired looking chairs, and some hopeful paintings covering some less hopeful peeling paint. The carpet smelled a little like armpit. I saw some familiar faces and wondered, uh, why here? We were soon to find out. I got my name-tag, got a coffee, and my CLRI colleagues eventually filled in. Our first speaker was the AMAZING Jean Johnson. She told us why we were there. And showed us Manny’s Story. It was very moving, and gave us some background before later in the morning when we were all actually “booked” into Harrington Hall’s shelter, upstairs. Suffice it to say it was an eye-opening experience, one I will never forget. It puts things in perspective. We also had great conversations with some other non-profit leaders throughout the day.

I have always wondered what it must be like to be homeless here in Rhode Island. I have traveled to New Orleans, Long Beach, San Francisco and Portland and have seen some serious homelessness, made apparent. In Rhode Island, it is less in-your-face apparent. We see them, but we don’t see them. The same old regg’luhs. But their struggles are just as real and perhaps even more so, given our winter weather. It is wonderful to know that people like Jean Johnson and House of Hope exist, but there is so much more Rhode Island could be doing. We can all be doing.

The Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless envisions a State of Rhode Island that refuses to let any man, woman or child be homeless

 Wouldn’t that be nice.

I imagine, though, that some of these guys at Harrington Hall, some of these folks on the street or under the bridge are way, way better equipped than any of us to handle a day like today.

They know what it’s like to suddenly find yourself out on the street, with nothing to do, unsure of what happens next.

Without electricity.

Without a phone.

Without power.


The Portland Marathon: Part II – 26.2 up (and down) the Willamette

15 Oct

Portland was my third marathon in 2014. After last Fall’s Baystate Marathon, I had changed to a new training plan (Hanson’s) that increased my mileage and intensity in my training. While this approach did work in some ways for me, my Spring marathons found me suffering from heat related stress after a cold winter of outside running. Going from long runs in 30-50 degree overcast weather to 80 degrees and sunny definitely took its toll on me. I don’t fight heat. I abide. My times reflected the more laid-back pace. So much for a 3:55 BQ (Boston qualifier.) While I was disappointed, I knew in my head that my heart wasn’t really in it – I didn’t have the right passion or reason to go to Boston. In fact, I wasn’t sure I WOULD go to Boston even if I did get a BQ. It was just a number I felt I “should” meet, and I am competitive. But on thinking about it (and after a humbling response to my inquiry about the reality of my hitting that number from an expert on Runners’ World forums) I started re-thinking my priorities. Why do I run a marathon? Do I even like the distance?

With that in mind, I vowed to run Portland to enjoy Portland, no matter the time or weather. This would be my first visit to the Pacific Northwest. It is my brother and sister-in-law’s home, and I wanted to see it through the eyes of a runner. What better way than to do it on a partially closed course, without having to worry about knowing which way I am going? Of course, if you are reading this, you probably know me, and if you know me, you know that I love maps and love navigation and especially love route-making and way-finding, and that I did plenty of research on the route prior to running the marathon. But still, a marathon allows one to run for a very long time and see things (and the people of a place) in a unique way. With this in mind, my training leading up to the marathon was less intense, and while I got the miles in, I didn’t focus on speed, but on endurance and being present in the moment.

Marathon morning arrived with another day (after three similar days) of promised clear and sunny weather, with a projected high (and dry) of 70 degrees by noon. I dressed quickly in a loose tank over a running bra and bicycle-style shorts (the same ones desperately needing replacing after many seasons…) injini toe socks with a light sock over, and the Saucony peregrines. The Saucony is a narrow shoe, and I had not run longer than 20 miles in them, but that 20 was a good 20 and they are light and seem to do the job, so that’s the shoe I went with. I had worn Brooks’ Ghosts in the Spring races, and while I love the wide footbed of the Brooks’, the shoe felt heavy and square. The Saucony pair also happen to be the marathon colors, which were the same colors of the 2013-14 Superbowl champs, the Seattle Seahawks. So I was all matchy-matchy with the banners and signs for the marathon.

Tobi, Megan, Tom and I ate our breakfasts and got out the door. It took about 10 minutes to drive downtown. We were earlier than we had to be to get in to the parking garage which was not very near the start, but I do like to have some distance to walk before a race in order to get things moving (in the customary parlance) and to shake out the nerves. We sat in the car until we started seeing people moving along, and we got in the salmon run toward the start downtown. It was still quite dark, but there was a lot of action. Photographers stopped groups like ours to take pictures (later available for twenty five bucks a pop.) We located our starting areas and after taking a “we-fie”, split up to our respective corrals.


L-R Megan, Tobi, me, Tom. photo courtesy M. McCulloch

Tom was in corral A, Tobi and I in corral C, and Megan in Corral G. We walked Megan over to her corral, said “Good Luck!” (this being her first marathon, ever) and Tobi and I walked back to C. Once there, Tobi got in line for a last pit stop and I chatted it up with a 10-year veteran of the Portland marathon, a sprightly older fella with a pointy beard. He told me that the Portland marathon was not about a PR. “The bridge gets in the way.” Deep inside, a last little glimmer of “maybe I could bust 4 hours” started to fade. I let it go. I reminded myself it was not about the time. Someone on a bullhorn started getting us moving. Tobi was still in line for the portos so I caught her eye, wished her luck, and moved with the herd to the next part of our waiting area. Once there, I noticed I was standing next to the 3:45 pace group, so I back-stepped twenty feet until I got to a saner place at the back of the pack. We all sang a unique national anthem (worth the watch), and our wave start lined up at the start. We waited for a train. You could hear the train whistle. In the distance, up the road, we could see the B wave bopping up and down. I was oddly calm. A part of me thought, you know, I’m not sure I really feel like running 26.2 miles right now. Sigh. Then the dude on the megaphone started hustling us again, and before my lazy brain could say any more, we were shuffling across the start line, our shoes clomping across the timing mat and the chorus of beeps as people started their watches. I pulled a little to the right to let the fasties pass. I was determined to go out slow, but immediately, we were greeted with the most amazing sounds and sights. On our left, about 100 feet from the start, a high school or college drum corps belted out a fast-tempo concussive that got my heart racing and my legs all shibbery. Just beyond, there were cute teeni-bopper cheerleaders, and a very LARGE early-morning crowd at the start (largest I have ever seen at any race). In a few more streets, another drumming band, this one Chinese (I think) along with real Chinese dragons dancing right next to me as I ran. I was carried away and really enjoying this first mile. A man came up on my elbow and asked about my shirt, which says “NRA – you can have my shoes when you pry them off my cold, dead feet.” for Narragansett Running Association, not the other NRA. I am not a frequent member of NRA but have done some runs with them and love the jersey, so I wore it to honor Little Rhody. By the time I finished explaining that, we were at the 1 mile marker. Oh my! I looked at my watch and realized that first mile went way too fast. I told the guy talking to me that I was going to slow down, so see yuh. He took off ahead, and I settled in to a great pace. It helped having such great crowd support. Amazing people, so friendly. And the bands. Nice! At about mile two, I saw Tobi pass by me up ahead. I mentally sent some good thoughts her way. I was so caught up in the bands and the people that I basically took no note of my location, but I know we passed beneath the Chinese gate, and we moved through an older part of town that was reminiscent of New England mill towns. Then the road moved up a long hill, and we could see the leaders come flying down the other side. That was cool. At the top of the hill, it turned hard left and we were now the leaders flying down the hill. I looked left and saw that the G bibs were heading up the hill, and looked for Megan. Finally, I saw her, running with a big-ass smile on her face. I yelled “Go Megan!”, but she didn’t hear me.

The next few miles began a long, straight, hill-less out and back along the river, with train tracks and warehouses on either side, along with some wide open lots. In the distance, a skyline of douglas firs met the blue sky. The sun was up and it was starting to get warmer. I was feeling very good at this point, and it was work trying to keep my pace back. There was plenty of water stops, so I skipped a lot of these early ones. Along about mile 7, there were pirates high five-ing the runners, playing pirate-y music and generally gargling into a microphone. I said “arghhhh” and did a little jig. I started looking for Tom in the stream of runners coming back the other way. They all had the sun in their eyes as it came up behind me. Finally, about one hour and six minutes in, I saw Tom. He was bolting, I tell ya, just flying up the road. I yelled “WOOOOO! Go Tom!!!” but he didn’t hear me. He was busy getting ready to high five those pirates on the return trip.

Now that I had seen three of the four of the my Portland marathon party (I did not expect to see Liz until the last six miles of the race) I started getting into marathon mode in my head. This wasn’t just some random run in some random town. I was in PORTLAND, OREGON baby and I was running the PORTLAND MARATHON! A quick check of my watch told me I was running on average a nine minute mile, which I knew was kind of ridiculous and maybe a little ambitious because it was only going to be hotter. As we finally came around the corner past this Christian rock band, and headed back into the sun, I realized the same thing that seemed to transport me at Wakely was happening here. I was coasting. Relentless Forward Progress. I was not in a bad place, or in a super good place, I was just getting the thing done. The crowd was cool and everything but I was not as present as I would have liked to be. I think my body or my brain just does this. I can’t quite explain it except that in front of my eyes is a narrow course and everything else is a blur. The sun, the bands, the people, the buildings, the fir trees, the other runners… I might latch on with my eyes to a swatch of pink, or a pair of purple socks, or a black wristwatch, and keep the thing in my sights for awhile, running to stay moving. I did remember to stop and get a drink, and when we took another hill at about mile 13, I noticed a woman with a corgi at the top of it. And then we were on highway 30 heading up toward the bridge. In the distance, I could see it, the St. John’s Bridge.

photo courtesy

I knew we had a way to go before getting to this bridge. From my research, I had learned that this is a busy highway, and it is not closed for the marathon. We were to run alongside oncoming traffic with only orange cones separating us from the trucks and cars racing by. I was glad for all of the training I had done along Division Street and route 3 in West Greenwich. I was quite comfortable with the cars, the industrial buildings, the noise, and the lack of spectators. Again, I was in a good spot mentally. I had taken a little cup of gummy bears at the last rest stop and worked on one, putting the rest in my back pocket. I thought about the bridge. If I was feeling good now, how was I going to feel once I was over on the other side, facing the sun? I was worried about that. That’s what got me both at Raleigh and Maine. I am not good with full sun in my face. But I figured I would wait and see. Pretty soon, we were heading up the on ramp to the bridge. This was a big hill. I was doing pretty well, just chugging along. But I noticed that pretty much everyone had started walking – power walking, really – to maybe save energy? “How smart!” my lazy brain chimed in, “you know, you could save a lot of energy just walking! I mean, they are all walking as fast as you are running. How bout it?” So I started to walk. Immediately, a woman came up on my right. She was wearing headphones and had a shiny black ponytail. She turned toward me, wagged her finger, and said, “uh, NO. You are going to run this.” So I started running, and kept up with her til we got to the bridge. Once there, the grade was much less steep, so I was running well again. The girl dropped back and said, “I’ve been pacing behind you about two miles. You can’t walk now!” So we ran together until the top of the bridge, and I looked out at the views. On the left was up the river, and dark woods and islands. Way off in the distance was a peak – what was it? I think it was Mt. St. Helens. And straight ahead was Mt. Hood. What an awesome sight. To the right was the sun, and the city. I took no pictures, because there are already a billion out there. And I don’t want to spoil it for you, oh you who may someday run this awesome race.

Needless to say, I blew down the other side. That is just my thing. I like the downs. I bomb the downs. At the bottom, a handful of soldiers were saluting a veteran runner. I got very choked up. Then we were off the bridge and bombing down this little side street, and then a sharp left and up into a neighborhood. And that is when the heat started to bother me.

This was about mile 18. I was hot. I was starting to get cranky from the sun and no shade. And this neighborhood was eerily quiet. There were people out there, but they seemed kind of dazed, as if the runners had woken them up, and they stood around their driveways and on their front lawns with coffee mugs, in slippers and pajamas. Christ, it was pretty late for pajamas. But I guess if you live in Portland, and it is sunny outside like this, you come out and just kind of… sun yourself.

I can’t say I didn’t struggle miles 18-22. All in to the sun. Very little shade. Lots of fun downhill! It was getting later and I figured Liz had already walked and was likely already done. Another neighborhood seemed very friendly with a big band on a lawn, and someone with a sprinkler. Heaven!  I walked a few times. I looked at my watch. I saw the possibility of a four hour marathon pretty much fade at that point. Okay, I thought, maybe a 4:15.

At mile 21 or 22, we had a nice long downhill. I pretty much bombed it, full sun and all. Some guy was getting sick to my right. Everyone walking occasionally. It was like we were all one body moving as one, just get it done. The crowd started to pick up a little. I had a little shade in the lee of some buildings. I picked it up again, and then saw ahead that we were going to be crossing another bridge. That meant we were near the end, YAY! But that also meant another little hill to get up to the bridge! I tucked it in, took a deep breath, and got ready for the left turn. Police officers were directing traffic and allowing cars between bands of runners. I picked up my pace a bit to be a part of a pack that was getting ready to turn left, and made it. We crossed the lane, started up the ramp, and I felt surprisingly fine. As I got to the top, we started to circle around this little loop, and I heard my name. I turned, and there was Tobi. I was very confused, because there is no way I could have caught up to her. But she said she had been slowed by the heat and had lost some steam. We took a quick walk break and then I said, “hey there’s this woman running with purple socks and she’s kind of slow but steady, so let’s just get behind her when she comes up.” So we waited and then we saw her, and we started running over the bridge. Before we knew it, we had passed her and were moving right along, Tobi in front of me. We came out on the other side and I could feel our pace increasing (and I knew I would not be able to keep up, even if only for a mile or two.) On our left were some old guys and a rock and roll band. I could hear the crowds in the distance. Suddenly Tobi called out, “Hey look! There he is!” and we saw HIM.



Yes, that’s right, we saw the unicycling flaming bagpipe playing darth vader.

And all I could think was, MAN, his legs are FILTHY!

Not, “hm, that is so weird, does he just show up at all of the events in town?” or “gee, why does he ride around playing flaming bagpipes? Why Santa, WHY?”  No. Just, “wow. those legs could use a bath.”

It was as if there was a Portland Visitor’s Center Fairy and she had granted our party three wishes and the one that someone wished hard for (probably Megan) got thrown in as a bonus. Like, why YES you can have the flaming bagpipe unicycling guy viewing. HERE!

After that, all I knew was, I was at the most loathed point in the race, yes, that moment when you are okay with 25.798 or whatever. Like, do I REALLY have to keep running? Can’t we just call it done? I briefly considered just walking to the end. I was done. It was hot. I was looking forward to the part after when I could collect armfulls of food and meet up with my peeps. Yes, and visit the porto.

And it was slightly uphill.

And the people were yelling “YOU’RE ALMOST THERE!” and I’m like, okayokayokaaaaaaaay shuddup.

And then the sign.

photo from

And the purple chute, which meant I was nearly, nearly there.

Nearly there…

A left turn… um, still not quite there…

Another turn, a little rise… oh for…

Another turn and BAM! Finissio! Like, Immediately! Like, you are done!

And someone is giving me a medal.

And I am walking walking walking up to the food tables and just making this little cradle out of my bent arm to collect all of my free marathon food! And chocolate milk and more Ultima drink and water… and some crackers, some halloween candy, DAMN, I wish I had a shopping bag. Because girlfriend, I can eat after running 26.2. Oh yes.

And they gave me a finisher’s shirt which I fashioned into a food hammock, and tried to walk back down to get more food but An Official Volunteer gently turned me back and said “please move forward.”

And they gave me a finisher’s jacket, which I suddenly felt the need to put on right away.

And I kept walking and finally saw Tobi sitting on the side, on a curb. I put my stuff down and visited the porto while she chatted up this exquisitely handsome lad.

And then I made her get up and walk, unfortunately busting into her small talk (sorry, Tobi!)

And we walked. We walked and walked, completely lost. Since we had no drop bags at this race, we had no map, and no phone. Just a general sense (and not so good) of where we were supposed to go. Little realizing that as we dallied, my poor sister waited on us at the agreed upon spot (sorry, Liz!) and we did not wait for Megan to come in (sorry, Megan!) I felt like I had to keep walking or I would never be able to walk again. We saw some tweaky street boys and asked them for directions and they kindly obliged. We finally found the parking garage, and damn if we didn’t take the stairs (whose awesome? We’re awesome.) We found Tom sleeping in the car. We changed and went across the street to this amazing amazing amazing fountain.

Teachers’ Fountain, from

We sat and soaked.

And Liz called.

And Megan called.

And eventually, we were all together again.

And we drove back to the house, and took long showers.

And Peter and Stacy brought over this amazing barbecue, and Liz brought ice cream and pumpkin pie, and it was all soooo soooo good.







Proportioned to the groove

29 Sep

I have had a heavy past couple of weeks. I am lucky though, because I have been running with some good friends, old and new, and loving up the trails and roads of Rhode Island and Connecticut. Lucky me, right? When the shit hits the fan, I know I can count on my friends.

One morning last week, I was taking the hand towel out of the downstairs bathroom to use at the kitchen sink, and in the process, pulled off and broke this little ornament that has been hanging on the end of the towel rack since we acquired the farm many years ago:


Since last week, while cleaning, I dropped my Pinnacle Ultra Finisher’s Spike (a spike big enough to kill a vampire, small enough to carry home in your duffel bag) in the sink and cracked it, the sink is off limits until the plumber can be secured.


We had been using the bathroom as a sort of trophy room; Race bibs lined one wall, and two hooks held finisher medals.  It was kind of cool and showed that man, we have run and biked a lot in the past few years. All of my running friends have one of these areas in their houses. Gail and Dave, Marathon Maniacs whose goal it is to run a marathon in each state (and are nearly there, as well as having completed multiple ultras, townie 5 and 10ks, and triathalons) have their front hallway dedicated to the pursuit of their goal, with some medals framed, photos of them smooching during races (they are Team Smoochie) and extra medals draped over the newel post at the base of their stairs.

I love this! So neat! Photo courtesy G. Martin

I love this! So neat! Photo courtesy G. Martin

Georgia, who this year is completing not only multiple marathons (including Berlin) but also running 5Ks across the state of Connecticut, does this awesome thing:


Says Georgia: “Annual tradition has it that I post all my running bibs on my cubicle wall, for motivation (in running and in daily life).  The bibs represent the events that I have run in and completed in a year.  Once the year is over I take all bibs home and make a collage out of them.  Then with another new year I start over and decorate my cubicle once again with running events.  It is a great way to stay motivated  and also motivate others to join in and change their lives forever as they take up running.”

There are also the kind souls like Britni who dedicate their races, medals and bibs to children in need.  I asked Britni to tell me about it. “Over the last few months I’ve been running for a 7 year old boy named Aidan, who has hypoplastic left heart syndrome. Whenever I run a race that offers a medal to finishers, I ensure Aidan receives these medals. He absolutely loves them because they make him feel part of the experience and joy that running gives.” I think that this is awesome, and a great motivation to run.

Then there’s Fred Zuleger, a Rhode Island running God. He has lots of bibs.

Photo from The Providence Journal

Photo from The Providence Journal

We see Fred at almost every RI race. The guy is unstoppable. I’m surprised his house doesn’t fall down from holding up all those bibs and medals.

I wish I had taken a picture of our bathroom before I took all the bibs down. But it was beginning to look like a dorm room. So now, in our office, there’s this:

Andy & Tom's excellent Bib collection

Andy & Tom’s excellent Bib collection

I keep the bibs. So does Tom. On the backs, I write the day, my time, and any other bit of information, in sharpie, Some day, I will have to throw them away. I will not make a quilt from them. Or a jacket.

Even though… whoa. Tyvek. Water resistent!

Anyhow, so now our half bath is back to being a half bath in a normal person’s home except that you can’t use the sink, and in the process of pulling the towel off the rack, I broke that little ornament.  And I am keeping it. I am going to throw it in with all of the bibs and medals. Because what I have had of running, all of the friends I have met over the years, the things they do to help others, makes me love them. So the little ornament sentiment rings true.  As dear old Emily Dickinson so proudly wrote it, and would be proud to read it if she was sitting on my toilet:

That love is all there is,

Is all we know of Love;

It is enough, the freight should be

Proportioned to the groove.

Thanks y’all for running me through the weeks. My head has been in the toilet, but my heart has been klomp klomp klomping along.

A yard sale is like sleeping with the blankets off.

9 Sep

I haven’t written in three weeks because I have been consumed with the idea of having this big yard sale. We have a lot of stuff, and while getting LMB all ready to go back to Providence for her senior year, we were all going through a major de-stuffing. I am feeling the twitch of the empty-nester – the haltingly eager desire to get the crap cleaned up and see the floors again. And by god, when pressed, that kid can pack. It took a summer of nagging and some very late nights last week, but she got it done. We helped. A little.

Photo courtesy

Photo courtesy

It really was so incredibly, shamefully, painless. Her Dad came and got her and her stuff, and before we knew it we were driving crap up to Providence and a few flights of stairs later we were in her newly moved-into apartment, her happy smile testament to her new and much desired independence. And then we left. I did not even cry, and she didn’t text me til the next day. Our job is done. For now.

Photo-0058 (2)

That done, we went home and started clearing out bookshelves and taking stuff out to the garage. Tom’s mother Roz was a big help. In just a few of days, we had 75% of a yard sale priced and ready. I made signs Friday morning in lieu of a run, and Friday night, we drove to all neighborhood outlet points and hung them up. Saturday morning arrived at 4:30 and we got to work with the usual chores, walked the dogs, and started pulling it all out into the yard. A forecast for rain and thunderstorms after two worried me a little. But the weather held out, and by 6:50, our first two dealers had arrived. 

They were expected. That’s how it goes, right?

photo courtesy

photo courtesy

Tom had a lot of stuff he has been hiding or kept stored somewhere that I didn’t even know he had. Within a half hour, the two dealers had big piles stacked in the driveway already, while I was still dragging out my measly contributions to the sale.

Thinking about it now, I actually didn’t have that much stuff to sell. Some books. Some trinkets. I was giving away (for donations to Save One Soul Animal Rescue League ) a bunch of LMB’s old stuffed animals and all of the old children’s books – “For Adoption – all proceeds to…”. Actually, some of those were mine. Including Hot Shot, a stuffed husky Tom won for me at the Woodstock Fair many years ago. Adopted. And Big Bear, a big stuffed bear I got at a yard sale in the Adirondacks one camping trip. Adopted. The Hedgehog Feast, a book gifted to LMB when she was 6 or 7 by my good friend Jackie now taken home to a sweet little private kindergarden down the road. Adopted. All in all, that part of the sale netted a good thirty bucks for Save One Soul. Yay!

The big person books didn’t sell. People don’t really like books anymore.  Except for this kid Cody, who, although born in 1991, was not sure what a Sony Discman was. We couldn’t get him to buy it, either. We did get him to take Tom’s old turntable and a Penguin Voltaire, which will look nice on his hipster bookcase. He said he was in a band. I asked what kind of music and he said, “Progressive Rock. Do you know that genre?”

And then there was the fairy lady. The fairy lady was cool. She had a walking cane and long skirts, long hair, she was very authentic. Almost TOO authentic. Like a spy dressed up to look up like a batty overweight children’s book author with a bad hip. And that is exactly what she was. She took many of the children’s picture books. She said “When I read to my god child, we take the pictures from the books and make a collage, and we talk about what we are feeling about the pictures.”

 She also bought a hamper and a picture of a ship. I helped her carry her stuff to her car, because she had that cane. She told me she was a published author and often hired local artists and illustrators from RISD. Ding! I gave her LMB’s info. So, LMB, if you are reading, you might get this phone call…

We also met many neighbors and old timers from the area. They are always reminiscing when they come up “School Bell House.” I met the woman whose family built Pine Hill Farm up the road, and whose family name graces many roads and lots in Richmond and Exeter. That was cool. And we met some folks who were camping down at Galilee and sold them the woolen rug that smelled like cat pee for five dollars (with full disclosure. We made sure they knew a cat had peed on it and wrapped it in plastic for their ride home.) They were really nice and we talked about politics, which was unexpectedly fun. I realized I was starved for good dinner-party quality political conversation. As my friends all know, it has been awhile since we have accepted any social invitations. I have no excuse. I obviously miss it because I was all over these people like Tom Hanks with Wilson in Cast Away. As they drove away, I thought, gee, I could really be friends with them. And then I thought, wait, friends don’t sell friends a cat pee rug. Tom said they probably got half way down the road, looked at each other, stopped the car and threw that rug right into a ditch.

Photo-0065 (2)

But LOOK at all this stuff. If I saw books like this at a tag sale, I’d be all over that action. But we couldn’t move them. So if you are looking for a nice Christmas gift, come to my house and go in the garage and pick out twenty books for free. Your holiday gifts are covered. And they don’t even smell like cat pee!

Meantime, because of all of this de-stuffing, I was not able to run on Saturday. It’s probably not a bad thing, because it was hot and swampy. My running pal Georgia ran the Run Around the Block 15K, which I really wanted to run. You basically get on a ferry in the morning, run this race, spend the rest of the day on the beach, eat and drink, and go home on the party ferry. Sounds fun, and it would have been a good training run for Portland. As it was, I sat in front of this old hipster camper making change for twenties.

Photo-0062 (2)

It was a good workout. Yeah, really. I had to keep getting up to help get stuff from over heah and put it over theah.

And only one person asked to see the couch inside. I took her inside and she took one good look and turned around. So we still have a sectional sofa with dog hair and a couple of snags on it (but no cat pee!) that is perfectly comfortable if I can pay anyone to please take it. Please?

It feels good to de-stuff. I am digging this action. In the de-stuffing, I moved our Rack of Running And Biking Accessories from the office to the basement, which had been cleaned out last week prior to the yard sale. What a difference such a small thing can make. And it doesn’t end there. De-stuffing can be addictive and carry over into other areas of one’s life. It can lead one to do such crazy things as Finishing Up Last Night’s Dishes so the house looks nice when Tom gets home from work. Or Cleaning Out the Running Shirt Drawer (a very big deal, as any runner knows.) Perhaps in the de-stuffing, I clear a little stuff from the fuzzy grey matter, too, and make that machine work a little better when it counts.

One thing I did not have, for the most part, was the classic Yard Sale Regret.

While I got a little misty eyed when the kids’ table that had been drawn all over by a young LMB went for four bucks (gulp – let it go…) for the most part, it was all good.

This is only phase 1 of our overall Shaw De-stuffing Process. Stay tuned for more.






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