Saturday, March 26, 2011

4 Years of Motion

(Mile ~45 at the Vermont 50 - 2009)

I am not a runner.

Let me rephrase that.  I don't think that I was meant to be a runner, or born to be a runner.  I don't run fast, or efficiently.  I probably over-pronate...or under-pronate.  My stride is most definitely wrong and I likely don't breathe at the right times.  I still run in big bulky running shoes and not trendy "fingered" footwear.  I am a rather old fashioned runner, despite the latest crazes or what the latest "scientifically backed research" tells me I am doing wrong.  I'm not up on the latest technology and still wear old beat up shirts that I got free at some race.  I don't have some deep seeded passion for running that "I've known since I was s child" and there have been many times that I would have rather done something more fun than go on Tuesday afternoon 6-miler or a Saturday 18-mile long run.

There are some people though, that are runners.  They just are.  Some of those people, the most elite, can run 5 minute miles, finish marathons in 2 hours 15 minutes, finish the Leadville 100 in 17 hours, and have VO2max values over 75.  I am not one of those people, and pending some sort of insane change in my life dedications...probably could still never be.  I'm just not wired that way...the elite athlete way.  I like to think that I was more wired to be a true passion of motion.  Despite all of this though, I still run.

Over four years ago I set in motion what would become a new way of life for me.  I had succumbed to lifestyle of familiarity and comfort.  A lifestyle that didn't involve any real "motion".  I was stagnant on so many levels.   In 2007, I changed this in one fell swoop with what seemed a ridiculous and impossible goal: To hike the 2175 mile Appalachian Trail...all at once (a thru-hike).   After 3 and a half months of walking, I stood at the northern terminus sign with an incredulous look on my face, and a feeling inside that I hadn't come close to feeling in a very long time.   I vowed to not lose that feeling ever again.  I remembered having it when I was younger, but somewhere along the line...lost it.

When I started a new graduate school program that fall I went through the motions of classes and work and that feeling started to fade again.  That Christmas, I sat across a table from an old friend back in my home town.  We traded stories over a few beers and he told me how he was training for his first marathon.  I remember thinking that I ran cross country back in junior high school...maybe I could try to run a marathon.  It felt like it would be a tangible goal.  Something I could work towards while still in school, and perhaps regain some of that feeling that had started to wane again during the previous busy semester.

So I did....and I'm telling you this, because as cliche' as it sounds....if I can do it, so can anyone.  There are dozens of great marathon training programs out there.  Me...I used a slightly modified novice Hal Higdon program.  This type of program is an 18 week long build up routine with a few step-back weeks built in....and it really works.  I went from not having run in over 10 years, to completing a marathon in under 4 hours.  A lot of people have asked me how I trained, or what program I used...below is an example (this is the intermediate program that I'm doing right now, similar to the novice, only stepped up a bit).

     I sit here now some 4 years later and realized that since taking that first step on Springer Mountain back in 07, I haven't really stopped moving.  I haven't stopped trying to keep that feeling alive inside of me.  Training for and running races, hiking long distances, and wandering off to various places is one sure way that I know how to.  

The reason I bring all of this up, and have written it down, is because I was sorting through all of my running photos in iphoto today....and realized all of the different running memories I've begun to accrue. I remember when I graduated from college years ago, my parents got me a Dr. Seuss book..sort of half jokingly.  The book was "Oh the places you'll go".  I like to think that this was the first little message telling me to keep moving

After finally sorting all my pics, I found several that when I looked at them....I could remember the exact and specific emotion I was feeling the moment the picture was taken.   Like I said in previous posts on here, I write a lot of these entries so that I don't forget things.  

So as a reminder to myself, john, here is why you should always keep moving...

When you feel like you're losing that forward motion, re-read this post, and remember that feeling you had when...

Finishing that first marathon you trained so hard under 4 hours
(Pocono Marathon - 08)

Knowing you were going to finish that first 50 miler
(VT 50 - 2008)

Actually finishing your first 50 miler
(VT 50 - 2008)

Starting your first "repeat appearance" at a race
(Pocono Marathon - 2009)

Knowing you were about to start a beautiful and insanely 
muddy course that was actually a "training run" for the VT 100!
(Finger Lakes Fifties - 2009)

Making it to mile 76 in my first 100 miler and getting
to run with my first Pacer
(Vermont 100 - 2009)

Not believing that you just finished your first 100...and in under 24 hours
(Vermont 100 - 2009)

Running in the one race that I wanted to be a part of 
more than any other single race...and feeling ecstatic.  Especially
after being told by doctors only a few weeks before the 
race that your foot was probably broken.
(Leadville 100 - 2009)

Actually finishing the Leadville this day the one running
achievement I still can't believe.
(Leadville 100 - 2009)

Running and finishing the Rochester Marathon 20 years after dad did.
(Rochester Marathon - 2009)

Knowing you were there for another playing a part in 
helping a first-time 100-miler cross the finish line
(Pacing at the Oil Creek 100 - 2009)

And of course, do not forget...
Stepping off of that plane for the first time in West Antarctica
(WAIS Divide - 2008)

Finishing the your first Alpine Thru-Hike
(Colorado Trail - 2008)

Finishing the Impossible
(Pacific Crest Trail - 2010)

And of course....lastly....
How it all began
(Appalachian Trail Completion- Aug 15th, 2007)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


How it all began - Smoky Mountains - 2006

It's rare that I post on here two days in a row...but something has been on my mind a lot lately related to this sort of forum.  There's no doubt that we live in a completely digital age now.  Certainly there's voluntary component to how much of yourself you care to share with the world, but we've evolved to a point technologically that no matter how much you try to keep your life private, parts of you are out there for the world to see.  Don't believe me?  Just google yourself and see what you find.

There are a number of good weblogs out there that I pop in on once in a while...most of which deal with either hiking, ultrarunning, or ice/climate research.  There are also a few people's sites I visit simply because I've come to know, admire, or befriend that person outside of the interweaving digital tubes we call the internet.

I've also seen the dark side of it....and have even brushed up against it myself.  What starts as an innocent place to jot down thoughts and race reports, becomes a full fledged diary...a diary that everyone can see.  This is what boggles me.  Why is it when we were kids, we fought tooth and nail to keep that diary hidden from our siblings, our parents, ...everyone.  It was a personal account for your eyes only that you could look back on in years for your own reminiscent experience.  Yet now, we write these same sort of things down, and don't give a damn how many random souls steer their eyes towards it.  There came a point on this blog when I came to realize this.  I found myself having conversations with people I didn't really know that well here at school and they would ask me about how, "that trip up to New York went", or "how did that visit back to Cleveland go?"  Baffled I would ask myself how the heck did random person X know that I went up to New York last weekend.  Oh yeah, because I put it on my weblog.   Why?

Recently I've been reading a lot of training and running blogs and noticed that this happens a lot.  While most people do keep to training entries and an occasional rambling, a few bloggers have turned their sites into very personal repositories.  I know of a couple who are no longer together because one person decided to share too much of their relationship details with the world on their blog....and their partner didn't want that sort of detail out there for the world to see.  Now, the blogger blogs about why the blog broke up the relationship.  It can become a viscous cycle.  Needless to say, they are still separated.

What I've come to realize is there's a fine line when it comes to blogging.  On one side are the honest bloggers.  Those that simply put up some thoughts and insights on-line, perhaps interact with some like-minded others, then go about their daily lives and couldn't care less if the internet blew up tomorrow and that blog was lost forever.  Then on the other side are those who I seem to think are either extremely narcissistic and just love to talk and read about themselves, or those who desperately want people to be interested in them.

Of course I could be completely full of shit here too.  But over the years I've had several people ask me about this site.  "Why do you have your blog john?"  "Why do you put what you do up there?" "Is that site your little ego depository where you brag of your accomplishments?"  

Early last year, on top of other things, this entire concept came to a boil.  I had enough.  I stopped writing anything up here save PCT entries.  The world didn't need to know my ramblings.  There's no need to make them public...just write them in a personal journal.  So I did.  I kept the PCT entries up for informational purposes only.  Then I went walking

Since getting back from the PCT and Antarctica I've slowly started putting a few random posts up here again, but quickly I started thinking about this whole thing again.  Tonight, while out on a little short run, I came to realize what this site is for me.

It is a place to put down random thoughts that I have before I forget them.  Thoughts that have in some way inspired or moved me to the point where my life took a small turn.  This way, I can go back..reread and remember.  And who knows, perhaps someone else might read it and have a similar inspiration.  

It is also a place to put information on how I was able to plan or complete a hike/run/whatever.  After my AT thru-hike, I reluctantly put some videos up on youtube from my hike.  I didn't think anyone would watch them.  When I was planning the hike, I couldn't find any videos from the trail to watch that would perhaps give me that extra kick in the pants to get going.  So I figured, maybe someone will watch my vids and get motivated....and that's exactly what happened.  To this day, I still get at least 5-10 emails a month from a random person telling me they saw my AT or PCT videos and have now started their own thru-hike planning.  This is the most rewarding part of it all.   But...with that said, if this site were to go down forever tomorrow, I do still have my personal written journals that I can reflect on.  

This website used to be called "Lakewood's Adventures and Ramblings" and after some time I decided to change it to "Wanderings and Scribbles"....because that's what all these are.  They are just scribbles and some of my random wanderings.  If by writing a few things down on here, someone reads something, and then goes out and does something magical......well than it was all worth it.

A year and a half ago I got a random message on facebook from a guy named Greg.  This message was like a lot that I get.  Usually I respond to these types of inquiries with answer to their specific questions and invitation to contact me any time with further questions about thru-hiking.  Most of the time I never hear back and I almost never find out if the person actually went for it.  Here was Greg's message:

Hey John, I stumbled across your videos on Youtube which led me to your website.  I had a few questions for you. I'm sure you get a lot of people asking you about the AT but I am planning on the ole big one here April '10.

1. The number one concern for me is money. How much of a concern was this for you and what did you do about this?

2. Another concern is sending my packages ahead. I can't seem to find anywhere where someone actually goes into detail about sending their stuff to a post office ahead of time. Did you have someone that did it for you on a set schedule or did you send them all at once?

3. Do you ever get sick of people asking your advice about the AT?

This was rather random message, with rather random questions.  After a few short messages back and forth, I could tell that Greg had that little voice in him, that drive that I so easily recognized.  After months of planning and emails back and forth...he finally made his dream a reality and started walking on April 1st.  And this was Greg six months later:

Congrats Greg....I never doubted you'd make it.   This is why I put my little stupid videos on youtube and trail journal entries out there.  So that maybe someone that is on the fence about doing something incredible, might stumble across something I put out there and decide to go for it.  

The first picture in this post is from 2006.  I decided to go hiking with a friend in the Smoky Mountains.  My life was in disarray at the time.  I went out with a 50 lb backpack, wearing jeans, and big ol' smile on my face.  I was clueless, but didn't care.  That weekend changed everything.  When I got back I started surfing the web and found a few websites.  I read some quotes, watched some videos, and stumbled across some journals.  Then...that little spark started in me.  The next summer I was thru-hiking the AT.  Now, 5 years later, I look back so happy at how I finally took that first risk.  I'm so blessed and fortunate to have ended up where I have.

Moving forward, I will continue to throw scribbles up here and try to keep up on the informational training/running/hiking posts.  However, the real living that I plan to do, and the real magical moments that I carry with me, are those that no one will ever read about on this site.


Monday, March 21, 2011

Spring Training

The new toy - surly: long haul trucker

Spring is upon us and I am trying desperately to keep my mind far from thoughts of long, winding, dirt-covered trails.   It is much easier said than done though, as it was exactly one year ago that I posted the following over on my PCT trailjournal:

So...I'm trying to focus on the year to come.  Every year I try to put forth a challenge of some kind to myself...something new, something different.  It seems that each year, my goal gets more intense, more extreme, and some might even argue...more crazy.  Well, I can safely say that I am toying around with a couple of ideas this year, and whatever I do decide on, it will most likely focus more on being different, and not so much being more extreme.  I am sort of thinking of it as a step-back year.

But in trying to keep my adventurous spirit alive and burning, I often come back to various quotes that have for some reason or another left an imprint on me.  Today I think of a quote from Chris McCandless.  Regardless of your opinion of him, the quote should speak to us all.  Since making the decision to start my life over in 2006, I often come back to this one....

“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism; all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more dangerous to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.” - McCandless

I can say this.  With the PCT all but a blur in my memory banks now, it is time for me to steer my focus back to staying in shape with the running.  With the exception of a little running last spring and a few outings in the fall, 2010 was fairly devoid of running for me.  After having completed both the Vermont 100 and Leadville 100 in 2009 (as well as the VT 50, FL50, Pocono and Rochester Marathons), I shifted to hiking in 2010 with the PCT.  I did try to get in to a few races, but wasn't chosen for any lotteries.  Now, with no recent ultras under my belt in over a year, I don't qualify for most big races this year (with a few exceptions).   So...time to reboot.  Since getting back from the ice, I've begun my usual marathon training program, but this time, I'm trying the intermediate level program as opposed to the novice.  It has me running 5 days a week, and cross training on one day, with only a single rest day.  It is a feisty program, but for the first time since getting back, I am starting to feel in shape again....(despite some bizarre recently-developed minor back pain - I know...weird).  I am focusing a lot on my diet too.  Been trying to stick to smaller and healthier portions, with much less processed food and preservatives.

So in the short term, I will again be running the Pocono Marathon in May as well as the Finger Lakes 50 in July.  This should get me back up to ultra shape again for some possible bigger races this summer.  My schoolwork will again have me spending some time out in Colorado, so I will certainly make use of my time there with as much hiking as possible.  If the timing is right, I might finally make another appearance at the Estes Park Half-Marathon again.

Anyway...I guess the biggest news recently is the addition of my lovely new form of transportation.  For a very long time now I wanted a solid, steel, touring-style bike...with the ability to also do some cross riding on fire trails.  I test drove several bikes, but kept coming back to the Surly.  Rather than buying a factory model, I bought a custom built Trucker with all sorts of really nice upgrades (the biggest being the wheels and the drive train).

Tonight I went out for a nice 13 miler.  It was cool, yet sunny...and Spring was truly in the air.  I went along a nice country road along a corn field with one eye constantly on the Tussey Ridgeline.  Any other time in the past 3 years this statement would seem normal.  What makes it so different this time, is that I was on a bike.  And it was great.  I think I'm going to enjoy Cross-Training Mondays.


Oh and as soon as I figure out what I'm doing this summer, I'll be sure to post something up here.  It may involve running, biking, or even kayaking...or a combination.  I will put this out there now though...anyone out there feel like pacing this summer?  There would be free beer involved.....

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Seed Is Planted

There is a strange phenomenon that exists throughout the long distance hiking community. More specifically, there is a happening that occurs yearly, usually in the early Springtime, to those of us that have spent a fair amount of our time traipsing up and down various wooded trails. In the early Spring of 2008, this phenomenon caught me completely off-guard. Many people had warned me, that following my Appalachian Trail hike, that I would be affected. I didn’t believe them. I was told that once the Winter snow began to melt, and the smell of the fresh soil made it’s way through the air, I would inevitably become afflicted with what is known as “Springer Fever”.

Springer fever can be colloquially defined as an overpowering urge to get outside, find a long trail as quickly as possible, abandon all reason, and get to some walking. Originally this expression was coined by some former Appalachian Trail thru-hikers as they realized that about the same time every year they came down with this urge. Being that Springer Mountain is the Southern Terminus of the A.T., calling this feeling Springer Fever, made for a good play-on-words considering the time of year. In time, Springer Fever became more of an umbrella term that applies to most hikers (and even other adventurers in general) that experience a similar feeling when nearing an anniversary of an epic journey. But what exactly is it?

Each Spring for the past three years I have had this overpowering feeling. It has come in a wave and brought about an almost unnatural longing to be hiking. I have always just assumed these Springer fever waves were brought on by fond memories and feelings from my original A.T. thru-hike. The most surprising aspect of it all though, is how illogical it seems to be. During the last few weeks of my A.T. thru-hike, I was miserable. I was sore, weary of the difficult walking, and ready to go back to a normal way of life. I thought of nothing other than finishing, and getting home as soon as possible. In fact, I thought of nothing more desirable than simply, not-hiking. I even recorded video footage of myself the night after summiting Mt. Katahdin, where I swore to never attempt another hike like that again. Yet exactly 7 months later, I sat in my apartment overcome by an urge to be thru-hiking again. Why? Why would I have an urge to be miserable again?

Part of it is certainly a process of selective filtering. It’s amazing how easily our bodies and minds can bury pain, misery, and negative experiences in favor of the positive ones. This isn’t a new concept though. Time does heal, and filter experiences. Even when we have knowledge and memories of a negative experience, it seems that time has either softened the memory of the pain involved, or help to bury the memory altogether. Obviously, there are some negative memories that stick longer than others, like the loss of loved ones, but in time, even those memories become less painful. When I would think back to my A.T. thru-hike, I found myself thinking things like, “I was pretty miserable at the end, but it wasn’t really THAT bad.” Yet I knew, I had video proof in fact, that it was THAT bad. I swore off ever hiking again. Somehow though, in remembering my hike, my thoughts and memories always seemed to steer in a positive direction. I would be recalling fond images of beautiful landscapes and incredible vistas, rather than just how miserable I was at the end. This is why I think there is something deeper involved with Springer fever and it isn’t just a cabin fever; it stems from something deeper inside us all.

Switching gears for a moment, it seems like a good time to point out my inexplicable and unnatural fixation with geography, maps, and specifically with geographic extremes. For as long as I can remember, I have loved gazing for long hours at various maps. My eyes will wander and I will scope around for strange, exotic, and/or extreme locations on said maps...and declare, "I want to see that place!". It's always a completely ridiculous place too. There's something about random far away locations that draw me in. I want to stand in that place, and see what the world looks like from that point. The "extreme" component always seems to works its way in as well. This is why I've stood on rocks out past Quoddy Head State Park in Maine (furthest point East in the US), and at the Key West monument (furthest point South in the U.S.). In some ways, I think this is connected (at least in part) to why I was drawn to Antarctica as well. One of the most exciting days I had at WAIS Divide, was the day I got to go on a traverse 50km from camp and stand on a remote spot of the ice sheet...a spot no one will probably ever again stand. Of course I recorded the GPS coordinates to that place and can now zoom in on it at any point in google earth. My favourite game growing up was a game called UBI, a board game made by the makers of Trivial Pursuit...but with only geography questions. Yes...I know what you are is a bit unnatural.

On my AT hike, one of the places I was most excited about reaching was a small sign in NJ that was at a Car rest-stop. Why? Well...because 1 year earlier I had stopped at that sign and told myself I wanted to be there again some day (see below).

nj sign

In 2001, I found a random picture on the internet of a sign in remote northern canada and immediately told myself I had to see it in person.:

later that year...I did

What in the hell is so special about a random sign welcoming me to the trans-labrador highway?  I don't know...but I was drawn to it.  The road trip to see it ending up being an incredible adventure as well.  I saw northern lights, lake Manicougan, amazing remote wilderness, Acadia National Park...etc.  Good stuff!

In early 2003, I saw a picture in a National Geographic magazine.  A picture of a lake in Glacier National Park with a very small island in it called Wild Goose Island.  As I sat there, I said to myself, I don't know how...but some day I will be standing on that small island.   

6 months later, on a road trip to Alaska (with kayak on board), I made a detour to Glacier National Park, boated on to the island and stood on it.  It was magical.

kayaking up to the island

I could go on and on about similar stories like this...stories of where I was drawn to bizarre, unique,  and remote locations.  The point is, once a geographic seed is planted in my head, I know some day, I will make it there.  I don't know why I have this tendency...some may call it weird, I call it a blessing.  It keeps my mind and soul wandering to far away places...and allows me to get out there and see places many never will.

So, coming full circle.  When I was pondering the AT hike years ago, I saw a simple picture.  A picture that changed everything in my mind.  A picture that made me say to myself, "I want to be in that spot".  I ended up printing that picture out and carrying it with me on the entire hike as well.  This was that picture:

 Last year at this time, that springer bug was biting hard.  I had already decided I was going to go hiking for a while and I had considered the PCT.  It just seemed so logistically impossible on such short notice.  But then....then I saw this picture:

I didn't actually think at that point that I was going to thru-hike, but seeing that picture brought out that feeling of..."I want to see this place".  I want to stand in this spot, and rest my hands upon that wooden post.  It gave me a sense of purpose to at least make my way towards it, even if I didn't think i'd actually make it that far.  In the end, I did make it that far...and it was even better than I imagined it.

And now here I sit, on a random Sunday in March of 2011.  I am very content with my current life.  I am grateful for those around me and feel so blessed for those in my life.   I am in a very good place...happy.  A place though that I am also rather committed to for a while in light of my school PhD obligation.  I have a short list of places yet to see that were sparked in me by some random photo or text that I read years ago.  These places I will make my way to at some point.  Places like Svalbard, Point Barrow, Galapagos Islands, Franz Josef Land, Greenland, Tasmania, Wrangel Island, Angle Inlet, Point Roberts, etc.  Today I made the mistake of playing on google earth.  Something I do way too often.  I came across a photo, a photo that has now started that small seed.  The seed that will some day grow into an adventurous pull.  This won't happen anytime soon, but i suspect it will happen someday down the line.  There is absolutely nothing special about this photo, nothing extraordinary, but grabbed me.  This was that photo:

What are you looking at?  Well...this is a photo of the Canadian/US border at the end of the Continental Divide Trail in Glacier National Park.