Saturday, December 28, 2013

Trip Report: Santa Fe and Texas

The lady and I had some rare unplanned coinciding time off, and she has more frequent flier miles than she knows what to do with. We determined that a) Pennsylvania and Miami were too far for our mini-trip desires and b) we had been everywhere else multiple times. Except Santa Fe, Corpus Christi Texas, and San Antonio. So that's where we went.

Santa Fe was the best, even if it was 18 F the night we got there. That's okay. We warmed up with plenty of New Mexico food, in particular Maria's, one of my favorite restaurants on this planet. But more fun than that was hiking and ruins in Bandelier National Monument near Los Alamos, which was of course excellent. These are from Tsankawi:

This deer is so relaxed because she's in this canyon in the modern day, and not a hundred or thousand years ago when she would have been dinner. I also included the sound of the frozen river; the canyon bottom oddly reminded me of winter in Pennsylvania, this sound in particular.

Below are pictures from the main attraction in Bandelier, Frijoles Canyon. The folks that lived in this area showed up later than the dwelling around Mesa Verde and Chaco, showing a gradual migration toward the east. They had a lot of the same trade goods showing links with southern Mexico (copper bells, live parrots). A lot of the structures are obviously easily defended, which has a way of making you think about the Na-Dene speakers who were showing up in these parts at the time these were built. When the Spanish arrived these particular ones were still occupied. Some other ones are still occupied today, like Acoma Pueblo, west of Albuquerque.

Looking back down into the canyon you can see the outline of the old pueblo. Along the walls you can see holes bored for the wood beams that supported the roof.

We also made it up to Taos and saw the beginning of a Christmas service (where Joseph and Mary go door to door). Although this particular church was historically significant, contrary to my expectations most of the people at the service appeared Anglo, despite Taos being surrounded by pueblos.

Then we made our way to Corpus Christi. On the flight from Houston to Corpus, a gentleman from there emphasized that there was nothing to do in Corpus, and then asked us, "When it's time for a vacation, what do you do, throw darts at a map?" We couldn't really answer "no". And not to pick on Corpus too much, but it's a really good city for people with severe fear-of-missing-out syndrome, because you know if you found the one thing to do that day, you're not missing out on anything else around there. It has that nice Gulf scent and it feels like Virginia Beach or Jacksonville or any other southern beach city - spread out and slow, with every business seemingly along one main strip. I had a nice flat fast run from the hotel out along the Gulf to Texas A&M Corpus Christi, which has a nice campus on a little island connected to the mainland. After 20 hours doing what there was to do there, we were completely comfortable leaving. Driving on the beach at Padre Island was the main highlight (see below). Oysters and shrimp weren't bad either (including at the Chinese buffet where we ate Christmas Day). But as a local bartender put it Christmas Eve, "When it's cold, there's nothing to do here but drink." Seems like that's about what there is to do when it's warm too, except then you do it at the beach.

From there we went up to the town of Hondo (yes, they still have this sign) because it was on the way to Hill Country State Natural Area. Christmas night in Hondo is about as quiet as a place is possible to be.

Hill Country Natural Area was the highlight of the Texas part of the trip. I know everything in Texas is supposed to be bigger, but the hills...well they were still fun. First picture below is from Troop 814, the rest are mine.

The beat up rock characteristic of a mostly-dead fault (the Balcones) and of worn-down hundreds of millions of years-old mountain ranges were much in evidence on these trails. I'm always interested in transition zones, and the Hill Country strikes me as a three-way transition between gulf, prairie and desert, and made me think of another transition zone, a mountain island in the northern prairies - the Black Hills far to the north. Two plants in particular dominate the Natural Area: Ashe juniper on the north side of ridges, and yuccas on the south. Of note, relative to SoCal, the yuccas are bigger, grow in greater profusion, crowd the trail more, and (this is key) have much more serrated leaves, and as a result this is the most blood I lost on any run ever, which was kind of neat. I ended up running most of the hills that the Bandera Ultra covers, which is coming up in a few weeks. Ice Cream Hill and the Big Nasty were my personal faves.

Another interesting thing about the Hill Country, little-known outside Texas, is that it received heavy German immigration. Being of German descent this was of special interest to me - as well as to my girlfriend, who is Chinese and has previously expressed her viciously racist theory of hiking and trail running, i.e. that Germans instinctively seek out hilly forested areas. (Very insensitive.) But the Germans who settled the Texas Hill Country were politically progressive, educated businesspeople leaving behind the foment mid-19th century Europe, rather than the hick religious weirdo farmers that moved to Pennsylvania a century earlier and who gave rise to your loyal blogger. This German influence resulted in two things that impacted our trip. First, many of the German immigrants remained loyal to the Union when the Civil War began, and some of them were killed by Confederate troops when trying to escape to Mexico. Consequently the only pro-Union Civil War monument in Texas is the Treue Der Union monument ("Loyalty to the Union"), put up immediately after the war by the families of the fallen men. (I take great pleasure in viewing any monument to the Confederacy's failure, especially one so in their face as this, extremely so because it was erected by my German cousins.)

The other effect of the heavy German immigration is that there are cool towns in the Hill Country, chiefly among them Fredericksburg, where (most importantly) you can find some killer German food. We had some excellent kraut and sausages there. But there has been some evolutionary divergence between PA and Texas Germans: their red cabbage tasted a little different, and on the matter of shoo-fly pie the waitress was wholly ignorant. The pecan pie made up for this deficiency.

After that we got into San Antonio. Not surprisingly, we ate Tex-Mex and barbecue, and went on the River Walk. We also saw the Alamo, but if you don't know what that is or looks like, may I recommend a Google search! I will say that, contrary to many tourists' experience, it wasn't smaller than I expected. Strangely the city doesn't go out of its way to discuss the Council House Fight, which by any measure is also a significant chapter in San Antonio's history.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Kickstarter for Documentary About "Suffer Fest" Races

In an interview recently I was asked how I got into trail running and long races. (It was a residency interview, not an interview about running, but it just came up.) I said that I seemed to have a knack for endurance, solitude, and not knowing when to quit, and I went from road races to road marathons to trail marathons. Once you start doing trail marathons on wacky terrain, a) it's really purty and b) you mean progressively weirder = more interesting people, and finally aspire to be one of them. You meet paleo people, and back-to-nature types, and high-tech self-quantifiers, and poets, and radicals, and auto mechanics, and people who live in geodesic domes, and people from countries and tribes you've barely heard of who are addicted to these races and follow them around like the Grateful Dead of old. There's something off about people who do this stuff for fun. I mean seriously four-standard-deviations-away-from-the-mean kind of people, and I love them all, every last one.

So - the Kickstarter mentioned in the title is for a documentary that seems to focus on these weird=interesting people, which is a huge part of why people do this, and what I personally love about the community. It deserves a shout for noticing this truth. Give it a look-see!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

How California Looks

When you grow up outside California (as I did, and almost half of us Californians did) you grow up with set-in-LA movies, and the Golden Gate Bridge, and rich people doing boring things at beaches. And then you get here, and if you're paying any kind of attention, you realize the state is so much better than that. The tragedy is that so many Cali natives buy into the movie version of California and somehow don't notice the mountains and forests in their backyards. Here's a time-lapse photo essay of the real California that is guaranteed to make trail runners and hikers smile.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Safety and Efficacy of Caffeine in Exercise

Boing Boing has a nice post about caffeine and energy drink use in distance running events, and associated mortality. It's not huge, but it's still worth reading. The best part of it is the actual peer-reviewed references. One shows that marathon runners (highly-trained or recreational) reap a 1% boost in their marathon times by using caffeine; so if you run a 3:30 marathon, now you'll run 3:28. Another shows a similarly modest boost in high-impact exercise, as long as you're not already a caffeine junkie with a developed tolerance.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Ohlone Wilderness

Just wanted to draw attention to Mark Tanaka's post about Dirty Dare, Catra Corbett's race in the Ohlone Wilderness. Fun race apparently and great pics of the route, of course. This is one of my favorite places to run in the Bay Area. A couple weeks after this race I went up and down the Big Burn, which is best described as starting off sucking really bad, and then getting worse. In the Ohlone 50k the Burn starts around mile 26 but at least you're going down.

Until this point (16 November) Livermore had received less rain in 2013 than Death Valley (yes, really), and you can tell by looking at Del Valle Reservoir. What is this, the Aral Sea?

No bobcats this time, but at least the other critters were kind enough to come down to the picnic area so I didn't have to wait to see them further out.

Always loads of turkeys on the lower trails here, and they get loud. One time, when meeting some hashers at Del Valle, I thought I'd found them but came around a corner to find a particular vocal flock of turkeys. I explained to them later that it's understandable to confuse the sound of filthy mindless animals, with the gobbling of turkeys.

And then the moon rose. Boy, did it ever. Not revealed by my phone camera in proper glory, but you get the idea.

San Diego Rivera

Get it?

That is all.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

This Guy Is Running Every U.S. State And Is Cool

Check out He's run across 31 states so far. Wish I had the time...but really it's always a matter of priorities. The runner (Brian Stark) says he's met a lot of interesting folks along the way. The interesting paradox, and belated Thanksgiving thought, is that until recently in history, all of us walked or ran everywhere we went, but at the same time, we also couldn't have done something like this without very likely getting killed. If you lived in the developed world, you're lucky. Try undertaking this project even today in Africa or most of Latin America. Even Bashoo in 17th century Japan set out on his famous trek fully expecting not to survive.

Running the coast of San Diego County, or around the whole San Francisco Bay, or even part of the Pony Express route were fun too but this looks like a blast. Here he is running Nevada.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Mammoth Rocks Near Fort Ross, Sonoma Coast

There are rocks in the coastal moors just south of Fort Ross that are a) good for climbing and that are b) smoothed off in odd ways, high off the ground, that the California State Parks senior archaeologist has stated in writing was likely caused by mammoths rubbing their tusks. The sunset was spectacular that day too. (By the way, Fort Ross is pretty cool too.)

Friday, November 29, 2013

Blackstar Canyon Indian Massacre May Be Made Up

Long-form piece in the OC Weekly here. I had only vaguely heard of this particular story before and despite repeated trips into that part of Cleveland National Forest, had never heard the area's spooky reputation before. OC is one of the smallest counties in California and Trabuco plus Crystal Cove are really the two best open space areas there are; best not to write one off for being "haunted".

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Concept: Drones for Running

The Singularity may be coming for personal trainers sooner than you think. A Wired paper highlights market niches for personal drones, one of which is running. I hate to say it but that sounds awesome, mostly for all the times I've seen wildlife or a great view and wished I'd been able to take a picture.

You might say "really, what could a drone do that my watch/phone/iPod couldn't do?" To this end, tthe writer also makes the point that a visible drone would be good for safety, but that the menacingness of the drone should match the task. During a fun run, you want a nice day-glo critter flying around taking pictures and encouraging people. But if you're worried about safety, something that looks more like this guy might be useful.

Models Show 50% Drop in Sierra Snowpack from Amazon Deforestation

Paper here.

Below is a zoomable map of world forest extent, as well as losses over time. here's a link to a high-res zoomable map showing global forest extent and loss. On the full map the Amazon doesn't look great either, but here I have it zoomed on Southern California. Keep in mind this is the current map, but all of SoCal's forests will have burned by 2040, at current rates.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Analysis: Dick Collins Fire Trail 50M, Time vs Age

Thought I'd take a look at the numbers from what used to be Ann Trason's race in my old backyard in the East Bay hills. Until I coincidentally ran some of the still-marked trails later on the same day this year, I'd completely forgotten about this race, or rather hadn't thought "hey it's October in the East Bay hills, when's Fire Trails" which come to think of it I guess is forgetting. (Hey, sue me. I've been in another city in medical school.) I was sad not to have used the chance to stop by to see some friends, but not sad I didn't enter; had no time to train anyway. Here's a scatterplot of the results.

What those numbers above mean is that for this curve (with a decent R^2 value) male runners gain 4.3 seconds on their mile split in this race per year of age. This is a little more pessimistic than the claim that runners keep their times until their sixties, as argued by many, most recently and famously McDougall in Born to Run. More interestingly, the women were all over the place with a much worse goodness-of-fit score that predicts only a 1.7 second gain on mile split per year (below). This is the trend I'd expected ahead of time, but not to this degree! Being all over the place is emphatically a good thing because it means that race results for you ladies are much less predetermined by age than for us men, and on top of that your time increase per year is smaller. Whether this is a result of universal human biology (women innately resemble fine wine) or something to do with selection (e.g. women start racing later in life, or are more likely to interrupt racing careers with more-traumatic-to-female-physiology childbearing which can be recovered from, and so the times show that) is another question.

Limiting Public Access to Mission Trails?

Mission Trails, from

Yes, you read that right. Both California and U.S. Fish & Wildlife have specified which trails should be closed or curtailed; details in this piece. CA Fish & Wildlife has also frustrated the community and local government by putting a surprise roadblock on the plan for Del Mar Mesa, which just a few months ago finally looked like there was a management plan to officially open it. Conservation is great, but it seems that the agency is working against local governments and communities, not with and for them.

I suspect there is more going on between CA Fish & Wildlife and the City of San Diego than the public knows about - especially since by way of comparison, that I know of, in recent history CA F & W has not interfered this way with any Bay Area city's park planning.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Mt. Tam State Park and Reservoir

Very nice run yesterday starting from the Alpine Lake Dam, heading up toward the peak and then coming back on the exposed western face of Tam (Matt Davis and Coastal). Who knows how many miles, it was a blast. That little climb up to Laurel Dell is a good bit of fun. It's still amazingly dry and you can see how low the reservoirs are. These are just from the dam where I started, except for the pic of the falls which is from

Here's the negative - of course, on the way back, I ran across some jackass who couldn't wait to get back to his car, who was smoking on the trail. I waited to make sure he'd put his cigarette out and when I couldn't find the butt, I asked him where he threw it, and he said he kept it with him. He seemed very offended that I'd been watching him. These people need to get over themselves. If you can't help your habit, then don't come into the woods in California!

Yes, it was awkward to have that conversation. But I thought of it this way: if later that day I'd heard that a fire had started in that fantastic forest, and I knew I could have prevented it, I couldn't sleep at night. And here's my challenge to everyone: this kind of situation is a test of our actual values and shows whether we care more about conserving an outstanding resource like this, or trying not to make the occasional careless jackass a little uncomfortable.

(Matt Davis Trail, image from