Wednesday, December 20, 2006


-All the snow from the storm is melted. We don't have winters like we used to.

-Went out and did a McNaughton loop in 2:15 last weekend. Feet held up, things are steadily getting back to normal. Trails out there were in great shape, some mud in low spots, but not bad overall, creek was up, so wet feet. Much fun on the hills. This is a good sign.

-Yesterday I saw a large eagle sitting about 20 yards into a tilled corn field on Lancaster Road west of Bartonville. This is the first large eagle I have ever seen sitting in a tilled corn field in winter.

-I started reading "Mishima's Sword" by Christopher Ross. Ross travels to Japan in search of the samurai sword with which Yukio Mishima's head was severed with while becoming the last person in Japan to commit Sepukko. So far a fascinating read, particularly for those interested in Japanese Samurai culture (I am) or Mishima's life and writing. (Snyd, you out there?)

-Finished reading "Working Retrievers" by Tom Quinn, a most beautiful book on field training Retriever breeds. Everything you need to know elegantly laid out. I have this fantasy of turning Zoe into a working birddog, but realistically, there isn't time, nor probably bloodline, but what a fun thought. I'll have to settle for running with her.

Soundtrack: Court and Spark, "Witch Season"

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Da Deer Run Run 2006 Edition

A monk asked Tung-shan: "When cold and heat come along, how can I avoid them?"

Tung-shan said: "Why not go where there is neither cold nor heat?"

"Where is there cold nor heat?"

Tung shan said: "When it is cold, let the cold kill you. When it is hot, let the heat kill you."

Not fatal, but brisk. Da Deer Run Run is one of my favorite events. Again we had snow on the course, a nice 5 or 6 inch base that was packed down spit slick in some spots, mushy and churned up in others for those of us toward the middle of the pack. Bitter cold of the past few days had let up some, but it was still mid-20s with strong winds, certainly pushing wind chills down toward zero, especially in the level areas near the lake. I happily finished in 51:10 and hit the hot soup. Fun run.

Saturday, December 02, 2006


We got our first seasonal taste of snow with a relatively early winter storm. By yesterday afternoon I was out in the woods postholing through 8"-20" (drifts) of virgin snow. Sun had arrived making the ice glint diamond-like on branches creating a prism effect. Running was tough with some areas drifted to a couple of feet, but it's always magical hitting the trails with first snow, the effort only serving to amplify the senses. Saw rabbit, deer, coon, coyote tracks, a few small does and a good sized antlered buck, eight point or so, that jumped off trail into thick underbrush, somehow managing to evade the shotgun so far. Good training for Deer Run, Run next weekend. Last year I remember there being a good snowpack on the trails, and I'm hoping so again.

Soundtrack: Jayhawks, "Hollywood Town Hall" Good mood music for a winter day.

Friday, November 24, 2006

A Run

Morning greets me with otherworldly sliver of pink oil paint streak, fairly crackling as the pops of high tension powerlines over the eastern horizon. Late November may be too late for indian summer, yet no frost covers my window this morning. At McNaughton Park a quilt of oak leaves carpets single track, legs taking twenty minutes of climbing, descending into creek bottom before looseness comes. Rounding into the totem pole clearing, he's standing at the trailhead to the beach-- coyote, fur thick for coming cold, in no hurry he trots down the slope where I run only minutes later. No sign he was there. Vanished.

Before Rope Hill, two men with dogs. I pass, but not without some growls. Rope hill doesn't bury me; Foundation Loop helps thing flow, learning again to negotiate these hills. They can grind you down if you disrespect their wiles. Total time: 1:45. It's a start. Stretching every 30 minutes seems to have helped the foot; time will tell more. For today, a run.

Soundtrack: "Good Times"- Charlie Robison

Monday, November 13, 2006

Mackinaw River Blog

I've started a parallel blog (no myspace, no standard website, keepin it simple) to this one tentatively entitled, "River's Bend: A Mackinaw River Resource Spot." My goal is to set up some sort of forum for my own writing and various historical projects centered around the river. Ultimately, I would love to expand and include other folks' work of any and all sorts as they pertain to the Mackinaw. I don't know exactly which direction this will head, if any, but here goes.

Please contact me if you have any ideas or would like contribute in any way.

Go here:

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Election 2006

Take that old grey mare and shoot it
ain't nothin to you but a lame idea

Seen enough of those to know where they'll lead me
following hoofprints i'm finding a foundry

I didn't know where i was going
and i still don't know where i'll go today

Seems like all the folks with time to do the talking
they will always be the ones with the least to say

Tsunami, "Old Grey Mare"

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Not Caring

Friday morning found me running in Forest Park. It had been raining steadily the past couple of days, but I didn't care.

Everything was saturated. Gray, swirling dark gray, but still beauty in the overcast morning while the world worked and I ran the hills. I did an hour and one half, the foot hurting at one hour in, but I didn't care.

Most of the leaves were off the trees from the wind and the rain, but the maples were there-toasted, muted against what shadowy strands of sky the canopy allows. Most branches were barren, but I didn't care.

On Pimetoui I ran past a park ranger working in the chilly rain clearing saplings and brush from the hill prairie with his chainsaw. I stopped. We talked about the forests, about how the powers that be eschew fire and how shortsighted they are to do so, and how that shortsightedness shapes these woods into something they've never been; we talked about the delicate hill prairie, so rare now it is. My run put on hold for several minutes, but I didn't care.

My pace actually quickened on the precipitous downhill toward the road, stepping lightly over the few roots I could actually see through the leaf cover. Back to the parking lot, mud caked soles, sweat, the foot throbbing with every step. I looked a mess; I'm sure of it, but I didn't care.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Crossing

In 1893 Frederick Jackson Turner's now famous Frontier Thesis declared the American frontier closed. In relatively short course, men of the western world had subsumed and undertaken wholesale settlement of the entire expanse of the young nation. With the loss of the open frontier and its associated mythos came the arrival of what passes for civilization in our modern vernacular, and thus the death of "wildness," true freedom that I think the hearts of men burn for. Loss of the wild yes, but not just in the hearts of men, but also the alteration of the physical landscape, the land as it was, the real and psychic geography of the American west, the mythos of all that is truly free, salted earth.

The "Border Trilogy" of Cormac McCarthy painstakingly renders a requiem for this west, for our losses. He writes deeply of place, of death, change, temporality, fragility, not in the words of the philosopher always, but the words of the poet, one who shares kinship with this vanished world. These books are largely about a profound sense of place, a wonderment of landscape teased out in Michelangelo-like detail. If you have affinity for the ground, and maybe, just maybe, a nagging sense that its true nature is gone from our view somehow, yet loving it still- unrestrained love- then these pages speak to you in an epic poem form in which you will find solace.

The Crossing is a work with which McCarthy is at the absolute zenith of his craft. A master. This isn't simply storytelling, not a surface coming of age tale, but an existential meditation on life and loss through the conduit of teenaged Billy Parham, and even more, the environs he passes through. In many ways the characters are secondary to the backdrop--place scrambling to cling to a way of living that in our very guts we know maybe be the truest way to exist.

McCarthy doesn't just write the land, he knows it to its core, his words precise, calibrated geological instruments tapping at the rocks, penetrating their centers, a flash flood awash down the gully, kinetic blanket of watery probing, enveloping, slinking over, thus obtaining some intimate secret knowledge of the terrain.

Symbology of the wolf is essential to the writer's motive. By placing Billy in the 1930's and specifically in Hidalgo County, New Mexico, McCarthy sets him in a rare, unique setting, one in which a person would have had one of the last opportunities to encounter a wolf in the wild. Hidalgo and the Animas Mountains were part of an ancient throughway for wolves coming and going from Mexican territory.

Through the wolf Billy sheds the operant modeling of the his rancher upbringing and taps into a spiritual reverence for her wild cunning and untamed nature. At the moment of realization, he turns south toward Mexico, not onto the road home. This connection is so strong that ultimately he will kill the wolf rather than witness her spirit defiled at the hands of men.

The level of detail in these descriptions is striking--I've read of comparisons to Melville--at times the narrative reads like a detailed manual for the aspiring cowboy or trapper. Early 1940s wolf hunter, W.C. Echols, is the model for which the wolf tracking and trapping trade secrets of the Parhams were culled. Interestingly, Echols while always a hired assassin, operated with respect for his quarry. I envision an elderly Echols perhaps in the literary person of Don Arnuldo, who Billy consults on how to hunt the wolf but who ends up giving voice to the boy's intuitive sense of the value of the wolf's mysterious nature:

"The wolf is an unknowable thing. What is caught in the trap is no more than teeth and fur. The wolf itself cannot be known. The wolf or what the wolf knows. Like asking what the stones know. The trees. The world. You want to catch this can do that. But where is the wolf? The wolf is like the copo de catch the snowflake bout when you look in your hand you don't have it no more. If you catch it you will lose it. And where it goes there is no coming back from. Not even God can bring it back."

The wolf, the land, belong not even to us out on our perceived frontiers, but to a higher reality that we can glimpse at times, but never fully understand.

As Turner's proclamation of over a century ago informed us, much like the wolf, much like Billy's bleeding, dying horse, Nino, wildness with we humans in its frame is truly illusion and is in reality a body prostrate, chest heaving slowly up and down, sucking its last breaths.

The corpse. On Billy's journey back to the border with his brother's bones, the banditos having senselessly stabbed Nino, a band of gypsies happen upon the forlorn scene of the boy and the bloodletting horse. Is there hope in this desication and despair?

After tending to the horse, a gypsy sets a kettle of tea to boil and lights a cigar, squatting to tell a story. Within those words we find: "La historia del hijo termina en las montanas. Y por alla queda la realidad de el--The history of the son ends in the mountains, and there stays its reality."

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


For years in my running thoughts I've kicked around putting on an ultra, but honestly I'm far too lazy and disorganized to make it happen. My friend Dave is neither of those things. He did quite a job putting on the race last weekend.

From my perspective as a volunteer things were fun. I never realized there was so much work that goes into one of these things. I had the priviledge of helping set up Friday, and getting out and marking trail, then returning Saturday to work the Devil's Cliff aid station (once I figured out how to actually drive there, leaving us 10 minutes to set up). The day itself was very nice, temps in the 50's and sunny, most of the silver maples having already turned a vivid golden hue. It's always inspriring to watch ultrarunners, and there were many first timers out there, making it all the more interesting. I'm hoping to be back next year.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Missouri Uplands Revisited

Moving north out of Jefferson City you are literally ticking forward on an accelerated geological timeline. The craggy rolling hills and hollows that are products of millions of years of erosion submit gradually to a young, mere 400,000 year old glaciated topography. On into Callaway County, the Kingdom of Callaway, and back onto the plains, Dissected Till Plains to the scientist, from the tribal Scots-Irish lineage to the Germanic farmers of the prairies.

The tiny blip on the map that is Hatton, MO is an idyllic sort of place. The kind of rural village that you might find referenced in a Keillor monologue or perhaps run across in those glossy “country” mags that suburban soccer moms like to read. It anachronistically sports a whitewashed general store in addition to the requisite red brick Baptist church. Just past the town is a paved road that cuts north toward the Audrain County line. I turn left at that line and drive through the glaring sunlight down the white gravel road, past now golden soybean fields that were sown with milo last year (I know this because their sporadically seeded remnants, tall and bushy headed and alien, stick out like towers among the bean rows) and down the road to the land of my grandfather and father, and now I.

Harvest is in. Another year’s gamble on this hardscrabble claypan soil has turned snake eyes. The rain that came to other, more fortunate sections of the Midwest didn’t materialize here. Yet the farmers who love this land won’t be deterred. They have weathered far worse seasons and still their hearts remain anchored. I romanticize with this prose where they surely would not, but what motivator other than love would drive a man to put his worldly wealth on such marginal odds?

I steer the 4x4 down a cut crop haul road, wide enough for a large truck, and start into the field of stalks. Looking to the south the land rises ever so gently to a swell then tapers back in an almost imperceptible slope to a tree line draw—if you’re unfamiliar with the term, the excellent dictionary, “Home Ground” defines a woody draw as, “a troughlike depression, choked with shrubs, thickets, and small trees…woody draws regulate the runoff from rainstorms and help filter pollutants.” The elegant way of putting it.

The casual observer driving past on the road might observe “just a corn field” like any other, but to understand a place you must look closely. The 4x4 parked, I walk the plains. The story of this ground isn’t just choppy stalks in a random field. It can be likened to and yet in some nagging way is alien to the tallgrass prairies of my Illinois home. Ice sheets were here but they did their work a half million years ago, not as recently as 15,000 years ago. Winds and forces of time have done their intended task and dispersed the till and loess to a fine layer here, only 6 inches in some spots, maybe to a foot if luck resides, where it doesn’t, there is none, only exposed grayish, pale clay. Illinois prairie sod may have as much as three to six feet of black, rich topsoil.

I hike. Undulation of the land is ever so slight. The draw, a swath of trees maybe 30 yards wide at its fattest runs a quarter of a mile, attaching itself eventually to a narrower perpendicular treed fence line. I would date the growth of this draw to maybe 50-75 years. The inner boy hopes this a bastion of wild woodland, but my rationalist voice whispers that this is a trough that stayed too wet to plow when the old mule farm was transformed into cropland.

My path turns to the west, walking the fringe of the woods. There are but few oaks, some maples, shrubbery and trusty hedgerow Orange Osage. And there is life here. A hawk catches my eye as he floats in on the wind current over my head to the east. He drifts closer as I walk, spiraling in a tight coil, closer and lower, closer still to my position. I am alive here and the hawk glides past with nary a wing flap in a pact of silent acknowledgement of that fact. Thus established, his flight plan lazily diverts on another course, to another field in search of prey, or maybe just passing time on a Sunday morning.

Terraces fill the space where the water has chipped away the clay, making the ground inaccessible. The farmer has filled the rivulets in spots with soil and effort. It is still a struggle, though the deer still do run through here in great herds, this is no longer virgin prairie tossing on the winds. Time and its whims have left a mark.

Stalks will give way to winter wheat, and then again to fertilizer, and again to corn, corn-on-corn to feed the sparkly new ethanol plant a few miles distant in Laddonia. Visible on the eastern horizon is a lean silver tower, an experimental measuring station for an energy company considering this land for the placement of colossal wind turbines. Dynamism is the only constant. Just like the world at large, times here change, isolation cannot exist. Fundamentally yes, on a geologic scale change comes not in technological sweeps of the hand, but by a trickle of water acting here, a pebble tumbleweed nudged along by a stiff breeze there. Geologic time is not the time that marks our paltry lives, yet its constant, subtle presence can offer a solace of sorts in these times.

And so I have gained some greater, if all too minute understanding of the land; that is to say, I have learned as much as it has chosen to share with me on this walk. I slowly climb back behind the wheel and point the vehicle down the load path, the gravel country road shimmering in the distance in the blue of an Indian summer afternoon.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


I haven't done anything long in about a month, just 3-5 milers. The pair of Brooks Beasts I bought a couple months ago are simply too tight, not considering the narrowness of the D size, a fact which I hope has been contributing to the flare up of P.F. and one that can be alleviated by switching to the wider 4E. The time is now to start laying some base for ramp up to McNaughton. Not to mention this is just the best time to be out on the trails. I'm simply hoping to hold together physically on some semi-long runs, and work from there back into hills and 3-4 hour range training.

Farmdale is in two weeks and I'm looking forward to helping Dave out. At last count he was over his targeted 50 for the race. If you're doing it, be sure and say hello at the Devil's Cliff aid station.

Monday, September 25, 2006

All The Pretty Horses

I recently finished re-reading "All the Pretty Horses" by Cormac McCarthy. It may appear hyperbolic but right this minute I would place McCarthy well within the pantheon of top 20th century American writers. At times the seeming long-windedness of his sentence structure is slightly Faulknerian, but make no mistake, Cormac is no Billy knock-off, but rather to analogize another giant, is more akin to the rough hewn, yet scultped prose of Hemingway. Lofty comparisons, yes, yet not undeserved.

McCarthy's ability to evoke the feel of landscape and dig into the belly of the American soul is uncanny. The book, the entire trilogy really, demand your full sensory engagement with the prose, as any great writing should. When I read this book for the first time years ago, I didn't get it. Older, maybe slightly wiser, certainly more patient and much more appreciative of subtlety, the flow of the narrative held much great meaning for me at 32 than it did at 20. Sharing McCarthy's glimpse into the southwest, his version of coming of age in an unkind era, is well worth the sweat and bloodletting that was required to fully appreciate the tapestry of this work.

Friday, September 22, 2006


Dave held a potluck last night for runner Paul Stoso, who is currently running across the US ( without any aid other than a jogging stroller he is pushing. It was interesting hearing a few of his stories; what an inspirational guy. Check out the website for more info and his journals of the run.

Our descent into autumn continues. Was in Springfield yesterday and managed to make it out to the Gardens and to Petersburg. Wildflowers abound. To continue the theme of last post, I found a nice cache of false sunflower and some scattered purple ironweed along the creek last night.

For anyone reading (anyone?) within shouting distance of Peoria, there is still time to sign up for the Farmdale Trail Runs. Check out Dave's remarkable website for info:

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Monarchs are Coming! The Monarchs are Coming!

They're here. Fall breeding season perhaps? While walking the ridgeline trails, just into the grasses, there were 100s of monarchs this morning. I seem to recall August being the time when I've seen the most in the past, maybe climatic conditions this season have made a difference.

What a year for wildflowers too. Wow. All that rain has given us more compass plants than I've ever seen. Any semi low area with some moisture is just crawling with these, most 3-4 feet tall. We had a patch of 20 pop up almost literally overnight down by the creek after a big rain.

Garlic mustard and Queen Anne's Lace, two invasive but somewhat pretty species, are everywhere. Encouragingly, I've also witness quite a bit of Blue and Heath Aster, Leadplant, and what I think is Blazing Star.

These plants give one last gasp and try and seed before the cold nights kill them off. The angle of the sun is changing daily, last night was 45 for a low, but oh these days, the wildflowers are fleetingly here to mark their passing.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Missouri Uplands

The memories are there of visits to our 320 acre farm in north-central Missouri. A mule farm in the 20's and 30's it is now strictly cash crops and deer draws. In summer I loved driving through the thick, muggy air of a July morning, past the greening fields of exotic milo and through the tiny burgs on route 54, crawling through sleepy Pittsfield, sometimes stopping at the Red Hen Cafe for breakfast, but always stopping at the little crossroad village of Atlas Junction, getting a photo in front of the monument rock spelling out the white history of Pike county.

From there back on 54 across the Mississippi River and through Louisiana, Curryville, Vandalia, Farber, Laddonia, Mexico, and finally to the farm, seemingly a million miles from anything on the Audrain/Callaway county line north of Hatton, MO. I have a heartfelt affinity for the countryside bisected by 54. The golden hue of the wheat and soybeans in the later afternoon October sun give the flat land a slightly different feel from central IL. The beauty of the sparse Missouri uplands is there if you look for it.

A few years back Kim and I stopped in Louisiana on a sunny Saturday afternoon. There a was one of those rickety plastic signs in front a black Baptist church advertising a BBQ lunch. I, of course, made us stop; we were the only white folk in the low-ceilinged, chipped paint walled basement, dining on maybe the best pulled pork I've ever had and watching the old women dance. Come to think of it, I just might have to take a couple days off and wander back down to those parts before the harvest is over.

Soundtrack: The Court and Spark, "Bless You"

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Central Illinois isn't exactly known for its wildlife. Ok, I see many deer, a few fox, lots of coyotes, coons, and possum. But armadillo? The folks out west can appreciate this creature, but this is corn country, after all. And yet there is hope. I humbly submit this column from the Journal-Star:

"Move over, Asian carp: Peoria, beware the march of the armadillo.
That sounds more ominous than reality. Armadillos could arrive here permanently within a decade, but they're less a danger than a nuisance.
And, like the Asian carp, there's no stopping them. The armadillo's insurgence into Illinois is part of long-range movement that started long ago near the bottom of the globe.
"They've been moving north naturally," says Lynn Robbins, a biology professor and armadillo expert at Missouri State University.
An armadillo is the size of a large house cat, weighing up to 17 pounds. The mammals have sharp claws, long snouts and hard-shelled backs of bone.
Long native to South America, armadillos eventually pushed through central America and Mexico before stopping just north of the Rio Grande by the early 19th century. One reason for the lull might have been the abundance of natural prey in Texas, such as cougars, that scared off armadillos - the smart ones, at least.
Also, American Indians used armadillos for food and their shells. But by the mid-1800s, white settlers had pushed most Indians out of Texas, thus allowing armadillos to progress northward again, Robbins says.
Ever since, the critters have crept north and east. They've long had a foothold in Gulf Coast states, but they've even pushed into Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri.
Southern Illinois has hosted the creatures for several years. They've maneuvered as far north as Pike County, near Quincy.
Their survival in cold-winter states is remarkable. Armadillos don't hibernate, so in harsh weather they seek warmth and food (grubs and insects) under dense leaf cover in wooded areas, Robbins says.
Within a decade, armadillos could be in central Illinois, Robbins says. They might even be able to spread as far north as New York City. Over time, natural selection might favor hardier armadillos that can better withstand cold-winter states.
Don't worry about armadillo attacks: Even with their claws, they prefer to flee rather than fight. But as they forage for insects, they tunnel and terrorize lawns.
"They dig like mad," Robbins says.
It's hard to keep them away. Some folks try to ward them off with moth balls, while others sink wire fences a foot into the ground.
You can try to catch them, but they're quick, as Robbins and his students have learned.
"They're good open-field runners," Robbins says.
On the rare times Robbins has been able to snatch up an armadillo, he's never been hurt.
"If you pick them up, they'll poop on you," Robbins says.
That's a lackluster defense mechanism. So is their habit of leaping three feet straight up when scared. That tactic works well to startle predators, but it turns them into roadkill when spooked by approaching cars.
"It's hard to survive when they hit the bottom of an undercarriage," Robbins says.
And though armadillos are a food source in South America, that idea hasn't seemed to have caught on in the States.
"I've had some students (cook armadillos) for something different to do, but they report it's not very good," Robbins says. "(Armadillos) haven't developed a cult following, like possum belly."
Possum belly?

Monday, September 04, 2006


Well, I've signed up for the McNaughton 50 miler in April. The earlybird fee saved me 25 bucks, so what the heck. I don't have any races planned between now and then, so I'll take it easy for a bit in the hopes of tamping back this current minor flare up of P.F., then ramp up again for the 50.

Fall is the absolute best time of year to be out running around here, so I'll door shorter stuff and enjoy the season, with some long ones mixed in. Went out to Farmdale this morning and did 2:15. We had a nice spell of rain last night about 3 a.m. and much of the low ground was mucky, and the hills on Schroll's were fairly mud slicked--so much so that I had to bushwhack around a few just to make it up. Saw a bunch of huge puffball mushrooms (

Nice to be out, although the right foot was a bit painful at times. Cooler temps this week, 70s during the day with cool nights.

Soundtrack: Iron and Wine with Calexico, "In the Reins"

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


I've recovered pretty well from Howl. The slow pace certainly helps. The lack of doing long runs has left me more time to read!

I finished "Shark God" by Charles Montgomery last week. The author traces his 19th century missionary great-grandfather's route through Melanesia in search of the "last heathens" and real, true magic. He finds that "kastom," that is to say an amalgam of culture that relates to history, religion, ritual and magic, still runs thick amongst the island people. But the illusory "magic" that Montgomery seeks is only found when he's willing to look through the silty veneer of his own pre-conceptions and the mythologies that sustain kastom.

"It's faith, not veracity, that gives stories their power. And thus charged, stories confer power back on their believers, whether that power is simply the strength of certainty, spiritual clarity, or something more...But when you fall toward mystical thinking, when you rub up against the rough edges of it long enough, it can enter you like a virus, and the world changes. There is more danger, but there is more possibility. Events present themselves symbolically. They wrap themselves in magic rather than coincidence, and their circumstances assume direction and purpose."

I found this book a solid companion to Kotler's West of Jesus.

I'm about 100 pages into "To Care and Conquer" by Derek Leebaert. It's excellent, so far.

Postrace running has so far been short stuff. Just a few aches and pains linger, nothing serious. I'll probably hold off long runs for a few weeks, then get back on the trails with a slow ramp up starting around October, hopefully for the 50 miler in April at McNaughton.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Howl At the Moon 8 Hour

Rode down with Dave on Friday afternoon to Kennekuk Cove Park, just east of Danville. Pitched the tent and ate dinner, then walked part of the course, ended up taking about a 45 minute stroll to loosen up the legs, getting back in just in time for the beer to be tapped and get in some carbo loading with a few Beck's (!). The night was surprisingly cool, in the 50's, which made the camping comfortable--up at 5:45 to get ready and to the starting line by 7:00 a.m.

I was shooting for anything over marathon distance, considering my lack of long training runs this summer. The course at Howl isn't tough at all, one semi-hill at the start, some mostly grass double track areas, a bit of pavement, and some gravel access road. While the course is pretty, what made if fun were the people. Being a 3.29 mile loop, you're almost always running near someone. I never did get bored during my nine loops., chatting with other runners, enjoying the scenery and the weather, which touched the 80's but wasn't brutally hot at all.

I felt strong for the first seven loops, alternating run/walk, eating a little and drinking two bottles of fluid per loop, usually re-filling with 1/2 gatorade, 1/2 water at the 1 1/2 mile aid station. Some cramping had me pretty much walking the ninth loop, finishing a bit early at 29.6 miles. Kim and Keegan had showed up by that point, so I opted out of the last out and backs and hit the beer and food. This whole event is basically a big party. The Beck's alone got me close to the entry fee and the food is incredible--chicken, rice, greens, etc. What an awesome ultra, I'll definitely be back.

Soundtrack: Bruce Springsteen "We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions"

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Catfish and Corn II

Lots of corn but no catfish. We spent yesterday afternoon plinking around the farm. Took a few pics with the digital.

Keegan and superdog Zoe on the two miles of trails in the back 15 acres.

Farm pond.

Two Bur Oaks.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Catfish and Corn

Two things that recommend the Midwest in the thick of a summer's doggiest of days are fresh sweet corn and catfishing. Around the middle of July you start to see the pickups parked in scattered parking lots and along roadsides, a big wooden carefully spray painted sign entices the buyer, "FRESH SWEET CORN."

The window for the good stuff remains open for a scant few weeks each year. Peaches and Cream straight out of the field or garden, shucked and boiled, buttered kernels that pop off the cob into your mouth. I'm not talking the canned or even full ear supermarket varieties that somehow just don't have the that snap and toil in their over-moist, soggy mediocrity, but the gen-u-ine article, tenderly planted and nurtured throughout the season, a slice of heaven for $3.50 a dozen.

I consider myself lucky to be the inherited owner of a two acre farm pond just outside of town in which to fish in unencumbered by crowds. It is July and July is the height of catfishing season. The hotter and more humid the better. The mantra is simple yet elegant:

1. Ball up a nice chunk of pungent cheese bait (I use B's brand, or make your own) onto a #3 treble hook.

2. Cast gingerly so as to not throw off said cheese bait.

3. Nurse a beer or two and watch the sunset while you wait for a run.

4. If you've said your prayers and sacrificed to Ra, you just might look down from your Newcastle Ale, or if you're a true river rat, Bud Light, to see your line spinning out.

5. Be Zenlike. Don't freak on me here and set the hook right away. Patience is the way. Let it run for a minute then discretely lock the reel, when then the line tugs, set it hard.

6. Enjoy the battle, but don't break your line.

7. Admire the beauty of your channel or bullhead.

8. Repeat

We netted three channel the other night, perfect eating size of between 1 1/2 and 3 lbs. Bank fishing for channel is truly one of the season's sweetest rituals.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


I was leafing through John Jerome's Elements of Effort last night, a book every runner should own. Jerome had the gift of being able to articulate the subtle complexities of a seemingly simple activity in the most impactful of ways. I was thinking about running goals--"racing" yourself and others and such--here's a tidbit:

"There's a benefit to be gained from racing that is not often mentioned. It gives you an easy familiarity with your own capacities, also known as limits. You develop the ability to discern, subjectively, not only the level of effort at which improvement starts but also the level at which it starts to turn sour. A feel for that subtle switchover point from gain to loss.

Racing, and the training for it, gives you a comfortable sense of the size of the room within which your efforts are reasonable and effective. It shows you where the walls are."

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Yearning To Howl

The Howl at the Moon 8 hour is a mere month away and I need miles and need them badly. Long runs have been hard to come by this summer for a variety of reasons. My last long trail run was just 3 1/2 hours back in late June. Somehow I've managed to drop six pounds in this time, a fact I was mulling over while putting away a good half of a Monical's veggie pizza last night with the family. Smoke em' if ya got em'.

Despite Sunday being the hottest day of the year so far just about everywhere in the country, I managed to get in a 4 hour run out at Farmdale. Starting temp at 7:30 a.m. was around 84 degrees, and the car thermometer read 93 degrees four hours later. There was some kind of horse ride at the reservoir and I bet I had to stop 10 or 12 times to step off the trail. No big deal, I'm all about "sharing the trail," like the strategically posted signs say, although I'd rather not share it with their sizable piles of horse crap. Despite the crazy heat, managed to stay hydrated with a Gatorade Rain (more tolerable than the regular stuff) and water mix, only took one Succeed! cap, as the rest fell out of my replacement belt pack, which is actually a small binocular case, since I lost my real one.

I'm planning one more long run in two weeks before Howl, then I reckon I'll taper. As for the event, I'm looking forward to it. Being a timed event there's no pressure to complete a set distance. My hope is to get between 26 and 30 and see how things feel.

Soundtrack: Rocker T and Version City Rockers, "Nicer by the Hour"

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

West of Jesus

Two friends who happened to be surfers drove their rusted out old car into the outback to chase the rumor of perfect waves on an isolated beach. They rumbled over the bumpy road, turning left, then right, winding around, finally driving off the pavement down pockmarked, dusty lanes, eventually stalling out in a thick muck field just a quarter mile from the ocean. From here they did what any reasonable surfer would do, they untied their boards and started to hike into the beach. Things changed not more than ten feet away from their abandoned car. A blinding light flash and -zap!- a lightning bold charred the car, frying engine and all associated parts.

Miles from civilization, knowing nothing about engines and out of supplies, they did the only sensible thing--they went surfing. When they reached the water they found the surface to be completely flat, no waves to be had. Waiting out most of the afternoon with no change in conditions, they were ready to bail, when again -zap!- another bolt hit the reef and *poof* instant waves. Beautiful surf for hours, they caught waves all day, until suddenly, just as rapidly as they had begun, the waves shut off. Just like that, as sometimes happens.

That's when they saw him. Several hundred yards out was an old man sitting on a surfboard. In his hand was a long white bone. The story is that with this bone he could control the weather, could summon waves, and who knows what other magical stuff.

This is the story of the Conductor. It is the myth who's elusive origins author Steven Kotler seeks in his book "West of Jesus: Surfing, Science, and the Origins of Belief." After hearing the tale of the Conductor years apart in similarly dire circumstances while surfing in Indonesia and later Mexico, Kotler embarks on a journey of the exploration of belief and spirituality. The "logos and "mythos" of human understanding. This is not your average surf book.

Weaving his own personal tale of a struggle with Lyme's Disease and his transformation through a surfing session, he gives us a peepshow look at current scientific thought about the causal reasons behind our spiritual experiences. This is a magical narrative that touches on areas that those of us who explore recognize as familiar. It is a complex, yet simple tale that uses surfing simply as a backdrop, but has relevance to anyone, especially those in love with action sports. Social scientists, psychologists, evolutionary biologists, and many other scientific sorts weigh in on numerous aspects of belief. We are ushered to all corners of the globe, from California to New Zealand to Hawaii on this quest.

Much is revealed. On the marriage of brain evolution and the construction of mythologies:

"Humans often encounter illness, death, odd coincidences, mysterious circumstances--things that do not allow for easy understanding. Yet human evolution designed the human brain to detect meaning, and this mechanism doesn't just shut down when easy answers aren't readily forthcoming. Hence the need to invent meaning--gods, demons, supernatural forces--mythos is how humankind resolves the irresolvable." It is the how and why of this phenomenon, it is the mystery, that Kotler delves deeply into.

And yet there is a more tactile mystery that can be tasted through physical experience, through exertion, through being "in the zone."--surfing, being in animate motion in whatever form. Mythos has its place, emotions are said to be believed to be constantly filtering our reality--meaning quite literally that what we believe may be what we actually see. The question is then begged: What happens to our reality and to a society's reality when belief in the mythological ceases?

While this is heady stuff and the science fascinating, the author makes his words dance; the interplay being tremendously fun to behold. For those of us runners there is much to be gleaned. Kotler does bring running into the fray, looking at the old idea of the "endorphin high" and relegating it to a "total fantasy of pop culture." The beauty for the runner is in the mystery: "something's happening here; what it is ain't exactly clear."

What is clear is that for those of us who enjoy our laymanly romps with the logos, but whose souls are irretrievably lost to the mythos, this is book is a worthwhile and fantastical journey.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Chasing My Inner Kenyan or I'm a Rhino, Not a Cheetah

Trying to run fast on pavement just isn't something I do often anymore. Most of my long miles are on trails, but I admit my shorter weekday runs are on streets around town. My last 5k was year ago at 8,000 feet with a group of Hopi Indians in Flagstaff, AZ. ( is to say, it was more of adventure run than an inquiry into foot speed. My last 5k before that was in 2003. Training for the long trail runs has taken me away from the short stuff.

In recognition that three years is a fair chunk of time, I thought it time to go back and run the Dog Days 5k at Lake Bloomington again. Dog Days is an evening race, starting at 6:00 pm, thus avoiding the peak heat of the day. Got there at 5:30 to find that the RD hadn't ordered XL shirts, and these are really great coolmax shirts; he was astounded by my good humor at not bitching about the snafu and taking the 2 XL, of course with the obligatory, "I'm sure I can gain the weight comment."

Went out at a conservative pace (come to think of it, I finished at a conservative pace, too) chatting with and cheering on other runners. In the last mile I struck up a conversation with a nice young man, maybe 12 or 13, whom I promised to race the last half mile with at 5:00/mile pace; we pushed each other to the finish and into the chute. My time: an extremely pedestrian 25:30, 8:15/mi. pace. Not bad for being overweight and not training for speed, save for a few fartlek workouts, and not running for four days previous due to knee tendonitis. By the way, I ran a 22:47 at this race in 2002 and 21:58 in '03. But, I'm happy with the time, considering everything. I had a blast doing this race, proving that even slow 5k's can sometimes be fun. Variety is a spice.

The knee is a bit of a concern. Howl at the Moon 8 Hour is in a month and I need a few more long runs. Hopefully it will improve and allow them. Stay tuned.

Well, Dave encountered trouble with the heat and aborted his run across the state on Friday. It was an exceedingly tough goal to pull of in July, and I credit him for even starting it.

Soundtrack: Monobloco "Ao Vivo" Unbelievably good Brazilian music. Thanks, Snyd!!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

To Write

I've been delving back into a great book, Brenda Ueland's If You Want to Write, written in 1938, it is a work about finding your muse, art, independence and spirit. Ueland uses one of my favorite iconoclasts, William Blake, as a template for creative spirit. Interestingly, Blake conceived of God as the brunt of imaginary force within all of us, feeding on that energy for spiritual sustenance, often to the risk of ridicule and monetary loss--yet screaming the maxim that answering the voice is the m0st important thing we can do as humans. Imagination and creativity as pillars of glory.

Van Gogh painted not from obligation but only because he saw something beautiful and wanted to convey his vision and feelings to others. Poetry is the same--recognition of the value of and beauty within things natural, and transforming the sensation into personal expression. Having your eyes open enough to want to bask in beautiful things, to express them to others, or simply to celebrate for its own sake.

"Writing--there is something necessary and life-giving about it. A state of excitement. And it is like a faucet: Nothing comes out unless you turn it on, and the more you turn it on, the more it comes. Do these things for internal gratification and enlightenment, not materialistic reward."

Ueland reminds me that there is magic also in contemplative idleness, letting the imagination ooze out of your pores. My experience is that not all inspiration is a spark of feverish scribbling. Solitude can facilitate my creativity, stripping away the often pointless burdens of daily static and just letting the spirit be. The holiness of spirit, it is that which is always searching, searching and trying to sift what we really think and feel from all the excess that school or society or poisonous relationships place on us.

The thoughts and visions that I write today are actually the result of some other days' idle solitude. As Blake so delicately puts it: "Sooner strangle an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires."

As I sit today on the banks of this creek, I feel some level of insight into my Imagination. The importance of the present. Embracing the imaginative. What do we have? Sitting and hearing the birds, murmuring of the water-- I saw three of the most vibrant bluebirds on the trail here, almost a turqoise, translucent blue. This, and the reading and the writing, has edified my soul.

On another note, Dave's run across Illinois is this coming weekend. I'll be crewing Friday night, camping out at a lock on the Hennepin Canal, crewing through Saturday, driving down to run the Dog Days 5k, driving back to camp at Buffalo Rock State Park, then crewing through Sunday. Report to follow sometime, contingent upon survival, of course.

Soundtrack: Avail, "Over the James"

Friday, June 23, 2006


The trip to Colorado was incredible. Being a sworn and proud flatlander, it's always edifying to head into the mountains. We spent two days in Frisco/Breckenridge where I got some good training hikes into the Eagle's Peak Wilderness area above Frisco, CO, then on to Ouray, CO, where I was able to hit many of the town trails such as Portland Mine, Silvershield, and the Cascade system, along with the Red Mountain area between Ouray and Silverton, maxing out at 13,000 feet. Mostly hiking, a little downhill running, although I was surprised the altitude really didn't affect me much until over 12,000 ft. On to Colorado Springs for Pike's Peak, Garden of the Gods, etc. No 14ers this time, other than driving to the top of Pike's. Not enough time to get in to Sneffels or Sunlight. Next time for sure. Oh, and plenty of Fat Tire, Avalanche, and Black Butte to grease the gears.

Still, the San Juan Mountains around Ouray and Silverton have to be among the most stunning mountains on the planet. Hardrock is a fantasy goal for sometime before I die. Or maybe as I'm dying? Whatever it takes. A few obligatory pics:

Famous balancing rock at Garden of the Gods

Public school in Silverton, CO., start of Hardrock.

On the pass up between Red Mtn I and II.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison-- Montrose, CO. Not as wide as the Grand Canyon, but just as breathtaking.

Red Mtn area looking, I think, toward Wetterhorn Peak.

Taken from rutted Jeep road between Ouray and Silverton, near California Pass.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Off to the Mountains

Been getting in some good miles for Howl at the Moon. Did a good half marathon tempo run on the flat limestone Rock Island Trail two weeks and then a good 3 hour run at Farmdale on Sunday morning. I'm a bit nervous about doing long distance on a flat surface, as I tend to get hip soreness without hills, but hopefully all will go well.

Also, met with Dave and Marvin to plan Dave's run across Illinois. He decided to go from west to east, starting in the Quad Cities and utilizing the Hennepin, I & M Canal, and Old Plank trails as much as possible, finishing on the Indiana border in 4 days. I hope to get to crew at least part of the time.

Off to Colorado for a week of the mountains. Back in 8 days.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Farmdale Trail Runs

My friend, Dave Tapp, is spearheading a new event in central Illinois this fall--the Farmdale Trail Runs. There will be an 8 mile event and a 32.5 mile ultra distance on some great trail. The race will be on Sat., October 14 at the Farmdale Resevoir in Sunnyland (East Peoria), IL. The route highlights the best of this area: lots of wooded single track through hardwood and pine forest, water crossings, a few hills, some open meadow areas, wildlife (not just the runners).

We spent Memorial day morning measuring the course with local orienteering expert, Marvin Doyle.

Dave has put some info, pics and course descriptions on his website. You can contact him through there for more:

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A Run in the Woods, Part II

Continued from Part I below...

When the first European settlers arrived in the early 19th century with the intentions of staying, they found a vast ocean of grasses: big and little bluestem, switchgrass, wildflowers such as compass plant, rattlesnake master, purple coneflower, pestemon. In groves and alluvial areas they found a mature forest with several varieties of oak, giant cottonwoods and sycamores, some ash and birch, hornbeam, walnut, and various types of maples. They made detailed land survey records that give us a snapshot of what the land looked like right at the genesis of white settlement in the 1820's and 30's, a period that brought the axe and the plow, the removal of the grasses for cultivation and logging of the forests for building material.

So where does this leave me today on my run in the woods today? Well, I'm certainly looking what is almost entirely second or third growth trees, no prairie (save one native, but tiny hilly prairie remnant in Forest Park), lots of invasive species; in short, a very modified form of any of the natural stages of ecological evolution and the environment as it existed upon contact.

If you want to see the only example of old growth forest left in centrail IL., then take a trip to Funk's Grove, south of Bloomington. The term "old growth" simply isn't in our vernacular. Sure, some large oaks still exist in isolated hollows around the Illinois River, but even its ancient bluffs have been significantly altered. Whereas man made fires and culling used to keep the understory cleared out, we now have an almost entirely closed canopy and a densely forbed forest floor. Newer growth deciduous forest is still there, but the shade tolerant maples, with no burns to kill off their saplings, are outcompeting other species, and in 50-100 years they'll dominate if not thinned and managed and a bed created to promote the growth of the more needy native oaks. Non-native species--too numerous to list--are everywhere.

I try and make no value judgments. The accusing stare of our "roadsides for habitat" are all we need to remind of what is lost. But land, by law of nature, is never static; please take care to remember that we live in the holocene, the current interglacial. Things will change and gain balance as they warrant. We will be outlasted by "nature," for she is nothing if not patient, and blissfully uncaring of our petty temporal restraints.

In the short term it is up to us to decide how our runs in the woods will look and feel. Is a tree a tree? Do enough of us even care or perhaps even notice the difference between a two or three hundred year old oak--a silver maple sappling--a thorn laced honey locust? Big bluestem or Kentucky bluegrass? Perhaps not. But the forest doesn't need us in order to go on. Mark Twain once wrote:

"When I was a boy, I looked into the river and saw my reflection. And I said, "Who's that?" My mother said, 'Samuel Langhorne Clemens.' In 1882 I returned to Hannibal, a celebrated writer and lecturer and steamboat pilot. And I looked into the river again. And I saw the reflection of an old man. And now, I look into the river and I see no reflection at all. We all come and we all go, but not the river..."

And yet I still try and frame my proper place in the world, contemplatitve of all that has been, is, and will be shaped long after my body is again part of the cycle. All on a run in the woods.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A Run in the Woods, Part I

In the 1980's, entomologist E.O. Wilson introduced a concept known as "biophilia," a hypothesis that suggests that human beings have an instinctive bond with other living systems. The startling idea that our love of the natural world is literally melded into our hardwiring.

An aspect of my personal biophilic tenedencies (that only sounds bad) involves land. I simply love land--its topography, flora, history, human provenance, character. My desire to more deeply explore these elements led to a specialty while studying History in grad school of Environmental History and Historical Geography, two closely related methodologies, the former using traditional historical research while borrowing from diverse scientific fields in a quest to explore how humans and "nature" have interacted, while the latter being the specific study of how a place changes over time.

All ecosystems have a story, but my primary interest lies with the Grand Prairie Section of my home in Illinois, to which I try and apply my historical training to better understand. On my many runs through the woods, the main question often framed in my mind is: "Just what am I looking at and experiencing?" Further, how have these landscapes come about and where do we go from this point? I hear from environmentallly minded folks all the time suggesting that we in the Midwest destroyed an entire prairie ecosystem in the matter of a few decades, and are in the process of desertifying what currently exists. In a way, yes, it is true, the tallgrass prairie/oak dominated lowlands are gone, almost entirely cultivated and logged since the mid-1800's (I did an entire thesis on this, but the details will be spared for now) but the fact is that all ecosystems are in a perpetual state of change.

We tend to romanticize "The Prairie" as being the paragon of pre-settlement ecological purity, the unspoiled wilderness defiled by pioneer hands. This simply isn't the case. I'm willing to set aside practices by native peoples such as burning, canal digging, damming of waterways, hunting and fishing of numerous animal species, all things that date back 100's of years before large scale settlement, and focus more on the effect of natural cycles on this particular environment.

In Illinois, glaciation has been the main sculptor of our topography during the 1.8 million years of the Pleistocene, the Illinoisian and Wisconsinian periods, from 180,000 to 17,000 years ago, being largely responsible for our current land forms.

The ice sheets reached their southern terminus near modern day Shelbyville, IL about 24,000 years ago. From that point northward retreating ice had the affect of a box scraper, in simplistic terms, levelling the uplands and leaving bogs and rudimentary waterways that drained glacial meltoff, these being constantly carved and then re-carved.

If I were to have stood in central Illinois in say, 15,000 BC or so, I wouldn't observe even the embryonic stage of the tallgrass prairie. Glacial and interglacial moisture and climatic conditions assured a completely dynamic patchwork of forests and tundra.

When I reach back into my being to the post-Illinoisan period, I can feel the cool, crisp air and smell the freshness of the developing spruce and pine forest, a scene similar to what exists today in southern Canada.

During the interglacial, as the climate warmed and moistened, a deciduous forest consisting primarily of oak, elm and hickory took hold. The pre-Wisconsin period ushered back cooler conditions and pollen samples dated from 30,000 years ago tell us that the coming ice razed a mature spruce forest, leaving a chain of meltwater lakes and swamps, then a tundra of sedge interlaced with the spruce remnants.

Analysis indicates that the resultant drying and cooling allowed an ash dominted forest makeup until around 10,000 BC, at which time dryer air brought back an oak/hickory/elm makeup that was able to dominate until 4,000-1,500 BC, when grasses gained a foothold in the uplands, leaving groves of oak forests as large islands and continued predominance of forest in the low areas where fire could not entirely penetrate--finally the "prairie" mosaic of our collective mythological imaginations--the land that the Illinois tribe and later bands of both Potawatomi and Kickapoo lived, hunted, celebrated and died on--the land my grandparents tilled, where I, as a postmodern man, seek my running refuge on. be continued

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Sunday Run

Well, managed a 3 plus hour run this morning at McNaughton. Conditions were absolutely ideal, cool temps in the 50's, trails are adequately dried out after recent rain, creeks were even down a bit but up enough to cool me off. Felt pretty solid throughout the run, I think I'll go ahead and sign up for Howl at the Moon and shoot for just over marathon distance. Much positive energy: A great run, the fish are getting to spawn and hence are active, allowing for a whole slew of nice bluegill caught at the pond last night, two rounds of disc golf this weekend, and the Cardinals are kicking some serious tail.

I finished reading Stephen Bodio's On the Edge of the Wild a collection of essays on the west, hunting, guns, food, and a few book reviews. Bodio writes with eloquence and immediacy and these essays reek of fresh cooked venison over an open fire, celebrating the beauty found in the blood and grime; those arm chair reactionaries would do well to steer clear of Bodio--everyone else, sidle up to the bar, order a stiff shot and enjoy the burn of the whiskey over some great conversation.

"Life in the wild is not just eating berries in the sunlight. I like to imagine a "depth ecology" that would go to the dark side of nature...the ball of crunched bones in the scat, the feathers in the snow, the tales of insatiable appetite. The other side of 'sacred' is the sight of your beloved in the underworld dripping with maggots. Can you live with the thought of that consequence?"

Soundtrack: Son Volt "Trace"

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

David Blaine, Ultrarunning, and the Meaning of Endurance

I recently happened upon magician David Blaine's primetime television spectacle, during which he attempted to break the world record for submerged breath holding after having lived for a week in a water filled glass sphere. It is easy to dismiss Blaine as a huckster showman, a wannabe noveau-Houdini, which he readily admits to being. Yet, despite the veneer of self-promotion, I believe there are more layers to a man like Blaine. I've had some interest in him for years, even perusing his book "Mysterious Stranger" at one point. A street magician and illusionist, it's not these skills that interest me, but rather his feats of endurance and will where nothing traditionally magical enters the equation, just pure human spirit.

Blaine asks us to look into ourselves to find our perceived limits, assess if those limits are real or artificial and then make a decision to accept them or seek something beyond the artificial horizon of self-doubt.

Ultrarunning asks some of us the same questions. Why run 50, 100, or more miles in a single shot? Has not evolution eliminated the need for modern man to cover long distances on foot? Yes, as a utilitarian enterprise, there isn't a lot of discernible merit to distance running, living underwater for a week, free diving to almost unfathomable depths, being encased in ice for two days, or myriad other "crazy" human enterprises; and still such endurance certainly holds the potential to redefine what we are capable of.

I sometimes observe the look on a person's face when it's made known my desire to distance run (although the info is usually given grudgingly). Consternation is often the response. Is it perhaps natural to want to jump back from the cliff? To mock or be horrified by something so far outside our perceived comfort zone that the mere notion shellshocks our supposedly civilized sensibilities? The anarchist in me says to hell with such sensibility.

A few years ago I was vacationing in Colorado on a hike up in Yankee Boy Basin and struck up a conversation with an outdoorsy looking younger gentleman and a retired couple. The young man pointed up to an exposed rock face about 1500 feet above where we stood and told us that the previous winter he'd watched two skiers descend that vertical drop into the basin, to the which the older guy displayed not only shock but an intensely hateful response something to the words of "What crazy sons of bitches, they deserved to die for being so stupid." Why the vitriol? Jealousy? Fear? Perhaps the unwillingness to acknowledge that some humans push boundaries he'd never so much as considered.

One of David Blaine's stunts was to be suspended over the Thames River for 44 days, during which time many folks came by to taunt him with profanity or throw objects at him, proving yet again that some us truly do hate people or concepts we don't understand. But not I! My inclination is to attempt to embrace what I don't or seemingly cannot understand, that which may detonate my bodily and psychological security. I will run 100 miles!

The beautiful thing about endurance as a mode for exploration is that it unlocks the potential we have to go deep into our internal realms, to face down the shadows of being. That old guy in the mountains, I would wager, has spent a lifetime turning from his shadows. To house it in the running vernacular I shouldn't say that 5k runners are less enlightened (ok, maybe I should an am) but yes, sometimes speed is sex and distance is true love.

In our era of Mountain Dew fueled X-gaming, extreme just about anything, hell you can buy "x-treme" deodorant for lawd's sake, the heart of endurance still offers a gentle beat and a place for contemplative self-awareness. Free diver, Paul Kotnik puts it like this:

"I saw, for the first time, an approach to aquatics that is diametrically opposed to the heart pounding, blood curdling, white knuckle, hair-raising adrenalism of my windsurfing co-conspirators. My instructors mindset was one of...alert serenity. Everyone I'd ever known approached windsurfing or spearfishing as if he was going to war. They (instructors) were going to peace."

And so do Blaine, the ultrarunners, the thru hikers, those who endure embrace the calm found in another kind of extreme--the extreme effort that contacts all levels of being.

On my so small stage, I too will keep seeking the serenity just waiting to be discovered in the soft soul of endurance--to move toward peace.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Running Plans

I've only been out for one semi-long run since McNaughton (but lots of short ones), athree hour out at Farmdale. Erring on the side of too much recovery I think is better for me. Besides, have had some little flareups of plantar fasciitis, nothing too severe, but you gotta watch that mess. My hope was to maybe do the Howl at the Moon 8 hour as a training sort of run for Dances With Dirt in September. I've heard nothing but great things about Howl, so that's a must-do this year. After that, who knows. Lose some weight, sharpen the speed, try and avoid injury, and see what transpires.

On a side note, finally tried my Montrail Masai trail shoes. I don't know, they're awfully narrow, but then compared the gunboats that are the Brooks Beast, snowshoes would feel tight. I'll withhold judgement until I get a few more runs in with them.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Eagle Dreams

I recently finished Steven Bodio's book Eagle Dreams: Looking for Legends in Wild Mongolia. It is, at once, a book about falconry, deep tradition of the pastoral peoples of northwestern Mongolia and southern Kazakhstan, travelogue, and reflection on the depth and differences from a culture lovingly birthed over millennia and in opposition to our own petrie dish conceptions, new off the show lot sparkle of the right and proper path of the human condition.

Bodio is a naturalist with a romantic's soul and the early parts of this book on hunting and the somewhat esoteric world of falconry are suitably fascinating, the narrative tailing off a bit towards the middle when he lulls into more a straightforward travel writing tone. I persisted through the minutia of what exists on numerous menus in Ulan Bataar and got to the meat, the reason Bodio was traveling to these outer reaches in the first place: a chronicle of the peoples who still hold to the ancient (and yes, they are literally ancient) art of hunting with falcons and golden eagles. It's these people, stereotypical sometimes, in flowing colorful nomadic costume, resplendent with glorious feathers, craggy, weather worn faces, dark eyes holding the mysterious secrets of a life lived on and with the steppe. And yet, they are real faces, not caricatures, not an act put on for the industrial tourist, but humans upholding and disseminating the code of a primal part of all us. Bodio does a masterful job of taking us into this world while at the same time not romantically lapsing into voyeuristic complacency. And then we have the birds themselves. Their concerts with their human counterparts, maybe the real story needing to be felt:

"An eagle's perception of its own life might be of a bright eternal present, like a carnivorous Buddhist’s--confident, centered, and watchful, with a dimmer past and no thought of the future. If she thought of us at all, she might think that we crawl on the earth, eating dirt and sticks, killing from afar with a loud noise if we manage to see prey at all. If she could speak, she might say, 'I hold creation in my foot/or fly up, and revolve it all slowly--I kill where I please because it is all mine--Nothing has changed since I began."

Monday, May 01, 2006

Rites of Spring

Spring, she comes in like a tidal wave, building somewhere in the South Pacific off a craggy atoll and racing towards some Asiatic coast on the crest of those frosted March mornings. The Natives, the ones conditioned by generations of listening and feeling the sea, sense her impending landfall (yes, spring is indeed a lady) long before the moderns are wise and swept up in an inescapable current. And so she comes down.

If you open your senses, feel her barreling past the Phillipines taking the shape of a single green bud on the timber floor, that cardinal passing through the switchgrass thicket at sunup.

And then she hits--surrounded by a swirling eddy of rising colors, the greens, the purples and pinks of the violets, yellowish hues on hardwood foliage, remains from autumns vanished.

On my run the other day I stop in the that favorite bluebell patch ( I savor their tenuous nature) and gently sheperded a handful home along with an apple blossom to rest on my kitchen counter for a few days, their presence prolonging my willingingness to drown in the seismic tempest first subtly sensed many runs ago.

"You ask why I live in the mountain forest,
and I smile and am silent,
And even my soul remains quiet:
It lives in the other world
Which no one owns
The peach tree blossoms.
The water flows."

Li Po

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

McNaughton Aftermath

Recovery is a learning process. I'm in a constant classroom when it comes to deciphering body signals and getting a clear sense as to which of those signals are just nagging annoyances and which may be begging for a bit more tlc.

I feel like this effort at ultra distance maybe took less out of me than my first two attempts. The QQ race in 2003 was done at such an emotional time, having signed up before Dad's diagnosis and then dealing with all the trauma but racing anyway, having him at the finish was a transmogrifying event inside of a larger scenario, i.e. parental cancer, something that was affecting me in ways I couldn't perceive at the time. Physically I was in better shape three years ago but didn't have the realization that emontional stress is married to physical effort. That, coupled with just plain not being conservative enough in recovery, doing a semi-long trail run the next weekend and then a hard speed session, all set up the PF and some physical frustrations that would keep me away from ultras until Glacial in the fall of '05.

Glacial Trail just beat up my feet and pounded me physically with a broken toe and battered legs. My recovery last October took a much more reserved tenor, easing back into longer runs only weeks later. I think it paid off.

McNaughton was a much more gentle suitor. A hard effort, yes, but I feel that knowing the course and being pretty well attuned to nutrition and hydration may speed recovery. Per advice from the list, I took in some protein immeadiately after the race and didn't skimp all week. So far, so good. My first short run was the other day, the only other physical activity of the week being some short hikes.

I'm half tempted to try the Berryman Marathon at the end of May just to see the course. We shall see.

The approach to running I've been taking mentally is just to look at things in long cycles, sticking to 50k distances for a long enough time to learn the lessons required to move up to longer ultras rather than doing race after race and risking burnout. More power to the high mileage runners, but that ain't me. I could use the patience anyway.

So, essentially no concrete goals but maybe Berryman, a 50k in the fall if everything stays on course, then possibly the 50 at McNaughton next spring. All subject to change, of course.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

McNaughton Park Trail Runs: 30 Mile Race Report

A few pics from McNaugton. My wife took them at the start/finish so they're all pretty self indulgent. Race report is below the pics.

Keegan building up glycogen stores and plotting next year's 100 miler.

Ahh, the finish.

Plodding along....

Heat, Humility, and a Hippie: View from the Back of the 30 Mile Pack

“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing views. May your mountains rise into the clouds.” -Edward Abbey

Pekin, IL. If you’re a local then you’re used to the name of this town being most referenced pejoratively, say as the site of the federal prison or breeding ground for the KKK, not as the site of one of the most inspiring trails in the Midwest. Ok, granted the mountains don’t rise into the clouds, but there ARE hills, at least by flatland standards. No foolin. There are also great creeks crossings, spring greenery, wildflowers of various sorts, critters too numerous to list, and the Midwestern hospitality of Weinberg and company.

For me personally this year was a chance to finally do the race after injuries the past two years. Word has gotten out—a maxed out field since a week before the race, news crews doing interviews, and a crowded starting line, all testaments to the experiences to be had. Andy started us off with the bagpiper at the first mile, the strains of the highlands a lovely way to start a journey for sure.

Our plan as usual was to start slow, suck down two both bottles between each aid station (half sports drink, half agua), and one succeed cap per hour. Beyond that, it was just more slowing down, more drinking, and hopefully peeing. Both Pam and I tucked in behind a group of 50 and 100 milers and went out conservatively. Heat was an issue. Most training runs this spring have been done in 30-40 degree temps, while highs for the race would top into the low 80’s, add the sun and it was fairly brutal for everyone. For a 30 mile plodder like me it was manageable, but I give mad respect to the 100 milers who have a much slimmer margin for error.

Loop one went by nicely, chatting it up with whomever was around, walking the steep ups, running all the downs and most of the flats. Being able to train on the course anytime is an advantage when it comes to tempo planning for sure and makes it easier to kick into autopilot.

Loop two was largely without incident, but the usual leg cramping started to twinge at about 4 hours. While cruising through the wooded area past the heaven’s gate field, I came upon a tie-dyed woman with a walking stick hanging out on the trail. Being down with the occasional Dylan tune, I threw her the customary “How goes it?” The only response I got back was “You’re 152nd.” Wussup, we’re out in the middle of the frickin woods and she’s keeping track of my inferiority as a racer? Thanks for the update, but where’s that 60’s egalitarian spirit? Ah, well, dehydration…lsd…it ain’t that much different, I suppose. So on I plod.

By marathon distance the legs were rebelling, the cramps were winning, end in sight so it’s ignorable. Trudged the last four miles with a woman from PA. who was jumping from her first 50k to the 100 in just a month’s time. The conversation made the kick home pleasant. I sincerely hope she completed her dream. Kim and Keegan were there at the finish (ok, ok, 7:35, but I got there) to cap off a great way to spend the morning.

Highlights for me were 1. The people. They’re the best--True salt of the earth, passionate and friendly all. 2. The trail itself. The creeks were up a bit, the wildflowers (especially my favorite patch of bluebells that wasn’t there last weekend) are establishing their temporary residence on the forest floor, and the tree canopy is greening all over. 3. Fig Newtons.

50 miles next year.

Congrats to my training partner Pam for her tenacity and thanks for the friendship. Props to my fellow Dead Runners Club madmen Stinky Pants Malone (Tapp) who is infected with the ultra bug and completed his first 50, Whisk for completing his first ultra after being sick all week, and Iron Lung Walcott for blazing the 30 while not even going all out. Large respect for everyone out there, especially those 100 milers, who occupy a universe I someday hope to enter.

Peace to all.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Hiking at McNaughton

I took my son out hiking at McNaughton, mostly on the Heaven's Gate loop. A few pics:

The new bridge over the second creek crossing, complete with course marker.

Looking back at the creek on Heaven's Gate flat area.


More trail. Things are just starting to green out in the last couple of days. No bluebells yet but a few wildflower buds.

And more trail...

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


"When you see a swordsmen, draw your sword. Do not recite poetry to one who is not a poet."
-Ch'an Buddhist Proverb

Japanese Samurai talked about the sword as extension of your person, as a forge upon which to mold focus, discipline, and training into a whirlwind, yet paradoxically calm energy. All of your being honed in on the moment and task at hand. Us runners can get in this zone at times before a big training run or event, even back-of-the-packers like myself.

With McNaugton being just 10 days away, I'm loving getting the eye of the tiger these last few weeks during buildup. A large part of the beauty of running or more specifically ultras/long events, is that they often require a steel will and a resevoir of not only physical reserves but spiritual and emotional, the ability to tap into the flow and let the results fall where they may.

The physical training is done, the long hours in the woods, not so much "training" as communing. It sounds a bit tree-huggerish, but being on the trails is as good a vehicle into the self as any I've encountered. For me the retreat into self is a need that runs deep, and as much as it's required at times, can be difficult to attain--it's usually found is segments of a few hours or days here and there, the privilegded times, sometimes hours into a long journey on foot, perhaps in the preparation, hidden in the lingering endorphin high of days following.

And so we retreat inward, the eyes narrowing to slits for the battle of will--this is the space where the passion resides.

Soundtrack: The Weakerthans "Fallow." The acoustic and emontional side of Propagahndi, more introspective and less overtly clever than later albums.

Monday, April 03, 2006

McNaughton Park Bridge Article

And yet another article. This one about Andy's new bridge at the park. From the pjs 4/3/06:

A small group of volunteers built a bridge over Lick Creek in McNaughton Park, relying on raw ingenuity and mechanical expertise gained in diverse professions.
"Bridges intrigue me for some reason," said Randall Reliford, a Pekin jeweler who designed the bridge. "It's just pretty amazing how they build some of these things."
Reliford has designed and built 13 other bridges in Pekin parks, but this one, at 60 feet long, is his biggest to date.
It's made primarily of telephone poles, a dozen of which were donated by AmerenCILCO. The Pekin Park District spent $2,800 on the bridge, said Tom Elliot, superintendant of parks. "We're really pleased with it. We know it's going to be there for a long time."
The bridge was the brainchild of Andy Weinberg, a coach and physical education teacher at Pekin Community High School. For the last five years, Weinberg has organized the McNaughton Park Trail Runs, 30-, 50- and 100-mile races run concurrently on the same course. This year's event will take place April 15 and 16. So far 185 people have signed up, most from the Midwest but a few from far-flung places such as New York, California and Germany.
While running through wilderness is part of the sport of "ultra-running," crossing Lick Creek often posed more irritation than challenge. Although the water is rarely more than knee-high, running a hundred miles with wet feet can cause serious chafing and blisters.
Weinberg said one runner carried plastic bags in his pockets and put them over his feet rather than wade through Lick Creek.
"It was muddy and slippery and there were thorns," Weinberg said. "I've wiped out in here plenty of times."
Work began on the bridge shortly after the first of the year. Reliford worked from 6 to 10 most mornings and on weekends. Richard Skocaj, a salesman for Dr. Pepper and
7-Up, whose son Eric will compete in the McNaughton Trail Run, also pitched in weekend hours.
Larry LaBanca, a Pekin pipe fitter, did the bulk of the labor, putting in an estimated 400 hours. "Larry lived here," Skocaj said.
Work was slow this winter, LaBanca said, allowing him to spend "seven days a week" at the bridge site. "My wife wanted me to get out of the house."
It took two weeks to dig holes for bridge supports, working through dense clay soil and chipping away at rock. Their tools were low-tech: a sledgehammer, a heavy metal bar, and a couple of children's plastic sleds to cart away the more than 5 tons of rock they removed. He brought his daughter Elizabeth, 16, and sons Mario, 12, and Armando, 5, on weekends.
"It was fun," said Mario. "I mostly just hauled the rock."
A photo album showed Armando in a full construction jumpsuit and kneepads. "To be like dad," LaBanca said.
"He's a nut," said Skocaj, glancing at the photo. "He's a great little kid."
Work on the bridge is virtually complete. Reliford has only to install a cable.
"What's your dad doing now that the bridge is done?" Weinberg asked two of LaBanca's daughters, who are in his gym class.
"He's going through withdrawal today," they told him - he was visiting the bridge site, even though there was no more work to do

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Robinson Park Trail Article

This article was lifted from the Peoria Journal Star on March 31:

A pileated woodpecker drums on a distant tree. Wooded river bluffs buffer sight and sound of the outside world. Four white-tailed deer leap deeper into the underbrush. A red-tailed hawk loops on warm spring thermals high overhead.

The newest trail in the Peoria Park District network is now open and unfolding with early signs of spring. Robinson Park North represents years of work, planning and cooperation between public and private efforts. It is a link in what will become the park district's longest hiking trail, the Illinois River Bluff Trail, from Detweiller Park north through Green Valley Camp, through a tunnel under Illinois Route 6, across Robinson Park South through Robinson Park North to Camp Wokanda. Once completed, the entire hiking trail will be almost 15 miles one way.

On Monday, the Peoria Park District received notification that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources had approved a grant for half the purchase price of the connecting property linking Robinson Park North and Robinson Park South. That link had been acquired by Forest Park Foundation in 2001 from the estate of Hudson Sours. The foundation has offered to donate the other half of the purchase price. The property is expected to be appraised at more than $600,000.

The new hiking trail through Robinson Park North was designed by Mike Friberg, landscape architect and planner with the park district.

"I grew up in California, attended University of Wisconsin at Madison and find I have a special affinity for oak woodland bluffs. This is an amazing trail. Every once in a while, you get a glimpse of the river valley below. Squint your eyes and pretend you're walking a couple of hundred years ago," Friberg said.

"I got really excited when Green Valley Camp was acquired. That was the last piece of the puzzle."

The Peoria Park District acquired Green Valley Camp from the Salvation Army in March 2003. It provided the missing link connecting sections of the trail. Friberg expects the trail through Green Valley will be completed by 2010. The section of trail through Robinson Park South is currently under construction.

Friberg and John Mullen, naturalist with the Peoria Park District, walked the 3-mile Robinson North section of the trail on a Friday morning in late March.

Mullen pointed out the trail's progression through an evolving woodland with invasive species spreading over the areas of the land once grazed by livestock. That disturbed terrain has maples, cottonwoods, black locust, honey locust and sycamore trees. The trail continues past a prized white oak on a hill prairie. Signs of multiflora rose help distinguish which areas of the trail were once grazed.

"There is a quietness that takes over on this trail," Mullen said, noting the bur oak and chinquapin oak along the trail.

Boy Scouts and volunteer park stewards have worked on restoration of the hill prairie, which now includes little bluestem, leadplant and woodland sunflower.

"We are dependent on help from these volunteers to open and maintain the prairie and allow the sun to get down to the woodland floor," Friberg said.

Mullen said hikers on this trail can note the different forest composition and perceive the impact civilization has had on this land. Some sections are solid black locust and shrubs. Another invasive species noted on this early spring walk was garlic mustard along some sections of the trail.

An isolated bench on a bluff over the hill prairie is ideal for watching sunsets, Mullen said.

Six months ago, a 130-foot-long bridge was positioned on the trail across a 60-foot-deep ravine. The bridge is made with low-maintenance, weathering steel, which already has turned a ruddy rust color.

Along the trail, Mullen and Friberg analyzed the furry remains of what they speculated was a squirrel consumed by a coyote or fox.

They said Camp Wokanda, the northernmost section of the Illinois River Bluff Tail, will have the first handicapped-accessible campground in the Peoria Park District system.

Friberg said the oldest, southernmost section of this trail is Detweiller Park, which dates back to 1927. The northernmost section is Camp Wokanda, which was acquired from the Boy Scouts.

"With the most aggressive work schedule, the entire trail will be completed by 2010. When completed, this will be the longest trail in the Peoria Park District. It's one thing to drive Route 6 and enjoy these river bluffs, but to really enjoy the uniqueness of this trail, you have to get out there and hike," Friberg said.

"It is these river bluffs that make Peoria so special. These river bluffs attracted me to the area. My dream . . . I'd love to see a 20-year plan someday connecting Grand View Drive north to Wokanda. Maybe that's a 50-year plan or a 100-year plan, but the more people who get out and hike these wonderful trails, the more possible that dream becomes."

Conservationist Bill Rutherford, 91, whose family started Forest Park Foundation, suggested that renaming Robinson Park to Robinson-Morron Park would more accurately reflect major gifts from the Jean Morron estate that financed significant portions of the park land acquisition.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Another McNaughton Park Training Run

Made it out Sunday for 4 hours to McNaughton, shifting over to the race course, rather than the hillier Forest Park trails on the theory that I've already maxed out my leg strength, plus this is the best time of year to be out there.

Andy has marked the course thoroughly, seems to me there are a few more field areas near the beach trail, but I could be imagining. Pam and I did almost 2 loops, Heaven's Gate in its entirety, which I always get turned around on, but not with the yellow ribbons. There was some mud in the flat spots where the snow had melted. This week has seen a lot of rain, but the course dries out fairly well, who knows what the 15th will bring. I felt strong the whole way, hydration and food strategies seem to be working, although I may go with a bit more electrolytes than I did at Glacial to try and stave off those intermittent leg cramps.

I'm so stoked for this ultra, have missed out the last few years on McNaughton. '04 was coming off of a bout with PF after the Quivering Quads 50k and just did the 10 mile fun run. Last year was the tibial fracture, but I got to volunteer at the start/finish line for about 9 hours and meet cool people, including seeing Eric Clifton win the 100. But not in '06, baby. We're primed and ready. I see lots of locals on the registration list. Dave is running the 50, Troy the 30, and I see lots of familiar names. Kim and Keegan are even volunteering at an aid station for a bit.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Yet More Places to Experience

Who says the former prairie has no soul?
This structure appeared to be an abandoned church. I have no particulars, but she eminated a strange energy, to be sure. Somewhere in Tazewell County--worth the search.

This old bridge spans the Mackinaw River near Hopedale. I robbed this history off the net:

"The bridge, located about five miles south of Tremont on Locust Road, was built in 1910 by a local man to span the Mackinaw River in Tazewell County. It was named after John Waltmire, a farmer who lived nearby. It's also commonly known as the Locust Street bridge because of its close proximity to that road. The bridge links the townships of Hopedale and Dillon. For years, many rural commuters used the one-lane bridge to get to their jobs or shopping in Peoria and to get to Tremont. Over time, however, the bridge began to show its age. The steel used to build the bridge in the early 1900s is no longer used for that purpose. It is rusty, and its wooden planks are rotting with gaps in some places of between 3 and 5 inches. Eventually, the weight allowed on the bridge was reduced to a 3-ton limit."

Monday, March 13, 2006

McNaughton Park Trail Run Training

So i decided yesterday morning would be a good morning for a training run at McNaughton for three reason:

1. It might be good to actually train beyond eating alot, drinking a few beers and sprinkling long runs here and there.

2. It had stormed the night before and the trails were sure to be mucky. Who doesn't enjoy muck.

3. A midweek visit to the orthopedist fearing another stress fracture but hoping for a weenie soft tissue injury had me thinking, what better way to test a leg than with a five hour run??

At least the weather was nice, 50-55 degrees for the duration, an improvement from our -3 degree temps for a long run three weeks ago.

Took off from the teepee and headed right into the single track. Nobody's fool, i noticed a pattern immediately: mud, hills, mud. That stayed consistent for the whole morning. The muddiest stretch was probably the downhill from the totem pole to the creek crossing. First creek crossing was swollen pretty good, although the cold water was welcoming, came to about mid calf in the shallowest spot. I did pretty well disregarding the "no horses" spray paint, even though i fall solidly in the clydesdale stable, and stayed on the red trail.

After the rope hill and past the foundation, came upon andy and crew working on their new massive log bridge over the creek crossing. Would see them two more times. They work too hard. Ended up cheating and cutting off the heaven's gate loop and the very section, mostly to get to water more quickly. Climbed fairly well, skiing as adeptly as possible on the mud slicks and finished a nice five hours in three abbreviated loops.
Interesting things I saw in the woods:

1. Deer-lots of them as usual- 6 or 7 bounding across the field loop by the cemetery.

2. A dead tribble? Some fuzzy trail kill of unidentified origin. By the third loop I'd csi'd and determined either a tribble or chubacabra.

3. A flock of geese flying east, presumably back from a weekend in vegas.

4. Dog barking on the trail ahead. -look for owner- -spot owner- -owner is an old dude with a big white beard who, as my five year old son would say, was "popping a squat" next to a large oak tree. *note to self-next time don't look for owner*

5. Mud and hills.

All that and back in time to fill out my ncaa bball brackets (go Bradley!). Not a bad morning.

Soundtrack: Tsunami "Brilliant Mistake"

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Taoist Fighting Monk

From Deng Ming Dao:

"When the gatekeeper announced the entrance of a challenger, all the students expected a quick resolution. But this time when Wang Ziping looked up and saw a wiry man about 70 years old, he paused. Wang could size up a man at a glance. This one had skill.

The stranger was tall and quite thin. His white hair was cut into a severe crew cut, and he had a long beard, the symbol of an elder. He evidently spent alot of time outdoors, for his skin was as brown as teakwood. Saihung noticed that his hands were long and flexible. Wang Ziping was a heavyweight. The man was like a stick figure before him.

'I know your reputation' began the stranger politely. He held his clasped hands in front of him in the gesture of respect.

'I do not believe in isolating myself in a mountain retreat. I believe in testing my skill against skilled people. If I win, then I know that old age has not yet bested me. If I lose, then I know the weak points I have to correct.'

'I have heard of men like you,' responded Wang. 'You are interested only in the pinnacle of skill.'

'I would like to see if I have made progress in my practices. Would you oblige me?'

Wang could not refuse. His honor was at stake.

They began to circle each other warily. Neither made any flamboyant moves. There were no fancy postures, no talking, no tricks. Two dedicated martial artists who would, if nothing else, uphold the dignity of the challenge and themselves.

From the first clash, Saihung could see that his teacher was at a disadvantage. The stranger hit Wang repeatedly, hard enough to make booming sounds but not enough to injure him.

They fought in fifteen minute rounds. Wang was tiring. The older man was not even breathing hard. Wang Ziping tried every technique that he knew, he still could not best his challenger. In all they fought four rounds for a bout that lasted over an hour. It was the challenger who stopped the contest.

'Thank you for indulging me,' said the man politely at the end of the final round.

Totally anonymous and without students or career, the old man cared for only his art. Yet nothing about his persona hinted at this attainment."