Back to School!, Monday, August 27, 2018

It is that awkward time of year for yoga and Pilates studios. Schools are starting, and attendance in classes is falling off. Teachers, who had the summer off and were able to take daytime classes, are either back in their classrooms during the days, or preparing feverishly to go back to work. Parents, who had school-age children at home for the summer, are now free to go to the daytime classes they were missing but are still getting back-to-school duties managed. I expect them to start showing up next week

I too will be going back to school, but as a student and not a teacher. I have enrolled in the Pilates and Dance Conditioning certification program at Orange Coast College and will be commuting down to Costa Mesa on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I will be taking the Pilates Methodology class, the Kinesiology for Dance class, and a Gyrokinesis class. The latter two classes are taught by my long-time body mechanic Donna Place.

My objective in going back is not motivated by a desire to be a teacher, but more a desire to learn more about my body and the methods I can use to maintain and improve it. When I started practicing yoga six years ago I was frustrated by the lack of opportunity to ask questions in class. My solution to that problem was to do a teacher training program even though I had only been practicing for 8 months when I started. That was the perfect opportunity to ask those questions I had.

Now I have been practicing Pilates consistently at Pilates X Studio for over a year, and it is time to up my game!


With respect to my own training, my right foot still has not forgiven me for beating it up almost three weeks ago! I can now walk pretty normally unless I try to go too fast or too far. On Friday I managed to walk almost 1.5 miles without a problem, and that gave me some hope for extending my range.

Saturday, however, was a different story. I went to the Fit Expo at the Anaheim Convention Center to watch my training partner Anna’s sister Diana who was entered in a Powerlifting competition. Diana did great, winning the 60kg weight class. That’s her in the video with her final squat of 237.5 lbs. I think I got caught up in the rushing here and there, all on unforgiving concrete floors, and wound up hobbling back to my car after only a couple of hours. I do have an appointment with a podiatrist tomorrow and I hope he can assist in getting me back on the road to a full recovery.

Sleep? Who Needs Sleep!, Sunday, August 20, 2018

When last we spoke it was Wednesday, and I was in Utah waiting for Kerry Ward and his intrepid band of canyoneers–Sam Edwards, Sam’s 13 year old son Max, and Kerry Sherman–to make the most challenging slot canyon descent in Zion Canyon National Park.

At the Trailhead
At Lava Point–Kerry Sherman, Max and Sam Edwards, and Kerry Ward

The target was Heaps Canyon. Heaps feeds the Emerald Pools, one of the most accessible and popular features of the canyon. It is so challenging that the first descent of the canyon was not even made until 1982. It is a full-featured canyoneering expedition requiring serious gear–wetsuits, long ropes, harnesses, slings, and rappelling hardware–and features numerous rappels, deep potholes that turn into keepers when not full of water, and culminates in a 280 foot free rappel to the upper Emerald Pool.

Entry to Heaps
The approach to Heaps Canyon

I had dropped off the canyon crew at Lava Point at about 8 am. Sam told me that I could expect them to finish between 4 and 6 pm, which was more than a little bit optimistic given that the guide to Heaps says that the descent can take from 12-20 hours. The expedition began with an 8 mile hike just to get into the canyon, and I had heard from Kerry Ward about 10:30 that they had reached the mouth of the canyon in very good time.

Later that afternoon I explored the park a bit and found that the trail up to Emerald Pools was closed, so around 5 I headed down to the Visitor Center where I would wait for them. As the day wore on I noticed some serious cloud buildup north of the canyon. This was a cause for great concern as one of the dangers of any slot canyon trip is the possibility of flash flooding. Sure enough, by around 6 the skies had darkened, thunder and lightning had commenced, and light rain was falling at the Visitor Center.

EUP by www78 on Flickr Edit
Final rappel sequence for Heaps Canyon. The second rappel is 280 feet. Image from Flickr www78.

As 8 pm and darkness approached I began to worry in earnest. There are a lot of things that can go wrong in a descent like this, and I had visions of them dropping their long rope and not being able to make the final descent. That would not be a huge problem under normal circumstances as there would be a lot of visitors to the Emerald Pools who could be notified and seek help. The trail closure nixed that possibility!

I was waiting at the shuttle stop as shuttle after shuttle appeared with no canyoneers. I noticed a very worried looking gentleman who was also anxiously watching shuttles. I found out that he and his wife and daughter had been hiking in the Narrows, had become separated, and they had been unable to locate the daughter. The gathering storms were also feeding his anxiety.

Sam Takes a Leap
Entering the canyon. Most folks rappel down, but that’s too slow for Sam.

Finally, just before 8 I received a text from Kerry W.  They had successfully exited the canyon, were hiking down the closed trail, and would soon be on a shuttle heading down to the VC! About 5 minutes later my co-worrier got a call from the rangers that his daughter had been located at the last shuttle stop before the Narrows (the Temple of Sinawava) and was on a shuttle down to the VC.

Heaps Narrows
In the narrows.

When she arrived she was very angry with her parents, and I wondered why. After becoming separated the parents had come out of the Narrows. They didn’t find the daughter at the shuttle stop, assumed that the daughter (who had been behind them in the Narrows) had gotten on a shuttle and gone back to their prearranged rendezvous at their car at the VC.

Finders Keepers
My fears of them losing a rope proved unfounded. They actually returned with about 600 feet of rope that had been lost/abandoned by other groups.

They took the shuttle down, didn’t find her, and made a fatal mistake–they got in the car and went looking for her, moving the car to a different location. My guess is that the daughter had come down after they moved the car, didn’t find it, and took the shuttle back up to where she had last seen her parents and where she had been waiting anxiously for them until the rangers canvassed the location. Kind of a comedy of errors!!

Final Rap Setup
Sam setting up the last rappel. Getting late, but still light out!

The shuttle with the canyon crew finally arrived about 9, and we all headed to Springdale for a well-earned dinner. Then it was back to St. George, where we arrived at Sam’s at 10:30. No rest, however, when hanging with Ward, as Kerry and I were headed back to LA! I drove the first leg to Primm, Nevada, Kerry took over until Barstow, and then I drove the last leg to the Morgan Castle in the Hollywood Hills. I dropped Kerry there, headed back to Long Beach, and got home at 5 am, which is when I usually get up!

My Costume
Me in costume at Versailles with a couple of new friends.

I had a lot to do, so after I slept for a couple of hours I got up, went to my 11 am Pilates class at Pilates X, and then it was off to my costume fitting at Bianca’s Historic Costuming! I had been invited to a costume party Friday at the Morgan Castle. The theme was “Let them Eat Cake Party at Versailles”. The Morgan’s are serious costume partiers, and I am costume challenged so had decided to seek professional help. Bianca and her husband Peter expeditiously fitted me with a great period costume.

I had a decent nights sleep, was up at 5 as usual, worked out, took a Pilates class, had a nap, and then drove up to the Morgan Castle in the Hollywood Hills for the epic costume party. A little after 1 am I managed to extricate Kerry Ward from the party–not a trivial task as he is traditionally the life of any party he goes to–and I drove him up to Big Bear where he planned to rendezvous with his friend Dax Orion Hock.

Party scene by Baxter Zappa
Dancers at the party–photo by Baxter Zappa

Dax, along with his wife Sarah, is a world champion swing dancer, and they are the owners of the Lindy Loft in downtown Los Angeles. About a year ago he expressed an interest in doing an ultra marathon. Since then Kerry has been mentoring him in that endeavor, and he finally felt that he was ready for his first 100 miler. Dax had started the Kodiak Big Bear 100 ultra at 8 am on Friday, and Kerry wanted to meet him at the Sugarloaf aid station to pace him through the last 30 miles.

Dax was faster than expected, and we left the party a little later than planned, so we missed Dax on his first pass through Sugarloaf. Kerry grabbed a bit of sleep in my car while I watched for Dax. When Dax arrived just about at dawn they were off for the last 20 miles of the race. Dax finished at about 11 am for a total time of 27 hours and was first among all male non-professional runners, a pretty spectacular result for a first timer!

Then it was the long slow drive home. Mid day traffic on I-10 was a whole lot worse than middle of the night traffic, but eventually I dropped off Kerry at the Morgan Castle and made it back to Long Beach just after 5 pm. Between Tuesday morning at 5 am when I got up and Saturday at 5 pm, a span of 108 hours, I had gotten a total of 13 hours of sleep. I will be getting some needed rest over the next few day. No rest for Ward, though. He was off today for a job Monday in Charlotte, NC, then back to Vancouver where he will gear up for the long drive to Burning Man!

Hanging with Ward, Wednesday, August 15, 2018

It is now 10:38 am on Wednesday, and I am sitting in one of my favorite coffeeshops, River Rock Roasting Company, in Hurricane, UT. At about 8 am I dropped off my buddy Kerry Winston Ward and three confederates–Sam Edwards, Sam’s son Max, and Kerry Sherman–at Lava Point in the high country north of Zion Canyon.


Kerry Ward in Sam Edward’s well-stocked garage at 5 am

Their mission? To make a descent of Heap’s Canyon. According to Canyoneering USA, Heap’s is …

The Big Kahuna. Heaps is a truly wonderful canyon, but it is also BIG. Deep inside the mountain, it is dark, wet, sinuous and moody. When really wet, it is fast and cold, and such a blast! When the water levels go down, keeper potholes start appearing, and as the level continues descending, more and more potholes require effort to get out of.

Sam had planned to do this expedition last week, but was unable to get it together. Kerry W. had to scramble a bit to get in this rescheduled excursion. He flew into Los Angeles on Tuesday morning for a meeting, and then after the meeting I picked him up at the Morgan Castle in the Hollywood Hills and drove to the St. George area. We didn’t leave until about 6:30, and it was just after 2 am when we got to Sam’s house in Santa Clara, and then we were up before 5 am to prepare for the expedition du jour. As if that were not enough of a challenge, we will be driving back to the Los Angeles area tonight so we can take care of business tomorrow.

Pothole Dave Buckingham

Potholes in the upper reaches of Heap’s Canyon. Photo by Dave Buckingham on CBS

This is a very challenging canyon experience, and requires a great deal of expertise and preparation. In fact, the first descent of the canyon was not even made until 1982. Starting from Lava Point, wannabe canyoneers must hike on the order of 9 miles just to enter the canyon. Once in the canyon there are a number of rappels required, with the last one a 280 foot rappel down to the upper Emerald Pools. That last rappel is actually more on the order of 500 feet, but is broken into first a 200 foot drop to a very small ledge (just large enough for two) and then the final approach.


At the Lava Point trailhead–Kerry Sherman, Max and Sam Edwards, and Kerry Ward

Another challenge is water, and sometimes a lack of water. This canyon has a large number of potholes, deep depressions that fill with water, and when they are full canyoneers need to swim them. When they are not full they can also be problematic–a keeper pothole is one that is deep and difficult to climb out of when it is not full. The upper reaches of the canyon require wet or dry suits, which must be packed in along with ropes, harness, and hardware for the rappels.


View from the top of the final rappel. Photo from T-Dawg Speaks


The guide for the trip indicates a 12-20 hour time commitment required, but this crew is planning on more like 8-10 hours. I just got a text message from Kerry W. (coverage is spotty and unreliable) indicating that they had reached the canyon in just about 2-1/2 hours, well under the 4 hours predicted in the guide, so they appear to be well on schedule. Keep your fingers crossed! I think I am going to find someplace where I can get in a bit of a nap before tonight’s driving.

Status Update, Saturday, August 11, 2018

It is Saturday morning, and I am here at Steelhead Coffee working on dealing with the latest injury/insult to my body:-(.

My friend Kerry Ward flew in to LAX on Thursday morning, and one of his prime objectives was to go for a long run with World Champion swing dancer and proprietor of downtown LA’s Lindy Loft Dax Orion Hock . Kerry is mentoring Dax, who is preparing for his inaugural 100 mile ultramarathon next weekend in Big Bear. I picked up Kerry at the airport, we met up with Dax in Santa Monica, and then proceeded up the coast to the La Jolla Canyon trailhead in Point Mugu State Park.

Screen Shot 2018-08-11 at 9.21.41 AM

That trailhead is the western terminus of the Backbone Trail, a 67.9 mile long trail that extends from Point Mugu to Will Rogers State Park off Sunset Blvd in Los Angeles. Kerry and Dax were planning on running about the first 30 miles of the trail. My plans were more modest. I was planning on doing an up-and-back hike of about 10 miles, after which I would pick up the lads at some road crossing to be determined later.


Kerry and Dax at the Ray Miller Trailhead

All went as planned for the first five miles. I even got ambitious and ran a couple of miles, but stopped running because the tendons in my right heel were starting to tighten up and bother me. At my turnaround point I saw that there was a trail that went down La Jolla Canyon to the trailhead. It was only 2.4 miles long, so I decided I would cut back on my expectations and take that shortcut. The trail was very narrow, overgrown, and looked like it got very little traffic, especially considering that it was the shortest route from the trailhead to the La Jolla Canyon walk-in campsite.



About a mile from the trailhead I found the reason for the light traffic–the trail was closed! It would have been great to have had that information at the start of the trail, and  my only choice at this point was to turn around and go back the way I had come, meaning that my 10 mile trip, that had been reduced to a 7.5 mile trip, was now going to be on the order of 14 miles!

I had another problem to deal with. It was a very hot day, and the temperatures as I moved away from the beach had climbed to 100+. I had brought along 1.5 liters of water, and as I had descended the canyon trail I was thirsty and was drinking a lot as I thought I only had a couple of miles to go. By the time I reached my new turnaround point I probably had less than a half-liter of water left, and that had to get me through a very hot seven miles!


View from the Ray Miller Trail. You can see just the tip of the rock at Point Mugu.

They say when it rains, it pours, and that was the case here. At about the 11 mile mark I took a bad step and my right foot began to hurt in earnest. Not such a happy occurrence as I still had about three miles and 1200 feet of descent ahead of me. By rationing my water I managed to make it last until I had about 1.5 miles left, and when I got to the bottom I rather quickly consumed 3/4 of a liter and was still thirsty!

About a mile from the end of my hike I got a text message from Kerry that they were approaching Yerba Buena Road, so I drove up to that trail crossing where I found Kerry waiting for me. He was suffering a bit from the heat and had only covered 16.3 miles at that point. Dax had continued on by himself to cover another 4.6 miles to the next intersection with Yerba Buena road, so we headed over there and waited for him to arrive. He arrived safely, and we headed for home.


Bedlam Lullaby at Viento y Agua

In the immediate aftermath I was having great difficulty even walking, and that state persisted through yesterday. I laid pretty low, but did get out to see a steamy performance by my favorite girl group, Bedlam Lullaby, at Viento y Agua coffeshop. Even that was a problem as my parking spot was a painful two blocks from the event. Today is better, but I am still restricting my activity to just a Gyrotonic session today, and trying to stay off my feet as much as I can.

Old Band, New Music! Boxing Gandhis, Saturday, August 4, 2018

From 1983 to 1993 I was living in Venice, sharing a house on Rose Avenue east of Lincoln with my friends Gene and Davida, and eventually, their daughter Frazier. Gene is a musician and had a band named Big Fun. A large part of my entertainment at that time consisted of going out to Big Fun gigs. I was their biggest fan, and worked hard to bring others out to their shows.

One memorable show was in 1993 at the late, lamented Palomino club in North Hollywood. As I recall, Big Fun was up early enough that I was able to hang out for the next band. I was happy that I did! That band was an incredibly good funk/soul band named the Boxing Gandhis, and they instantly converted me into a major fan.

The Gandhis were the creation of and fronted by the Darlings. David (aka, Dave) Darling is a successful record producer who has worked with artists like Brian Setzer, the Stray Cats, Def Leppard, and other acts. He is also a talented musician and singer in his own right. Brie Howard Darling, his wife at that time, is a dynamic vocalist/percussionist who was a founding member of the all female rock band Fanny.

There was no shortage of vocal talent in the Boxing Gandhis! Ernie Perez and David Kitay provided additional lead and backup vocals, while Ernie also did yeoman duty on the saxophone. One of the distinguishing features of the Gandhis was a brass section, with Alfredo Ballesteros joining Ernie on flute and saxophone. Percussion was another strength for the band with both Davids (Darling and Kitay) and Brie adding rhythmic complexity to the drumming of Steve Samuel.

The Gandhis were a rather large band–I see eight members listed on their eponymous album Boxing Gandhis, but if my memory serves me well there may have been on the order of 10 players at times in their live gigs. I recall seeing them perform at Genghis Cohen one time, and it was quite a challenge to accommodate the full band on the tiny stage at that venue.


Fanny Walked the Earth

I was very happy several months ago when I saw that Brie has resurfaced and joined forces with sisters June Millington and Jane Millington Adamian, her former bandmates from the 60’s. Back in their teen years they were known as Fanny, and the mature version is going by Fanny Walked the Earth.


Boxing Gandhis

The new Boxing Gandhis

Even more exciting was the news that the Boxing Gandhi’s have reformed! They have not done any live gigs yet, but every day brings more news from the studio where they are working on a new album, titled “Old Band, New Music”. I am eagerly awaiting both the release of their new album and look forward to shaking my bones when they finally do start playing out!

June Entertainment Update, Sunday, July 1, 2018

Gee, it’s already July, and I forgot to talk about any of the cool entertainment I managed to see last month. Time now to correct that oversight!


The Secret Bowl from last year

The month got off to an awesome start with the inaugural incarnation of the Secret Bowl. Friend Staci Valentine has a property in Beachwood Canyon up near the Hollywood sign, and friend James Combs for several years has been putting together some really fine outdoor concerts there. Saturday, June 2, was the first one of the current season. The featured artist this time was one of my favorites from last season, Abby & The Myth.

Abby & The Myth

Abby & The Myth — Left to right: Cara, Ellisse, David, David’s friend, and Abby

Abby is Abby Posner, and she is a dynamic performer who I profiled in a blog post over a year ago. At that time she had a minimal band with her and still put on a wonderful show. This time she brought along the reconfigured Myth. Stand-up bass player Donnie has been ably replaced by Ellise, and their performance was greatly enhanced by the presence of drummer David and the accordion of Cara.

Also on the bill was a performance by Manda Mosher, who also is part of the country-rock band Calico, and this round of the Secret Bowl concluded with a performance by James Combs and Erin Hawkins performing songs from James’s award-winning band Great Willow.


Nils and band at Spaghettini — Clydene is on keyboards

On Saturday, June 16, I went to Spaghettini in Seal Beach to see a show by Nils (Jiptner, not Lofgren as advertised by Spaghettini on their calendar), a very talented jazz guitarist. My friend from Pilates X, Clydene Jackson, plays keyboards for the band and also does backup vocals. I was transported by the music, and spent the entire show dancing with Clydene’s sister Toni (30 years a professional dancer), even making several pilgrimages through the entire club in an effort to get others on their feet. My mojo was working overtime for this gig:-)!

Tuesday, June 19, was a banner night. I have been trying for a year to get James Combs to book another of my long-time favorites, Cindy Alexander, into the Secret Bowl, but was handicapped by the fact that James didn’t know Cindy. Lo and behold, both Cindy and James’s band Great Willow had received LA Music Critic Awards, and both would be performing on the same stage for a showcase performance at The Mint!

I did get a chance to introduce them to each other early in the evening, but unfortunately  James had an very early flight to catch the next morning and couldn’t stick around for Cindy’s wonderful performance later that evening accompanied by another of my long time favorites, Ali Handal.


Cindy Alexander and Ali Handal at the LA Music Critic Award Showcase

I did stick around for her performance, but the real highlight was when both Cindy and Ali joined me on the dance floor during Rusty Young’s (formerly of Poco and NOT Neil Young’s brother) set and I had the pleasure of slow dancing with both of them :-))! Rusty’s comment from the stage was “that guy is having the time of his life right now!” I agree.

Other memorable performances were those by Pi Jacobs, by James’s band Great Willow, a very dynamic pair of sisters named The Khourys, and Rusty Young.

On the next night, Wednesday, I finally took my swing dancing practice live in a trip to Rusty’s Rhythm Club in Playa Del Rey. I took an introductory Lindy Hop class, and spent an hour on the dance floor before I finally ran out of gas. In my defense it had been a busy day: a Power Pilates class that morning, a 12 mile bike ride, and a six mile run/walk in the afternoon prior to heading out in the evening.

This month-long lineup of entertainment conclude the following Wednesday, 6/27, with a showcase performance by the artist formerly known as Deja Nichole, and now rebranded as Mia Sera. I first met Mia when she was a featured artist at one of the lost and greatly lamented Saturday night open mics at the Fox Coffee House. I was very impressed by her at that time, and she was the subject of one of my first blog posts featuring music.

Mia has continued to grow as an artist, and she came through with a dynamic and powerful performance in the Foundation Room at the Anaheim House of Blues. She was second up for the evening, and I was a bit concerned at the beginning of her set. The room was populated at that point by family and fans of the first performer, a very young (12 years old!) singer/songwriter named Ava August, who played an impressive array of covers and original songs. As I had feared, there was considerable early chatter during her first song by the remaining Ava fans, but that was soon quelled as Mia Sera displayed the power of her vocals on the second song. The rest of the night belonged to her.

That about wraps it up for the month of June. Despite my silence through the month, it was a very good month indeed!



Status Update, Monday, June 25, 2018

Well, it has been way, way too long since my last blog post. I do have a couple of what I would consider major pieces in the works, but have found myself pretty much completely stalled in the effort to make them really major. Time to just regroup a bit and just get something out.

My last big adventure was my trip to New Mexico to hang with the Ward’s (Kerry and Indigo) back in the middle of May. That trip is the subject of the upcoming “A Full-Tilt Week” post, one of those stalled projects. Since then I have been continuing to do the slow work of strengthening and refining the progress I have made in rebuilding my right ankle/leg.

White Sands

Walking in White Sands

So, in addition to hanging out in coffeeshops and talking to people, how do I spend my days? A couple of yoga classes per week at LA Fitness, 3-4 Pilates classes/week at Pilates X, one to three ballet classes at Elevation Studios and EnPointe Dance and Fitness, a weekly swing dance lesson with Mary-Morgan Childs, a weekly Gyrotonics session at Orange County Gyrotonics with Veeseuth, and semimonthly visits to my body mechanic, Donna Place, at Long Beach Gyrotonic. All that, plus an average of about 8 miles of walking/running, and 30-50 miles on the bike.

I have been feeling a bit lazy, though, about doing any excursions where I need to get in the car and drive somewhere for my walking/running. That has led to late starts and short distances on those occasions when I did finally overcome the inertia. I found some much-needed inspiration on Sunday in the form of Anna Isabel Godinez, who proved to be a tireless hiking companion on a 13 mile hike up Temescal Canyon from Sunset to The Hub and back. After our hike we made a visit to the Original Muscle Beach in Santa Monica where Anna received her initiation into the community of acrobats.

Anna Acro

Anna and Ernie Thrash at OMB

While this entry is dated on Monday, it is now Wednesday. I had another fortuitous meeting on Tuesday at LA Fitness where I met three young ladies who are training for the Ray Miller 50K Ultra that will be run in the Santa Monica mountains on December 1 of this year. That provides me with both a target for a future ultra as well as some more potential training partners.

Ray Miller 50 K

Ray Miller 50K Course Map and Elevation Profile

My rehabilitation program is proceeding apace. I was in a ballet class last week, and as I was warming up at the barre waiting for class to begin I became conscious of the fact that I actually felt confident that my right ankle could support me on pirouettes! My right leg is now capable of proper alignment for walking and running. Capable, but still not the default and I am still working on locating, waking, and strengthening the muscles necessary for proper positioning and stability of my ankles, knees, and hips.  They don’t like to fire up at the start of my walks, but once they do fire up they have shown some staying power!

My swing dance lessons have been invaluable in that pursuit. East Coast Swing requires a tremendous amount of side-to-side triple-stepping, and it doesn’t take very long for those muscles to feel a significant burn when I do that work. Those muscles are still on the lazy side and require some time to waken when I walk, but when they do the results are very positive!

Last Wednesday I even made a trip to Rusty’s Rhythm Club, a weekly swing dance meet-up in Playa Del Rey where I was introduced to Lindy Hop technique and had the opportunity to practice my skills. I took the introductory lesson, and got in about an hour of real dancing before my feet and knees got too sore. Still need to work on that endurance, but this was a start!

Zion Ultra 50K, Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Leadup

On Wednesday, 4/18/2018, I got up early, loaded up my car, and set out for Hurricane, Utah. I arrived and checked in to the Clarion Inn & Suites, which would be my staging ground for my my graduation exercise–the Zion Ultra 50K, a 50 kilometer (31 mile) romp through the deserts and mesas near Virgin, Ut.

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When I retired in July, 2015, I began a process of restoring functionality to my body. My motto was “65 going on 45”. I had kept myself in pretty good shape until my early 50’s, having run the LA Marathon in 2003. The last 8 years of my working life, however, had confined me to sit for 10-12 hours a day, and that, together with a bone spur that had developed in my right ankle, played havoc with my conditioning.

When I was in my late 40’s I had a practice of doing a hike of at least 20 miles on a monthly basis, but by the time I retired that kind of endurance was a distant memory. I have worked hard over the last several years to remediate the bone spur and build up the muscles that had atrophied. I have completely revamped my gait, am feeling a lot more strong and stable, and was ready for a test. What better test could I ask for than an ultra-marathon?

The Ecstasy

I checked into the hotel about 2:30, and then headed down Utah route 9 towards Sheep Bridge Road, just outside of Virgin. This was where the 50K course would rejoin the road at the end of the race on Saturday, and I wanted to see what I was getting into.

05_Virgin River EOC

The end of the course runs along the Virgin River west of the town of Virgin

I drove down the road a half mile to mile 28 where the last trail portion joined it, and headed back down that trail until I got to mile 25 where the last aid station would be. This portion started by hugging the rim of the Virgin River wash, following the rim of a feeder wash until it reached a crossing point, and then across the desert to the road junction where the aid station would be set up. I then reversed course, covering 6.2 miles and maintaining an 18 minutes/mile pace, more than sufficient for completing the course in 11 hours. I was stoked and feeling confident!

The Agony

The next day, however, was a bit different. On Thursday morning I got up early and drove just past Virgin to the next river crossing point at Camino del Rio, where the race would leave the road after Saturday’s 6 am start. I was particularly concerned about this portion because it included a climb of over 1000 feet to the top of Gooseberry Mesa in just three-quarters of a mile. I am pretty good at going uphill as I am a grinder by nature–I just keep on chugging–but steep downhills fill me with terror and I wanted to see what I was in for.

10_The Dreaded Climb

Going to the top

My plan was to hike from route mile 2 to the top of the mesa and explore the routes up there a bit. The route for the race would reach the top at mile 5, follow the north rim of the mesa all the way to its tip, and then return via the south rim to the launch point at mile 17 for the way too steep descent. That steep stretch was, quite frankly, terrifying to me.

Sure enough, that steep bit posed a serious problem. My time from route mile 4 to the top at route mile 5 was 35 minutes, and coming down 37 minutes. Plus, I had a couple of nasty slips and wrenched my right knee enough so it was giving me grief. A 7.9 mile roundtrip had an average pace approaching 24 min/mile, and that was a pace that would not get the job done:-(!


My spirits going into Thursday evening were not high, and were further dampened by dark clouds on the horizon and a prediction of rain for Friday. After a very nice dinner at the Stagecoach Grille I returned to my hotel room to ice my body, stretch, and relax a bit. My only regret was not getting a picture of the giant platter of raw meat that the servers use to build their own muscles while enticing customers with those 52 oz steaks.

The Waiting

Friday was a rest day, and was miserable in the morning. I did my morning stretch and strengthening exercises but wasn’t able to pull myself out of my room until almost 11 when I headed down the road to the River Rock Roasting Company for caffeine and sustenance. The RRRC, like other similar establishments in the area, was quite busy. If one is camping in a tent, then when the weather turns bad the shelter of a warm, dry, and hospitable inn becomes quite attractive!

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The River Rock Roasting Company is a gem. It is set on top of a bluff that overlooks the confluence of the Virgin River and a couple of feeder creeks, and there are picture postcard worthy views from their outdoor patios. That, combined with good coffee, good food, a great staff, and a very cool clientele made it a very pleasant place to be.

By the afternoon the clouds had cleared, and my spirits lifted accordingly. I was pretty confident that I could keep up a good pace on the 17 miles that were on flat sections. If I could also keep a decent pace on the 12 mile loop on the mesa then I figured it shouldn’t be hard to offset the time losses on the ascent/descent.

The Big Day

25_Ready to Roll

I spent a rather sleepless and short night, arising at 3:45 to get ready to roll. I was at the start just before 5:30, had a chance to use the composting toilets before the crush, and positioned myself at the very back of the pack at the start. The temperature was 47 degrees, and I was wearing four layers: a compression tee-shirt, an athletic tee, a lightweight merino wool long-sleeved shirt, and a light fleece.

At the start everyone but me took off running. As I traveled the first mile, which was on the road and in town I was passed by the occasional runner who had missed the start. About the first mile I fell in with another walker, a gentleman named Rob who was an accountant from Nashville and an ultra regular. Together we talked and walked a good pace; we managed to keep up a 3.6 mph average pace for the first 4 miles. I wound up dropping Rob on the climb and made it to the Goosebump Aid station at mile with a cushion of 25 minutes.

I was feeling pretty strong and confident at that time, and after replenishing my calories and liquids I was off on the North Rim portion. The first couple of miles were easy, with a proper trail winding its way along the rim of the mesa. I fell in with another walker, Jon, an IT professional from Florida, and we kept up some good conversation until the Gooseberry Point aid station at mile 9.5.

The Hard Part

That is the good news; the bad news was that the proper trail had disappeared a couple of miles in and the last four miles had mostly involved navigating across slickrock, something that I am not at all fond of.

I did the half-mile to the turnaround at the Point, and then back to the aid station again at mile 10.5. I hadn’t stocked up when I came through the first time, so I filled my reservoirs (a 1.5L Osprey HydraPak and two 500ml squeeze bottles), ate some fruit, and emptied the grit out of my shoes. By the time I hit the trail again everyone else had vanished. I think that at this point I was officially last, a state that would persist through the next 20 miles.

The next four miles turned out to be my most difficult challenge as I had to navigate myself over a seemingly endless expanse of slickrock. Traveling over slickrock presents an array of physical, emotional, and mental problems. There is no such thing as flat footing, and there is no such thing as a clear sight line or a clear trail. Navigation involved sighting the occasional pink ribbons and the white dots on the rock, and my progress was dismayingly slow!

I do owe big thanks to my mentor, Kerry Ward, for getting me out on a slickrock excursion to Reflection Canyon two weeks before with Tom and Mauri Seletos. The eight miles of slickrock travel on that jaunt, combined with the night of thunderstorms on the slickrock with four of us crammed into a two-person tent, provided some toughening that I had to draw on through this part of the race.

40_Reflection Canyon

False color image of Reflection Canyon. Enhanced by my brother Robert Novak, but should have white rock rather than red rock.

Finally the slickrock came to an end and I was on a trail where I could make up some time. About a mile from the Goosebump Aid Station (mile 17 this time around) I met up with Frances, a young lady who had lost the trail, gotten side-tracked, and then managed to find it again. I walked with Frances until we reached the Aid Station.

Too Close for Comfort!

I veered off trail to the tent to see what nourishment was available, but the staff rather frantically told me that I needed to go through the timing chute “Right now!” The cutoff time for this penultimate aid station was 12:20, and it was now 12:19. If I didn’t make that cut time my race would be over!

I did make it through the chute in time, and then the staff marshaled me back to the tent where they treated me royally, replenishing my fluids and making me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Then it was off to face the task I had been dreading for the past several days–the descent from the mesa. I was now officially behind pace, but I figured that if I could make it down to the bottom in good shape I would be able to make up time on the relatively flat desert portion. Frances had not stopped at the station and was long gone by this time. I was again alone on the course.

45_The Chute

Rocky chute at the top of the mesa

There was a very rocky and steep chute near the top that I negotiated successfully, but then a couple of dozens yards down a steep dirt slope my feet slipped out from under me and I went down on my back. “It’s going to be a real long way down,” I thought to myself, and my spirits were at their nadir.

Saved by an Angel!

As I struggled to regain my feet I heard a voice behind me ask “Are you okay?” I looked back, and up the trail was a vertitable angel in a baseball cap and trail running gear. “Are you the sweeper?,” I asked. She told me that she was, and said that if I like she would just hang back. Or she could keep up with me as she went along with her task of picking up all the trail markers.


Morgan (call me Mo) Sjogren, aka The Running Bum, @running_bum_ on IG

I opted for the latter course, and what would have otherwise been a stoic and lonely eight miles to the next aid station became a much more interesting and enjoyable experience. I had not met up with just any pacer, but was now in the company of Morgan Sjogren, aka @running_bum_ on Instagram, who is not only an avid explorer but also a published author. In her own words she is

“…a free range raconteur focused on the outdoors, human powered adventure and public lands. My first book, The Best Bears Ears National Monument Hikes is now available! When I’m not writing I’m usually exploring the world on a two-footed quest for new trails, hidden treasure and the next adventure.”

Morgan is currently exploring the Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument and compiling information for her next guide, titled something like, oh, The Best Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument Hikes.

The Final Stretch

Time passed quickly as I trucked along, keeping up a good pace, conversing with Morgan when she wasn’t pausing to pick up markers. Morgan, or Mo, was also in cell phone communication with her boyfriend, Mike Versteeg, who was sweeping the last segments of the 100 mile course. Mike, by the way, is a man of distinction himself, being the world record holder for the off-road beer half-marathon.

We met up with Mike at the last aid station at mile 25, and he took over sweeping duties. About a mile and a half from the finish he pointed out two individuals walking several hundred meters ahead. “See the guy in the white shirt?,” he said. “He’s the last finisher for the 100 mile race. We are going to catch up with him.” That we did, and at 4:36 pm, 10 hours and 35 minutes after my start we crossed the finish line together. I did run the last 50 yards, which was the only running I did all day.

The Aftermath

Then it was over! I felt great as I crossed the line, and could easily have continued on indefinitely. I sat down and ate half a pizza, and by the time I stood up again I had stiffened up a bit but still felt good. I drove the 9 miles back to my hotel, got some ice and chilled my knees and ankles, drank some Gatorade to replenish fluids and electrolytes, took a shower, and then a short nap. Within a couple of hours I was moving normally.


Works like a charm!!

In the longer run there was virtually no period of recovery required. I drove back to Long Beach on Sunday, stopping to meet Kerry and Danielle Ward for lunch at the Palazzo in Las Vegas. The drive back was pretty miserable–Sunday is the worst time to drive back from Vegas–but I did make it without incident. I resumed my normal activities on Monday, going to a Power Pilates class at Pilates X in the morning followed by my swing dance lesson with Mary-Morgan Childs. I did trim my dance class from 90 to 60 minutes as my right ankle was a bit tender, but that had cleared up by the next morning. That week I did four ballet classes, three Power Pilates classes, two yoga classes, my swing dance class, two Gyrotonic sessions, and a couple of bicycle rides. My body has responded not as if I punished it in some way, but more like I just had a really good workout.

I am now thinking that a 100K is in the works, and my goal for next time is to be able to run enough so that I am not left behind. I most enjoyed the times when I had the company of other people. I particularly love getting to know people, and the people who one encounters in an ultra are a rare and special breed. Next time I plan on making yet more friends.


The End…. Or is it?

Postscript–I have been telling everyone that I was the DLF, or Dead Last Finisher. I have been informed by those in the know that the proper abbreviation is DFL, which stands for Dead F@%king Last, a moniker that I still wear with pride!

Status and Hanging with Ward, Thursday, April 5, 2018

Right now it is Saturday, March 31, 2018, and my test approaches! Three weeks from today I will be wending my way across the deserts and mesas of Western Utah as a participant in the Zion Ultras 50K event. When I retired just under three years ago my goal was to restore functionality to my body. My motto was “65 going on 45”. Still is, with only slight modifications.


Zion Ultra 50K Course

Some background…

One of those functionalities is the ability of my body to carry me across the earth under my own power quickly and as long as I need to go. I did a pretty good job of maintaining that functionality until my early 50’s. When I lived up on Mulholland Drive from 1993-2002 I would regularly make trips to places like Mount Wilson or Sycamore Canyon where the objective was a 20 mile hike, and in 2003 I got in pretty good shape and ran the LA Marathon.

That event, however, may have sown seeds for later problems. I was running great until about mile 11 when I turned an ankle, badly. There have been many cases in the past when I have turned ankles and been able to essentially walk it off, and I opted for that course here, walking a half-mile and then running again. I wound up running until about mile 18, and then walking most of the rest. In retrospect that probably contributed to the ankle mobility problems that eventually made even walking difficult, let alone running.

Had I been able to rehab that injury back then I would have been much better off, but rehab takes time, and in those years time was at a premium. I was paying the price for not even thinking about retirement until I reached my fifth Year of the Tiger. From 2002-2007 I was holding down two full-time jobs, and that left very little time for exercise.


Me with 6 of my 8 siblings. Ordered by age.

When I did exercise that took the form of biking mostly. I come from a family that tends to obesity. I have two brothers who average 400 lbs and a couple of sisters over 200 lbs.  if I don’t maintain a high enough exercise threshold I would join them rather quickly, and in fact have had on several occasions to lose up to 60 lbs to reverse that course. My threshold is about 1000 calories per day, and I give myself credit for 100 cal/mile for running/walking, 50 cal for every 100 feet of elevation gain, and 40 cal/mile on the bicycle. Given that I couldn’t really run at that point it would take me over three hours of walking on flat ground (not very fast) to get my 1000 calories. I could, however, do 25 miles of biking in less than 2 hours, so that became my go to exercise regimen.

The problem worsened in 2007 when I moved to Placentia, trading my three mile commute for a thirty mile commute in order to accommodate my then girlfriend. The additional driving was bad enough, but she had a lot of additional demands on what little time I had, with disastrous effect. Over the course of the next three years I gained over sixty pounds, turned into a gooey mess, and probably wouldn’t be here now if she hadn’t walked out on me in 2010.

A Proper Trudge

North Ridge Trail

From 2010-2013, freed from one form of bondage but still commuting to work, I was able to lose most of the weight I had gained. I was biking over 200 miles/week, and I also had the benefit of close proximity to Chino Hills State Park. I have found that the absolute best exercise and therapy for me is a long walk up a steep hill, and I had that in Chino Hills. My favorite “proper trudge” was to hike 5K up the North Ridge trail. That would give me a total of 6+ miles and 1000 feet of elevation for a caloric expenditure of 1100 calories! I could also do it in less than 2 hours, making it as efficient as biking.


In 2013 I moved back to Long Beach, gaining some time by losing my commute, but also losing the hills. It was back to a mono-exercise regimen of biking, and my rehab of my ankle problem was pretty much stalled. When I retired in July of 2015 I was ready to really get to work on that problem.

Enter Ward…

When one retires it is important that the work doesn’t go away. My motto is “Working for a life, not for a living”, and in looking at the friends I have one person stood out as having a lifestyle worth emulating. That person is Kerry Winston Ward. I had met Kerry through my travels to Original Muscle Beach and JJ’s Gym. He was a person who showed up infrequently, seemed to know everyone, and always displayed a tremendous amount of energy and skill. I had a chance to talk with him in September, 2014, when he was just two weeks removed from finishing the Tahoe 200 ultramarathon. I was amazed that he was showing absolutely no ill effects. He was a member of my entourage at the 2014 Circus Couture when I bought a table for 8, and as is pretty much always the case was the life of the party.


Circus Couture 2014

Kerry is also quite the adventurer. My friends often comment on how adventurous my own life is, but almost all of my major adventures have come when I was hanging with Ward. Those adventures, in turn, are only a very small fraction of his adventures. Waldo (as in “Where’s Waldo”) has nothing on Ward! On any given day he might very literally be anywhere in the world. Wherever Kerry Ward travels, adventure beckons, and he has built up quite a coterie of close friends to share those adventures with.

I retired on July 1, a Wednesday. I wanted to establish as much distance as possible from my job, so my plan was to get in my car the following Monday, head up the coast to Vancouver, and drive across Canada all the way to Newfoundland. Fate intervened that Friday when Kerry posted that he had a dilemma–one of his Vancouver ultra buds, Pat Malavi, was turning 40 and Kerry was part of a group that were going to Iceland to celebrate Pat’s birthday and also run the Laugavegur Ultra Marathon, a 33 mile trail through the highlands that hikers normally take 5 days to complete. Kerry and a buddy had put a deposit on a camper van with a plan to arrive 10 days early, drive all over Iceland, and run the race. The friend had gotten hurt. Was there anyone who could step in and take his place? My hand went up immediately, and thus commenced the first of many adventures with Kerry. On Tuesday I arrived in Iceland.

Tire Change

Not only did Kerry finish the Laugavegur, he also changed the tire when the bus got a flat.

When I went to Iceland I was not in the best of shape. My rotator cuff on my right arm was really messed up, my feet hurt all the time, and my stability was not so good. Still, I did my best to keep up with Kerry, albeit with some accommodations. So when we came to the Skogafoss waterfall, the gateway to the Eyjafjallajokull volcano that erupted in 2010, Kerry was able to run the dozen or so miles inland to see the volcano while I took a more modest excursion up the same valley. In some cases this worked to his advantage. When we visited the Selifoss waterfall in the interior Kerry was able to do a one-way run 20+ miles down the canyon to the north coast, and have me meet him on the other end as he emerged from a cold drizzle with a pocket full of Kroner for the hot shower in the campground.


The Selifoss

One of the advantages of hanging with Ward is meeting interesting and very exceptional people, and the ultra-running community is particularly impressive. It is great to have friends that one can count on when times get tough, and Kerry has a lot of those friends. Friends like Dylan Morgan, for example. When Kerry did the 238 mile Moab 240 run last year he had a hard time finding pacers, so Dylan stepped in and paced him for well over half of the race. Then there’s Wing Taylor who said “Run 93 miles around Mount Ranier over two days? Sounds like fun! I’m in!” Not to mention Dax Orion Hock, who was up for the 30 mile round trip from Palm Springs to San Jacinto Peak with its 12,000 feet of elevation gain, as well as a run around Mount Hood in a snowstorm. One of my my personal goals is to be able to step up and do some pacing myself, and my Zion run will be a test for me.

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So the time for my first test approaches. Today is Thursday, and I am planning on doing some yoga this morning and then some LSD in Telegraph Canyon this afternoon. Not that kind of LSD! Long Slow Distance, with a target of running for 4 hours and 15-16 miles. Tomorrow Kerry is due in LA, and then it will be off to Utah for a shakedown excursion down Reflection Canyon before tending to a job he has in Las Vegas. The adventures continue!!





I am Down For Dance!, Monday, March 26, 2018

On Sunday, February 25, I braved the freeways and made my way to West Los Angeles. My destination was the Los Angeles Ballet. The event was a reception hosted by the Susanne Thom Physical Therapy center. I was there to see the featured performers for the evening, the spirited dancers from Down For Dance.
Down for Dance (DFD) is a dance program for people with Down syndrome (DS). It began a mere six months ago and was started by Sari Anna Thomas and Annie Griffith, and in that time has already expanded from its humble origin in Orange County to classes at another Orange County location and at Elevation Studios in Signal Hill.


Sari Anna Thomas

I don’t know much about Annie, and have never formally met her, but I do have an acquaintance with Sari. Sari Anna Thomas is originally from Seattle and migrated to Los Angeles in 2000 on a scholarship to Edge Performing Arts Center. She danced professionally for several years and moved into teaching dance in 2005. Almost 5 years ago she began assisting with a noprofit program that provided movement and social opportunities for individuals with Down syndrome, and then last summer taught a class for an organiztion named PALS. According to their website, “Our mission is to create immersive experiences where individuals with Down syndrome and their peers have fun, grow as individuals, and build transformative friendships.”

Tres Amigas

Tres Amigas — The original three

Three years ago Sari began working on a private basis with several young ladies with Down syndrome, and that eventually led her to start her own program. Unfortunately, none of the existing DFD sites are geographically appropriate for her original trio as they are in El Segundo and points north, but that will likely change in the future given the current rate of growth and the apparent need. Currently there are over 30 dancers with Down syndrome participating in the program along with approximately a dozen volunteers who work with the dancers, often on a 1-1 basis. Current participants range in age from 7 to 36, and have a wide range of functional abilities.

I got a pretty good idea about how the program works by watching their performance at the Susanne Thom Physical Therapy gala. The dancers involved were all taking hip-hop classes, and there were just under 20 dancers taking the floor for the opening number. The dancers participating in the DFD program have a wide range of functionality and experience, and that was apparent in this performance. The dancers in the front were the more independent, higher-function dancers who have mastered the routines.

The dancers were first marshaled into their starting positions by the volunteers, Sari spent a few seconds warming them up, and then they were off. Interspersed among the dancers and trying to keep a low profile were a number of volunteers. Their role was to help in modeling the choreography for dancers who have not yet mastered it, and even to physically steer dancers who have become confused back on track.

After the opening number there was a dance by Sari’s original three dancers, and then all dancers took solo turns on the dance floor, hip-hopping to Bruno Mars’ Uptown Funk. Here again I had a chance to see the different abilities of the participants. Some of them were fully independent, champing at the bit, and sometimes reluctant to yield the floor. Others were more diffident or confused, or some combination of the two, and needed to be led onto the floor and sometimes jump-started by a volunteer. Whichever category they fell into, once they were wound up they were all ready to dance!

There were several dancers who showed some real creativity and talent, and Sari was quite excited when I informed her that plans are afoot to add Dance to the Special Olympics. Dance was included on a demonstration basis in the 2017 Winter Special Olympics, and I had read that 2020 was the target for full inclusion. We may have some future Olympians among us!

On Thursday, 3/23 I went to one of the DFD classes at Elevation Studios, where in addition to teaching classes Sari works as the Assistant Director. This was the first meeting of the Thursday class; the Tuesday class has become so popular that they were having to turn students away. On this first day there were only three students, which gave me a great opportunity to focus in on the process without too many distractions.

For this class Sari was assisted by volunteer Dani who was on just her second assignment, her first having come in the Tuesday class. The three students provided a very nice sampling of the spectrum of abilities that must be accommodated in the class. First, there was Robin, an adult male who was quick to invite me onto the dance floor. Robin is the class clown; he wants everyone to partipate, loves being center stage, and he loves to be in charge. Next was Emily, a young lady who loves to shake it, but tends to wander off and needs a lot of direction to keep her on task. Finally there was Diana. Diana is new to the program and needed some coaxing to get her to participate. She was not a fan of hip-hop, but after class she retired to a corner of the room to work on her ballet which is where her aspirations lie.


Dani, Emily, Diana, Robin, and Sari tuning the choreography

Quite a bit of the instruction for the students is on a one-on-one basis. According to Sari, “There are definitely a number of dancers in our program who don’t need that assistance, where I kind of like to push their independence more. … There’s definitely some dancers who would not be successful in class without a volunteer, and those people just get the one-on-one.” Diana was a perfect example of a student who needed a lot of support, and Dani was assigned to be her special friend for the class.

Red and Blue

You put your red foot in, you take your red foot out…

Sari has a lot of experience working with this population, and it was very enlightening to watch her at work. One of the first tasks was the labeling of limbs; much like myself, keeping track of right and left is difficult for some students. Sari’s solution is to use red and blue duct tape on the right and left toes of the students’ shoes, and red and blue wristbands. I am kind of hoping that she would use that method for her classes that I take! I have also take Sari’s classes as a student and was very impressed to see the modifications she has incorporated to make sure that people of all abilities can participate. She pours an incredible amount of energy into her teaching, as do her volunteers! The energy and support of those volunteers is crucial to the success of the program.

Speaking of those volunteers, Sari can always use more “dedicated and committed” ones. It is a difficult job and requires fitness and endurance, but it is also a very rewarding job pretty much guaranteed to result in life-long relationships. Both the performance and the class that I observed were permeated with a tremendous feeling of love and good will. The real concern I have is for Sari. The program is growing so fast that if she hasn’t already cloned herself she needs to do so soon. Maybe she can find a ballet teacher who is willing and able to work with dancers with Down syndrome so Diana can pursue her aspirations.