My First Summer in the Sierra

"Happy the showers that fall on so fair a wilderness, scarce a drop can fail to find a beautiful spot — on the tops of the peaks, on the shining glacier pavements, on the great smooth domes, on forests and gardens and brushy moraines, plashing, glinting, parrering, laving."

Tenaya Canyon, from the top of Half Dome

I just finished reading My First Summer in the Sierra by John Muir and there were so many fun passages in the book that reminded me of my trips to the Sierras! As you may or may not know, John Muir was a Scottish-American naturalist, author, environmental philosopher, glaciologist and early advocate for the preservation of wilderness in the United States (Wikipedia). He was born in 1838 and this book took place from June to September of 1869.

The book is in journal form and chronicles the trip that he took with a sheepherder, who had to move his 2,000 plus sheep to higher pastures once the grasses in the valleys were dried out. They move up in elevation from the Central Valley of California, which sits near sea level, towards the high point of Tuolumne meadows in what is now Yosemite (approximately 10,000 ft), arriving in August and then turning back down the hill in September before snow starts flying again.

If you like trees and plants, you will love this book. If you don't, you can skip over his description of the abies magnifica (silver tipped fir) and go right to parts such as this one:
"Early in the morning I tied my notebook and some bread to my belt, and strode away full of eager hope, feeling that I was going to have a glorious revel."

The John Muir Trail, between Lake Tenaya and Cathedral Lakes

I mean, who can say no to a glorious revel? He also talks a lot about the weather, but in a way that makes weather anything but a dull subject.
"Another one of those charming exhilarating days that make the blood dance and excite nerve currents that render one un-weariable and well-nigh immortal." 
“Warm, sunny day, thrilling plant and animals and rocks alike, making sap and blood flow fast, and making every particle of the crystal mountains throb and swirl and dance in glad accord like star-dust.”

Near Tuolumne Meadows -- all these boulders were left behind by the glacier.

Be still my beating heart. Doesn't he make a sunny day sound absolutely fabulous? Then he passes by Lake Tenaya and notes the existence of:
"a knob or knot of burnished granite, perhaps about a thousand feet high, apparently as flawless and strong in structure as a waveworn pebble, and probably owes its existence to the superior resistance it offered to the section of the overflowing ice-flood."

Lake Tenaya (and the knot of burnished granite, perhaps)

I think I found the knot! If not, I better go and look again soon! He gets to Tuolumne meadows, and remarks:
"No Sierra landscape that I have seen holds anything truly dead or dull, or any trace of what in manufactories is called rubbish or waste; everything is perfectly clean and pure and full of divine lessons."
Tuolumne Meadows (with Cathedral peak in the background)

I agree wholeheartedly. Every time I have gone to the Sierras, around every corner is a new wonderment, another photo to snap, or smell in the air, or a new bird sound. It really is quite fabulous and this book really hit home. There were a few interesting things such as when he describes one day that he went from the North Dome to the Valley floor, which must be about a 10 or 12 mile hike down a steep trail nowadays. But then, there was no trail, and he described bushwhacking down a ravine, which must have been difficult (plus I think there is about a 3,000 or 4,000 ft drop in elevation to boot)!

I also love how he just straps a loaf of bread to his belt, as quoted above, or lays down on pine boughs or even a rock one night, so that he could listen to the sound of a waterfall nearby. It's just so poetic and it seems like such a grand adventure. I wonder if it really was as lovely as he makes it sound. He does note that there are large mosquitoes, some about an inch from tip of the stinger to the end of the wings, which sounds like something I would not be as fond of!!

There are many, many more passages that I bookmarked, noted and saved, but I will end my barrage of quotes with this one, which really reminded me of why I like to hike and do trail runs, especially in the Sierras!

Cathedral Peak and one of the Cathedral lakes

"Towards sunset, enjoyed a fine run to camp, down the long south slopes, across ridge and ravines, gardens and avalance gaps, through the firs and chaparral, enjoying wild excitement and excess of strength, and so ends a day that will never end."

Have you ever been to the Sierra Nevadas? If so, where did you go? Did you love them as much as Mr. Muir and I do? 


Looking Back: June

June is a transitional month, one of warm days and long nights. It is a month where your 5 am run is barely even in the dark. It is a month of planning days and weekends and weeks in the future.

Running: Although this was not my highest mileage week, it was a monumental one, in which I finished a 100 mile race near Bryce Canyon in Utah! In the past several months, I was starting to get a bit worried that I wouldn't be able to do it. However, in the weeks before, and definitely once I started the race, I knew I was going to see that finish line by hook or by crook. I ended up the month with 196 miles, 100 of them due to the race, and I climbed about 30,000 feet.

Reading: Due to a bit of travel as well as an increase of audio book time, I ended up reading 8 books in June. Many of them were just so-so, but there were a few standouts, such as Small Great Things, which is about racial issues, and To the Bright Edge of the World, a story about Alaskan exploration.

The Bones of Paris ***
The Aviators Wife ***
Small Great Things ****
Is Everyone Hanging out Without Me? ***
To The Bright Edge of the World ****
American Sniper ***
Minding Frankie ***
Evicted ***

Travel: I feel like I was barely home in June, as I spent two weekends in Santa Cruz and one in Bryce Canyon. The Santa Cruz trips were full of visiting and walking and seaside views, while the Bryce trip was hot and sweaty and beautiful in an entirely different way. I will let a few photos do the talking for this.

Holy hot, batman! Bryce, UT (photo credit: E.V.)

Willis Creek, UT (photo credit: C.A.)

Fall Creek, Felton, CA

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Etc.: What else is happening? Not much! The garden is growing, but the yard is not mowing itself unfortunately, so most of my spare time has been spent just barely keeping things from looking like a hillbilly lives at my house!

Purposeful cucumbers and volunteer tomatoes -- mid June

Plums! Mid June

Tomato Jungle and volunteer squash -- Mid June

Corn, I hope. Beginning of June

Radish! Get out the salt!

Tomato Ladder, beginning of June
What did you do in June? What was your favorite book? Have you done anything new or exciting lately?


Looking Back: May

May, as you may know, is my favorite month! This year, as always, it did not disappoint.

Running: In May, I ran 220 miles. This is mostly due to two races, one 100k and one 50k. Other than that, I had my highest mileage week this year, which was 73 miles. I climbed approximately 52,000 vertical feet, although my Garmin has been a bit wonky, so that is probably plus or minus 10%. I biked no miles...again! Biking fail. However, I did do about 1 - 2 x per week gardening / yard work, and I am calling that cross training!

Reading: I ended up reading 7 books, although it should have been more, as I took a long flight in May. However, I did get some "reading" done via audio book while running two races that took about 20 hours between the two of them! Usually I do not listen to music on runs, but this time, I used the time wisely! A silver lining early in the month was that all my holds at the library had really long wait times so I got some of my owned books read (in bold)! My favorites this month were The Sun is Also a Star, Stiff and Talking as Fast as I Can.

The Red Queen by Phillipa Gregory (***)
Sleepwalking with Me by Mike Birbiglia (***)
The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon (****)
Lolita by Vladimir Nobokov (**)
The Night of the Gun by David Carr (***)
Stiff by Mary Roach (****)
Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham (****)

Travel: Whew! May was a whirlwind of travel. All four weekends were booked! I went to Sacramento, San Jose, hiked Mt. Diablo with the folks, flew to Minneapolis for Lisa's wedding, went to Livermore/Fremont for a race and went up to my parents house for Memorial Day. It was full of good times with good friends and loved ones!

Lisa's wedding

Marin Headlands run

Feather River Canyon

My first game of the season

What was your favorite thing about the month of May? What was your favorite book in May? Where do you normally get your books (library/own/borrow/buy)?


Looking Back: April

And then it was April. With it comes the start of baseball season, the tiny curling leaves of the tomato plant and the knowledge that before you know it, summer will be here!

Running: This month should have been one of my higher ones due to upcoming long races. However, a fluke pinched nerve in my back caused over a week of rest, which threw me back a bit. In the end, total miles run ended up being about 211 with about 32,000 feet of climbing. My next race is the Quicksilver 100k and I feel a bit under-trained but will see how things go! As for biking miles, I logged a big fat zero again. Shame on me.

Reading: Lucky for my reading goals, I had over a week where I was unable to do pretty much anything, so I got a lot of reading done! In April, I read 10 books. I knocked off another book from my own shelf (in bold) and also read a few goodies to boot! I actually gave four stars to five of them, which is saying a lot for me (I almost never give five stars and don't give four very often either). In order of favorites, here is what I read last month.

The Underground Railroad ****
The Year of Yes (audio book, read by the author) ****
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle ****
Love Warrior ****
Hillbilly Elegy ****
The Paris Winter (audio book) ***
Modern Romance ***
The World We Found ***
Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget ***
Seven Brief Lessons of Physics ***

Travel: I spent a great weekend up at my parents house on Easter weekend, doing some snowshoeing and hiking and eating. We went snowshoeing at an old ski hill and we were the only ones out there aside from the mountain lions (we saw fresh prints but no cats) and the birds. It was a great way to get some sunshine and fresh air and exercise!

The Parentals

I also went on my semi-annual New York work trip, which was a lot of fun and another successful trip. It was a nice change from last time, when it was cold and snowy and icy and wet! It was in the 80s and I added on a couple extra days in order to spend some time with some old friends who I haven't seen in about 7 years!

The East River

Bonus: I know you are wondering....but what about the garden? Well... I can happily say that I reorganized the back yard, set up the drip system, and planted a bunch of tomatoes, basil, cucumbers, peppers, beans, beets, radishes and carrots. Unfortunately, I have a pest (slugs?) that loves vegetables as much as I do, and it has eaten everything but the tomatoes and radishes. I saved one pepper from certain death by moving it to a pot on the porch, but I think I will have to replant a lot of things. Boo hoo. Back to square one.


What was your favorite part of April? Are you stingy or generous with your five star reviews? What is your favorite spring activity?


Looking Back: March

A coworker said to me the other day, "You know March; It goes in like a lamb and out like a lion." I asked him if it wasn't the other way around though and he was adamant that it came in mild and went out wild. So I let it be. In Oakland, March started very rainy and has ended full of sunshine and wildflowers, so however the saying goes, I am loving it.

Running: In March, I ran just shy of 200 miles (298) and climbed about 33,000 feet. My favorite run was a second go at the Rim to Rim to Rim, where I ran with friends from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon to the North Rim and back to the South Rim. It is hard to do it in one day am I was plumb tuckered out, but it was worth it!

You can see us in the middle -- we are tiny!

Heading toward the north rim.

Reading: In March, I read the following 7 books, including three from my own collection (bolded) and one borrowed one (italic)! I still have not paid for a book since 2014 when I started my "no book buying" challenge. It has been a lot easier than I thought it would. Thank goodness for the library! My favorite book was The Paris Architect, which is about a WWII architect who builds hiding places for Jewish people while also designing armament factories for the Germans. As always, it's interesting to learn more about that what went on during the war while also being entertained at the same time.

In the Belly of the Beast: Letters from Prison (***)
Carry on Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed (***)
The Wonder (***)
The Namesake (***)
On Beauty (***)
Heart and Soul (***)
The Paris Architect (****)

Travel: Vegas, baby! For our Grand Canyon trip, we flew into Vegas, but it's not as exciting as it sounds. After a late arrival, we went to our room in Henderson, NV (apparently the retirement area of Vegas, who knew) and stayed out until past 11 pm in a smoky bar. It made me love California and our smoke free bars, that's for sure. The next day we made the drive to the South Rim where we scoped out the canyon from the rim. The next day we did R2R2R and then on Monday we drove back to Vegas and caught our flight, with a stop at the Hoover Dam of course!

I also met up with my Mom for a weekend in Auburn, where we ate and hiked and caught up on everyone's doings. She had a rough month in February, when there was a lot of rain and she was out of power and phones for quite some time and I had a broken water tank so had been taking showers at the gym or improvising. So it was nice to get a hotel room and relax a bit, even if it was just for one night! Plus we found two new breakfast places that we loved! (See 1 here + 2 here)

Have you ever been to Vegas, baby!? What is your favorite book that you have read so far this year? Where should I go for my vacation this year (I am open to any and all suggestions)?


Currently: March

I have not done one of these in a long time! However, I am "currently" procrastinating doing a few other things, so why not?

Reading:  The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri.

Loving: The weather, working in the yard, running friends and cottage cheese and fruit.

Thinking: About getting my planter boxes finished and putting in some veggies soon! I just need to decide what!

Frustrated: About plumbing. I would rather be an electrician or a carpenter. Just don't make me work in cramped spaces with pipes or poop!

Feeling:  A little hungry still, even though I just ate a couple of hours ago!

Anticipating:  Next weekend's trip to the Grand Canyon where I will be doing a R2R2R with friends. We have heard reports of ice though, so we may not be able to complete the entire thing right now. However, there will not be very many crowds so we will be able to appreciate the beauty even more than normal!

Watching: Twin Peaks. A running friend could not believe I had not seen it so I decided to give it a go. If you aren't familiar, it's a murder mystery show from the early 90s. It's set in Washington, where my friend is from and he said that watching it is an absolute must. It's a bit quirky, but is fun so far.

Working: A lot lately. We have been extra busy, plus we are interviewing people, plus we have been short a man from time to time (and will be again this week) so it's been very go, go, go lately. However, it's still a fun challenge, not a frustrating one!

Grateful: For family. I had a fun weekend with my mom last week and a great lunch with my brother this weekend and in both cases, we had a good time catching up and chatting. There is something to be said about people who know all parts of you, especially the bad ones, and who you can be yourself around, no matter what.

Listening: To a few new podcasts in addition to the regular standbys, namely Reveal and Criminal.

Wishing: There was more time in a day. I would love an extra hour or two if possible! There are just too many fun things to do (after getting all the responsible ones done, of course).

What are you listening to? What are you anticipating? 


Looking Back: February

For a short month, February was chock full of stuff! Even during the short week after Presidents' Day weekend, it seemed like we crammed seven days worth of work into four days! In addition, I spent much weekend time working in the yard/backyard and around the house, so a lot got done on all counts!

Running: I logged 183 miles in February, and climbed about 35,000 feet. My favorite run was a 42k run with a friend on his 42nd birthday. In addition, I went home to visit my parents and got to log some snowy miles in one of my favorite places!

42nd B-day 42k

Reading: In February, I read 8 books. Actually, I never finished two of them, so you may call it 6 and two halves. My favorite was When Breath Becomes Air, a story of a neurosurgical resident who gets lung cancer. It is well written and moving. I read it in one sitting. I also enjoyed, but was quite disturbed by All The Ugly and Wonderful Things, about a 20-something biker who takes an 8 year old girl with drug addict parents under his wing. It's both sweet and cringe-worthy at the same time.  Lastly, Adnan's Story, a more complete explanation of the story behind the podcast Serial, was very interesting. Books I own are in bold.

Family Reunion (* couldn't finish)
Adnan's Story (****)
Suite Francaise (***)
In the Country We Love: My Family Divided (***)
When Breath Becomes Air (*****)
Lean In (***)
The Big Green Tent (** couldn't finish)
All The Ugly and Wonderful Things (****) 

Travel: I did not travel that much in February. Aside from a trip north to see my parents, I spent a lot of time in my own backyard. Literally. I will post more photos later, but essentially I have been spending a lot of time moving rocks from one place to another! It's been great cross training!  I would say all in all I probably worked in the yard for about 4 hours a day, at least 6 days in February. Check out these guns!

Views on my Rock Creek run

What was your favorite workout, book or destination in February?


Looking Back: January

The word of the month for January on our side of the country is "wet." It has seemingly been raining for the last month straight (or longer?) in the Bay Area, in what feels like a non-stop manner. In addition, the Sierras are getting snow (finally), so we will have plenty of runoff this Spring as well. You would think this signals the end of the water shortage in California, but from what I have heard, it's only a drop in the barrel (hehe). However, it is wreaking havoc on places like the area where my parents live, where the rain and runoff causes fast moving water which takes out roads and railways and leaves people without power and phones for days (5 and 14 respectively).

Running: Even with all the rain (and sometimes hail and snow), I ended up running 203 miles. I have to admit, although I know that I have definitely been getting back into it after a bit of a hiatus, I was surprised to see that I topped the 200 mark. No wonder my legs felt like jelly last week. Don't worry Mom, I took a rest week last week! In addition, I climbed about 30,000 feet. Due to the rain, I did not bike commute at all.

Reading: Because of the rain, and a bit of traveling, I read 9 books in January. Well, actually it was 8.5, since there was one that I lost interest in and ended up not finishing. I have to say, none of them were really great. I only gave two of the nine four stars (and none 5 stars) and they were:

Lily and the Octopus
The Marriage of Opposites

Travel: I went to Portland. One day before my trip, they had a snowpocolypse. When I got there, the world was white and my plans to run in Forrest Park were a bit overzealous. However, I still had a great time eating and wandering around a town nearly carless and sometimes nearly devoid of people. A couple of highlights were Ox, Upright Brewery, Powell's (duh!) and Forrest Park (see photo below). Other than that, I actually had quite a few weekends where I stayed local.

Home: I started my photo project; I started my backyard project. I am considering a rain barrel garden watering project. I did a mini yearly purge. Photos to follow!

How was your January? Have you started on any of your yearly or monthly goals? What is your favorite thing to do when it's raining/snowing outside?


Looking Forward: Goals 2017

Last year I did a pretty shoddy job with my goals. However, I had a great year and part of the greatness was in the act of attempting to achieve those goals, even if I did not complete them. I believe that there is a goal "sweet spot." I would like to set goals that are a bit of a stretch, but are not so far away that I end up with a list of failed goals at the end of the year. I am not sure I have found that sweet spot yet, but I am going to keep trying!

I think that this year I need to revisit my intentions and focus more on fewer more important things rather than several smaller less important things. This being said, there are a few repeats from last year!

1. Run a 100 mile race --This is one that has eluded me, but this year, I am going to try, try again! I know I can do it, but have unfortunately run into a few issues the last couple of times. However, I am going to learn from my mistakes (no moving furniture a week before a race!) and get back out there again.

2. Run 2,400 miles / Climb 450,000 feet -- Last year I ran over 2,200 miles and climbed over 400,000 feet. I would like to increase both by about 10%.

3. Conquer the hills -- There are a set of hills I regularly climb and this year I want to either (a) run all the way up it if I have not before, or (b) run faster up it if I have run the entire thing already. Here they are: (1) Marincello: 1.4 miles / 9% average grade / 682 ft climb / best time 15:41 total or 10:53/mi (03/16) (2) Bobcat: 2 miles / 6% average grade / 696 ft climb / best time 21:33 total or 10:39/mi (03/16). In addition, there is a loop that I do which I would like to get under a 9:00/mi pace on. (3) Regular 12: 11.6 miles / 2,200 ft climb / best time 1:45:00 total or 9:03/mi (03/16)

4. Read 52 books (with at least 4  of them off my home shelf) --  I have consistently beat this goal each year (last year I read 72 books), however, I do not want to get into that rut of finishing something that is no longer fun just to say that I did it. So, as much as I love to read and will likely read more than one book a week, I do not want to force myself to do it. In addition, once again, I will try to cull my home shelves a bit by reading one book a quarter from them and probably giving them away afterward.

5. Bike or Run Commute once a week to work -- Right now it's raining, and so it may be a little while before this happens, but I want to either bike or run to/from BART at least once per week.

6. Try 12 new things -- this can be a new place, a new food, a new activity, or...whatever! This is actually quite a fun goal and one I like setting and accomplishing!

7. Spend less money than last year -- I know where I need to cut back (transportation is a big one), so this is totally possible, as long as I watch my spending. I plan to do this by continuing my quarterly spending check, as I have for the last couple of years.

8. Complete my yard project -- this has been on the radar for a while, but I have not really been in any hurry. The plan is to get rid of the lawn and put in rocks/shrubs. I have already begun by planting a few things, but the main part, the groundwork, has been put off.. I just need to order (or forage) the supplies and get to work!

9. Complete my wall art / photo project -- since I have moved in (almost two years ago!) I have been meaning to put some photos on the walls. I have even gone as far as painting some frames and ordering other ones. However, I need to pick and print out the photos, but I am dragging my feet on this. I have too many photos to choose from! I would like to get this done by the end of the year.

This is it! I have a couple of other small ones, like my yearly purge, but these are the main goals for the year. I think this year's goals are all doable, as long as I get my plan together. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail!

What goals do you have planned for this year? Are there any goals that you duplicate year after year?


Looking Back: 2016 Money Pie

Happy New Year!! It's that time of year again...money pie time!! As you know, each year I recap my spending throughout the year as a percentage. I think this is a great way to see where the money is all going so that I can make smarter decisions with my money in the future years. You can find previous year's posts here: 2014, 2015.

As always, I did not include any savings in this chart. This is not technically "spending" although I do track it and it is part of my yearly financial plan.  
Home: This category includes mortgage, utilities, taxes and insurance, as well as other misc items, such as appliances and other crap that comes with owing a home. However, the bulk (about 86%) of it is mortgage, taxes and insurance, with the others trailing way behind. Also, anything I buy on Amazon, I categorize as "home" as I am too lazy to figure out what it was I actually bought. It is probably a mix between shopping, home and entertainment in actuality.   
Transportation: This year I bought a car. As you can see from the pie, it affected the transportation category greatly! In addition, I still spent money commuting (BART) and definitely drove more, as a friend and I started a weekly run meet up after work and I took advantage of nice summer days to get the heck out of dodge as much as possible, including a road trip to Oregon and Kings Canyon.
Travel: Speaking of Oregon and Kings Canyon, once again, my indulgent category was travel. Funny enough though, I actually spent less this year than last, or my calculation methods could be inconsistent. Either way, I had a great time traveling abroad as well as to several U.S. destinations and many local weekend trips.

Groceries/Dining Out: Once again, these are almost the same! This year some friends and I went out to a nice meal once a month and we took turns paying. This equates to about once every four months me spending way too much on dinner. However, it is a lot of fun, but it's not helping my "dining out" budget.

Misc: This includes personal care, toiletries, gifts and donations, credit card fees and things like that. The bulk of it is gifts. The other things are minor.

Health: This includes pre-tax deductions and any copay or charge for contact lenses etc.

Entertainment: This includes movies, baseball games, and running related (or other hobbies) expenses. This year, most of it went to race fees. I probably should shift some of my "travel" over to this category, but once again, I am too lazy to really sort it out that thoroughly.

Shopping:  This category included clothing, toiletries and items from Target that were not home or running related. This year I bought a couple of pairs of work shoes and some things from REI which could be in the entertainment category...and that is pretty much it.

So, what did I learn from this? This year I definitely spent more that last year, although a lot of that extra cost was due to my purchase of a car. However, excluding the transportation category, the biggest increases over last year belonged to the Entertainment (53%), Health (33%) and Home (26%) categories. This makes sense, as I signed up for more big ticket races, my insurance premium went up, and I was in my house for a whole year vs. 7 months last year. On the flip side, I also saved more this year, so I am pretty happy with that, as my goal from the beginning of this year was to save more if I could.

What do I want to accomplish this year? This year I hope to do a bit of deeper analysis and develop a plan regarding getting the best bang for my buck. For example, does it make more financial sense to put my money into savings or use it to pay off my mortgage quicker. I have most of the information I need; now it is time to execute! In addition, once again I would like to save more this year than I saved last year. I would like to say I could minimize the Home category, but in reality, there is always a backyard project or a broken pipe or a random thing that goes bump in the night. So, that's it!

Do you keep track of your spending habits? What is the biggest piece of your money pie? What are your financial goals this year?