Thursday, August 25, 2016

Rockport - August 2016

Last week I visited Massachusetts for the second time with my wife. The first time we came was in December of 2013, just a few months after we started dating, so that I could meet her father who lives in Rockport just outside of Boston. It just so happened that the week we were there was one of the coldest weeks they have had in that area in almost 25 years, and I also managed to catch the flu during the flight. But despite single digit temperatures outside and trying to contain my triple digit body temperature inside, we managed to have a fun trip which included touring Fenway Park and catching a game at the Garden to watch the Celtics play the Knicks. We also spent a day in Rockport, which was the day it snowed over half a foot. Seeing snow fall that hard while also looking at the ocean was a surreal experience for me.

This time, we were smart and decided not to visit the Northeast during the winter, and would be seeing Boston and the coast in the middle of August. Amanda has been visiting the area for most of her life, as her father has lived in Rockport since she was 4, so visiting for her feels as much as a homecoming as it does a vacation. I have been lucky enough to go to Ecuador to visit my father earlier this year, and more recently took a trip to Lake Tahoe with Rogue Expeditions (see previous blog post for a recap of that trip), so I was excited about getting to take one more trip before we both start the Fall semester of our graduate school programs.

After early flights, we arrived around lunch time and her dad picked us up at the airport and drove us the hour or so out to Rockport, where we ate lunch on a patio overlooking Cape Ann and the Atlantic Ocean. We ate clam chowder and caught up, and then headed to his condo to unpack and get settled. After a short jog around town to shake out our legs, the evening was spent telling stories and laughing, and once in bed, we stayed up to watch Benjamin Button all the way through despite being exhausted from our 3 AM wake up call that morning.

On Friday, Amanda met with a higher up at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston for lunch to network and learn more about the hospital, and her father and I strolled down Newbury Street, a popular shopping and eating destination in the heart of the city. My father in law proceeded to give me excellent life advice over our lunch, which is typical when spending time with him. When we picked up Amanda after her meeting, she was beaming with excitement for having gotten to see a lot of Mass Gen and share her ideas for her future with a fellow UT graduate. We stopped for ice cream on the way back to Rockport, and settled in for a movie that night.

The next morning, I decided to go on a running adventure and run along the Essex Coastal Scenic Byway to the Annisquam Lighthouse about 6 miles away from where we were staying. The road itself lived up to its name, and the Light(house) at the end of the tunnel was stunningly beautiful. People commenting on the photo I posted to social media asked if it was really a photo I took, or rather a picture of a painting I was posting. I had not been prepared for how beautiful the coast is in the Northeast during this time of year. Even the rocks were beautiful. That night Amanda and I shared a romantic dinner at the same balcony restaurant we ate lunch at the first day, and watched the sunset over the sleepy town.

On Sunday, Amanda and I rented bikes and explored Rockport on two wheels. The houses are a combination of historic, huge, and beautiful, and come in all shades of colors. We finished the bike ride with a dip in the ocean at Front Beach, which added to the bodies of water I have gone swimming in this calendar year (Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador, Lake Tahoe, now the Atlantic Ocean). We ended our day watching Memento, which we had never seen.

It was bittersweet having to head home the next day, as we felt as though we had just gotten comfortable and relaxed in our little beach condo getaway. But it was great to finally get to take a trip together, as we had both traveled without each other over the course of our first year of marriage, but hadn't taken a trip together since right after we got in engaged over 2 years ago to Portland. While it can be good to have those breaks away from each other at times, trips like these remind us that we truly are each other's best friend, and it left us feeling refreshed before we both get busy in the grind this Fall.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Running with Strangers

(As originally written for and posted by Rogue Expeditions

Almost exactly two years ago I joined my first training group at Rogue Running in Austin, Texas and was invited by my coach to come listen to an informational meeting about a run based traveling company called Rogue Expeditions. I sipped on a beer and watched intently as this couple named Allison and Gabe described how their love for running and traveling had led them to start this company, which included trips to locations such as Kenya, Patagonia and Morocco. I remember being struck by how passionately the couple talked about wanting to create memorable adventures for those who signed up for their trips. Going on one immediately went on my bucket list.

Flash forward to two weeks ago, as I was boarding a flight to Reno, Nevada where I would be picked up along with five other first-time Rogue Expedition trip takers to be the 2016 group to #RunTahoe. I had hardly slept the night before due to excitement, yet ultimately still did not really know what to expect. I would be staying in a cabin with strangers, visiting a part of the country I had never been to, and logging my longest week of miles this calendar year (not to mention logging those miles via trail running which was also not something I had done a lot of). So the sleepless night of excitement may have also had twinges of nervousness mixed in. However, I managed to make my short connection at LAX and arrived safely in Reno (as did my checked luggage) and was greeted at the baggage claim by a very cheery Allison and other runners in the group. The excitement from everyone was palpable, and even one participant whose luggage had not arrived with her flight was still in great spirits as we all began to bond in the car ride to our lodge for the next five days. Pretty quickly my nerves about vacationing with strangers began to subside.

            For runners, bonding is not a new concept. There is the bond created from sharing the misery of training runs. There is the amazing atmosphere created before, during, and after races in which there is always a feeling of celebration. There is that shared runners high when sharing a drink or meal that feels truly earned. I have also found that it is often easy to bond with other travelers. When you meet other people away from home, you get to share stories, and people seem to really open up when they are out of the comfort zone of their daily routines. These two different ways of connecting with people are merged in this environment cultivated by Rogue Expeditions.

After arriving at the cabin and getting to meet everyone in the group, we set off on our first run of the trip. The Donner Lake Rim Trail would give us amazing views of Donner Lake, where the infamous Donner party was stranded in the 1840’s, and we would get to cross over the famed Pacific Crest Trail. Running at altitude can be a bit of an adjustment, but the amazing views and perfect weather distracted us.

 Gabe, Allison, and our other guide Sarah were all very gifted in the kitchen, and each meal prepared by them provided perfect fuel for the adventures we were having during the trip. We had everything from Thai food to fajitas to steaks, and being able to have home cooked meals only added to the family vibe of the trip. On day two, we ran the Rubicon Trail, ending with a picnic on a secluded beach right on Lake Tahoe in the popular area of Emerald Bay. The cold water was refreshing as we ate and took photos of the amazing views around us.

            Day three was the long run, which consisted of 14 miles on one of the most popular trails in the world – the Flume Trail. The views of Lake Tahoe from high up on this trail are incredible, and neither my words nor my pictures can do them justice. The pace for everyone on this run was slow, as we knew we would be stopping frequently to take pictures. We once again ended with a picnic on a beach, this time eating Argentinian styled wraps and climbing on the boulders of Chimney Beach. Back at our cabin, the group bonded over Cards Against Humanity and crossword puzzles, and the atmosphere continued to feel more like a family reunion then a house full of people who had just met days before.

            The fourth day was meant for recovery, but multiple people got up early to go on an extra run before the scheduled trail so that one of the group members who had to leave early from the trip would not have to run alone. The scheduled run took us through the abandoned tunnels of the transcontinental railroad. It was incredible to see the amazing graffiti artwork within the tunnels, and seeing tunnels carved and/or blasted through the sides of mountains was impressive. After another picnic, we headed to the Truckee River to go whitewater rafting. Truly living up to their promise of epic adventures, the hours on the river were a great change of pace from the trail running.

On the final morning, everyone woke up and run the “optional” last run to Moriah Point overlooking the Royal Gorge. Once again, the views did not disappoint, and it was hard knowing we would have to say goodbye to our little cabin on the Serene Lakes. As we began departing, genuine hugs and warm wishes were shared, and plans were already beginning to circulate for when we could all get together again for a reunion. It was not surprising to any of us that a lot of people end up signing up for multiple Rogue Expedition trips. I recently wrote a blog post for Rogue Running about joining a running group and finding a family, and that theme again permeates my feelings towards this trip. The connections shared, the experiences that Rogue Expeditions cultivated for us will never be forgotten by everyone who attended. Every detail was taken care of for us, and all we had to do was show up, run, and enjoy the views. I can’t wait to sign up for my next trip, and hope my words will inspire others to do the same.

I joined a running group to make friends, and instead I found a family

(As originally posted for Rogue Running in Austin, Texas)

In August 2014, I decided to join a training group at Rogue Running in Austin, Texas. I had just gotten engaged to my now wife, whom I met on Tinder (which is a story for another time), and was coming to the realization that as I had grown in my relationship with her, I had lost some of the friendships I had previous to meeting her. Although I graduated from college about a month before moving to Austin, my first four years in the Violet Crown could be viewed more as the “party” portion of my life than the four years I spent in college in my hometown in East Texas. However, most of the friendships I had made during that time were based more around going out and drinking than on something I could consider a healthy and sustainable lifestyle. As I moved down the path towards marriage, my time spent on the bar scene lessened, and I realized I needed a way to meet people that would be a little more conducive to my new, attempting-to-be adult lifestyle.

I learned about Rogue from a friend who had successfully run her first marathon while training with one of their groups. Previous to joining, I had casually trained for and successfully run a number of 10k’s and half marathons, which I did as almost a form of justification for my indulgent lifestyle. It was also somewhat meditative for me, the solitude of pounding the trails or pavement, so I was a little hesitant about running in the August Texas heat with a bunch of strangers.  I tried to maintain a positive attitude, especially considering I had at times in my life experienced the infamous “runners high” and figured if I could catch that sense of euphoria occasionally, that surely I could meet 1 or 2 people I might be able to bond with.

What happened over the course of the next few weeks, months, and now years is a laundry list of life lessons in connecting with people. Running in a group appealed to my competitive nature in a way I had not seen coming, and also reminded me of my past growing up playing team sports including soccer and basketball. I had not imagined a sport as considerably “solo” as running could be groomed and improved thanks to having a team or group around you, taking pleasure in your progress. I also learned that misery truly loves company, and that “embracing the suck” with fellow runners allowed me to overcome mental barriers to run distances I never could have imagined on my casual solo runs of the past.  The accountability these connections provided gave me strength on those early Saturday mornings when I did not want to get out of bed to put in the work I had signed myself up for, and at the end of every one of those runs, regardless how I felt during, I always felt accomplished and grateful for the kind words received from the cheerleaders around me. 

Post-run stretches turned into hang outs, dinners, happy hours, holidays, and life events. I even took my turn at coaching a few groups occasionally as an assistant coach for a season. The bonds forged on the roads of Austin have turned into lifelong friendships and a sense of community and family I could not have imagined. As I spent the Fourth of July with over 50 runners who woke up early to run in the hills of West Austin before enjoying some amazing food and fellowship, I could not help but be grateful for the family I have come to feel a part of. As I train for the New York City Marathon this November, I know that I have the support of hundreds of runners who truly want to see me succeed, and it will be those smiles and handshakes, likes on Facebook, and good luck filled text messages that keep me going. I didn’t need an app to find friends; I just needed to go Rogue.