Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Arnold Rim Trail

View from Cougar Rock

Introduction: The Arnold Rim Trail is a non-motorized, multi-use trail near the communities along Highway 4 in the Stanislaus National Forest. It's planned length is 17 miles, with the last 7 still currently under construction. For more information, see arnoldrimtrail.org.

Trail: Singletrack

Distance: Up to 21 miles out-and-back. (Up to 34 once construction of the trail is complete.)

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

Trailhead: There are currently three trailheads used for access to the ART. I used two of them, so I'll describe those here.

  • Sierra Nevada Logging Museum: From westbound Hwy 4, turn right on Blagen Rd. and follow it for about one mile. Turn left on Dunbar Rd, past the elementary school, and turn right at the giant pencil. (Yes, seriously.) There are several signs along the way directing you to the trailhead, so it's very easy to find.
  • Valley View Dr.: From westbound Hwy 4, turn right on Lakemont Dr. Veer left at the first junction onto Valley View Dr. Follow this for about a mile through the residential. Please drive at a respectful speed! When the road turns to dirt, follow it for about another half mile. (The road is in decent shape, so moderate clearance vehicles should be fine.) The parking area will be on your right. There was no trailhead sign, but you can identify it by the two picnic tables present, and the P9 access trail located in the southwest corner of the lot.

Big Pencil at the SNLM trailhead!

Season: Year round, although some sections may be affected by snow at times during winter. You can call the Calaveras Ranger Station for current conditions at (209) 795-1381.

Water: I didn't find water available at either of the trailheads I used. The trail passes near creeks at both the western and eastern ends, but most miles are dry.

Trail description: You can print out a nice map with additional information here. I began my run the first day from the Sierra Nevada Logging Museum at the westernmost end of the trail.

The first mile is on a paved trail near San Antonio Creek. After that, it's nothing but beautiful singletrack. The trail was smooth and in great condition. Not very technical, and with graded, rolling climbs, it made for fast running.

Beautiful, fast, shady running.

The trail is shaded by a mixed conifer forest of pine, fir, cedar, and oak trees. Lovely! I cruised along for about 4 miles until I reached the Falls Overlook Trail.

This was an easy spur trail that led me to a rocky outcropping above San Antonio Creek. It was the first real view on the trail, but I have to confess, it was very difficult to spot the falls. After a little rock scrambling, I sighted it through the trees in the distance, but I couldn't help wondering if there was a better viewpoint somewhere that I'd just missed.

Back on the main trail, I climbed up to the rim section. This stretch, from below Manuel Peak to Cougar Rock, offers the best and most consistent views of the trail. 

In spite of it being midwinter, the sunshine on this more exposed section of trail kept me warm and smiling. Views from Top of the World and Cougar Rock looked west toward the central valley and east to the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada.

I turned around and retraced my steps for about a 17 mile run. I was thrilled with my day on this newly discovered trail!

It should be noted that from the Valley View Dr. trailhead, there are a number of connecting trails and dirt roads that can be used to make various loops. I spent one morning hiking with family through this area, and we managed to navigate well with the aid of the map. The trails are generally well marked, even though their placement on the map may not be 100% perfect.

Also, I approached this trail as a runner, of course, but it did not pass without notice that this is also a very friendly mountain bike trail. I only saw a few bikers both days, but the trail was well-graded and not highly technical, making it a great choice for beginner to intermediate mountain bikers.

View from Cougar Rock with a storm rolling in.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Studying the Past; Defining the Future

Life can only be understood backwards,  but it must be lived forwards.

One of my wish-it-could-happen-but-never-will-so-don't-get-your-hopes-up goals for 2014 is to be more efficient, and I thought I would jump right in with an efficient blog post combining a look back at 2013 with a look ahead to 2014. Some people say efficiency is just another word for laziness, but other people say "work smarter, not harder." Besides, if I don't combine the posts, at the rate I'm going, you won't hear about my 2014 goals until 2015.

If I were a coach talking about a team, I'd say 2013 was a rebuilding year. Of course, we all know what that's code for.

I had some mysterious health problems and not a lot of focused training. It was not a spectacular year of racing. I was explaining this to a friend when my husband interrupted.

"Didn't you run a marathon PR this year?"

Uh ... oh yeah.

It's a good thing I have someone in my life to help me keep perspective.

So with that, here are some of the highlights (both good and bad) of 2013:

Eugene Marathon

The week before this seemingly miraculous PR, I also ran a course PR at the Escape From Prison Hill half marathon - a race I've run probably five or six times. So the takeaway - apparently I was in good speed shape. I managed a 3:11 marathon (an 8 minute PR) on pretty low-mileage training. Three cheers for track intervals! Not only did I feel awesome throughout the race, but I got to spend a beautiful weekend with my dear friend, Charlie. Also interesting: the highlight of my year running-wise came only three months in. It was so long ago, no wonder I forgot it happened in 2013!

Red-faced, happy 3:11 marathoner!

Spring and Summer Races and Adventure Runs

I followed up Eugene with another year at Reno's awesome Silver State 50K. There was plenty that bore mentioning about that race, like sharing several enjoyable miles with the lovely Katie Trent (who, by the way, blew by me in the last 5 miles to kick my butt!), and teaming up with another woman to push each other on the final 10 miles of downhill. However, among other ways that I was a slacker, I didn't do a lot of blogging this year, so no race report.

I didn't write a report for Utah's Squaw Peak 50M either. Nonetheless, it was a highlight because it was my first race in Utah, my first time in the Wasatch, and a perfect destination race to enjoy with my best friend. In fact, Jamie and I ended up running most of that race together, which is another reason it makes the highlight reel. In addition to being a challenging and beautiful race, I also experienced probably the best aid station treat I'd ever had at the first aid station - pigs in a blanket with fresh cooked pancakes and sausages doused in maple syrup. Oh my God. So. Good.

This year at the Tahoe Rim Trail 50M did not disappoint, of course. Heat, friends, and a mad finishing dash for a Western States qualifier. An excellent day, followed by a night of aid station volunteering for the 100 mile runners. I did manage to put together a race report for this one!

The Summer of Joy

This was the first summer in 10 years as a teacher that I did not pick up a summer job. The plan was to spend as much time with family as possible, and boy did we! My sister took to calling it the Summer of Joy, and it was awesome. A week in Yosemite, a week at the beach in Monterey, a week visiting family in Seattle, a trip to Minnesota for Andrew's HS reunion, and another week in SoCal. Whew! My only complaint is that it all went by too fast.

Laura, me, Jamie, at Mirror Lake, Yosemite.

High country long run with Jamie in Yosemite. I swear the twin outfits were not planned!!

Gettin' high on Yosemite granite with my sweetie.

Road ride along Monterey Bay.

Brugman Family Jam at the beach house.

Kite flying available here, all week long.

Surf's up! Sis and I head for some beginner breaks. 

Kayaking the Elkhorn Slough. So much fun with up close encounters with playful sea otters!

Birdwatching beachside with sis.

Family portrait at the beach house.

Ian and me playing wave tag. Best game ever! The goal was not to get wet, but we figured out it was way more fun if we just let the wave get us.

Campfire on the beach!

Campfire in the backyard! (In Truckee)

Road trip! Truckee -->Seattle

Seattle! (You can tell because it's raining.)

Family reunion in Seattle. That's a lot of Brugmans!

Seattle -->Truckee. Dad flew us home, so no road trip this time.

Shakespeare on the lake, Tahoe. An excellent version of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Truckee Thursdays!

High school reunion, Edina, MN.

The Year of Living Painfully

If the best part of last year was the Summer of Joy, it was countered by the worst part: a continuation of the mysterious abdominal pain that has plagued me periodically since just before Hardrock in 2012. I learned a lot of things this year, even if the answer to my problem still eludes me. I learned a ton about nutrition, a little about alternative medicine, and more than I ever wanted to know about the digestive system. I also learned how important it is to have good health insurance. Thank goodness mine is good!

The long and the short of the story is that we are still monitoring the situation and are without any definitive answers, although a lot of things have been ruled out. I spent a lot of time getting tests - blood tests, upper endoscopy, ultrasound, more blood tests, another ultrasound. Probably more blood tests; I can't remember. I met my deductible and my out of pocket maximum on my insurance. Fun stuff. Then I finished off the year with surgery to remove a fibroma from my abdominal wall. Super fun.

But! I feel fine at the moment, even though I'm pretty sure my problem isn't solved. I'm running well and just appreciating each pain free day as it comes.

Looking ahead to 2014 -

It's funny how the ultra season seems so far away, and then, in the first couple weeks of December, your calendar is suddenly packed. In spite of some lingering health questions, I was still anxious to get back on the 100 mile horse. I made it through the lottery for San Diego 100, and the rest of my races fell in line nicely to lead up to it. Here's what I've got on the schedule:

Way Too Cool 50K (March 8th)
Lake Sonoma 50M (April 12th)
Miner's Revenge 26M (April 27th)
San Diego 100 (June 7)
TRT 50M (July 19)

And of course, I'll probably do the Silver State 50M to help with San Diego training, but I want to wait until all the Ultrasignup charges fade from my husband's mind before throwing another one on the credit card. December is tough on the pocket book, man!

Although I feel a bit more serious about my racing than I did last year, I'm still trying to keep my overall goals focused on other things - taking care of my health, spending time with family, and appreciating every day, even when I don't accomplish all the things I'd like.

That last one is a nod to my lack of creative outlets in 2013. I didn't write much, I only played guitar when my sister was around, and I didn't knit a single stitch. I simply had to re-prioritize a lot of the time, but the truth is, those creative outlets really help me. They help keep me from feeling frustrated and anxious. They help me focus. They fulfill some of the same job that running does for me. They make me happy! So I'm planning to do a bit more of those things in 2014, even if it's just a tiny bit, and to still appreciate and enjoy the days when I can't find the time.

I hope to see many of you out there at races. I'll be volunteering and cheering at the local races I'm not running (except TRT, where, of course, I'll be doing both), so please look for me out there, and tell me how your year is going!

Happy 2014, everyone!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Made up Stories and Young Adults

Neither novels nor their readers benefit from attempts to divine whether any facts hide inside a story. Such efforts attack the very idea that made-up stories can matter, which is sort of the foundational assumption of our species.

                                            - John Green, The Fault in our Stars

Description begins in the writer's imagination, but should finish in the reader's.

                               - Stephen King, On Writing

As a teacher of both writing and literature, I often find myself telling my students that reading and writing are two sides of the same coin. Writing, for me, is an act of connecting, of reaching out. It’s a way of creating relationships with people I don’t even know, and I’ve long believed that creating meaningful relationships is part of the important work of a life well lived.

I think this is what art in general is all about. Whether you’re a writer, a musician, a painter, a singer, a dancer – on some level, you’re attempting to connect with others.

Reading, then, is also an act of connecting. Instead of doing most of the talking, the reader does most of the listening. The reader is not, however, a passive participant. As John Green puts it, “Reading is always an act of empathy. It’s always an imaging of what it’s like to be someone else.”

You can live so many different lives through the act of reading stories. It’s possible to learn so much about so many different things through the living of those lives. It’s simply brilliant.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because I’m more of a reader at the moment than a writer. I simply haven’t had the emotional energy for creating my own art, but I’ve taken great solace in living on the other side of the equation by reading more than usual.

And what do I read? Mostly young adult fiction. After all, I do spend my days surrounded by them (young adults, I mean). But to be honest, I know that’s not the only reason I like to read what they’re reading. I love YA literature for some of the same reasons I like working with its audience: there’s just something very compelling about that time of life.

The experience of being a teenager can be exciting, confusing, provocative, scary, poignant, and incredibly vivid. That transformation from childhood to adulthood is a pivotal time in many of our lives, and one where we make a lot of choices than can affect the adult we eventually become.

The first book of assigned reading that I can remember loving is John Knowles’s A Separate Peace. I was a sophomore in high school, and I remember feeling so connected to the emotions of the characters. Not coincidentally, the essay I wrote for that book is one of the first pieces of writing I can recall really pouring my heart into. An early lesson in how good literature can inspire.

As an adult, my relationship to the genre has changed. In high school, I loved Holden Caulfield because he was so critical of adults, so full of judgment. These days, I don’t see that as such an intriguing characteristic, but his struggle to make sense of his world and growing up is one that gives me empathy for my own students. I still love Catcher in the Rye, but for much different reasons than I did as a teen.

When I first began teaching ten years ago, I did make a concerted effort to read some more current YA fiction so that I could share casual discussions with my students. I didn’t realize it would be a path to reconnecting with an entire genre of literature I’d forgotten. On one trip to the bookstore in those early years, I happened across, and purchased, John Green’s recently published, debut novel, Looking for Alaska. If you’ve talked about books with me at all, you’ll know that John Green is my favorite author, and Alaska was my first taste of brilliant YA literature since I’d been a teen myself. If I were to give you a quick summary of the book, I would say that it is strikingly similar to A Separate Peace.

Not only do I love John Green’s books (If you haven’t yet read The Fault in our Stars, go do it now! Even if you don’t think you’re a fan of YA. Just read it.), but the man himself is completely full of awesome. Through the youtube channels created by him and his brother, Hank, he has allowed his fans unprecedented access to who he is, and what he and Hank think on all kinds of topics. John Green is smart, thoughtful, hilarious, and an unabashed nerd. He and Hank have created a community of like-minded, motivated individuals who are more than just fans of the books and videos and songs the brothers create. They are participants, engaged in artistic conversations. The world needs more people like them.

One of the reasons that I am allowing myself to go all fan-girly over John here is that he is such an inspiration, and with the recent success of The Fault in our Stars, more people are starting to realize it. (John shares some interesting concerns over this phenomenon in this video.) Much of what I’ve said here are similar to things John has said in his videos over the years. It’s easy to connect with someone who verbalizes so well notions that you already hold true. He sums it all up very nicely I think in this introduction to Crash Course Literature. (What? You’ve never heard of Crash Course? You’d better go check it out! Right after you finish reading The Fault in our Stars.)

I love this video for so many reasons, but one is the topic that I last heard addressed by my own high school English teacher many years ago: authorial intent. This is completely my favorite thing about reading – it is up to YOU as the reader to interpret what happened! Can’t decide whether Pi really survived for 227 days at sea with Richard Parker? Don’t understand the ending of The Giver? Really really dying to know whether he chose the Lady or the Tiger? (Questions, by the way, that all of my students ask me.) You, as the reader, have to decide for yourself, and each person’s answer may be different.  “You decide whether the swing set is just a swing set.” Author Nathan Bransford has a great post about How Art Changes With Us, emphasizing (to me) how what we bring to the table as a reader is incredibly relevant to our understanding of a story.

Another reason I’ve been thinking about these things lately is that, back in September, my students and I celebrated Banned Books Week. It blows my mind that people want to prevent teens from reading about the ugly and difficult things in this world. How else to allow them to learn about, and then hopefully avoid experiencing, those ugly things themselves? How else to keep them from being lost if they already have?

Again, literature is such an incredible tool for learning. This is Speak author Lauire Halse Anderson’s take on censorship.

Reluctant readers make me sad, but at the same time, I consider them a great challenge.  I know there are books out there for everyone. One of my biggest jobs as a teacher of reading is to help kids find books that they love. I can say that I have definitely gotten a lot better at that part of the job. How? Simply by loving reading the same books they love reading and then sharing them.

Today in class, one of my students interrupted a lesson to declare, “I finished Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children!”

I asked him if he liked it, and he was like, “Yeah, but it was such a cliffhanger!”

And I was all, “I know! He’d better be writing a sequel!”

Important conversations to have with kids, right?

(Incidentally, yes, many of my students have figured out they can derail a boring-as-hell grammar lesson by throwing out a comment about a book. I kind of consider that on-topic, really.)

Anyway, my point is, read good books. Good fiction matters because it connect us. It teaches us about each other and about ourselves, and often we don’t even realize we’re learning at all. We’re just being swept away in the power of a good story. Stories help to make the world a little bit smaller, in a very good way.

What do you think? What was the first story that swept you away? What are your favorite titles now?