Fiesta!

Sometimes you get into a funk in training and you find yourself struggling just to get a run in. Life has stepped in and more and more you find yourself procrastinating workouts, making excuses, and slowly watching your training plan fall apart. This was how I felt in late April: after a great March, I had been on a work trip and let a week go by without a workout. Then coming back I tried to jump into a 6 mile trail run. The result: a pulled muscle in my leg and back to square one. I took the better part of three weeks off trying to replace my runs with more bikes and swims, but it didn’t help. I was in a rut and needed to climb out.

My solution: use another work trip planned late April as my plan to get back into running. The destination: San Antonio. Upon arriving in this beautiful city I discovered I’d landed in the middle of their spring Fiesta, and the city buzzed with a 24-hour a day party atmosphere combined with warm spring weather. The stars were aligning. In addition I wasn’t traveling alone: I’d have colleagues with me. On the way there I asked if any of them would be interested in morning runs: three volunteered. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that accountability is key when trying to get back into the mix. Having people to run with, push you and harass you endlessly for sleeping in is sometimes exactly what you need to get back into the mix.

The morning after arriving I got up and tried the hotel gym first. I was nervous about my injury and wanted to try the treadmill first to see how I’d hold up. I clocked out 2 miles easily before embarking on a series of squats, lunges, kettle bell swings, and burpees. I did a couple of iterations of these exercises and then stretched. I have a habit of overdoing it when coming back from injury and knew I didn’t want to push my luck. I felt sore later, but not in pain. I felt ready to push it a bit more the next day with my colleagues. Fingers crossed it went well! The next morning my friend & colleague, Pat, met me out front for a morning run. We wound our way down to the city’s famous River walk, still recovering from a boat-float parade held on its waters the night before. While pieces of colorful fiesta paper littered the path in places, the run was enjoyable: a comfortable early morning pace between friends. The sun rose and the temperature still cool: perfect conditions for a morning run. We headed north out of downtown along the path, turning around after 20 minutes. Back at the hotel, I stretched again—still no pain. My confidence rose.

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The next day, another morning run, two more joined Pat and I. This time we headed south on the river walk, taking in the beautiful homes of the city’s King William district. This time we ran out 15 minutes before turning around. It was an amazing feeling watching the city come alive in the early morning, empty streets slowly awakening. We talked and laughed and ran—the kind of camaraderie I fondly remember from high school cross country training runs. We weren’t concerned with pace, or distance, or heart rate—just getting out and taking in the city.

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The last day, only one other colleague joined me, which was fine. On this day I brought my phone to take pictures (I needed some for the blog!). While my colleague may not have been able to match my pace, he never gave up. There’s something to admire about that sort of runner in my mind: 110% heart and soul. It didn’t bother me to wait for him at certain turns along the route, I just soaked up the city in the morning light.

Combined with these runs were our evenings out. San Antonio is a fun time any time of year, but especially during Fiesta, held towards the end of April. The whole city celebrates the heroes of the battles of the Alamo and San Jacinto. There is a carnival and parades and dozens of other events throughout. It’s probably one of the closest things I’ve come to in the United States that reminds me of the multi-day beer and wine fests of Europe. More than one night we explored the River walk at night to find delicious Tex-Mex and explored quaint bars and pubs on the fringes of downtown. One in particular we found was the Bexar (pronounced “bear”) Pub. This rustic watering hole sits about a mile from downtown in an industrial area. Resembling nothing more than some dressed up shipping containers, the Bexar Pub has a fantastic food and beer menu. With limited indoor seating, most patrons (like ourselves) sat outside on picnic tables.

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The funny thing is that bars like this aren’t uncommon in San Antonio. We drove by at least half a dozen in our daily travels to and from our work sites. Hopefully I can explore more on future trips to this beautiful town.

With the week done, I returned to California with just a taste of San Antonio. Fortunately I will be back soon. I’ve done research on other places to run and local rustic eateries and breweries in this beautiful city. There will be more stories to come. No trip to Texas would be complete, however, without trying one of it’s most iconic beers: Shiner bock. Throughout this trip I’d tried several of the seasonal varieties, and been pleased with them all.

As I flew back reflecting on my runs and my renewed energy, I ordered one more on the flight home. With its amber color and full but not heavy flavor, it’s not only a good porch beer, but good for those reflecting moments, which is where I now found myself. I’m excited for my next trip and the stories which , until then though, bottoms up and see you on the trails!

Athletic Supporter

Sometimes you can’t always be an athlete, sometimes you’re the athletic supporter. I don’t know who said that or when I first heard it, but as I sat watching my third hour of “Paw Patrol” with my daughter in a hotel room near Auburn, California, I tried to remember.

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Race morning

It was pouring rain outside and the more I tried to coax my three year old into leaving the room and go to an indoor playground, the more she dug her heels in to “Paw Patrol”. It was no use: we weren’t leaving. As much as I knew she’d enjoy the playground more, I wasn’t in the mood for the screaming temper tantrum that would ensure in the deluge outside as I tried to put her into the car seat. I turned from Chase & Skye and the rest of the pups and looked outside.  It was awful out: temps in the mid-30s, rain, probably snow in some spots out there. Running would be the last thing one would want to be doing, but yet my wife was out there. She was running her first ultra-marathon while my daughter and I sent positive vibes from the comfort of our hotel room.  Truth be told though, I secretly longed to be out there with my wife slogging through it all. We were in Auburn, California and she was running the Way to Cool 50km in Cool just down the road. It wasn’t supposed to be like this, but then again no plan survives initial contact. So there my daughter and I were, watching the rain and the television and my mind drifted to how exactly we’d gotten here.

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Despite my best efforts, she chose butter for breakfast

For my wife the idea started simple enough. We were running one of those New Year’s Day Resolution Runs (you know the ones where you give up drinking at a decent hour on New Year’s Eve so that you can be up super early on New Year’s day to run?) with another couple when they shared their interest in running an ultra-marathon.

Now for me the answer was simple—and I quote the immortal words of Dirty Harry Callaghan who said, “A man has got to know his limitations.” There was no way I was going to do an ultra…at least not at the moment. My recovery has been going well, but I still have a long way to go and 3 months wasn’t going to be enough time. My wife thought about it for all of about 3 seconds. “I think I can do it!” Now people say some strange things during races, so I shrugged off these ideas. I mean, c’mon, it’s a resolution run—it’s all about making resolutions for the year that you’ll forget about within 2 weeks, right?

It only took 4 days for the opposite to occur.

On the 5th of January, my wife came home from work and announced, “I’m signing up for the Way too Cool 50km!” I inquired, “When is it?” She then proceeded to tell me over a glass of wine how she could train up in about 8 weeks and that her first long distance training runs would start that Saturday. Now I’ve learned when my wife gets this look in her eye and tone to her voice, there’s no backing down: she’s committed. Only one thing to do: be the athletic supporter. Having run three marathons myself, I knew the time involved. I flashbacked to long Saturday mornings a decade before running around Monterey training for my marathons. I also remembered the afternoons on the couch just about comatose from the expenditure. I would be the athletic supporter. I knew I’d be watching our daughter and making sure my wife had the time to devote all day Saturday. As the weeks passed the stakes got higher. Our friends who talked her into the run both became injured and bowed out. She waivered a bit since the whole point was to run as a group. In the end some “love encouragement” (my words) got her back focused on the run and totally committed.

The weeks passed, the miles accrued, and before we knew it, we kissed her good bye on a dark, cold, rainy morning about an hour before race start. We had driven up the day before in one of those winter Pacific storms that while lacking the snow of a good nor’easter, packs all the same punch with days of wind and rain. We’d checked the course: unfortunately it didn’t make much sense to try and find vantage points along the route to cheer her on.

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The amazing terrain around Cool

Not to mention my daughter wasn’t going to make it long outside in these conditions. (Heck, I didn’t know if I would make it long cheering my wife in these conditions). Even before the start we decided we’d drop her off, and then when she could she’d text us her location on the route so that when she got to the marathon marker (roughly 26 miles), I’d load up my daughter and we’d be there for her finish. And that’s exactly what we did: waited patiently in the hotel room as the hours ticked by watching Paw Patrol, trying to play games, and even starting to nap when my phone buzzed, my wife was nearly done!

By the time we got loaded into the car and drove down to the race site, I was convinced we missed her finish. But as we walked up to the finish line and didn’t see her, I knew we still had a chance. My daughter and I crawled under a strand of barbed wire to get a closer look as the runners ran their last 200m to the finish. They all had a common look of cold, wet, and determined. We stood on the side watching, waiting, and cheering all that came. Then finally, about 100m further down I saw my wife’s familiar form trotting up. I pointed her out to my daughter and the biggest smile came over her face!

She started to jump up and down and yell to her mommy. I thought for a second she was going to run over to jump onto my wife, but at the last minute she opted to cheer and jump in a puddle instead. I picked her up and we followed my wife to the finish. She was done and we all hugged in a post-race moment of sheer bliss. Isabel hung on to her mom, paying careful attention to play with the new “bling” hanging around her neck—her finisher’s medal. My wife was tired, cold, and a bit hungry. She just wanted to go home and take a long hot shower, but she had that finisher’s smile that makes one willing to put up with it all for a few moments more. Secretly I was jealous and now motivated to run my own. The seed planted, I now began my own hunt for an ultra to tackle.

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At the finish

The next evening when we got home, I offered her something special to celebrate her accomplishment. From my adventures in Germany I acquired two bottles of a Westvleteren XII, Belgian Trappist Monk ale, seen by some as one of the best beers in the world. In fact in a recent ranking of the best beers of 2018, Westvleteren XII ranked 2nd overall, beating out more well-known (and easily acquired) Pliny the Elder, which ranked 4th. The monks allegedly only brew enough beer to keep their monastery going so one often has to make orders ahead of time. I was fortunate enough in my recent travels that the American convenience store on the base I was working actually had available for sale several bottles of this precious gem. I bought one to try while in Germany and finding it simply delicious, opted for two more to take home. So as a reward to her (and as one to me too), I broke out one of the two bottles and we celebrated. Think of it as the Dom Perignon of beers—except a bit on the darker side. I just hope when I run mine she reciprocates with a beer just as good too! Until then I’ll be training…hope to see you out there!

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Westvleteren XII

Garmisch Part 3: Vindication

On the morning of my last day in Garmisch, I headed out for one more run. The sun shone through brightly after two days of overcast and a moderate snowfall. The air stood crisp and clear in the February light. I headed up alone this time into the mountains to press myself once again on these trails and enjoy the peace and solitude that running affords. On my mind, however, I replayed the events of the previous night and couldn’t help but feeling that once again this city, this land, put another piece of my life to rest.

The night before in my hotel while the rest of my immediate colleagues went to bed to catch early morning flights out of Munich, I wandered into a common area where a couple of nights previously we gathered to sample a medley of beers and wines while conversing about our travels and discoveries here in Garmisch. On that evening on the far side of the room several Eastern Europeans played pool conversing in a harsh language. I hadn’t paid their tongue too much attention being wrapped up in Südtirol Chardonnays. Now on this night before my own departure, I decided to make my way back to the common area and learn more about these other guests and hear their story. Fortunately, the group playing pool this evening was the same as before and they recognized me. Before long we were in conversation. They were here for a Seminar for Regional Security hosted by the George C. Marshall Center and came from all over Eastern Europe. What hit me though was when I realized what language they spoke, and where they came from. The group I met with all came from the Balkans: Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, and Slovenia. They spoke Serbo-Croatian to one another, all the while playing pool in Germany. I could not have been happier. At that moment playing pool with that group, I felt a sense of vindication with much of my life.

It has been nearly 15 years since I left the Balkans. In my early years, I spent two tours of duty in the Balkans as a peacekeeper following the wars which dissolved the former Yugoslavia. Before larger conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, these missions taught many in the military such as myself that populations, not Armies played a key role in the success or failure of your mission.

You could say we cut our teeth in places such as Tuzla, Brcko, and Gnjilane. Following the conflicts the scars of hate ran deep in the various ethnic groups. Many of us felt that the best we could do was keep them apart until we left, and then let it all dissolve again. While we hoped this wouldn’t be the case, it never was far from our minds. In 2004 the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Stabilization Force (SFOR) mission ended in Bosnia, while its Kosovo Forces (KFOR) mission continues even today. Around that pool table that night one thing was certain: these people had not turned against each other again, a sense of peace existed. Over the course of 15 years since I left, they had not become polarized, but discovered each other and determined not to repeat the painful mistakes of the past. And while I’m sure there are still some scars, talking to this group it became apparent they looked past history and into a new future of hope and prosperity. I talked to each of them while I clumsily played pool (what can I say, I’m a runner & cyclist), hearing their stories, and learning about them. I shared my own experiences in their some of their countries and the work I did to help foster lasting peace. I went to bed that night feeling a deep sense of vindication for our hard work so long ago in these far off corners of the world. I could not have been happier.

It was with these thoughts I followed the snow covered trails up towards the Alps. The trail went from paved roads to a slush to solid snow. I rose up through the hills through cow pastures winding around the edges of the Loisach river.

After taking a turn at a trail crossing nearly two miles out, I quickly saw my trail deteriorate to more of a goat path along the side of a steep hill. Finally, just shy of two miles the trail ceased in my mind and I knew it was my time to turn around. Taking a slightly different path back, I trotted along hoping to get at least get 4 miles in but make sure I ended more or less where I began.

Like all the trails I ran in Garmisch, these were no different: wide, marked, and luring you further with each step. In a short while I would head north to Munich and take my plane back home, but for now I finished contented for all the gifts this city bestowed upon me once again.

To complement this sense of accomplishment and vindication I checked into the airport and made my way to the Lufthansa Business Lounge at the Munich airport. Now with a 10+ hour flight ahead of me, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to kick back, reflect, write, and have a beer or two. I was in luck: the Lufthansa Lounge had free beer. You’ve heard of bottomless mimosas at brunch? Well think of this as bottomless hefeweizens. I couldn’t resist. And while I didn’t overdo it, free weizens were the perfect end to a wonderful trip. My mind full of thoughts of trails, interesting people, and glimpses into my own past; I would fly back home fulfilled and complete and ready for the next trail and beer that came my way.20180209_163328947420525.jpg

Garmisch Part 2: Kriegskappelle

For me the town of Garmisch is synonymous with a sense of peace. Growing up there life seemed innocent and still sweet. As children we played outside all day and came home for dinner. We took a shuttle bus from our neighborhood to the city’s downtown to an American movie theater for Saturday matinees without our parents. On winter Wednesdays our school released at noon and we would go to ski school for the afternoon. Things were easy for me at the age of 7. Later as an adult, Garmisch became a place of refuge for me. I spent long weekends over the summers when stationed in Germany biking and hiking in these same hills. In the winters I’d go skiing on the same mountains I skied as a boy. After my first deployment to Iraq, I returned to Garmisch twice for skiing in the first months after I returned, living life to the fullest and making the most of pristine snow conditions. I’ve always felt both at home and at peace in Garmisch no matter what time of my life it has been. This trip was no different.20180207_172226

Of all the places I enjoy visiting, none are as pretty or as somber as the Kriegergedächtniskapelle, or Warrior Memorial Chapel, on the heights above the city. A short hike or run from downtown, this site is a memorial to local Germans who died or went missing during World War 2. Built in 1952 the memorial does little to glorify war, but rather honor the dead and missing in the peaceful solitude of the mountains. It is a quiet and sobering place with family plaques lining the outer walls with the names, pictures, dates, and locations their loved ones either died or went missing.

The chapel serves as a lasting reminder of war’s terrible cost, but still offering a beautiful view of the valley below. I first experienced the chapel in 1982 on what the Germans call a “volksmarch” or literally a people’s walk, with my family. During this recent trip, I completed a short run up to the chapel with a colleague to enjoy the tranquility and serenity once again.

On a snowy afternoon, my colleague and I headed up into the hills to find the kappelle. I had a general idea of where it was. After all, isn’t half the fun of an adventure getting there? We started off going down a main road, then turned left into a residential neighborhood until that road ended and a trail leading up the mountain began. 20180207_170516A couple of hundred meters up the trail, the snow grew deep and we lost the trail. Did we let it stop us? No! We continued onward and upward in the snow, running across what would normally be cow pastures in the summer, but now were nothing more than deep snow covered fields. Finally, we found a main trail and a sign for the chapel, and ran down another mile or so until we found the landmark. 20180207_171141The snow fell around us as we approached. The lone building stood quietly beautiful in the falling afternoon snow. We walked around the chapel looking at the family plaques, paying our respects, both being combat veterans, both knowing war’s terrible costs.

After a short while, we headed back down the mountain on a real trail this time. Oddly enough, we hit the main road only a couple of hundred meters from where we had originally turned off. Such is the life of a trail runner! Regardless, the adventure made the chapel visit all the more worth it. We returned back to our hotel, and changed quickly for dinner. There was more German beer with our names on it! The run and the cold only intensified our desire to quench our thirst and feed our stomachs.20180207_171852

Throughout this trip I was fortunate to not only have my favorite beer, a German hefeweizen, but also try a few other beers along the way along with some wine. Here’s a quick synopsis of a few of my German beverages choices:

Glühwein: essentially warm mulled red wine. Traditionally served at German Christmas or Christkindl markets during the holidays. It’s the perfect treat to stand out in the cold night air and let yourself soak in the holidays. I found a booth on Garmisch’s main street serving this treat and made several trips on my visit.

Ettaler Südtirol Chardonnay: 20180205_200123Apparently, they make wine around here—not just wine, but Chardonnay. Südtirol is another term for a part of Austria, literally meaning southern Tirol. This particular wine was produced by the monks of the Ettaler monastery outside of Garmisch with grapes from Austria. While a bit dryer compared to American Chardonnays, it wasn’t bad. These monks knew there stuff!

20180206_184830Ettaler Kloster Dunkel: Another great choice by the monks of the Ettaler monastery! I tried this in a local restaurant: simply incredible. Not overly heavy or hoppy, this beer is flavorful and tasty. It was the perfect beer after a cold run around town.

At this point I was halfway through my trip and still felt like there was so much to do, but knew that pesky thing called work would keep me from really enjoying Garmisch like I wished. I figured I would have one or two runs left before leaving, and needed to wrap this grand adventure up with one last epic beer. Fate was on my side for both the run and the beer; I would find both on my last day in this beautiful place.

Garmisch: Part 1

At the base of the German Alps in southern Bavaria, sits the picturesque town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. It is the quintessential Bavarian town: with its towering peaks, pristine ski & snowboarding runs, and iconic Bavarian homes, Garmisch-Partenkirchen stands out as the core of German’s Bavaria. One cannot go wrong visiting this city at any time of the year: summer for it’s beautiful hiking trails up into the mountains, winters for the snow & skiing. Garmisch-Partenkirchen is actually two towns split by the Partnach river flowing down from the mountains. Most people simply refer to the town as Garmisch. When the chance to go and visit for a planning conference arose, I couldn’t miss the opportunity.

Besides all of the beauty of Bavaria, Garmisch is special to me for another reason: I lived there. As a boy, the Army stationed my father and our family at Garmisch for two wonderful years. It was here that I first learned to ski, traveled Europe, and learned to appreciate the perils of the Cold War—all before I turned eight. Having been a nomad most of my life, Garmisch holds a special place in my heart, having changed little in the 35 years since I left.

Even before arriving I jotted down my to do list: drink good beer, eat great food, drink better beer, eat more food, drink gluhwein, and of course trail run. I looked at maps, made mental notes of the place to run, and checked the forecasts—the big question being: how much snow was there? Coming from sunny and warm California I dug out my winter running gear, I couldn’t wait to hit the trails! This was going to be fun!

Arriving into Garmisch on a Saturday afternoon, it was everything you’d expect in a Bavarian village in winter: snow covered rooftops and hills, while flurries danced around you. My colleague and I checked into our hotel and headed back downtown to walk the pedestrian zone of shops, restaurants, bars, and cafes. 20180203_1847291317182005.jpgBefore long we found my initial goals: a booth selling German mulled hot wine, known as gluhwein, and a good German restaurant or gasthaus, offering the usual varieties of German food and beer. Without hesitating I ordered the house beer: Hacker-Pschorr hefeweizen—ready for the familiar flavor to welcome me back.img_20180207_232856_3551177342406.jpg

By Monday I was ready for a good run. After our day of planning & seminars, I headed out from the area known as Sheridan Kaserne into the snow covered fields to the south. The snow was either packed powder or just ice in many places. My trail was more of the indention of tractor tires in the snow often paralleling more groomed cross country ski trails the city maintains. These trails are off limits to hikers and runners, so I opted instead to take my chances running existing walkways and tire tracks. The sun shone brightly in the valley, making the snow’s reflection almost blinding. Like a bug to the light, however, I couldn’t stop. I trekked on enjoying every minute of it.

For my feet I chose my Inov-8 Roclite 315s: a sturdy lightweight trail running shoe perfect for most conditions. While the shoe’s sturdy rubber soles and cleats are fantastic for snow running, I went the extra distance and brought rubberized cleat attachments for the ice. Easy to pop on and off as well as lightweight, these small spikes were perfect for the ice I encountered. And while the route I chose was nearly all flat, the constant crunching of snow made the run more challenging than one would expect. I ended up running about 4 miles, loving every moment of it. It was the best way to be welcomed back to this special place.

To accompany this run, I paired it with a more great beer & food. 20180204_1830552115213417.jpgThis being Germany, I continued my fondness for hefeweizens. Heading to another local German restaurant in the neighboring village of Grainau, I feasted on a delicious plate of schnitzel and pomme fritz, or a breaded pork cutlet and French fries. For me this is my favorite German meal: while some would say that a hefeweizen alone is a meal, the pairing of these three: the hefe, the schnitzel, and fries, are exactly what you need to round out your day especially after a good run in winter. Again I went with the house hefe: Paulaner hefeweizen this time—and again I was in heaven.

After the first three days of being here, I’d met most of my goals and was enjoying the fruits of my labor. This wasn’t the end however, just the beginning: I still had four more days of running, drinking, and eating to do here in Garmisch.

The Teacher

We’ve all had that teacher growing up who helped to make us the person we are today. Hard, strict, demanding, and disciplined are but a few of the characteristics which come to mind in identifying these master educators. I had them several times in my life: second grade it was Mrs. Brinson; sixth grade, Mr. Youth; eleventh grade, Mr. McMullen; and of course three years of upper classmen when I was a “smack” or fourth classman at the Air Force Academy. All of these persons challenged me in ways I couldn’t have imagined before; they accepted nothing less than your best all the time. I know I’m a more resilient and self-assured individual because of their teachings and practices. It all was worth it, no matter how much I griped, bitched, and moaned at the time. Recently, I had a park make me feel the same way: tough, demanding, and challenged to say the least. The park’s name: Andrew Molera.20171229_163617

According to Google Maps, Andrew Molera State Park resides 26.2 miles from Monterey—the same distance as a full marathon. Anyone who ever ran the Big Sur International Marathon passed by the park along California Highway 1. I ran the marathon, saw the park on maps and was always curious. Then on one of the last days of 2017 I convinced my wife to go running with me down there.  Sure it was a bit of a hike to get there (26.2 miles down highway 1 equals about a 90 minute drive some days), but I was sure it would be worth it! And while I looked at pics online and studied trail maps, nothing could have prepared us for what we found. We arrived later than we wanted, nearly 3:30pm as the sun faded over the Pacific. We relooked our route: a trail could take us to the beach, then double back up something called the Ridge trail which we should be able to loop back around on. All in all, maybe 6 miles? And the run to the beach, well this was on the western side of the highway so that meant it should be all flat, right? And what was this little blue line going down the map? A creek? Surely it would be dried up this late in the year. With daylight our foe, we parked quickly, threw our shoes on, and headed out on the trail.

Things started out fine: the trail was an old horse path wide and flat—perfect for a casual trail run. Like all good first impressions, however, Andrew Molera proved us wrong as we turned the first corner: a 20’ wide stream to cross without a foot bridge. Stream Crossing 4Apparently the foot bridge is only emplaced in summer, when the creek is down to a trickle. We took off our shoes and waded across the frigid waters. Talk about a shock to the system! Andrew Molera woke us up and started to demand attention. We continued on to the beach, a distance just shy of a mile. Molera Beach 1The beach opened up in front of us and was immaculate: piles of driftwood surrounded by groups of visitors all enjoying a relatively warm sunny day in late December. You couldn’t ignore the good vibe coming off the sands. We double backed and caught the Ridge trail for what would be the next phase of our run. At this point, Mr. Molera took charge. For the next two miles we found ourselves in an almost constant ascent from one hill to another. You’d get to the top of one hill and look ahead to see another one looming. The teacher had our full attention. Those two miles up nearly 1000’ brought us back to reality of being trail runners: we were being schooled. The teacher did provide amazing views as we gazed back down on the beach and valley from which we’d come. Finally, with the sun nearing the horizon, and more than another mile left before we’d hit the beach and follow another trail back, we threw in the towel. Our legs screaming from the climb up, made the descent almost as harsh as the ascent.  We headed back full well knowing that we’d shown up for Andrew Molera’s class and he’d given us a lesson.

Truth be told, the real Andrew Molera, wasn’t a teacher at all, but a shrewd businessman. The history of this state park goes back over 150 years to land sold to fur trader Juan Bautista Roger Cooper, who’s cabin, known as Cooper Cabin, still stands on the state park and is the oldest structure still standing in Big Sur. Andrew Molera was Cooper’s grandson, and is widely recognized as a driving factor in the rise of the artichokes along the central coast. According to a 1995 Los Angeles Times article, Molera recognized that “Between the devastation World War I had wrought to the artichoke fields in France, and the United States’ swelling population of Italian, French and Spanish immigrants, there were plenty of people willing to pay plenty for a taste of home.” Even more amazing was the fact that per-capita consumption of artichokes was higher in the 1920s than it is now. Taking some 3,000 acres of land and developing it for artichokes in the Salinas area, Molera’s work paid off, and now Castroville is widely known as the “Artichoke capital of the world.”

After his death, his sister, Frances Molera, inherited all the family’s land and in 1965 turned the original land grant of some 2200 acres near Big Sur over to the Nature Conservancy who in turn eventually turned it over to the California government. Her only stipulation being that the land be named after her brother, Andrew Molera and thus the park was born.

Back in the present, my wife and I trudged back to our car in the fading daylight. The sun was setting over the Pacific and we’d just missed it. We were tired now and had taken our lesson to heart. We got to the creek crossing and just ran through it—what did we care at this point in the game? Stream Crossing 3Besides the cold water felt good on our sore muscles. Finally we got back to the car and relaxed. I had a cooler in the back and pulled out two beers for us. I came prepared. On this day I chose cans of Black Market’s Deception Ale, a coconut lime blonde ale, which I thought hit the spot after this class. My wife had other opinions but wasn’t about to refuse it. Personally I thought it was a great porch beer—the light blend of coconut tones with lime, made me think of this more as a lighter Mexican beer. Whatever the case it hit the spot. With that, we swapped out our soaked trail runners for Luna sandals and drove back up Highway 1 in the darkening evening, fully aware that we’d learned our lesson today, and that we’d be better runners in the future for it.

We’ll be back for another lesson at Andrew Molera in the not so distant future. And this time we’ll be ready. Until then happy trails and bottoms up!

The Ranch

20171215_140238Back up in Carmel Valley you will find perhaps one of the best parks for trail running in Monterey County. Located 3 miles outside of Carmel Valley Village and roughly 30 minutes from downtown Monterey, Garland Ranch Regional Park is a trail runners dream boasting over 4400 acres of trails and 1800’ of elevation changes. It offers something for everyone: flat wide paths such as the Lupine Loop to more technical and challenging hill climbs on trails like Maple Canyon. No matter what you’re looking for in terms of a trail run, Garland Ranch has it. This was the reason I set out for it on a Friday afternoon in mid-December.

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Lupine Loop

This wasn’t my first encounter with “the Ranch” as I like to call it. We’d met years before the first time I lived in Monterey, and it still held a special place in my heart. Back in 2006 while attending the Naval Postgraduate School, I was fortunate to have a great group of friends who loved running the trails around here as much as I did. Since we didn’t usually have class on Friday, those afternoons became our chance to explore and run the trails. The runs also served as easy runs for many of us who would did ran long distance  on Saturday mornings as we trained for marathons such as Big Sur and the Nike Women’s in San Francisco.

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Ascending the hills

These “fun runs” were made even better by one friend who brought her own home brew. We’d knock out a few miles and follow it up with her brew (usually served in Ball Mason jars) at places like Carmel River Beach and Asilomar. They were some of the fondest running memories of my life made even sweeter by the fact that after graduate school most of us deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan. It was a magical time and we made the most of it.

The Ranch also served as the backdrop for one of my strongest race performances while I lived in Monterey before. In late April 2006 I raced the Big Sur Marathon, a very scenic and challenging race along “the edge of the western world.” I took a few weeks off and opted to jump into Pacific Coast Trail Runs Carmel Valley Trail Run 8km race. The next day my girlfriend, now wife, also signed us up for Bay to Breakers in San Francisco, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to race in what I considered my backyard. It was a beautiful day with temps in the 60s and a partly cloudy. I started off strong staying at the front of the pack. I’d run the route the week before just to check it out. We ran through the lower portion of the Ranch, before heading up into the hills. I felt strong, not really paying attention to wear I stood. As groups peeled off for extended distances, I found myself in an unfamiliar position, with empty trails in front of me.

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Wait– where is everyone?

Fortunately, I knew the route so I held my pace catching glimpses of one more runner in front of me. I slowly closed the gap, but didn’t take it too seriously: this was a “fun” run, why push it? By the time I decided to throw it all into the finish, I began to suspect the runner in front may be the leader. Unfortunately for me it was too late and Adam Blum won it within my sights. Adam wrote a great description of the race in his blog, Course Trained. On that particular day, I was happy with second, and a few hours later was on my way with my girlfriend up to San Francisco for our next weekend adventure.

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Looking back up the valley

Back in the present, I started on the valley floor, eventually reaching the base of the hills and started the ascent. Once up in the hills however, my memory failed me and I wandered. At one point I hit a dead end and I tried to traverse my way down a near vertical drop. I chose to double back. It wasn’t worth getting hurt again. I found my way back down to the valley floor and made a big loop around to my starting point: the lone bridge crossing the Carmel River.

In the summer there’s a pedestrian bridge further up the river, however, during the rainy season this passage is removed and you can only get across on the much larger one a hundred meters downstream. The day’s run was nearly flawless and I was satisfied. Now time for that beer! In this part of the county in my mind, there’s only one place to go: the Trailside Café in Carmel Valley Village.

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The key word is: “beer”

Located three miles up from Garland Ranch, the Trailside Café is a beer aficionado’s dream: with rotating taps, a mug club, and of course a beer garden. Not to mention it’s a quiet interlude to the abundance of wineries found in these parts of Carmel Valley. I found a quiet table in the back, ordered myself a beer, and went to work on capturing this story. The beer I chose followed my recent trend of sampling hefes: New Bohemia Brewery’s Highway to Hefeweizen from Santa Cruz.

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Highway to Hefeweizen: Prost!

The beer was an almost perfect golden color combined with a rich full taste accompanied by hints of fruit, but kept the heaviness of a traditional German hefe. I was sold. And at 5.4% abv I probably could have had another, but why ruin the moment? While I savored my beer, I tried to recreate my run on my computer with limited luck. Oh well, better luck next time, and believe me there with will be a next time at the Ranch. Until then prost and see you on the trails!

Falling Down

A lot of things run through your mind while you’re hurdling towards the ground at a modest velocity: where will I land? How will I land? Will I break anything? How would I get home? Will my dog keep the coyotes at bay? Did I leave the iron on? The list goes on. I was out on what should have been a simple 3 mile run on the Old Fort Ord. The weather was good; I had Kit, my trusty German shepherd, with me, and I was in a generally good mood. What could possibly go wrong?

Somewhere just shy of the first mile on an open stretch of path, my foot caught a rock or a root and the next thing I knew, I launched into the air. Time seemed to stand still as I had flashbacks to not one but two falls and how those events changed my life forever.

Once upon a time, I was a strong, quick, solid runner. I ran sub-70 minute 10 milers, sub 1:40 half marathons, and did the Big Sur Marathon in 3:24.

I raced sprint triathlons and was training for my first century ride. Occasionally I won smaller races or finished in the top 5. My racing season stretched from March until October over the years. Then we moved to Japan and I traded the dirt trails for concrete ones which make up much of the densely populated islands.

On the morning of the 30th of July 2015, I was walking Kit about a quarter mile from our house towards a series of open fields near our townhouse on the US Naval Base on Yokosuka. The fields allowed me to run her a bit while watching a steady stream of ships transit Tokyo Bay. It was a beautiful balmy warm sunny summer day. But we never made it to the fields. About 200m from the gated entrance, a cyclist came up behind us and startled Kit. She being a loyal (and slightly neurotic) German shepherd and always protective, lunged towards the cyclist. I managed to keep Kit from reaching the cyclist but lost my balance in the process coming down hard on my left arm. Hitting the concrete the pain was instantaneous, like a great shock from my fingers up my arm. Fortunately, with my good arm I still held Kit, still eager to try for the biker. I got up, could see that I was bleeding somewhat onto my running shoes, and calmly turned Kit around to walk home. Having been in stressful situations before, I knew that staying calm would be the best thing to do. When I got home, I told my wife to get the car ready to take me to the emergency room; I was certain my wrist was broken. A little over twelve hours later I returned home, pins in my wrist and a cast the size of California extending from my fingers to my shoulder.

No longer in one piece I took a respite from my passions to recover and celebrated my 40th birthday a few weeks later. Breaks like this people say are good for the soul: to reflect, renew, and re-energize. I still hoped I might heal quick enough to undertake the century ride in late September. It could happen, right?

Not even close.

Four weeks later my hope of a speedy recovery and nearly all racing came to an abrupt stop. I was walking Kit again (yes, this is a trend) with my California-sized cast. We attempted to jog across a street when somehow I tripped or lost my balance. Whatever the case—it happened too quickly—I found myself rapidly approaching the concrete again. I managed to turn my body just enough to protect my cast, and hit the ground on my right side with a thud. Kit was still on the leash in my hand as I apprised the situation: nothing seem to hurt, I was on the ground, Kit still by my side; things seemed good. I got up, and then it happened: the collapse. My right knee gave out and I fell onto the hard pavement with a surge of pain unlike any I have ever experienced running through my right leg. I screamed. If there was ever a silver lining, it was that I had managed to break myself in front of the Yokosuka Fire Station. I quickly spied one of the firemen and called to him for assistance. He tried to come close, but Kit, ever the protective shepherd refused to let him aid me. I made up my mind—I had to let Kit go from her leash if I was going to get help. I unhooked her leash and she ran off towards our house, less than a quarter mile away. A neighbor found her a while later sitting patiently on the front door step. Meanwhile the fireman, now with several others, came to my aid. 14238160_10154572019194225_6472733565933943093_nWhile I’ll spare you the details of the next few hours at the emergency room, the result was a shattered knee cap. A week later the same orthopedic surgeon who repaired my wrist put the pieces of my knee back together. In the span of 4 weeks I had managed to break myself nearly irrevocably.

In the following weeks and months the amount of support I received from my wife and our neighbors was nothing short of amazing. My wife demonstrated that she was a true superhero managing impossible tasks of a challenging command, our one year old daughter, our wily German Shepherd, and of course my broken self. I don’t know how she did it, but I will always be grateful. We had only been in Yokosuka for 6 weeks when I broke my wrist, but our immediate neighbors in what we called the “Gridley Jungle” poured out so much support. The other spouses in our Jungle will forever be some of my closest friends for their outpouring of care and support during these dark days. I will always be in their debt. Now I was a Navy spouse in Japan—I had left the active duty Army for the Army Reserves earlier that year to be a stay at home “trophy husband.” Well I’m here to tell you, being a trophy husband is a lot tougher—and more painful—than it looks.

As the weeks passed, this trophy husband started physical therapy. Because I am somewhat of a glutton for punishment I went through two hours of therapy a day: one for my wrist, another for my knee. Afterwards I slumped home to my couch and contemplated the future. One particularly dreary day I remember asking my doctor when he thought I’d run again. His response: “I wouldn’t get your hopes up that you’ll ever run again.” Then and there, however, my mind was made up: I would run (and race) again.

My wife will tell you that I am stubborn…and I know it. Slowly and methodically, I started getting back on my feet. I traded a walker for a slow walk with a knee brace. And while the amount of bend in my knee didn’t meet my doctor’s expectations, I didn’t let it stop me. When my physical therapy ended in January, I found the courage to get back into the pool and attempt to swim. By March 2016 I was doing elliptical machine and working my way up to a quarter mile trot on the treadmill. Slowly the bend in my knee came. Then in April, in what I can only call the worst mile I’ve ever run, I completed a mile on the treadmill. I nearly fell off of it in celebration! Cycling was a problem though: I still couldn’t get enough bend in my knee to complete a full revolution on the pedals. I kept working on it. Meanwhile I focused on running and swimming as much as I could. I worked up from 1 to 3 miles. My knee held. I managed to get some exercises in to strengthen the muscles around the knee. Eventually the weeks turned into months, and before I knew it, a year had past. In late July of 2016, I was able to take and pass the Army’s physical fitness test: 2 minutes of pushups and sit-ups, and a 2-mile run. And while I didn’t max the run, I passed it. I have never been so happy to finish that run. Finally, in April 2017 after 21 months off my bike I got back on and rode through the countryside of the Miura peninsula.

Now we are back in Monterey and I felt it was time to start writing about those hobbies and passions I enjoy most: running, cycling, beer, and wine. I also decided that it was time to race again. In October we ran our first 10km road race as a family at the 6th Annual Fort Ord Remember the Fallen race.

And while I didn’t PR, pushing my daughter in her stroller over 10 km made me feel like a champion. I’m still hungry though. My passion for trail racing and triathlons beckons me to compete again soon: next May I signed up for the Wildflower Olympic Distance triathlon. While this will be my first Olympic distance triathlon, I’m hungry to train and take it on. There’s also a 25km trail race in my backyard at Fort Ord in early February. I’ll sign up for that too. If for no other reason than those are my trails out there; I can’t think of anywhere else I’d like to get my feet dirty racing again.

Meanwhile back at Ord, time slowed as I neared the earth with these memories. I hit hard and didn’t move. I was nearly in a panic: what was broken this time? I took a deep breath. I slowly got up. I bent my knees. I moved my arms and hands. Everything was where it was supposed to be, and working; minus a quarter size scrape above my right knee. I started to walk a bit. I caught my breath. I lifted one foot up, then the other, and repeated. I started to trot, and then finally found my run again. It wasn’t pretty but I finished those 3 miles. When she got home from day care, my three year old awarded me a “Frozen” band aid and reminded me to change it out every day for the next two weeks. She’s also stubborn sometimes.

20171224_215747[1]As I write this and reminisce this holiday season, I have but one beer to recommend: Troegs Mad Elf from Hershey, Pennsylvania. Troegs has a great selection of beers year round, but only during the holiday season can you get their Mad Elf. At 11% abv it’s a heavier ale full of robust flavor, spices and fruits that pack a real punch. This little guy is my favorite holiday beer hands down. This is exactly the beer you want to help you on Christmas eve trying to wrap last minute gifts or joining you in front of the fireplace. You won’t regret having this little Santa’s helper with you during the holiday season! Have a merry Christmas & happy new years as I raise my glass to you! See you on the trails!

Thanksgiving Pre-Game: Pebble Beach

With its multitude of golf courses and lavish homes, Pebble Beach might appear to be the last place you’d find a great trail to run, but yet, there they are. All one has to do is look and do a little exploring. That was exactly the kind of mood my wife and I were in the day before Thanksgiving: exploration, questing for beauty, and getting outside (and maybe drinking a few beers).

We started our trek this time at Asilomar State Beach bordering the northern entrance of Pebble Beach, and just inside of Pacific Grove. We parked along the road at Asilomar and found the trailhead tucked between a grove of trees. Initially the trail lures you in with its packed dirt as it winds around and up to the beach where the path hastily transitions to a combination of deep loose white sand and a wooden planks. The sand definitely got our legs loose as it thickens in spots. 20171122_143605Once we hit the pathway, however, the terrain shifted to more of a slight rolling feel with its packed dirt and single track as we bounced our way into Pebble Beach with the Spanish Bay Golf Course on one side, and the ocean beckoning on the other.

Entering Pebble Beach, we jumped on a small trail paralleling 17 Mile Drive, the iconic and scenic road for most tourists passing through. And while I’m not sure if this trail has a name, it’s probably appropriate to simply call it, “17 Mile Trail” (originality isn’t always my strong suit). The trail is flat, winding, and simple; it leads you past several iconic stops along the Drive such as China Rocks and Point Joe.

If you’re looking for solitude and an absence of traffic, I recommend going early in the morning before the crowds of tourists descend along this epic route. And while we only went for a quick out and back for a total of 5 miles, adventuring out further will take you out past the “Lone Cypress” perhaps one of the greatest landmarks on the Monterey Peninsula. Be careful though as you run further along this path, eventually the trails end, and you’ll be running on the shoulder of 17 Mile Drive. On this portion of the trail, however, this peaceful path presents the runner with a calming interlude between sand and sea.

Like I mentioned, the first part of the course is thick, deep sand providing a real gut check on our return leg. 20171122_152153By the time we finished the run, our legs really felt it from this final stretch. We clearly needed a reward. My mind was already made up: Fieldswork tap room in Monterey. A short drive later, and we walked into Fieldwork tap room to celebrate our run and pre-game our Thanksgiving weekend. Unlike a lot of tap rooms you visit, the Fieldwork Monterey tap room is simple and no fuss. Completely outdoors with a shipping crate serving as the bar, you might not realize what it is driving by. Fieldwork sits comfortably astride a Peet’s Coffee and across from Trader Joes downtown. The day we arrived they had 18 of their  beers on tap. We opted for a sampler of six…well six and then we found out about their Common Good, and went for a seventh.

Fieldwork offers something for everyone in their abundant beer selection. Looking at the menu, we figured that a sampler definitely was the way to go—too many beers looked appealing. Of course names like “Lil Pulp” and “Hugo” also drew us in. Here is a brief rundown of selections:20171122_160311_001

Lil pulp: This probably was the least IPA of IPAs I’ve ever had. Tasty, with fruity hints, not overly hoppy, this Lil Pulp gave us a big surprise in terms of its taste. For not really being IPA fans, this might have won us over. And at 5% abv it could almost qualify as a porch beer in my book.

Old love: This beer, their Bohemian Lager, demonstrated a light, crisp, bitter tones, but not overpowering. It reminds you of your beer selections from yesteryear before discovering the power of double and triple IPAs. It could definitely pass for a day drinking beer.

Hors de Saison: This holiday farmhouse ale really packed a sour punch to it. Dark and warm but with bitter hints, this beer was almost too rough for a saison. It being the holiday season and all, it reminded me of that politically incorrect relative that you only see during the holidays: good for a couple of laughs, but then things get awkward and you move on. Still though, you’re glad you saw them and we were happy to experience this ale.

Vincent: I like Belgian ales—some of my favorite beers are Belgians, so naturally I have high standards in this arena. Vincent came up in the middle of that pack: it’s unique with all of the classic tastes of many Belgian ales such as caramel and cocoa hints, and a deep almost smoky flavor. Definitely worth a try!

Rain Street: A neat clean clear taste, perfect for that warm summer day after weeks of fog and rain (hence the name ‘English Summer Ale’). The beer breaks from the fog and depth of other English ales such as IPAs and heavier bitters, and comes up very well on its own.

Hugo: Who better than a French-style table beer to remind you that it’s ok to have beer with lunch?  That’s what you get with the Hugo: a flavorful, light, and probably healthy on some level drink that’s still light enough to pair nicely with that Caesar salad or Southwest-style hamburger and the sweet potato fries you ordered for lunch—and still make it back in one piece for that 2pm office meeting.

At this point in our sampling, we felt pretty good, and then Good Conduct happened. The beer sat outside of the 6 glass basket we’d purchased at the bar. We’d hardly paid any attention to it, opting instead to focus on the others. And then this maple imperial brown ale warranted our full attention. We drew it to our nose and at once its dark forbidding color drew us in, combined with the deep and powerful bourbon smell. One sip did it all: an explosion of flavor in one’s mouth: chocolate, maple, and other sweet overtones. Like the imperial name implies, it commands attention and respect at 12%abv…you will be wowed on the first sip. We didn’t hesitate and bought two cans of it for Thanksgiving.

With that, we headed home—our run and our beers behind us and the holidays just a step away. We felt good: we’d gotten our run in on a beautiful fall day along some of the prettiest coastline in the world and paired it off with beers just as formidable. I can’t wait to do it again soon.Dave PB 4

The Layover

I am fortunate that I get to travel for work. I like to travel. My travels have taken me around the world and back again. Most of the time though I find myself running between gates in crowded airports, or stranded for hours in the confines of terminals without anywhere to go and only the minimal of necessities. With this in mind, you can imagine my surprise during a recent work trip to discover that because I had to take the cheapest flight to my work location, I would have an eight hour layover in San Diego.

I’ve been to San Diego quite a few times over the years. When I working in Washington DC I would visit my colleagues there almost quarterly. I became quite familiar with Point Loma and Ocean Beach, occasionally venturing out to Coronado and downtown. Unlike previous layovers in random corners of the world, I knew my way around outside the San Diego airport and I had friends still in the area. It was time to cash in on this layover and make the most of it. I packed my running shoes, socks, shorts, and a t-shirt along with the necessary personal hygiene items for cleaning up afterwards. Landing a little before 9 am, I called up a buddy to meet for coffee and catch up about some of our old projects. By 1030 we were done, and he was off on his flight to the east coast. By 11, I checked in to a local gym I knew, changed, and stood poised to get a quick trail run in, making the most of this respite. It was on!

Trails can come in all shapes and sizes, surfaces and lengths. The city of San Diego hosts miles and miles of paved trails just in and around downtown, not to mention many more in the parks neighboring it. IMG_20171010_215659_730For my run, I chose to follow a familiar paved trail running along Harbor Drive at first, then circling around back into the area known as Liberty Station. The Harbor Drive trail can take you all the way downtown or down around Harbor Island providing one with spectacular views of the bay, North Island, and the heights of Point Loma. Having run the out and back portion of this path a number of times, I opted instead to circle around and check out a wide dirt trail which parallels a creek off of the bay along the edges of the area known as Liberty Station. For those not intimately familiar with San Diego, it is without a doubt a Navy town. IMG_20171010_215659_746The Liberty Station neighborhood epitomizes this fact, having once served as a Naval Training Center, complete with a mock up Naval ship which served as on land training platform for new recruits. Where once there were barracks, now the neighborhood boasts shops, restaurants, markets, and even breweries, sprawled out amongst former parade fields and training centers. If you’re looking to step away from the hussle and bussle of downtown San Diego, then Liberty Station shouldn’t be missed, not to mention it makes for a great quick run.

Keeping track of the clock, I only ran a few miles before heading back to shower and change. I had gotten my work done: I’d met with my buddy to discuss some work opportunities and I’d logged a few more miles on some familiar trails. Now it was time for lunch and a reward. Linking up with another friend, I chose an old familiar locale for lunch: Jimmy’s Famous American Tavern situated right off the bay and a stone’s throw away from Liberty Station. IMG_20171010_215659_742When I use to come to San Diego for work, Jimmy’s Famous American Tavern (or JFAT as we called it) became one of our prime drink & dinner venues. It usually was close to our hotel, had a great menus, and we all always seemed to arrive at happy hour just in time to celebrate their beer selection. And while I wasn’t going to make it to happy hour this time, a couple of beers and burgers would be perfect to celebrate this extended break. Meeting up with my buddy and a former neighbor, the perfect weather combined with great conversation set the conditions for a great lunch. The only thing missing was my beer. For this occasion I decided on JFAT’s own Blonde ale—I mean who doesn’t like a blonde in California? Seriously? 20171010_130625For me Blonde Ales can often represent what I call “the perfect porch drinking beer” – not too heavy or hoppy, but crisp and refreshing yet flavorful enough that you can lounge around with many of them on a warm day on your porch and people watch your way through the afternoon. The perfect sunny warm weather combined with good friends and the accomplishment of a great trail run along with some interesting people watching, made JFAT’s Blonde Ale the perfect layover beer. So good in fact that I decided on having two.

A couple of hours later and I was back at the airport; my layover complete. San Diego had been kind to me once again and I was grateful. Now it was time to complete my journey and venture north to Portland. It had been too long since my last visit to this wonderful city and I felt it in my heart that I will need to venture back soon. Besides having countless paths to explore and roads to pedal, I haven’t even made a dent in the dozens of bars and breweries that fill this city. I may have to find some work here soon, or at the very least find many more long layovers in the future.