Thursday, August 29, 2013

Late summer, Alaska style

I love late summer. Even though I'm not a cold weather person and don't look forward to winter or the long siege of darkness, I do love this time of year, when berries hang fat on the bush and everything is so green and lush and wet from the inevitable rains.

Today I took Beebs for a hike over the Turnagain Arm Trail, close to town but on the edge of the mountains. I love this trail, I don't know why. Something about the mood soothes me, no matter the weather.

Soothing, no?
We didn't see any bears but did pass some scat. What I love is when we encounter fresh scat on the way back and I know that a bear has crossed the trail during the short time after we passed. This always thrills me. (I imagine them peering out from the woods, waiting for us to walk on by so that they can cross, much the way we wait for traffic to clear before crossing the road.) I love the idea of walking on the same trail as bears, that our feet touch the same earth, stumble over the same roots.

Bear scat! Notice the berry seeds? Guess they've been picking the same berries as we do. Also notice the paw print from the dog, hee, hee.

Speaking of the dog, Beebs has perked up now that the cooler weather has hit. She's part sled dog and has a thick undercoat, and the poor dear slumped and moped during our month of 70+ degree weather.

Beebs looking out over Turnagain Arm.

Turnagain Arm.

Love the thin stripe of sunlight. That was the sum total of our day's allotment of sunshine.

We passed this mushroom on the way back, isn't it beautiful?

I should be able to run in two to three weeks, which is almost perfect timing since I (stupidly??)  promised my agent that my second novel would be on her desk by mid-September. Until then, it's hikes with Beebs and MM, when our schedules match. I'm enjoying the slower pace. I hadn't realized how urgent I become when I run, how focused I am on myself and my own body; how much I miss.

Beebs, cooling off in the creek at the end of the hike.

I'm thinking of ordering this book, it's only 99 cents this week. Has anyone read or heard of it?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Back in my trail shoes, again

A few days ago, I did the most exciting of things.

I laced up my trail shoes for the first time in over a month and took off up in the mountains to play in the mud.

Oh, I missed you, dirty Adidas shoes.

I still can't run but I can walk very, very fast. So my sister and I hiked the Rabbit Lake Trail in the rain. It was beautiful and wet, and we walked in cloud cover for a few miles so that mist dampened our faces and frizzed our hair.

First we fueled with this: Roasted veggies. So. Good.

Finally! I'm posting a food picture! Unfortunately, I didn't make this, my sister did.

Then we hit the trail with the Beebs. It was drizzling in places and raining hard in others, and my hands were cold and my hair wet but still, it was so nice to be out in the mountains again that I didn't care.

Beeb's new best friend. At least for, like, two minutes.

Today, my sister's last day in Alaska, it miraculously stopped raining so of course we drove out to Alyeska Mountain. It's something we do each year when she's up here, climb to the top and ride the tram back down again (if you hike or run to the top, the tram ride, operated by Alyeska Resort, is free. If you ride the tram up the mountain, however, it will cost you a cool $20 for a seven-minute ride up 2,300 feet of elevation).

Naturally, we always hike up and ride down.

The bottom of the mountain. See the tram line? That's where we were headed, though our route was much curvier, and more interesting.

The hike was lovely. The sun came out and we sweat through our shirts and sweat fell down our foreheads and stung our eyes and it felt good to move hard and sweat again, out in the mountains. I had forgotten how much I love such things.

I ran for a few paces and it felt beautiful to flex my arches and maneuver my feet over rocks and through mud. I wanted to keep running, miles and miles, but alas, my foot isn't completely healed and I must be good (why, oh why, is it so difficult to be good?), and I know, logically, that the longer I don't run, the stronger I'll be when I finally do run again (in two weeks? Please, oh please, in two weeks, okay?).

After we rode the tram down the mountain, marveling at the landscape whizzing past, so much green and so many trees, we drove home and the tide was coming in Turnagain Arm and I told my sister how the Beluga whales used to come in each year, their white bodies skimming the water, and how they surfaced with such massive grace, and how they're rarely spotted any longer. It's another loss, another memory, and for a moment I was sad, not just because the whales have diminished but because my sister was flying home and there's always a hole in your life when someone leaves, no matter what the reason.

So I came home and wrote a poem. What else does one do after such a day?

Reading: Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer (for, like, the fifth time, and each time I foolishly hope that Scott and Andy Harris and Ron Hall and everyone else miraculously lives, and each time I'm stunned, anew, when they die. Such is the power of a good book, no?).

Sunday, August 18, 2013

I won! Oh wait, it wasn't me

Imagine my surprise when a friend emailed that I had won the marathon today. "Check out the headline," she said.

I immediately opened the Anchorage Daily News Website. And there was my last name splayed across the page.

"Ritchie runs to Big Wild Life marathon win," it proclaimed in big, bold letters.

Of course, it wasn't me but local fasty-pants Tom Ritchie (and no relation either). I didn't even run the Big Wildlife Marathon. I'm still recovering from a foot injury.

While Tom was running his heart out, my sister and I were tucked cozily inside a movie theater watching "The Heat" with Sandra Bullock.

A cute movie, kinda predictable but good for some laughs.

Still, what a thrill to see my name (my name!) in the headlines, even though it wasn't me.

Joking aside, though, being injured is not fun, people. I don't feel quite like myself. It's not that I'm unhappy or depressed but more as if part of my personality is missing. And in a sense I suppose that's true, since running brings out the fierce, determined, stubborn, will-not-back-down-for-anything side of me. I miss that part of myself. I miss it terribly. Hopefully we will be reunited soon.

In the meantime, I'm still swimming, and I've progressed to the elliptical and stair torture machine at the gym. I'm also working hard to increase my upper body strength (i.e., build up my wimpy arm muscles).

And big news: Yesterday I hiked for the first time in a month. I was so excited to be back in the mountains again that I almost cried. MM, my sister (who is visiting from Philly) and I ventured out over the Williwaw Trail in the rain. It was so green, and wet, and I was so very, very happy.

Now it's a vegan muffin and the third season of "Downton Abbey." I know someone dies but please, please don't tell me, okay?

Happy Monday, everyone.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Goodbye Rocky, you were a great dog

Today we got an unsettling phone call from our friends out in Hatcher Pass. Rocky, their 17-year-old dog, had just died.

We knew it was coming. Rocky, half Rottweiler and half German shepherd, had been sliding downhill for over a year. When I housesat for them in January, Rocky could barely walk, his back legs lurching with each step. Still, he had a presence to him, a determination that I found admirable. At night he lay by my feet and grunted as I rubbed his tough and unruly belly. He took short walks, too, stumbling behind the other dogs, his head hanging slightly, as if in apology or perhaps pain (or, more likely, both).

There's something sad yet beautiful in watching a dog decline, something that brings out one's generosity and honesty. Their fragility is both heartbreaking and wise.

And Rocky was wise. The first time I met him, he charged into my house,  lifted his leg and unselfconsciously peed over my sofa cushion. He was giving me a gift, marking his territory, saying, "You are one of my people."

I no longer have that sofa or live in that house. In the years since, my son has grown up and left home, I've quit good jobs for better jobs, and then quit those for lesser opportunities that somehow made more sense. I've loved men, lost them, found them again and lost them and found them again. My own dog and cats are old, and one day I will be, too.

My friends buried Rocky in a grove in their yard, right outside the kitchen window so that he'll always be near.
It's a good spot, solid and sheltered and green. I think he'll be happy there, if it's possible to be happy in death. I imagine his spirit rising up late at night and roaming around the woods, digging holes in the garden and chasing squirrels and scaring off bears that sneak in the yard.

Rocky had a trick. David would say, "Mean dog," and Rocky would snarl and growl and snap his very large and very sharp teeth so that he looked fierce, the kind of dog that might take off someone's arm.
He wasn't fierce, though, he was large and loving and noble, or as noble as a large and loving dog can be. He adored my dog, they were best buddies, rolling around sharing doggie kisses and snorts and nips.

Goodbye, Rocky. Hope you're up in doggie heaven, happily chomping biscuits and peeing on all the sofas.  

Monday, August 5, 2013

Still alive and still not running

Well, look who is still alive.

I've been taking a short hiatus from writing about running because, you see, I have been unable to run.

After five years of running injury free, the exercise gods struck, and they struck hard.

Two weeks ago I hurt my foot during the last mile of the Master's 10K Race. It happened so quickly. I stepped off the paved bike trail for one moment and when I stepped back, my foot twisted slightly. I thought nothing off it.

Then the pain appeared, and it appeared quickly and unapologetically, a searing across the top of my foot that traveled all the way down to my toes.

I was around the five mile mark and did I quit? No.

And why didn't I quit? Because I was in third place and wanted a ribbon.


I stumbled the last mile, had to stop and stretch three times and finished with my slowest time ever but still managed to nab third place.

After the race: Note the look of pain on my face. Yep, it's already starting.

This is what I strained my foot over: a skinny slab of yellow ribbon. Was it worth it? Um, no.
Since then I've been taking it easy. I missed the Her Tern Half-Marathon and I'm going to miss the Big Wildlife Run Marathon, and I have only myself to blame. (I keep thinking of Captain Wentworth in Jane Austen's Persuasion exclaiming, "Foolishness!" after Louise jumps off the pier and knocks herself unconscious.)

Not only that, but I missed two weeks of some of the best weather we've had in years. Long sunny evenings I could have been hiking or trail running or riding bikes and I was sitting in the yard, slapping mosquitoes and reading books.

Don't get me wrong: I love reading books. There's little I love more, except perhaps running. But summer is short and I have all winter to read.

So what have I been doing to try and stay in marginal shape?

MM bought me a nifty little inflatable boat and I've been puttering around the lagoon and local lakes.

And swimming in local lakes:

Mirror Lake, outside of Anchorage, on a 75-degree Alaska summer day.

Me swimming across Mirror Lake, terrified that a float plane would land on my head.

Mostly I swim at YMCA, which hosts a salt water pool.

My second home lately.

And then yesterday someone stole my new Speedo swimsuit while I was showering.

Which means I have to either swim laps in a two-piece not meant for swimming laps or cough up $60ish dollars for another competition swimsuit.

But no matter. These things happen. I just hope that whoever stole my swimsuit appreciates it as much as I would have (I only had the chance to wear it about four times, sigh, sigh).

As I said, I've been reading a lot. Books I recommend:

Nine Stories, by J.D. Salinger. Brilliant! I read through these stories every couple of years and each time I marvel at Salinger's subtle but oh-so clover wit (he understands that sadness is what compels us to laugh. Why do so many writers miss this?).

The Still Point of the Turning World, by Emily Rapp. Beautiful and heartbreaking. A must read for anyone who loves gritty and real memoirs.

Chanel Bonfire, Wendy Lawless. Another gritty and beautifully written memoir.

Jujitsu Rabbi and the Godless Blonde: A True Story, Rebecca Dana.

Out of the Wilderness, Deb Vanasse. YA Alaska coming-of-age story.