Every year around my birthday I try and seek out some sort of fun adventure. In the last few years there has been a cross country train trip, an extended Airbnb stay in Buenos Aires and long races in the mountains of Montana and through the Arizona desert. This year the plan was to find something a little closer to home.

One of the many things I love about the Portland area is the availability of great public transportation. I often take buses and trains to help with the logistics of long runs. So when I heard that there is now a bus that goes to Timberline Lodge at the base of Mt. Hood, I thought it would be fun to use it to set up a big adventure run.

It was a cool and crisp autumn day when I caught the first Mt. Hood Express bus of the day. From the suburb of Sandy it’s only $2 and a little over an hour for the ride up to Timberline Lodge. I arrived just as the sun was rising along the east ridge of the mountain. At the same time in the opposite end of the sky, the full moon was dipping into the horizon. The rays of the rising sun turned the moon an eerie blood red color. It was an otherworldly experience and felt like some sort of sign.  Whether good or bad was yet to be determined.


If you’ve been following this blog you’re probably aware that I’m a big fan of the Pacific Crest Trail. The plan for my birthday run was to hop on the PCT at Mt. Hood and run the 50 miles to the Oregon/Washington border, where the Bridge of the Gods crosses the Columbia River. Yoshimi would meet me there at the Thunder Island brewpub to enjoy a celebratory burger and beer (and give me a ride home).


Everything I needed for the day I’d have to carry with me, except for water which I’d find along the way. Because of the pre-dawn chill I was wearing all of my clothes and my little running pack was filled with a random assortment of energy bars. For the first ten miles the PCT shares the route with the Timberline Trail, which goes around Mt. Hood. The Timberline Trail was my first big adventure run in 2012 and is pretty much responsible for getting me hooked on trail running.

Fall is the best time of year to run. The kids are back in school, the tourists are gone, the weather is cool and the rains have yet to arrive. I was almost 4 hours and 20 miles into this trip before I saw anyone at all–a backpacking couple sitting beside their tent and starting the day with some warm drinks. They seemed to be enjoying the peace and solitude as much as I was.

The sun had now warmed things up a bit, so I stripped down to just a T-shirt and shorts. The next section passes through the Bull Run Watershed, which provides all the drinking water for the Portland metropolitan area. We are lucky to have some of the cleanest, best-tasting tap water in country.


I bumped into a guy at the abandoned Indian Springs campground. He was thru-hiking the PCT, having started at the Mexican border in May. We hiked a few miles together and he had some crazy stories to share: walking hours through the Mojave Desert without any water, being confronted by a family of bears in the Sierra Nevada and postholing through knee-deep snow in the Three Sisters Wilderness.


He also said that the popularity of the Cheryl Strayed book, Wild (and the subsequent movie with Reese Witherspoon), has caused a massive increase in the number of hikers attempting the PCT this year. During his first few weeks he passed many people struggling under ridiculously large backpacks and later heard that 95% of the hikers attempting the hike this year dropped out within the first month.

It was fun to hear his stories, but I had to get going and cover the last 15 miles to the Bridge of the Gods and a fresh hopped IPA with my name on it. At this point I split off from the PCT to take the more scenic Eagle Creek Trail. While visiting my sister in 1999, we hiked part of this incredible trail together and it helped to convince me that this is where wanted to live.

Hikers approach Tunnel Falls on the Eagle Creek Trail, Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Oregon.

Eagle Creek is one of the most popular trails in the Portland area and on this beautiful fall day there were swarms of hikers. During the first 9 hours of my run I could count the number of people I saw one one hand. But in this last hour, there were easily more than a hundred.  It was a shocking reentry back into society. However at that point I was running on fumes after having already eaten all of my food. It was the thought of a big burger that pulled me through to the end.

I got to Thunder Island before Yoshimi arrived and secured a table overlooking the Columbia River. My quads were trashed from all the downhill running and I had trouble lowing myself into a chair.  A woman at the next table looked over and asked how far I had run. When I told her that I started from Timberline Lodge, she just shook head and said, “That’s too far.” It is a long way to run in one day, but I can think of no better way to celebrate my 46th birthday.



Each runner follows a different plan in preparing for a big race, yet these plans all seem to have a similar structure. There is a slow buildup, a ramp up in intensity, some tune up races, a taper and then the target race itself. This is the type of program I was doing this year in preparation for the Waldo 100K. The plan, however, took an unexpected turn when I broke my foot in July.

Initially I felt that the timing couldn’t have been worse–just 6 weeks before my big race. But the more I thought about it (and believe me, I thought about it a lot) the more I realized that I was already 90% of the way there. In the first half of the year everything had gone according to plan. The only variation would be that instead of the usual two week pre-race taper in training, it would now be six weeks.

The top priority was to make sure my foot healed properly, which meant no running at all. The second priority was to minimize fitness loss, so I started swimming everyday at this outdoor pool nearby.  It was a great way to enjoy the crazy hot summer we had here in Portland.

By swimming I was able to maintain a certain level of fitness, but more importantly it took my mind off the race. My foot healed quickly and I was able to start doing a few short runs. To minimize the impact on my heel I ran with trekking poles. European mountain runners often race with poles and it was fun to have something purposeful to do with my arms.

Going into the race I really didn’t know what to expect. My foot felt fine, but it’d only been tested on a few short runs. Who knows how it would hold up over 62 miles of mountainous trail. Eliminating the need to compete was liberating and as a result I felt calm and relaxed. I looked at it as just a long day of moving slowly and deliberately through beautiful wilderness.


The Waldo 100k is now in its 14th year. The race starts and finishes at Willamette Pass Ski Resort and goes over three mountains (Fuji Mountain, The Twins and Maiden Peak). Much of the race is along the smooth single track of the Pacific Crest Trail and passes by numerous alpine lakes. Each year the Wet Waldo award is given to the runner who takes a dip in the most lakes over the course of the day.

The USFS permit allows only 135 runners and a lottery in March determines who gets in. The race starts in the dark at 5am and runners are given 16 hours to finish. There is also an early start option for those who may need an extra 2 hours to beat the 9pm cutoff.


I ran a conservative race, power hiking the hills and running the flats and descents. I spent a lot of time at the aid stations, enjoying all the yummy high calorie fuel. The grilled cheeses, pierogies and popsicles were some of my favorites.

There was plenty of time to meet and chat with other runners along the way. A personal highlight was getting to run with Gordy Ainsleigh. In 1974 Gordy cemented his status as an ultrarunning legend at the Tevis Cup, a hundred mile horse race through the Sierra Nevada mountains. He completed the race on foot, without a horse, finishing in under 24 hours and thus “inventing” the 100 mile trail running race.

TRR 2012-82

Gordy is now 68 years old and runs with a twinkle in his eye like a jolly St. Nick. At Waldo, he took advantage of the early start and I caught up with him late in the race when he was struggling on the hills. However, he soon came rumbling back like a runaway train on the descents. We passed each other twice and then a few miles from the finish he caught me one last time. As he went by he said, “If you were a beautiful woman, I’d follow you till the ends of the earth, but you’re not, so I’ll leave you in the dust.” I hope to be half the runner he is at that age.

Overall I was really pleased with how the race played out. I moved consistently all day long without hitting any real low points. It wasn’t an easy race, but it wasn’t as tough as I thought it would be either. It was also interesting to discover that despite having taken so much time off in the weeks leading up to the race, I was still able to finish (and with 42 minutes to spare!). I look forward to returning to Waldo again and next time with a full training cycle under my belt.

"Waldo 100 k at finish 2015"


A sure fire way to tell if someone is new to Portland is hear them pronounce the name of the river that runs through the center of town. Newbies mistakenly call it the /wil-la-MET/, instead of the proper /wil-LAM-it/. I can still remember being corrected in 1991 by a native Oregonian who explained, “It’s called the Willamette, damn it!”

For much of the twentieth century the Willamette River was a dumping ground for sewage and industrial pollutants. It was considered by many to be one of the countries dirtiest rivers. That started to change in the late sixties with more stringent environmental protection laws and with the twenty year $1.4 billion Big Pipe project which redirected sewage away from instead of into the river.


Despite the fact the river is as clean as it’s been in a long time and perfectly safe for recreational activity, it continues to be scorned by locals. This is something that the Human Access Project is hoping to change. Their mission is to transform Portland’s relationship with the Willamette. This is from their website:

The Willamette River is our home. We live on or near its banks and cross it every day. Yet, for generations we humans have mistreated, neglected, and scorned it. Well, the tide is turning. Together with others, the Human Access Project (HAP) is helping people “get into” this natural treasure – to enjoy it, preserve it, and cherish it for generations to come.  Join the Riverlution!

To help change public perspiration of the Willamette, HAP has initiated many events and projects, probably the best known of which is The Big Float. Now in its fifth year, The Big Float is a huge downtown beach party where thousands of people play in and float on the Willamette. This event has done wonders to sway public opinion.


Another thing HAP does is organize regular swims in the Willamette during the summer. The River Huggers Swim Team meets three times a week and with the support of safety kayakers swims under the Hawthorne Bridge, tags the other side and then swims back.

Since I broke my foot last month I’ve been swimming nearly everyday at this great outdoor pool at Grant High School. I hooked up with my old coach for some brushup lessons and dug out a training plan from three years ago. My swimming skills are still in the beginning stages, but I’m surprised how much I enjoy these after-work swimming sessions. Last week a woman in the next lane said to me, “This is so much better than happy hour!”  I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I’ve been having so much fun I decided to join the River Huggers for a swim of the Willamette.

It’s surprising how warm the river is in the morning and with so little rain this year there’s hardly any current at all. I was definitely nervous beforehand, but everyone on the team was really supportive, even the guy who said, “Yeah, we’ve hardly lost anyone to shark attacks this summer.” We all left our flip flops and towels at a dock on the east bank and at 7am unceremoniously hopped in the river and took off.


I had never swam in open water before, so it was a bit unnerving to not be able to touch or even see the bottom. In a pool, you’re in a narrow lane, so it’s easy to swim in a straight line, but here in the open water, I was zigging and zagging and would have to stop frequently to recorrect.

It was pretty cool to swim under the Hawthorne Bridge and look up through the grates at all the cars on their way to work. But at around the halfway point I started to panic, realizing there was still a long way to go. If you’re running and get tired, you can always take a break, but if you stop swimming, you to start to sink. Luckily I remembered some survival strokes from high school swim class and was able to recover enough to start free-styling again.


After about 20 minutes the whole group was already across, waiting for the new guy who was holding up the whole operation. I must have looked bad when I finally arrived because several of them asked if I was doing alright. It was a huge relief to finally be able to touch the bottom again, but I barely had a chance to catch my breath before they all took off again. I then looked at the safety kayaker, shook my head, and told him that I’d be making the return trip on foot. Though he didn’t say anything, I could tell he agreed with my decision.


Hundreds of cyclists commute across the Hawthorne Bridge every morning and many of them were surprised to see this waterlogged, half-naked, barefooted dude stumbling over the bridge. I must have looked like a homeless person who got drunk and fell in the river.

It was a bit embarrassing to do the walk of shame back to the other side, but then again, I was proud to have made it at least one way across the river. It’s only been four weeks since I started swimming again and this experience has motivated me to train even harder. One day I’ll do the full round trip of the Willamette and become a real River Hugger.

There a few things in life that are inevitable, death, taxes, and if you’re a runner, injuries. Though I’ve had my fair share, I’ve been pretty lucky in this department and haven’t had to deal with anything too debilitating…until now.


It had been a great year up until this point. My goal for 2015 was to focus on speed and technical trail running skills. To do this I opted for shorter trail races where I’d be forced to run at a faster pace to remain competitive.

Last year I only ran four races. Granted they were all long and hard, together totaling 212 race miles (that’s more than eight marathons!). And while it was fun to challenge myself at these longer distances, I missed running fast. Well, you know, fast-ish.

So far this year I’ve already raced four times, mostly trail half marathons. These shorter races are fun and allow for quick recovery times. They were all new courses for me (Vortex Half, Smith Rock Ascent 15M, Trail Factor Half and Mary’s Peak 50K) and it was great to be drinking a celebratory beer before noon, instead of slogging through a 50 mile day.

Things were looking good for my peak race of the year, the Waldo 100K, which would serve as my qualifier for Western States. As I mentioned in my previous post, the Western States 100 is the grand daddy of ultras and it is my dream to run it some day.

To get in you need to run a qualifying race to be eligible for the lottery. For every year your name is not chosen in the lottery, you are given twice as many chances the following year. Your odds improve exponentially with each entry until eventually you get in. But miss just one year of qualifying and it’s back to the beginning.

There’s a limited number of qualifying races and entry into Western States is so sought after that now even the qualifying races have lotteries. It’s a crazy system, huh? I’ve qualified the last four years and after my name was chosen in the lottery for the Waldo 100K, it looked like this year I’d get a fifth qualifier, greatly improving my chances to get into the 2016 Western States. But then I had a little accident.

Cycling home from a show at Mississippi Studios last Tuesday night I hit a divider on a dark street. I went over the handlebars and scraped up my right side. It didn’t seem like that big a deal at the time, so I rode home and went to bed.

The next morning I couldn’t walk. Hoping it was just a strained tendon in my foot, I stopped off at Zoom Care for an X-ray just to be sure. I wanted to cry when the doctor came back with the results carrying a walking boot and a pair of crutches.

Actual X-ray

Actual X-ray

He told me that I have a heel spur, a small extension of the heel bone, on my right foot. It’s not uncommon, about 10% of the population has heel spurs. What is uncommon is to fracture a heel spur, which is what I did on the fall. It wasn’t something he’d ever seen before, so he sent me to a specialist.

The podiatrist said it didn’t look that bad and would probably heal up pretty quick. I was scared to ask her whether I’d be able to race in six weeks.  “Is it a marathon?” she asked.  Ahhh, no.  “A half marathon?” Nope. “Oh no, you’re not one of THOSE, are you?” She went on to say that ultra runners are her most difficult patients because they are so desperate to start running again that their recovery is often compromised.

While it is true that I am one of THOSE, at the same time, I don’t want to be one of those who doesn’t allow the injury to properly heal. I’ve put away the running shoes until I get the green light from my doctor. I don’t know at this point whether I’ll be able to run Waldo (and qualify for Western States), but I haven’t given up hope yet.

In the meantime, my doctor has given me an alternative…swimming. It’s not my favorite form of exercise, but it beats sitting on the couch reading running magazines and feeling sorry for myself.

70-Year-Old Gunhild Swanson at the finish of the Western States 100

70-Year-Old Gunhild Swanson at the finish of the Western States 100


The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run is the most famous, most competitive and most prestigious ultra distance race in the world. It’s kind of like the Boston Marathon of ultras. It starts at Squaw Valley and then goes up and over the Sierra Nevada mountains, through canyons and across rivers before finishing on Placer High School track in Auburn, CA.

To show you how difficult the course is, here’s the elevation profile of Western States as it compares to Boston:


Western States has a strict 30 hour cutoff time and it is only those finishers who receive one of the coveted hand-made belt buckles to commemorate the achievement. The buckles are a throwback to the 100 mile horse ride that inspired the event.


To get into Western States you must first run a qualifying race of 60 to 100 miles. All qualifiers are then put into a lottery and only 369 winners are chosen to run each year (as opposed to Boston which allowed 32,000 runners last year).

It can take years of qualifying before finally having your name picked in the lottery. And once you do get in, you definitely want to make sure you get that buckle because it could very well be your one and only chance.

The race was run last weekend on a day when temperatures were brutally hot. The heat really took its toll and only 68% of the runners were able finish in under 30 hours.

Men's Winner Rob Krar

Men’s Winner Rob Krar


There were many dramatic narratives that played out over the course of this year’s race. However, the loudest cheers were not for the winners, but for the person who finished dead last.

At 70 years old, Gunhild Swanson was attempting to become the oldest women to ever finish the race. And at mile 88 she was on pace to do just that, until she took a wrong turn.

Extra miles are the last thing you want at this point in the race. However, she didn’t let it get her down and instead focused on getting back on track.

When word began to spread that she had a chance of finishing before the cutoff, several runners including Rob Krar met her at the last aid station. Rob ran the last mile with her (in flip flops!) to help push the pace.

When she entered the track at Placer High School, there was still no guarantee that she’d be able to finish before the 30 hour cutoff. The crowd rallied behind her and several folks joined her for the final sprint. It was one of the most thrilling finishes in the 42 year history of Western States.

Here’s a VIDEO CLIP of her finishing with just six seconds to spare. I get choked up every time I see it.

Remember Gunhild next time you don’t want to go to the gym or when you don’t feel like running after work. She’s an inspiration to us all and proof that we’re capable of doing more than we think.



Jiro Ono is considered by many to be the best sushi chef in the world. His little 10-seat restaurant in a Tokyo subway station received Michelin’s highest rating, yet the 85 year old still obsesses on how he can continue to improve. The 2011 documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, beautifully captures the importance of passion in all our lives and the elusiveness of perfection.

The movie was so popular among foodies that a New York restaurateur offered to put up the money for Jiro’s assistant, Daisuke Nakazawa, to run his own restaurant in Greenwich Village.  Sushi Nakazawa was an instant success and is one of the toughest reservations to get in New York.

Yoshimi joined me once again this year in New York for Book Expo America, the book industry’s main trade show.  For months beforehand she tried and failed to get us a reservation at Nakazawa.  She was just about to give up when a friend offhandedly mentioned that he knew one of Nakazawa’s assistant chefs.  He pulled some strings and just like that, we were in.

I was so thrilled to have finally gotten a reservation that I completely forgot to ask how much it was going to cost.  Yoshimi then informed me that the 20 course meal with sake pairings would be $300/person, not including tax or tip.  I’m sorry, but there’s no way I can justify an $800 meal.  Neither my palate, nor my wallet, is that refined.

When dinner costs more than the mortgage payment, that’s where I have to draw the line.  But luckily for us there is a budget option that foregoes the sake and is “only” $150/person.

The reservation was for our first night in New York and we arrived in Greenwich Village early so we could have a drink in the neighborhood before our big meal.  Like Jiro’s restaurant in Tokyo, Nakazawa has only 10 seats at the coveted sushi bar.


Just a few feet from where we’re sitting, Chef Nakawzawa and his four assistants prepare the 20 sushi courses and hand each piece to us individually.  The courses were spaced about 5 to 6 minutes apart, so that we were never stuffed nor rushed, and yet felt perfectly satisfied afterwards.

Watching these guys prepare each piece of sushi was fascinating, a bit like performance art.  And to me way more interesting than any Broadway play.  I still don’t think I have the palate to fully appreciate all the flavor subtitles, but nevertheless was blown away by the whole experience.

It’s not easy to spend $400 on a alcohol-free meal, but for me it was totally worth it and something I’ll never forget.

Here are some pictures from the rest of our time in New York:











If you’ve never been to the Grand Canyon, you really need to go.  No seriously, like RIGHT NOW! It doesn’t matter that we’ve all seen it in countless photos, videos and movies, including the iconic final scene in Thelma and Louise.  It’s truly a magical place that’s beyond description and to see it in person will blow you away.

My original intention wasn’t to go to the Grand Canyon on this trip.  The plan was to relax and do some bird watching in southern Arizona.  I’d discovered birding a few years ago and found that it’s a nice complement to my love of nature and travel.  Plus, it’s a very civilized activity for a middle aged dude such as myself.


But this plan changed when I bumped into the owners of Animal Athletics.  They had just gotten back from doing the Rim to Rim to Rim (R2R2R) in the Grand Canyon.  The R2R2R is a run from the South Rim, down to the Colorado  River, up the North Rim and then back again.  It’s about 46 miles roundtrip with more than 11,000 feet of elevation gain and loss.  These guys made it sound like it was a life-altering experience and an absolute rite of passage for ultrarunners.  Oh well, so much for the bird watching.

With my flight leaving in less than a week I didn’t have much time to work out the logistics or to train for the specific demands of the route.  The R2R2R has a little bit of everything: technical trail, exposure, long distance, high altitude, extreme heat, and two huge ascents/descents.  But other than that, it’s pretty straightforward.

The fastest known time for the route was set by ultrarunning stud, Rob Krar, in 6 hrs. 21 mins.  I was thinking (hoping) it would take me about twice that long.  To get a real sense of the scale and beauty of the run, check out this VIDEO.

My adventure began on April 3rd (Good Friday) while waiting for the shuttle to the South Kaibab trailhead.  The temperature was in the 20’s and I thought I was going to freeze to death in my thin little running shorts and windbreaker.  But by 6:30am I was on the trail, slowly warming up and working my way towards the river.  The South Kaibab trail is a steeper more direct route to the river and because it’s along a ridgeline, has 360 degree views.


One of the biggest challenges was to NOT check out the view while running.  Every step on the rocky trail is a potential twisted ankle, so there would be no multitasking.  If I wanted to look, I had to stop.

Both the South Kaibab and the more popular, Bright Angel Trail, connect the South Rim with the river.  I thought it would be fun to start off with the lesser-traveled South Kaibab and then finish with the Bright Angel, when most of the tourist traffic was done for the day.


At about 2 hours I crossed the river and soon thereafter was at the Phantom Ranch, a historic lodge built in 1922.  All guests must arrive either on foot, raft or mule.  These cool rustic cabins often get booked up more than a year in advance.  I was surprised to see they had a little canteen, so I took advantage of the situation and bought some pretzels and a Snickers.  From here it was 14 miles and nearly 7,000 feet of elevation gain till the North Rim.  Those extra calories would definitely come in handy.

This next section was pure bliss: smooth, mostly flat trail winding along an idyllic creek in a narrow box canyon. I got into a flow state and the miles passed easily.  After the Cottonwood Campground the grade steepened and I had to switch to power hike mode.  As I got closer to the North Rim you could see the flora slowly change from desert cactus to alpine fir and birch.


I got to the North Rim in 6 hrs. 30 min. and even though I was pretty wiped out it was a relief to know that I was halfway done.  There was still some lingering patches of snow, but I was happy to see that there was running water from the spigot at the trailhead.  I chugged a bottle of water to celebrate.

It was 14 miles from here to the river, all downhill.  My goal was to run at a modest, but consistent pace and not take any breaks.  The canteen closed at 4pm and another Snicker would have really hit the spot.

It’s funny how the same trail can feel so different just a few hours later.  I now had gravity to my advantage, but nevertheless, the cumulative fatigue was starting to take its toll.  I never run with an iPod, but this would have been a good time for some inspiring music, maybe Chariots of Fire or the Rocky soundtrack.


It was 5pm when I finally arrived at Phantom Ranch.  The canteen and their stash of Snickers was closed for the night.  And to make matters worse the guests were all hanging out drinking beer while their steak dinners were being barbecued.  It was a cruel form of torture.

As I crossed the river once again, I told myself that there was good news (less than 10 miles to go) and bad news (all uphill).  Plus only about two more hours of daylight.  I powerhiked this next section up to the Indian Garden campground, where I met a nice Canadian couple.  They gave me a chocolate chip Cliff Bar and told me about a great pizza place right outside of the park.  They weren’t sure what time it closed, but if I really pushed it maybe I could make it.

It’s a challenge to stay motivated once darkness sets in.  Nothing to see, but the bubble of light emitting from your headlamp.  As I got closer to the top, the light from the full moon began peeking over the rim.  Eventually it got so bright that I didn’t need my headlamp at all.

It’s easy to feel sorry for yourself near the end of the long hard day, but here I was about to complete an epic adventure in the Grand Canyon under the light of the full moon.  It doesn’t get much better than that.

As I drove into Tusayan, I knew the pizza place would already be closed.  The only other choices were Texaco station hot dogs or the ramen back at my campsite.  Neither option very appealing.

But wait, what is that on the horizon?  Are those golden arches just a mirage?  I hadn’t eaten at McDonald’s in years, but was thrilled to see that it was still open.  The Quarter Pounder meal with its savory/salty mix of carbs, fat and protein was just what my body needed.  I even went back through the drive thru again to pick up a chocolate shake for dessert.  Thank you McDonald’s!  You saved my life and I promise to never make fun of you again.



My life has been a series of obsessions.  The first was tennis, back in the late seventies when the sport was in its heyday.  I grew up across the street from a set of courts and my brother and I would be there everyday honing our skills and taking on all comers.  The only breaks we took during the summer were to watch Wimbledon on TV.

I was a huge Bjorn Borg fan and probably the only kid in my little western Pennsylvania town that had Fila clothes, Diadora shoes and a Donnay racket.  Borg would forego shaving during the tournament and would look so cool by the time he reached the finals.  I couldn’t wait to be old enough to shave, so then I could NOT shave during Wimbledon.

My brother and I are only 13 months apart and extremely competitive.  This intense rivalry pushed our games to new levels and it wasn’t until he started beating me regularly that I began to lose interest.  However, his love of tennis has continued and now he’s one of the head teaching pros at Family Circle Tennis Center in Charleston, South Carolina.

After tennis, my obsessions continued one after another through the years: Kurt Vonnegut, golf, Jack Kerouac, the Grateful Dead, snowboarding, Tom Waits, mountain climbing, Haruki Murakami, travel writing, and then for the last several years, running.  This parade of random obsessions has been a great source of fun.  Life is never boring while you’re in the grip of an all-consuming activity.


I didn’t consciously choose any of these obsessions.  They chose me and would eventually pass just as mysteriously as they appeared.  I never used to worry when my interest in one of these activities started to wane because I knew that something else would soon appear to take its place.

At the end of last year, without any sort of warning, running started to lose its appeal.  It made me sad to think that this thing which has given me so much pleasure may no longer be a part of my life.

Looking back on 2014, I think of all the places running has taken me.  There were races in Texas hill country and in the mountains of Oregon and Washington.  While traveling I was able to do training runs though Sabino Canyon in southern Arizona, along the River Walk in San Antonio, around Central Park in New York, through O’Keeffe Country outside of Santa Fe and over a seven mile bridge linking the Florida Keys.


One day I saw a bald eagle scoop a fish out of the Willamette during a morning run along the river and another day watched the sun rise and then set while circumnavigating Mount St. Helens.  I feel so lucky to have had these experiences and know that they wouldn’t have been possible without running being such a big part of my life.

So for the first time I decided to not sit back and let an obsession pass.  I tried instead to come up with a plan so running could remain my focus.  Initially the plan involved taking some time off and only running when the mood struck.  For a few months I only ran 2-3 times a week and some weeks not at all.  As time went on, I wanted to run less and less.

Running, they say, is addictive, but you want to know what else is addictive?  Not running.  As my fitness level decreased, running became harder and less enjoyable.  I understood for the first time why most people think of running as a chore, as something to be endured.


So I started 2015 with a new plan.  Instead of running only when I felt like it, I would now run everyday, no excuses.  It doesn’t matter if it is cold, dark, or windy, I’ll be out there putting in the miles.

It really sucked at first, but then slowly my fitness level started to improve and it started to suck a bit less.  As it got less difficult, it became more enjoyable (funny how that works).  It was a solution so obvious I’m still shocked it actually worked.

Now that March has arrived and the days are getting brighter, I find myself obsessing about running again.  I’ve starting checking all my favorite websites and am now planning my summer racing schedule.  Recently I had a dream come true by having my photo appear in two different running magazines.

The first was in an issue of Ultrarunning and is somewhat embarrassing.


The photographer caught me at a low point in the race and while the woman next to me appears to be out on a Sunday stroll, I look like a broken down old man with a walking stick.  Luckily in this photo from Trail Runner magazine, I’m looking a little more determined.


These pictures appearing one after the other felt like fate.  I now know that it’s too soon for me to give up and move on to something new.  There’s still so much I want to see and do in this sport.  And even though this old man may sometimes need a walking stick to get up the hill, I’m going to keep plugging away no matter what.


I’m a big fan of traditions, but not of the traditional kind. Maybe this is because Yoshimi and I come from different cultures with very different types of traditions.

So instead of celebrating all of the traditions from each of our cultures, we choose to celebrate none of the usual traditions and only those that we’ve creating for ourselves.

One of the traditions that we’ve created together are regular stays in our favorite fire lookouts (see previous post).  Another is an annual trip to Florida in January to visit my parents and to get a little sun on our pale winter skin.

We also have a tradition of staying at our favorite camping spot on the McKenzie River in same campground (Paradise) and site (#6) every summer. And finally, there’s our annual December pilgrimage to Manzanita on the Oregon Coast.


We both work in retail, so in order to take a well-needed break during the holiday season craziness, we head out to the coast in mid-December for 3 nights at the Sunset Surf Motel, staying in the same second floor corner room every year. Sunset Surf may be a little rough around the edges, but it’s right on the beach (you can see the surf while laying in bed), comes equipped with a full kitchen, and is only $80 a night.


This is the tenth year in a row we’ve gone in Manzanita. And like all traditions there is a joy in the familiar combined with the only-once-a-year novelty. The winter, I feel, is the best time to go to the Oregon Coast.  Summer trips can often be cold, windy and disappointing.  In the winter, you expect the weather to be crappy, so when you get the inevitable break (and you do most days), it feels like a special treat.  And there’s nothing better than a bonus winter sunset at the end of the long rainy day.


We always bring along our own food with Yoshimi planning in advance all of our meals.  My personal favorite is Japanese nabe hot pot stews filled with lots of mushrooms, veggies, and some type of fish or meat.  The perfect warm and cozy winter meal. There’s also plenty of time for long drawn out brunches that always end with us both napping on the couches.  And then waking up for an early evening wine and cheese party.



This year we had a bloody mary smackdown with each of us taking a radically different approach. I started things off with the Bloody Viking, a clamato variation with a base of aquavit, a Scandinavian anise-based liquor from Portland’s House Spirits Distillery. Yoshimi countered with a Japanese twist, incorporating soy sauce, wasabi, and shochu, a sweet potato liquor. And then christening this crazy concoction the Bloody Ninja.

So, who wins in a battle between a viking and a ninja?  It was a close fight and while both versions definitely had their strengths, in the end the Bloody Ninja prevailed.

No matter what the weather is like I try and get out for a run everyday when we’re at the coast. Mazanita has a long beautiful beach, but for some reason I don’t really like beach running. It always looks so idyllic in photos, but in reality I find the flat out-and-back beach run to be so boring, like a treadmill of sand. I much prefer to run the hilly trails to Cape Falcon and Neahkahnie Mountain in nearby Oswald West State Park. There’s also a cool run out to Nehalem Bay where you can see of a bunch of lounging harbor seals during low tide.

Unlike some of the larger coastal communities, Mazanita is a small town with only a single street of commercial development. Even though we haven’t frequented any of the local restaurants, we always visit some of our favorite shops. The Little Apple grocery store has a surprisingly good selection of gourmet products. We usually pick up a pint (or two) of our favorite Haagen-Dazs flavors.

The Cloud and Leaf Bookstore is one of those perfectly curated shops that has everything they should and none of what they shouldn’t. And then there’s the San Dune pub, established in 1935. I’m sure they get a fair number of tourists in the summer, especially on weekends, but when we usually pop in, mid-week in winter, it feels like a real local hangout. There’s often live music and always good people watching. The staff is also super welcoming and friendly.


Hanging out at the coast is a great time to catch up on reading, sleeping and rewatching your favorite movies. We make full use of the big screen TV and DVD player in the room and pick one director each trip to focus on. This year it was Terrence Malick. The Tree of Life definitely needs to be seen on a big screen to fully appreciate the scale of this incredible film. In years past the featured directors have been Frederico Fellini, Yasujiro Ozu, Krzysztof Kieslowski, and Wong Kar-wai.


After several days of beach-induced decompression, we leave behind the laid back coastal lifestyle and return to the city, ready to tackle the rest of the holiday retail rush. Thank you all for following along on my adventures this year and I hope you have a wonderful (traditional or nontraditional) holiday season.


” You wake up in the morning to the finest views of all, breathed the freshest air in the world, and have a whole mountain to call your own.”  –Ray Kresek, Fire Lookouts of the Northwest


Like many people I first become aware of fire lookouts through the writings of Jack Kerouac. In Dharma Bums, he recounts the summer he spent on Desolation Peak in the North Cascades. He went there to escape from society (and its temptations) and to focus on his writing.

Edward Abbey, Norman Maclean, Gary Synder and other famous authors have also found the solitude of lookouts to be conducive to the writing process. In fact, one of my favorite books from the last few years, Fire Season by Philip Connors, tells the story of his time as a lookout in New Mexico, about as far as you can get from his previous job at the Wall Street Journal.


There were once more than 8000 fire lookouts in this country, but now less than 2000 remain. Those that are no longer used for wild fire detection are decommissioned and often get vandalized over time.

The Forest Fire Lookout Association was started in 1990 with a goal to preserve these beautiful historic structures. They created a National Historic Lookout Register and organize volunteers to renovate distressed lookouts. To help finance upkeep, some lookouts are available for rental.

The idea of spending time away from civilization, surrounded by nature on a remote peak has always been incredibly appealing to me. Yoshimi and I have been renting lookouts since 2002 and have now stayed in about a dozen different structures in the Pacific Northwest.

The rental process used to involve lotteries and wait lists, all conducted via snail mail with local ranger stations. It was so confusing and inconvenient that few people went through the hassle, which was an advantage if you were willing to put up with the clunky system.

Now all lookouts can be rented through a single website that shows all available dates. The process has become so convenient that competition for rentals has increased substantially. To get a reservation now you must book it six months beforehand during the very first minute a lookout becomes available online. We’ve figured out how to play the game and now just make our plans way in advance.

Recently we spent four days at Gold Butte lookout in the Willamette National Forest. Here are some photos from the trip:

Home sweet home

Home Sweet Home

Mt. Jefferson to the east

Mt. Jefferson and other Cascade volcanoes along the eastern horizon

Nothing cosier than a wood burning stove

Nothing cosier than a wood burning stove

Gold Butte lookout was built in 1934 and like many others is 14′ x 14′ square with 360 degree views. There’s no electricity or running water, just a wood burning stove for heat and a little Coleman propane stove for cooking. Every morning I’d hike a mile down to the car to get enough water and firewood to get us through the day. I felt like a pioneer prepping the homestead to survive another day.

Sunrise view from bed

Sunrise view from bed

Specialty of the House

Specialty of the House

Another lazy day in paradise

Another lazy day in paradise

We’ve stayed at lookouts in good weather and bad and both have their appeal. The key is to bring along lots of food, drinks, books and games. That way you’ll be prepared for any possible mood or whim.

An otherworldly sunset

An otherworldly sunset

Who doesn't love a good knot tying game

Who doesn’t love a good knot tying game

A rainy hike back down to civilization

A rainy hike back down to civilization

While staying at a lookout, life is reduced to the simple pleasures of eating, drinking, reading, walking and sleeping. We didn’t see or hear anyone in our four days there and hardly thought of the outside world at all. I can think of no better way to spend a vacation.