Posted by: Mark | October 25, 2010

Vaya Con Dios

I quote Keanu Reeves, from the end of “Point Break” as he wishes Patrick Swayze goodbye, because this blog has basically run its course. It was a space for me to write about whatever I wanted, and now I’m pretty much done with it.


Because my writing has progressed, and I am much more focused. As a result, I am deeply involved in some extremely fulfilling writing projects, and I want to direct your attention to these websites and say goodbye to Haraka Baraka.

1) I am writing a memoir, which will be called “Where The Road Meets The Sun.” It is a reflection after a very difficult year of illness and uncertainty. I am about 1/3 of the way done with it by now, and am beginning to look for publishers.

2) My wife and I have started a website with the same name: Where The Road Meets The Sun. It is largely a travel blog, as we are taking a 4-month, around the world trip together, fro December 2010-April 2011.

3) I am the Associate Editor of the Ocean Beach Bulletin, a hyper-local news organization for Western San Francisco. I write multiple stories a week for the Bulletin.

4) I am a contributing writer to the Scuttlefish, an ocean-appreciation website. I have a weekly column called the HMS Friday, and I conduct interviews for the site.

That’s it. Moving on from self-publishing to bigger and better things. I hope you’ll check these websites out, and thanks for reading..

Posted by: Mark | October 19, 2010

My Baseball Moment

Today I went to the playoffs for the first time. My friend Timmy is a season ticket holder, and so he has first dibs on two seats at every home game during the post-season. He brought his wife to the home games throughout the NLDS series against the Braves, but today the game was during the work day, so she offered her ticket to me. When we got to our seats, the woman who owns the season tickets for the seats directly behind Timmy asked me, “Where’s his wife?” “I’m his wife today,” I answered, and then gave her a high-five.

Take Me Out To The Ballgame

I have never been to the playoffs. Truth is, I’ve never had a team that I really like even go to the playoffs. I’m still pretty new to baseball. I first realized that I like the game about 7 years ago, while I was working on my masters at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. I’d keep the Orioles on in the background while I studied and graded papers, and I really enjoyed it. I went from enjoying baseball to falling in love with baseball when I moved to San Francisco by watching the Giants. The team was moving away from the Barry Bonds era and into a new era, rallying behind a freakishly small pitcher and a rockstar relief pitcher and mediocre batters that you can hardly ever rely upon. I’m in my fifth season as a Giants fan. I’ve lived in other baseball towns, but didn’t care for the sport then, so I cast off the chance to be a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, a Washington Nationals fan, and even a Philadelphia Phillies fan. Those teams didn’t draw me into the game. I wasn’t ready to be a fan yet.

But the Giants have shown me what there is to love about baseball. We have a spectacular ballpark, our local commentators are about as good as you can find in the business, and we offer up some truly authentic heartbreak. There is no heartbreak like the heartbreak of baseball. I think it is the heartbreak, as much as the heroics, that have made this game our national past time, a game that has captivated our nation for over a century. I love that there is no clock. There are just nine innings. In any other sport, you can waste time and run out the clock if you’re winning. You can’t do that in baseball. You have to get those final outs, even though the effort to get them could lead to disaster. And I love the tradition behind the game. As I sat in my seat and watched the guy two seats down keep score on his well-worn scorebook, my memory ran away with me, and I thought of all of the people who have scratched out the balls and strikes into their own scorebooks while huddled around their radio to soak in a game over the ages. It’s a beautiful part of this country, this funny game, played by grown men, swinging at a small ball with sticks.

McCovey Cove, filling up about 45 minutes before game time, with sailboats and kayaks.

The Giants sucked when I first started watching them. They don’t suck now. They’re in the NLCS. And I went to the game today, the 3rd game of a best of 7 series and the first one at home, with the series tied 1-1. I won’t labor over the details of the game. To be brief: we won. We won 3-0. We won off of big hits from veterans and arguably over-paid and overrated players, and we won off masterful pitching from Matt Cain, who spent years pitching masterfully but losing games when he’d give up 3, maybe 4 hits, because the Giants offense couldn’t do anything to help him out. It felt so good for those guys, to win big when they have deserved to win big, and haven’t had the chance to do so over their careers. And now we’re up 2-1 in the series.

Timmy and I got to the game early, and jawed about stats and starting pitchers out in the arcade above center field while we watched the Phillies warm up. It was a beautiful sunny day, and it felt so comfortable and familiar. Fans were coyly flirting with the opposing team’s outfielders in order to convince one of these Phillies toss a ball out into the crowd, even though these same fans would, throughout the rest of the afternoon, hurl insults at the same guy every time he stepped up to bat. One fan in the left field bleachers had rigged a variation of a fishing line to get himself a baseball. He tossed a cup out onto the field, which was tied to a string, and he would reel the cup back in, trying to knock the ball to get closer to the wall. He cast over and over again, and finally got the ball just below the wall, and eventually scooped it up into his son’s eager hands. That’s a part of the magic of baseball.

It was a big game. The teams were called out to stand on the first and third base lines, while some lucky fans unrolled an American flag that covered the entire outfield. Ben Hibbard, the lead singer of Death Cab For Cutie, sang the national anthem, and two fighter planes did a ceremonial fly-by over the stadium when he finished. I had the chills. Barry Bonds threw the first pitch. Cheering at a baseball game is a wholesome and pure feeling. I didn’t care about anything except whether a team of people I don’t know would be able to beat another team of people I don’t know, in a game that I only played until 5th grade and was never really good at. And it felt great and important.

America's game.

I bit the nails off of each of my fingers during the first three innings, when the Giants couldn’t hit anything that Cole Hamels was pitching. I lost my voice in the 4th inning, when we scored two runs. I had to pee during the 5th inning, and when I heard about Rowand’s double, I warned the guys nearby me at the urinals that if we scored while I was peeing, I might spray innocent bystanders. Luckily, I was back in my seat for our third run. I high-fived more people today than I actually know in real life.

Walking the long walk down the side of the stadium on the way home felt like doing countless victory laps. The crowd kept spontaneously erupting into cheers, different cheers on different levels. Sometimes it was “Let’s Go Giants!” or else an “U! Ribe!” or “Cody Ross!” or whatever. They all morphed into the chaotic, indecipherable sound of glee.¬† It’s a long walk from the upper deck to the ground floor when it’s a sell-out crowd, and you lose track of how many loops you’ve done. But I didn’t want it to end. I wanted to keep walking around in circles to cheer with strangers over a big win.

I had my first real baseball moment today, the first one that counted at least. Today’s win counted, and I was there to absorb all that it meant to me, and to a city of baseball fans, and to a country. The Giants are not supposed to beat the Phillies in this series. They are supposed to lose. Of course, I want them to win. I want them to go to the World Series, and to win the World Series, and to win every other World Series after this year’s.

This is what winning looked like from inside the stadium.

But what counts to me is that I had my baseball moment. I got to love and enjoy this victory and to be a part of it, in the flesh. I biked to the stadium, and I biked home with my bright orange Giants snuggie wrapped over my shoulders like a cape. People honked at me and fist-pumped out their windows and we yelled “Go Giants” to each other as my orange fleece flapped in the wind behind me. If the Giants lose this series, or in the World Series, I’ll be disappointed. But I’ll have gotten my moment, the first one in my nascent career as a baseball fan, and that will hold me over until next season.

Go Giants.

Posted by: Mark | August 21, 2010

What To Do With A Broken Collarbone?

I’ve been stuck in a sling for the last 3 weeks with a broken collarbone, which I broke when I crashed my bike on Highway 1 towards the tail end of my major bike ride. It’s a bit of a bummer, obviously. I’ve been stuck without much physical activity, which is tough for a guy like me. I’ve taken to walking. Yes, walking. I feel three times older than I actually am. I listen to a book-on-tape and walk for about two hours, several times a week. On the off days, I go to a nearby gym to do the stationary bike for a little bit…just so I’m doing something.

The thing that is starting to bug me the most is the sling. Yes, it sucks that I have my arm strapped to my torso all of the time. But more than that, it’s boring. It’s a black sling. And contrary to popular belief, black does not go with everything. Look at how boring this is.

In addition to looking boring, I am just kind of bored. So I decided to photoshop a variety of stupid things onto the sling to make it a little more interesting. For starters, you have the San Francisco option: peace, love, and happiness.

Nice, huh? Espousing harmonious, liberal virtues, using my sling as a space for political ideas. But just to be balanced and fair and a part of the No-Spin Zone, I included a slightly different political alignment as another option.

I quickly realized that I could do more than just use the space of my sling for political purposes. There is serious potential commercial gain here. I could easily be a walking advertisement. My sling, the billboard. So to prime the pump, I created this one.

Enticing, isn’t it. My mind then wandered to the slightly more ridiculous, along the vein of the t-shirts you’d see sold at “Hot Topic,” shirts that say stuff like “Stop Reading My Shirt” or “Does Not Play Well With Others.” In that style, here’s what I got. I hope you all enjoy the Seinfeld reference.

And lastly, a more contemporary cultural reference. The Double Rainbow.

So to address the title of the post….what to do with a broken collarbone? I guess something stupid like this, and then showcase the depths of your boredom by posting it on the internet. If anyone has any better ideas and is equally bored, feel free to use the blank template and email me what you create. I’m mostly looking your way, Cryptomail.

Posted by: Mark | August 4, 2010

The First Bike Ride Post

I am home from my Epic Bike Ride. I didn’t come home exactly in the fashion that I had imagined it, in that I didn’t ride triumphantly up to my front door, lean my road-weary bike against my house, and yell up into the heavens “I did it!” thus breaking my vow of silence. I instead broke my vow of silence by saying “Yes, please” to the person who pulled over on the side of the road where I lay, my bike in a tangle, after I wiped out while riding through Salt Point State Park, after she had asked “Do you want me to call 9-1-1?” I was (safely) riding on the right side of the white painted line, in an almost non-existent shoulder, and my mind wandered a bit. (How the hell couldn’t it? I was on my 5th day of biking all day.) I drifted too close to the 6in ledge that divided the road the turnout, and the next thing I know I lost control of the bike, and went down on my right side…hard. I knew then that the ride was over, my silence was over.

There is clearly a sense of defeat in ending the ride this way, but I do no stray away from being proud of my accomplishment. I rode just shy of 380 miles over 4 full days of riding, and two partial days (I’ll explain that in a bit.) I stayed silent the entire time, never breaking the vow once. In fact, as I laid on my back waiting for a car to come by to flag them down and ask for help, I was trying to figure if there was a way I could keep the silence through the upcoming hospital ordeal, and figured there was pretty much no way in hell to do that, so I spoke.

While on the trip I emailed my family once a day, I took one photo with my iPhone a day, and I wrote a brief description of the day’s ride in a notebook I brought with me before I went to bed. Now that I’m back, I have a lot to say. I’m planning on going in-depth into a discussion of the ride itself and the things I saw, for anyone who might be interested in exploring the Northern California coast or what it’s like to spend 6-8 hours a day on a bicycle. And I also plan on waxing philosophically about the silence, because (ironically) I have quite a bit to say about that as well.

But to get things started, a quick little teaser: a verbatim reproduction of my daily log from the road. It’s brief, and I’ll admit that I just updated the last entry because I spent most of the day in the hospital and wanted to bring the circle full by updating on this last day. The irony is that yesterday and this morning I harbored an ambitious goal of busting out about 130 miles today to actually get home on August 4, and to do this exact thing on my first night at home: share my daily log. Well I’m home, in a different way, but I’m not letting that get in the way of my original goal.

Taken on August 3, this is a rare stretch of sunny coast just north of Ft. Bragg

So here’s the first of the bike ride blog posts.

[Editorial note: I flew to to Crescent City with my friend Thomas on Friday, July 30. We met another friend Dave when we got there, landing at around 3pm. We had burritos and then I started the ride, around 5. I had spent the whole time anticipating that I would go south, but on the spur of the moment I actually biked north on the first day in order to officially touch the border between Oregon and California.]

July 30
Miles – 23.14
Maximum speed – 24.3mph
Total – 23.1
Hours – about 2
Camp – Clifford Kempf Memorial Park in Smith River, right on the dunes of a beach.
Terrain – mostly flat, warm-up ride to Oregon Border.

July 31 “For every uphill, there is a downhill”
Miles – 65.14
Max Speed – 34.0mph
Total – 88.2
Hours – about 5
Camp  РStone Lagoon Campground, 5 miles south of Orick
Terrain – hilly. 3rd highest peak that I’ll hit. Serious redwood, split between quiet backroads and busy 101

August 1 “Tomkins Hill Century”
Miles – 90.80 to campsite, 100.14 including the roundtrip to town for diner
Max – 34.0mph
Total – 188.4
Hours – about 7.5
Camp – Burlington Camp in the Avenue of the Giants
Terrain – Flat and bumpy around the three cities (McKinleyville, Arcata, Eureka) Gorgeous start to Trinidad, loved Avenue of the Giants. Tomkins Hill from miles 56-62 was my wake-up call.

August 2 “Leggett Challenge, aka Call The Play”
Miles – 71.47
Max – 36.3mph
Total – 259.9
Hours – about 6
Camp – Westport Union Landing State Beach, just north of Westport
Terrain – gorgeous 45 miles along the Eel River to Leggett. Wished I stop to swim. Climb on Leggett Hill was BRUTAL, feeling exhausted.
—Side note on the day: a hippie in Garberville started talking to me and loved my sign about my journey in silence. She left me, saying “Peace be to you and to me, and let the music be with everybody.”

August 3 “Cold”
Miles – 79.05
Max – 37.4mph
Total – 338.9
Hours – hard to say, waste a few hours looking for a swimming hole that I never found
Camp – Motel. Too damn cold and damp to sleep outside. Needed a warm shower, badly.
Terrain – Coastal highway 1 all the way. Lots of rolling ups and downs. 90% of the time in dense fog with major tailwind. Chilly.

August 4 “Eat Shit”
Miles – 34.49
Max – 38.6mph
Total – 378.4
Hours – about 3
Terrain – all cold and coastal. Wiped out and broke my collarbone at Salt Point State Park.

Posted by: Mark | July 21, 2010

This Whole Bike Ride Thing

In just about a week, I will begin a pretty epic bike ride. In fact, when I tweet about it, I hashtag is #epicbikeride. I’ve had a few people refer to this as a “man trip,” and I guess that’s appropriate, but using my own parlance, I insist on calling it my Epic Bike Ride. (Sorry Kadie.) I’ve spoken about it with countless people, I’ve tweeted it, but I haven’t done a formal write-up, and I figure it’s about time I do so. As such, away we go:

The Plan
I will be biking from Crescent City, CA to San Francisco, CA. My wife is going to Italy for 10 days in early August and I’m not, and I wanted to do a big bike ride while she is gone. One of my former students is biking across country this summer to support a school in Sudan, which I think is totally bad-ass, and I wanted a piece of the action, so I decided to explore California by bike. I asked around, and was advised that due to seasonal winds out of the North West, it would suck miserably to bike north. So, I planned a one-way trip from the Oregon border down to San Francisco. My original expectation was to take Amtrak up to my far point, but my friend Thomas is a pilot, and he has offered to fly me to the northern-most airport in CA: Crescent City. (Side note: what a rad thing for a friend to do.) According to Mapquest, it’s 355.98 miles from Crescent City to San Francisco, but I plan on doing some riding off-the-beaten trail, so I’m anticipating around 450 miles, across a maximum of 10 days.

This means that I need to average 45 miles a day, which is very very doable. I’ve been doing a lot of training rides, complete with gear to weigh me down, and I have busted out 55-65 miles in about 5 hours, and so 10 days of 45 miles is totally doable. It’s nice that I don’t need to rush and can take my time, or I can push it if I want. I know this will be a physical challenge, but I don’t want to destroy myself.

A Few Additional Objectives

1) I will be biking from Crescent City to San Francisco, but I’m planning on doing more than that. First and foremost, the most unique objective is that I will be biking in silence. I will not speak for the duration of my bike ride. I will not listen to music. It will be a silent journey. I got this inspiration from a few places, namely from reading the book Planetwalker in which a guy walks the country in silence for 25 years, in the process getting a masters, PhD, and becoming a UN Goodwill ambassador, and also from reading writing from the Trappist monk Thomas Merton. Both of these guys are huge advocates of silence. I am a huge chatter bug, I constantly talk, write, tweet, basically I’m a loud-mouth, so this will be a substantial challenge for me. I actually anticipate the silence to be a bigger challenge than the physical task of the riding. I’ve toyed with a few ways to tweak this and make it manageable:

  • First off, I will email my wife and parents every day, quite simply, to let them know where I am and that I’m safe. Otherwise, it’s just not fair to them to keep them guessing. I will otherwise not be checking email, updating facebook or twitter, or writing. This may be as a big surprise, considering I made an entire webpage last summer dedicated to our cross country road trip, but I’m going for it anyway. This also means I won’t be taking pictures or video. I know that this is probably worth documenting, but some things are worth only being available in the landscape of your memory, and I think this is definitely one of them.
  • I will obviously come across people who will want to talk with me, like when I purchase food, check in to sleep, all that stuff. In order to deal with this, I am going to print and laminate an index card that has the simple message: “For personal and spiritual reasons, I am on a journey in total silence. I appreciate you respecting my choice and hope we can still communicate and get done what we need to get done. Thank You.” I imagine I’ll be showing this to people quite a bit, and hopefully it will be OK. It’s what Planetwalker did when he would roam the country in silence, and it turned out to work for him.
  • I will bring a small notepad and a pen with me for the times when I need to write communication. “I’d like to camp here tonight…is there space for me?” Stuff like that.
  • The no music/ipod thing is going to be tough, no question about that. This whole thing is going to be tough. I talk to myself all the time when I ride. When I complete a big climb, I like to compliment myself. I often times curse to myself as I’m about to begin a climb. I say “Hi” to other riders all the time. I don’t anticipate 100% success, but I will certainly go for it.

Back to other objectives

2) I plan on tackling as much of Dostoevksy’s The Brothers Karamazov as I can on this ride. I’m not insisting that I finish it, but I’d like to read a big chunk of it. I have failed in reading this book twice, because I wasn’t focused enough to do it on either time. (It is the second book that I have repeatedly failed to finish, Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow is the other, which I have failed three times. I’ve gotten more than halfway and lost it.) I figure that this is the perfect chance to delve into a theologically dense monster of a novel. I will be biking probably between 5-7 hours a day, at most, and will otherwise be mostly isolated in silence. Perfect time to read. I’ll have little else to do. Too tired to hike around the state parks where I’ll be camping, etc etc. It’s Reading Time.

3) I’ve sort of implied this, but I will be camping every night. I’m bringing a tent and sleeping bag with me. I was thinking of getting a bivouac sack for my sleeping bag, but the tent will actually be a nice luxury that I’d like to enjoy, despite the added weight that I’ll have to carry.

4) You could probably anticipate that I will not be prioritizing showering on my bike ride. I don’t really prioritize showering in my regular life, let alone a spiritual bike ride down the coast of California.

5) I do plan on maximizing the use of the ocean and rivers that I will encounter. I’d like to fully immerse in water each day. That will likely be the Pacific more frequently than anything else, and I’ve been swimming at Ocean Beach without a wetsuit to prepare myself for the cold.

6) I plan on doing a minimum of 200 push-ups every day while I’m at my campsite.

I don’t otherwise have any major, unique objectives about this ride, other than to complete it, and to do so safely. As my friend Simon put it, I’ll probably think about everything once, and then again twice, then a third time, and then the fourth time I’ll end up with an entirely new perspective. I think I’m looking forward to that.

I should add that the awesome folks at Camelbak are generously providing me with a back pack with their patented water supplying technology so that I can stay hydrated on the road. They like my idea of a silent, spiritual journey and wanted to make sure I stayed healthy along the way. Awesome guys.

I will try to not end up looking like this guy.

Posted by: Mark | June 8, 2010

Motive Ocean: Fitness for Surfers

The last two Saturdays when my alarm went off at 6:30, I scrambled out of bed to check all available data to determine if it was worth surfing or not. I’m usually not so frantic to figure out my surf schedule, but we’ve actually had some waves lately, which is unusual for this time of year, but more than that, I now have a pretty enjoyable Saturday morning routine that I don’t want to miss. Even if missing my routine meant that I would be going surfing. Even if the routine is to do fitness that helps me train for surfing. Figure that one out.

Surfing is a loved activity for many reasons, and one of its appeals has to be the fact that you get a fantastic work-out while having a blast. You paddle, you work your legs and core through turning, you get tan (if you’re lucky enough to surf in a place that is warm and where you wear trunks instead of a wetsuit), and you grin a lot, even exercising the muscles in your smile. I consider myself fairly athletic, and have tried to stay in “surf shape” even when I’m not in the surf season. Typically that means doing pull-ups and dips and swimming in the pool a lot, which is cool and all, but is not always universally transferable to surfing fitness. Yes, swimming will help with paddling, but I don’t do any exercise that focuses on my balance or flexibility to help me bottom turn stronger to make it around crumbling sections. And at other times, my fitness regimen actually ends up hurting my surfing, in that I’ll be sore from the previous work-out and won’t have the strength I want to endure a 3 hour session at Ocean Beach.

I found out about Motive Ocean, a fitness program that has been developed by SF resident, physical trainer, and waterman Derek Johnson, through Twitter. Derek has worked at various fantsy-pants (or should I say yoga-pants) fitness clubs in the city and has been trying to develop the perfect dryland workout to supplement the aquatic lifestyle, most particularly the surfing lifestyle. He has been exposed to many of the fitness gurus and schools of thought that are out there, and has taken a little bit of this, a little bit of that, tweaked it, and put it all together into a really rad program that he has named Motive Ocean. He has recently started offering free training classes at Crissy Field on Saturday mornings at 8am, right by the main parking lot, as a sort of “beta testing” as he formalizes his fitness approach in anticipation of releasing a full-blown website, DVDs, and even an interactive book.

My initial reaction when I heard about Motive Ocean was of skepticism. I tend to only like fitness programs that I myself design, and I prefer going on solitary runs and bike rides for exercise rather than huddling up in a group and doing pilates while looking at a wall-sized mirror as everyone checks out everyone in the room (including, most frequently, themselves) in as subtle and non-subtle ways as possible. But I went on a sunny Saturday morning with no waves, figuring what the hell.

Note: Image NOT taken at Motive Ocean

Within about 10 minutes of the first yoga routine, I was hooked. Derek started by introducing himself to all the new folks (just me) as well as introducing the new folks (me) to the other 6-7 people who were there, who all knew each other from surfing together for a while. He does professional personal training throughout the week, and claims that at these free Saturday classes, he’s just doing this to test out his program and to exercise alongside us, so you won’t get as much personal attention to form as you would in one of his “real” sessions. He’s a teacher at heart though and just can’t help himself, and so you end up getting a lot of good tips and pointers throughout the class.

I’ve only ever been to a few exercise classes before, but the overwhelming tone in all of them is of intense seriousness, bordering displeasure. People scowl, breathe very heavily and angrily, and fondle themselves with their eyes as they look into the mirror and in look for fixable flaws and sagging. Saturday mornings with Motive Ocean are totally different. The sessions are outside in the grass, overlooking the bridge, the bay, and Alcatraz, and everyone is friendly, jolly, and–fitting with the fact that this is For Surfers, By Surfers–extremely goofy. I felt like I was in the lineup rather than at the gym, which is one of the biggest appeals.

Wiffle ball bats, not Persian martial arts clubs

The fitness routine is extremely varied. Derek has drawn on bits of flow yoga, tai chi, FlowFit, and most interestingly a bad-ass ancient type of Persian martial arts. The sessions are fun and each one is unique. And as you go through a motion, Derek points out how it specifically helps with your surfing. As we were doing modified versions of push-ups called Quad Hops, Derek showed how he evolved the quad hop into a full-body practice for popping up on a surfboard to help you get up quicker when you’re taking off late and steep into a hollow wave. The culminating part of the work-out is the Persian martial arts portion, in which you swing around weighted clubs that look like wiffle ball bats, each swing building strength and emphasizing motions that help with surfing.

In truth, I haven’t really explored other types of surfer-specific fitness programs. I know there are a few that are out there, most notably, as well as Bowflex-esque stations that claim to improve your surfing. But I think Derek has come about as close to nailing surf fitness it as you can without actually surfing. And since it’s early June, we won’t be doing much surfing for a few months, and the summer seems to be a great time to explore Motive Ocean’s approach to surf fitness in anticipation of the fall. The whole ethos of the workout is geared around the flow of the movements rather than static, singular repetition, because that best mirrors surfing. Best of all, Derek has transplanted the unique type of joy that you can find while splashing around in the ocean into a fitness regimen.

He’ll be offering his free training sessions “until the weather gets bad,” meaning October or November, and I definitely think they are worth checking out. Saturday, 8am, at the main parking lot in Chrissy Field. There’s not gonna be any waves, so what else are you gonna be doing.

Posted by: Mark | May 30, 2010

A few thoughts on Biking

In early August, I am planning on biking from Crescent City, a city just south of the border between Oregon and California, to San Francisco. Mapquest puts it at around 350 miles, but I figure that on bike and doing a bit of exploring, it will be more like 425 miles. I’m planing on doing it in 7 or 8 days, which means I”l be biking a substantial amount each day. I’ve never done such long-distance biking before.

To test the waters before, I did a big ride today. I surfed for a few hours in the morning, and then biked what is called Paradise Loop in Marin County, a pretty lovely loop that goes through Tiburon and offers some spectacular views of San Francisco.

Paradise Loop
Find more Bike Rides in San Francisco, California
(Click the above link to see a map of the ride. It’s supposed to embed but the stupid thing isn’t embedding. That would have looked sick.

I ended up doing 55 miles, which is good but not crazy. The loop is around 42 but I drastically under-estimated the distance from my house to this map’s starting point, and so I ended up doing more than I anticipated. (To understand crazy, I have a friend who does a 200 mile race in one day every year along with his brothers. Crazy.) I went by myself, with no music, so I had a lot of time to think. Here are some of my thoughts on biking:

-FIrst off, we live in a beautiful corner of the world. My route took me along Ocean Beach, through the Golden Gate Park, across the Golden Gate Bridge, through Sausilito, Larkspur, and Tiburon, all surrounded by beautiful hills, forests of redwoods, you name it. This is a beautiful place.

-Biking is pretty awesome. It’s a great work-out, and you chug along at a pace of anywhere from 8-40mph, and so typically you get to spend more time looking around than you typically do, which only further underscores the first point.

-I spent just over 4 hours in the saddle, and so I took the advice of a good friend and got myself a pair of biking spandex with the built-in butt cushion, arguably one of the strangest inventions of all time. It’s pretty groovy, and for the first 30 miles it felt great. The last 25 I no longer felt like I was sitting on a cloud, but instead pure unfriendly steel. I need to get my butt in shape, which is weird.

-Speaking of spandex: it turns out that there are many gay men who like how I look in bike pants and are unafraid to let me know it. Not sure how the straight women felt about them, I’m thinking the silence spoke enough though.

-I drank a lot more water than I had anticipated. This has me a bit anxious about my big bike ride from Crescent City….where and how I will re-fill my water along the way to keep me, a huge water drinker, satiated. I also came home really hungry–no surprised there, I’m almost always hungry, but I’m talking really hungry. The best post-bike snack is a peanut butter and nutella sandwich, so I think I’ll be sure to bring a jar of both despite their weight.

-I really liked biking but I don’t like bike culture. I break this into two elements:

  • Hipster bike culture. I didn’t see any of these out on the road but I often see them when I bike through San Francisco. They truly drive me nuts on their single geared “fixies” with no brakes and tight pants. When I bike past the Panhandle on a nice day the place is littered with scruffy hipsters sipping PBR with their fixies scattered across the grass like some sort of garage sale, silently judging every biker that goes who has more than one gear, probably thinking to themselves “that’s guys t-shirt is unironic and is as lame as his name-brand road bike.”
  • Road bike culture. This is just as bad, the group that suits up in full matching shoes, helmets, and color-cordinated biking singlets with a couple of Gu’s tucked in the back of their biking jersey to juice themselves up on the line. I love seeing who these guys identify with, in terms of what team they are supposedly biking for. The clip-in shoes they wear can be heard from a mile away when they’re walking around, which they love to do, trumpeting through the hills “I’m a bike rider!” As I biked through Sausalito I could see gleefully spandexed bikers sprawled out at Italian cafes all the way to the horizon, broadcasting their bike-riding-ness to anyone who came by.
  • I guess the thing I don’t like is the smugness that seems an inbred part of bike culture. I wish people would just ride bikes without having to try and make some sort of statement about it. Then again, I surf, and you can probably tell when you hang out with me that I surf, and so maybe the same criticism can be leveled against me and surfing culture. Smugness can be easily identified and criticized in others, but not so easily in yourself. So it goes.

-Most people ride their bikes with helmets, but some don’t wear them on their head. They instead attach them to their bike somewhere, typically the handle bars. This is really strange to me.

-The vast majority of pedestrians are oblivious putzes. I almost crashed into a few who just backed aimlessly into the road or into oncoming bike traffic. Morons.

-The Blazing Saddles bike rental company will never go out of business. I’d say about 40% of the bikes I saw today were rented out by that company, with their trade mark fanny packs hanging from the front handle bars. Likewise, the ice cream stores in Sausalito will never go out of business.

-The Blazing Saddles bike riders are like the vast majority of pedestrians, except they are moving much more quickly on bikes, so they are much more dangerous. While crossing the bridge I found myself stuck behind an Asian female tourist who was delicately cradling an over-sized leather purse on one arm while also steering with that arm, and taking pictures with her other arm. She was swerving like a drunk driver. Dangerous.

-I should have left about 5 hours earlier and probably not have surfed this morning. The wind really picked up and became a bit of a challenge in the latter part of the ride.

-I am writing this from my couch and feel the most splendid sense of exhaustion that I have felt in a very long time. My belly is full of food, my eyes are starting to droop, and I will sleep tonight better than I’ve slept in months.

-My legs are tired…..but I can’t stop dancing.

Posted by: Mark | May 1, 2010

Watch it, Kook.

This morning I had to get my car tuned up. I wanted to be at the service station as soon as it opened, to drop it off early, go about my day, and pick it up later.

The problem was that I didn’t know when the repair shop actually opened. I called them, and their phone message said open at 7am. I went on, and it said they were closed on Saturdays. And their sponsored link on Google had it down for 7:30. Not exactly the best marketing plan, put together by these knuckleheads at the auto repair shop, but what can you do.

So I jumped out of bed early and zipped over there, pulled up to an empty street in the Inner Sunset, and idled the car right out in front, getting there at like 6:58. I sat there for about 15 minutes before another Honda pulled up, and idled across the street. I checked my iPhone to try and confirm when the store opened. A few more cars pulled up. By about 7:40, I had called the main branch of the auto repair shop, and found out that it opened at 8am, and the line of cars that had pulled up was about 6 long. I was the first of 6. I think that most people who pulled up saw the crowd of Hondas sitting in front of a Honda Repair Shop, and figured there was a line forming, and the closer you were to the entrance, the higher up you were in the line, and so they jumped at the end of it.

That’s what we were doing. In a very basic way, we were following the code that humans have been following for millenia: we were forming a line. If you got there first, you were at the front of the line. In this case, that was me. Second to show up, you were behind me, but in front of everyone else. And so on and so forth.

And every now and then, someone would show up who would not recognize the pattern that was in place. They didn’t quite see the fact that we were forming a line. So instead, a person would every now and then cruise up, and jump in front of everyone else and just try and park right in the entrance, to basically claim that they were first, this was their spot, they were getting in line, imperialist style, rolling through Africa behind roaring gatling guns.

However, as soon as the person would triumphantly put their car into park, and look around with a bit of glee, the satisfied feeling of someone who has outsmarted everyone else, someone else, a patient line-waiter, would give a little honk. “Hey man, there’s a line here,” the honk would gently remind. The greedy imperialist would look around, in awe, aghast, as if asking, “Someone was here before me? How silly of me.” And then that person would kick it into reverse, and go to the back of the line. Order was restored.

This happened several times. I once gave the honk. It felt kind of good to honk, to be the person who was willing to step forward and to politely put civilized society back into functionality. And when I honked, I wondered what I would do if the person didn’t get back into place at the end of the line. Would I honk again, only longer, and louder? Would I get out of the car, go pound on the window, “Hey, asshole, there’s a line here!” I didn’t really know, and I never really had to test it. Because everyone is used to waiting in lines. It’s hardwired into our DNA. The people pulling up to the front of the line weren’t greedy imperialists, they just didn’t see the line, but had no problem recognizing the line once they saw it.

This morning, for fleeting moments, I found myself empathizing with localism. I have to admit that I’ve been thinking about localism within the surfing world a lot lately, particularly the San Francisco scene. Stokereport, an online surf forum catered to the Bay Area, has been downright explosive lately with banter about surf reporting, protected spots, codes of conduct, and the likes. I have always found it easier to identify with the “sharing is caring” community, those that say that there’s enough to go around, the more the merrier, surf and be happy my friend. The side that I’m more at odds with is the type who talk about hierarchy, shut the f— up and surf, keep it to yourself, go home Kook, you’re not wanted here. That’s not particularly my style.

But as I toot-tooted at a car that was pulling in front of me this morning, trying to claim my spot in line from me, I felt a flash of empathy for that mindset. Let me remind you of what “empathy” means, as its something that we talk a lot about in my school. It’s not agreeing with someone’s mindset, but it’s be able to understand it objectively, without passing too much judgment. In my class, I try to get my kids to empathize with how a demoralized, financially broke nation carrying war guilt on its shoulders might turn to fanatic nationalism, feeling despair and seeing no other way out. I don’t condone it, just try to understand why it may not be totally irrational. This morning at the auto repair shop, I was the local barking at the kook to understand his actual place in the pecking order. I saw a world in which there were rules, namely, that we get in line. There are no rules in surfing, but there are a lot of unstated concepts, and many surfers must see those as plainly as I saw a line when others just saw parked cars on a city street. But in my world, a honk generated a response. I was the first one in line, it took me two minutes to check in, and I was off on a nice long run to get home.

The difference between surfing and waiting in line for an auto repair shop, besides the fact that one of them is awesome and the other one kind of sucks, is that in surfing, the unspoken rules are not known to all. That must make it all the more frustrating to the person who feels that he is close to the front of the line, in his universe that sees lines and queues. If you call upon the rules, but someone doesn’t respond, and continues to sit in the front of the line like they’re the boss….when then that must get frustrating. And maybe make rational, good-hearted people get a bit heated, and maybe act in a way that doesn’t make too much sense otherwise.

Maybe. I’m not sure about all of this. I’m just thinking out loud. I’m just trying to empathize. I’ll still enjoy paddling out with friends more than I enjoy paddling out alone, and think that there are enough waves to go around and who are we really kidding anyway, there aren’t really any secret spots anymore, let’s all just relax and enjoy some waves together. To repeat myself, I’m just trying to empathize.


Posted by: Mark | April 29, 2010

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Reaction

5,000 barrels of oil a day are spilling into the Gulf of Mexico. We don’t want more offshore oil drilling. It’s time for a new type of activism.

Posted by: Mark | April 7, 2010

Being Crafty in Tokyo

I grew up in Tokyo. I lived here for 6 years, in the years that are definitely foundational enough to qualify the claim that I grew up here. I say “here” because I’m writing this in my parents’ living room, in Tokyo, Japan. They moved back here about 18 months ago, and I’m visiting them, returning to Tokyo for the first time since our family moved away 15 years ago.

It’s an understatement to say that it is incredible to be back. I’ve returned to the world of my childhood. When I walk into a Lawson convenience store, the stacks of candies, ice cream bars, and chips are more like stacks of memories, and the stories and phrases of youth have come flooding back. I had anticipated enjoying Tokyo, but I’m innamorate. I’m remembering some of my previous skill in Japanese language and writing, but best of all, I’m re-connecting with the culture.

On our first day, my parents took us to a craft store, one I hadn’t been to since I was probably 10 years old. In there, you pick a project–my wife picked out a box that would be a good spot for me to finally stop losing my keys–and then you sit down alongside a teacher and get to work. She had to go upstairs and select the decorative paper that she would want to adorn the box, and then went about forming it out of cardboard, laquering it with the paper, with a gentle Japanese woman coaxing her along.

For me, I went down to the basement and picked one of my favorite old crafts. It’s basically a glorified Paint By Numbers. The picture is a nice scene of Mt. Fuji and the seasonal cherry blossoms, and most of it is blank, and the blankness is bordered and numbered. A4, B17, C28, etc etc. There are two sheets of adhesive paper, with the accompanying shapes, which you cut out and place onto the right spot. The outcome, which I’m still working on, should look pretty nice.

My parents and my wife were working on their projects upstairs, and I was relegated downstairs to work by myself, which I found to be extremely enjoyable. The store played the type of smooth jazz that you have to admit is actually kind of relaxing, even if you’d never say so publicly while you’re waxing your hipster moustache at a Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix concert. A bubbly Japanese woman came over to instruct me on how to do the project, ignoring the fact that it takes the intellectual capacity of a goldfish to figure it out, and did so with the earnestness and sincerity of Jack Bauer telling the president that everything was going to be Ok, he was going to get the terrorists. However, while Jack Bauer is always out of breath and gruff, the Japanese woman’s voice was light and floated, and reminded me of the soundtrack of my youth.

These shapes that you cut out to paste on your project are about as convoluted and intricate as they can possibly get. We’re not talking about cutting out circles and squares, but the types of shapes that the most ambitious geometrist would have a hernia over trying to calculate the area. There is no rushing. I sat down, rolled up my sleeves, and got down to work. Within about 2 minutes, I found myself in love with what I was doing. The cutting was so slow, and so detailed, that there was little else that you could think about. It required total focus. The chirping of the Japanese women around me and the smooth jazz blended into a melodic hum that made me feel 10 years old again, but 60 in wisdom year. It became, like many other things that I love passionately, an activity whose every detail I savored, so much so that I started writing this post in my mind as I was experiencing it.

I got to trying out my pigeon Japanese with the teacher who was willing to try out her pigeon English, and we had enough common ground to chat. I told her that I lived in Tokyo 15 years ago, and that I used to come to this exact same store, and do crafts exactly like this, when I was a kid. She basically wet herself with excitement over this. Any other customer who came into the store was immediately given a full run-through of my credentials: I live in San Francisco, and was visiting my parents, and was doing a craft I had done as a little boy. The pants-wetting enthusiasm proved to be contagious, and I started to think that the owner of the store should be paying me, rather than vice versa, for me being there and doing a craft.

It’s clear that the craft was difficult and detailed by design. That there was no rushing on purpose. And all of the sudden, all of the other Japanese traditions that I had really hated as a kid, like tea ceremonies and ikebana, made a ton of sense to me. They make you focus on one thing to slow down in a city that is notorious for its neon lights and high-strung anime. In fact, I’ve already put about 4 hours into the project, and I’m not even halfway done. I’m hoping to complete it before we leave, but I’m in no rush. It was genius for my parents to start a vacation with this craft, as it slowed me down into a mental state that has allowed me to soak up every other aspect of my time in Japan thus far.

Cutting these shapes out of paper validates why old Chinese people in my neighborhood get up and do funny exercises on Ocean Beach in the morning. It proves the point Andrew Bird makes in the song “Simple X,” which he summed up by once saying in an interview that if everyone took 5 minutes to have breakfast in meditative quiet, there would be world peace. As the Kenyans put it, Haraka haraka heina baraka. Hurry, hurry has no blessings.

So if you’ll excuse me, I have a craft to not rush through.

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