Getting Ready for the Grasslands

I’d been looking forward to the Grasslands Trail Run for more than a year.  Late March weather in Texas would be a break from New York’s lingering winter, and the course follows gorgeous sandy trails – for a barefoot runner like me, this would be a real treat.

The race was three months off, but here I was stuck in New York for the winter, and heavy snow was falling — conditions not conducive to barefoot running.  This raised an interesting question — how would I prepare for the race? Continue reading “Getting Ready for the Grasslands”

Getting Ready for the Grasslands

I Sing the Body Electronic

The pivotal scene in the 2019 science-fiction film, Alita: Battle Angel, occurs when the heroine emerges from the lake, cradling a headless metallic body.  This is the shell of a Berserker cyborg warrior.  It will give Alita the strength to go into battle against her foes.  You see, Alita is herself a cyborg — the only part of her body that’s human is her brain.

The movie presents a future in which people swap out flesh and blood for technology.  For the current generation, this is fantasy, but for the next generation (or their children), maybe not.  So let’s ask the question — what’s the downside to this trade?

alita-3.png

Continue reading “I Sing the Body Electronic”

I Sing the Body Electronic

The Catskills All Trails Challenge

Over the last few years, I’ve spent a lot of time climbing the Catskill High Peaks, traditionally defined as summits of 3,500 feet in elevation or higher. Not only have I climbed each of these, I’ve done each in every month of the year, which is called the Grid.

The Catskills All Trails Challenge is a different kind of exercise. It requires you to complete every hiking trail in the region, which total 347 miles in length. I embarked on this challenge with curiosity, for it would take me out to places I’d never seen before.

Since I’d been hiking and running in the Catskills for many years, I already had close to half the trails complete. Over the last year, I’ve made several trips in pursuit of this new goal, which has pushed my completion level to 66%. It’s been slow progress. Many of the trails are remote. Sometimes the trails I need are quite short, but require a long walk to reach a junction I’d never taken before. While there are some loops, most often I have to go out-and-back, which means it takes twice the required distance to complete the trail.

Like any challenge, this exercise provides structure, a specific goal, camaraderie, and a sense of meaning. I’m looking forward to earning the certificate of completion, which I’ll add to my collection of finisher medals and other trinkets. But the real question is what I’ll experience by going out to new places. What I’m finding so far is that the All Trails Challenge is a different experience from peak-bagging. Instead of rocky summits with distant views, I’m discovering lovely forests and meadows and so much water — ponds, lakes, streams, bogs, and falls.

What follows are a handful of images and some observations from trips taken over the last year.

Continue reading “The Catskills All Trails Challenge”

The Catskills All Trails Challenge

50 Miles at Hainesport

On December 31, 2020, I participated in the Hainesport Hundred and 24-hour Endurance Run, completing my goal of 50 miles.  The run was notable for me:  it was my 91st event of marathon distance or longer; it was my 6th barefoot marathon and 25th barefoot race and my longest-ever distance without shoes; and I ran this race without calories or fluid for the first 39 miles as a way to practice another dimension of endurance.

Before getting into my report, I need to give credit to race directors John Swanson and Vanessa Kline of Batona Trail Runs, who organized an excellent event:  it was a perfect site for this kind of race, the aid station was well-stocked, the volunteers were enthusiastic, directions were clear, and given concerns about the lingering Covid pandemic, they managed to execute the event with reasonable social-distancing protocols that met the acceptance of local authorities.

The event took place in the town of Hainesport, New Jersey, and the course followed a 0.9913-mile loop through the local municipal park.  This format requires a certain mindset, because there’s no distraction from changing scenery when you repeat the same loop 51 times (or 101 times for those going the full distance).  In this report I aim to give you a sense as to what a loop-type experience is like — so come on with me, let’s go on a quick tour of Hainesport Municipal Park…

Continue reading “50 Miles at Hainesport”

50 Miles at Hainesport

A Romp in the Shawangunks

Is it just me, or is it getting more difficult waking up this time of year, now that it’s staying dark so much later? 

The other day I dragged myself out of bed for my morning run.  It was the normal time, but pitch black outside, and I felt low in energy.  Unwilling to face cold pavement or the steep climb up the hill behind us, I decided to drive over to the nearby Shawangunk Grasslands… 

Continue reading “A Romp in the Shawangunks”

A Romp in the Shawangunks

Barefoot on the John Muir Trail

The John Muir Trail is a famous 210-mile hiking route that traverses California’s Sierra Mountains, which Muir referred to as “the range of light.”  I visited the Sierras in 2018 and was impressed by the spectacular landscape.  After some consideration, thru-hiking the JMT became a goal for 2020.

Just getting ready for the JMT was a big operation, as the trip entailed competitive and thus hard-to-get permits, extensive route-planning, careful selection of gear and provisions, and travel logistics that were complicated by the COVID pandemic.  Additionally I decided to take on the JMT in an unconventional format by hiking as much as possible barefoot.  Why barefoot?  For the extra challenge, the special feeling of lightfootedness that comes from moving naturally, and the distinction of doing something important a little bit differently.

The 23-day journey turned out to be an incredible experience; indeed, it contained enough impressions to fill a book.  In the interest of brevity, however, this blog post will consist of a short synopsis of each day on the trail and a photograph or two.

Continue reading “Barefoot on the John Muir Trail”

Barefoot on the John Muir Trail

Super Pemi Loop

Some highlights from a 37-mile circuit over the holiday weekend along the so-called “Super Pemi Loop” in New Hampshire’s Pemigewasset Wilderness.  The purpose of this trip was i) to make progress on the peak-bagging list for New Hampshire’s 48 mountains over 4,000 feet and ii) to test gear and train for my upcoming trip to the John Muir Trail in California’s High Sierra.

Continue reading “Super Pemi Loop”

Super Pemi Loop

The Diogenes Challenge

The Nine is not for the faint of heart.  It’s a daunting 20-mile route which summits nine of the Catskill High Peaks — and it’s longer if you get lost, for what’s especially challenging is that five of the peaks have no trails, which means it’s necessary to “bushwhack” or move through the forest using map, compass, and GPS.  Even with this gear, navigation is no simple task, for the terrain is steep and rocky, and the forests thick and tangled, which renders “the eye of little service,” as Catskills author John Burroughs wryly noted.

I had completed the Nine, or parts thereof, on several occasions:  once trying to run it for speed, once at night, once in the winter.  In April 2016, as a novice barefoot hiker, I tried to complete the Nine without shoes, but after six of the peaks I’d had enough.  A year later I tried again and this time gave up after a single peak, defeated by the rocky trails.

Over time, my practice of running and hiking continued to evolve in a minimalist direction.  I developed an interest in “natural navigation” (moving through the forest without technology — meaning no map, no compass, no GPS).  I began to incorporate intermittent fasting into my dietary and training plans.  And I became somewhat more experienced at going barefoot.  One day these themes coalesced in my mind, and I came up with a grand plan:  to complete the Nine not only barefoot, but navigating naturally, and without carrying food or water.  I would call this the Diogenes Challenge, after the ancient Greek philosopher who advocated for simplicity and self-discipline.

Upon reflection, however, the Diogenes Challenge seemed like a little too much, even for an arch-minimalist like me.  I quietly let it slide and focused on other things.

Until one day my friend Kal Ghosh asked, when were we going to do it?

Continue reading “The Diogenes Challenge”

The Diogenes Challenge

A Virtual Marathon

With the Coronavirus pandemic sweeping the country, it was no surprise that the races I’d signed up for were all canceled.  However, one of the organizers offered up a “virtual” option, allowing you to run the distance you’d signed up for, in whatever location you happened to be, within a few weeks of the event date.  At first I dismissed this as a pointless exercise.  But after a week of sheltering at home, I was eager to get outside and cover some miles.  So I picked Saturday morning to execute the virtual option, deciding to run my marathon at a local university track.

Continue reading “A Virtual Marathon”

A Virtual Marathon

Texas Clouds

As a teenager I studied the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.  Now, decades later, here I was on an airplane flight from New York to Texas, rereading Beyond Good and Evil, when I came across one of his most widely-quoted aphorisms:  “When you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.”

I paused to ponder what Nietzsche might have meant.  Was this a comment on the risk of excessive introspection?  (He’d prefaced the statement by cautioning that people who fight monsters may themselves become monsters.)  Or was he expressing a concern about the spirit of nihilism, for elsewhere he wrote that the self contains an “abysmal sickness, weariness, discouragement” – symptoms of the impoverishment of life that results when the “will to power” turns against itself.

The dictionary defines abyss as “a deep or seemingly bottomless chasm.”  I imagined a tunnel deep within myself, reaching back into my distant memories, or perhaps even farther back into a realm of ancestral knowledge.  Maybe this tunnel would lead all the way back to the beginnings of life, maybe it would contain clues to the primordial forces that animate living beings.

Looking up from the book for a moment, I glanced out the airplane window and found that staring straight at me was — a cloud.

This was a year or two ago.  Since then this strange idea has stuck with me, namely, that deep within the abyss you might find a cloud….

Continue reading “Texas Clouds”

Texas Clouds