Just because they call it “free time” does not mean that it is without value.
I remember with great clarity a certain Sunday afternoon in the winter of 1987. I was driving along Sorrow Drive, the curved road which follows the Charles River in Boston . The radio was featuring a song from Hank Williams Junior’s new album, Montana Cafe. The title song rhapsodized about a little Montana diner where the old ways and old music still live on. Now some, 31 plus years later I find myself sitting in a motel in Missoula, Montana on that same Highway 93, just 60 miles directly North of the current incarnation of that quasi-famous restaurant.
My plans for the day involve walking over to Triumph of Missoula and picking up my new motorcycle, riding it four hours across Montana, and then seeing Yellowstone National park before the sun goes down at 9:10pm tonight. Over the next four days, I plan on riding that new bike some 1,600 miles back to Southern California.
If I really wanted to go to the Montana Cafe, it would be a straight shot South down Highway 93. No left turns, no right turns, just a ninety-minute drive down that road just outside my window. Indulging that old want would add another 2 hours to my day; time that would come off the Yellowstone visit. That’s the definition of opportunity cost, right there.
Other things I will not be doing this trip include the following:
Visiting Glacier National Park
Running the Glacier Half Marathon
Visiting the Bonneville Salt Flats in Tooele County in northwestern Utah
Riding through the Valley of Fire
Crusing down the historic Lincoln Highway in Nevada
Riding up Wheeler Peak Nevada, elevation 13,000 ft in White Pine County Nevada
In life, it’s just as important to articulate what we aren’t going to do today as it is to prioritize what we will get done. We have to choose our time and our energy wisely. None of us can do it all but some fools still try. To quote old Hank Williams Jr.,
I’m so glad we reached this point in my life I finally got my priorities right I am way out here on the Idaho Line
Story of my life: I am in the back of a beautiful new Mercedes approaching Dublin airport when a beautiful Puccini piece for two voices comes on the radio. I ask the driver to turn it up. He does and the music and sound system together are amazing. I anticipate the first crescendo of the piece and when it hits it washes through my brain, if you understand that kind of a high.
We pull up to the terminal long before the song is through. The driver realizes I am enjoying the moment and tells me I with a genuine Irish charm that I am welcome to wait in the car until the song is through. I desperately want taking him up on this kind indulgence, but my travel colleague is out the door and behind the trunk awaiting their bags in the rain.
I tighten my scarf, button up my overcoat and step into the storm, leaving that perfect moment behind, bound to cover just a little more ground.
Enrich your life with family and friends who will be there for you in good times and bad. Meb Keflezigh et al., Run to Overcome
I had to fly to Minnesota in October for a 6-hour meeting. Loathsome was the idea of the travel days, yet the silver lining was the opportunity to catch up with Tweep Kat and her husband, Marcus.
Definition Tweetup: When two or more people from Twitter meet up, usually for socializing usually involving the consumption of food or in some rare special occasions, beverages.
In the odd confusing world that is social media, Kat is a tweep most dear. She has a down to earth, joie de vire that just makes her a delight to be around. She also is the author of Tenaciously Yours, a blog which among many other things every Friday features Kat’s latest culinary creations. As much as I detest the practice of defining a person in terms of another person (e.g. Julie is Karen’s mother), Marcus, despite being cool in his own indefinable way, can best be described as the perfect life-mate for Kat.
Air travel these days being like an old, mishandled box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get, but the downside risk exceed the upside. I contemplated all the options to get from Southern California to Minneapolis. The smartest choice was to drive to LAX and fly to Minneapolis directly. There was also an option to fly out of Orange Country airport through Denver. The day would be longer, but there wouldn’t be that annoying drive to LAX, the worst major airport in the civilized world.
Side Note: All travel is about risk mitigation. Carry bags mitigate the risk of a lost luggage. Direct flights mitigate the risk of missed connections. One never wants to have unnecessary legs without a good reason, especially in winter months.
Every major petty decision in life requires a tweet. As I was deciding how to get to Minnesota, another valued Tweep/blogger, Piper Bayard offered to drive out to the airport for a quick tweetup should I decide to fly through Denver. I would also describe Piper as unique. She and I are different on many levels, yet we seem to resonate on the same frequency, if you understand what I mean. I think that’s more a function of her nature than it is of mine. She is a recovering lawyer and now author of two items on my Kindle, the book Firelands and a very imaginative piece in the Risky Brides collection of novels and novellas. Both books are available on Amazon.
I had to think about Piper’s offer for a few days, weighing the unnecessary risks of flight delays and the potential delays related to clearing security in Denver. Having made the commitment with Kat and Marcus upon my arrival in Minneapolis, I wasn’t sure I wanted to risk being late. After I finished over thinking it , I simplified it down to , “someone was willing to come out and see me at the airport, I should be grateful”. And with that, I scheduled two tweetups within 5 hours of each other in two separate states. “Crazy Making” is what my wife refers to this desire to fit as much into as little time as possible.
The flight from Santa Ana to Denver went off without a hitch. I caught up with Piper for tea. We had about an hour to catch up on her recent travels, having teenagers, being children of the 60’s in the modern world. We also talked about an upcoming book that she and her partner Jay Holmes are writing involving a special protagonist. Before we knew it, we were taking the requisite selfies and saying goodbye… for now.
The flight to Minneapolis was also unremarkable and I quickly found the location of our tweetup. I was an hour early so at Kat’s advice I took a walk down to the Mississippi River.
It was a short 10 minute walk toward the river and I marveled at the turning leaves in the neighborhood. It was important to me to see the Mississippi again. In my life have seen or crossed the Mississippi river at ground level in 6 of the 10 states it flows through, Minnesota, Missouri, Tennessee , Iowa, Illinois and Louisiana. I don’t think I will ever forget looking up at the Mississippi river when I was in New Orleans.
I met up with Kat and Marcus at the designated eatery. The place was a clear winner from a food perspective as it had good beer, fried veggies, and cheeseburgers with the cheese contained within the burger (and they think Everything’s up to date in Kansas City!).
I think social media confuses my brain. I hadn’t seen Kat and Marcus in over a year, yet through tweets, Facebook and Instagram, it felt like just a couple of weeks, although that could just be the whole life moving faster thing. We caught up on the things one doesn’t necessarily tweet or post about and shared a meal and a beverage. It was just good to be around them again.
Accomplish something every day and give thanks for the ability to do it. ~ Run to Overcome
After leaving the two coolest people in Minnesota (and possibly all the mid-West), I headed for my Holiday Inn Express in Chanhassen. I checked in a very comfy, clean (sterile) and spacious room. After calling home to check in and putting all the devices to charge, the available options were to check email or watch TV.
There is an emptiness about being in a chilly hotel room when there is nothing left to do in the day, not even eat. It’s what I call a “now what do I do?” moment. The feeling of being alone is magnified ten-fold when there is nothing to get done and there are no travel companions to hang out with. I suspect there is a madness that comes from being in that place for too long.
I sat in the comfy hotel chair with just a single light on in the room and put The Dream Academy’s Life in a Northern Town on repeat (see video below). I thought about the people I was lucky enough to catch up with today, both at home and on the road. I thought about the role some of these dear and other people on Twitter hold in my life. There’s that lady in Scotland, and that guy who just ran his first NY marathon following his multiple hip surgeries. He has a new girlfriend and she’s a Yankee fan! There is that one lady who recovered from cancer and the one training for the marathon in a few days. There’s that doctor in Canada, trying to match up for a residency and that other Canadian lady who after finishing her P.h.D. married and just had a baby. Then there is that certain one in Bahrain and the newlywed who married that special lawyer, FINALLY! These are all real people and their stories and struggles are better than anything television can dream up. In social media as in life, there are opportunities that one lets pass by and those one creates time to share a beverage with.
Travel Day 26 of 2014 found me in Tokyo on a rainy Sunday morning. This was one of two rest days on this two-week trip. On my agenda today was a hike up Mt Takao (Mt. Takaosan) about 50km outside of Tokyo. My hosts earlier in the week suggested that hiking up Mt. Takao would have been better prior to the start of the rainy season. Unfortunately, I was there during the rainy season.
The early morning rain had me wondering if I should do something else this day, but anything else would have been a failure to do what I set out to. In my mind it was better to travel to Mt. Takao and to fail to climb it than to do anything else that Tokyo had to offer (I limit myself that way). Besides, as I had told people who I would be climbing Mt. Takao, to do otherwise, pardon the West Side Story reference, would label me, “lousy”.
I had seen a YouTube video describing how to get to Mt. Takao from Shinagawa station, near where I was staying. It was inaccurate. When I arrived in Shinagawa station, I found I had to go to Shinjuku station to catch the Keio train line. It turns out there are two ways to get from Shinjuku station to Mt. Takao train station. One can either take a local train to Kitano Station and then switch for Takaosanguchi station or if it’s running , there is a semi-express train to Takaosanguchi station. If you have the option, take the 50 minute semi-express train to and from Takaosanguchi. Even if you have to wait 20 or 30 extra minutes, take the semi-express instead of the local trains, they are much faster.
When I stepped off the train in Takaosanguchi, I was definitely no longer in Tokyo, the city was replaced by a small town surrounded by trees. I gained an immediate appreciation for the dense forest that Japan was a long time ago. The trees here are tall, narrow and centuries old you can feel it when you look at them.
Upon leaving the train station, one sees the sign from the internet that presents all the routes. One the top of the mountain, there is a statue of a white horse. It was my goal to try to make it to the horse, but I knew I only had at best a 25% chance given the rainy weather, the distance and the nature of the climb.
The path up the hill starts immediately after the train station. After a few hundred meters, one has the option of paying 480 yen to take the cable car up first part of the mountain. Part of me wanted to take the hike up, but I also realized that I was about an hour behind where I wanted to be and a hike to the top of the mountain was going to be a draining climb in the rain. The cable car was the smarter choice to start the journey.
The cable car took me up to about 1000ft. The air was clean, crisp and of course wet. The energy on the mountain was soothing. It was calm and serene. Later on that week someone I was meeting with compared it to Sedona. He was right. I felt peaceful there.
A Shinto temple sits about 3/4 of a mile out from the cable car. There is a grace and an elegance in the small shrines that line the way to the huge temple.
I took way too many pictures and videos to post here, so I will leave you with this one.
Once you pass the shrines, the real hike begins. I brought my Garmin with me just so I could capture the elevation change over this hike. On these trails, you are either climbing or descending. There isn’t a whole lot of flat.
After the temple, I did not see another sign in English. You have to either have someone with you who speaks Japanese or be very well prepared. I had a huge case of neither. I found myself at one point at a juncture between three trails. I took one that I thought lead to the top. It dead-ended with a beautiful view of a nearby city. I enjoyed the scenery for a long time (for me) and then doubled back. I had to make a choice between two trails both clearly marked in Japanese. The path I took would not take me to the top of Mt. Takao.
I climbed man, I climbed. At one point I got into this amazing rhythm going up the steps. I felt like I was born for this climb. Maybe it was that runner mentality, but I just wanted to keep going.
The path was nicely manicured, though muddy and slippery after several days of rain. I fell once and covered by jeans and water repellant jacked in red mud. The rain wasn’t as bad as the 94% humidity when it wasn’t raining. I was cold and then later once the rain stopped, I was warm. At one point I was climbing and drenched when I realized that it hadn’t rained in about an hour. Yep, this moisture soaking me, was all me.
I saw a little rest stop overlooking the valley and I decided to take a break. As I took my pack off, I realized how hard my heart was beating and how hard the blood was rushing through my body. I sat and looked out over trees.
The great thing about being alone is you can go whichever way you want to without asking anyone what they want to do. The downside is that there nobody to share it with. I checked my phone and found there was signal, so I Facetimed home so I could show Laura where I was. That call probably cost a fortune in roaming data fees, but it was worth it (we’ll see when the bill shows).
Eventually the path turned wooden. The planks above started for some reason in the middle of the trail, I don’t know why. They started at the exact point where I realized that it was time to turn back. I didn’t want to turn back, so I kept going a little bit longer.
I came to the sign pictured above about 20 minutes after my turn around alarm went off. I was a little hungry (I had eaten most of my supplies), but I still had water and lots of energy and I was feeling strong and wanted to keep going up those stairs. It felt right to just keep going, but it was past time and a lot of things could go wrong so I headed back down the wooden stairs.
At one point, I was about to start a climb up a few hundred steps when another hiker came out of the woods to my right. There was a narrow trail that I figured would save me from having to make this climb. It was a great little path and I was doing fine, until it dead ended. I circled the area around the dead-end several times and checked everything that could have been a trail. I really didn’t want to double back and then take on that steep climb. I saw a small scramble up the side of the steep climb. It wasn’t frequently used, but it had been used. It was steep, muddy and required hands and feet to get up, but a good 150 feet or so later, I was back on the main trail and working my way back to the temple.
Despite the fact that I didn’t want to take the tram down, at 4pm, it seemed the smart choice. I bought my tram ticket and enjoyed my last moments on the mountain.
On a clear day, you can stand on Mt. Takao and see over Tokyo all the way to Mt. Fuji. After the clouds broke, this was the best view I was able to see. It was good enough.
The people who I met with the rest of the week were impressed with the fact that I climbed Mt. Takao, even if I didn’t get to the top. It was a great experience, one I hope to repeat one day soon.
Travel day 19 of 2014 had me waking up at 4:30am in Osaka, Japan after a typical Japanese business dinner. Japanese sake has no preservatives, so one doesn’t wake up with a headache. It took about 6 hour and a lot of baby aspirin to relieve the headache I didn’t have.
The meeting for the day took up about four very intense hours and then we went out for lunch (more sushi). After that, I was free to go back to my hotel. I packed my bags for tomorrows train trip and decided to take a walk to the nearby Nike Store.
Because it is so humid, I put my running clothes and strapped on my Garmin to take it on a test run. My Garmin has miraculously recovered from whatever problems it had on Monday when I was in China. Were I a conspiracy theorist, I would think that maybe the PRC doesn’t want people using unauthorized tracking tools, but that would just be nonsense (This is why they don’t give me access to WordPress in China).
Very quickly, my walk became a run. This was the second run this week and the second since the Big Sur Marathon. I didn’t think the calf would be ready to run again, but it was. I was able to take some big long strides down the streets of Osaka for as long as my diminished fitness would allow. It felt wonderful to open up and be able to take a full stride. City running is fun, except for all the stopping at red lights.
It was about 3km to the Nike Store where I found a few things for the family. I spent like a billion yen, I’m not sure how much that is in dollars, but I am sure I will hear [it] from my wife the transaction post tomorrow.
One the way home, I saw a Starbucks with a sign for a Marble Carmel frappuccino with JELLY. Yes, chunks of jelly IN the drink. Although I am usually a person who goes for the skinny drinks, this had to be tested and it was oh so fun to suck up the jelly.
I think it might have been better as a peanut and jelly frappuccino, but what do I know? I also had a piece of tiramisu. Don’t judge, I’ve eaten according to everyone elses rules this week. In China, one does not eat all the food on the plate at is potentially awkward for the host. In Japan, one eats whatever is put in front of one whether it is still moving or not. This was a chance to have just a little moment of self-determination in a week of being a perpetual guest.
As I walked out of Starbucks the skies opened and the rain poured down in buckets. I ran into a nearby Apple Store to check out the inventory. It was interesting to see a Japanese Genius Bar and all the users all nicely queued up.
As the storm passed, I made my run back to the hotel. Surprising the knee and calf did not tighten up as they have during the past six months. Perhaps this time off from running is helping them recover. Nothing teaches gratitude like not being able to do what one enjoys.
It’s about 7:30pm now. I am packed and ready to hit the road in the morning. I have back to back phone calls with California and Europe starting at 10pm tonight. But first, I need some dinner. There is a sushi bar across the street that makes a nice presentation of some good sushi. As presentation is very important here in Japan, I thought I would share how my dinner was presented.
If nothing else, the first work week is over. Tomorrow is a travel day and if the cooperates, Sunday will be a really awesome day.
Travel day 14 of 2014 marked the start of another road trip. Strangely, I found myself on the tarmac of Seoul, Inchon Airport in South Korea. I wasn’t planning on coming to South Korea, but hey, sometime you take a plane, sometime the plan takes you. A control freak might have a problem with that, but I just found it another airport to check in at on Foursquare.
The 8am flight out of Santa Ana was delayed, but that was no worry. I had a 4 hour layover planned in San Francisco. You might ask why I decided to fly out of San Francisco rather than LA. The answer is that I hate flying international out of LA. San Francisco is much more civilized.
I had planned to spend the time in San Francisco working, but the Yankees were on and there was WiFi. Coupled with the fact that colleagues and running buddies, Natalie was sitting behind home plate, there was no work getting done this Saturday morning.
I recently read an article that seat back pocket was the place on an airplane most prone to bacteria. For this reason, I decided to create the Seat Back Pocket Condom. Designed to keep my stuff free for whatever dirt, grime or bodily fluids might be contained within. You can find one at a grocery store near you.!
The rain delayed the Yankee game for a short time just as it delayed my arrival in Shanghai 13 hours later. About 10 hours into the 13 hour flight we diverted to Seoul. When we landed we had no indication how long we would be sitting there. As we approached the runway, we buzzed a few different golf courses. My first thought was, “They get a lot of rain here”. Having been raised in the desert and living in drought-strickened California, that was top of mind. We only spent about an hour on the ground and for the flight 14+ hours in the air.
When I applied for my new visa to enter China, I asked for a six-month term with only five days of entry each visit. They gave me a one-year visa with 90 days each trip. I am hoping they don’t know something. After clearing customs, my driver collected my weary bones and delivered me to the hotel. Happy was I when I heard they had a 24 hour restaurant. The menu was limited by I ordered the Korean rice with spicy beef and an egg. There was also a side of kimchi. It was not presented the way I expected and it was spicy.
I think I headed upstairs close to midnight. A couple joined me on the elevator. She was Asian, dressed in tight silks and he was probably from India and dressed like an IT guy. They both spoke English, but they didn’t speak in a way intimate couples or even friends do. Maybe it was that I grew up in Vegas, but the words, “Shanghai Call Girl” came to mind.
With crossing the International Date Line my journey started on Saturday at 8am and ended in my hotel about 10pm on Sunday June 1. I am of the opinion that when you cross the International date line you lose a day that cannot be recoverd by crossing back of the Date Line. You may get one longer day, but it’s always spent on a plane.
I drafted the first half of this post on the ground in Seoul. As with my last trip in China, I had no access to the WordPress website. I had to wait until I arrived in Japan to even see the draft. Never underestimate the freedom associated to visit what websites you choose.
Day 4 was a designated laundry day. On a two-week trip like this with multiple hotels, laundry days have to be carefully staged. One needs enough time in a hotel to wash the laundry in the sink and allow it to hang dry. After everything that needed washing was hung, I gathered myself for the day and walked over to my sister’s house. We hung out, laughed and listened to the radio while chatting about this and that. One topic of discussion was an article I read in the Financial Times that morning about how Londoners are getting priced out of the city. My brother-in-law explained how on the block they live on, several foreign families have come in over the years and just bought up the houses around them. I noted the concern he had around how many foreigners and are moving to the UK and having multiple children. My brother-in-law foresees a day in the next 20 years where the Prime Minister would not be Christian.
I showed my sister the pictures from the Rijksmuseum from the day before and she thought it would be a good idea to go to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square and see a painting of Madam de Pompadour. So we called up my cousin and made arrangements to meet later on that day.
It took 3 trains to get from my sister’s house into London. Despite my knee, I decided to take the stairs rather than the escalator to get out to the surface. Stairs, I do them.
My sister and I had quite a bit of time to kill, so went on a bit of a walk about. We walked by Big Ben and took pictures along the Thames by Queen Boadicea’s statue. We stopped at a coffee house and had a quick snack along with some tea.
Further down the road we came across 10 Downing Street, home of the Prime Minister. I remember going by there as a small boy with my grandmother. I distinctly remember the police stationed on the street entering Downing street. Now there are iron gates and barricades to prevent entry. It reminded me of the first time I saw the street in front of the White House blocked off and concrete k rails. The world has changed since the early 70s. It’s now a much more safe place for the powerful.
We met my cousin at the appointed hour and for the third time, the three of us journeyed into the National Gallery. Much like the day before at the Rijks, we quickly found our way to the exquisitely painting of Reinette Poisson, Madame de Pompadour. It was a beautifully detailed peace that represented all her remarkable skills. Unlike the Rijksmuseum, the National Gallery has a no photography policy. Guards are posted in each room to prevent picture-taking. Before our arrival, someone had touched the painting next to Madam de Pompadour and security was all over closely investigating the incident and inspecting that work. I watched the guards and I waited while walking the room patiently for the moment that was clearly coming any moment now. The guards completed their investigation, in unison, they turned their back on Madam de Pompadour. I was ready to steal a half dozen picture on my iPhone. I felt so scofflaw Jack Bauer.
From the museum, we walked back to Covent Garden. When my cousin was a teenager, he walked so very quickly down the streets of London that it was hard to keep up with him. Now he is older and slower and needs to take a break every once in a while. It’s so very strange to see a life cohort slowed by age and infirmity. Now writing this, I think back to seeing my father in New York just 3 days earlier and how he too needed to sit down and take the occasional breather. This life is getting real people. My chief people are old. Maybe that’s why I climb the stairs when an escalator is nearby.
When we arrived at Covent Garden, we found a little outdoor restaurant. We ordered pizza and caught up. At one point, after the food arrived, I opened FourSquare, my major social media vice. I checked in the place we were eating and then my jaw dropped when I realized that on the list of places immediately near by, was New York’s own Shake Shack!
I passed on the pizza and excused myself from relatives to find the Shake Shack. I queued up ahead of an English investment banker who was wearing a New York Marathon shirt. He had run the race two years earlier when he was on assignment in New York. Both of us were wearing knee braces due to running injuries, so we had a great chat while waiting to place our order. When I got to the front I ordered a ‘shroom burger, a hamburger not served with mushrooms, but made from a huge Portobello mushroom. And I ordered a chocolate shake as well.
I took my order back to my sister and cousin who were still working on the pizza. I had a slice, but there was a lot left. I asked the waiter if we could get a to go box and he said in an interesting way that would not be possible. My instincts told me to play this one carefully as I knew I was being lied to. I turned my head to the side a little bit, maintained a steady tone and inquired why they didn’t have to go boxes. He explained that it was not their policy to let people take food home. I smiled and went along with his story, deciding not to push and I thanked him. About a minute later the waiter came out with a box for us. He explained that he was not supposed to do this, but because I was nice about it, they could make an exception. My sister figured that most people would have made a fuss. Had I done so, he never would have made the extra effort to get us a non-existent box.
The pizza went home with my cousin. We walked to the nearest bus station and we hugged and said our good-byes. Then my sister and I made our way back to the Tube and three trains later we were home. Cups of tea followed and then my brother-in-law dropped me off at my hotel.
My room was clean and the laundry mostly dry. I had seen two of the relatives most beloved by my mother and closest to me on that side of the family. I crawled into bed and turned out the lights. Thus ended my last day on this trip without any work colleagues. The next day was Monday and it would be time to go to work.