Walleye is on the Menu

After a long day of travel and a sleepless night, I wake to a beautiful day in LaCrosse, Wisconsin.  It’s March and there is snow on the ground.  A late winter storm across the east technically missed Wisconsin, but still trapped me in Chicago (my layover) for six hours and dropped a mass of cold air in the Midwest.  It’s below 30 degrees.

My business travel routine is simple.  Work, run and eat.  It’s 4 PM; I’m done for the day and it’s time for the run.  Without thinking, I squeeze into my winter running clothes with multiple layers.   I came prepared after obsessively watching the weather reports.

In the first mile, the cool breeze rips through my layers bringing a chill to my bones. Crazy is the word that comes to mind.  Who runs in 30 degrees?  The treadmill isn’t sounding too bad right now.

Turning the corner away from the Mississippi River shelters me from the breeze.  Now my layers are beginning to work, and I warm up.  Beauty is the next word.  The fresh snow and tree lined river tributaries display a wonder that I rarely see hailing from Southern California.

With so many views, I lose track of time and just keep running.  Thankful is my next word.  I am thankful for the opportunity to run, to see new places, and to feel alive.  I allow my mind to wonder recalling my day, the challenges, and blessings.  I am aware of God’s presence and listen.

It’s a form of prayer — like St. Ignatius’s Examen.  But instead of the a forced disciple, it is free flowing and not contrived.  It’s a simple response to where I am in this moment, in this time.

The end of the road jolts me from this moment. Where am I?  How far did I go?  Pulling my phone out, I check my distance — over 4 miles.  When I’m done, it will be about 8.5 miles, more than I planned.  I turn back, retracing my steps, and think about the time and cold.  The late afternoon sun is getting close to the horizon and I don’t want to be out in the dark.  After all, it’s 30 degrees and dropping.

Returning to the hotel, I’m tired and hungry.  After a hot shower, I’m ready for dinner. Walleye is my last word.  Whenever I travel to this part of the country, I search for this fish — I’ve never seen it served on the west coast and it’s my favorite.  A couple blocks from my hotel is the Waterfront Restaurant.  Walleye is on the menu.

It’s crazy that I have to travel so far for this fish. But’s it’s a beautiful fish and I’m thankful for it.  I love walleye.

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Another Kilroy?

Almost a year later, I return to our nation’s capital, Washington D.C. (see my last visit – Finding Kilroy or a prior one – Rock and Rain DC).  The city is familiar to the point of being stale.  I know the subway system.  I know the monuments.  I know the museums. Without thinking, I default to the same running route — hotel to the Mall — to the Washington Monument — to the Lincoln Memorial (where I run up the stairs and stand for a moment of awe) — back down the stairs to the Capitol — and then circle back to the hotel.  It’s a flat four or five miles.

Today, my route takes me straight down 16th Street to the White House where I circle around to find the Mall and my regular route.  Familiarity keeps me from snapping pictures of the grandiose stone buildings, White House, or memorials to great figures in American history.  Today is a typical training run, only in a different city.

After I pause and stare at Lincoln, I head back along the Reflecting Pool and, well, reflect.  My mind wanders to Forrest Gump and Jenny jumping in the Pool to catch Forrest’s attention.  I think about Kilroy from my last visit and the hidden gems throughout the city calling me to investigate what I have not seen before.

Uncharacteristically, I stop at the World War II Memorial and consider my previous Kilroy encounter .  Is the memorial really symmetric?  Last year, I only looked for Kilroy on the “Atlantic” side of the memorial due to heavy rain.  Now I find myself walking along the “Pacific” side to the end of the columns where I peer down into the maintenance staircase.  There’s another Kilroy — it is symmetric.

One discovery leads to more changing the routineness of my past visits into a game of “I spy” differences.  The scaffolding on the Capitol has been removed.  Martin Luther King Jr. is staring at Thomas Jefferson.  Flowers are beginning to bloom.

Even in the midst of the unchanging, there are new things things to discover.

 

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23)

 

 

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Thankful for the Rain

All morning I’ve listened to the pattering of my keyboard caused by  my fingers furiously pounding out a proposal.  I’m at 23 pages and still going.  This is why the company pays me; writing proposals, creating miracles on Excel spreadsheets, and magically predicting the future with statistical models.  So with a click-click-clack, I chase a business opportunity until my eyes blur (computer monitor), my wrists become sore (carpal tunnel), and my back aches (poor posture).  I keep reading that working at a computer is unhealthy.  I need a break.

On a good day, I’ll take running lunch — four or five miles followed by a hot shower and a sandwich at the desk.  The break renews my mind and rejuvenates my sore muscles.  But today is different.  It’s raining.

The rain is good. It refreshes the plants and replenishes the water supply (which is much needed in the drought-ridden west).  It washes the roads and cars (yes! my car will soon be clean).  But, it also locks me indoors keeping me from my lunch run.  I still need a break.

Suddenly the pattering turns into pounding.  It’s now a downpour with large drops pelting my office window and streams of water dancing down in the pane   Stopping, I uncoil my folded body, stand and turn to face the view.

I breathe deeply, stretch, and smile.  I’m not running today.

Instead, I thank God for the rain and remember that rest is vital to recovery.  Training needs moments of respite.  Striving is balanced by ceasing.  The rain is not only a gift to a parched city, but also a gift to my aching body.

After all, God grants rest to those He loves (Psalm 127:2).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Christmas, Coffee, and Experience

Yesterday, I was reminded of something I always heard, but never heeded.  When brewing coffee in a French Press, there are temperature and timing requirements.

My first true exposure to coffee brewing was watching a friend carefully grind his beans, lovingly insert a thermometer in his water, and set a timer.  It seemed excessive.  I boil water, coarsely grind my beans (see, I did know something), pour the concoction in the French Press, and “press” — voila “coffee”.  But, my friend spoke a different language (the bloom, dissolution, diffusion), followed a different path, and got better results.

Yesterday’s conversation reminds me that I should try true coffee brewing for myself.  It’s time to heed what I’ve always heard. I have a wonderful Kona blend, a thermometer (thanks to my wife’s tea brewing experience), and my iPhone timer.

I coarsely grind my beans.  The water is at 205 degrees.  I wet the grinds for 30 seconds and experience the “bloom.”  Four minutes in the French Press, then “press” and pour.  Voila — coffee.

I confess.  I still don’t fully understand it (I didn’t do well in high school or college chemistry), but it works.  It’s better coffee.

So, when a group of shepherds meet an angelic being who announces the coming Messiah, I’m sure they didn’t understand it either.  They probably heard about the Messiah and faithfully practiced a their understanding of faith.  But hearing the spectacular announcement, they had to see it for themselves.  They travelled to Bethlehem, met the newborn Messiah, and were transformed (Luke 2:8-15).

Experience it.  Merry Christmas.

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Will I Ever See It Again?

The metric century ride boasts one epic climb, an 800 foot beast to a beautiful hilltop vista with ocean views.

As my riding partner and I approach the base of the hill, we become excited at the prospect of a new conquest. The tree-lined switchbacks provide a cool canopy counteracting my rising sweat rate. Finding a rhythm, I ply my advantage (I’m small and light) to pass larger, heavier riders.  There’s no better way to boost your ego than passing other riders.

Then, I see him.  Stranded on the side of the road is a cyclist struggling into change a flat tire.  There’s an unspoken rule among cyclists — when another cyclists is in trouble, you slow down (or stop) and ask if they need help.  The communal nature cycling understands the difficulty of carrying everything you might need. So, we help one another.

Instinctively, I stop and offer assistance.  My new friend has a broken hand pump and just needs to borrow one.  But, inflating the tire with a portable hand pump is notoriously slow. My subconscious fidgeting must have broken through my cool exterior because my new friend says “go ahead and I’ll return the pump at the next rest stop.”  Without thinking, I agree and hop on my bike — the mountain is waiting.

Within minutes, my riding partner drifts up beside me and says, “do you think you’ll see your pump again?” In my desire to climb, I hadn’t  considered this question let alone ask for a name or phone number.  For the next hour, my troubled mind waged a war between my feelings of stupidity and trust in humanity.

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you…” (Mt 7:12)

My faith tells me to trust my new nameless friend (without a phone number) and the unspoken bond of spandex wearing men.  My real world experience tells me that people are selfish and, at best, forgetful.

For the next hour, I mediate on the “golden rule”.  It feels like karma or the law of reciprocity.  After all, I would want the same thing if I had a flat tire without a pump.  I assume the rule is about a pump for a pump — a physical act of charity. But that’s not what Jesus says.  Jesus doesn’t promise that others will return the favor.  He only asks that you give it.  And Jesus is not only asking me to give up a $25 pump, but something more valuable — trust.

Jesus is asking me to extend trust without expectation for return because that I was I really want from people.  I want people to look at me (and my actions) and assume the best intentions, not the worst.

I still want my pump back.  But more so, I want my faith in humanity back.

Rolling into the rest stop, I scan the area for my new friend.  When I don’t see him , I feel disappointment, but take care of my usual business – refill water bottles, eat snacks, and visit the portable blue box. Then, I feel the tap on my right shoulder.  It’s my new friend and my pump.  His smile is better than the hilltop vista.

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My Summer in Heat

This may be it, the last heat wave of the year.  The red flag warning signals extreme heat and fire danger.  A normal person would turn on the air conditioning and call it a rest day. A sane fitness fanatic would head to the gym for a hamster wheel workout.  But, not me. I’m going outside to run.

Running outdoors in this weather is a matter of preparation and expectation.  Two words describe the strategy — hydrate and slow.  This summer, I’ve learned to carry water and run slowly.

In July, the excessive heat warning and the concerned hotel doorman did not stop me from exploring the Omaha’s waterfront.  I ran from my hotel down Dodge Street to the Missouri River where the views opened up. Following the river north, I passed the Lewis and Clark Landing and crossed the Bob Kerry Pedestrian Bridge into Iowa.

After a few minutes in the Hawkeye state, I ran back to Nebraska and continued north to Miller’s Landing Rivers Edge State Park where I ran out water signalling the time to return to my hotel.  That’s over 4 miles in excessive heat.

In  early August, I ran circles around a lake (or pond?) in Evansville, Indiana in humidity so thick that my glasses fogged every time I stepped outside.  Why run in img_7801circles around this lake?  The locals rave about it.  It’s only 0.7 miles around, but it hosts local fishermen (I wonder what they catch), late afternoon BBQs (they roll out gas-fired grills and set up tables), and evening walkers.

In addition to the heat, the only other dangers are afternoon thundershowers which make you wetter than your own sweat and aggressive, giant geese who block the running path.  Still, I ran — six laps, two in a thundershower.  And, I learned how to frighten geese  by going slow and make myself big (that’s a puffed up chest and outstretched arms).

In late August, I braved 90+ degree temperatures in Roseville, California.  Just outside my hotel was the Antelope Creek trail, home to cyclists, runners, and wild turkeys.  Unlike Omaha and Evansville, Roseville boasts a “dry heat” much like an oven.  My six mile run taught me the importance of frozen water bottles and how to slowly baste myself until I was done. But, I still ran.

So today, I’m running in spite of the red flags. I have my water.  I plan a slow, easy route. And while I don’t expect it, I am ready for geese, thundershowers, and turkeys.

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

-Benjamin Franklin

 

 

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The Alternative to Working Out

Yesterday’s run was horrible.  After two miles, my legs felt weak and I began to dream of food.  I bonked.  So today, I’m taking it easy with a new kind of workout.  Only this workout evolved into the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced.

(Warning:  this is not an inspirational story of my athletic prowess; just a rant against our broken healthcare system.)

My son goes to the doctor for an annual physical.  My health insurance policy states that all preventative care, such as annual physicals, are fully covered.  Two months later, I get the bill.  What, a bill?  How is this “fully covered?”

A quick call to my health insurance company reveals that the medical group has coded the routine test incorrectly and instructs me to call the medical group for a correction and re-submission.  I’ve done this before (with a different medical group) and it’s not a big deal — it just works itself out.

I call the “Have a Question” number on my bill and speak to the medical group’s billing department.  It’s a good  number to call with a question, but a bad number to call for an answer.  They don’t have an answer, just a powerless person who tells me to call someone else.  So, I call someone else and find another powerless person.  After two hours, I learn that I too am powerless.

In a vain attempt to regain my manhood, I post on Yelp.  Like magic, I find a semblance of power.  Almost immediately, I am connected to a billing specialist.  Perhaps the “Have a Question” number should be replaced by Social Media posting instructions.

Finally, I speak to someone with power. Actually, she only has the power to tell me that the HIPPA laws don’t allow them to discuss the test  on my bill with me.  So, I have a bill written in some foreign medical language, a billing specialist who is forbidden by law to translate it, and I’m still expected to pay it.

I wonder what I just bought.  I feel like I’m on “Let’s Make a Deal” and just purchased something hidden behind one of the three giant doors.  It could be a cool new bike, a vacation to Hawaii, or a giant tricycle with a clown sitting on top.  But, I’ll never know because the law doesn’t allow anyone to open the door.

The good news is that I didn’t need to work out today.  I just spent over two hours working out in my target heart rate zone sprinkled with a few sprints near my max heart rate.   Fortunately, I’m a well trained endurance athlete who can go for hours so long as I don’t go anaerobic.

Thanks for listening. I feel better now.

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