19 February 2015

On reading books

Inspired by one of the many blogs I read, I've decided to challenge myself to finish one book every week--I started the week of January 19th and I'm going to try to keep it going until I leave for the JMT (I'll probably have plenty of time to read on the trail... but I think I'll be happier forgoing heavy reading material for a little while :-) ).

I've  always enjoyed reading.  Since moving out of my parents' house I've never been able to justify paying for cable (although I'm still definitely susceptible to the occasional Netflix binge session...), and, especially after college, I've always felt good about filling my down time with reading rather than a lot of watching.  However, lately much of my reading has been in the form of blogs, online news stories, and the occasional magazine.  Although I have a stack of unread books waiting for me (and a long list of books I'd like to read), reading online just felt easier.

There's nothing wrong with reading a lot online--it's pretty amazing that we have so much information so readily available to us--but I think there's some real value in reading in the longer form.  It's a cool experience to be lost in a story for hours or even days--and I think it's uniquely calming in a world where we've become sort of constantly bombarded with random bits of news and information.  I also think there's value to the practice of allotting your singular focus on a book when it can be so easy to be distracted by all the other media available.  For myself, I definitely feel like I've experienced some decline in my general ability to focus.  With so much information to consume (or even to just be entertained by) I've experienced a real desire to try to multitask and capture it all... but of course if I'm trying to listen to the latest NPR story while also reading my email (and checking facebook every few minutes), I'm actually gaining very little from any of those activities.

Plus, having a good book already lined up in the queue makes the decision to not watch that next episode of Ice Road Truckers on Hulu much easier (I'm not proud...) :-).

Also, although like I said, I love reading and love most of the books I read... I've always had trouble remembering much about them.  I'm weird (and broken?).  But rather than getting my brain checked... I thought I'd write little reviews here!  Hopefully it'll help me remember something.

Week 1 (January 19):  The Lipstick Gospel by Stephanie May Wilson

I started with an easy one--I actually read it all in one afternoon on my day off (and I'm certainly not a fast reader!).  There are parts of this story that felt a little shallow--it's definitely a version of the typical coming of age story that I think gets a little old once you've come of age.  Also, after working in the non-profit world, the idea she shares that someone goes away to help the needy, but actually gains more from the experience than they were able to give has started to feel pretty cliche.  However, it's wonderfully well written, and there's definitely a refreshingly raw honesty in the story that you don't experience in the stereotypical Christian world.  I also have to admit that I really related to many of her experiences, and was inspired and encouraged by the story to continue on my perhaps less conventional, but definitely more adventure, love, and gratitude-filled path :-).  I think it could have a similar effect on plenty of other people, so I'll give it a thumbs up and I'd definitely suggest it to anyone interested in a memoir on faith.  Plus I think you can still download it for free on her website.

Week 2 (January 26): Planning Your Thru-Hike of the John Muir Trail by Ray Rippel

I read this one for one pretty obvious reason--I'm planning to hike the John Muir Trail :-). Also, it was recommended on one of the many great blogs I've read about the trail (Trail to Summit), and it was pretty cheap as far as guide books go ($7)!  It was very well written and fun to read (it's pretty crazy how exciting it is to read stories about the trail over and over again!), but regardless of what the title and subtitle might lead you to believe (Everything You Need to Know to Start Planning Your 211 Mile Adventure of a Lifetime!), it's not really much of a guide book.  He even admits on one of the first few pages that it's not actually intended to be a guide book.  Hah.  But, like I said, it's still a great, well written story, and he does provide a few suggestions for planning and even a couple of sample itineraries at the end.  If you're planning a hike on the JMT (or thinking about it, or dreaming about it...), and you're looking for more stuff to read, I'd suggest it!

Week 3 (February 2): Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

This book is really great. You should stop reading this blog and go read it instead.  Perhaps the only downside is that it's really long... I actually started reading it in early January sometime and didn't finish it until the first week in February... but it's totally worth it.  I was humbled in so many ways--by how little I know about WWII history, by how cushy and easy my life is in comparison to all the characters experienced (and how many things I can still find to complain about), by the incredibly terrible things human beings can end up doing to each other, and by the incredible healing that's still somehow possible.

I've never liked or understood war, but in general I try to limit my criticism and to keep and open mind--I guess I'm aware enough to understand that I don't really know all the ways war has been justified over the course of human existence, and I certainly don't have the experience to understand what motivates the lives of the men and women who serve their countries in times of war.  They deserve the utmost respect and support.  But this book honestly made me feel disgusted by the fact that war still exists in our world.  It of course describes the horrifying conditions at the Japanese POW camps, but it also details the incredible numbers of non-combat related deaths during WWII in the Pacific because of what felt like recklessness--servicemen with no choice but to embark on near-impossible missions with totally inadequate equipment.  I know there's still plenty that I don't understand, but I finished the book feeling an intense gratitude that I have not had to experience anything like what the characters in Unbroken experienced... and an intense desire for war to be an idea that only exists in history--that no one ever have to experience such terrible things again.  Naive, I know, but I'm entitled to hope I think! :-)

Again, you should go read it.  It's incredibly well researched, well written, and a gripping story that I think probably most people will learn a ton from!

Week 4 (Februrary 9): My Life on the Run by Bart Yasso

This book was just really fun--basically a celebration of an awesomely fun life, and encouragement to add lots of fun adventures to your own life. I saw it on the shelf at the local Goodwill and though it looked interesting so I picked it up for a grand total of $1.20.  And the coolest thing?  When I got home and opened it up to start reading, I discovered that my copy is signed by Bart himself!  Bart Yasso isn't exactly the most famous guy ever... but if you've ever read anything or talked to anyone about running or marathon training you've probably heard of something called "Yasso 800s".  Well Bart Yasso created them--a marathon training/prediction strategy--and is actually kinda famous among runners.  And I have his autograph!  I'm famous!!! It was a neat surprise :-).  Thanks, Goodwill.
My book from Goodwill, signed by Bart Yasso!  Nevermind that it's addressed to Tom... :-)

Anyway, the book is all about the crazy adventures he's had as "Chief Running Officer" at Runners World Magazine, racing all over the world in some of the most challenging and most ridiculous races, and it shares a little of his inspiring journey from addict and alcoholic to runner.  Plus at the end he includes some of his training plans for the 5k, 10k, half, and full marathon, and (perhaps my favorite part) a list of some of his favorite races in the world in all different categories.  My list of "things I want to do in my life" just got considerably longer :-).  I love reading stories of other peoples' adventures--it's inspiring, and reminds me to never forget the joy I've been blessed to experience through all my many adventures.  Bart's story definitely inspires adventure and a deep gratitude for life, and encourages me to continue on my path, attempting to live my life to the fullest.  Who knows, perhaps some day I'll get to be Chief Running (or biking or hiking or adventuring) Officer somewhere :-).

What are you reading?

17 February 2015

Let the Training Begin... the CVNP Challenge!

This is the beautiful map collage I  put on the
wall in the living room so we can keep
track of our progress.
I also offer professional decorating services.
If you're interested let me know.

What is it?

We're going to hike, run or ski all the trails in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP) plus the Metro Parks that have trails within CVNP.  According to my estimates there are something like 170 miles of trails, but there are a number of trails that overlap and perhaps also some trails that aren't on the maps (secret trails!!?!?!).  Here's the trail list the CVNP has online... and I copied my list below.  I'm thinking both lists probably aren't quite perfect, so we're just going to have to go out there and explore!


Brett and Melissa and whoever will join us!


Starting in January 2015.. until we finish.  Perhaps some day when I'm an awesome ultra runner I'll do it all in a weekend or something... but for now we'll just take it easy :-).


To help prepare for my John Muir Trail Hike this summer... and because we can!  Whenever I stop to think about it, I'm so grateful to have a national park almost literally in our backyard.  Of course it's no Yosemite or Grand Canyon... but it's also close to all the conveniences of major cities and to our families!


We've already got a few done!  In fact, we're 17.7 miles in.

Tree Farm, Cross Country, and Spring Hollow Trails

A few weekends ago we cross-country skied the Tree Farm Trail at Horseshoe Pond (this is definitely my favorite skiing spot in CVNP so far!), and we went on a night hike on the Spring Hollow Trail at Hampton Hills Metro Park.  I also had a very sticky (and basically failed) cross country ski experience on the Cross Country Trail at Kendall Lake--I guess the snow was too warm and melt-y so I couldn't keep the bottom of my skis clean.  However, with plenty of falling and a little hiking I eventually made it around the loop and back to the car :-).

Skiing the Tree Farm Trail with Mrs. Safran and Mrs. Pierce!
Mrs. Pierce was really excited that Brett was there because  no one else would have been brave enough to ski across the
frozen Horseshoe Pond with her :-).

Riding Run Trail

Last week I did what I'll call my first official training hike (woohoo!! It's getting real!).  On my day off from work I hiked about 4.7 miles on the Riding Run Trail--a trail I've never been to (again, I feel so lucky every time I realize that all these trails are so close to where I've lived for about 7 or 8 years now and there are still places left to explore!).

The trail started with crossing the Everett Road Covered Bridge (which I've also never been to) then climbed out of the valley and back down in a big loop.  Climbing to the top of the Cuyahoga Valley is definitely nothing like climbing a mountain, but sometimes the views can trick you into thinking you're in the mountains (especially in the winter with no leaves to obstruct your view).  And hopefully it'll be enough climbing to at least help me prepare for the Sierra Nevada (probably not...).

The trails are so peaceful in the winter--sure it's cold and a little slippery, but I think it's one of the few times you can go out in these woods that are so close to major roads and cities and feel at least a little like you've left civilization.  I highly recommend it :-).

The Everett Road Covered Bridge
The peaceful forest :-)
I'm hoping winter hiking in the valley--a.k.a walking
over the frozen footsteps of all kinds of creatures--will
at least help prepare my ankles for the uneven
footing we might experience out west...

One of those times I pretended I was on a mountain...

And the view from the valley floor :-).

Pine Grove and Forest Point Trails

Last but not least, I spent a very cold afternoon (one of those days they warned us not to go out for fear of freezing noses and toes) with Jamie and Brett hiking 3.7 miles on few trails around the Ledges area.  This is a spot I've been to so many times--a lot of people will say that the ledges are one of the most beautiful spots in the valley and it's a pretty easy place to get to, so it's often where we'll meet for some time in the woods.  However we still found a trail I'd never hiked--the Forest Point Trail.  It's a short half mile, but it was a fun walk along the ridge line... and still plenty challenging with all the ice under our feet. We tried to hike some of the Ledges trail but it was so icy (and steep in many places) that I think it would have taken us three days at the pace we were going (unless we gave in a sledded down the hills :-) ).

I took exactly one picture of the sun setting in the clear cold sky...
and spent the rest of the time trying to make sure my fingers didn't freeze.

Melissa's Official Trail List!!!Miles
Buckeye Trail Sections & Valley Trail
Buckeye Trail: Egbert Picnic Area to Alexander Road6.1
Buckeye Trail: Alexander Road to Frazee House1.5
Buckeye Trail: Frazee House to Station Road Bridge2.5
Buckeye Trail: Station Road Bridge to Jaite7.0
Buckeye Trail: Jaite to Boston5.6
Buckeye Trail: Boston to Pine Lane4.0
Buckeye Trail: Pine Lane to Everett Covered Bridge4.1
Buckeye Trail: Everett Covered Bridge to Indian Mound Trailhead3.0
Valley Trail?
Wetmore Bridle Trails
Wetmore Trail4.5
Dickerson Run Trail1.0
Tabletop Trail0.6
Langes Run Trail3.5
Butler's Trail0.6
Everett Covered Bridge Area Trails
Riding Run Trail4.0
Perkins Trail2.75
Covered Bridge and Furnace Run Trails1.5
Indigo Lake Trail (connects Towpath with Hale Farm)1.0
Trails Between Jaite & Boston
Old Carriage Trail5.3
Stanford Trail1.5
Brandywine Gorge Trail1.3
Brandywine Falls Trail0.1
From Happy Days Lodge
Haskell Run Trail0.5
Boston Run Trail3.4
From the Ledges Parking Area
Ledges Trail2.2
Pine Grove Trail2.2
Forest Point Trail0.5
From Kendall Lake
Cross Country Trail2.5
Lake Trail1.0
Salt Run Trail3.3
Off Major Road
Tree Farm Trail2.8
From Oak Hill Trailhead
Oak Hill Trail1.5
Plateau Trail4.5
Cleveland Metroparks Trails within CVNP
Bedford Reservation
All Purpose Trail7.6
Sagamore Creek Loop Trail3.6
Bedford Single Track Trails11.0
Egbert Loop Trail1.1
Viaduct Park Loop Trail0.4
Forbes Woods Ridge Trail0.3
Bridal Trails7
Hemlock Creek Loop Trail0.8
Brecksville Reservation
All Purpose Trail9.3
Prairie Loop Trial0.5
Wildflower Loop Trail0.8
Hemlock Loop Trail2.5
Salamander Loop Trail1.5
Bridal Trails10.0
Deer Lick Cave Trail4
Metro Parks, Serving Summit County Trails within CVNP
Furnace Run Metro Park
Daffodil Trail0.6
Old mill Trail1.0
Rock Creek Trail1.0
Deep Lock Quary Metro Park
Quarry Trail1.2
Cuyahoga Trail?
O'Neil Woods Metro Park
Deer Run Trail1.8
Hampton Hills Metro Park
Adam Run3.2
Spring Hollow1.6

02 February 2015

The next adventure... on the John Muir Trail!

I'm going to hike the John Muir Trail!!

I got approval to take the time off work, I have the incredibly generous support of my awesome best friend, Brett, I have a very cool little team to do it with... and we just received our official permit reservation!

John Muir Trail
Where we'll be walking
(image from www.hikejmt.com)
The John Muir Trail (JMT) is a 211 mile long hiking trail in California that'll take us into some of the most beautiful wilderness in the world. We're going to start at the north end at Happy Isles in Yosemite National park on July 8th, 2015 and if all goes as planned, we'll finish at the top of the contiguous United States' highest peak--Mount Whitney (14,496 ft)--about 30 days later.

The idea came to us in a dream a documentary that's now well known among JMT hikers (and that's probably significantly increased the popularity of the trail) called Mile, Mile and a Half(it's on Netflix. Go watch it!) Last summer a few of my fellow bike adventurers and I spent an evening watching it (per the serendipitous suggestion of Jenny and Greg)... our host church for the evening encouraged us to use the projector in the youth room... and the seed was planted.  So, since we came up with the plan in church it was definitely divine intervention and we couldn't possibly not do it (never mind that we were basically living at churches for 2.5 months last summer....).

Really though, it's pretty amazing how these things seem to just work themselves out sometimes.  

After watching the documentary, my best-biking-buddy, Leah, asked if I'd want to hike it with her (I think she decided she was going to do it about 12 seconds into the documentary :-) ).  I said something along the lines of "Of course! But I have no idea if I'll be able to". I had no idea where life was going to take me after we moved back to Ohio.  I was probably supposed to get an engineering job and try to do normal, responsible things... but instead I decided to take more time to try to figure out what I'm really meant to do with my life and on a whim I got a job at a local outdoor gear shop to just buy time. Before I knew it, I had an employer who actually encourages crazy adventures, I had access to really good deals on the gear I'll need, and I (of course) had the most supportive friends and family.

Brett and I made sure to take some pictures of
the John Muir Trail signs during our trip to
Yosemite last summer so we could share them
with Leah... never suspecting I'd actually
be able to join her :-).
Then there's the fact that we actually received a permit.  To get a permit to hike the JMT starting at the north end of the trail you have to apply to Yosemite National Park exactly 24 weeks before your planned departure date. Yosemite has set quotas for the number of people who can enter any given trail head--something like 12 or 4 or 16 people can start at a certain point each day. Leading up to the day we chose to apply we were all reading stories of people trying up to seven times before having their application was actually approved (each time pushing their trip back another day).  With our group of 6 people we thought our chances were even lower.  Each of us separately faxed a permit application for our team of six on the evening of January 20th hoping to increase our odds... knowing that in all likelihood we'd be repeating the process an unknown number of days into the future. Of course, the next morning I got a call from Leah, who I think was in such disbelief that she questioned her literacy as she opened the email she received saying "This confirms your reservation, made on 01/21/2015, for a wilderness permit for the following trip..."

There are definitely still times that I worry that I should be working a job that earns more money after spending the last two years volunteering, or that I can and should be contributing more to society, saving more for retirement, saving the world, etc. But then I remember that I'll never regret an adventure like this--I certainly haven't yet!
Every adventure is training for the next... here we are training for the John Muir Trail!
Me and Leah... so excited for another adventure!

04 November 2014

Everyone asks if we miss Americus...

It's been really great to reconnect with everyone and everything in northeast Ohio as we're transitioning back to life here, and one of the first questions we're always asked is whether we miss Americus (the little town in southwest Georgia where we lived and worked for the past couple of years--where the Fuller Center for Housing is located).

The answer is of course YES!  We met some incredible people there who I'll never forget, and who I feel SO blessed to have gotten to know and learn from.  I totally miss the amazing examples of gratitude, faith, service, and love that we got to build relationships with.

Of course there are also plenty of things that we won't miss, and it feels totally right to be back "home" in Ohio now... but there are things I miss about every place I've been and every experience I've had in my life--I'm so grateful for what each of them have added to my life!

I also think Brett will miss the random puppies he got to meet :-).
I hope this one has a good home... we almost took him with us!

01 November 2014

Bike Adventure 2014 - Americus to Philadelphia to Atlantic City

During the Bike Adventure this summer I was so impressed by a few of my fellow cyclists who religiously kept journals of their experiences.  There were at least four of these very disciplined riders who I remember sitting down nearly every evening to record what they saw and felt that day... which is so awesome!  Life on the Bike Adventure is simplified, condensed, and deepened--it's like real life distilled to a point that forces your to learn a lot about yourself in a short amount of time, and to form some of the strongest and most meaningful relationships I've ever encountered. Remembering a journey like that is invaluable.

However, it's increasingly amazing to me how quickly the details of the experience seem to leave my brain.  In some ways, returning to a "normal life" that's so different makes an experience like the Bike Adventure feel like a dream--you can remember the feeling of it, but the details get more and more fuzzy the further away you get.  So, while I'm not too far from the experience (and not quite returned to "normal life" yet), I want to try to record the summer from my point of view.  I guess also because I'm a little jealous--those riders who took the time to write it all down along the way will have something awesome to look back on years from now.  So here goes!

Getting to the start - Americus to Philadelphia to Atlantic City

Finally starting the Bike Adventure feels sort of like starting something you've been preparing for a lifetime to do.  I spent nearly every day of the previous 9 months at a desk preparing every detail that I possibly could and never really stopping the running to-do list in my head. Even with all that planning there's a ton of details that can't really be planned. When the thing finally starts, all that planning can sometimes becomes a ton of pressure to make it--something you ultimately don't have total control of--all go perfectly! It's awkward to transition from planning to doing, among all the other awkward things like starting an event in a place you've never been to (hoping there will be someone there to open the door for you!), and all the new people meeting each other (and wondering what they got themselves into). This summer though, the start actually did feel nearly perfect.

But first, a short aside... here begins the list of things I feel so grateful to have learned over and over again doing this job (and that I continue to be amazed by), that I will probably continue to repeat for in every subsequent post:
  1. There are strangers everywhere who are incredibly kind and generous--much more than the evening news would have you believe.
  2. It's amazing (often miraculous, actually) how things seem to just work out when you're doing something like this.  There's so much that you can't really plan, but somehow it all works.
  3. The Fuller Center Bike Adventure is a family just as strong as any family bound by blood.
Me, Ryan, and Jisun (from left) posing for the obligatory early morning departure photo.
Me, Ryan, and Jisun (from left) posing for the
obligatory early morning departure photo. 
Back to the adventure...

The start for me was the drive from Americus (the little town in southwest Georgia where I lived and worked) to the ride's starting point in Atlantic City, NJ.  Ryan, Jisun, and I traveled up with the van and trailer that would become sort of like home over the next couple of months.  To remain true to the Bike Adventure's signature (and possibly excessive) frugal-ness, whenever and wherever we travel we make a point to stay somewhere free.  During the ride this usually means crashing in churches, but when we have a smaller group we try to re-connect with old friends who might have a few empty square feet on their floor (which has some really wonderful benefits in addition to being free--I'm happy to have had this practice added to my life).  Strangely though, we couldn't find a friend along our route in quite the spot we were hoping to.  You collect friends in a lot of places with this cross-country biking thing (see number 3 above!) but I guess they're not quite everywhere. When we shared this unfortunate news with the Fuller Center president, David Snell, he came through with a board member who owns a few hotels in nearly the exact spot we were hoping to stop after our first day of driving (see number 2), and after a couple of emails this generous board member came through with a couple free hotel rooms for us (and number 1 :-) )!  Score!  Thank you to the folks at the that hotel for offering us one of the last beds we'd sleep in for quite a while!
Bike Adventurers, new and old, Geezerman (aka Tom Weber),  and members of the Emperado family, helping us get the  Bike Adventure started.
Bike Adventurers, new and old, Geezerman (aka Tom Weber),
and members of the Emperado family, helping us get the
Bike Adventure started.

Our next pre-adventure stop landed us in Philadelphia where we stayed the night with Kert Emperado's awesome family, giving us a chance to collect a few riders from the airport before heading to the coast (Kert was a part of both the 2013 and 2014 adventures). We arrived early in the day and over the course of the afternoon and evening riders joined us at Kert's house until we packed probably about 20 people (including his family) like sardines into every corner of the home to sleep (including under the dining room table, much to the amusement of Kert's Dad :-) ).  They not only let us take over their home but various family members brought over plate after plate of food (which, unbeknownst to us, would foreshadow our experience when we biked back through the area a few days later). They were so proud of their son / grandson / nephew, so excited to meet all his crazy biker friends, and just as excited to share their delicious filipino food with us! They even helped us celebrate the 72nd birthday of everyone's favorite Geezer.

While we were all gathering, laughing, and celebrating I couldn't help but wonder what the few cyclists who are new to this Bike Adventure family were thinking (most of the people who joined us in Philly were returning riders and knew what they were getting themselves into--we would meet the rest of the new folks in Atlantic City).  I imagined thoughts going something like... "I signed up to ride my bike and build houses, but now I'm sleeping on the floor at some random house in Philadelphia, surrounded by a bunch of loud and crazy strangers!?" I can definitely understand if any of them were second guessing their decision. However, I think it turned out to be an incredible start to the adventure for me (and for everyone else, once they caught on...).

We were gathering in simple, loving community. It didn't matter where we came from, what we looked like, or how comfortable we were--the only important things were the beautiful, loving people around us (and maybe the food...).  For me, it was so awesome to spend a day (before the real onset of the craziness that is leading a cross-country bike ride) catching up with friends, relaxing, and laughing. And for everyone I think it was a perfect beginning to our summer of meeting and communing with equally beautiful strangers all across the country, whether they knew it or not.

And of course it was a free place to stay :-). Thank you Kert and the Emperados!

The next day we drove the last hour to Atlantic City to really get things started!
Me and my excited (scared?) face :-).
Me and my excited (scared?) face :-).