Friday, September 30, 2005

Reading "Gravity's Rainbow"

I used to love to read, but over the last few years I have been very busy and gotten out of the habit. But this month's Harper's Magazine had something that inspired me to pick up an old favorite, Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon.

Harper's has several selections from Zak Smith's Illustrations For Each Page of Gravity's Rainbow. If you're familiar with Gravity's Rainbow you know that this is a pretty monumental project, due both to the length of the novel (760 pages = 760 illustrations) and due to the subject matter. But from what I've seen so far Zak Smith really captures the mood, tone, and subjects extremely well.

Below is the illustration for Page 6: "Far to the east, down in the pink sky, something has just sparked, very brightly."

Far to the east, down in the pink sky, something has just sparked, very brightly.

It's interesting (given recent events) that the novel starts with an evacuation:
A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now.

It is too late. The Evacuation still proceeds, but it's all theatre. There are no lights inside the cars. No light anywhere. Above him lift girders old as an iron queen, and glass somewhere far above that would let the light of day through. But it's night. He's afraid of the way the glass will fall--soon--it will be a spectacle: the fall of a crystal palace. But coming down in total blackout, without one glint of light, only great invisible crashing.
They have begun to move. They pass in line, out of the main station, out of downtown, and begin pushing into older and more desolate parts of the city. Is this the way out? Faces turn to the windows, but no one dares ask, not out loud. Rain comes down. No, this is not a disentanglement from, but a progressive knotting into...

Pynchon's gift for language, scene, paranioa, obscenity, disturbing's all here from the very beginning of this impressive and frustrating work. I've started reading at night after everyone has gone to bed (and in spare moments when I can find the time) and then, the next day, I page through the illustrations for the pages I just read. It's a wonderful new way to explore the novel and also to be reminded of the scenes and "plot." If you're a Pynchon fan I highly recommend it.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Great Quote for Trail Runners and Walkers

I stole this from the Runner's World Ultra Forum:

"The hills not only take men away from a complex mode of existence, but they teach them that to be happy it is only necessary to have food, warmth, and shelter. They bring them face to face with realities, and in doing so inculcate a valuable lesson in the association of simplicity and happiness.

For those reasons any development that tends to bring into close contact with the natural order of things is a value to mankind, inasmuch as it helps them to gain a sense of proportion. It is impossible for any thinking man to look down from a hill on to a crowded plain and not ponder over the relative importance of things. To take a simple view is to take a wider view. Whatever our beliefs, whatever our creeds from which we seek to extract happiness when we live on the plain, we find that things that have puzzled us are made clear when we stand on a hill. On a hill we are content to be content.

And so from hills we return refreshed in body, in mind and in spirit, to grapple anew with life's problems; for awhile we have lived simply, wisely and happily; we have made good friends; we have adventured well."

Frank Smythe, Mountaineer, 1930

Friday, September 23, 2005

Another Political Test

Tests that reveal your political leanings are popular on the web, so here's another one.

Here are my results:

You are a

Social Liberal
(73% permissive)

and an...

Economic Liberal
(23% permissive)

You are best described as a:

Strong Democrat

Link: The Politics Test on Ok Cupid

Monday, September 19, 2005

Sad, touching story

Today on NPR I heard a commentary written by Darcy Wakefield, read by her sister, Betsy. Two years ago (at the age of 33) Darcy was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig's Disease. The commentary was very moving, sad, frightening, gentle. It reminded me so much of our fragility and the inevitable nothing we will all face. I don't know why I found it so special, but for me it was what NPR calls a "driveway moment": I sat in my car in the garage until the story was over. You can hear it for yourself here. Anyone who reads this blog can appreciate her previous commentary for NPR shortly after her diagnosis, ALS Ends Running Days. This part of her story almost brings me to tears:

Even though I no longer run, I still have a runner's soul. It's trapped in a runner's body that won't run....It doesn't yet understand what has happened to us.

Darcy has also written a memoir about her diagnosis and experience, I Remember Running.

Austin Resident Runs Across France

I posted previously about Russell Secker, the Austin resident who completed the Trans-Gaule run across France. Here's a great article about him in the Austin newspaper. At the end of the article there is mention of a stage race across Texas. That's us (it's not a race, more like an epic adventure)!

PS I found this link on someone's site, probably Zack or Jennifer, but I can't seem to find it again. Thanks to whoever posted it first!

Monday, September 12, 2005

Upcoming Plans

I was planning to do the Heartland 100 mile race, but recently decided that I wasn't ready. So instead I've decided to pace my good ultra buddy Frances as she completes here first 100 miler at Heartland. I'll meet her at the halfway point and walk with her the second 50 miles. I'm really excited, although I feel a little bit of pressure since I have to make sure I finish the race strong for Frances. It would be terrible for Frances (and embarrassing for me) if I couldn't pace her successfully.

One great thing about this arrangement is that I'll get most of the benefits of a 50 mile race without the costs! No race entry fee. No hotel (I'll drive up Saturday, meet her Saturday night and pace her to the finish, crash in her hotel room for a few hours of sleep and then drive home Sunday). I'll just have to pay for gas and food (and I'll get several meals at the aid stations). I'll get to revisit the place where I completed my first ultra, a place that is dear to my heart.

The race is less than one month away so I'm trying to keep a good level of training to make sure I'm ready. I did 27 miles at the rugged North Shore Trail this weekend in a couple of minutes over 6 hours. I crashed for the last mile but felt very strong for the other 26. I need to get some new trail shoes; I have over 420 miles on my current pair.

That's about it right now. I'm excited about my pacing duties and about my upcoming races, and I'm so happy to be back out on the trails.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Rash Decisions Soon Regretted

I recently posted a depressing post about some bad training, exhaustion and a retreat from ultras.

What was I thinking?!?!

Now, to be fair, much of that post is true. I am not ready for a 100 mile race and don't have the time to get ready and keep my health and sanity. It takes too much time for me to train properly and I would rather spend my time with my family and other involvements. So I'm not going to try for a 100 any time soon.

However, I love the trails and I love ultras. I was recently reading an article in Trail Runner Magazine and they had a picture of an aid station from an ultra; I immediately became nostalgic and sad. Any time someone mentions Kansas I think of my first ultra, the Heartland 50 mile Endurance Run. Any time I hear a radio story on NPR mention Big Bend National Park, I think about the new Big Bend 50 mile race I'd like to do. Whenever I see my dusty and dirty trail shoes in the garage I get feel twinges of regret and depression.

I think this break has been good for me, but having done some long miles on the paved trail at the lake I realize ultras and trails are in my blood and I can't give them up. I have a new resolution:

1. Stick to 50k and 50 mile races.
2. Stick with a reasonable training schedule. I'm not an elite and never will be so I don't need to kill myself on the weekends. I need to remember that it's supposed to be fun.
3. I can still help out with Team in Training. I'll have to do a fair amount of road walking but on the "On Your Own" training weekends or the weekends when I don't need to be at training, I'll be at Lake Grapevine.

So I will probably do the Rockledge Rumble 50k in November and then SunMart in December. I don't know what I'll do in January and February (maybe Bandera 100k?) and then I'd like to do Three Days of Syllamo in Arkansas in March. April and May I'll probably do the same as I did this year: Rocky Hill Ranch and Prickly Pear. If I can afford it, I'd like to tackle Laurel Highlands again.

So things are kind of back where I started except I acknowledge that 100 milers are not in my immediate future. I still want to complete one, but I have to be realistic about what I can fit in my schedule.

PS I'm still mad as hell about Katrina. The lies are flying fast and thick but I suspect that, as usual, Bush et al. will escape. If you are interested in following some of the disturbing details of this debacle, check out the following blogs:

Bitch Ph.D.
Crooks and Liars
Democratic Underground
The Light of Reason
Sadly, No!
Talking Points Memo

Admittedly, these are left-leaning blogs, but you can check out many conservative blogs for similar perspectives. Here are two:

Andrew Sullivan
Michelle Malkin

Friday, September 02, 2005


I am so appalled by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that I can hardly think of anything else. There is so much blame to go around that I don't know where to start, but I truly feel this shows a colossal failure of American government, both parties, many administrations, federal, state and local. Because we elected these idiots and scoundrels and failed to properly guide their governance, this is ultimately our failure as a society. American social indicators have been sliding for a long time and this is the fruit of our inattention to our environment, our cities, our poor, our vulnerable.

This is a national tragedy and a national scandal. We've been fiddling while Rome burns and now we are paying the price.

If a hurricane hit on New Orleans was one of the top three potential threats to "homeland" security, why was our preparation and funding almost non-existent and why has our response been so incredibly inadequate and, to be frank, also non-existent. How many times can Bush say, "Help is on the way"? That's what you say in the hours after a catastrophe, but here it is days 4 and 5 and his response is to repeat the mantra, "Help is on the way," and ask his dad and Pres. Clinton to pass around a cup begging for handouts??!! What is wrong with this country? Michael Chertoff should lose his job before the Labor Day holiday! Why do we even have a Homeland Security agency?

Why does the PTA have to buy a CD player for the music teacher at my daughter's school because the school can't afford it? Why do poorly paid elementary school teachers have to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on school supplies for their classes? Why did we cut taxes for the rich and corporations if we had identified potential catastrophic threats to American cities but didn't have the funding to prepare for them? Why did lawmakers authorize over $200 million to build a bridge to an uninhabited Alaskan island but cut the Army Corps of Engineers' funding for New Orleans levee improvements from the requested $100+ million to $42 million? When you consider the size of the US budget, $100 million is less than nothing--it is the blink of an eye, it is a mustard seed. There are individuals in this country who have 10 or 20 times that amount for themselves, but we can't spare that much money to save a city and protect the lives of millions of people?????

Throw the bums out. Throw the bums out. Throw the bums out. Throw the bums out.

Let's rebuild this country. Let's help all citizens. Let's show kindness to the poor and the sick. Let's show our children we care. Let's show the world we are truly compassionate, that we truly love other people, that we really care, that the sufferings of my neighbor are my sufferings, that a starving, suffering person thousands of miles away is MY brother, sister, mother, father, child, friend.

One of my favorite quotes is from an interview with Iris Chang, the author of "The Rape of Nanking" about a horrible war crime from World War II:

"Civilization is tissue thin."

We have to hold our civilization together, and we have to remember that our government is us; we set the agenda, we elect the leaders, we hold them accountable. This is our failure, and it is up to us to fix it. Throw the bums out. No more politics as usual.

NOTE: To make it clear, I think Bush has failed miserably. But this problem spans administrations and parties. Our congress is not working. Our government is not working. I'm in favor of bipartisan housecleaning. We have mismanaged our country, and we need to fix it.