Ting and I traveled to Spartanburg, South Carolina, home of the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine, Carolinas (VCOM) to watch and celebrate as Ting's brother, Matthew, and his girlfriend, Emily, graduated as Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine. Spartanburg was a charming little town!
My dear Aunt Shelly passed away last year. Some of my family finally managed to get together to say our goodbyes. I tried to convey how I think of her every time I run; she was, surprisingly (to me) one of my biggest supporters, constantly talking about how she wished she could run like I do and how much she enjoyed the pictures I took as I ran. We threw rose petals (her favorite) off Magnolia Bluff in her honor.
My friend Emma needed a quick portrait for a new job, so we met in a local park and snapped a quick mugshot. A puppy decided to play, and I made some classic benchkeh.
Hong Kong describes itself as Asia's "World City." That may be true. Its unique blend of colonial Britain and China is unlike any other city I've visited, even vaunted, nearby Macao (which I found much less impressive). With off-the-charts density, amazing food, lively markets, and impressive hills, Hong Kong offers quite a lot to explore in such a small area. I'll be back.
Beijing was mostly what I had anticipated: Crowded, smoggy, and surprisingly capitalistic. My wife, having lived there for a year ten years ago, was disappointed with the changes rendering it near-unrecognizable to her. Gone were the dirt roads and half-completed subway lines, replaced with fancy cars, shops, and even more pollution, rendering the skies a permanent washed-out blue at best; a dim, orangey-brown at worst.
Even seeing wonders such as the Great Wall and Forbidden City were somewhat tainted. The portion of the Wall we visited was freely admitted to have been rebuilt in the '80s, with a (rather fun) toboggan ride from the top to the bottom of its hill; the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square completely overrun with tour groups and Starbucks.
I spent many hours training, running up and down, around and over Cougar Mountain, but I'd never hiked there. My wife needed some nature therapy today, so we did a five mile loop through some of my favorite running trails as well as some new trails I'd not hit before. On a rare, sunny winter day in Seattle, the moss on the vine maples shone.
It has been nearly four months since my last post - from my time at the Oregon Coast 30k, then the longest race I'd attempted - to now. Over 160 hours of training in the last year, roughly 1,200 miles run, and nearly 100,000 feet climbed in preparation for one thing; something I'd seen as impossible, despite so many idols and regular folks doing it time and time again: Run a 50km trail race. But not just any trail race - the vaunted Orcas Island 50k.
The race has between 8,000 and 9,000 feet of climbing and somewhere between 30 and 32 miles of travel throughout the eastern lobe of Orcas Island in the San Juans of Washington's Puget Sound. In the month of February, Orcas Island's Mounts Constitution and Pickett receive rainforest-levels of rain, sometimes even snow. It features three climbs up Mt. Constitution's slopes (including the infamous Powerline: 2 miles of pure hell straight up the mountain, covering nearly 2,500ft of elevation), a couple doozies up Mt. Pickett, and many more smaller inclines to burst runners' calves. This year, due to increased rainfall, it included a slightly longer starting section and dozens of deep puddles, including an example up to our knees and roughly 25' long.
My amazing wife arranged a group of friends to come stay in a cabin for the weekend. I ran with two of the primary men that introduced me to the sport of trail ultramarathoning. It was the most mentally and physically challenging event of my life; it was pure joy with deep chasms of misery and doubt; it was 6:45:50 of fortitude-testing highs and lows. Perhaps some new test will beat what I experienced this weekend, but it's hard to imagine such a thing.
I fell in love with trail running last year, but a late-season injury sidelined me until early 2017. After dozens of 30+ mile weeks and 5 races, I traveled to Yachats, Oregon, with my wife, my friend Mac (who convinced me to sign up for this race), and his wife, so I could race in the longest, most brutal race yet of my short career: The Oregon Coast 30k (which ended up being nearly 20 miles and over 4,000 feet of climbing). It was a beautiful, inspiring event. From simply walking around Yachats, to dinner with the race director, to meeting ultrarunning legends, to watching Mac complete his second 50k in as many weeks, to running with amazing people in primeval woods along roaring coastline, this weekend was the best.
My friend Eric and his new wife Felicity decided to host a "friendeymoon" - instead of a honeymoon - at a villa in Tuscany. Just our best friends, dozens of liters of wine, insanely good food, and Tuscan mountain towns for a week.
The awful Jolly Mountain Fire burning near Cle Elum, WA, has turned the skies of Seattle to a sickly orange, with ash fallout dusting the streets of the city.
I was out watering our plants this morning and heard a ruckus - it was this Steller's Jay, cavorting on and around our apple tree. A handsome bird, and now I know his call. I've heard him around before.
Although I was not able to make it to Oregon to witness totality, I did get to step outside with my coworkers (and post this on my lunch break) to see the eerie dim light of 92% solar eclipse. I can only imagine how disquieting and special totality must have been.
My friend Justin and I arrived early on Saturday in the rain - the rain stopped right after we got our tents up, allowing us one glorious day to explore unmarked trails up Rampart Ridge. Then, that night, a gnarly storm rolled through. Of that, I have no pictures, so shots of Rampart Lakes, Rampart Ridge, and Lila Lake must suffice.
Lima is a sprawling city showcasing Peru's poverty and wealth. Our friend, Juan Carlos, told us of Peru's historically massive economic divide and currently growing middle class - both were evident as we drove through the streets of Callao, explored near the city's old center, and toured wealthier areas such as Miraflores and Barranco.
Our time in Lima was really defined by the food we ate. Having sampled famed Peruvian chef Gastón Acurio's work at Chicha in Cusco, we went to his La Mar cevicheria in Miraflores and had one of the best dining experiences any of us could remember. No fewer than three and as many as five waiters attended to us - everything from empanada and ceviche starters to whole grilled fish to dessert was out-of-this-world good. We spent at least three hours there.
Barranco, I think, was the visual gem for us. Vibrant buildings, parading groups from far-flung reaches of Peru; Barranco felt like the welcoming, energetic, Latin locale grey-skied northerners like us would crave.
Only a couple of years ago, very few people knew about Vinicunca, the so-called Rainbow Mountain of Peru. I don't just mean tourists - the locals of Cusco, only three-or-so hours away, didn't market tours to Vinicunca and, if you'd ask them about it, wouldn't have known what it was. That all changed when a then-coworker of my wife and her friend (both of whom are coworkers still and were with me on this trip) somehow came across the hike, published a blog post about it, and started a company to lead tours there. Now you can't throw a rock in Cusco without hitting an ad for Rainbow Mountain hikes.
FlashPacker Connect, the aforementioned company, found Quechua partners for both guiding parties up the mountain and cooking breakfast and post-hike meals for their hikers. The day for us started at 2am when we were picked up - three hours of driving took us to 14,000 feet and a small house in which a Quechua man cooked us omelettes and quinoa drinks. A 20-minute drive past that and the fun began.
The hike is only around nine miles round trip, but with over 2,000 feet of elevation gain along that length, breathing - and therefore life in general (for us sea-level-dwellers) - becomes quite difficult. Justin and I were quite tired, but our Quechua guide (an incredibly interesting man with whom I spoke as much as possible when my lungs allowed it) was not - our wives, on the other hand, were suffering badly and elected to turn back before the top. A wise move, as the elevation gain only increased and we passed into rain, heavy rain, and then snow approaching blizzard conditions. Still, we reached the top (ultimately 16,273ft), and although Vinicunca's folded, metal ore strata were not brilliant, the alpine view was breathtaking (both literally and figuratively).
Being the only non-natives on the mountain, an elderly Quechua woman chatted us up near the top before bounding away with light-footed grace, making us look like the stumbling, oxygen-deprived oafs we were. I'll never forget it.
As a little kid, I was obsessed with Machu Picchu for a while. My school had large, glossy, color picture books of Incan ruins, and something about the way the city looked like a castle or its unlikely perch on top of a mountain ridge captured my imagination. Brushing against the stones of this ancient place and gazing down into multi-thousand-foot valleys from precipices delivered deep joy.
The town of Aguas Calientes at the foot of Machu Picchu, despite clearly being the result of the booming tourist economy, had a few gems. First, traveling to the town is only possible by train - my favorite mode of transportation. The tracks cut right through one axis of the town. There were also a couple of very nice beer joints, including one at which we quickly became favored clients, knowing a thing or two about good beer and staying long hours to play cards and eat guinea pig pizza. We only stayed two nights, and despite the general touristy tone of town, Aguas Calientes had its own charm and didn't lack surprises.
Although we spent one night in Lima, it was a very short sleep before heading back to the airport to fly to Cusco. The city sits near 11,000ft high in the Andes; airport billboards warn travelers (with images of puking gringos) to beware of altitude sickness. Coca tea, which is supposed to help, is abundant. None of us fell ill with altitude sickness, but we were all exhausted from travel, the lack of oxygen, and general excitement.
We left Cusco after one night to explore Machu Picchu and returned; we left again for a day to climb Vinicunca and returned to stay again. While in Cusco, though, we ate amazing food (Gaston's Chicha is fantastic; Bodega 138 has the best pizza; you can get street food - risky, I know - for 3 soles) and found the good beer spots (Cholo's is tucked away up a hill and has quiet, courtyard seating). We even found delicious breakfast (The Meeting Place - a Christian mission-based, not-for-profit, volunteer-run organization) with kittehs.
Having just returned from a mind-bending trip to Peru, many dozens of photos await editing. I began processing shots haphazardly, jumping from day to day, style to style - until I started on some stark, haunting images from Machu Picchu, a few days into our adventure. The first half of the day was still, quiet, and more intimate; tourist count was low, and although views were obscured, I think we saw a side of the ruins about which people don't normally gush. Although I'm excited to finish the rest of my frames from this trip, I decided to begin with these.
One of my favorite bands, The Radio Dept., released a protest album late last year in reaction to the rise of far-right, faux-populist politics in Sweden. One of the tracks, Sloboda Narodu, refers to the Yugoslav partisan rallying cry from World War II: Death to fascism, freedom to the people! I reflected on that sentiment repeatedly today.
Today, I marched with my wife - an American woman with Chinese immigrant parents - joining millions around the world (and more than 120,000 in Seattle) in a show of support for people like her, her family, and countless others being been told: immigrants aren't welcome here; your health, safety, and well being are trumped by the desires of the wealthy; and, in a truly surreal twist, that truth is relative.
The pictures below are what I saw on the streets of Seattle. Reflecting on the powerful joy I saw in my sisters and brothers today fills me with hope for the future and pride in my neighbors.
When I lived abroad, I made a couple of Christmas-themed images to share with folks back home. I created one more the year I returned to the U.S., but haven't done it since that year, 2011. Now that we have our own home and a little time on a dark, Northwestern Sunday, I've returned to the off-and-on tradition. Here's that image and the few others I created over the years.