Thursday, August 30, 2012

Quotes of the Week

After a two-year hiatus, NCT and I joined forces once again and headed to the mountains, gigantic backpacks in tow. This year our destination was Yosemite's High Sierra, and over the course of five days we looped forty miles through the Park's gorgeous backcountry. I'll write more about this trip once I've uploaded all of our photos, but in the meantime, I'm posting some of the more memorable quotes that emerged during our time together. Some of them are even funny enough to rival our quotable backpacking jaunt through the Alps three years ago.
While looking at some flowers after hiking through the Jane Mansfield Pass
MC: "Look at that pretty aster over there!"
RM: "Actually, there are no real asters here. They were re-categorized into other genera a few years ago".
RC: "First Pluto and now asters? What is the world coming to?!"
While hiking towards Merced Lake
MC: "Do fish hibernate?"
RM: "They enter a state called torpor".
CGC: "It's like what happens to you after you eat a burrito".
RM: "Kind of. Except it's the exact opposite".
While hiking towards Sunrise Meadow
CF: "Do you want your pocket zipped closed?"
SC: "I zipped it all the way closed".
CF: "Well, if you consider an eighth of the way all the way closed."
About to leave Tuolumne Meadows for Cathedral Lakes
RM: "Believe me when I say that for the next five days this pole isn't coming out of my hand unless you have a broken leg".
Overheard through the supply hut door at the Merced Lake High Sierra Camp
NCT: "So have you ever used a washboard before?
While hiking up to Vogelsang Pass, discussing a friend's dogs
CF: "Basically all the dogs are named after where they were found. So one dog is called "yonque" because it was found in a junkyard, one is called "tacho" because it was found in a bucket--you get the picture".
While driving between Chinese Camp and Manteca
CGC: "Apple fritters and bear claws are not even close to being similar".
NCT: "Yes they are, they're almost exactly the same".
CGC: "No they're not. Apple fritters are like doughnuts. Bear claws are like danish".
NCT: "No, apple fritters are like bear claws. Both are deep fried."
CGC: "No they're not. That doesn't even make any sense. The filling in a bear claw would be all messed up if it were deep fried".
NCT: "How do you explain jelly doughnuts then? Or doughnuts with any kind of filling?"
CGC: "Apple fritters and doughnuts are in the same family. Bear claws and danish are in the same family. These families do not intersect. They're parallel, like cousins".
NCT: "No they're not."
CGC: "This is the dumbest conversation we've ever had".
NCT: "It is--because your position is dumb".
And finally, NCT and I were responsible for writing the staff serenade at Vogelsang. What follows are the lyrics we composed (with a hefty dose of help from BS):

To be sung to the tune of "Edelweiss"

"Vogelsang, Vogelsang
We're so happy to be here
Food and drink, time to think
Chicken potpie for dinner

Vogelsang Camp may you always be
A hiker's refuge forever

Vogelsang, Vogelsang
For Tuolumne we must leave you!"

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Perfect Game

With all the excitement of the Olympics, le Tour, and marathon training, I've been remiss in writing about one of the most amazing sporting events I've ever had the privilege of witnessing: the perfect game Matt Cain threw on June 13th. Back in April, my Dad sent me and JAR two tickets to the Giants-Astros game, and we assumed June 13th would be an evening of mellow baseball, a casual demolition of Houston by the mitts and bats of San Francisco. Oddly, at the same time we also received passes to a VIP event on the executive level that evening, but opted instead for artichokes and french fries at Ironside. In other words, when we entered the Park by the water just before game time, we had no premonitions, no prescience, no foresight of what we were about to witness.
It only took a few innings, however, before we realized we were watching something special; by the sixth inning, everyone in the ballpark had fallen silent. In fact, except for the full-throated cheering that followed each strike-out--not to mention Gregor Blanco's incredible diving catch in the seventh inning, and the announcement of free bratwursts for everyone seated in the arcade level after Cain's thirteenth strikeout--it was so quiet that I was terrified to make any sound at all. And when he threw the final strike, it felt as though the ballpark were being struck by an earthquake of stomping, screaming, and the sparkling flashes of thousands of camera phones.
I too remembered to take a few photos before we left, including one of fans on the arcade level lifting up the K signs for their own self-portraits. And as we made our way home, eating churros and high-fiving every person we passed, and cheering along with hundreds of other fans on the BART platform when the train operators started shouting about Cain's game over the loudspeaker system, it occurred to me that if I had to miss the World Series in San Francisco, at least I was home--and at the Park--for the Giants' very first perfect game.    

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Deuxième Semaine et Troisième Semaine: le Tour de France

Another July ebbs, another Tour ends. I wish I could have watched more of the coverage in these last two weeks, but what I did catch was, as it is every year, amazing, unbelievable, and inspiring. Since I have no memory of the first American winning the Tour (I was seven), I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to watch the first Englishman win. To see Wiggins stand alongside his compatriot Froome on the podium is remarkable; even more remarkable was seeing all four members of the British Olympic cycling team win TDF stages! (The other two being David Millar and Mark Cavendish, bien sûr).

Other highlights included Valverde's stunning solo breakaway and stage win in the Pyrenees, Wiggins leading out his sprinters in several stages (I like seeing the maillot jeune put himself in this position), Thomas Voeckler winning the King of the Mountains jersey, Tejay Van Garderen win the best young rider jersey, Jens Voigt leading a breakaway on the Champs-Élysées, Clean Bottle boy in the Pyrenees, and Cadel Evans proving himself to be the ultimate exemplar of good sportsmanship, every single day, no matter how much time he lost and how many arbitrary misfortunes he suffered.
A soon-to-be victorious Valverde, Norwegian fan club in tow
(photo credit Sirotti, 
As for the tacks on the road, Frank Schleck's positive test sample, the specter of USADA's investigation, among other stains on the 99th TDF--it's hard to know what conclusions to draw. Both good and bad phenomena occur on every Tour, and there's no predicting what shape they will take or whom they will affect. Ultimately, however, the spirit of the Tour prevails, and I can think of no better example to prove my point than the sight of George Hincapie, riding in his seventeenth and final Tour, leading the peloton onto the Champs-Élysées, an honor reserved for the team of the maillot jeune, but conceded to Big George by Team Sky today in honor of him and his tremendous career.  He never won a Tour--or a Giro, or a Vuelta--and he never led a team as a GC contender. He served instead, for nearly two decades, as a domestique...which is another way of saying that Lance, Alberto, and Cadel are Tour champions because of George Hincapie.
Hincapie leads a true victory lap
(photo credit Casey B. Gibson, Velo News)
Fifty-two weeks sounds like an eternity, but I know that time will fly between now and June 29th, 2013, when the Tour commences in Corsica. In the meantime, I will remember--and this is perhaps the sweetest memory of all--that Phil Liggett lived to see and to call a Brit win the Tour de France, and to hear the dulcet notes of "God Save the Queen" soar above the Arc d'Triomphe. Vive le Tour!
God Save Phil and Paul
(photo credit NBC Sports)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

NYC Marathon 2012: Training Begins

The NYRR sends me one of these every week
Tomorrow morning, I begin my official training for the New York City marathon. Sixteen weeks lie between me and November 4th. I feel like it's the night before the first day of school.

My last weekend of pre-training training went well, fitness-wise. I ran a wonderful 9.5 miles on Saturday morning, a combination of my Continental and History 101 runs (yes, I name my runs, and yes, it's strange that this is the first I've blogged about the habit), through the Inner Richmond, and basically along the full perimeter of Golden Gate Park, with the western stretch directly on Ocean Beach. As I ran alongside Big Rec, around mile three, I was almost run over by a herd of fleet-footed high school cross country runners; I could hear them coming for a few minutes, and their exuberance was infectious. Some of my happiest memories of Golden Gate Park are of running in it as a high school student with my cross-country teammates, especially in the sunshine and crisp air of a San Francisco fall. I couldn't stop smiling for the next several minutes, and a couple of miles later, after passing the Chain of Lakes, I hit an awesome runner's high that lasted all the way until I was running east past the angling pools, when I started to get a little hungry. Fortunately, I soon ran into my dear CMA, who was out for her Saturday long run! I flagged her down in my funny way, and we stopped to catch up for about fifteen minutes. Our chat was just the boost I needed, and although I was almost run over again by the same herd of high schoolers, I quickly ran the few miles home to my favorite post-run green smoothie and chocolate milk (not combined, just side by side).  

This morning I tried to sleep in, but woke up at 7:00 and could tell I was awake for good. The omnipresent summer fog seemed to call for a swim, so I walked over to Rossi and swam a very (very) slow half mile in the bathtub that is the Rossi pool. I can't complain too much; if I'm not doing a real swim workout, then I want to be warm. Still, my goggles fogged up every few laps, and I started to feel like I was sweating in the water--not a pleasant feeling. A quick shower and walk home, and I stretched out on the couch with my second breakfast and the paper, with no other workout obligations until Monday morning. 

And soon, Monday morning will be here! I decided on a training plan--I'm going with Peter Sagal's--and thought about my goals for this particular marathon. There are three. First, have as much fun as possible while training (i.e. train hard, but don't take it too seriously). Second, don't train at the expense of the other things I love in my life (i.e. fit training around my life, don't fit my life around training). And third, run a great race in New York (i.e. enjoy it!). 

Day One starts in eight hours. The schedule calls for five hilly miles. Allez!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Doug Glanville, I Salute You

Because your lucid yet plainspoken essays concern everything from road trip roommates to tipping pitches to team loyalty to the inevitability of growing old. Because your essay about curve balls is really an essay about getting back up when life knocks you sideways, and because your essay about R.A. Dickey's knuckleball is really an essay about a man who found himself after fifteen years of straight pitches, subdued expectations, and the slopes of Kilimanjaro. Because even though you played for the Phillies, I still like you. 

Doug Glanville, I salute you.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Going for the Green

The recent increase in my weekly mileage meant my fuel, so to speak, needed to be re-scrutinized (which is another way of saying that anyone who's reading this blog and doesn't care about food or running is about to be bored out of his/her gourd). Healthy fats, omega-3s, calcium, iron, vitamin C, Vitamin D, protein and a host of other nutrients, vitamins, and minerals needed to be integrated into my diet in as tasty a manner as possible. I basically do this already--witness my kitchen full of kale and ice cream--but I'm upping the ante. This week has been all about green things: spinach, lettuce, kale (of course), green apples, green beans, giant green salads, and avocados. My dear funky produce stand (which would be perfect if it sold organic fruit and vegetables, but which at least sells delicious versions of those that are relatively safe to buy conventional), is currently stocking the best crop of avocados I've had since returning to California.  It's literally been an avocado-a-day out here in the Richmond District, and now that I've re-discovered the joy of Cholula, I feel like I'm living in a gustatory paradise.

I also demonstrated, once again, that I am my mother's daughter, and finally embraced the green smoothie. Featuring one to two cups of spinach, these yogurt-based smoothies have been vehicles for some combination of blueberries, bananas (yes, I've finally embraced those, too, due to a spate of hip cramps), unsweetened cranberry juice, almond butter, honey, and last Sunday, a cup of fresh sweet corn (courtesy of the funky produce stand. Three ears for a dollar!). Despite the fact that they look totally freakish, the smoothies taste amazing (perhaps because they aren't too sweet?).
Finally, and to JAR's horror, I was the lucky recipient of several tins of anchovies packed in olive oil and capers. If the dominant smell in my kitchen is any indication, I've been averaging a tin a day--great for the omega-3 consumption, probably less so for the sodium. I've been heating the anchovies and capers in an iron skillet with a low flame, then tossing them in the pan with cooked pasta, kale, and red pepper flakes once the oil starts to sizzle. 

One of the best aspects of my green things-and-tiny briny fish diet is that it counter-acts the perma-fog, and reminds me that it's actually summer in Northern California. I certainly don't miss the oppressive heat and humidity of summer in New York--or even summer in Ithaca--but I do wish sunny, windless days and warm evenings could happen a *little* more frequently. KP and I had a funny text exchange about our particular weather predicaments a few days ago. As diligent Freckle readers know, she's also training for NYC, and currently lives in DC; because of the massive heat wave gripping the East Coast, she ran her long run (twelve miles) on Saturday on a treadmill. I, however, ran my Saturday long run in thick, drippy fog, in a long-sleeved running shirt, and then ran my errands in a down vest. 

Hopefully this weekend we'll both be luckier. In the meantime, however, at least I have lots of summer foods to keep up my summery spirits.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Strava: Greatest Cycling Commercials Ever?

Since everything I watch that's TDF-related is pre-recorded, I fast forward through all the commercials. This is fine by me--I'm not a fan of the canned din, drama, and sturm and drang of commercial advertising. Still, I do love my television, so every now and then a commercial break slips through the cracks. And last week, while zoning out watching one of those flying flat stages across northern France, NBCSports cut to a commercial break, and suddenly I sat up. I can't even describe exactly what I saw--hence, the video pasted below--but as soon as I saw it, all I wanted to do was jump on my bike and ride up Tam. Immediately. Then the next day, I saw a different one, also by Strava, that was also amazing. Trust me when I say that these commercials show what riding is; how a long ride feels, how your mind zones in and out, how you process one thing after another. I'm wandering off into ambiguous language land, so for your viewing pleasure, I present two of the greatest cycling commercials ever, courtesy of Strava:

Featuring Tim Johnson:

Featuring Jesse Anthony. And PINK SNO-BALLS! Possibly the best post-ride recovery snack ever:

Monday, July 9, 2012

Road ID: Safety First

A couple of people in my life have had accidents while out and about on their own recently, and as far as I'm concerned, that's a couple too many. As a result, I finally ordered a Road ID to wear when I'm out riding and running by myself. To be honest, I'm a little embarrassed it took me this long to buy one. I'm a cautious cyclist and runner--no headphones on the bike, on isolated trails, or crossing traffic; no running in the Park in the dark; stop at red lights and stop signs; make eye contact with drivers when crossing the street, etc.--but as I've seen firsthand, accidents do happen, and caution's a non-starter once you're lying unconscious, alone, on the side of the road. 

So I was actually kind of excited when I opened the small package that had arrived in my mailbox. Even better, when I wore my new Road ID on a long run and found the wristband a bit too snug, I emailed the company and asked if I could mail it back to exchange for the next size up. Within 24 hours, I received emails from both customer service and the founder/CEO himself saying that a new wristband in the larger size was on its way, free of charge. Great customer service makes my day! Plus, any company that employs Bob Roll as a spokesperson gets my vote. So thank you, Road ID. Here's to staying safe on the roads, the trails, and the Richmond District sidewalks. 
Bobke, in his pre-Road ID days

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Premiere Semaine: le Tour de France (et de Belgium et de Switzerland)

I've been an inconsistent viewer during this first week of the TDF--full live stages some days, last twenty minutes of the stage on others. Thus, I'm not sure how to focus my observations about the nine stages the peloton's raced so far; should I note the beautiful, undulating French/Swiss landscape of the initial mountain stages, Christopher Froome's remarkable victory on Les Plances des Belles Filles, or the myriad and inevitable crashes of the flat stages in the Ardennes?

Maybe the first week can best be summarized by Tyler Farrar trying to bust open Tom Veelers's trailer, on camera, fresh with both road rash and road rage. Or Peter Sagan revolutionizing the post-stage celebration with a little something he likes to call "the Forrest Gump". Or that the most famous Americans in the race seem stressed and oddly low profile (although an analysis of USADA's current investigation can wait for another post...). Or that two great Garmin riders, Tom Danielson and Ryder Hesjedal, were early casualties. Or the paucity of Scandinavian cyclists this year, and thus the excitement of Sweden's Frederik Kessiakoff earning the King of the Mountains jersey. Or Phil and Paul musing on French horses and cows. And the list goes on...
Rock on, Tourminator
I suppose I could say that I liked the odd symmetry, today, of Bradley Wiggins, a Brit, bearing the maillot jeune through Switzerland's fertile valleys, having just taken it from Fabian Cancellera, the Bear from Bern, while over at the All England Club Roger Feder, another supremely talented Swiss, wrested the Wimbledon title from Andy Murray, a Scot (and the first from the British Isles to reach the final in seventy-four years!). 

Also, today a supremely talented young Frenchman, Thibaut Pinot, won the stage, which means that the entire nation of France is throwing a party as I type. It also means that tomorrow the front pages of every French newspaper will trumpet Pinot's victory (and hopefully include some photos of his team manager in the race car, who almost fist-pumped himself out the window during the last 1k), but say nothing about the fascinating duel between Cadel Evans and Bradley Wiggins for the maillot jeune
Wiggins vs Evans
And what would they say? Perhaps that two of the most incredible cyclists, each exemplars of good sportsmanship, each supremely talented time trialists and climbers, race within ten seconds of one another. It's true that unless Wiggins cracks, either in a time trial or on one of the mountain stages, his small lead may be impossible for Evans to overcome. Team Sky possesses many strong lieutenants ready to protect their English leader...then again, so does BMC for their Australian one. And something tells me that at 35, Cadel is unwilling to leave France without another title. 

So who knows? There are still two weeks left. And if the Tour can be relied upon for anything, it's sheer unpredictablity. On that note, maybe I should just bet on Phil and Paul... 
Montbéliard vache froHaute-Saône.  According to Liggett and Sherwin, culpable of sour Swiss cheese when running.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Oh, Patagonia!

Last weekend, the impossible became possible. The unthinkable was thought. Pigs flew off into the everlasting winter of a frozen hell. And I? I lost every wager confidently placed on the infallibility of my favorite company, the brainchild of dear Yvon Chouinard--that Yoda of Yosemite climbing; that author of the only business book I've ever liked; that blessed paterfamilias of backpackers, surfers, and upper middle class weekend warriors everywhere. 

I bought a Patagonia jacket--and I had to return it.

This wasn't just any jacket. This was the women's down sweater. This was the jacket made of highly compressible 800-fill-power premium European goose down with a 100% polyester ripstop durable water repellent shell. This was the the jacket I'd eyed for the last six months, circling back to every few weeks to see if the $200 price tag had miraculously dropped to slightly more manageable heights (say, $150. With free shipping). 

And then two weeks ago, there it was: $140, free shipping, no tax, and in my size. I almost cartwheeled across my dining room.

Four days later, however, my joy transformed to worried incredulity, I stood in front of my bathroom mirror, clad in the jacket, staring at what looked like the Michelin Man's arms (if the Michelin Man wore mourning for a day). How was it possible that a company typically reliable with regard to sizing and cut could have designed a jacket that made me--a petite small on most days, a straight up small or extra-small on the others--look like a linebacker on Team Goose Down? 

Unnerved, I emailed CMA, a fellow down sweater owner, and asked her advice. Shoot for the XS she wrote back (I'm summarizing, but you get the picture). Two days later, the XS graced my shoulders--and snugly hugged my hips in such a way that I now looked simply like a jaunty linebacker, with a chic cinched-in waist.

The story doesn't end well, my friends.  Disheartened to a degree that only gazing, for a long time, at the giant pile of Patagonia gear I already own (some of it fifteen years old--I refuse to outgrow it) could salve (somewhat), I packed up both jackets and shipped them back. Still, my moping wasn't over. When JAR and I drove the long (long) way to Davenport on Sunday, I spent a solid chunk of the drive bemoaning my down sweater-less state. This resulted in a conversation about my "fantasy" of the jacket versus the "reality" of the jacket--a conversation that lasted from Big Basin to Santa Cruz, or a decently long time.  

In fact, the conversation only ended because we drove past the Santa Cruz Patagonia outlet, the parking lot of which we immediately sought. And though I was, and still am, down sweater-less, within this outlet I found a beautiful, seal-gray R2 fleece, marked down to an even better price than my coveted jacket, and in just the right size and cut.

So I guess the story didn't end that badly after all. Still, I'll be watching to see if the down sweater is altered next season. Patagonia, you're on notice!  

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

NYC Marathon 2012: Which training plan?

I realized recently that the New York City marathon is a mere four months away, and that I'm scheduled to begin training on July 16th! My running for the first half of 2012 was decent--I managed a fairly stable amount of miles per week, and I ran an okay time at the Presidio 10 miler back in April (considering the hills, crowded course, and bizarre race management, I'm glad that my finishing time was at least in line with my half-marathon PR). In February, I started taking one to two DM classes per week as well, and my back has never felt better. My hips, core, and arms are much stronger, too, and I fully credit these classes with a (so far) injury-free year.  I'm willing to suffer through sixty to 120 minutes of intense pain every week if that's the outcome...although it's amazing that a class that leaves one essentially sweat-free can be so excruciating.  

Still, I grew a little nervous when I realized how close we are to November 4th, and so two weeks ago I increased my weekly mileage and days running per week up to twenty-five and five, respectively, and continued aiming for two DM classes per week. My pre-training training is going well, but with less than two weeks to my actual training start date, I have yet to choose an actual training plan. Cue the endless questioning and mounting anxiety. Should I go with the three day a week plan developed for one of CC's friends, as it may keep me injury-free (but also might not give me adequate training time on my feet)? Should I go with the five day a week plan similar to the one Peter Sagal used when he broke his PR by more than ten minutes last fall, as chronicled in the wonderfully titled "Time of the Ancient Marathoner" (even though a four day a week one might be more my style)? Should I go with Grete Waitz's elegant "hurry slowly" four day a week plan for marathon beginners (even though this won't be my first marathon, and I'd like to run a faster race)?

Peter Sagal: An Ancient Marathoner with a not-so-ancient PR 
(photo credit: Runner's World)

Since I have yet to reach a decision, I've been distracting myself with questions/anxiety about other marathon-related issues. For example, it's been several years since I ate/drank on a run--what will my nutrition plan be this time, and how will I carry it (if at all)? When should I buy a new pair of shoes for training, much less the marathon itself? Should I send in my orthotics for an overhaul before the marathon, or wait until after it's over? Should I fly to New York two days before the race or three? Should I do my long runs on treadmills when I'm traveling, or try to figure out an outdoor route in places with which I'm unfamiliar? 

Fortunately, the best way to answer any of these questions is to go for a run. Once I'm out the door and cruising down Lake Street, or dancing up the stairs on the coastal trail, all the answers become clear--specifically, just choose a training plan. Cross every other bridge when you come to it, and most importantly, don't forget about your superb advisory council of expert marathoners JSH, CMA, EG, CC, and SR. (And KP, who's already proved her worth by reminding me to sign up for a ferry to the Staten Island starting line. She, JL, and I are all boating over together!).  

On that note, more to come starting on the 16th. Gulp.

Meyer lemon tree, take two

My beloved UWS meyer lemon tree never truly flourished in its NYC domicile, and I couldn't determine if it was the light, the fluctuating temperatures, or some other climatic/geographical set of factors. My San Francisco meyer lemon tree, however, is thriving. Perhaps it's the spot on my back deck, the porous plastic container (yes, I've been too lazy to re-pot), or the Richmond District's perma-fog? Time will tell, but in the interim I'm looking forward to lots of meyer lemons! 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Sort of Perpetual Muddling Through

I wish I could take credit for the lugubrious line that titles this blog post, but it isn't mine--it's E. B. White's. It's a thesis-within-a-dependent-clause that arrives at the end of a long sentence--but in the middle of a long meditation--on New Yorkers and their ability to handle inadequacy, claustrophobia, congestion, panic, and all the other indignities that a giant metropolis throws at its residents, daily, with some perfect balance of patience and wisecracks. It's from his essay Here is New York, and White eventually cites the panacea for this perpetual meddling through as "massive doses of supplementary vitamin" of the "sense of belonging to something unique, cosmopolitan, mighty and unparalleled".  

Both the muddling and the massive doses have been on my mind recently, and for two simple reasons: groceries and public transportation, or what I'll call "Fairway" and "subway".  When I lived in New York, shopping at Fairway induced my too-low blood pressure to sky rocket to a level that I imagine is only found in those ripe for cardiac arrest (for one of my more memorable visits, read this: The whole experience--battling my way through the store; carrying several bags of groceries for seven blocks; carrying several bags of groceries up four flights of stairs; all of the above in searing heat, steamy humidity, or freezing rain--was made palatable solely because the food they sold was, for lack of a better word, awesome. Except for the avocados, I found everything my organic dairy-powered heart could ever desire. And it was cheap and delicious.  

I used to dream about eventually owning a car again, which I would drive to the store to pick up all the big things I could never carry by myself in one trip (detergent; dinner party groceries; cleaning supplies; food for a backpacking trip). This dream would also emerge when I was standing on an F train platform in Carroll Gardens on a Saturday night, or at an L train station in the East Village at any time, waiting for what felt like an eternity to get back to the Upper West Side--which brings me to the "subway". Just think, I would tell myself, some day you'll live in a place where you can drive home from a night out--and it will take less than two hours!

Cut to San Francisco, my new (old) home. There are some good grocery stores here, and there's public transportation, which I take every day to work and (most of the time) to see friends. There's the car that I dreamed about, and that I drive every once and a while to Target or Trader Joe's to stock up on all the things I could never carry by myself. 

I bought the teacup in Osaka and the blueberries in Oakland. Getting the teacup home was easier.

There isn't a Fairway, however--or any store even remotely like it. There isn't a subway with underground stations that keep me dry when it's raining, or more importantly, that can take me from one neighborhood to any other in two transfers or less at any time of day. There is just, as there was in New York, a sort of perpetual muddling through.

Sometimes the sheer intricacy of getting from one place to another, or the acrobatics required to run an errand and see a friend in the same time frame, blow me away. The pieces may change, but the complications do not. Driving raises the insanity-inducing specter of parking (and parking tickets). Biking signifies, at its most innocuous, sweaty helmet hair. Busing requires supernatural patience and the acceptance of others violating one's comfort zone. Walking necessitates a significant budget of extra time. BART only if you are willing to stand for the duration of your journey, and know how to travel between cars. 

And so, as I navigate the slipshod network of buses, BART trains, cable cars, ferries, and feet (my own) to get to and from home, work, grocery stores, friends, and family every week, I notice the sun setting over the Golden Gate on my way back to the city. I listen to the peculiar ringing of the cable as our cable car is pulled up California street. I smell the Pacific Ocean on the winds that barrel down Market Street. I turn away from the daily rhythm of "small embarrassments and discomforts and disappointments", and re-awaken, in other words, to the "mighty and unparalleled".  

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Tour de Golden State

Due to an unexpected happenstance on Monday night, I spent the last two days at home--which meant I spent the last two days watching the unabridged live recordings of stages three and four of the Tour of California. Since JAR and I watched the full recording of the first stage on Sunday, I've now watched more uninterrupted minutes of the 2012 TOC than I did of the first five TOCs combined, and I can't say I'm disappointed. While it's true that the more elite factions of the pro cycling peloton are split between this race and the Giro (in which I was very excited to hear that Taylor Phinney won the prologue), the absence of some of these riders has had little obvious effect on the competitive force of this race. And while my original idea was to write an epic meditation on the geographical beauty and indomitable stage race spirit so evident in the TOC, I also have big plans to watch the Giants-Cardinals game this evening, so I'll limit my observations to a top ten list of highlights and insights:

1. By the end of Wednesday, the yellow jersey, the sprinter's jersey, and the best young rider jersey (in addition to every stage victory), all belonged to Peter Sagan--and yet, this jersey/stage sweep still belies how exciting this race has been to watch. Should you need further evidence, I encourage you to watch the video footage of the last twenty minutes of stage one, in which Sagan punctured his rear tire within 10k of the finish line, patiently waited for the slowest wheel swap in pro cycling history, drafted off the team cars with terrifying speed, and sprinted victoriously for the win past every single other favorite.

2. Freddie Rodriguez, one of my favorite sprinters, is not only in the TOC--he's in fifth! It's been too long since I saw him ride in a televised pro race. Tom Boonen, Dave Zabriskie, and Tom Danielson are three other long-time favorites that I'm happy to see.

3.  Bob Roll's interview with Peter Sagan in Italian? Further proof that Roll is one of the great sports journalists at work today. Also, the most inadvertent.

4. Seeing Clean Bottle man standing proud in his full-body bottle costume on top of Patterson Pass Road above Livermore literally made my day. Thank you, Clean Bottle, for reminding me that real dreams never die!

5. This picture, taken by my favorite Sagan (Ana Makins-Sagan), of the peloton flying by the Cliff House on its way to Aptos on Monday.

6.  A little bit of me died when I heard Phil Liggett say that Highway 49 was named after "1949, the year that the road was built". But because Liggett is my favorite sports commentator of all time, I'm going to pretend that it's the fault of whomever briefed him at NBCSports this morning. 

7. What California lacks in giant parade floats of costumed Haribo characters, it more than makes up for in antlers-clad spectators.

8. One of the benefits, in my mind, of the TOC and the Giro taking place at the same time is that more domestic cycling pros have the opportunity to make their mark at a televised, international level. It's been wonderful to watch teams like United Healthcare and Orica-GreenEdge race alongside RadioShack and BMC, and in some instances, for the riders on these teams to place high. Similarly, I've really enjoyed watching the riders on Team Colombia-Coldeportes, in no small part because I've long been a fan of "El Tiburon" Victor Hugo Pena (and because they race on bellissima Bianchis).  

9. What do I have to do to win a stuffed podium bear? Never mind--don't answer that.

10. Ah, California. My love for you only continues to grow as I watch the greatest cyclists in the world spin through your verdant valleys, along your breathtaking coastline, and into your magnificent mountains. No other state could truly lay claim to "America's greatest cycling race"! 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Quotes of the Week

I'd like to say that I'm no longer surrounded by funny people, and thus have refrained from posting Quotes of the Week for fifteen months. The truth is, however, that the QOTW drought is due in equal parts to blog-posting and quote-recording laziness (and if I'm being really honest, people who are not quite as funny as KP and LP). Still, eventually it rains even in the desert, and so I present to you one, single quote (at least it's decent).
At the Giants-Phillies game on 4/18/12

CGC: I always forget that Victorino is from Honolulu.
CSC: You know they call him the "Flying Hawaiian".
CGC: Oh yeah.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Baseball and Other Bayside Happenings

Spring has arrived in all its fog-bound glory here in San Francisco, and by that I mean foggy mornings followed by sunny, even hot afternoons and evenings. My days start early out in the socked-in Richmond District (or “out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean”, as JAR calls my neighborhood), but by the end of the work day, I only see bright blue skies from my office in Downtown Oakland. Longer, lighter days signify a transition to a favorite spring tradition, too: meeting up with friends on the Embarcadero for drinks or dinner. The Ferry Building sits roughly at the half-way point on my commute, and in the last few weeks I’ve dined and imbibed with friends at Mijita, Gott’s, Acme, and even Peet’s. This past weekend included both a tour at the Tcho Chocolate Factory on Pier 17 and a stroll through the Farmer’s Market (it’s sugar snap pea season in California!). I think it’s safe to say that I spent more waking hours at the Ferry Building in the last week than I did in my own apartment.
Spring also means Opening Day, and a return to baseball season—which, when combined with Easter and my birthday, makes April hands down my favorite month of the year (that I was due on Opening Day in 1981 only affirms my love for this seasonal trifecta). Last Wednesday, my brother and I headed to AT&T Park for my first home game of the season, Giants vs Phillies, and the set-up could not have been sweeter: Matt Cain vs. Cliff Lee, on a gorgeous, clear and warm evening. We had amazing seats on the view level behind home plate, and as we settled in for the opening pitch, container ships were making their stately passage out to sea in the deep waters beyond the ballpark. Ten run-less innings later, and we knew we were witnessing something historic. In fact, it wasn’t until Melky Cabrera’s walk-off single that the Giants fans in the stadium cut loose and started celebrating; prior to that, there was only the sound of 40,000 people holding their collective breath. I thought it was equally remarkable that we’d just watched eleven innings in under two and a half hours—but then again, I always consider it a gift when I can watch a full game on West Coast time and still make it to bed relatively early.   
CSC and I walked along the water on our way to the bus stop, and in the process passed one of my favorite sunny weather bars, Hi Dive on Pier 28. As the days continue to get lighter, I’m looking forward to adding yet another waterfront spot back into my social calendar!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Bidwell Park, I Salute You

Because you are one of the largest, greatest, most beautiful municipal parks in the United States. Because you are home to the magical swimming hole at One Mile, acres and acres of lush Valley Oak trees, and some of the best running trails in California. Because you follow the contours of Big Chico Creek, winding its way from the Sierra to the Sacramento River, and because you are a testament to the kind of civic-minded, environmental philanthropy this country rarely sees anymore. Bidwell Park, I salute you!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

What is a 'weekend'?

I didn't buy into the hype of Downton Abbey until a few weeks ago, due in equal parts to my TV being in storage in LA last winter and to my congenital skepticism of anything that most people find worthy of hype. Because of the latter, this means that I sometimes miss out on things that are actually wonderful (like Downton Abbey) until everyone else has already discussed and re-hashed the spoilers (like dead William/dead Lavinia/dead Turk in the bed). In this case, however, I didn't ultimately care--Downton Abbey is so engrossing and so wonderfully maudlin that I plowed through two seasons' worth of episodes and a Christmas special faster than the Dowager Countess can say "Shrimpy".
Downton Abbey
Suffice it to say, I'm now suffering from a severe case of Downton-withdrawal, and middling Miramax period dramas aren't helping (I'm looking at you, The King's Speech). I did find a small gold mine in the Red Nose Day Upstairs Downton Abbey sketches--parts one and two--which are further proof that the Brits excel at both treacly nostalgia and ruthless caricature. But I suppose I'll now have to twiddle my thumbs for the next ten months until season three. In the meantime, I'll dream of Shirley MacLaine facing off against Maggie Smith, and--fingers crossed--Dawn French in the subsequent Saunders-directed spoof.
Upstairs Downton Abbey

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Marathon Saturday

Due to a combination of this year's Krankheit Katastrophe (two weeks in and still going strong!) and general blog-posting laziness, this post is about fourteen days overdue. Math-savvy Freckle readers can deduce that "two weeks in" and "fourteen days overdue" both add up to the same date: January 14th. On that morning, I woke up early intending to watch the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, but instead woke up to two nasty surprises--1) the worst sore throat in recent memory, and 2) no Trials broadcast on NBC. Or anywhere for that matter. It took me about ten minutes in my congestion-addled state, but I soon figured out the following: NBC owns the broadcasting rights to the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. NBC decided not to broadcast the Trials. And because NBC owned the rights, no other network or organization could broadcast them either--not on TV, not live-streamed over the internet, not projected via any other visual, live-action means to anyone anywhere in this gargantuan, media market-rich country.
The Houston Course
To say that I was annoyed or frustrated by this turn of events would be an understatement. But my desire to wring the neck of that giant, rainbow peacock and those of all the suits who pledged allegiance to it with their multi-billion dollar exclusionary TV rights contracts was superseded by my need to find out what was happening in the Trials. Immediately. I flipped open my laptop and turned (virtually) to the one person I knew would have been up hours before me, her twitter feed at the ready: SR. She didn't disappoint. Through SR, I learned quickly what I'd missed: in the men's race, the field had been whittled down to a tight knot of Meb, Ryan Hall, Abdi, and Ritz, at a pace of about 5:00/mile. In the women's race, Flanagan and Desi were ripping into one another in a fight-to-the-finish-duel, with Goucher steps behind and Hastings hanging on in fourth.

In contrast to NBC, Runner's World and Running Times had joined forces and were live-tweeting/commentating on their websites and twitter feeds, so between the three--SR, RW, and RT--I soon had some sense of the action unfolding down in Houston. While the runners raced the last six miles, I made a few tangential observations. First, I understand that Olympics organizers want to design marathon courses with maximum spectatorship in mind--in the case of London this summer, it will be a circuit beginning and finishing on theMall--and that Trials courses inevitably follow suit (e.g. Houston's 2.2 and 8 mile loops this year, the Central Park circuits in 2007). Frankly, I think this sounds like hell to run; anything but a point to point course for 26.2 miles would be psychological torture for me, and even the improvised out and back at Big Sur last year felt strange (and I was only a relay runner!). I may be in the minority on this one, but I think all the Trials runners should be given an extra hour of post-marathon massage just for being forced to race past the same cowbells over and over again.
Pretty soon it starts to sound like a death knell
Second, I love watching and reading about Desi Davila run. Her "breakout" performance at Boston last year; the phenomenal Runner's World profile from a couple of months ago; her quiet tenacity and incredible self-discipline; you name it, I'm a fan. I like Goucher and Flanagan, too (and Radcliffe, and Kastor, and Lewy-Boulet, and a host of other remarkably talented female runners), and I particularly like seeing them all push one another to new running heights. But I have a hunch this might be Desi's year, and Desi's Olympics. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for the woman from Chula Vista!

Third, Hastings' Cinderalla story is a headliner in and of itself--as SR tweeted, "omg hastings!". Kudos to an extremely talented runner for making her first Olympic team (and perhaps, if either Goucher or Flanagan heads instead to the track, her first Olympic marathon?)!
Meb, in Central Park, two miles from winning the 2009 NYC Marathon
Plenty of other blogs and articles have detailed the finish and results of both races better than I would, so I'll just summarize. Meb won--at 36, the oldest man to win the U.S. Trials--and I'm thrilled for him. One of my favorite marathon memories remains watching him race through the 24th mile of the 2009 NYC marathon in Central Park, on his way to victory, the first American man to do so in over thirty years, and while sporting a USA singlet to boot. Meb's story really is that of the American Dream, from Eritrea to San Diego to the Olympic medal stand in Athens. His humility and genuine respect for his fellow competitors make him a man to root for under any circumstances.

Shalane also won (and while running her second marathon ever), with Desi hot on her heels and Goucher (sixteen months after giving birth) only twenty-eight seconds behind. All three women broke 2:30, making the Trials the fastest day in the history of American women's running. It's incredibly exciting, and they all deserve a whole-hearted congratulations.

If only I could have watched it.
On the day they made history:
Desiree Davila, Shalane Flanagan, and Kara Goucher

Monday, January 23, 2012

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

A Very Happy Year of the Dragon to you, from the freckled rooster who writes this blog! Above is a blurry photo of Grant Ave in Chinatown, which I took from the cable car on my way home this evening. The street seemed subdued for New Year's--at least relative to the exciting/deafening Chinese New Year's firecracker celebrations that I remember from growing up in the Richmond District--but perhaps it's because it was still early in the evening. Still, I love the red lanterns strung across Grant (somewhat visible in this photo), and KP and I had lots of fun at the Chinese New Year flower fair in Chinatown last weekend. Furthermore, in just a few more weeks, it will be time for the largest Chinese New Year's parade outside of China! Now, if only my pig and snake siblings were here to watch it with me...

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Oakland: An Ode (of Sorts)

I started working in downtown Oakland almost a year ago, but I'm still amazed that it's where I spend 75% of my waking weekday hours. Recently, I've been feeling a little guilty for giving it such a hard time--not that my displeasure is totally without cause, as anyone who reads a newspaper would surely agree--and so I've decided to focus on the aspects of it that I do enjoy. After all, I wasn't wild about Midtown Manhattan, either, and yet with the benefit of hindsight I now fondly remember lunch in Bryant Park, prawn sandwiches from Pret, the Treats Truck, the Naked Cowboy, and the screams of teenage girls outside the TRL studio, which were audible even in my 33rd floor office (okay, maybe not that last one. Or that second to last one). And so, Downtown Oakland, I won't wait to reflect on, and appreciate, your attributes. The following are my favorites:

Interesting architecture Downtown Oakland is home to some remarkably beautiful buildings. Whenever I have time to go for a walk in the afternoon, I like to stop and admire the green I. Magnin building at 20th and Telegraph; the restored Fox Theatre just around the corner; that cool building that reminds me of the Flatiron right where Broadway and Telegraph split apart; the storefronts on the "Historic Oakland" blocks; and the old Oakland Tribune tower.
Very, very good coffee I've always loved Peet's, and so would be happy even if the one across the street from my office were the only shop in all of downtown from which to procure robust cafe au laits. BUT, lucky, lucky girl that I am, there's also an incredible, independent, tiny coffee shop tucked just around the corner. In fact, Modern Coffee is so wonderful, the New York Times even deigned to mention it several weeks ago. Plus, it sells amazing pastries; between its koiugn-ammann and Peet's Semifreddi's almond croissants--and not to mention La Farine's frangipane, which are only two BART stops away--it's a good thing I'm still running 20< miles a week.

Used bookstores In this arena, Downtown Oakland really shines. I'm not a big shopper, but I've recently dropped more cash at Bibliomania, the Bookmark Bookstore, and De Lauer's (blast them for reliably stocking my kryptonite, Hello! magazine!), than I have even at that other favorite money pit of mine, the Village Market. Penury in exchange for funky $1 paperbacks of Lorna Doone and The Summer Game? I'll take it.

Guacachips The one junk food item for which I go truly weak in the knees (I consider croissants and ice cream to be distinct food groups, and thus don't count them as junk food). I've never been able to find them for sale in San Francisco. I have found them for sale in two stores in Downtown Oakland, both within 300 feet of my office. Commence upping of the weekly mileage.
El Chip del Diablo
Really good Mexican food Southern California-style shrimp veggie burritos (with extra guacamole) from La Calle, and featured in Sunset no less? Check. Baja-style fish tacos from Cosecha? Check. I've been making up for several years of East Coast-induced-good-Mexican-food-exile by eating my way through both of these restaurants.

Ratto's This place reminds me of Haig's, the international food section of Wegman's, and the Marin French Cheese Company all rolled into one. Hands down my favorite soup, sandwich, and Ritter sport spot.

Ferry commute Now that the evenings are getting light again, I can enjoy perhaps my favorite aspect of working in Downtown Oakland--taking the ferry home to San Francisco. I don't always have time to make the trip, but when I do, the fifteen minute walk down to Jack London Square, combined with the twenty-five minutes riding across the Bay to the Ferry Building, is a wonderful way to end the work day. Throw in a cable car ride to Van Ness and a two mile stroll home, and I return to the Inner Richmond in very good spirits indeed.
Best Part of the Commute
Keep impressing me, Downtown Oakland, and you'll make me just as wistful for your existence as 45th and 6th did!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Novels of Nippon

After I returned from Japan a few weeks ago, I immediately embarked on a reading course of Japanese novels. I realize that this might sound backwards, but it tends to be my MO whenever I take a trip: travel first, then read up on the destination. Aside from resulting in me asking my (usually patient) travel companion tons of questions that could have been easily answered with a little pre-vacation research--e.g. Why does that pagoda have golden horns? How come Kyoto's temples are all on the city outskirts? What do people mean when they say "Tokyo dialect"?--I find that my interest post-trip is so piqued that I end up learning and reading much more than I would have otherwise. Plus, lots of fresh reading material is a wonderful salve for the jet-lagged-induced crankiness that inevitably follows landing back at home.
Such was the case on this latest journey to Kansai. I've actually accumulated a fair number of Japanese novels over the years, but other than a couple by Mishima Yukio, hadn't read any of them. That all changed in the week between Christmas and New Year's, when I plowed through a veritable greatest hits of Japan's best twentieth century writers. First up, two by Kazuo Ishiguro, whose work I greatly enjoy, but whose Japan-based novels I'd never read: An Artist of the Floating World, and A Pale View of Hills. The former in particular was written in the enigmatic, almost suspenseful style that Ishiguro exhibited in When We Were Orphans and Never Let Me Go, and the latter had such a creepy, confusing final chapter that I subsequently went online to see if I'd misread it (apparently, this is not uncommon).
Next, I enjoyed the languorous, stately prose of Junichiro Tanizaki's The Makioka Sisters, which read almost like a 19th century English novel, but with the foreboding signposts of the 20th (Japan's Invasion of Manchuria, German neighbor children singing Deutschland uber alles, etc). Coincidentally, I gave my mother the movie for Christmas, and especially look forward to seeing it now.
And finally, I headed back to Mishima Yukio with his The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, largely because we visited Kinkaku-ji when in Kyoto, and the novel is a fictitious sketch of the monk who burned it down in 1950. The book is disturbing, to say the least, and reminded me of Mishima's The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea. I don't want to give too much away, so I'll leave my description at that.
I took a short break to read Michael Ondaatje's latest, but am about to start Yasunari Kawabata's novel Snow Country. And I suppose at some point I'll finally read some Haruki Murakami...but after his lucid, makes-me-want-to-lace-up-my-shoes-and-hit-the-trails What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, surely his other books will be a letdown, right?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy New Year, 2012 (and Au Revoir, 2011)!

2011 was a year of beginnings: new city, new home, new job, and trips to new places. 2012 promises to be even more exciting, and I look forward to seeing what the year brings. As tangerines are New Year symbols of good luck and health, I'm posting this photo of me and a tangerine tree in Nara, the first imperial capital of Japan, which I visited a couple weeks ago (I hope to see more of Japan in the near future). Happy New Year, and best wishes for 2012!