“I’m So Excited,” or How Jack Met His First Porcupine

Team Labfam just jogged in from a seven-mile run! An hour and a half ago, Jack, Kenai, and I took off for a Wasilla, Alaska, run down Church Road, to Clapp Road, to Knik Road, and back home to the projects in Mission Hills. I started the run with The Pointer Sisters’ I’m So Excited blaring in my ears.  That song is just the right BPMs, about 92, for a quick run.

Church Road makes a nice running path on a bike path with a few hills thrown in to keep it interesting. As we passed the three-mile post, Jack (not Daniels, the dog) took off for something he discerned a thousand feet ahead of us. I couldn’t see what he was interested in; I thought he was just chasing a car that had slowed down momentarily. Actually, what he detected on our side of the road was a world-class size porcupine. We grow them extra big up here in Alaska: the really big ones look like Rottweilers with their legs cropped to six inches. Jack had the proper amount of “savoir fear” to keep him out of quill range and away from a $1,000.00 vet bill. I called him when I realized the hazard. He turned tail (beat the porcupine on that one) and struck a track back to us.

Had Jack made the wrong decision, the song, I’m So Excited would have been background music to another type of run. As it was, we continued while I replayed in my mind my other encounters with Mr. Porcupine.

I have had three porcupine encounters within the last forty years. The most recent skirmish was just about this time of the year. For some reason porcupines like swampy wetlands. Spring is when they come down from the trees to do whatever porcupines do in the Spring; I’m thinking breeding. On the other hand, the Home Show might have been an attraction. My good friend, Ron Jones and I were just completing a late evening (9:00 pm) walk we dubbed “The Long Trail.” Moose, my favorite black Lab of all time, decided to hang back from us and explore a small glade. After a brief space of time, a couple of minutes, he still hadn’t caught up to us. I called, and called him by name. No response. I yelled uncomplimentary things about his mother and their relationship. No response. Finally, Ron and I backtracked about a quarter of a mile to encounter Moose on the trail huffing, and chuffing, and pawing both sides of his face. I had seen this behavior enough times to know what had happened even though it was completely dark. I picked up one hundred pounds of wild dog and relayed him a mile to the Duramax truck. He was foaming and bleeding from the mouth; he was just wild with pain and shock. This event was recent enough that there was such a thing as an I-Phone. I dialed the animal hospital emergency room. The vet’s first concern was not with the dog; he wanted me to agree to provide him with a $1,000.00 charge on my VISA before treating the dog. I said, “fair enough,” and the race was on to the hospital. Ron drove, and I fought Moose all the way to the hospital to keep him from clamping down on the fifty, or hundred, or so quills in his mouth. The quills covered his chest, his forelegs, and bristled from his ears and around his eyes.

At three o’clock in the morning, I got a call to come pick Moose up; they couldn’t stand listening to him scream at the top of his lungs . He was feeling no pain; he  missed his main master: me.  He was quill-free, and I was grateful for that outcome.

As a side note: Dogs never learn to avoid porcupines after their first encounter with them; in fact, most dogs will go after porcupines even more aggressively the second time. If you are in porcupine habitat, it is always wise to have your pup on a retractable leash. Most of the time, my dogs are harnessed, and leashed.

Baptism by Water Hose, or You Got Hosed, Dad!

One day, I had done something especially egregious to draw the ire of my mother. She had to resort to threatening me because she had run out of authority to discipline me. I must have been about five. She couldn’t spank me, so she did the next best thing, she pretended to call my father at work and tell him what a bad boy I had been and how I needed a spanking when he got home from work. She, of course, knew better than to bother my father at work, so she held down the kitchen phone receiver (old school phone) while she dialed the number. She proceeded to relate, as I listened from the living room, the laundry list of sins I had committed that day, leaving the worst for last. I was paralyzed with fear that my dad would come home and beat me. He had never done more than speak a few cross words to me, so my fear was totally ungrounded as fear always is. When she hung up, she said flatly, “When your father gets home, he is going to deal with you. He told me to tell you that.”

The day went on. Mother forgot about me, but I didn’t forget about my impending doom.

Upon arriving home after work, my father, totally ignorant of my manifold sins, bounded up the driveway, both arms wide open to greet me in a bear hug. I, remembering my mother’s phone call, had been worried, non-stop, for hours before my father’s arrival.

I was watering the front yard trees with a powerful stream of water. I flashed on my father’s open arms threatening to tackle me to the ground and spank my butt until it fell off. I defended myself with the only tool I had at hand: the water hose! I hosed that man up and down, down and up, and then hosed him straight into his shocked face with that water hose gushing forth it’s cold stream of water from a four foot distance.

Something in his face changed. I did not read it as anger: it was clearly chagrin at having been greeted so rudely and having his brand new, three piece, grey flannel suit completely soaked. Too bad there wasn’t an audience to witness this scene.

It was flight or fight time. I flew. Father became enraged. I got about twenty feet of a head start. I was no slouch at running! My father sprang into a sprint and was closing rapidly from the first bound. Off we jetted, three hundred feet south on Poplar Street to the corner of Twenty-First Street. I instinctively rounded left up the Twenty-First Street hill and thereby saved myself a guaranteed public spanking. As we ran up the hill, I maintained speed; my dad’s speed flagged. (He was about fifty-four and retribution running was not his forte.) I circled the block, hung out with some neighbors, and then bowed to the inevitable. I  returned home.

Dad was nowhere in sight. Mother was upstairs crying (a very rare event.) Unbeknown to me, my dad had returned home. Angry words were exchanged. To my mom’s credit, she must have come clean about the misunderstanding she had authored. He changed clothes and was walking the neighborhood looking for me. His objective was to forgive me, have a good laugh, and recover the rest of the evening: he had come home early from work to take us all to dinner. We didn’t laugh at me hosing him down.

Later, he didn’t even remember it.

The Shamrock Shuffled

Shamrock Shuffle Results   (Click here for my results.)

Oh Happy Day!  My enforced massage training schedule produced better race results that I expected!

I signed up for today’s Shamrock Shuffle fun run for just that: fun!  Fun was what I got! My drive into Anchorage was traffic-free, and allowed me to focus on pranayama all the way to Anchorage. I encountered my friend and Houston High former student, Ashley Buckwalter, on the walk from the Romig Junior High parking lot to the Beartooth Brewpub and Theater. I did not recognize Ashley, but she recognized me by my peculiar (not to me) walking pace. Meeting Ashley  was fortuitous because I was feeling just a bit isolated by not coming with, or meeting, a group of friends.  Ashley and I picked up our bibs and parted ways until the start of the race.

My plan was to meditate for fifty minutes before the race. I recommend meditation before the start of anything, and it makes a delightful prelude to a fun run.

Ashley and I started together, and then I lost her in the throng of green-shirted runners. I chased a lady in a pink shirt that I thought was Ashley for about a mile.  That misperception certainly improved my race time!  Dropping down the hill to Westchester Lagoon, I was pleased that everyone behaved themselves: nobody in my pack took a tumble on the ice.  I have enjoyed running by Westchester Lagoon several times this year, but it is so much more fun when you share the bike path with a thousand and a half of your closest friends!

My left calf telegraphed a destress signal as I started the ascent to West High School. Runners passed me. Instead of panic, I heard Jamie Woodside whisper in my ear, “Jeff, it’s time for a two-minute walk.” I obeyed.  Thank you, Jamie.

Crossing the bridge over Minnesota Street, I felt the hitch in my calf complain louder.  I was running next to a woman who seemed to be panting from the effort of the race.  I thought to myself, “At least I am not hurting at chest-level! What’s a little stitch in the right peg; I can limp pretty fast if I need to.” I couldn’t pass that person, so I throttled back and let her lead out. I wasn’t in this race for time, anyway.

Rounding the final corner, I thought, “Do I push down on the accelerator and hurt later, or do I throttle back and protect my calf?” I throttled back in the final stretch as folks jogged past me. I felt good at the finish; that was the point of this race for me.

I would like to thank Skinny Raven and The Beartooth for organizing such an excellent run!  You guys are great: you made my day!

Now all I have to do is figure out how to string four of these five Ks together for the Anchorage Mayor’s Marathon in June. I might have to train more than three massages a week and step up my meditation game. Oh yes, and I plan to lose about thirty pounds of chocolate chip cookie fat before June!

Second Wind: The Shamrock Shuffle

Most of this blog is a reflection of my history of running. I mean if you don’t know history, you don’t know anything, right? (I think I lifted that thought from somewhere besides my brain.)

Let me try a French chronology for the structure of this blog: I’ll start in the near-present and relay the story backwards. This should be short.

A while ago, I came up with the idea that I wanted to run the R2R Grand Canyon run. I had entertained the idea for a year and then gave up on it; and then I resurrected the plan last December. I have no idea why I  want to do such a run, but I vaguely remember standing on the South Rim forty years ago and wondering if one could hike the trail from the South Rim to the North Rim. The R2R plan is still in place, for now.

Flash forward to my preparation in December and part of January: I thought I could train for the R2R by running Matanuska Peak (5,000′) every couple of days, or running Pioneer Ridge (5,900′) every couple of days until I had run one, or the other, collectively, 100 times. I was pretty sure that would be an excellent preparation for the R2R run; actually, it would have been great preparation for an eighteen-year-old: for me it would have been an arduous route to the grave.

Somewhere along the line, the mountain-running quest evaporated into dream-to-be tabled. R2R was still on, but the plan, and the training regime devolved into a “fast walk,” or a “run/walk/run” preparation. I especially like the walking part of the plan because walking is something I do well, and something that I like to do.

So where does the running come in? Well, about the middle of January, the Labs and I were returning home from a thirteen mile walk around a very long neighborhood loop.  I had, as they say, an epiphany that I should be able to still run a ten-minute mile. I started my stopwatch and started my legs. At the end of a mile, I had an encouraging margin of seconds left. Wow! I did not expect to run a mile in ten minutes comfortably when the last time I ran a mile, or any distance, was thirty-five years ago.

The last time I can remember running at all was in August of 1982. Eva, my wife, and I had just flow back from Anchorage, Alaska, to Casper, Wyoming. Well, we were near Casper: at the Natrona County International Airport, ten miles west of Casper, at eleven o’clock at night, with no taxis, no courtesy vans, and no other form of transportation in sight. My ride, as it turned out, got drunk that night and forgot Eva and me, and neglected to answer his phone when I called him for a ride. These were the rip-roaring days of the end-of-the-80s oilfield boom: anything could happen and would make for a good story at a later time.

What to do? Well, of course, I would run the six miles to where my company vehicle was parked. That was my solution. Six miles? Fifty, or sixty minutes? No problem. The first flaw  in the plan that I ignored was that I hadn’t run six miles in six years. The second flaw: I was wearing dress shoes, dress pants, a blazer and a tie. The third flaw: I wasn’t eighteen.

I started out at an eight-minute mile clip. For about a half mile. Allen Edmond dress shoes are not made for running, even to catch a cab. I would have been better off in cowboy boots; at least they would have had some decent arch support. The next mile was a fast walk. I would like to point out that this was early enough in the history of the modern running world. I could have claimed to have invented Jeff Galloway’s “Run/Walk/Run” technique for training for a marathon. I will spare you the brutal mile-by-mile account of the rest of the “run/limp/walk/limp on both legs” ordeal. Suffice it to say, I arrived two hours later, limping, cursing, feeling sorry for myself, and feeling a slight panic that my Eva, my wife, had been hanging out at an airport now closed because it is long past the midnight closing hour. The temperature had dropped to 45 degrees that August night. The good news? I had remembered the keys to my truck. The truck started: more good news.

This story is not about how that experience gave me a jaundice attitude towards running: it did not. I just conveniently found other pursuits in my new home in Alaska: snowshoeing, mountain biking, hiking, and walking, to fill the next thirty-five years. I forgot about how much I liked running.

Until recently. Somewhere I came up with the idea that I wanted to run the 2016 Mayor’s Marathon in Anchorage. That idea dictated a bit of training, some yoga-balancing, and a lot of discipline. Along the way, sometime in February, I thought I would jump into the Shamrock Shuffle 5K fun run, which is about ten hours away from when I am writing this blog.

I started training with some really good runs two weeks ago. I ran/walked the Point Woronzof title flats and the Coastal Trail for a week. Twice, I ran five miles in fifty minutes. Actually, I made those two runs a day apart. Then I developed IT band issues, and hamstring issues, and…wow! This stuff is not supposed to be happening to me! At any rate, I got in some really good preparation for the Shamrock Shuffle this week: I had a one-hour massage on Tuesday, a two-hour massage on Thursday, and a great one-hour massage today. My hamstrings are tuned up! My IT band issues are subclinical (I love using that term; it’s probably meaningless, but it sounds authoritative!) Total training for the week: four miles walking, three miles running at a ten minute/mile pace, one mile walk…all on the same run. Okay, I forgot, I rode my bike to CTHS every day to pick up my friend Mike Smith. Does bike riding even count as training for a 5K?

Shamrock Shuffle, here I come.  Henry David Thoreau admonishing me, in my head: “It’s a fine art to saunter.”