My love of the outdoors: Who I have to thank for it

Me being in places like this didn't happen in a vacuum. A lot of people were and still are a part of my ongoing outdoors journey.

Me being in places like this didn’t happen in a vacuum. A lot of people were and still are a part of my ongoing outdoors journey.

I got into an interesting online discussion where the question was asked, “Who was it that instilled in you a love of the outdoors?”

This is a great question, because I don’t think anything happens in a vacuum. No one just walks outside and says, “I think I’m going to be an outdoorsy person.” Something has to light that fire, and in most cases that fire is lit by someone your with.  So here is my list of people who lit and stoked my love of the outdoors.

My parents

These two were there when I was a mere sprout, doing the little things that got me outside. This is the three of us after the Oklahoma Memorial marathon.

These two were there when I was a mere sprout, doing the little things that got me outside. This is the three of us after the Oklahoma City Memorial marathon.

Last week, I wrote about my (fading) fading dream of living the mountain life. A part of that dream was created in 1976 when my parents bought this amazing little cabin in the Rockies. So many formative adventures started here.

Easter at the family cabin in Colorado.

Easter at the family cabin in Colorado.

All of us really loved that place. It was our base camp for fishing, hiking, watching nature and launching outdoor dreams.

My sister Shiela, her friend Valerie and myself looking at doing a little fishing near the family cabin.

My sister Shiela, her friend Valerie and myself looking at doing a little fishing near the family cabin.

You can never underestimate how those small experiences outside can grow into wonderfully big expressions in adulthood. They are formative and significant. So parents, if you want your kids to love and respect the outdoors, turn ‘em into little rippers now. My parents did, and all of their kids were better for it.

My brother-in-law, Mark

Mark and a nice gar. This dude can fish.

Mark and a nice gar. This dude can fish.

A born-and-bred Texan, Mark met my sister when they both lived in the Denver area. During his early 20s, he spent a lot of time feeding his love of fishing out in the Colorado high country, angling for trout in the streams and beaver ponds of the Rockies.

Shortly after they married, Mark was kind enough to take me fishing several times. We hit plenty of places in northern Colorado, out west near Eagle, and then south not far from Buena Vista and Tincup.

Thirteen-year-old me (awkward!) with a stringer full of fish Mark and I bagged near Eagle, Colo.

Thirteen-year-old me (awkward!) with a stringer full of fish Mark and I bagged near Eagle, Colo.

These were the trips where I learned to fish for trout, the reason why I almost never get skunked when I’m getting a hook wet in a trout stream. I learned how to fish, how to read a river, and how to appreciate how awesome the settings are for trout fishing. It’s no accident that most of the first mountains I hiked and climbed weren’t far from those old fishing holes. The first time I laid eyes on the incredible skyline of Mount Princeton, Mount Yale and Mount Antero was when the two of us were driving west in Mark’s little pickup, heading to where we’d camp and fish the next day.

My brother Mike

My brother Mike on the slopes of Wheeler Peak, N.M.

My brother Mike on the slopes of Wheeler Peak, N.M.

Mike was another guy who loved to fish, and some of my earliest memories of fishing were with him as we plied the waters of the Kishwaukee River in northern Illinois, or on nearby farm ponds. We kept that fishing habit up for a long time, and what Mark started in me, Mike honed even further.

It’s so very Mike that Mark and I showed him the ropes of trout fishing, and later on, he was teaching me.

Later on, Mike grew a passion for hiking and climbing the Colorado 14ers, the mountains that rise to more than 14,000 feet in elevation. He inspired me to hike my first big mountain, Wheeler Peak, N.M., and was there with me on my first three 14ers in Colorado.

Mike and I on the summit of Mount Elbert, Colo.

Mike and I on the summit of Mount Elbert, Colo.

A few years later, we brought our brother Steve into the 14er fold, with all of us tagging the summits of Quandary Peak and Mount Bierstadt.

Mike, me and Steve atop Quandary Peak, Colo.

Mike, me and Steve atop Quandary Peak, Colo.

Mike left us far too soon. He passed away in 2011 from cancer at the age of 47. In so many positive ways, however, his legacy lives on in his family and friends, things that go way beyond the mountains. But my little 14er obsession has its roots in hearing Mike talk about those early hikes up Mount Bierstadt, traversing the Sawtooth Ridge, and climbing Longs Peak.

My friend Johnny

Closer to home, my adventure bug got numerous feedings from my friend Johnny Hunter. We met through martial arts, and it was there that we discovered a shared love of hiking.

Johnny Hunter on the crags of Mount Mitchell, Okla.

Johnny Hunter on the crags of Mount Mitchell, Okla.

I’d been to the Wichita Mountains of southwestern Oklahoma before, but really got to explore them with Johnny. We’ve tagged a bunch of peaks out there, anything from gentle hikes to airy, exposed, slabby climbs. Johnny is one of those guys with no fear of heights and is always up for adventure.

The two of us, with no real coaching from anyone, did our first snow climb together on Mount Shavano in Colorado. And he’s been there with me on other mountain ascents numerous times. Anytime the adventure siren calls, Johnny is game.

My Colorado mountain buddies

There are too many of them to name, as this circle has grown quite a bit over the years. But those who are consistently in the mix, and have been there during those critical times of growth, include friends Bill Wood, his sister Beth Ketel, Noel Johnson, Chuck Erle and David Bates.

Me, Beth and Bill atop Mount of the Holy Cross, Colo.

Me, Beth and Bill atop Mount of the Holy Cross, Colo.

Clockwise from left, Chuck, David, me and Noel atop Mount Sneffels, Colo.

Clockwise from left, Chuck, David, me and Noel atop Mount Sneffels, Colo.

I’ve learned a ton from these folks, and I’m continual appreciation how they took me, a comparative noob, under their wing like I was an equal partner. That sort of humility and patience is a rare, beautiful thing you find much more commonly in hikers, climbers and mountaineers. Here’s hoping for more summits with this gang, and all of the other folks in Colorado I’ve met and hiked/climbed with since. You know who you are.

So there you have it. From my childhood to the present, these are the people who have created and sustained that love of the outdoors in me.

Do you have people like that in your lives? Feel free to share in the comments. I’d love to hear your stories…

Bob Doucette

Fitness: Deadlifts, clean-and-jerks, pull-ups and more for a full-body workout

Old-school weightlifting can lead to huge strength gains. Make the barbell your friend.

Old-school weightlifting can lead to huge strength gains. Make the barbell your friend.

I’m a creature of routine. I find things that work for me, then stick with it. This can be a good thing when it comes to training; while some preach constant changes (muscle confusion, brah!), I’m more of the type who believes you create a program, use it over time and give it time to work.

However, there comes a time to change things up. It’s a tough balance between distance running and weight training for me. These forms of exercise compete with each other for time and resources. Want to be fast? You won’t be very muscular. What to be big and muscly? Fine, but forget about being fast over the long-haul.

I’ve accepted that reality. I know that I’ll only get so big or so fast, and I’m cool with that. As long as I can tough out a race over 15 miles or more, I’m good. And while I may not ever be a body builder or a power athlete, I like the idea of being strong. A little bit of both goes a long way in terms of staying healthy for a long time, and performing well in the outdoors.

Anyway, I digress. I decided it was, in fact, time to shake things up. My leg-day workouts were getting too long, too taxing. And there were areas in my training that got short-changed as a result.

So I split up some of the stuff I do on leg day, then added some more goodies. The end result? A workout that blasts the posterior chain (back, shoulders, glutes and hamstrings) while also balancing out a rather imbalanced weekly workout schedule. Here’s a review of the exercises:

Barbell deadlift: I do four to five sets of these. I start light, but quickly get heavy. This is a power lift, one that requires heavier weights and lower reps. Stand at the bar, feet about shoulder width apart. Hand grips vary; I choose to have one hand palm out, one hand palm in (the axle grip), and both hands gripping the bar outside of my stance. Grip the bar tight, and tense those lats. Pull up on the bar to take up any “slack,” or the little bit of room that exists between the bar and the plates. Keeping your head and neck in a neutral spine position, drive up by firing your quads, squeezing your glutes and driving your hips forward. Your back should be straight, and your chest slightly up (to the point where someone could see the logo on your shirt as you began the lift). When you’re at standing position, your chest should be out (proud) and your shoulders slightly back. Then slowly lower the weight down, bending at the knees and getting your hips back. Tip: DO NOT hunch your back; keep it straight. And don’t tilt your head back to look up at the mirror; doing so will deactivate your hams and glutes and overly recruit your lower back, which you DON’T want to do. If you can’t avoid hunching over and pulling with your back, use less weight and get the form right.

Barbell clean-and-jerk: One of the standard Olympic lifts, this is also a power move, and a complicated one at that. The clean-and-jerk is very technique-oriented, and I recommend good coaching and research before performing this move. That said, it’s an awesome full-body, compound exercise that builds explosiveness and power, and ultimately, strength in your legs, core and back. Stand at the bar in a deadlift position, but place your hands further apart than in the deadlift, and both palms down (no axle grip). To start the lift, explode up with the bar, but instead of stopping at a deadlift finish position, raise that bar to a front-squat position. You will likely come up on your toes a bit (the whole leg gets involved). Once in this position, you will do a push-press to finish the move — squat down slightly, then explode up powerfully with your legs, press the bar up, and lock out. For balance purposes, you might feel comfortable having one leg forward, one back, then coming to a neutral standing position once this lift is complete. This lift is easier shown than explained in type, so here ya go:

I do this in sets of four reps. This ain’t an exercise where you do high-rep sets. Even so, you will get a cardio element during your sets. Tip: This exercise is VERY technique oriented, and it is a riskier move than most other lifts. It’s vital you do weight you can handle, and don’t break form.

Farmer’s walk: This one is a lot easier to master. Simply pick up two heavy weights, then walk slowly with them in your hands for a minute. Dumbbells or plates work here. Maintain good posture and keep tension on your shoulders. A real trap-buster, and it will really help your grip strength, too.

Nothing beats the old-fashioned dead-hang pull-up.

Nothing beats the old-fashioned dead-hang pull-up.

Pull-ups: The king of back exercises, especially those broader lat muscles. But don’t be fooled, pull-ups and chin-ups are awesome for the entire back/shoulder muscles groups, as well as for your biceps and grip strength. I strongly recommend doing dead-hang pull-ups (no kipping) for optimal strength gains and muscle growth. Grab the bar, and “pack” your shoulders (don’t start from a completely relaxed position); flex your shoulders so they are supporting your weight at the bottom of the lift). Concentrate on pulling your chest toward the bar until your chin clears it, then lower yourself slowly. With this, do as many reps per set as you can.

Rear-delt band pulls: Band pulls? Really? Yes, really. I’ve read some really great stuff from elite lifters who use band pulls to strengthen those small backside shoulder muscles (rear delts, rhomboids), which in turn opens their chest and allows them to get huge gains in exercises like the bench press. Take an elastic band and grab both ends with your hands. Then slowly stretch the band out until your arms are fully extended in full-wingspan mode. Then slowly return to your starting position. Sets of 20 to 25 reps are good on this one.

Flexed-arm hangs: A good finishing exercise for the back. Go up to the pull-up bar, then pull yourself up to where your chin clears the bar. Hold that position for, say, 10 seconds. Then slowly lower yourself back down. Repeat. As you get stronger, increase the time.

So my workout looks like this:

Deadlift: sets of 8, 6, 4, 3, 2 (increasing weight)

Clean-and-jerk: 3 sets of 4 reps (increasing weight)

Farmer’s walk: 3 sets, 1 minute per set

Pull-up: 3 sets, as many reps as possible for each set

Rear-delt band pulls: 3 sets of 20

Flexed-arm hang: 3 sets, 10 seconds per set (more time if you’re stronger)

This is causing me to redo some of my other workouts during the week, but I’m good with that. A lot of the things I do are geared toward promoting a stronger posterior chain. This has a couple benefits. First, you can’t be a strong person without a strong back. And second, if you’re an endurance athlete, that entire posterior chain — back, glutes, hams and calves — need to be strong if you’re going to perform well and prevent injuries. Elite distance runners may need to tweak this (for the sake of being fast). But in general, if you’re interested in a high level of general fitness, doing the work on that ole backside should be a priority.

Bob Doucette

On nostalgia, gentrification, and the fading dream of a mountain life

A few childhood mountain memories are burned into my mind.

A flying saucer in the woods.

A sylvan scene in a thick aspen grove.

The smell of beer and the sounds of the Steve Miller Band playing on a stereo.

These are the images of a time long past in the Rockies, from the day when ordinary mountain people lived in the high country to do as they pleased without the strictures of “normal life” to hold them down. People built weird, secluded houses in the forest and took up hermitage or came to biker parties at a cabin with their kids in tow. Disney-like tableaus that could have come straight out of “Bambi” were common just a few hundred yards from the family cabin.

I liked those times. I miss those times. I miss them because for most ordinary people, they’re just memories. The Rocky Mountain West has increasingly become an expensive playground for the well-heeled, and the rest of us are welcome to visit, but increasingly unable to stay.

The family cabin near Bailey, Colorado. A little slice of alpine heaven.

The family cabin near Bailey, Colo. A little slice of alpine heaven.

I was blessed to grow up in Colorado, and doubly blessed when my parents saved up a little money and plunked down about 10 grand on a small A-frame cabin near a little burg called Bailey. The cabin itself sat on an acre-and-a-half of pine forest, accessible by a twisty dirt road the family’s massive 1969 Caprice could barely navigate.

The cabin itself was somewhat spare, but perfect just the same. We had to haul in our own water, and the toilet was outside, in a two-holer outhouse. But it had electricity, was fully furnished and equipped and sported a sweet deck with a hummingbird feeder that entertained me endlessly.

The cabin served as base camp for a lot of my early outdoor adventures, usually short hikes into the woods looking for places to build a fort and play Army with my brothers and whatever friends they brought with them. On one such hike, we went pretty far from the cabin (or so it seemed through my six-year-old eyes), then stumbled into a sunlit grotto of pines and aspens. Sunlight pierced through the leaves and pine needles, illuminating this little corner of the forest in an array of green hues that stopped me in my tracks.

I don’t know how the rest of the gang reacted when they saw it, but it was a real Lady of the Lake moment for me (minus the water, of course), like I was Arthur looking for Excalibur, and there it was, being thrust from the brush by the arm of some unseen wood nymph. If you want to know where my sense of wonder with the outdoors came from, it was there, in that spot, on that day.

Back at the cabin, my mom whipped up dinner that cannot be adequately described in words of praise. She’s that good. Our bellies full, we relaxed to mid-70s soft rock tunes oozing from the 1930s-era wooden console radio that came with the cabin and watched the sky transform from blue to various hues of yellow, orange, red and purple. No sense of contentment was higher than at that moment as the kids played games, pieced together puzzles or read a book.

We had neighbors. Real hippies, from what I can guess. They invited my family to a cookout one summer day, so we all walked down the dirt road to their place and were immediately cloaked in the aroma of grilling burgers and hot dogs. This is where I heard Steve Miller for the first time, and the Eagles, too.

It’s also the place where I first smelled beer. You know the smell. A freshly cracked-open can of Coors, announcing itself with smells of barley and hops. I never tasted the stuff — that was reserved for the adults, a mix of flower children and leather-clad motorcycle enthusiasts. And my folks, of course. Just an ordinary, eclectic mix of, you know, mountain people. A funny, weird, and totally likeable bunch.

My guess is that some sort of hybrid of these people is what built the flying saucer house I saw a few years later with a childhood friend while tooling around the woods near Wellington Reservoir. We’d spent the better part of a few days trying, without luck, to pull trout out of that lake. We usually caught suckers, “trash fish” that resembled carp, but smaller. They had a ravenous appetite for salmon eggs we hoped would tempt the ever-elusive trout. So in between these fruitless exercises in angling came a lot of hiking, exploring wild places like kids do.

Not the same place, but the UFO house I saw as a kid looked a lot like this one. (thegrumpyoldlimey.com photo)

Not the same place, but the UFO house I saw as a kid looked a lot like this one. (thegrumpyoldlimey.com photo)

And there it was, beyond a “KEEP OUT!” sign attached to a barbed-wire fence: a dwelling made of metal that looked like a 1950s-era, B-movie UFO, not much bigger than a large RV. It takes a special kind of person to live in something like that, let alone want to live in something like that.

So who would live there? Mountain people, that’s who. Mountain people from yore.

*****

Things have changed a bit since then. As it turns out, a wide range of people like to live in pretty places like the Rockies. Those who can afford it build their dream sanctuary there. And if they have a lot of money, they do it up big.

Back in the day, such ventures weren’t all that pricey. Old mining towns that saw their ventures play out nearly withered and died, saved only by their proximity to gorgeous, skiable mountains.

That’s precisely what happened to Breckenridge. A few years ago, while doing some travel writing, I went to Breck and a few other ski havens to see what they were offering these days. We got a tour of the town from one of the local historical society people, who proceeded to walk us through Breckenridge’s storied history in mining.

No one digs in Breckenridge anymore. But there’s plenty of money to be made. It’s home to world-class skiing, and the town now caters to tourists looking to make some turns on the slopes.

As it turns out, plenty of visitors like Breckenridge. Any why not? It’s a beautiful little town, and a good place to ski. So up went the vacation homes, some as small as condos, others palatial. Few if any are lived in year-round. Some are investment properties, and still others are trophies for the well-heeled.

It takes a lot to keep a place like Breckenridge running. Namely workers who are willing to clean those expensive estates, serve you drinks and food downtown or fit you with the right skis, poles and boots before you hit the slopes. Someone has to man the chair lifts, and someone had to be there to pull you off the hill if you get hurt.

There are a ton of other workers serving you and other visitors. Most of them have one thing in common (other than being employed in the service industry): Very few of them actually live in Breckenridge.

Chances are, they don’t live in nearby Frisco, either. Even Dillon is going to be a stretch. It’s just too pricey for the poor to middle class to live in these places, and for many who do, they end up shacking up with lots of roommates in cramped apartments, trailer houses or other small-but-cheap-enough dwellings that get them close enough to the places where they work and play.

But actually living in Breck? Maybe some of the business owners. And some of the wealthy to whom they cater.

You can bet you ass that none of them are living in flying saucers with “KEEP OUT” signs or hosting parties for their biker friends.

Quick access to beautiful places and great skiing is what has driven up housing costs in the mountains. This pic was taken at Winter Park, Colo.

Quick access to beautiful places and great skiing is what has driven up housing costs in the mountains. This pic was taken at Winter Park, Colo.

This goes for plenty of other mountain towns. Take Crested Butte, for example.

It’s a gorgeous little community just south of the mighty Elk Range. It surrounds Mount Crested Butte, which holds some of Colorado’s sweetest ski runs. Like a lot of ski towns, moneyed travelers fell in love with the place, built homes and sort of moved in. Housing prices went up. People who work in the Butte got priced out. So they moved to “South Crested Butte,” just down the road.

South Crested Butte is pretty, too, and still has easy access to those beloved slopes. There is a river that runs by with incredible scenery. Supply was met with demand, and acreage was parceled off for large vacation homes and such. So soon enough, anyone not making major bank got priced out of South Crested Butte, too.

The next closest town, unfortunately, is pretty far down the road – Gunnison. I like Gunnison. But it’s far different from Crested Butte. Whereas CB is all green forests, grassy glades and steep mountain peaks, Gunnison is more arid: open spaces, wide valleys and sage-covered hills. Gunnison is windswept and, in the winter, one of the coldest places in the lower 48. It’s a cool town with good places to eat and quick access to some amazing places (you need to see the Black Canyon), but it’s not Crested Butte.

However, this is where a lot of people who work in Crested Butte live, about 30 miles away. And even then, that’s changing.

It was after a fishing trip in the Black Canyon that I got to talking to a guy who lived in Gunnison. His home was this rustic, two-story house sided with corrugated metal, just the kind of unique structure you’d expect to see in a mountain town. He was kind enough to lead me and my friends to one of his favorite fishing spots in the canyon, and once we got through we got to talking about the costs of living in the Rockies. He lamented the fact that even in Gunnison, prices were going up.

In terms of appearances, Gunnison and Crested Butte might as well be in different worlds. But the economics of gentrification have seemingly left them irreversibly linked.

Before that conversation, I looked at Gunnison as a place I could live. Now I’m not so sure. It may yet be one more mountain town where I can only visit.

******

This topic came up a few months ago at the tail end of a backpacking trip in the San Juans.

The trip itself was amazing. A crew of us hiked into Chicago Basin and climbed some mountains there, a place so remote that you couldn’t get to it by road. It was truly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, and the thrill of the peaks was matched by the company I kept – reconnecting with friends from past hikes and climbs, as well as meeting new friends with a shared love of the high country.

Eventually, it was time to go home, and four of us – my friends Matt, Bill and Jenny, and myself – took a pit stop in another cool little mountain town and one of its microbreweries. Salida’s Elevation Beer Co. is a pretty simple place – they make beer and have a small bar and shop where you can sample the goods.

We snagged our brews and pulled up a bench at a thick, wooden table and shot the breeze for awhile, and the topic of high country gentrification came up. I’m probably the guy who brought it up, and the high-point beer loosened me up to the point where I got pretty animated about the subject. It’s hard for me to say, but if you were to poll my friends, they’d probably say I was pretty passionate about it.

Relaxing with friends, sipping on some quality brews at Elevation Beer Co. in Salida, Colo.

Relaxing with friends, sipping on some quality brews at Elevation Beer Co. in Salida, Colo.

I’m not sure why this subject eats at me so. I haven’t lived in Colorado since I was a teenager, and my parents sold that cabin the year we moved across the country to northern Illinois. As much as I travel to Colorado and New Mexico, I really don’t have a dog in this hunt. I’m not a stakeholder in any real way, just another visitor gawking awestruck at the towering peaks and endless forests of the alpine wonderland that is the Rocky Mountains.

But you can’t underestimate the power of nostalgia. There is a part of me that wishes very badly that I could somehow recapture the wonder I felt as a kid, walking into that brightly lit glade or perhaps joining a neighbor’s party as classic rock poured out of a beat-up old sound system. I’d like to own a piece of that dream, maybe become neighbors with the weirdo who lives in the UFO house.  I think I could live in a cabin with an outhouse, just as long as it had that deck with the hummingbird feeder and that killer view of pine forests all around.

But I fear (perhaps irrationally) that the “everyman” mountain people are mostly gone now, displaced by the nouveau riche landowners who only live in the mountains part-time, relegating the old-timers to far less scenic, far more desperate communities. So much of the Rockies now belong to large-scale ranchers and vacation home owners that the dream of settling down amidst the peaks looks all but unattainable.

(I also understand that beyond gentrification, jobs are harder to come by, and even those in professions that normally pay well in other places pay less in the mountains because employers know workers will accept less pay to live in the grandeur of the high country, yet another consequence of mountain life that feeds into its unattainability for most.)

I hate to think that someone who loves the mountains as much as I do may be assigned to permanent visitor status, but that’s where gentrification has taken us.

At least I still have my memories, and the ability to make more. But sadly, that may be where line has been drawn.

Bob Doucette

Race recap: the 2014 Tulsa Run

A little hardware, a little football and probably other indulgences laying around somewhere after last week's Tulsa Run.

A little hardware, a little football and probably other indulgences lying around somewhere after last week’s Tulsa Run.

A year ago, this plodding distance runner scored a sweet little 15K PR in the midst of marathon training. Not overly fast, but 12 minutes faster than the previous year.

Three-hundred and sixty-five days later, 10 pounds heavier, 20 degrees warmer and facing a course that was a whole lot hillier, you might think this year’s Tulsa Run was going to be one big, fat fail-fest.

And if you went solely by the numbers, you might be right. But numbers do not always a race make.

No doubt, this course changes in this year’s Tulsa Run made it tougher on everyone. Gone were the long, flat straightaways of years past, replaced by big, long hills through the heart of the city. Temperatures by the race’s end were in the low 70s, which is pretty warm for a race this length.

But while there was more than a bit of groaning about the temps and the hills, most of the people I talked to and ran with loved the changes.

So here’s a recap…

THE WINNERS

Most of the time, the winner of this race is often a professional athlete and usually from out-of-state.

Not this time.

In the men’s open division, Johnny Crain – a grad assistant on the University of Oklahoma’s cross-country team – threw down a 45:32 time. For the women, Jane Murage of Kenya clocked in at 53:38.

The Tulsa Run is in its second year as host of the USATF Masters Championship. Daniel Mutai, a frequent competitor in the Tulsa Run, took the men’s title at 53:39 while Pauline Allen just missed cracking the one-hour mark with a 1:02:27, easily winning the women’s championship.

Let’s go back to that overall winner. Basically what we’re talking about is a dude who is pretty much a college kid winning Oklahoma’s oldest long-distance race. It’s almost like he got up one day, turned to his bros, and said, “Yeah, I can win that.” And then he signs up, shows up, and stuns the field. Followed, of course, by a nonchalant “Halo” tournament with his bros later that day.

I’m sure it didn’t go down quite like that. I’ll bet he takes his racing much more seriously than that. But I kind of like my version. That would be awesome.

THE COURSE

Like I said, it was hilly. The race used to be an out-an-back from downtown Tulsa south alongside the Arkansas River, then back into downtown. So downhill a mile south, flat for seven miles, then uphill for that last mile to the finish.

Not this time. The city is embarking on a huge park project right on the route the race usually runs, that necessitated a change. If last year’s Tulsa run was flat, fast and a little dull, this year’s race was the opposite.

The downhill start is still there, but as the race coursed through Midtown neighborhoods and entertainment districts, there was a constant flow of long, big hills. I’d say the first 9K of the race was just that, and I can tell you from looking at the times that many runners were not ready for it. If anything, the race taught competitors a valuable lesson about incorporating hill training in their workouts. People who ran flat courses during their training runs, well, the Tulsa Run probably ate their lunch.

Thankfully, the course relented once it crossed the river before the final uphill trudge to the finish. On the bad side, that is also the time when the temperatures started to spike. Seventy-two degrees might not seem like a big deal to most people but it’s downright hot for a race of this distance.

HOW IT WENT

Last year, my expectations were to PR. Plain and simple. I was in great shape, light and the conditions at gun-time – right around 40 degrees – were perfect. And PR I did, clocking in at 1:28:06. That’s not really all that fast, but it was a vast improvement from the previous Tulsa Run I entered.

I’ve been doing a lot more hills lately, but that weight gain – when you’re running 25 miles a week instead of 40, you’re going to be heavier – was bound to make a difference. As would all the other factors that made this race different from the last.

I did well through the hills, and if the race ended at 10K, that would have been one thing. But there were another 3 miles to go. I have to say, I was spent. Those last few miles were a bit of a grind, but when the finish line came near I had enough gas in the tank for a final push. The result: 1:32:35, a bit over 4 minutes off last year’s pace. Man, I’ll take it.

A couple of reasons why: First, the course was awesome. I’m all for speed and PRs, but a real challenge like this one is pretty sweet, too. It’s a great prep for the Route 66 Marathon, which has some hills of its own. And frankly, it’s just more interesting. I like loops better than out-and-backs.

Second, I really felt I’d be a lot slower. Somewhere in the 1:40 range. That’s what my training pointed toward, and I figured all the other factors from this year’s race would slow me down significantly. It was nice to know that while I was slowed, it wasn’t by much.

And last, the Tulsa Run is just a special event. It’s been around for almost four decades, and it has become one of those local bucket list items for a lot of people. Running the Tulsa Run is often a gateway for people to take their fitness to another level, and seeing this people on the course and crossing the finish line is pretty awesome.

My hope is that organizers of the race keep this course for a while. It’s harder, but it’s better. I’m not sure if all 9,000 people who ran it agree, but I’ll bet a lot of them will.

So another Tulsa Run is in the books, and a half marathon looms in less than three weeks. So far, so good. Fall race season is off to a pretty fun start.

Bob Doucette

Casey Nocket, creepytings and the inevitable collision of ‘look at me!’ and the outdoors

It was bound to happen, sooner rather than later.

A collision of forces, innocuous by themselves, but in combination pretty unfortunate. An affinity for the outdoors, social media and a desire to be noticed by a lot of people have brought us… creepytings.

Casey Nocket and her Creepytings vandalism.

Casey Nocket and her creepytings vandalism.

Creepytings is an Instagram gallery of photos that a woman named Casey Nocket created in which she photographs acryllic paintings she plasters on rock faces in the country’s national parks.

I’m sure some people found these stunts interesting or cool, but most public reaction has been harshly negative. And for good reason, as it’s not only defacing places that are set aside to remain pristine, but it’s also illegal.

The “art” in itself looks like graffiti intended to look like primitive cave paintings. At least that’s the impression I got. Photographs showcase the paintings, and sometimes heavily stylized images of her with her paintings. It’s very hipster-in-the-wild chic, I guess.

I’m not going to debate whether or not what Nocket did was wrong. It’s obvious it was. Whatever punishment she has coming can’t come soon enough.

And it would be easy to take shots at the younger generation that has embraced all things social media and photography. No hike goes undocumented, no selfie is one too many. Go Pros and “Go Poles” have changed the way we see the outdoors, and how we portray ourselves in it, or more accurately, the image we try to portray of ourselves. Whether it’s a thing of personal branding or just hunting for likes, the result is the same — there is a lot of media out there of people doing things outside.

I’ll admit to being at least partially guilty of that. The biggest reason I write in this space is to showcase the outdoors and the need for all of us to be out in it. When you’re in it, you learn to respect it. That’s my theory.

But on that note, we’ve got work to do.

I’m a huge proponent of my local urban wild space, Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness. It’s an awesome place where I can run trails and hike, and it’s within Tulsa’s city limits, 15 minutes from my front door.

But I get discouraged when I see stuff like this.

Someone's bad idea of "art" at Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness.

Someone’s bad idea of “art” at Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness.

That was all chalk, but there are other rock faces defaced with spray paint. Similar acts of vandalism have tagged a number of wilderness areas I’ve visited. This is not a new problem, though one that’s worth fighting.

What’s different is people (in this case, Nocket) making it so public, justifying it as “art,” and then publicizing it widely (before she succumbed to public backlash and made her Instagram account private).

So I see this in two ways. We’ve succeeded in getting people outdoors, at least to a certain extent.

But we’ve failed in terms of instilling the sense of responsibility people need to have in caring for wild places. The chalk art, the creepytings paintings, the video of two idiots hitting golf balls off a mountain summit — all cases of people doing decidedly non-awesome things outside.

Or maybe we haven’t totally failed. Perhaps that’s too harsh. But if Casey Nocket teaches us anything, it’s that we have a lot of work to do in terms of teaching people to respect and protect wilderness.

So let’s get this message out. If you don’t respect it, you won’t protect it. And if you don’t protect it, you won’t have it for much longer.

Bob Doucette

Gear review: Saucony Ride 7 running shoe

I’m a creature of habit. A brand loyalist. Look at the stuff I own and have owned, and you’ll see very little variation from what I’ve bought and used in the past.

So stepping out and trying a new brand over something I’ve trusted for years is not something I do very often. I find what I like, and I stick with it.

That’s been the case for running shoes for quite some time. But every now and then, it’s worth taking a risk.

I wore out my last set of sneaks with several hundred miles of training and racing. They were done. So it came time to find replacements.

My needs: A shoe that works with mid- to forefoot-strike (which means a low heel drop), does not have a lot of motion control and has the type of comfort I need for long runs. I settled on the Saucony Ride 7.

I have little experience with this brand, but the company has a good reputation. Worth a shot, right?

The Saucony Ride 7.

The Saucony Ride 7.

Specifications

– An 8 mm drop, giving it a lower profile for those of us who are not heel strikers.

– Weighs 8.5 ounces.

– A neutral design, meaning that it’s not geared toward heavily pronating foot strikes.

– Moisture wicking fabric.

I run in heat, I don’t pronate and my forefoot strike seem to all indicate that this would be a good fit for me.

Performance

My initial impressions were good. The shoe is light and comfortable, with the right amount of cushioning for longer runs on the pavement. I’ve put on a couple of hundred miles in them since my purchase, with runs going anywhere from 2 to 13 miles, averaging between 20 and 25 miles a week.

They’ve held up fairly well, too. I would expect the kind of mileage they’re getting to result in considerable tread wear and such, but so far that has not been the case. The sole is getting a little stiffer, but they still feel good. I’ve got a couple of races coming up in the next month, and I feel good about lacing these up and letting it rip.

I’d also say that the neutral sole construction suits me well. There seems to be a bias among shoe makers to design products that favor people who pronate (such as a really high inside arch support). This causes me problems. The Ride 7′s design is meant for those of us who don’t pronate or who (gasp!) supinate. You know who you are. And if this is you, this might be your shoe.

Price

The Saucony Ride 7 retails for $120, making it a higher-end shoe, though definitely not at the top of the running shoe price range.

Overall

If I’m shelling out $120 on a pair of shoes, I better be one happy camper. I can say that I am. They’ve held up well under heavy use and remained comfortable. High-mileage runners can’t get away with going on the cheap — we have to invest in our training. And when you put it like that, gravitating toward higher-end shoes makes sense.

It’s hard to convince a guy like me to stray from brands I trust, but I’d go with the Ride 7 again when it’s time to find a replacement.

So in summary, if you’re the type who is regularly training for half marathon or marathon races (and you’re not a heavy pronator), the Ride 7 is going to be tough to beat.

Note: These shoes were not provided to me by the manufacturer.

Bob Doucette

Alone time: A case for going solo

There are days where you wish you never would have gotten out of bed.

Most of the time, those days pass. The sun rises the next day, you breathe easier and chalk up one bad day as something you have to go through every now and then.

But there are times when those days run back-to-back. Or maybe they run on for a week. Or several weeks.

I’ve had a few of those stretches. Personally, I’d like to forget most of 2010-2011. But more recently, it goes something like this…

There is, legitimately, a lot of angst over this little guy.

There is, legitimately, a lot of angst over this little guy.

I wake up in the morning and check the headlines. Ebola has made it to the United States. Elsewhere, some crazy, well-armed maniacs are making a case for beheading people they don’t like. And according to one group, the rainbow flag is now the new “sign of the beast.”

Add to that a few long, stressful shifts on the job, and let me tell you, I’m ready to escape. I’m ready to be away from people. I’m ready to see no one, hear nothing, and just be still for awhile.

Funny thing. I was involved in a Twitter chat recently where the topic was solo travel. It got me to thinking about those times when I hit the road for some serious alone time.

Back when I was in college, my family was spread out all over the world. At one point, I had a sister in west Texas, a brother in Colorado, another brother in Germany and my parents in France. I was attending courses at a small Baptist liberal arts college smack in the middle of Oklahoma.

I was cool being on my own. I liked school. I had good friends, things to do and a certain feeling of, dare I say, “accomplishment” for making it on my own. Never mind that I had my parents’ gas card and plenty of help along the way. But I digress.

When the holidays rolled around and campus cleared out, I’d often make my way to my sister’s place in Midland, a small west Texas city built on the petro-riches found deep underground in the Permian Basin. The routine: Load up my duffle, slip on a thick hoodie and a jacket, and buy a pack of cheap cigars as my truck rolled southwest to the flattest land in all of Texas. That’s an eight-hour drive, boring as hell and I loved every minute of it.

Probably not your idea of a good time, but hear me out. After a semester of communal living, tight class schedules, high stress and all that other business, those eight hours on the road — blowing cigar smoke out the window as the sound of the engine, the tires on the road and the music on the radio droned on — was just the release I needed. The yellow, orange, red and purple glow of sunset over the horizon was a pretty sweet bonus.

I’m sure the trip would have gone by faster with some company, but then I wouldn’t have been able to burn all those cigars, wouldn’t have been able to sing all those songs a full volume, and wouldn’t have had all that time to decompress.

Going solo is often about just that – decompression. The time alone without distractions to just drink in what’s going on around you without having to satisfy anyone else’s agenda but your own is exactly the tonic I need when life gets a little too crazy for a little too long.

A rainy day in the Wichita Mountains. This was taken on a different outing, but the visual effect is the same.

A rainy day in the Wichita Mountains. This was taken on a different outing, but the visual effect is the same.

Those couple of years that went awry (I mentioned 2010-2011 earlier) was also a time when I had one of the most amazing and memorable outdoor experiences of my life. A solo hike in the Wichita Mountains of southwestern Oklahoma included a near-miss with a charging buffalo, a record-setting torrential rain storm and some absolutely incredible scenery – ancient granite peaks shrouded in rain and fog, transforming the appearance from sandy, beige granite into icy hues of pewter, silver and white.

When I tell people about that hike, they wonder aloud what would have happened to me if that buffalo would have gored me (self-rescue would have been a serious issues), or how I could possibly enjoy being soaked to the bone for hours on end.

But being alone allowed me to really pay attention to my surroundings. When you’re solo, your senses are heightened to a point where every sight, smell and scent is much more intense than it would have been if you had shared it with others.

It also gave me time to think. And believe me, I had a lot on my mind.

But in also focusing on the task at hand – navigating wilderness with no one else there to help – it also allowed me to escape. Maybe not forget. But even if for a day or two, just to not be where all the world’s troubles were, where all my problems were –  yes, that is an escape. As hostile as the conditions, and maybe the wildlife, were, that place at that time was a refuge not unlike the smoke-filled cab of my little pickup motoring down a west Texas highway.

More recently, a group climb in northern Colorado got washed out by bad weather, forcing me to make a choice: Go solo in a drier part of the state or go home. I chose the former.

I camped at the trailhead parking lot, which was dark and empty, nodding off to sleep to the mellower tunes I had on my phone before waking up in the pre-dawn hours and setting off on the trail up Missouri Mountain.

When you're walking into this misty void alone, the experience is visceral. This is on Missouri Mountain's summit ridge, just shy of 14,000 feet.

When you’re walking into this misty void alone, the experience is visceral. This is on Missouri Mountain’s summit ridge, just shy of 14,000 feet.

I suffered a bit on that trip, and the weather was dodgy the entire ascent. The only voice I heard was in my head, telling me to turn around and pack it in. But that same sense of heightened awareness I experienced in the Wichitas returned as I plodded my way up past 13,000 feet, and ultimately an amazing time where, for the first time in my life, I had a high summit to myself.

Hours later, I was back in my car headed toward civilization. As it turned out, I missed the news of the day – a mass shooting at a Navy station that ultimate kicked off another predictable social media shoutfest over guns.

At that point, I wished I was back in the bosom of wilderness, and away from the angst and outrage of “the real world.”

After the week I just had, I feel that pull pretty bad. The world can be a noisy, angry place. When I’ve had my fill of that, the quiet indifference of the wild, taken in on my own, sounds like paradise.

Bob Doucette