Friday, December 18, 2009

a road map & a full tank of gas

Having overslept from staying up too late; And having taken a couple minutes to sit and read; And having thrown down some coffee and read Williams and Hass; I pick up Brenda Hillman's "Cascadia" and read a few poems and come to "Glacial Erratics," which ends:

The word being
A box with four of its corners hidden;

Everything else is round.

And that is beautiful and mystical and challenging and mind- and aesthetic-expanding (especially when taken with the full poem in context).

Last week I came across Marvin Bell's "Thirty-Two Statements About Writing Poetry," and so I could remember a few, scratched these in a notebook:

14. Every free verse writer must re-invent free verse.

15. Prose is prose because of what it includes; Poetry is poetry because of what it leaves out.

26. A finished poem is also a draft of a later poem.

31. This Depression era jingle could be about writing poetry: "Use it up / Wear it out / Make it do / Or do without."

And sometimes when I read and sit with some of this stuff it feels like I am being given a road map and a full tank of gas and being told to "DRIVE!"

Even still, I might opt to hop on a longboard and skate the road at night with a headlamp because, well, the map still works and everyone drives, so the view and experience is different on longboard and that different perspective and voice is something I am after.

And then I think, hey man, it's just a metaphor. Get on with it!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Banging the Plate

When our cat wanders off we go outside and bang the plate. Like ringing a dinner triangle, he generally pops out from a neighbor's yard and cruises home.

So banging the plate calls back lost things. Boomerangs a cat with wanderlust. For me, it has become a bell of mindfulness inviting me back home as well.

Up until Sunday/Saturday, banging the plate has generally worked. It can take a little time and it might be towards midnight, but he would appear out of the chilled dark ready to come in.

Saturday night/Sunday morning, nothing. The cold is kicking, rain is imminent, it is 12:30am. I'm beat and need to sleep, no cat. So he's out for the night.

Cats being stubborn, free-spirited, strong-minded, "in-de-pen-dent" (it is Christmas/Rudolph time, after all), a cat could quite easily play the role of Muse. The artist/writer has to invite the muse back, bang the plate to get it to come home to the house he or she has built for creating their particular art. And we've all got those plate-banging activities that we use to call them. Writing in a particular kind of notebook, particular time of day, specific kind of pen, or place in the house. We bang the plate to get the Muse to come sit with us. We hope that it works. And when we find something that works with success, we stick to it. In some cases, we may hang on like crazy even at the risk of choking it. Note: don't choke the Muse!

Sunday morning, I'm banging the plate in the rain. I'm wandering the cul-de-sacs of our neighborhood. I'm up and down the streets and sidewalks of the cat's normal haunts. Nothing. Occasionally I think I hear a faint meow, but birds and rain and sounds are having their way with my imagination. False cats.

We're on towards 11am. It is obvious I need a new approach. Other than a raincoat, I'm not dressed for mucking, but I walk up through one of the cul-de-sacs near Rails-to-Trails that leads up a flooded, grassy path. This isn't where he goes, but nothing has worked so far. I bang the plate.

There is a faint trailhead, off more toward the field and back toward our side of the neighborhood. More flooded, but it gets me back closer to home anyway. I bang the plate. I come out in the field nearer to our house. Boots and jeans soaked through, but not cold. Nothing to lose. A hunch coming from the gut.

I cruise through ankle-deep water and mud of a flooded field and walk up a wooded path behind the houses across the street from us, between our neighborhood and Route 50. This is his stomping grounds. Where he likes to hang. But there is a lot of ground to cover and he's one cat.

At this point, I'm not really driving with my head. It's more intuition, and I've been putting myself in his eyes, where he'd likely go, what he'd do. It's new territory. Off the paved streets and sidewalks, into the muck of fields and woods during a soaking rain. I bang the plate.

After playing hunches and letting the gut drive, I wander next to the woods for maybe a minute, banging the plate, when I hear a high pitched meow (he was neutered early) and see his familiar gray and white prance pop up over brush and out of the trees. Ankle-deep flooded fields, are not a cat's idea of a way home. I scoop him up and cruise back to the house.

My old notion of banging the plate didn't cut it. I couldn't just go through the motions to bring him home. But Sunday's experience opened up a whole new level of following the gut, intuition. I was sort of following blindly and trusting, but at the same time, intensely aware and alert. The process led me right to him. And thinking on it, he was likely lost and not willing to walk through the deep water necessary to get himself to familiar turf. Going to him was likely the only thing that would have found him.

So I think about the new version of banging the plate. And I think about it in terms of the Muse. And how to invite it back, but also to trust and follow the gut as to where and how to seek it out, when it takes more than just showing up. When the process deepens.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Dialed-In Like Cat Nip

Serendipity. Being dialed in. In the groove or flow. Every now and again, if we're lucky, we get a glimpse of this kind of feeling. For me, when it happens, it often happens outside. Running can open me up to it. Walking. Occasionally while playing a team sport like vacant lot football or pick up hoops. Writing, reading, and talking with people about same presents one of the main veins or avenues of opportunity for this feeling.

Saturday morning I was the only one up. Kicked back, drinking coffee, reading and writing on the couch. Christmas lights glowing and just watching our cat, Carlos, for a good stretch of time. And contemplating the life and actions of a cat. They are a trip to watch, their forever-in-the-moment approach to life. And I thought about how freeing, to be able to just be there, not so caught up in the next thing. So I took the photo above and a couple others. And I scribbled this down in a notebook:

Cats have got zen down.
It's now. And the next.
Fuck tonight, or tomorrow--
neither exist.

Everything is fixed in a gaze.
Or a coiled-spring crouch.
Or a stretched out nap.

Weather forecasts,
shopping lists,
checking balance,


There's not much to that. That's an exercise I call skimming the surface of first thoughts. Just snatching the rough material that's there at hand before it wanders off somewhere else. Hopefully it opens a door, or becomes the on-ramp to bigger flow.

I sipped some coffee, picked up Gary Snyder's "The Real Work," and started reading where I left off. Here's what I found, where he's discussing the value of meditation and his study of zazen:

"It wasn't alien to my respect for primitive people and animals, all of whom/which are capable of simply being for long hours of time. I saw it in that light as a completely natural act. To the contrary, it's odd that we don't do it more, that we don't, simply like a cat, be there for a while, experiencing ourselves as whatever we are, without any extra thing added to that."

Uuuummmm... Yeah. I guess Snyder gets what I'm talking about. Perhaps gets it enough that he can expound on the thoughts I'm having at present via an interview he did in April 1977, just as I pick up his f-ing book on page 97. Go figure. Thanks, Gary ;)

So that's my dialed in moment for the weekend. I love when that happens. It charges me, inspires me, affirms thoughts occasionally. And keeps me tuned in to being open to it happening more. I think it's a kind of experience where you've gotta recognize it in order to be able to cultivate it and invite it back. Make sure it digs hanging out.

Any of those kind of moments for others? What activities or experiences put you in touch or get you dialed in?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

"Name Us a King", A Beginning of Sorts

Portrait of Carl Sandburg, by Edward Steichen.

Skate punks don't write poetry. As a rule. At least not the ones I rolled with. But rules are often fickle. Skateboarding, to some, is a form of expression. Poetry can find its way onto grip-tape, or tagging brick walls. It could happen.

I was sitting in the back of Mr. Springer's world history class. 14. Probably rocking a pair of Air Walk shoes, trench coat, bangs long enough to tuck into a shirt pocket. A good look, still ;) I don't know what was discussed in class that day, but I wrote a short poem, between anarchy symbols in the margins. I read it. Thought about it. Re-read it. Got it the way I wanted it. I was still tough--it was called "Duel to the Death." Or was it "Dual?"--there were two people. Maybe Springer was talking medieval warfare. I don't think so. I felt like I did more during that class than the rest of my freshman year at Easton High School. Those who knew me back then would likely concur. But something stuck with me, for having written it, without setting out to.

The next year I was at St. James School in Hagerstown. I still skated. I ran cross country. I got ready for lacrosse. I read and wrote poetry. I found a cat named Carl Sandburg. He wrote the first poem I ever wrote out long-hand and read out loud to myself. I still remember taking a copy of it to our English teacher, Mr. Taylor. It was the first poem that I found and read on my own that I can recall the name of. The poem was called, "Name Us a King." It went something like this:

Name us a king
who shall live forever--
a peanut king, a potato king,
a gasket king, a brass-tack king,
a wall-paper king with a wall-paper crown
and a wall-paper queen with wall-paper jewels.

Name us a king,
so keen, so fast, so hard,
he shall last forever--
and all the yes-men square shooters
telling the king, "Okay Boss, you shall
last forever! and then some!"
telling it to an onion king, a pecan king,
a zipper king or a chewing gum king,
any consolidated amalgamated syndicate king--
listening to the yes-men telling him
he shall live forever, he is so keen,
so fast, so hard,
an okay Boss who shall never bite the dust,
never go down and be a sandwich for the worms
like us--the customers,
like us--the customers.

Though I've thought about it by name, line, and word, I haven't read that poem, one of the ones that started it all for me, in probably 20 years. I remember trying to imitate it in my own style, with my own words and thoughts. I dove into Sandburg--this cat writing free verse, who had lived as a hobo after dropping out of school, who had served in the Army, who wrote advertising copy and worked as a journalist and wrote about life. American life. A Whitman for the city.

My grandmother gave me a copy of Sandburg's complete poems for my birthday that spring. I know because it says so on the inside page: "To Michael Valliant, Happy Birthday, 1988." Thinking about writing about this poem early this evening got me to go grab that book out of a box in the garage. And go back to one of the poems that started it all, for me. The one I found, not for a class, but on my own. And wrote down. At age 15. Funny what can spark a love of language. A love of writing. And a sense of kinship, a connection with a poet who died five years before I was born. Goes without saying I never met him. All the same, I'm glad he wrote it for me.

Monday, November 30, 2009

I Suck at Guitar Hero...

Running affords more scenery, but not deeply seeing what is there. More deeply than driving or riding a bike, but not as deeply as walking. Or stopping.

Sometimes seeing more is the thing. Sometimes seeing deeply. I need both, in turns, and maybe even at the same time.

The act of running, walking, stopping--the form and shape and substance of a run, journey, trek, is like the act of writing, of what form and shape writing takes. Whether prose, poetry, prose poem, fragment, meditation, essay, or if it includes all these components depends on what it has to say and how it needs to be said.

I suck at Guitar Hero. And I am cool with that. I see how I might get better at it if I spent some time playing it over and again and then think about the waste of time that would be versus spending on the things I want to focus on (don't worry, I've got plenty of other things to waste my time doing ;)

C.D. Wright, Gary Snyder, William Bronk, and Robert Hass regularly amaze, inspire, and confound me. Forrest Gander is starting to do the same as I read more of him.

I think about how to take/push my writing to the next level (whatever that may mean). How to make my words and thoughts worthy of the page, worthy of the canon, worthy of their (the words') readers and the time they give to reading them. I think how cool it would be to be taught by my writing models, by those whose words inspire me, provoke me, make me want to write, to be a part of that tradition, that expression. To have an audience with them. But also to have that time to dedicate. To writing.

And then I think that by finding them (the writers); by reading and re-reading; by studying and talking about them; they are already teaching me.

What I need to write the way and stuff I want to write is to commit. Again. Each day. To commit to myself. To commit to the writing. Commit to the time, commit to the study. Commit to putting word to paper or screen. To let fly. To revise. To throw away and start again and continue until things properly kick ass.

Get to the odd rhythm. The unpredictable line. The song that surprises,
circumscribes a rhombus in place of a box step.

Snare the word in the corner that nobody else saw, or wanted. Marley's refused builder's stone.

Plumb the deep for symbols. The ones that wash the soul in recognition, that speak the names and mind and image.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


William Carlos Williams had a thing for red wheelbarrows. He didn't use a lot of words, but flung it out there as a symbol of everything being tied together, interconnected, if you will. And whether a wheelbarrow, red or otherwise, a farmer, or a pot of flowers, things that Williams experienced is what made itself onto the page. Objects and direct experience influenced his writing. How could they not, eh?

I, too, have been under the influence. Of the stuff I run into on a walk, or a run, or subjects or thoughts that come up in conversation. Of music, sometimes new-to-me stuff like Langhorne Slim or Blind Pilot, other times stuff I am coming back to, like Bob Marley, Mingus, or Hendrix.

I've been heavily influenced by Mr. Williams' notion and example that poetry, or writing, for him focused on the local, what's right around you, rather than having to fly off across the (big) pond. I've been pulled by what has put itself in front of the camera lens, or in some cases, what has turned up as the image later.

I've been inspired by a poet named Frank O'Hara, whose book "Lunch Poems," has served as a guide, a call to action, and an inspiration, for the 30 Days Project I'm in the midst of. O'Hara's book was largely written on his daily lunch breaks as he walked around New York. And it fits well in a pocket, so it sometimes accompanies me on my lunch break and/or walk up town into St. Michaels. The other folks I'm reading, from Gary Snyder to Robert Hass, from C.D. Wright to Tony Hoagland, are all taking root in one way or another.

And I've been vibing on the local, the people around me. By two teachers, who make the time to write and play music and recently threw their new CD my way, which makes my mind cruise along with it, as well as kicks me in the arse to question how productive I am with my own free time. By an artist friend and several year source of pants-kicking, Rob Brownlee-Tomasso, who makes a commitment to spend time in his studio each night working on a new painting or series of paintings. By a cat who Mike Keene and I had a chance (loaded word) encounter with on the Appalachian Trail, who ended up moving to the Eastern Shore for a time, buying a sailboat from Mike, has fixed it up, and is neck-deep in his dream to spend time sailing it all over the place (currently cruising down the intercoastal to South Carolina, I believe). You can follow Woody's saga here (any blog called "The Peanut Butter Diet" is worth something!) And by other writers in the round, including another now Easton writer/blogger, whose frequent soulful posts and tip on Gary Snyder's book, "The Real Work," has opened up some new avenues, or country roads, or singletrack trails of thought.

This influence is a funny thing. It's what I encounter, it's what I read, it's who I run into, it's who I run with, it's what I do with my time, it's being present and mindful around our girls, to hear the endless creativity they employ not just daily, but minute to minute. It's all connected. And because we're all in different places and the culmination of own points influence and experiences, it's all unique. Uh-oh. The same, all connected, but all unique. Well, that sounds like a paradox to me...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Two Churches

The shaman looked for God in the church,
but He was not there.

The activist looked for God by meditating,
but He was not there.

The priest looked among the waves
and the mountain climber between pews,

Blake said that 'one law for the lion and the ox
is oppression.' Blake's law looks nice on a coffee table.
It's fair game over cocktails.

God isn't invited to cocktail parties. He's not up for debate.
Not allowed to be relative or

We'll let men name our laws, we don't lose sleep over oppression.
But don't let God be found somewhere we're not looking. We want
God on our terms.

The shaman surveys the land and searches his spirit.

The activist changes the world through good works.

The priest contemplates in prayer and
the climber summits truth.

Each knows what they need.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Once Removed

Robert T. Valliant, my grandfather, at his father's shucking and packing houses in Oxford, Md., where Bates Marina is now. Circa 1905.

My dad turned his knee around backwards. Kneecap got whacked side-on by essentially a 2" x 10" or so and spun it clear off its hinges. He was a boardsman for a Chesapeake Bay log canoe at the time, likely racing with Doug Hanks at the helm. That was the end of his log canoe sailing days.

Our family has become further removed from the water with each generation. My great grandfather, Jeremiah Valliant, was a partner in William Valliant & Brothers packing houses in Bellevue, Maryland, until a business falling out saw him open his own competing shucking and packing houses in Oxford. He had four young'ens, an even two boys (Robert and Jeremiah) and two girls (Louise and Harriet). The two boys would end up running Valliant Brothers Marina, where Bates Marina currently sits at the end of the Strand, same Oxford location as the shucking and packing houses.

Robert was my grandfather. He's the young lad pictured above. He was born in 1899 and lived to be 95. Marina owner and beyond, he was a lifelong fisherman. He kept detailed logs of every time he went out, what they caught, who he went with, what they used. He took my dad fishing, and he lived long enough to take me fishing a number of times from when I was little. I still remember turning around and seeing him peeing in an empty milk carton at the back of the boat. I never asked where the bathroom was after that.

That love of fishing, boating, and being on the water translated directly to my father. But he doesn't own a marina, he's an accountant. His education and occupation don't put him right on the water, though he'd no doubt love to spend more time there.

When I was 15, I came into a 13' Boston Whaler with a 40 horsepower Evinrude outboard motor on it. It was tied up behind our house, in shallow water or mud if the tide was out. $5 worth of gas and you had more than a day's adventure. There wasn't a creek between Oxford and Easton that we didn't explore or a beach we didn't pull up on. Maybe a couple, but not many. I wasn't that concerned with a driver's license when I turned 16, it couldn't hold a Zippo to being on the river.

I feel connected to Oxford, the Tred Avon, the Eastern Shore, the Bay. A bond in the blood and in the bones. But I am further removed. I wonder if I have it like my grandfather did. Or my father does. The water, creeks, rivers, bridges, is where I feel it inherently. But I don't do enough with it. I get it when we're on the water with the girls, or this summer on a stand-up paddleboard. And I look for more.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Unrelated Fragments

Downpours glut. Senses
and themselves. Hum
or drone to roar. Background
to forefront.




Coffee. Dog. Candles.
Ground. Light inside
stands out. Turns wet. Succumbs,
assimilates into noise.
Gray. Sleep.
Or more awake because


A camera is permission to look closer. To see through the surface. A deeper glance.

Patterns. Metaphors. Productions. On the house.
Newly framed, things

beyond common.


That there were train tracks next to Holiday Inns was a running joke. There always was. It became comforting.

Shaken awake at 2 a.m., the bed rattled out smiles.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Money Back Guarantee

One of a few photos shot for today, 10/27/09, while waiting for a writer/editor at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.

With a name like "Rollo," you likely want to be tough or have something worth saying. I don't know if Rollo May ever got his ass kicked, but he could sure get folks to pondering with the wisdom he could spit.

"Freedom is a man's capacity to take a hand in his own development. It is our capacity to mold ourselves." --Rollo May

I first came across Rollo by way of an artist friend 10-or-so years ago. He liked to quote R.M. by way of a question and proceeded to scrawl it onto an abstract painting he gave me. The quostion (quote/question) goes like this: "What if imagination and art are not frosting at all, but the fountainhead of human experience?"

That question sticks with me. It comes from May's book, "The Courage to Create," which now sits on my bookshelf with a fair amount of underlinings, dog-eared pages, and chicken-scratch in the margins.

I generally relegate my own writing to the margins of the day. I get to it before the day officially starts or at the end of it, when the kids are sleeping. The inherent problem is that there isn't always time in those margins as the page itself seeps off into the sides. The same thing can happen with running, yoga, longboarding, etc., but I have found a way to make time, push the margins, to give those activities permission to happen.

Enter the 30-day challenge. My aim is to write something worthwhile--essay, aphorism, blog post, poem, fragment, etc.--and to take at least one "cool" photograph for each of the next 30 days. Cutting myself some slack, I didn't say the writing or photos have to be good, just that the practice gets instilled and I make a commitment to myself, the time, and the attempt. The writing and the photographs don't have to relate to each other, though they might. I'll be posting photos on Facebook. And I'll see if I can't share some of the writing and/or photos here.

That's my challenge. We'll see where it leads. What challenges or gauntlets have you thrown down for yourselves?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Kinda Like Free Beer

Running is an aesthetic experience. Wait. Ascetic? Well, maybe that too sometimes, but I'm talking ripe with the sublime, not beating yourself with sticks, wearing burlap running shorts.

There are times out on a run, where my body and mind have emptied themselves of everything but the rhythm of breathing and foot strikes, and I'll come across sunlight, mist, and clear sky above, playing games with the surface of a river or pond. Or come face-to-face with a deer who's decided it's a better idea to freeze than to bolt.

Often it is a run-in with nature (or Nature), but it can happen in town or a city as well. Times when the run feels like it happened, in part, to put me in front of something or to give me the opportunity to experience something I would have completely missed if I hadn't gotten out there. What do you do with that?? Personally, I like to say, "thank you," and smile.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Boardom: Get Up, Stand Up

Valliant and Ryan Hickey approach a beach for a quick recharge during the 7.5-mile paddle from Easton Point to Town Creek in Oxford, Md.

Count me in. If it sounds fun and/or epic, I don't want to miss it. One of the reasons I try to stay in reasonable shape running, longboarding, etc. is that I don't want to have to sit out any adventure that stacks up to be cool.

That's what happened when Joel Shilliday proposed a 7.5-mile stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) trek from Easton Point in Easton, Md., to Town Creek in Oxford. I hadn't spent much time on a SUP and can't recall the last time I paddle more than a mile in a kayak, canoe, etc. But I wasn't going to miss connecting two towns in a way almost no one has done.

Joel, Ryan Hickey, Jim Campbell, and I set off at around 6:40am with the sun coming up, boats departing for a local fishing tournament, and flat, following seas. I grew up on the Tred Avon River, making the same Oxford-to-Easton route hundreds of times in a 13' Boston Whaler.

The view from a SUP board on a scenic waterway equals the full body workout you get from paddling while standing up. And the Tred Avon River boasts creeks and cuts next to multi-million dollar estates; by water, you are able to see what's at the end of the long, wooded lanes you pass driving along Oxford Road. All you need is a Robin Leach voice-over.

Jim had to turn back about half-way to make a meeting and Ryan, Joel, and I continued on, arriving at the Oxford public ramp next to Schooners Landing at about 9am, with one brief sandy beach layover, mostly just to enjoy the trip and the morning more. That was my first stand-up paddleboarding trek of any substance. I look forward to many more.

Ted Knab, Zach Skaggs, and me Mikey V. at the western end of the Cross Island Trail, Chesapeake Bay and Bay Bridge in the background.

My primary adventures in "boardom" come on a longboard skateboard. We had a fairly recent group skate on the Cross Island Trail on Kent Island earlier this month, further details of which can be found on the Rise Up Longboarders blog. The next uber-longboarding adventure will come in mid-October as we take the RUL crew to western Maryland for 21 miles of smooth, scenic pavement (42 miles round trip if we do the whole trail) on the Western Maryland Rail Trail.

That trip is another case of something that looks way too fun to pass up. I can't imagine many folks have given the whole trail a go on longboards, as the discipline of long distance skateboarding isn't as widespread around here as it is, say, in the Seattle area. Novelty aside, though, it just looks like a blast--a windy, scenic paved trail, no traffic, as the fall foliage starts to re-color itself.

So the fall adventures are shaping up. We've got some trail running designs, both locally and beyond; some longboarding road trips; and some fall stand-up paddleboarding, not to mention a fall road marathon or half-marathon. The kind of stuff that makes me want to rise up early out of bed and cruise out into the cool, fall weather.

Monday, September 7, 2009

(The Lighter Side of) Running in the Dark

Mike V. and Derek Hills await the down stream float/swim of the rest of the Rise Up Runners crew during a 10-mile trail run at Tuckahoe State Park after serious flooding. Photo by Joel Shilliday.

I run in the dark. Sometimes that is a metaphor. There are plenty of life examples when I feel like I am cruising along with only a narrowly illuminated view of what's going on around me. And I push ahead, running into the sunrise, hoping for a brief glimpse into the bigger scheme of things.

Mostly that doesn't happen. And running in the dark is just running in the dark. But it is enough. Though it's cool when it happens, running does not open up in "a-ha" moments too frequently. Some runs feel good, some hurt. Some runs are with a group and some are solo. The only thing I have any control over is getting up, drinking coffee, and getting out the door for a run. In the dark.

There is something to running out from under the streetlights in town and getting onto Oxford Road, where the light pollution fades and the stars pop. There is something to being out and active before most people are awake. I dig it. But I don't run in the dark for just those reasons.

My wife is a teacher and our two girls are in 2nd grade and Pre-K. They play soccer and take dance some afternoons. When I leave in the morning, they are asleep and they are generally still sleeping when I get home. Our schedules don't allow for the convenience of after work runs. Plus, I don't want to miss time with the girls. So I run in the dark by necessity. It won't happen otherwise.

It's a lot easier when I know I am meeting other folks. I don't want to be the one that leaves folks hanging, especially when some of our runners drive some distance to meet at 5 a.m. It motivates me to know there are other folks rolling out of bed to meet for a run. That's the reason our Rise Up Runners group got together.

Then there is the feeling of knowing the run is in the books. Banked for the day. Granted, coffee, tea, and/or a kick in the pants is sometimes necessary in the late afternoon, but my body (and mind) have adapted and now even look forward to running in the dark. It's become a part of running and a part of me. I wouldn't change it. Except maybe to have some trails closer by...:)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Catoctin Mountain / Brooks I.D. (Inspire Daily)

The view from Hog Rock, the highest overlook we could find on trail during a morning trail run on Catoctin Mountain in western Maryland.

A total loss. That's the way I would describe trail running on Maryland's Eastern Shore in the thick of summer. Wicked black flies, rampant poison ivy, and stealthy ticks, are just a few of the reasons you want to steer clear of some of the best fall, winter, spring running spots, including our mecca, Tuckahoe State Park.

When my feet aren't running on trails, they are waiting and plotting the next time they can shoot down single track or quick-step a downhill. That's the enthusiasm I took with me on a recent family trip to Catoctin Mountain Park and Cunningham Falls State Park in Thurmont, Maryland.

Trail running wasn't the reason for the trip, but Andrew Southworth and I had designs on waking up early one morning and exploring the falls, going as high up Catoctin as we could figure, and getting our bearings with a mountain scamper. I use the term mountain as a relative term--big by Eastern Shore standards, a hill by New England/western NC standards, and we won't compare west coast.

Andrew Southworth adeptly points out Cunningham Falls behind him.

Overindulgence coupled with sleepless kids in WPA-era cabins is not the best way to get ready for an early morning run on unfamiliar terrain. But Andrew and I were determined and happy, if dazed and confused and took off from the Misty Mount Cabins, map and NUUN-infused water in hand.

We circumnavigated a ranging loop that connected the park's Falls Nature Trail to Cunningham Falls, then turned us up the mountain to Hog Rock (1610 ft), shot us around to the Blue Ridge Summit Overlook (1520ft), and then rolled us down mostly downhill single track to connect us back to the park road to the cabins.

Unlike Tuckahoe, rocks far outnumbered roots, the climbing was serious, and the downhills could have landed you stranded with a misstep. In short, our 6-ish mile loop with a good bit of climb and descent, was a blast. One that should become part of a Rise Up Runner group run this fall. A seemingly unknown trail running playground, only about a two-hour drive from Easton.

Brooks - "Inspire Daily" Program

The best partnerships, and the only kind I am looking for in my running adventures, are those that benefit both parties. In my case, I run in Brooks running shoes. I've set my personal record times for 10 miles, half-marathon, and marathon wearing Brooks Adrenaline GTS's. And my Brooks Cascadia 2's carried my fresh then weary legs over the 50 miles of Appalachian Trail, C&O Canal Towpath, then winding country roads to finish the JFK 50-miler. I run in Brooks because they fit my feet best and I dig what they are about as a company.

I was interested when I heard about the Brooks I.D. (Inspire Daily) program, where Brooks invites non-elite runners who are active in their running communities, whose running and activities inspire others (or aim to), to apply to become part of a team of Brooks ambassadors, spreading the company's mojo (or in Brooks's case, MoGo, BioMogo, to be exact), and evangelizing to the running masses. In exchange, Brooks I.D. runners get sweet discounts on shoes, apparel, etc., help test new gear, and get networked in to the other I.D. runners.

I went from interested to psyched when I applied and was accepted as a new Brooks I.D. runner. Now I get to work with a company with whom I was aligning myself already and of whose brand I am a fan. My adventures in distance and trail running, with writing, and hanging with the Rise Up Runners, connect with the shoes that are already on my feet. Pretty cool.

Next up? Looking for some new trails for fall RUR road trips. Figuring out what races I can get on the fall schedule. And enjoying early morning runs as the weather gets (a little) cooler. Stay tuned...

Monday, July 27, 2009

View from Above

Unscripted rides or runs are sometimes the best kind. A 4.5-mile out-and-back on Rails-to-Trails in Easton last Friday evening was an unanticipated treat.

The last couple weeks have brought some fun runs and longboarding sessions with them. A couple 10/11-mile whirls around a paved, windy track in Ocean City while on vacation; an early morning bushwhack down and around an overgrown trail that revealed deer and fox in a sun-up field; a refreshing rain retracing an old route for the Oxford Day 10K along my hometown streets. Just trying to stay mindful and enjoy the mornings, and occasional evening, of getting out on the roads or trails.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Team "Talbot Dudes," Valliant (runner), Charlie Cauffman (swimmer) and Keene (biker), brought home 3rd place hardware for the men's relay division at the Eagleman Triathlon.

To be able to run a respectable 10-mile race or half-marathon at the drop of a hat, without having to ramp up training. That's been my stated long-term fitness/running goal for the past few years. This spring I lived those words. April was a trail half-marathon; May a 10-mile road race; and June unexpectedly brought a half-marathon as a relay leg of the Eagleman 70.3 triathlon.

I've run less this spring than any of the past four years, in part to allow some down time (anticipating fall races), in part balancing new pursuits like longboard skateboarding, and most recently a daily yoga practice. The "time off" from running has helped me savor the 7-8 mile road training runs, even though I'd prefer to be on the trails. It's helped me get back into a real running mentality, where I'm now looking forward to getting back out for the 20-mile training runs and the self-inflicted deliriousness that comes near the end of long runs.

My off season has me amped for training camp--living well within limits to gear up for testing them again. I am not fully sure what that means for fall racing. So far, the Susquehanna 25-mile Super-Hike in September is hanging out there as the focal point, but knowing the nature of the long hike/trail runs, I know it would be great training for an October ultra. Joel Shilliday has sent around info on the Oil City 100 Trail Runs, in his neck of the woods. Very tempting for a 50K or 50-mile trail run. What that race is will likely unfold over the next month or so. And there has been real discussion about a November Rise Up Runner road trip to the Outer Banks, to run the OBX Marathon & Half-Marathon.

But for now, the later fall is open. That's felt good this spring. But to paraphrase a woman who was riding on the bus to or from the 4.4-mile Bay Swim that RUR Landy Cook just completed, it is a good idea "to do something that both excites you and scares the heck out of you every year." I like that as a life philosophy.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

A Little Balance

I've never been able to pull off "balance." Not in the holistic-life-schedule sense. I tend to overload, juggle, and then try to get into some semblance of a routine. I am not there at the moment (any real routine), but I am working on it.

For me, the pieces right now are running, longboarding, yoga, and writing. Those are the practices/disciplines I am trying to keep building my free time around. That all comes with the caveat that family and work are the bedrock of any schedule.

Introspection can come from any number of outside factors. It hits me regardless, faulty wiring no doubt, but this winter, a heaping dose has come from being sick. Various crud has made its presence known more in the past six months than probably any other time in my life and certainly my adult life. Fargin' kids ;) And this on the heels of a stretch in 2008 where I didn't miss a Rise Up Runner morning run for like eight months.

Part of that has felt like a lack of real morning schedule. It's been a winter of not having an upcoming race since the Rehoboth Marathon at the end of November. It's been focusing on cross training and picking up longboarding. It's been work, it's been lack of sleep, whatever.

It's feeling good to be hitting spring and looking forward to events on the calendar. Ultra Skate is in the books. You can read Landy's take on it on the new Rise Up Longboarders team blog. I ended up with 83 miles in about 10.5 hours of actual skating time. Landy, Charlie, and Zach each broke 100 miles, having spent the morning (in accordance with the plan that I had to bail on) skating on Kent Island.

The Trail Dawgs half-marathon is only a few weeks away. Then some real distance training, with a pack, for the Rachel Carson Trail Challenge in June. The warmer weather is motivating. The balance of running and longboarding is fun and inspiring. And the return to health is coming.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Learning to Wait; Ultra Skate VI

No heatlamp-warmed boards here. The crew at Longboard Larry getting to work on the very Walkabout I am skating.

I don't like to wait. I'm not alone. The proof can be found everywhere: fast food, drive-thrus, free overnight shipping, next day air (hello Amazon Prime), lose weight instantly, feel better today, one-stop-shopping. We want what we want as long as it's now.

The skateboarding world always seemed the same: pick the board you want from these models and off it comes. Your Tony Hawk or Lance Mountain or Rob Roskopp or Tony Alva was shipping out just like anyone else's. Running shoes and gear are the same.

The world of longboarding, and in particular long distance pumping is a different world, with different rules and a vastly different time table. It's the difference between said drive-thru and a meal at the nicest restaurant around--you slow down and you wait.

There are a number of "guys" making great longboards ("guys" in that you are often dealing with the individual making the board--no go between, no customer service, but you correspond with the person making and shaping your board). Subsonic Skateboards, Galac, and Roe Racing are among the best out there when it comes to long distance pumping. Another "guy" and company working among the best is Longboard Larry.

Any of these companies start making your board when you order it. And you wait. It can take a couple weeks if business is slow, to a month or more if they are jamming. Landy was on the stealth mode when he ordered his first board from Subsonic, didn't tell any of our running crew until his board was about to show up.

And the wait is worth it. When I slapped trucks, risers/wedges, and wheels on my LBL Walkabout when it arrived, it all clicked. Sometimes, waiting is worth it.

This week has been a lot about waiting. Waiting for Ultra Skate VI. Staying off the board, running and working out just a little to stay loose, trying to catch up on rest. Tapering in runner's terms. Why? Starting Friday night, we'll try to see how many miles we can skate in 24 hours. We've worked on routes, on gear, we've gotten riding in. So tomorrow night, we get the show roadbound and see what happens. Look for a report after the weekend.

So how do I feel about waiting around this week for Ultra Skate? About like this...

Monday, March 9, 2009

Crossing the Island

One of many cool views along the Cross Island Trail, Kent Island, Maryland.

I'm not sure I'll ever run another 50-mile race. But I haven't ruled it out. I've always been one to test my limits in terms of endurance, rather than speed. Talking some time ago to RUR tri-guy and analyst Dan Bieber, Dan mentioned that he was working getting sprint triathlons wired as he knew he could be competitive at the shorter distances, while he built his endurance up toward the longer stuff.

For me, the question isn't generally how fast I can run a particular distance (though that can drive me, for sure), rather how far can I go? For running, my current answer was found completing the JFK 50-mile race. Not fast, but finishing.

Longboarding adds a new dimension to that line of questioning. I am now a faster longboarder than runner (which makes sense, wheels and all :). Landy, Charlie, and I can hit 15 mph on Oxford Road at a stretch. The gliding, carving, and pumping is addictive. Pavement rolls underneath and the change in surface to a glassy stretch of road is surreal and seductive. Add a small hill and the wind at your back or the windy pavement in the Easton Club in the dark, and you've got a wild ride.

So first the question of the upcoming Ultra Skate, as Landy proposed it, was to see if we could skate 100 miles in a day. As we've been hitting the roads and trails, "Dr. Longboard" is starting to sing another tune: what about 150 miles? Do you think we could go for the full 24 hours? We haven't come to a conclusion, other than to have fun, let loose, and see what happens. We're devising our route to be a combination of Easton's Rails to Trails, Oxford Road from Easton to Oxford and back, and a heavy dose of the Kent Island Cross Island Trail.

Felllow longboarders Landy, Brian Wheatley and I cruised up to the Cross Island Trail on Sunday to do some scouting. Hard to believe that less than a week before, we had a snowy Rise Up Runner jaunt through Easton. Yesterday it was shorts and t-shirt weather, climbing into the 70s.

The Cross Island Trail has a number of fans: bikers, runners, walkers, they are all out there. I didn't notice any other longboarders, and it seems there is a novelty and mild fascination for folks when they see you go past on a longboard, LDP style!

A stellar way to enjoy the trail, the day, friends, and to find a groove and move into it. I hope to bookend more weeks with an epic style run (though it needn't be snowy) and a 15-mile or longer longboarding session. The week's workouts also included an indoor treadmill day, knocking out 7:30 minute miles, or an 8 mph pace for a solid hour, covering 8 miles. I am not a hamster wheel runner, but a solo run on a windy 13 degree morning didn't sound that fun...

My weekly workouts continue to be a combination of longboarding--with eyes on Ultra Skate--and running. I have a feeling the balance part of that equation will lean differently based on upcoming race schedules, opportunities and challenges.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

30-Mile Weekend

The sunrise over wetlands along Oxford Road, as seen on a longboard Saturday morning.

I got lucky. I don't normally take to the roads both mornings of a weekend. So racking up a conservative 30 miles, likely 50K, over the course of two days was a treat.

Saturday morning was cold. The Weather Channel warned something like 20 degrees, colder with wind chill. But it doesn't take long to learn that cold is not nearly so debilitating as wind on a longboard. And since the wind slept in, Charlie, Landy and I opted to head out. The plan was to meet in Easton behind Coffee East at 5 a.m.

Running early, I've often thought there's not much cooler than running to an ipod infused soundtrack to a sleeping town. The pre-sunrise morning offers the sublime to those who will go find it. But pumping and cruising up Washington Street listening to Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix, the trek on a longboard surpassed the "coolness" of a morning run.

We donned headlamps and vests and had the town to ourselves, aiming up Oxford Road. Prior to sun up, you can pretty well own the road, not relegated to only the bike lane. It makes it easy to get into a groove and hone in long distance pumping technique.

We've been running in the mornings long enough now that motorists may have become accustomed to high beams hitting reflective vests on their way to town. I can tell you, they are not accustomed to grown men on skateboards coming at them. I can guess that we have become the subject of confused cell phone discussions or what seemed a lack of caffeine-induced hallucination.

I loaded my backpack with a couple bottles of Propel, which make for tasty slushies, a Balance bar, which was too frozen to eat, and thankfully a camera for the trip. Catching a sunrise during a long trek with friends is one of the key reasons to run or skate early.

After a good out-and-back route on Oxford Road, we returned to hit a bit of Easton, ending up on Rails to Trails, a stretch unencumbered by cars, except for street crossings. Both routes (Oxford Road and Rails to Trails) will likely be incorporated into our upcoming Ultra Skate on March 21.

Landy and Charlie nearing the North Easton Sports Complex at the northern end of Rails to Trails.

The end of our trek found me at 18.5 miles, based on Landy's GPS, which marks my longest longboard session to date.

Longboarding, a cold a couple weeks ago, swimming and cross training have cut into my running time, so I was determined to get a 10 to 12-mile run in on Sunday. Rain was likely and did in fact join us for our run. I slept in, slugged back some coffee, waited for the ladies of the house to get up and get straight and ran up to the YMCA to meet RUR peeps Joel Shilliday, Dominic Szwaja, and Dan Bieber. The goal was to explore the trails of the Cooke's Hope development and see where the trails led once across the foot bridge over Peachblossom Creek.

The rain took a backseat to conversation, exploration, and taking in the newer development along Llandaff Road. Dan and Dominic are notoriously speedy, so it kept the pace honest, especially given my lack of running. Dan peeled off at the Y, Joel at his crib, and Dominic joined me for a stretch of Rails to Trails. In the end, I logged about 12.5 miles or so at roughly an average of 8:3o pace.

30+ miles in two days, on longboard and on foot, enjoying the mornings and my Rise Up Runner friends. It sets the tone for the rest of the day. It helps me test myself. And the by-product is that it gets me closer to being ready for Ultra Skate and the Trail Dawgs in March and April.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

On Deck...

The "Walkabout" from Longboard Larry. A good name, concept, and metaphor for what I dig about running and longboarding. Pilgrimages don't just come around at Thanksgiving.

Between 4 and 6 a.m., it is now not uncommon to catch a few longboards covering some of our running routes. If you don't see anyone out running on a Tuesday morning, it is likely there is a pool full of Rise Up Runners at the Talbot County Y.M.C.A. With cold comes cross training.

But that's not exactly what happened with me this winter. I got shown the way back to skateboarding. Not my old ollie, rail slide skateboarding, but long distance longboarding. 20 years ago, my free time was spent doing some combination of running, skateboarding and writing. That sounds much like the last couple weeks :)

I wouldn't have thought to combine distance running with longboarding. But having gone out for 16 miles, 13 miles, 9 miles, it is a great synthesis of things that are life affirming for me.

When I run I don't care if I never see pavement. So much the better. But now I'm in the habit of scoping around for smooth stretches of road or parking lots. I enjoy the variation. And I enjoy the possibities and adventures that distance longboarding has opened up. We have several great paved rail trails on Kent Island, around Annapolis, D.C., and leading into Baltimore. You'll be reading about our treks to various places--both online and in print.

In 2009, readers of The 4-1-Run will get their fill of trail running and running; fastpacking and multi-sport events; the antics of the Rise Up Runners, and adventures in longboarding. It's a current in RUR that's caught a few of us--Landy, Charlie and shortly Derek at the outset. If you want to get an idea of what is possible and what people are doing on longboards, check out James Peters's Pavedwave website and forum. A clearinghouse for long distance pumping and skateboarding. And if you think runners have the market and media corned for being nutty, you can check out Adam Colton and the crew embarking on Long Treks on Skate Decks--skating through South America.

As my race calendar develops for 2009, you'll notice the first event on it is a brainchild of Peters and the Pavedwave: Ultra Skate 2009. We'll be shooting for 100 miles and then decide if we'll keep going to try to make 24 hours. Yep, this is right up our alley :)