This journey into transformation begins in the wee morning hours on a chilly, windy, rainy April morning in the year 2006. I woke up in my typical post-over-indulgent sleepy haze, looked out the window to see what I assumed was a happy couple husting and bustling; hurrying their groceries from trunk to doorstep and back again, all while trying to avoid each acidic drop of New York rain only to return to the trunk to reward themselves by slamming back a frothy bottle waiting for them fresh from their morning of shopping.
“This is life, I guess.” I thought to myself, “this is what it must be like for people who adult every day”, one mouthful of frosty reward after another, congratulating ourselves for thinking we made good decisions or accomplished the impossible earlier in the day. “This is just not right”, I kept thinking over and over, knowing this happiness was completely fake, manufactured by psychopharmaceuticals being washed down with an endless supply of adult beverages.
I was not happy, I was only getting by, one day by one day at a time.
I walked with no light into the living room and something told me to look into the closet that held the objects that I wanted to forget about. What I found this time when I looked down was a pair of my fathers old Nike running shoes – these things must have been as old as I was at the time, otherwise he had secretly been logging 40+ mile weeks without me recognizing it (he wasn’t, he stopped running about 10 years prior). I bent over to toss the shoe laces into the grimy sneakers (a pet peeve that still plagues me to this day!), looked them over in my hand, they appeared to be about my size.. heck yeah, they actually fit! I looked at my feet in these so-called “running shoes”, looked outside at the drizzle pouring off the patio roof, glanced back at my feet – actually glanced at my toe, which I could see through the weathered toe box mesh. Grabbed up my keys without giving myself the option to muster up an excuse and shut the door behind me. Step one to my first run ever was now complete.
I knew of the vast trail system that spider-webbed along the shoreline of the Mohawk River and interlinking 12+ trailhead lots across the Vischer Ferry Nature Preserve. I knew dozens of these miles from my solo walks along the Erie Canal Towpath, such a lovely area that I had photographed though all seasons; birds of all colors, turtles getting it on (yep, this actually happened right off the trail!), deer grabbing some morning treats off the low laying branches, soccer ball sized puff ball mushrooms, ships passing downstream in the lock systems, I got to see it all on my first “run” in nature, I covered 3.1 miles that morning. And it felt ama-zing! Incredible to feel the pain in my chest from heaving lungs trying to suck the moist air in, burning legs that were used to a much slower pace of hiking, my toes were sloshing in the muddy, drippy sneakers, the cold of rain drops falling off every branch and aiming themselves directly into my eyes. The best part of this whole run though, I felt alive for the first time that I could remember.
I didn’t have a watch at this time, in fact, I had no gear. My father donated several scraps of clothing that he could find from his youth, he refused to part with his busted up Nike sneakers, but I still used them for the following year on the trails, rolling up and over the paved hills in the back country of Clifton Park. The shirt I used was cotton, and fortunately I did not experience this term “chafing” for quite some time – until I broke though my limit of seven miles, which held me prisoner for the next several years, I thought “Seven is enough, I’m not a real runner so I don’t need to push it, my knees can’t take more than that anyhow, what’s the point – I get out and move, that’s enough for me..” I think the best part of these early years laying down miles were quite possibly the shorts that my father donated to my cause – they must have had a 2inch inseam, and for those not in the know about inseams, the fabric ended before my legs began.. and I loved them, I had quads at the time, and I loved to show them off in the sunlight, I showed them off in the snow as if that could be my form of a middle finger up in the air at society’s expectations!
For years, I kept up this habitual running after college classes, before work began in the morning, any time that I could find I would lace up those Nike sneakers that probably should have been retired 400 miles earlier. That didn’t stop me from my old ways of over-indulging constantly, my reward was a shower beer because.. I wasn’t actually drinking, I was rewarding myself. I wasn’t actually drinking, I was doing research because I loved the science of brewing my own beer. I wasn’t actually drinking, I just enjoyed trying new styles and experiencing new things.
Fast forward 4 or 5 years to after the time I took a two-year hiatus from running. I drank more because I was bummed out that I didn’t run in this new city that I had moved to, I drank even more because I was okay with a few bottles as I put in “work”, creating artwork, selling artwork and photos.
Then I woke up again, had another one of those “ah-ha moments”. My fathers old Nike sneakers were long gone since I had moved, and I had even wore through several other pairs, but I had stock piled Asics because gifting me one new pair of running shoes every year for Christmas was my father’s way of hoping that I would get back into running, and I did, awfully slow at first. We had trails, I had to drive a bit, but we had trails! There was not much I loved more than cruising through the nature preserves, living my old, good life once again. The sun encouraged me to get back out, the crunching leaves, the gnarly old twisted roots formed obstacles that always kept my ankles in check and strong while I was not even aware of it. I still loved running in the rain, why? Because I didn’t know anyone else who did, I loved the rain, the peacefulness, jumping in puddles was always fun once my Asics had soaked up all the rain they could.
Then, once again, I moved away from my safe place – the trails that I had grown to love. But it wasn’t all bad, in fact, quite the opposite! I had begun hiking again in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State with my father (who still insisted on donating old gear, no short shorts this time though!) and his long time gym-rat buddy Wendy. After completing her first 4000 footer climb, she decided over a greasy lunch at The Noonmark Diner that she was officially hooked, “how hard can it be?? I want to do ALL 46!!” she would exclaim. I got dragged into it, and I loved every bit of it. I still had my own issues to deal with off the trails, but for those hours out of cell service, I knew what it was to feel “free”, I was also hooked! Then after about a year and a half and what seems like every weekend, we found ourselves with teary eyes on the summit of Mount Haystack, 4961 feet above sea level at 12:05pm on June 4th, 2016 – we had done it, all 46 high peaks of New York State. While it was bittersweet, we continued hiking; short hikes, hikes with friends, hikes to old fire towers, even waterfalls made their way into our destinations.
Someone had invited us three on a hike for something, to a mountain I had hitherto yet heard about. All day everyone had fun and laughed, all I wanted was to be alone, not sure why at this time, but that is the feeling I took away from that day. I reunited with a brother of one of my best childhood friends and took photos with two goofy looking dogs with their mother who had the most bad-ass frosty dreadlocks, while I had my share of a frosty beard. Turns out this lovely lady, her two pups and I would continue to grow our friendship together, even travel via her Honda CR-V and my 3 person tent for nearly 4 months going cross-country. It was around Tennessee when we awoke to no nearby mountains, but dang did we have trails! Right out of our tent site we had soft packed single track trails, we decided to run (I somehow had the intuition to bring a pair of Asics running shoes, thank goodness!). We took off down the trails and I thought “aww crap, she doesn’t even need to warm up.. shit balls she is fast!!” I tried to keep up, luckily one of the doggo’s had to lighten his load (literally, on the side of the trail) so I had my chance to catch up. For the whole trip, we hiked, we ran, we explored everything, every day. And then we rehydrated with watermelon, which was cheaper than I had EVER found in my life – $2 at some southern Walmart shops for a massive 30 pounder! She had been vegan for years, then raw on and off.. and me? I had been cutting down on meat for years but never made the switch fully from chicken and turkey until that May when we departed down the road together, I was not convinced completely that an “athletic” body could thrive without meat protein (my father being a body builder heavily influenced my beliefs!), boy was I WRONG!!! We returned from our cross-country excursion and decided that if we don’t move to the forests of Washington state, we will have a go at New Hampshire for some time and see what happens!
A year or so later as I write this, good things have happened! We still run, hike and kiss our doggies. We weighed the idea of a tiny home (the thought of shelling out rent money to a stranger is nauseating!!) and made the purchase of a big 2005 flat nose school bus which we are currently turning into our home on wheels to afford us the option to travel with the seasons and be able to work for ourselves and just do what we love to do! Ciara and I both ran our first 5K together (with her mother who is also plant-based and possibly the most positive person that I have ever met), we ran some half-marathons, and in my boredom at work decided.. “26.2 miles, I remember seeing those stickers on cars.. dunno if I can do it, but sure as hell I am going to try!!” Then in October 2018 I ran my first full marathon and it kicked my bum, but I had the best crew (Ciara and her mama with Boone and Crockett) pacing along on the roadway offering refreshments (more on my during-race-hydration in another post soon, stay tuned!) and then two weeks later turned around and locally ran my first (and longest distance up to that point) 50K ultra-marathon, which my GPS actually tracked at 33.5 miles. I felt better during the 50K than in the 26.2 mile marathon, hydration and nutrition were both more on point the second time.
This year we have many, many exciting adventures lined up – from a Vegan Ultra 50K relay together, a 15ish mile mountain run, a handful of various events together. For me, it’s so nice to collect my thoughts while alone out on the trails, but nothing beats the smile and laughter of someone you love together in the mountains. Stick with me as I share what has, and has not worked for me in running and mountaineering and of course – how to take care of yourself while kicking butt while fueling yourself on all the Veggies, catching all the best Vistas, and tacking some mean Vert to be the best you that you never knew.
Cheers and happy trails!!