Dan Lopata

Live, Love, Listen

Archive for the tag “joy”

One way of breaking into the scene : Jam sessions:

It’s the 3rd Thursday of the month and I’m eating a late dinner between sets. And, although I’m in the house band, I get a little extra time to eat as another band has come to cut up a bit. It’s Meg Williams, who now resides in Nashville, with Danny Zeimann on Bass – Monster Jazz player working the international circuit but bass-ed (see what I did there?) in Rochester. Chris Vandenbos is also up there shredding even though he wasn’t officially part of their band, but he signed up to play so there he is knocking it down in style.

They are smoking hot! Danny’s playing makes me self-conscious about my own but I remember what I learned at a jam years ago at Smokin’ Joe’s on Lyell Ave :

The house band had just taken a break after playing ‘Aint No Sunshine’ in a reggae style that featured the late Ralph Ortiz shredding an insane bass solo as he always did. He sat down at the bar next to me and said, “So you’re opening the second set.”

My reply was, “I can’t follow that!”

He turned to me and said, “Dude, you’re a great player. You are not me, but you do what you do and you do it right. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else, just go up and play what makes sense with the tune in the way that YOU do it.”

I opened the second set with Standing on Shaky Ground which always featured Dave Barnes on a drum solo while the bassist just lays down a funky groove. It was all good!

Even though I still compare myself to others, that short conversation sticks with me, and sometimes I even get to deliver it to others now.

Back to dinner, I’m hanging with Steve West, Genesee Johnny, Gordon Munding, and a few other great finger-style / slide bluesmen just chatting about who’s playing where and exchanging info for subbing if someone needs a substitute bass player. Everything is chill.

jam session

Jamming at The Landing with Jimmy Gondoli, Ken Kahler, and the Legend Donny Mancuso
Photo Credit : Aaron Winters

Jam sessions are a great way to break in, to get to know cats, to develop your skill as a player with others (everything is different when you play with other people instead of just playing along with the record… er digital file… yeah I showed my age). They can serve as a free music lesson, especially when the house band is led by a consummate musician like Danny Schmidt (From the Shadows and from Gap Mangione’s Little Big Band) who can read a musician like a book in the first turn around and take where they’re at, and without saying a word, push them musically to the next level. They can also serve as what the stride pianist’s in the 1920’s and bluesmen on the street corners in Memphis called ‘Cutting Contests’.

Ken Kahler and I would show up Monday nights to the Clarissa Room open jam and hang at the bar with our Cokes and Ginger Ales until we got called up to play. We’d throw each other a look and say, “Throw Down!” We had been playing in power/rock blues trio for a decade and basically could read each other’s minds, so at a jam, where we had 2 or 3 tunes to work with and didn’t have to play to the conventions of a typically show, we took the opportunity to open up… HARD! Periodically we’d get the feedback that we were ‘too busy’ but there was no other rhythm section in town that could touch what we were doing. As a result of these jams, we got recommended by, I think it was John Tucker, to Chris Beard, and we spent a bit of time on the road with him (Ken much more time than me).

Now this may all seem like you need to be professional just to sit in at one of these. That is patently untrue. People of all skill levels show up at these. At the best jams, I won’t say that the house band plays to the level of the guest because sometimes that would destroy the music, but the house band plays in a way that complements the level of the guest and makes them sound good to great. These jams are typically hosted by cats that have been on the scene for a long time, and in the style of an Art Blakey, or Miles Davis, or any of the old jazz and blues greats, use the opportunity as a lesson to the players that show up.

Furthermore, these jams are not just limited to blues and jazz, although blues jams are a decent starting point because of standard chord progressions. You can find folk, rock, soul, blues, jazz jams all over the place.

Here are a few that I particularly enjoy:

Jazz:

Monday nights at the Pythod with the Tony Hiler Trio. This is a serious jam with serious cats that know their jazz book and have chops. I can hang but I’m certainly not a cat that will find himself in Tony’s House band. Bring your real book as those cats have already memorized theirs.

Rock / Blues:

There’s two I highly recommend –

Wednesday at Murph’s in Irondequoit with Nate Coffey – Nate plays everything and sings, he comes from a musical family with his father being a cornerstone of Rock/Blues in Rochester for decades and Nate carrying on the tradition. You will find cats that have played the big time in Manhattan (Eric Katerle as an example) to local talent that will blow your mind. If you show up with a tune in mind, chances are 99.9% that Nate and the band knows it and are ready to throw down with you and take you for a ride.

Nate Coffey

Throwing Down with Nate at The Landing
Photo Credit : Aaron Winters

Tuesdays at The Landing in Fairport similarly has a rocking vibe. I will credit this primarily to my friend and long-time rhythm-section partner in crime Ken Kahler on the drums. Make sure when your there to order a burger and then demand that the cook/owner Jimmy Gondoli comes out and jams too, as he is a monster guitarist.

Blues/Blues:

Tuesdays at PI’s on the West Side of town, Billy B. a mainstay artist in Rochester and Buffalo hosts this jam. His band rotates personnel but always includes some of the longest tenured musicians in the area including Dave Riccione, Danny Schmidt, Aleks Disjlenkovich, Wayne Naylor, Big Mike, Jason Smay, and McKinley James. This is a fun time to spectate as well as play at as the swing dancers love to come out and show off their moves

The Third Thursday of every month, Sticky Lips in Henrietta hosts Son House Night. You host Genesee Johnny, along with myself and Tim Brinduse open the first set, then Johnny usually brings in a featured act, and then finally opens it up for jamming. As the name suggests, this jam is focused on old style blues playing, we get lots of bottle-neck slide and finger-style players, and even regular mini-set from a solo artists on his double-neck cigar box guitar.

Rhythm and Blues / Soul:

Super Sunday Soul Jam:

This jam bounces from place to place, not even sure it’s still happening, but when it is Mitty Moore (The Dukes, Mitty and the Followers) hosts this amazing jam. John Dretto, the amazing 16 yr-old phenom fusion/blues guitarist makes a habit of showing here along with the famous Buzzo. The house band is amazing and the guests that show up will take you from funkytown to church in the matter of a few tunes.

 

There are other jams around town, check them out. This list represents the one’s I’m most likely to be found at because of the ‘hang’, the musicianship, and the food!

Happy Jamming!

Twisted Branch 100K, Amy’s journey from my vantage point.

I witnessed Twisted Branch from a trainer/crew perspective this year. Watching Amy work through this race to her cutoff at Italy Turnpike was impressive to say the least. The heat and humidity knocked out many a participant by that point, yet she arrived in great spirits with really only her feet holding her back. Able to walk, break down camp, and do 9 loads of laundry the next day tells me that her fueling, heat management, and  pacing were right on during a day that dropped many seasoned veterans.

She says, “I had no business being on that course,” with regard to her experience and standard pace, but I would disagree, and so would Scott Magee the Race Director. His mission statement,

“It is our mission is to provide a supported, safe, and challenging ultra-marathon event which showcases the Finger Lakes Trail System, the beautiful forests of upstate NY, and communities that surround the trail. We are committed to protecting the health of the Finger Lakes Trail system, as well as our relationship with the Finger Lakes Trails Conference, the NYS DEC, surrounding communities and the private landowners who make this trail and event possible.”

says it all. He isn’t putting on a race designed to only cater to elites, to people who have a chance at finishing, he is putting on an event that is safe, challenging, and showcases something amazing.

The safety lies within the supports he has built into the event with a medical adviser, aid stations approximately 6-7 miles apart, course markings, sweepers, even paramedics at 40 miles taking people’s vitals. Challenging includes challenging terrain and cutoffs for even the elite athletes which saw Daven Oskvig (2016 champion) break down at 39 miles and almost drop out but come back to life within the hour and take 3rd place. But also the cutoff of 8 hours at mile 28 (and over 6000’ of gain) presented novices with a challenge to work through the most hilly and scenic section of the course to obtain a goal. And then the showcase… The Bristol Hills Branch of the FLT takes one through Naples, Italy Valley, Branchport, Lake David, Urbana, and finally Hammondsport, through scenic Finger Lakes forests, wine and corn country, singletrack trail and beauty that is unmatched in NYS. I would say mission accomplished!

Now most who know me understand that I’m pretty opinionated about ultras. For the most part, I think there are races that appeal to all-comers, and races that appeal to seasoned veterans. I get upset when people sign up for a 100 miler only intending to run 50 miles of it and therefore take a spot from someone who wants to attempt all 100. I believe the qualification standards for Hardrock 100, Western States, Massanutten, Crewel Jewel etc. are all appropriate, and I do not believe that ultras are for everyone. This race is different. As of yet, it has failed to sell out and so I have no qualms about all-comers and even novices running it. Scott stresses in the mission and in action, that this is a safe event. This event offers an opportunity for runners who have run their local 50ks to test their meddle against what more storied ultras are like, and give them the opportunity to discover whether or not it is “for them”. This is an ultra that I believe teaches every participant something they didn’t know about themselves whether they finish it or not. It is an event, in what I believe the true spirit of the original ultra is, that tests one’s limits. A finish is not a given in this race, and that’s the point of ultra IMHO. To me this is the best ultra in the northeast because of this aspect and because of its mission.

So back to Amy; she had no illusion that she would finish this race. She had already run to Italy Turnpike twice before in training. Her original goal was to make that cutoff and finish at Bud Valley. She had to find an hour in that course based on her two previous training runs to make that cutoff and given the conditions, 90 degrees and humid, that was unlikely. So Amy changed her goal and focused on the more important one she had set for herself – to not be miserable and enjoy the course. And, while there were miserable moments, Shay Road, the experience was a win and she was happy with her day. She did find 40 minutes on the course as well! We then went on to other aid stations and the finish to cheer on our friends. Amy decided that this race was “not her bag” but was glad she experienced it. Lessons are still being learned post race.

For me there were more joys. I got to help Amy’s parents witness what she does. I am not sure they really understand, but they were out there cheering here on because they knew it was important to her, and evidently it may have inspired them to re-up their Y membership, or at least get out walking. Two of my kids accompanied us and camped through a storm. Sky was goofy and did his thing, but probably was more bored than he let on. Julius, on the other hand, got up at 4 AM and wanted to come along with me to crew and experience the event. He thought it was really cool and should be a televised or videoed event like the Tour de France, and he was most amazed at people’s attitudes when they had known they were missing a cutoff but seemed happy regardless, and the also the spirit of the people beat down by heat exhaustion or injury. I am so glad that both of them saw people pushing their limits and the joy that can be found in doing so. I don’t think ultra-running is ultimately something any of my kids will end up doing, but I do think the example of ultra-running is one that has taught them to push their limits in any endeavor they undertake.

Finally, I want to say, between the athletes, participants, volunteers, race director, pacers, crew, spectators, communities, etc. Ultra to me, especially this one, epitomizes what is right in the world. People genuinely care about each other out there. They work their hardest while accepting aid and help along the way, and offering help as well. They unite under a common endeavor and shared experience that transcends differences. They get it done and pick those up who didn’t. Even those who didn’t get it done pick up others who didn’t as well as those who did. I love this community.

Thank you Scott for organizing the experience.

Retraction, not voting 3rd party, but kind of am…

Really short

I have taken closer looks at platforms, campaign methods and candidates, and even though I live in NY and want more than two parties, I want to vote for a Third Party I believe in. Right now the Working Families Platform most reflects my beliefs… IT IS NOT PERFECT. I will be voting on that line, because their platform more closely conforms to my beliefs. So yes, it is kind of a Third-Party vote, but you find that all of the candidates on that line are also Democrats, so it isn’t a Third-Party vote. I’d welcome more independent candidates endorsed by WFP, so there’s that.

TransParenting Intro

I battled with the idea to make this an entirely separate blog focusing on being the Dad of a transgender son, but decided that Live, Love, Listen is the appropriate place. This blog is about the things that are important to me, and the self-centered person I am, or maybe a the person I am who wants to see a better world for all thinks it should be important to you. So it remains here among my music, running, and humanist posts.

We recently came out publicly about our son, and now I find myself in a time of Listening. I’ve been overwhelmed since he came out to us, then to the family, then to his school, and now us coming out to everyone, and overwhelming expresses itself in form of depression for me. It has been a struggle, I’ve been overeating, not exercising, buying pop tarts and birthday cake fudge stripes. I’ve been binge-ing on Netflix, and distant. Fortunately I had to go to the ADK with Amy and that got me hiking.  And, fortunately, I am now in a place that I recognize my depression and the things I do to myself. So currently I’m engaging in running again, took a couple of my kids hiking at Stony Brook State Park, and getting to sleep a little earlier by only watching one Netflix episode of the many shows I’m following. I’ve got some gigs coming up too that I’m excited about. So I am engaging in taking care of myself. This is the result of learning how to listen, listen to others, my therapist, and my body/mind (sorry about the dualism there).

Other things I’m listening to are the responses to our coming out. (Names omitted):


– Sky is very lucky to have been born into such a kickass family. And hopefully the world is changing quickly enough that he won’t have to experience the hate and fear that his predecessors endured.

– I liked this post. If i could like it numerous times without it actaully unliking it i would..sending my love and support

– I have learned over the years that it is the most important thing to be yourself, and be true to yourself no matter what. Sky has done one of the best things for himself.

– Dan & Amy, I’ve yet to meet Sky, but I already adore him because he is your child & I do so appreciate the 2 of you. And I admire all 3 of you even more now. Count me among the legion surrounding you all with love and support. Bravo!

– I am truly impressed by you as parents stepping out into YOUR Authenticity. Many parents of a TrueGender child are not willing to join their child on the frontlines of their life in such a way

For those of us who are living in our Truegender, our actions are acutely tied to the support system that embraces or expels us. We have known who we are for a longer time than those in the ever widening circle of our lives and our choice to Reveal and live our True Life should be as simple as pulling back the curtain. Sadly, that is not possible in every community. Sky will benefit from your continued Unconditional Love and he will also thrive in the local LGBTQ community and the larger public community of Upstate NY, which is exceptional in its acceptance of gender diversity. Sadly, locality and environment really do impact our progress and future success in realizing our intentions. I honor you, Dan and Amy, for YOUR commitment to transition in YOUR life as Sky approaches a fuller understanding of his own challenges.

For my part, I can attest to experiencing no external pushback which has been instrumental in my own measure of Self Confidence in processing what I need to and proceeding to actualize my hopes, dreams and ambitions. Continued therapeutic guidance has been essential for me to staying on track, but I am sure you and Sky are well aware of its benefits, judging by the strong United front you present.

My sister is an active board member of PFLAG in Chicago and force of nature in the LGBTQ community there. If you haven’t already, I invite you to join PFLAG and add your energy to its mission. We are also blessed by having the Gay Alliance of Greater Rochester and The Empty Closet as such a strong resources locally.

The timing of this announcement could not be better timed, coming just before our annual Pride Celebration. I will not soon forget being a Pride Parade participant months after I initiated my full disclosure and experiencing the love and affirmation radiating from the sidewalks 2 years ago. For me, after decades of self-imposed suppression it was a triumphant tear-filled coming home at last. I can only hope Sky feels the same welcome I experienced and banks that joyous validation.

Please accept my offer of availability to you and Sky, should you need counsel, confirmation and companionship on your journey. We are all pioneers, representatives of a larger Global initiative that invites every Human Being on the planet to live Out Loud, Unapologetically as who we really are and embrace the opportunity to evolve to a new level of Human Understanding and in the process, Change the World.

– I don’t often love facebook posts, but, when I do, I love facebook posts.

– He is so lucky to have you. You must have created a loving and supportive environment for him to be so brave, so young. Congratulations.

– Congratulaions on the freedom this will bring for him. You should be so proud of him. And what great parents to be so supportive (as it should be).

– His ability to be comfortable in his own skin and willingness to share this with others stems from your acceptance of who your children are and allowing them to be themselves. And loving them all the same. I hope my girls will feel this love from us too as this is the most important job as parents. Nice work, Dan. And your Sky is a little brighter today.

These fill me with hope. But I still get stuck and look for the bad; like digging to see who hasn’t “liked” our post, and routing out all of the anti-LBGTQ news, and recognizing that the Pope believes the Church should ask for forgiveness but refuses to change doctrine. Still, even with all the negative, I look at court cases, I look at responses to my post, I look at the great State of NY (We are fortunate to live in the Greater Rochester Area which has been called the San Francisco of the East), I look at the rest of the country, and I am convinced at times that the war has been won. What we are witnessing is the last, desperate dying cries of bigoted people hiding behind their “Holy Books” while the majority of us see right through their thin veneer.

Yes, Trump, the GOP, and Religion are still extremely dangerous to the health and safety of the LGBTQ community, but the courts are ruling with us, public sentiment is on our side and we will win. Remember that vitriol was just as intense during the Civil Rights fight, and even though we still live in a racist society, the laws were changed and the Civil Rights war is won with constant changes to make things better, and we all know who the bad guys were. We are witnessing this again, and if I believe the arc of the universe curves toward justice, “We Shall Overcome” again.

But this doesn’t happen by declaring “victory” and sitting on our laurels, we must continue and take the fight to them. It is time to stop playing defense and start asserting our rights, our strongly held beliefs that are in line with human rights, not religious rights. And demand that others’ rights to discriminate end at the boundaries of the church yard.

 

Coming Out

Today I follow the lead of my most amazing child, and with his permission, share some news. My son Sky, who you may have previously known as Shira, chose the brave path of coming out to our family as transgendered at his 13th birthday party.  Following the sharing with family, he again chose to do something no other student in his district has done, and courageously individually addressed each of his classes to share his new name and respectfully request that going forward his classmates and teachers use his name and the pronouns “he, him, his”.  Saddened by a world that makes it so that my child needs to be brave simply to be who he is, we hope that by our love and support, and continued efforts to use empathy and kindness for ALL human beings, things will get better.  We chose this method of communication so that we could begin important dialogue if needed and because we do not feel the need to “come out” to each person we encounter individually. We understand that there are risks associated and are fully willing to handle whatever comes next in support of him.
A few things our family (including Sky) would like you to know:
1. If you’ve met him, you already know that Sky is an amazing, bright human being with incredible gifts of empathy, humor, and kindness. Most recently he has found joy in supporting dramatic performance as a back stage crew, having supported the high school production while just in 7th grade.  Being transgendered male is only one part of his identity and we all ask that you do not lose sight of the WHOLE awesome human he is.  If you have not met him, you are in for a treat when you do.  We also ask that you use the name Sky, and the male pronouns.  Sky understands that this may be difficult at first because of what you may be used to.
2. We will try to answer whatever appropriate questions we can. Note, we are not experts in this field and won’t have all of the answers to questions you may have. I would recommend utilizing resources at The Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley (GAGV), Genesee Valley Gender Variants (GVGV, or GV2), or a library as we also won’t have time to be your personal researchers on this topic. We respectfully ask that you use validated sources and not just rely on what someone randomly tells you about what transgender is or isn’t. A few places to start: 
3. We will NOT answer personal questions about transitioning (hormones, surgeries, etc).  This is not anyone else’s business. 
4. Please do not “feel sorry” for us if you think this is an affliction, if your personal beliefs tell you this is “wrong”, that someone of his age couldn’t know, etc.  All of these sentiments represent a lack of acceptance for a fellow human being. You may feel sorry for us if you are sorry that we have to live in a decidedly LGBTQ-phobic society. I would ask that rather than feeling sorry, you actively participate in making our society more LGBTQ affirmative and accepting.
Thanks in advance for your love and acceptance.
-Dan and Amy

Unsure

I’m really struggling with the idea of doing more ultras or organized events. This is not because I don’t enjoy them or the community, I love it, but the idea of training for a specific goal, one that I’m unsure that I can achieve is no longer so appealing to me.

I have one big event left on my calendar, Twisted Branch 100k. Between now and then I’m sweeping the Ontario Summit Trail Races (13.1 miles), I’m pacing Ben at Manitou’s Revenge (22 miles), and I’m running the Dam Good Trail Run (14 miles). I’m on board with all of these, but I can’t fathom 18 hours on the Bristol Hills Branch in an event with other people or the training it will take to accomplish it. I’m tired. I don’t feel like I have anything to prove to myself or others, I just want to enjoy time on the trails without the pressure that big events bring.

Currently I’m looking at ADK maps, High Peaks and Northville Placid Trail. I’m looking at the Finger Lakes Trail maps and the Bruce Trail maps (Ontario, CA) and I’m thinking about just hiking; day treks, weekend treks and maybe something a little longer. I just want to explore outdoors.

I am still down with the idea of moving faster than the traditional hiker and going light to ultralite, just because there seems to be more freedom involved and much more of connection and flow with the land. I just need to figure out how to make it happen logistically and temporally; I mean I still have a family and job and music and stuff.

Does this mean I’m giving up running? Absolutely not. I will run for fitness, for social reasons (group runs and such) and for mental / emotional balance, but I think the days of “racing” are over. Will I continue to support events? Yes, events that prove to be environmentally friendly. Will I periodically sign up for an event? Sure, but more likely I’ll volunteer to sweep, as the reason for being at the event is to experience the trail (here’s looking at you Breakneck).

So that’s it. I’m on the fence about Twisted Branch and that decision will ultimately be made later, but by in large I think my racing days are done… until they aren’t 😉

Finding Joy : an MMT100 Experience

 “Even in the mud and scum of things, something always, always sings.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

MMTAMY

A couple of weeks before MMT100 this year, Amy and I were in NOLA at a Duran Duran / Chic Concert. We had great, expensive floor seats because we really were excited to get into the whole experience. Sitting next to us were two girls who were stone-faced bored and on their phones through Chic. Not sure how you could do that because Chic was amazing, but maybe they were just there for Duran Duran; nope, stone-faced, bored and on their phones for the entire show. Another guy in front of us spent the whole show standing facing the opposite way from the stage with his arms crossed?????

If you’re not enjoying the experience, leave

Friday the 13th of May, Amy and I were attending the pre-race briefing of the Massanutten Mountain 100 foot race. Among all the usual banter about cut offs, course markings, trail conditions, aid stations, etc. Kevin Sayers the RD said something that stuck out. I will paraphrase:

There is no way you will finish the Massanutten Mountain 100 if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, so enjoy what you’re doing. If you find you’re not enjoying what you’re doing figure out what you can change about you in order to enjoy it. If you can’t do that, do yourself and the volunteers a favor and drop… there’s good food at the finish line.

14 years ago I attempted this silly footrace, young and cocky with a head full of ego I charged into the course and dropped at 83.2 miles because of injury. In the past few years, I got back on the horse to get my qualifications to attempt it again, knowing I had a bone to pick with the course, and I eventually lined up again last year. I dropped at 69 miles because I was out of shape. In both cases I went with something to prove, and while I did enjoy bits of it, my attitude got in the way.

This year was different…
(spoiler alert, I finished… shortest race report ever unless you decide to read on)

In preparation this year I edited a spreadsheet I made last year so I could just look at distance, elevation, and cutoff to each aid station. I packed changes of clothes and nutrition with very limited instructions to my amazing crew (Amy). I packed a drop bag for Veach Gap. So upon trying to drop off my drop bag, I was informed that Veach Gap wouldn’t have drop bags this year. With that news I came up with a possible game plan to pick up a bladder from Amy at the aid station before but it would be a game time decision. (Veach Gap is 9 miles from the next aid station which is 50 miles total and a ton of climb so hydration is critical). Then I just shrugged off the inconvenience of my very loose original game plan being changed.

Still, there were other negatives floating in my head. I had just received an email from someone I perform with letting me know that my intonation on my last gig was unacceptable. My knee-jerk reaction was, “I guess I need to give up music.” Music and running are my “go to” places, and my DNF’s last year combined with this news had my safe places shaken to their core.

3:00 AM comes early… yet I still woke up before the alarm. I put on my gear including shoes I knew would hurt and laughed about already breaking a sweat while taping my feet.

The proverbial gun went off at 4:00 and we headed up 600 ft in 4 miles on paved then dirt road. I remember who I got caught behind in the conga line the year before so I made a point to be ahead of her when we hit the single track this year. I edged her out right before the single track and then realized the person I just edged out wasn’t who I thought it was, she was waaaaaaay behind me. So out of breath and amused at my stupidity I started the climb up Short Mountain.

Midway up this 1200’ climb I stopped, stepped off the trail, and caught my breath. I let at least 20 people by me, some asking if I was OK. I just knew a reset button was needed to be pushed as I was only at mile 7, not even double digits, and my cardio was already out of whack, not fun. So I let my heart-rate drop, found a space between conga lines, and marched to the top. I remembered a glorious sunrise here last year as I crested, but it was still dark this year when I reached the top. Two miles down the ridge the sun came up, more beautiful than I remember from the year before and much further along the trail which let me know I was far ahead of last year’s start.

eating

Eating at Elizabeth Furnace (I actually liked it)

By in large, I kept to myself the entire race, only really talking to people at aid stations or the “on your left” or “please go by” statements passing my lips. Life has been hard and busy and full of interactions and issues with other people, I was really enjoying “me time” and I felt really settled mentally and emotionally as I rolled into Elizabeth Furnace (33.3 mi). It was during this section that I reflected on my family, and my kids. I was able to see clearly what a great place all of them are in and realize how much they have grown, especially emotionally. My oldest is finding her way in career and love, my next oldest applied for a great scholarship (she didn’t get it) and is really finding out what she is passionate about. My next oldest has computers and electronic dance music, and great friends and activities, and the youngest is in the best place of knowing their true self. I don’t like the word, but for lack of a better one I will used ‘blessed’. Maybe I’m just lucky, or maybe I had a hand in how they are turning out, it doesn’t matter, I am really happy with where they are at. I also started thinking about music, and what I needed to do to rectify my situation. I don’t need to quit, I just need to focus on some fundamentals again. This type of rhythmic meditation that puts things in perspective is one of the main reasons I run long and alone in the woods.

I should also mention that as the mind wanders during these runs, it becomes less and less about myself. Looking at the next ridge over I thought of my friend Jeff Young who had just started his through hike of the AT. I thought of my friend Laura Howard who is absolutely amazing at pointing out that I need to focus on positive thoughts and discard the lingering DNFs and musical mistakes I hang onto. I thought of Mike Valone who was out running a hard 52 K that day; a guy who moves at the back of the pack and tends to struggle late in races, but who’s joy for these events and the people in and around them is unmatched by anyone. It takes being alone for me to realize how well surrounded I am by good great people. The greatest of which was crewing me and who I would get to see at many aid stations.

Skipping ahead, I didn’t take the bladder before Veach gap, I ate lots of potatoes including lots of perogies Amy sent me on my way with, and I ate lots of Ramen (and even some fruit) I avoided sugars. I cruised into Habron Gap (54 mi) something like 2 hours ahead of my time last year. Got out much quicker and trudged up the next 1300’ climb to Camp Roosevelt.

Camp Roosevelt (63 mi) was where I was basically done the previous year. This year I was in and out without seeing Amy, who was parked conveniently where I finally saw the van on my way out and tapped on the window. I had a much needed clothing change for the upcoming night time run. With 5.8 miles until Gap Creek this section is up 1200’ down 1300’ in rocks and mud and is what I considered the worst section of the entire course. Last year it took me over 4 hours to complete and I missed the cutoff. This year, I danced over rocks utilizing my trekking poles, I savored the moment I felt a blister burst in my heel allowing the warm puss to slosh in my sock, and I was just amused at the stupidity of the section, of what I was doing and how I was feeling. Two hours later I was at Gap Creek drinking broth and getting ready to climb Kearns Mountain and attack its 3 mile rocky ridge.

Then I missed the turn…

1.5 miles of extra rolling fire road happened before I realized it (even though I ran this section back in March), so 1.5 miles back to the turn I went. I good 3 miles/45 minutes before I hit the big climb known as Jaw Bone. I wasn’t put off too much, I was just worried about Amy because she saw how well I was doing and this next aid station I would be coming in much later than expected. Regardless I just put one foot in front of the other because I knew I had put the worst section behind me already and got to the 2 mile downhill road section that let me run into the Visitor Center (78.1 mi).

Birdknob

“Trail” up Birdknob

Sunrise number two on Birdknob, 1000’ up from where I left the Visitor Center is a glorious thing. But it was getting colder, not warmer, so battling hypothermia I rolled into the next aid station that was featuring Knob Creek and Hennessy as the beverages of choice… so I ate more broth and trudged to the Picnic Area where I knew Amy was waiting. Two aid stations left!

Restroom

Broken at the Picnic Area

The picnic area was running low on supplies, I grabbed broth and then used the men’s room which was ridiculous itself as there were no locks and one roll of TP between the men’s and women’s room. This was the first time I sat since the start and would be the last until the finish. I was noticing that standing was harder than moving and I didn’t want to sit because I knew that it would be too easy to not get back up. Anyhow, this was a critical juncture, I knew how close I was (16 miles) but I knew it wasn’t a given. I wanted to be back at Gap Creek with 3 hours to spare for the last 6.9 miles. I wanted it, I was crying because I wanted it, I was hurting, I was sure I could get it, I wasn’t sure I could get it… I just had to keep moving. I still had Big Run to get over and one more time up Jaw Bone, but comforted myself that the hardest part was over after Camp Roosevelt…

WRONG

Big Run is a measly 1300’ climb. I remember doing it in March no problem…

Here’s the deal, in March, it was the first climb at mile two of a 26 mile run, now it was the tenth significant (900’+ ) climb and it was at mile 92. In March it had been bone dry with forest fire warnings. This time when I rounded the bend to the climb I was confronted with a  literal 1300’ ascent up a rocky stream with yellow flagging tape marking the way.

I stopped

I stared

I stared some more

A volunteer came by leaping from rock to rock and said, “yeah the water is running a little higher than it was when the leaders came through.” and then bounded away…

I stared some more…

I probably stared for 5 – 10 minutes

I was pissed, I was angry; this was the first real WTF moment I had during the entire event. I was outraged, I was demoralized.

Then I heard it:

“Enjoy what you’re doing. If you find you’re not enjoying what you’re doing figure out what you can change about you in order to enjoy it. If you can’t do that, do yourself and the volunteers a favor and drop… there’s good food at the finish line.”

This stream/waterfall suddenly looked absurd, it then looked silly, and then it just looked stupid, and if there is anything I excel at, it’s stupid. I laughed at myself, I knew I had signed up for this, it was my choice, if I wasn’t going to enjoy it, then why did I bother? 40 minutes later I was at the top.

This is where I won, this was my internal finish line, this was why I came.

I get to choose, not necessarily what is in front of me, but how I approach it. This is the a-ha moment, that some people get naturally but it takes 93 miles of a ridiculously hard ultra for me to get it. I can enjoy where I’m at, what I’m doing regardless of the circumstance, and that enjoyment makes everything easier (more enjoyable… go figure).

In the past week and half since this moment, I have trying to figure out how to apply this lesson to the rest of my life. Yes, it is much easier to choose joy, when you also chose the obstacle in front of you, like 103.7 miles and a 1300’ river climb at mile 92. But how do you choose joy when surrounded by things you didn’t choose; politics, religion, economic situations, other people… This is hard. What I’m finding out is that the situation and the people aren’t what I need to enjoy and be happy with, it’s me. I need to enjoy my positions when it comes to politics, the environment, the economy, and my job. I need to be secure that I’m good with where I’m at, inside and out. I don’t need to let other people and obstacles dictate my emotions or my joy, and it probably ticks them off if I’m joyful in the face of their conflict with me (that’s their problem, not mine, but I do love good Schadenfreude).

Gap Creek

Gap Creek

So there it is. I made it to Gap Creek with 2:50 to go 6.9 miles. Got up and down Jaw Bone, into camp and crossed the finish line at 35:37 that’s 23 minutes to spare.

The End

Finish

Could not have done this without her

BTW Girls at the Duran Duran show, you might better enjoy a Morrisey concert

Some stupid numbers I enjoy:

14 = my lucky number (my birthday) – How many years from my first attempt to my finish

123 = My bib number – 1 wasn’t enough, 2 wasn’t enough, but the 3rd time was the charm

10ish =the number of hours longer it took me to finish MMT 100 as opposed to Haliburton 100

2 – The number of buckles I have earned

“Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“We’re so busy watching out for what’s just ahead of us that we don’t take time to enjoy where we are.”
~Bill Watterson

 

The Year in Review Part III (Family)

I don’t write much about my kids, and that is because I won’t infringe on their safety and privacy.

I love my wife and kids and we have adventures planned for 2016.

I’ll leave it at that.

 

The Year in Review Part II (Music)

2015 started the year off pretty great, working with Orange Sky, The Fools, and Genesee Johnny. I thought the mix was perfect, good people, good music, good times.

I fooled myself.

Orange Sky and I had a falling out and separated in quite an ungraceful way. Much had to do with my approach and attitude, but the whole process has left a deep wound and hurt from a place that is supposed to be “healing.” I have serious reservations about the larger organization, First Unitarian Church of Rochester, as a result of this divorce. 

I have edited the above, as my earlier words were still fueled by the anger and resentment that remain from this process. But more on Spiritual Matters in a later blog.

Fools

The Fools have been a blast. Mary Ellen Hayden’s voice is a force of nature, Mickey’s guitar is mindblowing, Ken’s rhythmic stylings are second to none, and Jack’s ears on the soundboard are impeccable. These guys are the real deal in classic rock, and it has been a privilege to share the stage with them. Not only that, but as people, they are sincere, honest, caring, fun, humorous, loving, sensible, etc. they are great people and great musicians, which is the magic formula I’ve been looking for in a band. Unfortunately, my playing has been adequate at best. The loud playing in small rooms through the years have taken a toll on my ears. I recently had them checked and as far as low frequencies are concerned I have suffered some hearing loss. With loud low frequencies bouncing around in tight spaces I have been losing pitch recognition in these scenarios and have found to my dismay that I would be playing a half-step off for periods of time without even recognizing it. This not only embarrasses me, but brings the entire band down. I am investing in custom earplugs to help remedy this situation and prevent further hearing loss, but am not as optimistic as I might have been when I was younger. We will see what happens next. Regardless, The Fools are setting up another incredible run next year so check them out whether or not I am playing with them.

The Genesee Johnny Trio is tremendous with Jenna (Jenna and the Hops) stepping back for a while, Aleks and I needed to shore up our Pultneyville Grill residency, so we employed Johnny. Playing string bass between these two guitar geniuses in a laid back low volume setting is magic. Just like The Fools, these guys are great people as well as great musicians. Aleks is the best, tastiest blues player in the northeast and Johnny’s slide technique and vocals harken to an era long past. The Pultneyville Grill will be reopening in March and you can find us there again, we would also like to play other rooms and settings so please talk us up to your favorite establishment.

hanna

Also on the trio front, Aleks and I also approached Hanna Klau, an amazing pianist and vocalist from Korea who does standards, blues, and original material, and we have been playing around town as well. (We will be playing Sticky Lips Henrietta from 7:30 – 10:00 New Year’s Eve). Look for Hanna to be releasing a CD soon. This trio combined with the Genesee Johnny trio plus Tim Brindouse on Harmonica and Tony Hiler on drums will make up a new band that rocks and swings the area. We already have a big date in July in Geneseo. Stay tuned.

Crab

Finally, other than one offs with bands like The Flexitarians, and subbing, I was invited to play bass in a pop trio called Crabapples. This is fronted by Jon Gary who is a bass player I have followed for years in a band called Woody Dodge, but he plays guitar and sings in this band. Also Brooks Langkans on drums and vocals is a child of the eighties who shares my pop-sensibilities and taste. Most of the songs we play are originals, and I would say they have a brit-pop feel, (think XTC, The Jam, Split Endz etc.). It’s really fun to play this music, although it is a departure from the blues, jazz and rock for me. It is teaching me (and I’m applying it to other bands) how to play much more within the tune. I tend to be a really busy player, thinking that adding more is adding more to the song… but really, adding less adds more in many, many cases. Love these guys, love this band, they even let me sing a Ramones tune live for a benefit concert. Keep your eyes open for this band as we start a new year of composing and recording.

2015 was year of learning, 2016 is shaping up to be another great year. I think I’m finally in that place where I’m playing the music I want to be playing with the people I want to be playing it with. It is no longer a job, it is a joy.

Looks like I will still be reviewing the year after the new year rolls in. But hey… whatever, you don’t have to read t if you don’t want to 🙂

Next up Part III

Family

The Year in Review Part I (Athletic Endeavors?)

It’s been an interesting year so I will break this up into a few blog posts (looks like 6 of them):

Part I : My physical body

I DNF’d all of my goal races. At Massannutten Mountain 100M I failed at 70 miles, and evidently did it with a smile on my face. At Twisted Branch 100K I failed at 59 miles, again with a smile on my face.

So clearly my attitude at the time of my DNF’s was good, probably because I wasn’t kidding myself that I was actually ready to complete either of them given the training I put in. But upon review I am quite unhappy with the effort I put forth, and the (non)results of my effort were on display at These events.

This brought me to the point of seriously considering if I was capable of doing these things (ultras) anymore. But, as I look back to 2014’s Cayuga Trails 50 and pics of the runs I did two years ago, I see that I do have that in me.

So what changed? Well, I started a new medication which I will delve into in a subsequent blog post, and I also made tons of excuses. So weight gain happened, cold weather and cry-babiness happened. Many gigs happened (next blog), kids, work, running my own business, etc. etc. etc.

All of that said, the year was not a complete loss. I did a number of sweeping jobs, including the last 25 miles of the last Virgil Crest Ultra. I ran Iron Master Challenge 50k with Amy and crewed her to her first 50 mile finish at Haliburton Forest (site of my only 100 mile finish). Also, Amy and I started a quest to hike the entire Bruce Trail in Ontario Canada. We finished the first 50 miles (82K) in the Niagara Region this past August on our anniversary and are heading up in January to knock out some of the Iroquois section on our meet-aversary. So there’s all of that. Not to mention I did complete the entire Bristol Hills Branch (54 miles) in one day (as part of Twisted Branch) which has been a goal for a few years

So this year… goals remain large, MMT 100 continues to be on the bucket list, and now I also have unfinished business at Twisted Branch. Along the way I hope to run Bull Run Run 50M for my 3rd time but with Amy this time. I plan on pacing the guy I train best with, Ben Murphy, at LOViT 100 M and Manitou’s Revenge this year. And, finally I am aiming to tackle a huge endeavor this coming fall, that will be revealed as plans and the reality of it take shape.

What needs to be different? I need some commitment to the process. My training cycle begins Dec 1st (Tomorrow). I’ve been training myself to wake early and get out because life is still going to happen. The only regular dedicated time I can count on is early mornings. The medication thing doesn’t look like it’s going to change soon, but I am looking to counter that weight gain with diet. Amy and I currently looking at some options. Along with those diet options, I’m going to get back into training my body to metabolize fats instead of relying on carbs, this means I’m looking at the Maffetone method of training. I’m working with a HR monitor and am going to train for the optimal cardio, weight loss, fats as fuel burning results I can. This requires a much slower pace, which will mean more time on feet. Don’t expect me to keep up with y’all at group runs anymore. Looks like sweeping remains my past-time, and not just for events anymore

Beyond that, Amy and I will continue with the Bruce Trail, maybe explore some High Peaks in the Adirondacks, Play on the Finger Lakes trail, maybe attempt the Saranac 6r Challenge with a couple of the kids. These are all just possibilities and some may or may not come to fruition this year. So long as we are sucking air and passing gas, we can continue these things in following years… the mountains aren’t going anywhere.

 

Next up… Music

 

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