Sunday, August 29, 2010

Natural Bridge, naturally hazardous

One of the aspects of Kentucky which I particularly love is that, in general, people are still able to swim, fish, climb in the craziest spots, not separated by fences or CYA legalese signs posted all over. It gives the state a bit of a Darwinian feel - as in Darwin Awards. And there is no place where this is more obvious than Natural Bridge.

As you can see in this photo, Hazel is standing by a sheer dropoff with no guardrail, in front of the bridge we'd crossed, moments before, also with no guardrail (after climbing some stairs in a spot aptly described as "Fat Man's Misery").

I wasn't ready for any rock-climbing or anything like that (frankly, some of the stairs on one trail terrified me, though that was partly because they were rain-slick rather than because they were actually all that scary. But this was a pretty good thrill, even on a misty day, when I could as easily imagine thousands of feet empty below me as hundreds, or tens.

It's been a good summer for scenery, and adventure, and confidence-building. Between scary steep scree en route to the Burgess Shale, high winds on bear-laden mountains at Lake Louise, and finally this last jaunt at Natural Bridge among steep rocks and by a copperhead (Brian bravely took this photo; I was long gone up the trail after a quick look). Of course, none of this adventure kept me from my standard week-before-classes nightmares (forgetting to go teach class, cartoons infecting my powerpoint slides), but maybe it just help keep us all agile, young and old alike.

I like to think that after facing scenery like this, mean girls and school bullies, assignments and assemblies all seem smaller. If you've walked up to a sheer cliff face and peeked over, just to see the view, surely anything that happens at school is just a proverbial walk in the park.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Cross-training, with kids

About a month ago, I tried to convince Emily to sign up for the local kids' triathlon, which she did last year and seemed to have a good experience with. However, the moment she gave me a firm "No", I realized who really wanted to do a triathlon in the family: me.

Having completed a couple of short tri's back in Ithaca in the late 1990's, before children, I knew the experience to know the agony and the ecstasy of it: the glory of that fast-dry bike ride after swimming, the pain of that first half-mile of running after a long bike ride. I'd accidentally exposed myself swimming backstroke in open water, so I knew what clothing would be needed.

The only problem, if you can call it that, was that between parenting and work - even just getting some writing done on the upcoming weed guide - time was short for training. 600 m swim, 20K, bike, 5K run, all in a row. Improvisation was in order.

I'd spent the early part of the summer keeping up with the growing grass with my reel mower (beloved reel mower), so that had to count as training. The 12 mile hike to and from the Burgess Shale had to count for something, too - presumably stamina training, and hill training. Swimming training was easier - adult swim is just long enough to complete a 700 meter swim, and with a few extra laps I could manage some safety net for extra stamina. During trips to Ohiopyle, I fit in one 20 mile bike ride. I literally ran circles around the girls while they played at Squaw Valley park, getting in a run or two.

The best part was Thursday and Friday, when Brian and I took the girls on a trek from Ohiopyle to Confluence, 10 miles one way on rail-trail, camped overnight, and rode back. I don't know how to count that kind of interrupted ride as training, but like I said, this was improvised training.

I've talked to a couple of dads recently who do longer triathlons, and they spoke of generous partners and flexible work hours, all the better with which to fit in 4-6 days a week of (!) 2-3 hour workouts. Listening to them I've felt envious. I can't do that kind of time, and what's more, I like to think that my training is part of family exercise. Sometimes the exercise is separate, like my 20 mile ride while Brian played with the girls in the water at Ohiopyle; but at the same time, my getting out is related to the whole family getting out.

A recent Wharton School study found that women who participate in sports as youths have better rates of employment, and I love knowing that our daughters will benefit from school and neighborhood sports programs. Thinking about men and women in triathlon, though, I have to wonder - when moms train, is it possible that their kids get more workouts than when dads train? Do moms often do this kind of improvisational family-training, involving children in workouts simply because that's the only way the workouts can happen?

In any case, the race this morning went well. I didn't carry a watch - it's been too long since I did this, and I wanted to be listening to my body rather than constantly berating or cheering myself with split times - so I won't know my times until they're posted on the website. But I finished running hard, didn't drown, didn't wreck, didn't puke, and was ready to come home before they posted my official results. This is the biggest difference for me between doing this now and my race 12 years ago, before daughters - I've got someone waiting for me at home, and I was awfully glad to see them, so we could go out for some adventures.