Archives For Friendship

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My nephew Alex is in his senior year and he and his best friends are in the middle of a football playoff run. Nate and Alex both play receiver on offense and corner back on defense. Alex also serves as the punter and Nate returns kicks for the team. Colin is a lineman and Kyle, a star on the basketball team, serves as the unofficial mascot so that he can  watch the games from the sidelines. They visited me in Lake Placid last summer and we climbed Seymour mountain and kayaked through the upper lock to visit Middle Saranac Lake. I asked about the upcoming football season during their visit and sensed that they did not expect the team to do well this year.

Football is big in the small village where I grew up and on game days there is no one more proud, or nervous, than the mother  of a varsity team player. They belong to the “Grid Iron Mom” club and wear t-shirts with their son’s numbers embroidered on the shoulders. They make pictures of their sons wearing football uniforms into small lawn signs and serve spaghetti at team dinners on the night before every game. Today they left town before the team did so they could hang good luck signs on an overpass and wave to the team bus as it passed below them on the interstate.

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The team struggled early in the season and made the playoffs as the bottom seed after a four win and three loss regular season. They were expected to lose badly last week against the top seed but they played their best game of the year and won convincingly on a cold and rainy night in Greene.

I had business in New York this week and decided to delay my trip back to Baltimore so I could watch today’s game. I arrived in Sidney late yesterday only to learn that the game might not be played. The other team, Harpursville-Afton, had played all season with an ineligible player and been disqualified after admitting the infraction. An appeal was pending and late yesterday the disqualification was overturned to the dismay of many of the football mothers, my sister-in-law included.

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The game started at 3 this afternoon and was played at a neutral field in Endicott, about an hour’s drive from Sidney. After the coin toss, Sidney received the opening kickoff. Alex caught the first pass of the day and Nate caught the second for a large gain. Quarterback Darren Smith’s third pass was thrown under pressure, intercepted and returned 80 yards for a touchdown. He kept his cool, though, and would end the game with 28 completions for 445 passing yards, probably a school record.

On their next possession Sidney moved 63 yards down the field on long pass plays but was stopped on the 2 yard line. Harpursville-Afton’s next drive started well, but Colin made a key stop and Sidney was back on offense. Harpursville-Afton had no answer for the Sidney passing game and Alex, Nate and the other receivers made long gains before Sidney’s second drive was stopped at the 12 yard line. The first quarter ended with Sidney trailing 6 to zero.

Sidney finally scored on its second possession of the second quarter after a 59 yard screen pass play to Alex brought Sidney to the one yard line. Sidney scored on the next play and with 6:19 left in the first half the score was tied, 6 to 6.

Sidney almost always attempts an onside kick. It usually doesn’t work and today’s first attempt also failed but the Sidney defense made up for it. The opposing quarterback was pressured on third and long and intercepted. Sidney scored three plays later on a 46 yard touchdown pass. The two point conversion attempt failed but, with 5:09 left in the first half, Sidney took its first lead, 12 to 6.

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Sidney’s second onside kick worked but the drive ended with another interception on a long 4th down pass. Harpursville-Afton scored three plays later to take a 13 to 12 lead at the end of the first half.

Harpursville-Afton started the second half with a dominating run game, driving 75 years to score again and extend the lead to 8 points. Harpursville-Afton’s attempt at an onside kick failed and Sidney answered by driving down the field with pass plays before scoring on a trick play with five minutes and forty-six seconds left in the third quarter.

Another Sidney attempt at an onside kick failed, but two plays later Alex intercepted a pass to end the Harpursville-Afton threat. Sidney’s first play from scrimmage was a twenty-five yard pass to the 19 yard line. Another pass brought Sidney to the one yard line. Sidney took the lead on the next play, having scored 16 unanswered points in just over three minutes. Harpursville-Afton did not give up and tied the game again on its next possession. But Sidney returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown as time expired ending the third quarter.

The fourth quarter started with Sidney leading 34 to 28 but unable to recover an onside kick attempt. Harpursville-Afton fumbled again and Sidney failed to score on a fourth down play. There were seven minutes and twelve seconds remaining when Harpursville-Afton took over but another fumble put Sidney back on offense with less than five minutes remaining.

A 30 yard pass to Alex brought Sidney to the 20 yard line. Three minutes remained in the game. A play later Sidney was at the 2 yard line with a first down, goal to go. Harpursville-Afton refused to let Sidney score and seal the game and took over after four failed attempts by Sidney to advance the ball beyond the goal line. Harpursville-Afton had no time-outs remaining, and 95 yards to go with 65 seconds left in the game. After a long run by their quarterback they were at the Sidney 32 yard line. There were 22 seconds left. Another long run brought them to the 5 yard line with 8.2 seconds remaining. Though it seemed certain they would score, somehow they were stopped short on the next play and the clock counted down to zero with Sidney still ahead, 34 to 28. The moms in the Sidney stands went wild.

Alex finished the game with twelve catches for 179 yards, a pretty long punt and an interception and a fumble recovery. Nate had four long catches for 47 yards and some nice kickoff returns. Colin and the other lineman protected their quarterback well throughout the game and on defense stopped the run when it mattered most. It was a great game and I am glad I was able to be here to watch Alex and his friends play so well together.

I will leave it to others to debate whether or not Harpursville-Afton should have been allowed to play today. “Rules are rules,” after all, and in fairness normally should be enforced. I suspect however that when they look back on this game many years from now, those who played in it will be glad that the team from Harpursville-Afton was allowed to compete and that Sidney made it to the finals by winning the game and not by way of a forfeit. They settled it on the field today and the better team won.

Best of luck next week Alex, Nate, Colin and Kyle and remember, above all else, to have fun and enjoy the game.

The bridge.

August 21, 2016 — 1 Comment

I spent last week in the woods with eleven alumni and instructors from the National Outdoor Leadership School. We were on a service trip and our assignment was to repair the suspension bridge where the Northville-Placid Trail crosses Moose Creek.

 

We started on Sunday morning when we were divided into cook groups. I was teamed with Ed and Haley, two very experienced and energetic backpackers. Our group clicked immediately and worked well together all week. I usually made breakfast and helped with the cleanup for the rest of the meals. They cooked delicious dinners and made sure we had enough to eat for lunch. When it started to rain hard one evening, Ed found the leaks in the tent and we rearranged our sleeping bags to keep dry. During a hike along the Cold River on Wednesday, Haley entertained us with riddles and stories about her previous back packing trips.

The original plan had been to replace only the decking of the suspension bridge. Once the old boards were removed the plan evolved into replacing the stringers that supported the deck boards and also rebuilding the ramp leading to the bridge from the northern shore. We also improved the nearby trails by cutting down brush and installing new fence posts to replace the ones that had been damaged by bears.

The work was hard. The lumber needed for the project had been dropped by a helicopter upstream of the bridge and I spent most of the first two days carrying it to where it was needed, sometimes wading across the creek with a board balanced on my shoulders. Others from the group removed the old decking and sawed the large 2 by 6 inch boards into three-foot lengths for the deck. Still others fabricated and installed the new stringers, posts and braces needed to support the deck. Because we were in a wilderness area chain saws were not permitted and all of the cutting was done with hand saws.

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We broke camp before sunrise on Saturday and crossed the bridge for the last time just as the dawn was breaking.

Several months ago my nephew Josh texted me to ask whether he could spend his vacation hiking in the Adirondacks. We agreed on a date and convinced my nephew Alex to bring some friends and join us.

Josh and I arrived on Saturday and our plan was to wake early Sunday and climb the three peaks that make up the Seward Mountain Range. The weather report indicated that there was a small chance of rain and we thought that at worst it would rain in the morning before clearing later in the day.

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We left Lake Placid at 6:00 AM and started the hike at 7:00, but at the wrong trail head. We recognized the mistake after about a mile and turned back, found the right parking lot and started for Mount Donaldson at 8:00 AM.

There are three mountains in the range. The northern most is named for William Henry Seward, Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State. The middle mountain is named for Alfred Lee Donaldson who wrote a history of the Adirondacks and the southern peak is named for Ebenezer Emmons who, while serving as the state geologist, was part of the expedition that made the first ascent of Mt Marcy in 1837.

We reached the herd path to Donaldson at about 10 and reached the top of Donaldson at 12:30. We spent the next two hours hiking to the summits of Mt. Emmons and Seward Mountain before returning Donaldson and backtracking to the trailhead.

Our hopes for clearing weather never came to pass and we spent the day hiking in a constant drizzle and had to pour water from our boots after the last stream crossing. We finished the hike just before 6.

Alex and his friends Nate, Kyle and Collin were waiting for us at the house when we returned to Lake Placid.

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The next morning we kayaked and canoed to Middle Saranac Lake repeating a trip I had taken two years ago with friends and a trip my mother took regularly when she attended Saranac High School.


On Tuesday, the six of us returned to climb Seymour Mountain, named for yet another former New York governor. We left the trailhead at 8:00 and reached the herd path to Seymour Mountain at 10:30.

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The weather was sunny and not too humid but the trail was still muddy from the rain earlier in the week. The climb was challenging with lots of steep rock scampers along the way. We reached to summit at about 1:00 PM and ate a quick lunch before heading down.

During the hike I taught them some of the lessons I learned from Oscar and Hannah last fall, like how to orient a map and use a compass and how to make water from the streams safe to drink.

My companions are strong athletes and team players. They offer a hand to help with steep climbs and they guard each other against falls during the descent through steep and wet terrain. They share their water and food and work together to find the solution when I stop along the route to challenge them to “Tell me precisely where we are on this map.”

The climb down from the summit took nearly as long as the climb up and we were already very tired when we rejoined the Ward Brook trail to start the four mile hike back to the trailhead. I kept to my regular pace but they were anxious to be off the trail and away from the mosquitos that joined us as we passed by Blueberry Pond. I am not concerned. They have proven that they can find themselves in these woods and work together to solve problems and take care of each other.

I let them go and finish this journey in solitude.

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Last week I left my iPhone in the car, picked up a backpack and spent nine days hiking through the Adirondacks with nine people I first met at an ice breaker where we were each asked to perform a favorite dance move. This is the story of that journey.

After the dance move introduction, which did not go particularly well for me, our group of ten assembled in a field and spread out all of the clothes and gear we had brought. Our instructors, Hannah and Oscar, visited with each of us and gave us suggestions on what to bring and what to leave behind.

We were then organized into three-person tent groups and four-person cooking teams. Our food ration was 1.6 pounds per person per day. The food and gear were equitably distributed and I started the trip with a pack that weighed almost 57 pounds.

My tent-mates were Adam and Aaron. Adam is an aspiring writer and Internet entrepreneur with a razor-sharp wit who really knows how to tell a good joke. Aaron, an Episcopalian minister, is one of the most thoughtful and considerate persons I have ever met. If Jesus were a backpacker I think he would be a lot like Aaron.

For our cook group, Aaron and I were paired with Jenny and Christina. Jenny recently retired after a successful business career. She is a strong hiker and a great cook and conversationalist with a very effective leadership style. Christina is a fashion designer and endurance athlete. She was the strongest hiker in our group and never stopped smiling throughout the entire trip.

On the first evening we hiked about a mile to our campsite where we were taught how to set up the tents and how to construct a “bear hang” to keep our food safely out of reach of animals looking for a late night snack.

It is dark in the Adirondacks and I learned many valuable lessons that night. First, tent site selection is critical. I awoke on the second morning a little sore after spending the night with a large root beneath my neck. Second, be sure to remember where you have left your headlamp. When it started to rain in the middle of the night and we needed to scramble to keep things dry I could not find it when it was most needed. And finally, leave a light on in the tent to help you find your way back should you take a walk into the dark woods in the middle of the night. I thought I knew where I was until I turned to walk back to the tent and realized that nothing looked at all familiar. I stumbled around a bit before finding our tent, grateful that I had not followed up my embarrassing dance performance by getting lost in the woods on the first day.

On the second morning we learned the proper way to light our camp stoves. Unfortunately this lesson came a few minutes after I had already set a large boulder on fire after failing to connect the gas canister correctly.

On the third day we were up early for our first challenging hike up and over Giant Mountain to a campsite along the shores of a small lake called the Giant Washbowl. My hiking group for the day included two members of the other cooking group, one having just finished rehabilitating from serious knee surgery. The other strained her knee during the steep descent and our group would struggle for nearly seven hours to complete the 3.9 mile hike. Along the way Hannah displayed amazing character and leadership as she motivated all of us to finish the hike.

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We rested the next day and spent it learning more skills and swimming in the nearby lake.

On our fifth day we hiked nearly seven miles, visiting the Roaring Brook waterfall before hiking along the Old Dix Trail to another lean-to.

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Yom Kippur started at sunset and Adam could not eat during the holiday. Oscar decided to keep him company and the two spent the sixth day of our journey fasting together. While Oscar and Adam were fasting I hiked to Noonmark Mountain with Hannah, Christina, Aaron, and Jenny. At the summit we made coffee and cooked ramen noodles which we ate while using a map and compass to identify the nearby mountain peaks.

After we returned to the lean-to Adam asked me to forgive him for anything he had done to hurt me over the few short days I had known him. I was deeply touched by his gesture and could not find the right words to say before turning away so that he would not see me wipe away a tear.

Each day our skills improved. We always looked out for each other while hiking, calling out when we saw loose rocks or exposed roots on the trail. Other than that I usually hiked in silence, listening as my companions shared their life stories with each other.

On Friday Oscar, Aaron, Adam, Jenny, Christina and I backpacked over Dix Mountain, pausing for lunch and pictures at the base of the Beck-horn.

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The next day I hiked with Hannah and another small group to the top of Macomb Mountain, bringing my current total of high peaks summited to twenty-two.

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We finished our trip early Sunday morning and said our goodbyes later that day.

Over the nine days we spent together we hiked just shy of thirty miles, climbed four mountains and learned how to survive and thrive in the wilderness while carrying everything we needed on our backs. We learned how to read maps and use compasses and how to transform basic food staples like beans and rice and flour into meals that would get us through the day. We ate out of plastic bowls with spoons and drank our coffee and hot chocolate out of Nalgene bottles. We found our water in the brooks and ponds we hiked past and made it safe to drink by using chemicals we carried in our pockets. I lost a little weight, grew a bit of a beard and met amazing people whose friendships I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Last week I left my iPhone in the car, picked up a backpack and spent nine days hiking through the Adirondacks with nine people I first met at an ice breaker where we were each asked to perform a favorite dance move. Along the way I witnessed exceptional displays of leadership and compassion and ate rehydrated potatoes cooked over a camp stove in a frying pan.

They were the most rewarding days I have yet to spend in the Adirondacks and the mashed potatoes really were the best I have ever had.

Goodbye Grace.

July 26, 2015 — 1 Comment

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The planned hike was an ambitious one. Meet for coffee at 7:00, reach the trailhead by 7:30, follow an unmarked trail to the start of the Dix Mountain Range and hike to four of the high peaks before returning to Round Pond. The hike would cover nearly sixteen miles, the first seven of which were along unmarked paths to the first peak.

Her name is Grace and it fits her perfectly. She is simple, elegant and set apart from the other four in the range. She is hard to reach because the path is not that obvious and the several crossings of the South Fork of the Boquet River are hard to find. When you get closer to her the trail improves but then gets very steep.

The view from the summit is breathtaking and we sit silently eating sandwiches and surveying the three remaining peaks we had hoped to reach. They are too far away and separated by valleys that are much deeper than we expect. It has taken too long to get here and there is not enough time left to complete this journey. We decide to head back the way we came and to leave the remaining three for another day.

It is beautiful here and I really do not want to leave. I try to convince myself that I will visit Grace again, but I know it will likely not happen. She stands alone, away from the others and no longer on the way to anything else on my list. I regret this deeply because I have loved this hike more than any of the others I have taken.

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Manhattan Transfer

October 26, 2014 — 1 Comment

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I never see the dawn that I don’t say to myself perhaps.

John Dos Passos, author Manhattan Transfer (1925)

In the summer of 1972, I pulled on a green bathing suit, jumped into Lake Crumhorn and breaststroked behind a wooden rowboat for forty-five minutes to earn my Mile Swim Badge from the Boy Scouts of America. I would not participate in an open water swim again until September 19, 2010, when I swam three miles as part of Baltimore’s inaugural Swim Across America. Since then I have swum past the Hudson River’s Little Red Lighthouse three times, across the Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River at its widest point, up and down the Chester, Nanticoke and Patapsco Rivers and along the Chicago skyline in Lake Michigan and the Atlantic shoreline in Ocean City. At each of these swims I paid the modest entry fee and sometimes a small donation, but never really focused on using the swims to raise money to help others.

During this year’s Lighthouse swim I came to really appreciate the amazing friendships that I have formed through open water swimming. It occurred to me that without the support of my friends who have trained, travelled and competed with me I would never have accomplished any of this. As I finished the swim and climbed the stairs out of the Hudson I decided to form a team for next year’s relay race around Manhattan and to use the event to raise money for Swim Free, a charity that funds learn-to-swim programs at community pools in underserved areas.

My relay-mates are amazing people. Tim, our captain, was born on April 1st in the bathroom of the house where his parents still live. That one sentence explains a lot about Tim. He is the type of guy who can’t wait to get started, whether on the deck before a routine practice or on the shore at the start of a long open water swim. “Let’s do this,” he’ll proclaim and then we are off and swimming. Tim out in front and the rest of us trailing behind. At the end of the swim, his is the first face you will see, smiling and offering encouragement as the rest of us finish. Tim trains with passion and the example he sets has inspired me to work hard and follow him, first up the Hudson River and then on a seven and one-half mile swim across the Potomac and at many more swims since then. Tim taught me to believe in myself as a swimmer and that confidence has made all the difference.

I met Claudia for the first time early on the Sunday morning following my first Lighthouse swim. I had stayed in New York too long and had a long drive to get back to Baltimore in time for its third Swim Across America event. I showed up at the swim club parking lot after only two hours of sleep, threw her the keys to my car and asked her to drive. She not only drove me to the swim and back that day, she also swam next to me for three miles, stroke for stroke to make sure I was okay. Since then she has completed the Ocean City, Purple and Potomac River swims and a 70.3 mile triathlon. She is my favorite training partner and a wonderful and caring person with an infectious smile.

Sandra and I became friends on a subway ride from Dykman Street to SoHo when she tagged along with our group first to a nice bar at the southern tip of Manhattan, then back towards the Empire State Building and on to the 24-hour McDonald’s on 33rd and Seventh Avenue. There is nothing quite so delicious as chicken McNuggets and french fries to cap off a night out after a hard swim. Sandra spends her summers training in the Atlantic near Sandy Hook with the “Sunrise Crew” who can be found in the ocean or nearby river at 5:30 AM on every Tuesday and Thursday between June and October. When she is not busy raising her two young children, Sandra regularly swims in ocean mile races while still finding time to enjoy a 5k swim on most summer weekends.

Tim is well-known to NYC Swim, having consistently finished near the top during the last three Lighthouse swims. I, on the other hand, am a middle of the pack guy at best. Sandra has also completed three Lighthouse swims and although Claudia has not yet participated in a NYC Swim event she too is a very accomplished open water swimmer. Tim and Sandra aspire to solo swims around Manhattan, which I know they will one day accomplish. My dream is to spend a month one summer swimming as much of the Hudson as possible and I hope to convince Claudia, Tim and Sandra to swim parts of it with me.

Tim often mentions to me that he has met his best friends through swimming. I could not agree more. I am amazed at how swimming has brought Tim, Claudia and Sandra into my life. We are from different parts of the country and come from different backgrounds. If you drew a straight line connecting the places where we were born it would stretch 3,333 miles. But somehow through a maze of circumstances, opportunities and life choices we have intersected and become friends. That is what swimming has done for me and what it can do for others.

If fortunate enough to be selected for this year’s race our team will train hard and give the swim our maximum effort. And when the four of us cross the finish line together we will each be the better for our efforts, having given back a little to the sport that has given us so much.

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On top of New York

September 15, 2014 — 3 Comments

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There comes a time in life when you don’t look forward to birthdays. It’s like reading a good book. At the beginning you love everything you experience with each turning page and can never imagine that the story will end. As you reach the last pages you read each one with both excitement to see how the story will end and with regret realizing that this amazing story you have been reading is almost over and that once you have read the last page there will be no going back.

Yesterday was my birthday and I decided that today would be the day I would hike to Mt. Marcy, the highest point in New York State. The mountain is named for New York Governor William L. Marcy, who authorized the survey that originally explored the area. Its first recorded ascent was on August 5, 1837, by a large party led by Ebenezer Emmons who were looking for the source of the East Fork of the Hudson River which they decided was Lake Tear of the Clouds, located just below Mt. Marcy.

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I start my hike at 6:30 AM and will spend the next eleven hours hiking seventeen miles.

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I spend most of the hike thinking about Saturday when I watched my nephew play in the homecoming football game. I met a friend from high school there and we drank coffee while sitting on the aluminum stands and telling each other about our respective daughters, each now much older than we were when we last spent as much time together as we did on Saturday. I remember fondly, but do not mention, the times we spent together floating down the Unadilla River in inner tubes and how she was the first person with whom I actually shared a kiss. Instead we talk about friends who have died and being in Explorer Scouts together and she laughs while telling me that her daughter loves to wear the tee-shirt that served as our uniform in 1977. When I say goodbye to her I realize that I had not seen her in over ten years and am a bit sad wondering how many more years will pass before I see her again.

I summit Marcy at 10:11 AM and after a short stop continue down its other side to Lake Tear in the Clouds.

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The lake is clear and there are stones lining the bottom at the mouth where it empties into the stream that leads to the Hudson River. I have not seen a soul all morning and decide to go for a swim. I leave my clothes on a warm rock and wade out a ways. I consider swimming across the lake and back but the water is a bit too cold so after a few strokes I scamper back to the warmth of my flannel shirt and wool sweater.

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After the swim I climb Gray Peak, another of the 46, and then decide to head back to Marcy and leave nearby Mount Skylight for another hike.

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I have brought with me a molasses cookie and a single candle to celebrate my birthday. I ponder awhile, taking in the view of the valleys and mountain ranges below me. I think about all that I have accomplished since my last birthday and decide not to light the candle. While I don’t know how many more pages are left before my book will end, on this day and at this moment I can think of nothing better to wish for than to be exactly where I am, sitting on top of New York eating a molasses cookie with hair still a little wet.

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My mother spent her high school years in Saranac Lake while her mother, a nurse who treated tuberculosis patients, attempted to recover from the same disease. She told me stories of how she and her classmates would take a motor boat from Lower Saranac through the Upper Lock and into Middle Saranac Lake. I’d often wanted to visit that lock and repeat that trip and yesterday I got my chance.

We left the Second Pond boat launch at noon, traveling in a canoe and a kayak. A light rain fell most of the day and there was a strong headwind at the start of the trip. We traveled upstream to the end of Lower Saranac and entered the channel connecting the two lakes. Halfway through we came upon the Upper Lock and visited with the lock keeper as she closed the downstream gates behind us and then opened the upstream wickets causing the water level to rise the two feet necessary to bypass the rapids on the other side of the island.

When we reached Upper Saranac, we stopped for lunch at the first island we came to and then decided to head back. We spent some more time visiting with the lock keeper on the return trip. She explained that the lock had been in place for nearly 100 years with its last major upgrade in the 1980s. On a busy day she will operate the lock more than 100 times. As the water drained to lower us to the exit, she explained that some canoeists actually run the rapids rather than use the lock.

When the downstream gate opened, we paddled around the island and after a short consultation decided to make one more pass through the lock. The keeper shook her head when we passed into the downstream gate and disclaimed any responsibility for damage or injury as the water filled the lock. When the gate opened we turned left, entered the channel and several exhilarating seconds later shot out the end of the rapids and rejoined the calmer waters.

As we paddled away I wished I had visited the lock earlier in my life and been able to share this story with my mother.

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A few words of thanks

July 27, 2014 — 10 Comments

Piglet noticed that even though he had a very small heart, it could hold a rather large amount of gratitude.

A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

On July 22, 2013, I bought a new pair of running shoes and started this journey. Since then I’ve swum 545 miles, ran 693 and biked for 4,542 miles more. Along the way I’ve jogged through downtown Bucharest and along the shore of the Black Sea; biked with Lucy in Sofia; swum in the Atlantic Ocean, Chesapeake Bay and the Hudson, Chester and Potomac Rivers; had one serious bike crash and taught the bartender at the Times Square Applebees how to make a perfect Martini. The 2014 Lake Placid Iron Man has just started and I will soon be swimming in Mirror Lake with number 367 painted on my arms. If all goes well sometime before midnight tonight I will add another 140.6 miles to these totals and then stop keeping track.

I have approached today’s race with mixed emotions. On some days I would wake brimming with confidence. On others full of self-doubt wondering what I had gotten myself into when I signed up for this. But no matter how I felt when each day began by its end I always fell asleep reflecting on how fortunate I was to have the support of my family and friends as I worked to achieve this goal. And for that I offer these few words of thanks.

First and foremost I thank Kathy who has supported and encouraged me throughout this journey as I transformed from someone who didn’t really exercise much into a dedicated athlete spending most of his spare time either swimming, running or biking. She has been with me from the start when I bought a new bike so that I could start riding it to work and never complained when I followed that purchase with a road bike, a folding bike and most recently a high-end carbon fiber racing bike.

I appreciate very much the swim coaching I have received over the years, starting with Bruce Rinker, followed by Katie, Bethany, Natalie, Zach, Joe and Lindsey. More than the coaching though, I am deeply grateful for the lane mates who have put up with me over the last four years, especially Will, Andrew, Bob, Suzanna, Krista, Brittany, Sarah, Corrine and Lauren. You have made swimming fun for me and I will never forget the times we spent together on our road trips to Bivalve, New York and Point Lookout. Thanks also to Dean, Jim, Ryan, Michele, Kelly, Miguel, Laura and Phil, experienced Iron Man finishers who have offered encouragement and great suggestions along the way. Elysia and Molly are among the dozens of other Marylanders who are here to race and volunteer. I wish them a safe and successful journey across the lake, over the mountains, through the forests and beside the rivers today.

I would not be the bicyclist I am today were it not for Bob, Dave, PJ, Mike and Charlie. You have taught me the joy of long distance cycling with friends and for that I am truly grateful.

The hardest part of the training for me has been the running and I will not set any records on the marathon portion of today’s race. Of all the disciplines however, my running has improved the most and for this I remember fondly and thank Dave, Parnell and John; Valerie; Josh and Glenn; and Kyle, Eric, Jim, Dave, Beth and Monica.

I owe special debts of gratitude to Tim who taught me to believe in myself as a swimmer and to Claudia who encouraged me to start this blog, swam with me in the very cold and rough Atlantic and during an emotional Purple Swim and trained with me for my first triathlon. I will cherish our friendships always.

And finally I am most grateful to Abby who helped me fall back in love with swimming which, after all, is what started this in the first place.

When I was in Lake Placid over Memorial Day weekend, a triathlon club from New York was also in town training. From time to time I would be passed by a member of that club who would call out to me “You can do it!” I would give a slight nod or a wave but didn’t really understand what was going on until later when I saw two members from the club pass each other by. The first yelled out the familiar “You can do it!” to which the second responded “I love you baby!”

Thank you again for the friendship, love and support that have brought me to the point where I really believe I can do this today. And with that let me close simply by saying to each of you, very sincerely, “I love you baby.”

The-Spirit-of-the-Park

This picture appears at page 346 of Thomas Morris Longstreth’s The Adirondacks, published in 1917. In that book, Longstreth describes the Adirondack Park as follows:

We have our little air holes in the cities, which we call parks, and we have some sections of the West roped off by law which the East is welcome to roam over if it can pay the carfare to them. But it has remained for New York State to set aside more than a tithe of its total area where men and women can seek sanctuary from cities and heat and the everlasting press of things. And New York State has done more. She has not only offered her mountains and lakes and woods to the tired student from Ithaca, the tired philosopher from the Hub, the tired businessman from everywhere, but she has made trails through the mountains, has stocked the streams and lakes, and is doing her best to preserve the forest. The citizens of the State pay for this, and anybody can enjoy their gift for a thank-you.

Perhaps inspired by these words, brothers Robert and George Marshall along with their friend and guide, Herbert Clark, climbed Whiteface Mountain on August 1, 1918. Nearly seven years later, on June 10, 1925, the three finished climbing the 46 high peaks of the Adirondacks and became the first three members of “The Adirondack Forty-Sixers.”

Since then 8,283 hikers have joined Herbert Clark and the Marshall brothers to become an “ADK 46-R.” If all goes well, later this month I will start my own journey to add my name to that list. I will start the first hike sometime after 12:01 AM on July 28, 2014, but will save Whiteface Mountain until last and climb it on the 100th anniversary of the hike that started it all.

So, if you have a few days to spare over the next four years, pick a peak that interests you and come hike with me a while.

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Friends indeed

May 5, 2014 — 7 Comments

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They say with bike crashes that it is not a matter of if, but when. Yesterday was my turn.

I woke early to meet Dave, Bob and PJ for breakfast before the start of this year’s Monument to Monument Ride. I have not made many of Bob’s monthly century rides lately, being too consumed with training for this summer’s Lake Placid Iron Man, but was determined not to miss this ride.

The weather was perfect and we along with nearly 100 other riders leave Baltimore’s Mount Vernon at 8:15 AM. Dave and I bring up the rear to make sure that no rider is dropped and left to finish the ride alone. Along the way Dave fixes a broken chain for another rider and we help a first timer make it to Union Station where she has decided to call it a day.

Bob and PJ are interspersed with other riders, but the four of us meet up again at 6:00 PM on Hammonds Ferry Road and ride into Baltimore together, hoping to make it to Hampden in time for a quick dinner and some beer. We leave the Gwynns Falls Trail and turn right onto Warner Street. Bob and PJ are a bit ahead and out of sight when Dave and I make the turn. Warner Street is criss-crossed with abandoned rail tracks and although I have rolled across them dozens of times before without incident, today is different. I am a bit tired and inattentive and before I know it I am tumbling to the pavement and steel below my left elbow.

I seem fine at first, although my sunglasses are missing and my face is hot and wet. Dave stops and runs back to me. The look on his face tells me I am in trouble. I look down and my jersey and shorts are showing the spots that are forming as the blood slowly drips down my face and off my chin.

Dave retrieves the first aid kit from my bag and opens it. It is very windy and I have stuffed the kit with extra bandages which the wind catch and send skipping down the road. Dave opens a roll of gauze, wads it and hands it to me. Bob and PJ have now turned back to find us and when they arrive the gauze is already soaked through. I start shivering and Dave covers my legs with the sweater, pictured above, that I was wearing earlier in the day.

I am sitting with my back against a jersey wall being kept company by the best friends in the world when Medic 4 pulls up. The ambulance is massive and stops within inches from where I am sitting. Two paramedics climb down, get swiftly to work and before long I am headed to the University of Maryland Medical Center. I am over-anxious and can’t stop talking. They read my blood pressure and I am shocked by how high it is. “That’s not my normal blood pressure,” I almost shout. They reassure me that everything is okay and that my blood pressure spike is a normal reaction to the pain that I am experiencing. I still can’t stop talking. I ask them what it’s like to treat a gunshot wound and they tell me. I ask them about car crashes, stabbings, gun battles and asthma. They take my questions in stride as they drive me matter of factly to the hospital. When we arrive they wheel me to the emergency room and stay with me for a while. Our talk turns to bikes, bike trails and bike shops. I am calmer now and say goodbye without ever learning their names.

A wonderful nurse practitioner takes care of me. An hour later she counts aloud the sixteen stitches that she has used to sew my left eyebrow and lid back together.  Her name is Jodi and she asks me about what happened and how I got help. And I tell her what you are reading now.

When I get home I notice that the face of my Garmin watch is scratched and cracked. I have used this watch to help with training and although it is pretty beat up I don’t plan on replacing it. Instead, if all goes well, I will be wearing it when I cross the finish line on July 27th. And when I turn it off after the race I will remember and give thanks to my friends Dave, Bob and PJ who were with me when I needed them yesterday.

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And the next time you see Medic 4 on the streets of Baltimore be sure to give them a wave and a smile for me.

At 7:45 AM on Tuesday, September 3, 1985, I walked into the Pentagon and began my active duty military service. Over the next four years I would serve as a lawyer on the Secretary of the Army’s legal staff. During my time there I had the privilege of working with young lawyers who would go on to have amazing legal careers. After leaving the Army they would fill senior positions in Democratic and Republican administrations, manage Presidential campaigns, serve as Supreme Court clerks, and prosecute mass murderers. Some would sue tobacco companies while others defended them.

We all belonged to the Pentagon Officer’s Athletic Club, better known as the POAC, and would spend many lunch hours running together. We would start on the north side of the Pentagon, run northwest along the Potomac, cross the Memorial Bridge, circle Lincoln’s memorial and head back. On really nice days we would extend the run and circle the reflecting pool.

Many of my friends trained for and completed marathons but I did not. Until today, that is, when five hours and eighteen minutes after I passed over the starting line I finished the Washington, D.C. Rock and Roll USA Marathon.

The race started at 14th and Constitution and as I arrived the first song that greeted me was “I Can See for Miles” by The Who. This, coupled with a last minute text of encouragement from a friend, reassured me as I waited for the race to begin while watching the sun rise over the Capitol dome.

Washington is beautiful this morning. It is chilly when the race starts but I am covered by the wool sweater that has kept me warm over the last few years at early morning swim practices and on the shores of many open water swims. Today I leave it at the start line where it will be collected by the organizers, given to a nearby homeless shelter and put to a better use.

Most of the runners here today have signed up for the Half-Marathon and both races share the same course for the first 13 miles. We begin heading west on Constitution, then behind the Lincoln Memorial and run over and back across the Memorial Bridge before taking Rock Creek Parkway to the steep hill leading to Calvert Street. From there it is mostly downhill as we head east then south then east again towards RFK Stadium.

At the 13 mile split I watch as thousands of runners turn left towards the finish. I turn to the right and head west. The streets are nearly empty now as we pass behind the Supreme Court, dodge a few early morning tourists leaving the Capitol and run downhill towards the White House. We turn south at 9th Street and take a tunnel under the Smithsonian Castle before circling L’Enfant Plaza. From here we run along the Potomac and around the bend to the Anacostia. We pass the Nationals’ stadium and cross the Frederick Douglass Bridge into Maryland. We head northeast for six miles then cross the East Capital Street bridge to the finish line.

After finishing the race I return to Union Station to catch the MARC train home to Baltimore, repeating a trip I made nearly 1,000 times before completing my military service at 5:45 PM on Friday, September 1, 1989.

I am early and treat myself to a Martini at the bar in the center of the main hall. Sipping it I remember two other lawyers I served with who, twelve years and ten days after I left the Pentagon, were still there when American Airlines Fight 77 was crashed into it. One would die in a conference room obliterated that morning. The other, working just down the hall, would survive, his life forever changed by what he experienced that day.

I finish my drink and board the train home happy, but also a bit sad, that I have returned to Washington today.

January Hymn

January 6, 2014 — 1 Comment

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Day Runner

December 3, 2013 — Leave a comment

Reading through the Athlete’s Guide to the 70 mile triathlon I recently completed, I was drawn to the admonition that “Triathlon is an individual event.” I found this a little ironic given that there were nearly a thousand athletes signed up for the event which would begin with hundreds of us thrashing through a tiny swim course at the same time. Once I crossed the finish line, though, I appreciated just how true those words were.

In all my previous long distance swim events I was one of a group of friends who trained, competed and celebrated together. This one was different because I came to the triathlon alone that day and, while waiting for the swim to start, regretted it deeply. I was nervous, a bit scared and needed a friend to talk to and keep me from worrying about what lay before me. Unfortunately, despite being in a crowd of hundreds, I was alone.

Then, as I walked slowly to the water’s edge, the person behind me asked why I had chosen not to wear a wetsuit. When I started to answer he interrupted me. “Dave,” he asked after hearing my voice, by which time I realized that the question had been posed by an old friend who had been walking behind me the whole time.

Glenn and I worked together in the mid-90s, but had not stayed in touch after I left to start my own firm. After recognizing each other we laughed a bit and then spent the next ten minutes reminiscing about the times we used to run together during our lunch hour. Our conversation put me at ease and I felt relaxed and confident by the time we reached the water’s edge, wished each other good luck and started the swim.

The swim was crowded with people all around me at all times. No matter how many swimmers I passed, others remained in front of me. During the bike ride it also seemed that there were always other racers close by. Some were ahead of me who I caught and passed and others seemed to fly by me effortlessly never to be seen again. There were still others on the horizon who I would never catch but with whom I would keep pace throughout the 57 mile ride.

The run was different. By this time we were all exhausted and struggling to finish. We were all in the same battle, but were each fighting it alone.

I didn’t see Glenn again until he crossed the finish line a few minutes behind me. We congratulated each other and made plans to run together again. And last week we did just that.

Together with another old friend, we started at my office and ran through the Inner Harbor past the carousel that Abby loved to ride when she was younger. We continued jogging around the harbor and behind the Domino Sugars factory before making our way back.

Our run together brought back fond memories of the times over the years when I have had the opportunity to run with friends, first while stationed at the Pentagon and then when Glenn and I worked together. And while I look forward to running with Glenn again, the reality is that over the next several months more often than not I will run this course alone.
And that’s the way it should be.

Running on empty . . .

October 7, 2013 — 3 Comments

On Sunday I started and finished my first triathlon at Centennial Park in Ellicott City.

The swim was wonderful. It was slightly less than a mile in distance and the water was warm. The 56 mile bike ride that came next went better than I had expected. I had trained on the course several times over the summer and knew it well. I got off the bike three and one half hours after I started the swim and all that was left was a 13.1 mile run.

By this time I was exhausted. My back was sore and it was way too hot to be jogging through hilly Ellicott City. I would spend almost as much time as it had taken to complete the bike course to finish the run.

As I slowly jogged, mile after mile, I found myself thinking back to the first time I had to run a race against a clock. It was during the summer of 1979 when, rather than return to lifeguarding, I volunteered to attend two weeks of training with the 101st Infantry Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

On the first day we were organized into a Company composed of two Platoons and for some unknown reason I was made a Platoon leader. Three other ROTC cadets from Dillard University were also given leadership positions. Parnell and John were two of my squad leaders and Dave, a senior at Dillard, was made Company commander. The four of us were put in charge of front line infantry troops serving with the 101st and none of us knew what we were doing.

Early on the Drill Instructors punished our mistakes by making the four of us do push ups. When our performance didn’t improve, they made everyone under our command join us, which only made our jobs harder as we quickly lost the confidence of the soldiers we were supposed to lead through formations and march to training.

I was overwhelmed and in way over my head. I thought I had signed up for a couple of weeks of rappelling out of helicopters and instead found myself being ridiculed at every turn. I remember standing in line for the pay phone, using a handful of quarters to call home to tell my dad in a shaky voice that I didn’t know what I was doing. There was nothing he could say during that call to make me feel better.

Dave caught the brunt of the Drill Instructors’ harassment but, unlike me, he never let it get to him. He knew he was doing it wrong, but rather than make excuses or feel sorry for himself he worked to get it right. Over the next week the four of us became friends. We borrowed a copy of the Army’s field manual on “Drill and Ceremony” and learned the proper way to organize a formation and to march troops. Eventually the push ups stopped and we settled into Army life.

In our free time we would play pick up basketball at a nearby enlisted-mens’ gym and John would try, without much success, to improve my jump shot. We talked about our plans for the future. They all wanted to be infantry officers. I hoped to go to law school. Parnell was already a father. I had not yet had a girlfriend.

There were silly rules that we were made to follow during the course, one of which was that only people who had passed the course could walk on the bridges over the many ditches that surrounded the training facilities. Every day we would come to a perfectly nice bridge, pass it by and instead run through a ditch or jump across a stream. And each time we did, John would proclaim that he was going to dance across the first bridge he came upon after we graduated.

The course consisted of a series of graded exercises and we needed to earn a certain number of points to pass. As the end of training approached, Dave was short on points. The last exercise was a 10 mile march in full gear that needed to be completed in less than four hours. The faster you finished, the more points you earned. In order to pass, Dave would need to finish the march in about two hours.

I had plenty of points and could have walked the ten-mile course and still graduated. Instead I learned about loyalty to friends that day and when Parnell and John declared that they were going to run the course with Dave, I decided to join them. Together the four of us ran in fatigues and combat boots, carrying rucksacks and fake M-16s made out of hard rubber. It was June, we were in Kentucky, and it was really hot. It was hard work and from time to time Dave, Parnell or I would drop back and John would encourage us to keep up so we could all dance across those bridges. I don’t remember what our time was when we finished that run, but later that day we all graduated together and John celebrated by dancing across the first bridge we passed.

I would never lead troops again during my military career, but would instead become a lawyer assigned to the Secretary of the Army’s staff. I never saw Dave, Parnell or John again after these pictures were taken and I don’t know what became of them, although I’m certain they each made fine infantry officers and served the Army well. The badge I earned that hot day in Kentucky is hung on my office wall. I cherish it along with the memory of the three cadets from Dillard who taught me the value of teamwork, friendship and loyalty on a long and hot run in June of 1979.

I eventually crossed the finish line six hours and ten minutes after I started the swim. I sat down, drank a Gatorade and wished there was a bridge nearby to dance across.

Fahrenheit 66.74

September 21, 2013 — 1 Comment

It’s 4:35 A.M. and I am awake. The swim up the Hudson starts soon and I shower, pack, check out and head to the Grand Central taxi stand to meet up with Katie and Krista. I check the event website for the last time and confirm today’s water temperature. 66.74. I decide to leave the wetsuit in my suitcase.

New York may be the city that never sleeps, but Grand Central terminal takes a break from 2 to 5:30 in the morning. Standing on 42nd street I watch the partiers from last night sit along the window fronts waiting for the doors to open, chilly in short dresses and bare feet holding high heels in their hands. The scene is made all the more confusing by the line of customers who have waited overnight to buy the latest iPhone at a nearby store.

Krista and Katie arrive and we catch a cab to the 79th Street boat basin. We are early and stop at McDonalds and Starbucks for a quick breakfast.

We make it to check in, get our caps and numbers and listen to the simple race briefing: “That way [north], that way, 10 K. Stay near the marks.” A right side breather’s dream.

We start in asssigned waves shortly after sunrise. It is colder than last year and the water is dirtier. I taste petroleum from the boat basin to the bridge. The current is kinder though, and I improve on last year’s time significantly.

We celebrate our accomplishments over lunch with an old friend from this year’s Potomac River Swim and a new friend who recently swam the English Channel. We take the A train to 42nd street and bar hop until our bus leaves.

Along the way I teach a bartender how to make a perfect Martini. Three times. It has been a very good day.

I shot the cover photo on this web page last year just before I swam in the Hudson River from 79th street to beyond the George Washington Bridge. Today I am traveling north with four friends to do it again.

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We are on the 1:45 Megabus from Baltimore to New York and will cross three rivers along the way, each of which brings back special New York memories for me.

With 150 miles to go, we cross high above the Susquehanna River at the north end of the Chesapeake Bay. I grew up on this river in a small town called Sidney in upstate New York. In junior high, after reading Huck Finn, my friend Jim and I built a small raft using discarded styrofoam packaging we found behind the Honda Motorcycle dealership that briefly did business in the village. Our plan at the time was to raft south for a few days to see how far we could travel on it. We lost the raft to a heavy rain storm and loose square knot and that adventure ended before it began.

In years to come, I would canoe many miles of the river, first in Boy Scouts and then later in annual canoe races with friends from high school.

Shortly after leaving Maryland we cross the Delaware River into New Jersey. When Abby was younger, we canoed the river along the border between New York and Pennsylvania with other classmates and their fathers. We slept in lean-tos, made spaghetti and meatballs for 16 over a camp stove in the pouring rain and visited the site of Woodstock in nearby Bethel. It was the first of several memorable canoe trips I would take with this group.

We end today’s trip crossing under the Hudson in the Lincoln Tunnel. I have not yet canoed this river but, if all goes as planned, by this time tomorrow I will have swum it twice.

Six of us made the trip last year and all but one have returned to do it again. We drove to my sister’s house in New Jersey the night before, awoke early and took a train to Penn Station. A short subway ride later we were at the start point. We registered, were given color-coded swim caps and had numbers drawn on our arms in black marker.

The conditions last year were perfect. The timing of the tides allowed us to start around 9:30 in the morning and the water was warm. By the time we entered the water the tide had shifted and was pushing us quickly north towards our destination a little over ten kilometers away. It was a wonderful day spent with wonderful friends in a wonderful place.

I expect it will be colder tomorrow, but just as nice.

My favorite bike when I was a kid was a three-speed, banana seated, Schwinn Stingray that looked something like this:

I used it and several bikes that followed to get around the small village where I grew up and the college campuses where I studied.

I bought my first road bike a little over three years ago and shortly thereafter started attending the monthly Rando Ramble rides organized by Bob Wagner. I never truly loved cycling until I started riding the Rambles. The Ramble riders have taught me how to be a self-sufficient, courteous and safe cyclist. The treks laid out by Bob have shown me Maryland at its best, from its quiet back roads to its busy bike trails. Together our group has biked to the heart of the District of Columbia, to the northern and southern shores of the Chesapeake Bay and miles beyond the Pennsylvania border. We often start these rides over coffee and bagels and, whenever possible, end them over beer and stories.

This month’s ride was a 42 mile ride into and around Baltimore ending with a picnic at Charlie’s Catonsville home. The first leg takes us to Jimmy’s Restaurant in Fells Point for a late breakfast. We get there using the bike lane along Frederick Road and the Gwynns Falls and Middle Branch Trails. From Harbor Hospital we turn north and cross the Hanover Street bridge on our way to Fort Avenue. We circle the Inner Harbor and bounce our way over cobblestones into Fells Point.

From Fells Point we cycle east and then north to an ice cream shop in Mt. Washington. After a quick tour of Canton and Patterson Park we climb north using the Jones Falls Trail and the Roland Avenue bike lane.
On the final leg of our journey we bike to the hilltops of Pimlico, then through Leakin Park and finally back to Catonsville.
When we reach Charlie’s house, Mary already has chicken cooking on the grill. We swim in the pool and enjoy some beer while dinneris being finished. It’s a beautiful evening inCatonsville and as I sip Charlie’s home-brewed Arrogant Bastard Ale at the pool’s edge I am grateful that my life’s biking journey has brought me to this fine group of friends.My only regret is that I didn’t keep that Stingray.

Tim (“T-Dog”) Methric

Tim Methric is the nicest swimmer you will ever meet. He is the founder and inspirational leader of the informal “Charm City Masters” swim team of which I am a proud member. If all goes as planned, next weekend he will move from Canton to Ellicott City.

Tim was born on April 1st in the bathroom of the house where his parents still live. That one sentence explains a lot about Tim. He is the type of guy who can’t wait to get started, whether on the deck before a routine practice or on the shore at the start of a long open water swim. “Let’s do this,” he’ll proclaim and then we are off and swimming. Tim out in front and the rest of us trailing behind. At the end of the swim, his is the first face you will see, smiling and offering encouragement as the rest of us finish.

Tim moved to Canton four years ago to accept a temporary teaching position at Towson University. He liked Baltimore so much he decided to stay after he finished at Towson. A life-long swimmer, he quickly joined a Masters swim team. He started with the team a year before me, at a time when it had different coaches. That team was vibrant, full of strong swimmers and tri-athletes who welcomed Tim to his new home. He met his best friend on that team and in several weeks will marry her.

Unfortunately, the team fell apart shortly after I joined, when new coaches were hired and new rules were imposed by the owner of the pool. Tim stayed on after almost everyone else left and over the last three years has been instrumental in our team’s rebirth.

Tim trains with passion and the example he sets has inspired me to work hard and follow him, first up the Hudson River and then on a seven and one-half mile swim across the Potomac. I have written about how Bruce and Abby taught me the joy of swimming. Tim taught me to believe in myself as a swimmer, and that confidence has made all the difference.

And for this I offer my thanks to Tim and my best wishes to Tim and Kathleen as they begin their next adventure, together.


I went for a jog in New York City this morning. I started at 44th Street, turned right at Fifth Avenue and headed north towards Central Park.

I crossed in front of the Plaza Hotel and entered the Park. There were hundreds of joggers and bicyclists. The air was clear and cool. Some joggers even wore sweatshirts.

As I ran easily up East Drive, I remembered back to the first time I visited Manhattan. It was the summer after my first year in law school and I took the Greyhound from Binghampton to visit Jim, a friend from college, and Glenn and Jon, my closest friends from law school. We met at the Port Authority bus terminal. Glenn’s dad ran a vending company and lent Glenn his delivery van for the day. We drove downtown and parked just off Wall Street.

Jon started our tour from the observation deck on the south World Trade Center tower. He pointed out all of the neighborhoods in southern Manhattan and from there we walked through each one. We headed north to Chelsea, spent a little time in Greenwich Village and SoHo, then had lunch in Little Italy before passing through Chinatown on our way to Battery Park. We stopped to look at the Statute of Liberty and started walking back to where we had left the van.

Turning onto Pearl Street we stumbled upon The Killarney Rose, a quaint Irish pub. We sat on bar stools and drank pint-sized drafts that cost 50 cents. We talked about nothing of consequence that day and stayed to watch Caveat win the Belmont Stakes an hour or so later.

 

I’ve had many beers in other establishments since then, but have no memory fonder than of the time I shared beers with Jim, Glenn and Jon while sitting at that bar.

Reaching the top of a climb, I turned left to the Reservoir and then headed south. I zigzagged my way down Madison and Park, crossing streets back and forth as the traffic signals dictated and finished my morning jog in just over an hour.

It was the second best time I’ve had while visiting New York.

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My father, Edwin Paul Hoskins, was born on February 27, 1930, in Ithaca, New York, the youngest child of Edwin Ray Hoskins and Ethel Bernice Williams.

He was not a stellar student. He attended Cornell University for a year or so, did not do well, and enlisted in the Army shortly before the outbreak of the Korean Conflict. After his honorable discharge, he finished college and then law school. He spent a few years as an Assistant Attorney General before starting a law practice in Sidney, New York, where he worked regularly until he died. He married Mary Ann McGrath on January 24, 1959.

He became jaundiced in 1994, shortly after our daughter Abigail was born. The doctors originally hoped that removing his gallbladder was all that would be necessary, but quickly discovered pancreatic cancer. After doctors at Johns Hopkins performed the Whipple procedure, he spent the summer of 1994 recovering at our house in Baltimore, resting for many hours in a hammock we had hung on the porch. Although Abby doesn’t remember much about his stay, he enjoyed visiting with her everyday that summer.

He returned to New York in great spirits and spent the next two years living his life to the fullest. At first the prognosis seemed promising, but ultimately the cancer returned and spread to his lungs.

He died on July 13, 1996, on my mother’s 62nd birthday. I left him earlier that day to drive back to Baltimore, explaining that I would visit him again on the next weekend. He died shortly after I finished the drive. We buried him in Ithaca two days later.

My next open water swim is this Sunday at Rocky Point Beach and Park. Together with several friends, I will complete the three-mile Purple Swim to help raise money for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death and it has the lowest relative survival rate of any major cancer. For this reason, of the 45,000 Americans who will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year, only 7,000 will be alive in five years. Because of these grim statistics, pancreatic cancer is the least-studied of all major cancer killers with only two percent of the National Cancer Institute’s annual budget dedicated to pancreatic cancer research. With only so much money to go around, cancer researchers have focused their efforts on other, more survivable, cancers where their research can do the most good.

Although the treatment provided my father did not cure him, I am forever grateful to the doctors who did their best and gave my father two years to get to know his granddaughter. And for this reason I will swim on Sunday in memory of him and in honor of the families who are currently struggling with a disease for which there will likely never be a cure.

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Edwin Paul Hoskins
February 27, 1930 to July 13, 1996

The Atlantic Ocean is an amazing place to swim, but very intimidating. Yesterday, with a couple hundred other swimmers, I participated in the inaugural Ocean City Swim for Brain Research. My good friend and training partner, Claudia, swam the race as well. All in all it was a very well run event. The event staff treated us great and we were well protected both during the swim and after the finish.

The swim course was marked by a buoy line set 300 meters from shore. Swimming that far offshore was a new experience for me. Although the swells were gentle, the bobbing they caused was disorienting. When on top of a swell, you could see for miles. But, if you happened to take a breath while in the trough all you saw was water. These conditions made swimming a straight course difficult. You had to time the sighting to correspond with the swells and catch a quick glimpse of the buoy before sinking into the trough. Although we swam in following seas, the current seemed to push us to the Northeast, away from the shore. We must have zigzagged our way up the coast because we passed within a few feet of some of the buoys, but fifty meters from others.

The air was blisteringly hot in Ocean City yesterday, with no shade at any of the start points. When the nine mile swimmers started at 9:30 a.m., there were a few joggers and bikers on the boardwalk. Two hours later at the start of the three mile swim, it was too hot to even walk on the sand. With no shade anywhere, we tried to keep as much skin covered for as long as possible, and kept spraying and respraying the exposed parts with sunscreen.

The water was cold, about 65 degrees. This caused a number of nine mile swimmers to abandon the swim within minutes of starting. After learning of this, most of the three-milers decided to pull on wetsuits. This wasn’t an option for Claudia and me because we hadn’t brought any. We didn’t bother with much of a warm up before the start. I jumped a few waves and then immediately body surfed the next one to the shore, having decided that nothing would be gained by getting cold before the start. Our original goal had been to improve on the time we swam at last year’s three mile Swim Across America. As we walked back to our towels, that goal changed simply to finishing the swim.

The start of the race involved the new experience of getting beyond the breakers. We took a conservative approach and, because the current was flowing to the North, jogged to the South a little before entering the water to insure that we had the current at our backs when we reached the turn buoy.

I rely on the buddy system when swimming in open water. Even if I don’t have a teammate with me, I always stay close to other swimmers. From a psychological standpoint, I think I need to able to see someone else at all times in order to remain calm and relaxed. Yesterday, swimming far from shore, it proved especially important to have a teammate swimming next to me.

It was too cold to just put your head down and start freestyle so the first hundred yards were swum with heads up breaststroke. After getting our breathing under control, we started swimming for the finish and things slowly got warmer. Although we started close to last, we ultimately caught and passed about a third of the swimmers in front of us, (most of whom were wearing wetsuits) and the paddle boarders who were guarding them. Even with the slow start and sighting breaks, our pace was about 2 minutes per hundred meters.

The bottoms of my feet never got warm. My hands were fine until the end when I started losing feeling in my right hand. The numbness slowly climbed to my wrist and forearm and had reached my bicep by the time I made it to the finish. I had a similar feeling in my left leg as my calf muscle slowly cramped from the ankle to my knee. It was frustrating because I couldn’t find a way to generate the heat necessary to keep my arm and leg warm. Kicking harder didn’t work, nor did clenching and flexing my fingers during the recovery portion of the arm stroke.

At the race briefing we were told that the buoys would be 1,000 meters apart and that the last buoy would be orange and closer to shore. Pretty straight forward, I thought. Pass four yellows, head towards the shore to find the orange, turn left and head for the beach. Each time we neared a buoy, Claudia and I would stop briefly, exchange a few words of encouragement to make sure neither of us had become disoriented, and then ride the swell until we could sight the next buoy. After the third buoy, I repeated a line we often use during a workout, “half-way home.” Then it was head down, elbows high and on to the next buoy.

I had a good sight on the fourth buoy and felt strong as it got closer with each stroke. We reached it, took our break, and I started looking towards the shore for the orange buoy. It wasn’t there. Looking North, all I saw was more buoys. A nearby paddle boarder told us we only had eleven blocks to go. This made me laugh inside because, while that information would have helped if we were walking up the Coastal Highway, it was useless to us as we bobbed up and down 300 meters from shore.

Counting the buoys didn’t matter any more. We’d swim to one, exchange a few words of encouragement and swim to the next. I’m not sure if we passed two or three more buoys, but before we knew it we had reached the orange buoy. A quick left turn and another fifty strokes or so and we were being thrown onto the shore by the breaking waves. Not the most graceful exit from a body of water, but it worked.

A nice sized crowd of vacationers cheered enthusiastically and I felt surprisingly good as we climbed the beach to the finish. We were escorted to chairs and given water and Gatorade. This was followed by chicken and peanut butter sandwiches, bananas, cookies and brownies. I was dizzy for a while, but ultimately recovered okay.

As we sat on the finish beach waiting for the bus to come and take us back downtown, we watched other swimmers finish and, in some instances, suffer. Ultimately three ambulances were called. Two for hypothermic swimmers and a third for a swimmer experiencing breathing difficulties. This brought home to me the harsh reality that open water swimming, despite all of its joys, is not a sport without inherent risks, especially when the conditions are not optimal.

Which is why I am grateful to have had a friend swimming to my right yesterday. Thanks again, Claudia.

I first learned to love swimming in the summer of 1972, when Bruce Rinker was the chief lifeguard at the Sidney Municipal Pool. Later that summer, Mark Spitz would win seven gold medals at the Munich Olympics. Caught up with the Olympic spirit, kids from all of the villages in the area spent June and July competing in a newly formed swim league. Bruce coached Sidney’s team and outfitted us in the same suits that Mark and his teammates would wear in September. Although I don’t remember how we did, I loved swimming that summer because I was part of a team. We played card games and shared candy and cheered each other so loudly we lost our voices.

The swim league folded after a few years and, as I grew older, swimming gave way to Boy Scout camp, summer jobs, and college. I never swam competitively again and eventually stopped swimming altogether.

I fell back in love with swimming starting in 2001 when our daughter Abby joined the Mariner Swim Club. For the next seven years, swimming was one of the most important things in her life and I lived it with her, one swim meet at a time. No one trained with more dedication than Abby or tried harder to make every swim the best one yet. Backstroke was her favorite and she could spend hours gliding effortlessly up and down the lane on her back, sometimes so lost in her thoughts that she would start singing.

Inspired by watching Abby grow up as a swimmer, and with a lot of free time after she left for college, I decided to join a Masters swim team. I now train about seven hours each week with people who I barely knew a year ago but now consider to be my dearest freinds. They have inspired me to swim farther than I ever thought I could. My adventures with them have included crossing the Chesapeake Bay and the widest part of the Potomac and swimming up the Hudson past the Little Red Lighthouse that sits below the George Washington Bridge. Tomorrow morning I will add another swim to that list.

And for all this I thank Bruce, who first taught me the joy of swimming with a team, and Abby, whose love for the Mariner Swim Club inspired me to get back in the pool.

Some of my best friends write blogs about bicycling. Seriously.

First, there is Bob Wagner, a cycling enthusiast well known for organizing monthly 100 mile bike rides that start and end in Baltimore. He writes brilliant posts about these adventures in The Rando Ramble – Long Distance Biking in and out of Baltimore and freely shares his routes, cue sheets and GPS files. Many bike clubs treat this kind of data like State secrets, but Bob believes in freely sharing his work product and is to be commended for it. One of his most popular rides is the Monument to Monument ride, an annual ride from Baltimore’s Washington Monument to the better known monument by the same name in the center of the District of Columbia. While there may be better known century rides in the area (like the Seagull Century or the Civil War Century sponsored by the Baltimore Bicycling Club), Bob’s rides are elegant testaments to the simple joy of picking a place to visit and then figuring out how to get there by bike. Bob puts a lot of thought into the trips he plans and each ride has a purpose.

Another great biking blog that I follow is BikesNCoffee Bicycles Coffee and Miscellany written by Dave Hopkins. Since we tend to ride at the same speed, many of his posts recount our various misadventures from the perspective of the riders at the back of the pack. Dave writes thoughtfully and from the heart and one of his most inspiring posts is the goodbye he penned to his late father, “here’s to you dad. . .” Dave also designed our group’s cycling sweater and is the author of our unofficial motto: “more about the route less about the numbers.”

I love reading what Bob and Dave have to say and, if I’m honest, their writing inspires me to be a better cyclist, person and friend.

So why this blog? I guess it all starts with the fact that my daughter, a classics major at the University of Chicago, decided to travel to the coast of the Black Sea this summer to excavate and decipher pottery from Ancient Greece. This rather straight-forward study abroad opportunity led to an invitation to join her on a train trip across Europe on her way to the archeological site.

A close friend recently asked what I planned to do during the long train rides. Would I bring lots of books to read? Take time to visit the cities along the way? Well, inspired by Bob and Dave, writing this blog is what I have decided to do.

At the outset, I must recognize, thank and give credit to Mark Smith from the U.K., better known as The Man in Seat 61. . . for his wonderfully insightful and helpful blog post on How to Travel from London to Sofia and Bulgaria. . . He has literally shown me the way, step by step. Check back starting August 28th and you can follow how I do.

And to Mark, as a token of my appreciation, I extend an open offer of a place to stay should you and your family ever visit Baltimore. You will not find the train travel particularly inspiring in Baltimore but, with Dave and Bob’s help, I can show you a very unique way to travel to Washington, D.C. on two wheels.