Seattle to San Francisco – Day 3

Wednesday morning I woke up a bit hungover. I’d celebrated a birthday with my couchsurfing host the night before. During the celebrations I knocked my phone off of a barstool and it fell about 3 feet. The screen blinked and turned an odd tinge of blue. I didn’t think much of it, but Wednesday morning it was clear that it wasn’t going to turn back on. I’d broken my phone. I went to the Verizon store, but they didn’t have windows phones, so I left.


I was now missing my phone and my ID and I still had about 900 miles to go. Also, my host had plans for the rest of the week, so he wasn’t able to host me again. I decided to find a hostel. Unfortunately, the only hostels in town required ID. I still had my tablet, so I decided to find a coffee shop and figure out what to do from there.


I chose the coffee shop that had the coolest bikes outside. There were two beautiful fixies. Clearly, this coffee shop, Coffee House Northwest, was a bastion of Portland culture. The barista asked where I was going. “To San Francisco,” I told him.


“I want to do that,” he said enthusiastically. “But I don’t know if I would stop in San Francisco. I think I would keep going to Ecuador.”


Ray, the barista who wanted to go to Ecuador, made me the best almond milk latte I’ve ever had. I camped out at one of the tables and started sending emails to Tony, begging him to send me my old phone and my passport. Finally I caught him on Skype, and he agreed to send both next-day air. He also sent me a photo of my passport so that I would be able to stay at the hostel.


Ray invited me to sit at the counter so that we could talk bikes as he worked. Clearly he was an expert barista – he not only got me to move away from the table that I was camping at – he also made me feel like he was actually interested in talking to me (he claims that his desire to talk bikes was sincere, and he wasn’t just trying to get me to leave the table). It turns out that the black fixie with the pink rims outside was his. He invited me to come over to the garage where he keeps his bike tools once he was off work to see if he could fix the shifting on my bike.


I spent the day in Portland, and around 5pm I headed over to the “bike shop.” Not only was it a bike shop, it was also where Ray roasted coffee for work. There is something so innocent about Portland that I feel almost protective of it. It’s the type of town that you read about in childrens’ books – there is a community of happy people who work together and get along despite their differences. Baristas visit each other at their respective coffee shops. People hang out and listen to music and roast coffee and fix bikes and drink craft beers.


We did all of those things. I wasn’t involved in the coffee roasting part, obviously, but I did learn a lot about coffee. I heard the beans’ first crack as they roasted. It sounded a bit like popcorn popping. Ray got my gears shifting perfectly also. He showed me features that I never knew my bike had. Another friend showed up and Ray guided him in installing new handlebars on his own bike. I cleaned my bike and removed some of the grease that had built up on the derailleurs.


I strongly considered moving to Portland.


Seattle to San Francisco – Day 2

I woke up on Tuesday morning knowing that I had 140 miles ahead of me. I dreaded it slightly, since I expected the same scenery (or lack of scenery) as yesterday – just 60 miles more of it. Also, the sun was gone and it looked like possible rain.


I did the first 30 miles in under two hours, despite my heavy paniers. I took an hour break in the Centralia library to charge my phone and figure out which paths to take.


I knew that it was going to be a long time on a bike by myself, but I hadn’t expected the feeling of loneliness. The countryside that I was riding through was desperate and unpeopled. My neck was crooked from fighting the wind. To pass the time, I listened to the Chinese tapes my Mandarin tutor had given me.


“Listen and Repeat,” the English voice said, and I dutifully repeated words.


“Please say it again.”


“Qing zai shuo yi bian.”


I listened to all of the conversations, and then I listened to them again. And again. I wasn’t really paying attention. I was in a meditative state, and I repeated the words like a thousand mantras. My Bluetooth earbuds died, and I put them back in my pack to charge. I felt like I was starting to die also. The headwind was strong, the bike was heavy, and the hills were long. My rear shifter stopped working and my bike was stuck permanently on the highest gear. I couldn’t fix it. I drank some hammer gel, spilling the sticky brown goop on my shorts and my face. I was getting sick of the flavour, but it gave me the will to ride on.


I crossed under and over I5 and considered hitchhiking the rest of the way to Portland. 80 miles in, I saw signs for a coffee stand. I didn’t want to stop before I crossed to Oregon, but I really wanted a coffee. I stopped and went back to the stand. I asked for the richest thing they had. The barista suggested a coffee with chocolate and vanilla fudge and whipped cream. That sounded excellent. I sat down to eat it at the nearby picnic table. Sitting down, I realized how tired I was, and how late it was. It was almost 4pm and I still had 64 miles to go. At that moment, I gave up. I had a white trash bag and a pen, and I made a sign that said “Portland.” I would go sit by I5 and wait for some serial killer to pick me up.


I slowly got up and walked to my bike. “Do you want me to fill that up for you? Asked the barista, gesturing to my water bottle.” She took it from me and filled it, explaining to her friend, who had just arrived, that I was doing a trip from Seattle to San Francisco.


“How much farther do you have to go today?” Asked her friend.


“60 miles, but I don’t know if I’ll make it,” I admitted.


“You got this,” said the barista and gave me a huge smile and my full waterbottle.


And with her smile and encouragement, I got back on my bike, put away my sign, and rode over the Lewis and Clark Bridge. Never, ever ride over the Lewis and Clark Bridge on a bicycle. Although it doesn’t expressly forbid bicycles, there is a sign before the bridge that says “end bike lane.” Indeed the bike lane ends. There is a 3 foot margin on the side of the road filled with pieces of lumber, trash and hubcaps. Semis carrying oversized loads of logs headed down the coast whoosh by you at 60 miles per hour as you try to keep your balance while riding over chunks of gravel and wood that have fallen off previous trucks. And then you get to the top of the bridge, and you wish you could take a picture but you have to keep moving or lose your balance.


And then you’re in Oregon.


I should have been glad. The sign said 48 miles to Portland and I was 2/3rds done with my trip. I just had to continue along highway 30. I continued. My legs didn’t hurt, but there was a leaden quality to my whole body. I coasted along the Colombia River. My palms, under their gloves, were red from grasping the handle bars, and my crotch was sore from the saddle. I was determined to get within 20 miles of the city. Then I could see if there was a bus that I could take the rest of the way.

23 miles from Portland, I sat down to eat the rest of the nutella. I sat and I sat. Sitting by the side of the road felt so good. It was 7pm. Once again, the sun was going down. A car did a U-turn and pulled over to make sure I was ok. I smiled and waved them on. But I couldn’t get up. I remembered the power of the encouraging words that morning, and I called Tony to see if he could encourage me. I was also worried my couchsurfing host would be pissed at me for arriving so late. So I decided, at last, to hitchhike. There was no public transportation this far outside the city, and the taxi company I tried calling refused to go that far either.


I stood by the side of the road with my sign. My bike was lying in a pile behind me. I figured I looked pitiful enough. I decided to try smiling at people. But nobody stopped. 50 cars passed and nobody stopped. Finally, about to give up, I turned around and saw a little blue car backing up towards me.  A mom and her preteen daughter were coming home from a track meet and I could tell they were giddy about the adventure of picking up a hitchhiker for the first time. They helped me to fit my bike in the car (it just fit) and agreed to drive me to Portland, which happened to be completely out of their way.


We talked for a bit, and then turned up the music when we ran out of nice things to say. I sat, completely exhausted, on their comfortable seats.


Not only did they drive me to Portland – they bore with my navigational errors that landed them on the northeast side of Portland when I was trying to go to the northwest side. She refused to let me off until we actually found the exact address that I was staying at.


And after chauffeuring me across half of Portland, she refused to take any money for her efforts.


Whoever you are, thank you!!




Seattle to San Francisco – Day 1

I had to postpone my bike trip by one day because of a stolen car (read the previous post).


By Monday morning, my jitters had doubled. I was so ready to start cycling that I was shaking. The weather was still perfect. A hearty breakfast was still necessary. Also, the long anticipated Windows phone update was finally available, and I had to plug in my phone and wait for it to update.


Of course, I didn’t have to do any of this. I was just doddling. Even though I plan to come back to Seattle, there was something difficult about leaving. I have always loved the story of El Cid. As I prepared to travel to San Francisco on my bicycle, I felt that I knew what he felt when he was exiled. Of course, I was choosing to leave, not being thrown out of the city by force. And I was riding a red bicycle, not Babieca, the beautiful warhorse. Also, I didn’t have any loyal followers and I wasn’t a Spanish dude from the 9th century. So, really, there are no parallels to be drawn between me and El Cid, and I’m not even sure why I brought this up.


My phone finished updating. I left and didn’t look back.


The only other bike trip greater than a week that I’ve done was in the south of France. The south of Washington isn’t the south of France. In fact, the south of Washington is kind of a depressing place, with creepy, Lynchian  undertones. Even on a beautiful day, the rotting cabins in the fir forests and the roadsides littered with bottles and shattered glass are eerie and sinister.


For as much as I praise the West Coast, I now believe that the Puget Sound is Washington’s only redeeming part. There were a few nice rails to trails paths, but otherwise I was on narrow roads where apparently most people had never heard of the “give cyclists 3 feet of space” rule. With few exceptions, pickup truck drivers seem to be especially bad at giving space. They also have apparently never heard of fences for pitbulls in the south of Washington and I had a couple of terrifying encounters with dogs larger than myself. The only other people I saw riding bicycles were toothless methheads riding BMX bikes.


I know I sound a bit negative and maybe a touch judgemental. It’s because one thing happened that made me have a really bad day. I had a running armband that I had put my ID and some cash in, as well as my phone. I tied it to my handlebars to help me navigate. I was using GPXViewer to navigate, but I realized that I had the wrong path – I’d downloaded a gpx file that had me going down I5. To figure out the correct route, I used Google maps, which quickly used up my phone battery. I placed it in my pouch to charge on my portable charger and kept riding. Many miles and hills later, I looked down at my handlebars, and realized that the armband was gone.  My ID and cash were gone too. The only thing to do was to backtrack and find the ID.


Two hours later I still hadn’t found it. I’d been over every inch of road for 25 miles, slowly searching for the armband, but it just wasn’t to be found. I decided keep going. So back it was, over the roads that I had already covered twice. By 7pm it was obvious I wasn’t going to make it to Centralia. The wind was blowing strong and night was falling.  In the town of Yelm, 30 miles north of where I’d hoped to be by then, I found a random Walmart. I washed my face in their bathroom, bought and consumed half a jar of nutella, and set my tent up in a field across the road. The wind was blowing so hard that the tent was shaking and it was hard to fall asleep. My eyes were filled with dust and when I closed them they hurt.


Before I went to bed though, Tony called to tell me that the car had been recovered in Pike Place. “And it still has half a tank of gas.” He said. “I’m going to sell it tomorrow. I have no reason to own a car.” And he sold it the next day.

Seattle to San Francisco – Day 0

My stomach had twinges of nervousness on Sunday morning. It was a perfect day and I couldn’t wait to start cycling.  Everything was packed and I was ready to hit the road for San Francisco. But first, Sunday brunch had to be eaten. Despite the butterflies I managed to cram down a “Seattle to Porland” omelette at Dish cafe. Tony noticed that our bill was $36.66. “The sign of the beast,” he joked. “And today’s the 13th.” I added. “We’re going to have bad luck.”


Before heading out I had to bike back to my boat to pick up some things I’d forgotten like sunscreen, a headlamp, and bugspray. It was noon already by the time I was ready to leave. But wait, I hadn’t actually changed the clock on my boat for daylight savings time. It wasn’t noon – it was 1pm already. That’s when I suggested that both of us drive to Centralia and camp there. That way I could wake up and bike to Portland the next day and Tony could drive back and go to work. Tony was down. I felt relieved. For some reason, I didn’t feel ready to bike to Portland by myself. We biked to his apartment to get his car. He was just ahead of me, and I saw him, standing with his bike, in the shadow of the garage. His face was blank. I biked up next to him and looked at what he was looking at.


His car was gone.


Just gone. We stared at the space for a while, as if staring at the space would bring his car back. Then Tony ran upstairs to call the police. We waited for three hours for them. Meanwhile, we tried every ride sharing service we could think of. I realized that I have never received my Zipcar card in the mail, and Tony’s membership had lapsed and had to be renewed. That was out. We tried relay ride, a really cool carsharing service, but no success there either.


The police man showed up and told us that the car would certainly be recovered. He said it was a question of when, not if.


It was 5pm. We gave up on our camping plans, and I decided to start my trip on Monday instead of unlucky Sunday.

Hagg Lake 50K

If you have to put the word “tough” as in “tough mudder” in the name of your race, your race by definition is not tough. If you’re looking for tough, go with something that has a name that is the name of the location plus the distance; preferrably a distance in the double or triple digits.

Torrential rains were coming down on Saturday, the morning of the Hagg Lake 50K. I was planning to run the race with Tony, but he had bailed on me because he got sick a few days before. To be fair, he had never really agreed to go on the race in the first place. I had signed him up and bought him a ticket while he was out of the country. I’m pretty sure he was faking his illness. Thankfully, I got a substitute – Zach Buchanan, to make an appearance with one day’s notice.

I didn’t want to run the whole thing alone, but transferring the ticket was illegal, so I warned Zach beforehand that if anyone asked, he was Tony. I didn’t warn him that much beforehand, because Zach had overslept, so we got there about 5 minutes after the actual start. This wasn’t a huge deal in a race that takes 4-9 hours.

It was pouring so hard that I didn’t even want to get out of the car, and I had visions of driving back to Portland and spending a relaxing weekend in bed. But then I thought of the carb loading I had done the night before and decided to get out of the car.

I hurried to pin the number to my pants and Zach and I raced after the distant crowd. The first lap was up a nice, gravel hill. We sped up it, passing tons of people. On the way down, Zach told me that the furthest he had ever run was 8 miles. He also described his brutal training regime which consisted of a standing desk and an exercise ball that he bounced on while training (there may have been some basketball, climbing, a 22 mile bicycle commute every day, and various century rides mixed in there somewhere as well). My training regime had not been very running heavy either. It mostly consisted of doing Yoga X every other day and running 4-5 miles on the weekend.

After the brief up and dowhill came the race around the lake. This is where the mud comes in. The website mentions mud, but the race itself isn’t really billed as a mud run. The pictures from last year show smiling runners running on dry paths under sunny skies. The torrential rains this year changed all that. Zach was sliding around like a kid learning to skate.

One of our fellow runners noticed. “Nike Frees, huh? That might not have been the best choice today.” It turns out that this guy worked for a shoe store and was wearing some practical trail running shoes. “You’re going to have a tough time in those, son.” He left this parting advice as he sped past us at the aid station.

As we continued past the second aid station, I started to notice that Zach was talking less and less. I asked him what he recommended doing in Portland for the weekend. “Can we talk about this another time? I need to concentrate on not falling down.” I turned around and realized that he was covered in mud and not looking too good. “Did you run the whole way when you did 50 miler?” “No, I walked a lot.” “Ok, because maybe we should walk soon.”

Hint taken. It was getting harder and harder for me to lift my legs too. We were no longer in ankle deep mud – this was more like the mire that John Bunyan speaks of in Pilgrim’s Progress. “Why did you tell me these shoes would be ok?” Zach asked. I had told him the shoes would be ok mostly because I was in a hurry and half asleep. I thought of the greek myth of Atalanta and began to wonder if running was an externalization of my misandry. “Do I run because I hate men and I want to see them fail?” I wondered. “Or am I more like Hippomenes, sabotaging my opponents so that they can’t beat me?”

So far it was two for two. Brad had dropped out at mile 17 of the 50 miler after I fed him the 4Loko (to be fair, I had drunk half the can myself and then gotten lost and run a bit extra on that race).

Zach declared that he was dropping out just past the third aid station. He wanted to finish at least the 25K though, and he did.

The worst thing about the Hagg Lake 50K is that it’s two 25K laps. So the first lap is a little bit muddy, but the second lap has already been trampled twice so it is REALLY muddy. The rains kept pouring and the day was getting colder, not warmer. My shirt was soaked. My shoes were soaked but I no longer felt them. All I cared about now was passing as many people as possible to get the highest place possible. This wasn’t hard. By the second lap, many people were run-walking. As I passed each one, I smiled and said “Great job! keep it up!” In my head I was thinking “See ya later sucker!”

On ultramarathons, I realize that you play a lot of mind games with yourself to keep running. Most of the ones I play are fairly evil and reveal a sadistic tendency. Often, other runners comment on my nice smile. “Still smiling at mile 21! Keep it up!” They yell. But I’m not necessarily smiling because I’m happy. Instead it’s because I want to win, and I feel less pain when I’m smiling. I also like to let out a little happy sigh, as if I’m having the best time of my life. This is to discourage the runners around me.  I imagine them thinking “if there are other runners that are still enjoying this, I am f#$cked.” Whenever I pass another runner, I try to put as much distance between them and me as possible. This is because there is nothing worse than being passed by someone who you just passed.

My mantra for the Hagg Lake run was “I’ve had periods that hurt worse than this.” Everytime I passed a male runner I thought this and laughed maniacally in my head.

The last 4 miles were the worst. I passed the aid station at 26.8 and thought “I’ve already run over a marathon. What’s left is nothing.” But it wasn’t nothing. As I passed a runner at mile 26.81, I smiled at him and said “Nice work! Almost there!” I heard him grunt behind me.  I found myself paying attention to the scenery during this last bit. I remembered landmarks from the first lap, but now it seemed as if everything had been stretched, so what took 5 minutes on the first lap now took 20 minutes. At mile 29.5 I passed one last runner. I could hear him behind me, jogging, then walking. By now there was a lot of walking going on. Whenever I walked up a hill, I worried that he would pass me, but he never did. When I slowed, he slowed.

Just before the finish was the parking lot where Zach and my friend Deborah were waiting in the car. They rolled down the window as I hobbled up to them. “Cheer for me!” I begged them “I need it!” They did cheer and Zach honked the horn. I staggered past them and through the last bit of mud to the finish line. There it was. The other runner was still behind me. We ran through the finish line, high fived and hugged. Now the race was over and we were friends. We jogged straight down the hill from the finish line into the lake. Ahhh! Ice bath. We stood up to our waists in the freezing lake with four other runners, smiling and laughing at the surrealness of it all.

The other runners had run the 50K before and they both agreed that this had been the toughest race ever because of the absurdly muddy conditions.

When I exited the lake I was given a medal and a foil blanket. The fast shoe store guy who had passed us earlier saw me in the tent and congratulated me. I had somehow managed to pass him and he had finished just after me. I ate some soup and stood by the space heaters but I couldn’t stop shivering. I hadn’t thought to bring towels or warm clothes and I dreaded the quarter mile walk back to the car.  Next year though, I will be prepared. Zach had better be also.



Growing Up with Ken Ham – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

how-do-you-explain-a-sunset-if-there-is-not-god-2On the spectrum of Christians who believe that God put dinosaur fossils in the Earth to test our faith, and Theistic Evolutionists, my parents are somewhere in the middle. They were also my science teachers for the first 12 years of my life.


Ken Ham’s books were part of our homeschool curriculum.  In Answers in Genesis he goes to extreme lengths to show that the laws of science and the literal Bible can coexist, and even that one proves the other. My Dad taught me that there had been room for all of the creatures on the arc because Noah took one of each genus, not one of each species. The “evolution” that Darwin had observed in finches was in fact simply the display of the diverse genome that God had created them with.  As a 10 year old, all of this made sense, especially when combined with a semester of learning apologetics in Sunday School.


In 7th grade I went to a Christian school where the science education was even more laughably abysmal. Basically, any questions that were raised were silenced with “God created it like that.” When they didn’t answer my questions, I lost respect for my teachers and I got in trouble frequently (mostly for doodling during class, which I’m certain has served me better in the long run than actually paying attention to our “history lessons” about the Tower of Babel). Thankfully my parents didn’t send me back, and I went to public high school a few years later.


The Good:


There was a good side to learning this, and that was that I learned to question everything. Kids who are taught the prevailing wisdom of science never have their beliefs challenged. In fact, in High School I was surprised to find many atheists who were as dogmatic and wonderless as their fundamentalist religious counterparts. I’m glad that I was reminded over and over again that evolution was “only” a theory, because this has put all of human scientific discovery into perspective for me.


Religion gave us the frameworks for the science that we have today. In fact, much of the science that we do now is done in the name of humanism – a direct descendant of Western religion.  Scientists who think they can achieve objectivity are like people who have never travelled and don’t realize they have an accent.  For all of the trash talking that faith gets, you can’t have science without faith in constants. It can be absurd when fundamentalist Science battles fundamentalist religion, because the two end up sounding similar.


But I don’t want to say that Ken Ham isn’t an idiot (albeit a wealthy one) or that it’s fine to teach Creationism as fact and the Bible as science.


The Bad:


Scripture abandoned in the home leads to a generation no different from the world.

Poster from the Creation Museum warning of the dangers of not indoctrinating your children.

For me, one of the worst effects of growing up with creationism was the loss of wonder.  I lost interest in the life sciences because there was nothing new to be discovered. Jesus had to come back in the next few thousand years, before the Earth could go through any drastic changes that would prevent human life and cause us to seek refuge on the nearest habitable planet. My textbooks mocked scientists who searched for other forms of life in the cosmos. How dare they waste their money searching for something that God had decreed couldn’t exist?


The Ugly:


By far the worst thing about growing up with Creationism is the fear. I became afraid of insulting a vindictive God by imagining that there were life beyond His perfect Earth, or that life had originated in any other way than the 7 day process described in a 4,000 year old book. To deny creation would be to deny God’s perfection. How could evolution have happened if God had created a world without death? The main reason for clinging to Creationism is to prove that we humans caused death. Our collective sin, of which we are all guilty, caused all of the pain and suffering in the world.


Things have evolved slightly since the day of Copernicus and Galileo. Baptists and Presbyterians won’t pull out your fingernails or use a thumb screw on you if you believe that the Earth wasn’t created in seven days.  Many do, however, have the power to excommunicate or “discipline” members if they don’t believe that: “The Bible is the revelation of God’s truth and is infallible and authoritative in all matters of life and practice.*”


The Good (again)


I don’t want to end this post on a negative note, so I’ll revisit the positive. The good is the fact that I don’t believe Creationism anymore. When I stopped believing it was less like the disillusionment of realizing that Santa isn’t real and more like being let out of a dark closet for the first time. Clearly, some worldviews are better for my sanity than others, and I’m glad that the one that is backed by science isn’t the one where a bunch of old men decide who is and who isn’t allowed to speak in church.


Giving up creationism means that my sense of wonder has been restored with a vengeance. All of the things that I wasn’t supposed to wonder as a 10 year old I now wonder about in full force. Is there life in the stars? Is the universe infinite? Are there infinite versions of myself? If I can imagine God, does that make God possible? And if she is possible, in an infinite universe must she exist?


I don’t know the answers. I don’t expect to ever know the answers. But I can search and imagine and wonder, and this is beautiful.



Thistle Sailing Nationals

Last week I flew to Ohio. Thistle Nationals were being held on Lake Erie, at the port town of Sandusky.

No, Thistle Nationals is not a Scottish Dancing Competition or the highland games. A thistle is a seventeen foot sailboat, sailed by three people. You can read more about it here. They are light, fast, and tippy. On our three person team at nationals I was in charge of the bow, which means that I have to move around a lot and I frequently knock myself on various parts of the boat that stick out. My crewmate Dave was in charge of the middle of the boat. My skipper Wayne is the one who made the boat go.

Being from the East Coast, it seemed odd for Ohio to be my “vacation” destination, but I was drawn by the allure of competing in anything called “nationals.” I’ve always wanted to compete at the national level at a sport, any sport.

Making a Thistle move through the water at seven knots (about the speed of a fast jog) is an art form that involves quite a bit of cursing. As everyone knows, the louder you curse, the faster the boat moves.

“Take down the F$@@#!ing spinnaker pole!”

“I’m taking down the m#%$!!F*^#@ing spinnaker pole!”

And the boat glides on, so fast that it creates an unseen wake.

Wayne’s license plate on his van is in a frame that says “Thistle Sailing. Faster than fast.” Oh, also his license plate reads “Thistle.” Did I mention he is a little obsessed? This year he also happened to be Vice President of the Thistle Fleet. Unfortunately, that meant that he was in charge of 53 trophies. It seemed strange that there were 110 boats at nationals and 53 trophies. There are trophies for various categories: “highest finish for a skipper from west of the Mississippi”, “highest finish for a skipper over 60″, “highest finish for a woman skipper.” I assume that by creating so many trophies, the Thistle class meant to be inclusive and make sure that everyone who raced hard got a trophy. What it meant for Wayne is that he had to keep track of the placement of each skipper in each category. What it meant for me, as Wayne’s crew, was that I had to polish an awful lot of silver.

Thankfully I had help. Rather than polishing the trophies in the back room, we took them out into the clubhouse after dinner and polished them in front of everybody. We were awarded with free beers and appreciation.

Speaking of beers, at the same time that Thistle Nationals was going on, the self-proclaimed Flip Cup Nationals was also going on. I did not partake, but at night we could hear the cheers of the participants from our tents. “Why are they all yelling ‘USA’?” My tent neighbor, Tracy Jean, wondered. “Aren’t we all from the USA?” This question was never answered.

On the racecourse though, many of my questions about sailing were answered. For instance, I learned how to pee off the side of a dinghy when you’re out sailing for 8 hours at a time. I also learned to read the sailing instructions very carefully, and that the finish line is almost always restricted.

Although we did not get a trophy, I did have the pleasure of getting dressed up and handing out the trophies to the deserving winners. I thought that I knew which trophies were which, but when I arrived at the banquet at the yacht club and saw 53 gleaming perpetual trophies, as well as over 100 smaller trophies for the winners to keep, I freaked. I may have handed out a few wrong trophies, but everyone seemed fairly content with their extra shiny silver cups.

We didn’t do so poorly either though. We were 44th out of 110 boats. Sailing Thistles is hard, and the competition is tremendous. I couldn’t believe the skill of some of the other crews. There is so much to think about, between wind angle, keeping clear of other boats, getting room around a mark, preventing the boat from heeling too much, and a million other things. The smallest mistake can cost you 10 boat lengths, and you can never sail a perfect race.


White River 50 Mile

Admittedly, it was a terrible idea. I signed up for the race in May because my running partner, Brad, pressured me into signing up. “If you can run 20 miles on back to back days, you can totally do 50.”

For some reason, I thought he meant 50K, even though 50 miles is in the name of the race. But, details. Another detail I missed was the part about climbing 8,900ft. There is almost 18,000ft total elevation change over the course of the race, which climbs parts of Crystal Mountain and has views of Mount Rainier. If I had known about that, I might have practiced. My coworker Dawn asked if I was going to run on Friday. “No, I’m tapering,” I told her.

“Ah, how long have you been tapering?”

“About 6 months.”

Speaking of unprepared, I hadn’t realized that we wouldn’t have phone service in the shadow of Crystal Mountain. Brad and I planned on Friday to meet at a campground, since I was leaving Seattle later than him. But by the time I got there, at 10:30pm, it was too dark to find him, especially since I had no idea what his car looked like. Also, the campsite was full. The only place to sleep was on the concrete floor of the picnic pavilion. Also, my sleeping bag is currently on its way to Sandusky, Ohio, where I will be camping next weekend for Thistle Nationals. So all I had to sleep on were 2 ponchos. I slept fitfully, and woke at 5am. We had to be at the start line by 6 and my stomach felt like it was in knots.

Thankfully, at the start line I had one bar of service, and was able to get a call from Brad’s brother, who also had service. I was so relieved to see Brad. I knew that I couldn’t do this race without him. For one thing, he is a constant source of entertainment.

“Let’s start at the front of the pack,” he said. “That way, only 398 runners will have to pass us.”

We didn’t though – instead we started at the back of the pack, well behind the elites, as we intended to finish in the bottom 10%, if at all. Brad confided that he hadn’t practiced either. Neither of us had run more than 14 miles in the past six months.

The first part of the race is a 15 mile climb that goes up 4,000 feet or so. I didn’t even feel them. I was too busy laughing at Brad’s hilariously inappropriate stories. I could tell other runners were trying to run closer to us just to hear his stories. At the top of the mountain there were spectacular views. I felt like I was in The Sound of Music with the alpine peaks all around me. The third aid station was right there. Brad and I had a dropbag that we had sent up. He had put an extra pair of shoes and some pitas in his bag. I had added a Four Loko and some extra socks. The Four Loko was more of a joke than anything else - I had mentioned on the way down that I had never tried one, so Tony suggested that I get one at the next gas station, and I did.

Brad and I spread out for a full on picnic at the aid station. We attempted to drink the Four Loko but it was too disgusting to get down. We probably sat there picnicking for 15 minutes. Brad announced that he was dropping out. His calves were cramping up and he couldn’t run any further. “You’ll do great,” he encouraged me. “Just make sure you make it before the last aid stations close down, or you’re screwed.”

I took off, feeling amazing. I put my headphones in since Brad was no longer there to entertain me. I had a playlist that consisted of only four songs, since I’d forgotten to download music for the run.

I passed everyone who had passed us at the aid station. The pack had thinned out and I was no longer following anyone. Good thing the course was well marked. I got to a part where the trail split, and there was a big arrow pointing the way on the ground. Great. I was running at a good pace now. There was a photographer on the trail. I gave him a thumbs up. About a mile later I saw an aid station. And then I realized – this was the aid station I had just been at. I was running backwards. The volunteers realized it too, as they took down my number. “Uh…you were already here weren’t you?”

“Don’t worry, you only have to run about 2 miles back that way and you’ll find the course.”

“Thanks,” I said, and took off again. I was crestfallen. This pretty much ruined any chance I had of doing well. Thankfully, the next 15 miles were downhill. I am a great downhill runner. Years of skiing and cycling have strengthened my quads and made me fearless on the downhill. I’m basically a mountain goat. I only face-planted once.

At the next aid station I took my shirt off and threw it away. A volunteer told me that it smelled like a locker room. He dumped a bottle of water over my arms, legs and face to clean the dust off. I pinned my number to my sports bra.

At the next aid station the volunteers all tilted their heads when I arrived. It turns out that I had pinned my number on upside down. Tony was waiting for me at the aid station at the bottom of the mountain. “You are a mess,” he told me. “But you’re right on track to finishing in 10 or 11 hours.”

“I feel great,” I said. But actually my stomach was feeling weird. I couldn’t eat anything, so I kept running. After what Brad had said, I was afraid of the aid stations closing down before I arrived, and this was starting to feel a bit less like a casual stroll. Unfortunately, the next 10 miles were uphill again, and it was hot by now. The miles between 27 and 37 were by far the hardest. My butt was hurting from so much hill running. Also, my arms were starting to chafe. That is how you know your arms are too fat - when they chafe as you run. Other than the pain, I felt amazing. I usually use my running time to think, but I had outrun the thinking part. I was unable to think about anything useful. In fact, I don’t think I was thinking at all.

After the 37 mile point there were six miles of downhill running. I bombed down them, passing lots of people. I wasn’t feeling great, but I wasn’t feeling awful. I thought about throwing up, but I couldn’t. I thought about dropping out, but dropping out isn’t allowed after the seventh aid station. Besides, I was so close. Finally, the bottom of the hill was right there. At the last aid station, I took my shoes off and realized that my new socks were completely coated in dust and sweat. I was amazed to not have any blisters however.

Did I mention that I was wearing new shoes? I should have broken them in first. Oh well, they are broken in now. Also, I doubt I will be getting my 30 day money back guarantee after this race.

There were only about seven miles of slightly uphill technical terrain to go. I looked at my phone. It was 5pm. I decided to run 20 minutes and walk 5 for the last bit. I looked at my phone after I thought I had been running for about 20 minutes. It was 5:05. The problem was that my quads were all stiff from sprinting down the hill. I tried skipping to shake them out. Wrong decision. My knee suddenly experienced a shooting pain. I tried jogging on it and realized that there was no way I could run. I had to keep my knee straight just to be able to walk on it. Only five miles to go to the finish, and I was injured. I felt incredibly frustrated. If I hadn’t gotten lost I would certainly be finishing by now.

I walked with a weird limp through the rest of the beautiful forest. Lots of old people passed me. But old people had been passing me all day so that was really nothing new. That’s the problem with these really tough endurance races – old people are always passing you. I didn’t really mind though – my brain was on a different planet. I was euphoric. I really wanted to just stop and lie down. I wanted to cry too. I was happy, but I really wanted to cry. Also, why was there a person watching me from the top of that tree? Oh, it wasn’t a person, just a branch. Then I saw another person wearing a black robe. I thought maybe it was a witch. Or a bear. But it was just a root. Almost there. I started singing so that I wouldn’t feel my knee anymore.

I managed to make it to the road where the finish was. Somehow I was able to run the last half mile.

And there I was, jogging through the finish after 13 hours of “running.” I had been dreaming of putting my legs in the river for about 4 hours. After the finish, Tony helped me down the hill I sat down in the river, still wearing my shorts. It was everything I had dreamed it would be. My sore feet felt all tingly. I wanted to just stay there and sleep, but Tony made me get out. Then he gave me a piggy back ride to the tent where they were giving out t-shirts and socks.

I put on my t-shirt and socks right away. It felt good to be wearing something that didn’t smell like a locker room.

And that was it. That was what running a 50 miler feels like. Next time I run a 50 mile race I will practice first. Also, I won’t wear new shoes. And I will make a playlist that includes more than four songs.

But whatever – at least it was good exercise.

Startup Weekend Maker Edition: Organizer’s Perspective

This weekend is my first Startup Weekend as an organizer. I’ve attended 3 previously as a participant, and I’ve had my mind blown by the intensity of the weekend and the projects and teams that were created. Behind the scenes is a whole different level of intensity.

When I contacted Tawnee, operations manager at Startup Weekend HQ, in January, begging her to do a Startup Weekend for Makers, I didn’t really expect her to get back to me. A few days later she sent me some names of other people who might also be interested in organizing a Startup Weekend focused on hardware.  Apparently, people who wanted a Startup Weekend for makers had reached a critical mass, and when Makerhaus agreed to host the event it was a done deal. The task of putting together an organizing team was put into my (inexperienced) hands. I reached out to some friends and was lucky to have a team of twelve rockstars join me. Since March we’ve been hustling for sponsorships, making lists of necessary materials, and reaching out to maker groups to find talented participants.

It wasn’t until June that it sunk in that Startup Weekend Maker Edition was going to be fundamentally different from any previous Startup Weekend. For one thing, it takes a lot more planning. We have to provide all the materials to make 10 successful hardware startups in one weekend. Also, it takes a lot more sponsorships, since materials cost money. Thankfully, sponsors like Madrona, Impinj, Amazon, 10AK, Blackedge, PHC International, Coca Cola, and several more stepped in to cover our costs.

Somewhere along the line in the planning, we did something right. That became clear tonight as soon as the participants started to arrive. They had the eager look of passionate people – people who really wanted to be there and were going to make this an amazing event. Unlike other tech events in Seattle, where people tend to avoid eye contact and stare at their feet, the people at this event talking, laughing and sketching their ideas on napkins. They seemed excited to have found an entire room full of people who shared their passion for making things.

Another difference between this event and a normal Startup Weekend was the energy of the coaches and judges. Usually Startup Weekend coaches are too busy doing their own thing to be there for the whole event. But most of our coaches showed up on Friday night and were there to give the teams tips right from the start. We had coaches even offering to help carry food and set up tables and chairs.

Some things were, of course, the same. There was a rousing speech by our facilitator John Morefield at 7pm. There were pitches from 7:30-8pm – and what an amazing bunch of pitches they were! An autonomous greenhouse…a simple piece of hardware to tell you if you have a sleep disorder…a gadget that will project your cell phone screen onto the ceiling…

We took votes, and the 30+ great pitches were narrowed down to 10 excellent pitches. Teams formed. Sticky notes and note pads were passed out, and everyone went into planning mode.

My task for tomorrow morning is to get the teams the materials they need. Each team filled out a materials spreadsheet, and we’ve compiled these to a master spreadsheet that contains everything from sheets of acrylic to urethane and silicon for casting, to hot glue guns and grommets. Getting these materials reminds me of a science fair project for adults. I’m excited to wake up early tomorrow and go on a scavenger hunt for parts. And I’m even more excited to see what the teams make with these parts. Let the fun begin!

My First Swiftsure

Saturdy May 25th - Day One of the Race

The 70th annual Swiftsure Regatta began on Saturday, May 25th, 2013 in Victoria, Canada. Boat call was 6:30am but I got there a little early to put breakfast in the oven. I’m not a very good sailor so I try to make myself useful in other ways. I sail on a 40.7 Benneteau named Bravo Zulu. Her crew is usually between 8 and 12 people. For this race we had 11 – our skipper Denny, Steve, the navigator and tactician, Christa and Erica who do bow, Brenda, who is both a trimmer and our boat’s M.D., Shayne, Wayne, Kerry and Leif who are usually in the cockpit either trimming or grinding (and sometimes skippering), and Taylor, a new addition to the crew who can do everything well. Then there is myself – resident rail meat and squirrel extraordinaire. 

I had come up on Thursday on a 53ft boat named Artemis after missing the Bravo Zulu delivery and had spent the past day and a half hanging out in Victoria Harbor, checking out the other boats, including the HMCS Oriole, a beautiful wooden Canadian Navy ship with twin tree trunks for masts that was going to do the in shore course.

At 8am an alarm sounded. All of the glistening boats untied and motored out into the harbor, flags flying. We drifted out with them. Hundreds of boats – over 200 – made a magnificent parade through Victoria Harbor. The sailors on the Oriole were listening to rap and they had a pretty amazing sound system. “You didn’t know we were the party boat, did you?” One of their sailors yelled. We had our music on also, and the Bravo Zulu battle flags were flapping in the wind.

9:20am was our race start. Low winds had been predicted but our sails were full. Denny had invested in a new number 2 genoa and it was crisp. I put my face to it to smell the new sail smell before we raised it. The cannon on the committee boat blasted a blank into the air to signal the race start. The shores were crowded people watching and they waved as we started off.

Our crew had been divided into two watches – Bravo watch and Zulu watch. At noon, Bravo watch was off and I went below to make lunch and take a nap. Four hours later when Bravo watch started again we were still ahead of our fleet but the tides were changing. The wind had changed as well, and it was no longer pushing us – it was merely serving as a wind anchor. Our boat speed was less than a knot. By the time it got dark, several of the boats ahead of us had already given up on the race and they passed us, motoring back.

Watching the peaks of land on the American shore slide behind us was slower than watching paint dry. The only comfort was that everyone was stuck in the same light air. As it grew dark, the lights on the Canadian vessel that served as the mark grew slowly brighter, and the lights on the triangular shadows that were nearby sailboats did also.

The mark was finally upon us. As we drifted slowly nearer to the mark we realized that the current was carrying us sideways faster than the wind was carrying us forward. I was hiking with all my might and I prepared to fend off the vessel by kicking it with my feet if necessary. I could see the boat operators coming outside to see if we would crash. Even in the dark I was close enough to see the whites of their eyes. Thankfully, Denny expertly tacked the boat when we were about 9 feet away. It lost us some efficiency but it also saved us from a crash.

We got a chuckle as another boat prepared to round the mark and reported over the radio: “We are about 400 feet away from the mark. We should be there sometime within the next 4 hours.”

After rounding the mark at Cape Flattery we headed North back to the Canadian coast to try our luck there.

Sunday May 26th - Day Two of the Race

Bravo watch took over again at 4am. Apparently Taylor had had some sort of run in with the boom during the wee hours of the morning and suffered a concussion. As a doctor, Brenda was upset that we weren’t motoring back, but Taylor seemed to be doing ok. Erica wanted to motor back also, as she had plans to leave on the Victoria Clipper that afternoon and was eager to join the majority of sailors who had already quit the race. We weren’t doing that though. In fact, there was a rumor running around that we didn’t have enough fuel to motor back if we tried.

The day also promised to be as beautiful, if as windless, as the previous day. Bravo watch was still in good cheer and uninjured, although we had used up all of our dirty jokes and didn’t have much left to talk about. There was one boat ahead of us that was worrying everyone. “Could that be Red Heather?” Red Heather was a boat from Victoria in our class and they were leagues ahead of us. We weren’t close enough to make out their sail numbers yet, but the coloration and size indicated that it was them. We had crossed to the Canadian side and were getting better winds. We seemed to be gaining on them. I was finally able to make out their numbers with the binoculars. “9…6…0…9…6…Yup, that’s them alright!” To win we had to beat them by at least ten minutes, and we were currently about ten minutes behind. We tried several strategies to get ahead, but each time they managed to pull ahead. Clearly they knew the tides and winds here better than we did.

Although we were still moving as slow as mud, Denny suggested we suffix everything with “And we’re winning.” As in “The current is going to start carrying us backwards in one hour. And we’re winning!” Or, “We have one knot of boat speed. And we’re winning!” Despite the optimism, the strain of racing (and little sleep) was clearly wearing everyone a bit thin. I was happy to be relieved by Zulu watch, and the only thing that I was doing was helping to move the jib around on the roll tacks. I can’t imagine what it would be like to drive the boat for the entire race, or to be in charge of something as delicate as trimming a sail for days on end. Also, I’m thankful that I sleep so well on boats.

By the time I woke up four hours later we’d passed Race Rocks and were out of the worst of the tide. Also, Red Heather had somehow fallen off and was now receding into a line of distant boats. Perhaps our joking optimism had carried us through and we were winning! We hadn’t planned to be out for dinner so I scavenged some cans of tuna and olives and made make-shift wraps for everyone.

We were in sight of Victoria Harbor when the currents switched. We noticed first by the line of water off the back of some crab pots. Then it started to carry us backward. The wind seeker wasn’t working anymore, so we raised a spinnaker and Taylor held out the edge of the sail with a boat hook. Our boat speed was zero. We cheered as the wind started to fill the sail and the knot meter rose to 0.1 knots. As we waited for the boat to move, darkness fell. Every boat that we could see was far behind us, and we knew that none of the boats had finished the Cape Flattery course yet. We might be both first in our division and first overall. Hell, we might even be the only boat to finish the Cape Flattery Course! The time passed quickly for me as I concentrated on the wind and my excitement. Several more boats who had quit motored past us. Buoyed by Christa’s remarks that we might be the only boat left in our class, we hung in and sailed the boat.

The instruments on the mast began to blink. We were losing battery power. Steve tried to start the engine in neutral to recharge the battery but there wasn’t even enough battery for that. We quickly scrounged some bow and stern lights so that we wouldn’t be disqualified after our 30+ hours of racing. We also remembered to put on our safety gear as another precaution against disqualification.

Two hours passed like this. Then four. We were in sight of the finish line – a red strobe on one side of the harbor entrance and a blinking yellow light on the other. Then a whistle blew. Or was it a horn? It didn’t matter. We were finally back.

They gave us hot chicken soup and champagne at the inspection dock and took our photographs. I didn’t realize that I was hungry until I ate the soup. There were handshakes and congratulations. Everyone was smiling, especially Denny.

I headed back to the hotel with Kerry, Wayne and Shayne. On the way back I ran through the sprinklers on the lawn of a fancy looking building covered in Christmas lights. A guard on the lawn noticed me so I sprinted back. “What was that building?” I asked Shayne. “That’s the capitol building. Victoria is the capitol of B.C.” “Ahhhh.” I looked behind me nervously, but thankfully the guard wasn’t following. Back at the hotel, we were almost too tired to fall asleep, and ended up giggling for an hour like high school girls at a slumber party. “My boyfriend just texted me that he thinks The Flying Italian got first,” Kerry reported. “But he doesn’t know much about ratings in sailing, so I doubt that’s right.”

Monday May 27th – Delivery Home

Just in case I got bored on the delivery home, I’d brought a book to read. It wasn’t needed.

The wind blew like no other wind I have ever seen. It was like it was making up for the past two days of windlessness.

We ran out of fuel motoring against the current on the way to drop Kerry off in Port Townsend, so we put a reef in the mainsail and raised it as the rain pelted us and waves sloshed over the bow. The wind was blowing 45 knots and we were making 9 knots of boat speed with just a reefed main. Denny was sick in his berth, and Leif was throwing up over the rail. I managed to get soaked as the water coming over the sides of the boat came up my foulies. I changed my wet socks and shirt twice. Even though I wanted to stay out and watch the weather I was finally shivering so uncontrollably that I had to go below and wrap up in a blanket. Steve and a friend, Tim, who was helping out with the delivery, were driving and they did an amazing job, depositing us safely at Customs in Port Townsend. Denny lent me some of his dry clothes and we had a late lunch at a tiny fish and chips joint, before refueling and heading back to Seattle. Here we learned that we had taken second overall in the race, and first in our division. The Flying Italian was the overall winner, having corrected over us by less than a minute. It was disappointing to learn that we weren’t overall winner, but it was still exciting to have finished at all. We were all too exhausted or seasick from the delivery down to smile, but it had been a race well sailed.