Archives for category: Travel

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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” 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.

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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.

I apologize for not including any pictures in the last few blog postings.  While traveling through Africa we didn’t often have access to the internet.  But now that we’re back in the States and have had a chance to look through the photos, I realize that some of these places really have to been seen to be believed.  The scenery in Southern Africa is mind-blowingly beautiful.  Here are some of the places we were and some of the things that we saw.

Beach Huts in Muizenberg

Beach Huts in Muizenberg

On top of Lion's Head in Cape Town

On top of Lion’s Head in Cape Town

The Wild Coast

The Wild Coast

Cute Local Kids

For most people travel is a luxury–something that is easily “cut-out-able” when things get tight financially.  In the last few years I had forgotten that for us it is something much more.  Travel has made us who we are, both as individuals and as a couple.  However, it is not something that just magically happens on its own.  You have to make it a priority in your life.

South Africa Wine Country

South Africa Wine Country

Welcome to Namibia

Welcome to Namibia

Visiting Karley

Visiting Karley

Solar Cooking

Solar Cooking

It had been nearly five years since our last big multi-month trip and we both missed the joy of long-term travel.  We often talked about taking another leave of absence from our jobs, but never quite got around to it.  During that five year hiatus we had somehow acquired a condo, a car and an increasingly expensive taste in wine.  Life kind of sneaks up on you like that sometimes.

Sundowners with Peter and Karley

Sundowners with Peter and Karley

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Boulders Beach

Boulders Beach

Working on the Farm

Working on the Farm

Even though we’d been both making more money these last few years, we had gotten lazy about saving.  At the end of the month there never seemed to be anything left over for the travel fund.  Finally we both decided to just fully commit to making this trip to Africa our top priority.  I’m so happy now that we did.

Maputo, Mozambique

Maputo, Mozambique

Our Cabana in Tofo

Our Beach Cabana in Tofo

Grilled Jumbo Prawns

Grilled Jumbo Prawns

Sunrise at Tofo

Sunrise at Tofo

It’s been three weeks since we returned to the States and the transition back to our lives here has been seamless.  Yoshimi got both of her jobs back and I actually got a raise while I was away (thank you International Longshore and Warehouse Union).  In addition, my department moved from the Burnside location to our headquarters in industrial Northwest Portland.  My new desk is just a few hundred yards from beautiful Forest Park and its many miles of trails.

I’m now run-commuting to work (five miles each way) and am already looking forward to indulging in some trail running “quickies” on my lunch breaks this summer.  The trails are still a bit muddy, but the days are long and the perfect temperature for attacking the hills.  Now that summer has kicked in there’s no where else I’d rather be than here in Oregon.  Life is good.

If you’d like to see more pictures from the trip, you can check out Yoshimi’s flicker account.  I’m warning you though, her food focus will definitely leave you hungry.

We’re now in a little village called Tofo on the southern coast of Mozambique.  For us this is the end of the line, as far as we’ll be, both literally and figuratively, from our lives in Portland.  Today is the last of our nine days here and tomorrow we’ll begin the long slow retreat, first back to Maputo(the capital of Mozambique), then to Johannesburg, then Cape Town, and finally the multiple flights back to Oregon.

Tofo was the perfect place for us to finish up this trip.  Yoshimi found us a little cabana on the beach just 30 steps(we counted) from the warm Indian Ocean.  The place looks like something you’d see on a travel brochure for some idyllic tropical paradise and a total bargain for only $40 a night.  I could easily spend a month here hanging out on the front porch mindlessly watching the endless parade of waves.

When this trip began 8 weeks ago, I wasn’t sure what part running would play in my travels.  Sure, I was planning on doing the Two Oceans Marathon, but other than that I didn’t really know.  My goal was for the travel itself to take top priority and not let running get in the way of the journey.  But what I was surprised to discover is that running actually added to the trip in ways I hadn’t expected.

I’ve run almost everyday here in Africa and have been able to use these daily runs as a way to explore each new town, to connect with others and even to take care of practical matters.  Here in Tofo, for example, nowhere accepts credit cards and the closest bank is 4 miles away.  So every other day I run to the ATM and return an hour later with a sweaty wallet and 5000 meticals($160), the maximum daily withdrawal.

In Maputo, I’d set out each morning with a 10 metical coin in my hand so I could pick up a couple of freshly baked bageuttes along the way.  I must have looked like some kind of deranged bakery robber running through the busy streets with a loaf in each hand.  But that bread tasted so great after those hard morning runs.

The first thing I’d do upon arriving in a new town would be to strap on my running shoes and head out on an exploration run.  Along the way I’d keep an eye out for good restaurants, bars, cafes and posters advertising cultural events.  It’s a great way to get a feel for a place in a short amount of time.

When I’d come across other runners I’d always ask for some recommended local routes.  Two women in Windhoek training for the Comrades Marathon showed me a beautiful trail that led to the highest point in the city, with views stretching deep into the desert.  It’s something I never would have found on my own.

Here on the rural dirt roads around Tofo I make a point to say, “Bon Dia” (Good Morning) to everyone of the dozens of locals I pass as they walk to work, to school or to the cashew farms that surround the village.  A few ignore me, some reply with a shy giggle, but most smile and return the greeting.  Sometimes little kids in their school uniforms lineup to give me high fives or run alongside me laughing hysterically.  I feel lucky to have had these unique interactions.

I admit that there have been times on these daily runs when I felt tired, hot and dehydrated under the oppressive tropical sun, but then suddenly I’d look around and realize, “Holy shit, I’m in Africa!”  This is where humans first started to run and now thousands of centuries later the best runners in the world are still from Africa.  That’s all the inspiration I need to forget about the heat and pick up the pace.

This trip through Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa has reaffirmed the fact that travel is my first love.  I’ll always be a traveler foremost and secondarily a runner.  But this trip has also taught me that these two passions need not be separated.  I now know that running will be a part of all my future travels and that a pair of running shoes will always be an essential item in my backpack.

I would imagine that most people would not be able to find Namibia on a world map.  This is not so surprising considering it’s one of the newest countries (founded in 1990) and has a population of just two million people spread across an area twice the size of California.  It also has a stable economy, good infrastructure, a functioning democracy and a free press–rarities for most of Africa.

When our friend Karley was accepted into the Peace Corps and assigned to Namibia we promised her that we would visit.  We were not the only ones to make this promise, however after three years there she has yet to have a visitor from home.

This past summer while on break she crashed on our couch in Portland and after hearing the amazing stories about her life in this remote corner of the world we decided to finally follow through on our promise.  But let me tell you, this is not an easy place to get to.

First there was the 40 hour flight (including layovers and connections) from Portland to Cape Town.  Then there was the 22 hour bus ride to Windhoek, the capital of Namibia.  From there we had to catch a ride in a four wheel drive cargo truck that delivers supplies to remote outposts in the Namibian desert.

On the way the gas tank of the truck was damaged by a rock and for two hours we took turns filling up empty two litre Coke bottles with the leaking diesel while the driver chain smoked cigarettes a few feet from the tank.  It was a classic African travel experience.  After 10 hours on the back of that truck, I can’t tell you how happy we were to see Karley.

Her assignment for the Peace Corps is with a environmental education organization called NaDeet which is located on the private NamibRand Nature Reserve.  The reserve is surrounded by rugged desert mountains and bisected by huge red sand dunes.  An upmarket resort on the reserve is where Brad and Angelina stay when they come to Africa to adopt more children.

Every week a different group of Namibians arrives at NaDeet to learn how to make fuel efficient stoves, conserve limited water resources and cook using solar power.  It’s a wonderful organization and it was so cool to see some of the work that they do.

Just recently the NamibRand Nature Reserve was the first location in Africa to be certified by the International Dark Sky Association.  Luckily we were there during a new moon and the clusters of stars were so thick in the sky that they looked like clouds.  The Milky Way was clearly visible and we were actually able to see a black hole.  Even though there was no moon we could easily walk around at night without a headlamp.  I’ve seen the night sky in places like Tibet, Alaska and Patagonia, but have never witnessed anything quite like this.

I recovered quickly from the Two Oceans Marathon and have been able to maintain a somewhat consistent training schedule during our travels.  Karley showed me a 7 mile loop that she used to train for a half marathon.  The narrow red dirt trail twisted and turned through the savanna while herds of oryx, springbok and zebra grazed alongside.  One day a family of super cute bat-eared foxes scampered in front of me on the trail.  On another day I saw a giant secretary bird, which looks like the byproduct of an ill-fated threeway between an ostrich, an eagle and a chicken.  Running this trail every morning was pure bliss.

Our last night on the reserve was spent with Peter, a ranger on the reserve.  He’s an American expat who has lived in Namibia since the early 70’s and is one of those characters you only seem to meet while traveling.  He drove us around in his pickup and showed us some of his favorite spots.  Afterwards we had a barbeque back at his place, cooking up some kudu steaks and boerworst sausage and then finishing up the night with his signature cocktail, the Namib Coffee.  He wouldn’t give us the recipe, but it tasted like equal parts brandy, coffee and brown sugar.

After four days at NaDeet we were sad to say goodbye to Karley, but happy that we had the opportunity to visit her in this uniquely beautiful location.  We were also happy that we didn’t have to take that diesel-leaking cargo truck back to Windhoek.  One of Karley’s co-workers was able to give us a ride and on the way we stopped at the aptly-named town of Solitaire for some yummy apple strudel.

Next stop–Mozambique.

Now that summer is coming to an end, the harvest season here is about to begin.  Wait a minute, wait a minute, let me start over.  I completely forget that most of you reading this are in the northern hemisphere, unlike Yoshimi and I who are now traveling south of the equator in Africa.  We were both able to get leaves of absence from our jobs this winter and are currently on a multi-month trip through South Africa, Namibia and Mozambique.

We’re lucky to have jobs that allow us to take long periods of time off.  However, it’s a challenge to save up the money to pay for these extended trips.  Before leaving, we both picked up extra shifts at work and spent the last few months living on an extreme austerity plan.  We didn’t turn on the heat in our apartment at all this winter and quit eating out at restaurants.  We used frequent flier miles to pay for our flights to Africa and were able to sublet our apartment while away.  The final step to allow us to afford this trip was to become members of WWOOF.

WWOOF(World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) was created 40 years ago as a way for London city slickers to get a taste of life in the British countryside.  It has since spread to 99 countries and allows participants to work on farms in exchange for room and board.  It’s a great way to connect with locals, experience rural living, learn more about organic farming and travel on the cheap.

Before I arrived Yoshimi spent two weeks working on a small family farm near Knysna, South Africa.  Together we just finished up ten days of work at an organic winery in near Wellington.  Our days would begin at 6am with the crowing of roosters, the chirping of birds and the barking of dogs.  During our time there we picked olives, made fence posts, cleaned fermentation tanks, dried fruit, packed cases of wine and cleared brush.  The work was extremely physical and challenging for a cubical dweller such as myself.  But it was also satisfying and surprisingly enjoyable.  Everyday we worked up huge appetites and were deep asleep each night before 10pm.

On Wednesdays all of us volunteers would eat with Edmund and Elsie, the owners of the Fisantekuil farm and Upland Organic Estate winery.  They cooked up traditional South African meals like babootie, a dish that combines the flavors of Europe, Asia and Africa.  Many of the things we ate were produced on the farm including the delicious wine, brandy and grappa that perfectly complemented each meal.

Every evening after work I’d lace up my running shoes and attack the hilly dirt roads surrounding the farm.  Even though I was usually exhausted after a long days work, I was also inspired to push hard knowing that I was training on the same type of terrain as those Kenyan and Ethiopian champions.  The farm work and the rural running put the finishing touches on my preparation for this weekend’s 35 mile Two Oceans Marathon, one of the largest ultramarathons in the world.

“Birthdays was the worst days.  Now we sip champagne when we thirst-ay.”  –Biggie Smalls

With no disrespect to the Notorious B.I.G., I’ve always felt that birthdays are the best days.  Holidays must be shared with all, but birthdays are unique to the individual (and the roughly .27% of society that shares your date of birth.)  When I first met Yoshimi, she informed me that we would not just be celebrating her birthDAY, but her whole birthWEEK.  This somehow evolved into two, then three weeks and eventually into the whole month of July, which she renamed Yo-ly.

For some reason I’ve had less success instituting Shawn-tober onto the calendar.  I do, however, try to do something special every year.  For me it’s not about parties, presents or sipping champagne Biggie-style, instead I try to seek out some sort of unique experience.  I’ve spent Octobers in Ireland, New Zealand, India, Turkey and Argentina.  My thirtieth birthday was spent drinking yak butter tea at Annapurna base camp in the Himalayas.  On my fortieth, I was laid up with a black eye after getting hit in the head with a portable shrine at a harvest festival in Japan.  Last year we took the Amtrak cross country, stopping off in Montana so I could run my first 50 miler.  It’s fun to try and come up with something new every year.  For 2012, I decided to go big.

Though I’ve run for most of my life, it was just a few years ago that I realized that there are races longer than a 26.2 mile marathon.  These “ultra” distance races make up a very small, yet quickly growing segment of endurance events.  As opposed to your typical marathon, ultras are usually run on trail in distances of 50K (31 miles), 50 miles, 100k, and the granddaddy of them all, the 100 miler.

Most people are surprised that races of these distances exist.  They would be even more surprised to learn that there are now 97 races in North America that are 100 miles long.  What’s crazier is that dozens, sometimes hundreds of runners compete in these events, many of which are held at elevation, on technical trail, through deserts and over mountains.  It’s like some sort of cult and somehow I’ve been brainwashed into becoming a member.  October 27th will be my initiation ceremony at the Javelina 100 in Arizona.

These 100 mile races are a uniquely American invention that started out as a horse race across the the Sierra Nevada in California.  In 1974 Gordy Ainsleigh, after having to drop out of the previous years race because of problems with his horse, decided that he would try to run the entire course instead.  He managed to finish just under the 24 hour cutoff time.  For his effort, he was awarded a silver belt buckle, the same prize given to all successful riders.

A few years later, Western States officially became the world’s first 100 mile running race.  The WS100 is now the most prestigious ultra distance race, kind of like the Boston Marathon of ultras.  To learn more, check out this trailer of a documentary made about the 2010 WS100.

I’d love to run Western States someday, but thought I better start off with one of the “easy” 100 milers.  The Javelina 100 is held each year during the full moon in October.  This year there will be nearly 400 participants, some who will be dressed up for Halloween.  I guess it’s not tough enough for some people to run 100 miles, they gotta get dressed up like Spiderman to make it more of a challenge.

The race is run on cactus-lined desert trails in McDowell Mountain Park, about an hour outside of Phoenix.  All runners who finish under 30 hours will be awarded a wild pig belt buckle.  I’ve never had one of those giant Texas-sized belt buckles, but if I’m successful at Javelina, I’ll be proud to show off my wild pig.

I’ve never been a big believer in the “couples that play together, stay together” concept.  To have a healthy relationship I think you need to spend quality time together and apart.   Yoshimi and I enjoy many of the same activities, but we have also tried to cultivate separate interests.  Even though running has had an incredibly positive affect on my life, I’ve never tried to push it upon her.  I did once talk her into joining me on my sister’s Hood to Coast team.  It was a fun couple of days, but after we arrived in Seaside, Yoshimi declared she would never run again.  While it’s common to make such proclamations after a difficult experience, she was serious and did not run a single step in the next ten years.

Since then she’s been extremely supportive of my running obsession-cheering me on at races in Tokyo, Montana and Buenos Aires, but has showed no sign of changing her mind.  It wasn’t until I started doing more trail running that I noticed her interest slowly starting to blossom.  One day out of the blue she said that she wondered what it was like to run through the woods like a wild animal.  That’s when I knew she was coming around.  A few days later I came home from work to see a brand new pair of Altra Lone Peak trail running shoes.  Hmmm, I wonder who wears size 7 in this apartment.

Remaining true to her strong mindedness, Yoshimi has no interest in racing and will only run on trail, as opposed to me, who will run on anything: trail, road, sidewalk, treadmill, track.  I’ve even run up-and-down airport concourses during extended layovers.  You should try it.  Everyone just assumes you’re running to catch a flight.

Portland is a great place to be a trail running purist or surface snob, as she likes to call herself.  There are dozens of trails less than a 15 minute drive from our apartment.  Nevertheless, I thought it would be fun to go away for a trail running weekend.  Nothing more romantic than a weekend of mud and sweat, I say.

We decided to rent a cabin in Champoeg State Park, 40 minutes south of Portland.  We timed the trip to correspond with the Oregon Road Runners Club’s Champoeg 30K(18.6 miles).  There was also a 10k, which is part of their 10k Series-7 races for $90, a pretty sweet deal.  Unfortunately this series has become so popular that a large percentage of the state park permit limits are filled with series participants.  This year only 29 of us 30k-ers were able to signup before the quota was filled.

Once again the weather turned out to be decent–no rain, not too cold.  During the first mile I struck up a conversation with a guy named Eric Kelso (chatting with other runners during long races is a great strategy for not going out at too fast a pace).  Eric and I talked about past and futures races.  It turns out that he is also a fan of destination marathons and we discovered that we both ran the Tokyo Marathon last February.  He’s also run marathons in Singapore, New York, Bangkok, Chicago, Berlin and Boston.  Before we knew it we were already at the halfway point.  I decided to pick up the pace a bit, but was sad to leave Eric behind, knowing that running is so much easier when you have someone interesting  to talk to.

With all the 10k-ers already finished, the course was nearly empty and kind of lonely.  I cranked it up to a 7 minute per mile pace and felt pretty good.  My stress fracture now seemed like a long ways away.  I crossed the line in 2 hours 15 minutes and finished in 2nd place overall.  Placing well in a race I’ve realized is not just a matter of running fast, but also choosing one with less participants.  Now if I can just  find a race where I’m the only runner, than victory will finally be mine.

After the race we checked into the rustic little cabin.  It’s located right along the Willamette River and connected to miles of biking and hiking trails.  We spent the rest of the day reading, writing, walking and relaxing.

For dinner Yoshimi made one of her classic Japanese nabe hot pot stews.  This perfect post-race meal is nourishing, warming, hydrating and delicious.  Afterwards we crawled into our sleeping bags and slipped into a deep cozy winter coma.

The next morning we woke up to clear skies and decided to  drive out to Silver Falls State Park.  I had been dying to return to this wonderful park since running a half marathon there in November.  This time the park was covered in a fresh blanket of snow, making the whole place seem even more magical.  My legs were still sore from the race, so I left the running shoes behind, but Yoshimi attacked the trails like a wild animal.  Later the sun came out, illuminating the falls and brightening everyone’s spirits.

On the way back from Silver Falls we stopped off in Woodburn for a bite to eat.  There are dozens of little Mexican restaurants in town, but we decided to check out the Guacamole Market, a place recommended in an Oregonian article on the best taquerias in the outer Portland metro area.  We walked in the door and immediately the sights, sounds and smells transported us to a local mercado in rural Mexico.  Though it wasn’t on the menu, we ordered a tlayuda, a giant tortilla covered in meat, cheese, veggies, salsa and other goodies.  This Oaxacan specialty is the size and shape of a giant pizza-easily enough for two and a bargain at $10.99.  It was the perfect end to our first romantic running weekend.  I look forward to many happy returns.

Most everyone I know here is not from here.  This city is filled with people from other places.  People that moved here not for work or for school, but for the simple reason that here, more than anywhere else, was where they wanted to be.  I like being around the type of person who has placed a high priority on living somewhere that complements their lifestyle.  The occupational, academic and romantic details are secondary.  That all can be worked out later.

This past weekend there was yet another article in the New York Times singing the praises of Portland.  This particular article was about our small batch coffee roasters, but there have been numerous others in the last few years talking about our cycling culture, our food carts, our microbrew pubs, our sustainable restaurant scene, our Portlandia TV show and our Pinot Noir prowess.  Listen New York, when are you going to realize that you will never be as cool as us.  Will you please just accept it and move on before we have to get a restraining order.

Though I don’t need the New York Times to tell me that Portland is a great place to live, I must admit that I have had a few weak moments this winter when I questioned why I don’t live somewhere with a more agreeable climate, better employment opportunities and a lower cost of living.  But no sooner do these thoughts creep into my head, than the city of Portland and the State of Oregon stand up and prove their worthiness.  Here are some of things that happened in the last few weeks that made me proud to call this my home.

While the rest of the country was watching the Super Bowl and munching on bean dip, my buddy Greg and I drove up to Mt. Hood to go snowshoeing.  The parking lot at Timberline Lodge was packed.  Obviously us Oregon folk would rather be participants than spectators when it comes to sports.  Greg  and I climbed up to 8,500 feet enjoying the clear crisp winter day.  After taking in the view that stretched across half the state, we swapped the snowshoes with snowboards and cruised our way back  to civilization.

Last Monday, Yoshimi and I hiked out to a beach where the Columbia and Willamette Rivers meet.  We brought some binoculars to do some bird watching and were able to spot different varieties of duck, geese, loon, and heron.  While we were snacking on some  rice crispy treats, an oil tanker the size of a football field floated by.  With our binoculars we could just barely make out the captain returning our waves.

Early one morning before work I ran from my apartment to Mt Tabor, an dormant volcano a few miles away.  The whole city was socked in with a damp thick fog.  As I made my way up Tabor the fog got progressively thinner and then just as I reached the top the sun finally broke through.  I was alone on a tiny urban island in an endless sea of white.

In January at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, two of the three women to make the Olympic team were from Oregon.  Congratulation to Shalane Flanagan & Kara Goucher and best of luck this summer in London.  In the men’s race, another Oregonian, Dathan Ritzenhein, finished fourth, missing out on the Olympics by a mere 8 seconds.  It’s alright Dathan, I think you’ll still make the team at the 10,000m qualifiers in June.

In other running news, the two biggest ultra distance races so far this year were also won by Oregonians:  Tim Olson at the Bandera 100k and Hal Koerner at the Rocky Raccoon 100 miler.  In addition my friend Jon completed his second 100 mile race at Rocky Raccoon.  He set a new personal best in 22 hours 38 minutes and earned a Texas-sized belt buckle for his performance(100 mile races have a tradition of awarding belt buckles to anyone who can finish in under 24 hours). Good job man.

Jon's sub 24 hour buckle

And finally, here’s a link to an incredible time-lapse video compilation filmed over a six month period across the state of Oregon.  If you’ve never climbed Mt. Hood, camped at Crater Lake or biked across the Alvord Desert, this is what you’re missing.

http://www.uncagethesoul.com/gallery/finding-oregon/

By the way, my last blog post was accidentally sent out to the email subscribers before I had a chance to finish it.  Click here to see the full report on the race my brother and I ran in Florida.