Three Firsts

So here's three firsts [say that three times fast!]: first of December, first accumulating snowfall for Rochester, and first run in the snow barefoot.

Last night we got an inch or so of snow accumulation.  I was excited to try running in it.  After all, I've been practicing as the weather got colder.  But, as it turns out, snow — being largely frozen water — takes a lot of heat to melt, and in turn, it feels really really cold. And as a result, this run was spent most focused on running and on the condition of my body, particularly my feet.

It was kind of funny, actually, because I swear I could hear my cardiovascular system curse in surprise as it attempted to boost blood-flow to my extremities. My feet got much colder, much faster than they do even at colder temperatures, and I kept making sure they weren't losing sensation, feeling hot, nor appearing a color other than pink. I wasn't going to push things too far, so I decided to cut my run much shorter and barely covered more than a mile.

After an hour or so, everything was back to normal. Lucky? Not really. Just careful.

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Vacation to Acadia National Park

In case you hadn't already noticed, there was no blog activity last week, and the events list might have been a little more erroneous than usual. The reason was that Ali and I left on July 18 and headed to my parents' house in Schenectady, my friends Jan and Shannon in New Hampshire, Acadia National Park (State Highway 3 and Paradise Hill Rd., Bar Harbor, ME) for 3 days, Ali's friend in Boston, a brief stop at my parents' again, and back home on the 25th.

Naturally, when we got to Schenectady, we got a late lunch/early dinner at Jumpin' Jack's Drive-In (5 Schonowee Ave., Scotia) for their highly prized fast food. Afterward, we took a drive out to Frosty Acres (150 Skyline Dr., Schenectady) which is a local campground that I've seen signs for since I was a kid. By the time we left, we dubbed it "Shady Acres" — not only was the site that was recommended for us to check out a mud pile (and $25 per night), the clientèle was a mix of people residing there and/or passing through with no other living options. In essence: a bit of a rough crowd. Topping it off was the strict, literal enforcement of the 51⁄2 mile-per-hour speed limit. We ended up staying on the land in back of my parents' house, giving us a chance to fully test the tent and its set-up and take-down.

On Sunday we left for New Hampshire; this time taking the Turnpike through Massachusetts and forgoing the scenic, slower, and shorter trip through Vermont and New Hampshire. We hung out with Jan and Shannon, and my friends John and Michelle visited from Boston as well. We stayed through Tuesday before heading out to Maine.

Despite the rain, we decided to continue with the plan of following scenic Route 1. We got off Route 95 (which I guess now is 295 as 95 is now the toll road once known as 495 … thanks, Maine) at Freeport. We stopped at Classic Custard (150 Lower Main St., Freeport, ME) and had a hearty snack before continuing into town to visit L. L. Bean (10 Depot St., Freeport, ME) … I mean, how can you not, especially on a camping trip? I can only assume that L. L. Bean was there first and the shopping nightmare of "outlet" stores cropped up sometime later, but at least their store was competent … in my opinion, not worth a trip out of your way, but if you're a fan, it's worth it to at least stop.

Anyway, travel was excruciatingly slow and Route 1 is not nearly as scenic as it implies. That said, it's far more interesting a drive than Rt. 95, but the time cost is pretty high. We arrived at Acadia National Park (State Highway 3 and Paradise Hill Rd., Bar Harbor, ME) around 8 p.m. in steady rain. We decided to sleep in the Roadmaster after putting the coolers outside. Ali also wanted to get some dinner more substantial than the snacks we had; she settled for cheese and wine. We also got a chance to check out a Ranger lecture on the geology of the area at the park's outdoor amphitheater, giving us a taste of just how engaging the park really is. The rain kept the crowd light and most of us joined the Ranger on the covered stage. The rain got heavier as we left and we were confined to the car for the night.

Wednesday proved to be much better. We got the tent set up and had breakfast at camp. We took the "free" [paid for by our $20 car fee and L. L. Bean; once again] shuttle from the campground to nearby Bar Harbor. We signed up to go to Baker Island on Friday through The Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co. (1 West St., Bar Harbor, ME) — apparently a family of 12 lived on the remote island some considerable distance from shore during the 1800's. We stopped by Alone Moose (78 West St., Bar Harbor, ME) and chatted with the owner Sherry, stopping at the gallery upstairs, The Gallery Upstairs (78 West St., Bar Harbor, ME) to check out works by J. Stan Mason that greatly appealed to me.

Sherry recommended The West Street Cafe (76 West St., Bar Harbor, ME) which was excellent — and refreshingly inexpensive. I had the Cafe Special which was lobster and shrimp tossed with mushrooms over linguine; Ali had the lobster special which included a 1 pound lobster, clam chowder, and a slice of blueberry pie which we shared á la mode. Everything was excellent, and with 2 local beers, we barely cracked $50.

We headed back to our campsite then walked to Sand Beach — pretty much the only substantial traditional beach in Acadia, and a place where you can go swimming. The water temperature is claimed to be around 50°F, and I believe most adults (like Ali and I) experience pain from cold by letting the water wash over our feet. However, I couldn't resist playing in the ocean as it's so rare that we get there, so I used the technique the Ranger from last night suggested: run at full speed into the water. It turned out to be not as bad as first expected, and I stayed in for the better part of an hour; my body apparently adjusted much better to total immersion.

We used the park shuttle once more to get back to camp. I couldn't get much of a fire started, but neither could anybody as everything was so damp. We ended up eating what we could cook on the camp stove instead. I stayed up for a while trying, but I never could get the wood to stop boiling off water enough to ignite.

Thursday was also a nice day. We hiked up Beehive: one of the small mountains in the area, although much of the climb is quite steep. So much so, in fact, that iron rungs were installed to assist along the trail when it went vertical. The climb isn't all that high — only 500 feet or so — but it does yield a dramatic view of the coastline. There's also an easier trail that leads through the woods past Bowl Lake which was startlingly serene.

The park shuttles transfer at Bar Harbor's town square, so we spent some time once again there. We had another good meal at The Thirsty Whale Tavern (40 Cottage St., Bar Harbor, ME): I with a fish fry club sandwich (fried haddock, bacon, lettuce, tomato), and Ali with a lobster roll (big pieces of lobster held together with a bit of mayonnaise). We shopped for souvenirs and provisions: particularly, fire-starting sticks such that I might be able to get a fire going that would be capable of cooking something.

We decided to get ice cream and Ali joked that was going to get lobster ice cream so I said if they had it, she'd have to get it. As it turned out, Ben and Bills Chocolate Emporium (66 Main St., Bar Harbor, ME) had lobster ice cream and it wasn't all bad, although I let her off the hook and just forced her to taste it. We also stopped by The Bar Harbor Brewing Company (8 Mount Desert St., Bar Harbor, ME) which we'd had at the West Street Cafe and picked up a sampling of brews.

We got back later than we wanted, but still with plenty of daylight. I set to getting the fire started which went much better with the fire-starting sticks, but the wood was still too wet to yield good coals to cook over. We used it anyway, and had steak tips and corn for dinner along with some beer. We decided also to take down the tent as it was supposed to rain that night into Friday. And it did: starting around 2 a.m., waking us with its drumming on the roof of the car.

Friday was the day of the cruise to Baker Island, and we had set alarms to get up on time. No shuttles run that early, so we drove to Bar Harbor around 7 a.m., leaving the waterproof items behind for the time-being. We had a mediocre breakfast at Jordan's Restaurant (80 Cottage St., Bar Harbor, ME), forgetting that in most areas, diners are a "theme" restaurant and as such, expensive. Ali couldn't get over the fact that an unassuming vegetable-and-cheese omelette ran $11 … I almost had to take away her placemat menu! Further, the ship to the island was cancelled due to dangerously rough seas.

Instead, we decided to drive around the park loop. We drove up Cadillac Mountain — the highest peak on the Atlantic Coast north of Brazil — although it was essentially a steep grade in a blanket of fog and rain yielding a view of the sides, tops, and bottoms of clouds. We got back to camp and the rain had subsided as much as it was that day so we packed up and headed out.

We had our eyes out for those famous Maine blueberries. We stopped at a farm stand but the berries in the area were still too tart. Nonetheless, the guy also baked pies and had a blueberry one in the oven right then. Ali wanted it but I didn't want to wait for it to cool. After much disagreement, we finally decided to get it: as it turned out, it would cool fine in the car even if it wasn't perfectly level (it wasn't going to slop out as I thought). We made our way through Maine on I-95 (the new one, including the toll part) and hit Boston right at 5 p.m. The remaining 10 miles to Ali's friend's place took another hour and a half, but we ended up having a really nice time.

Saturday we got up and hit the road, stopping one last time to visit the ocean. We got to Schenectady by 4 p.m. and arrived at Ali's parent's at 8 p.m. to pick up our dog, Lucy. By 10 p.m. or so, we were all done and ready to take some time off to recuperate.

I was kind of expecting Acadia National Park to be like Stony Brook State Park (10820 State Route 36, Dansville), but alas, it's more like Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho) — only smaller in size. It would probably take a month to hike all the trails, attend all the Ranger discussions, and otherwise sample the whole place; much longer to savor it; and much longer than that to know it. I greatly enjoyed the "fractal effect" — that you could look at a grand-scaled wonder, then at the lay of the land and its geological history, then at the vegetation and stones nearby, then at the individual plants and the details in the individual pieces of stone, then at the lichens and mosses and their diversity — each time, there is something interesting to catch your eye.

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Barefoot Running in the Snow (for a little bit)

This morning it was around 28°F and I went out for a run. I guess I went around 1.5 miles, and in the last 300 yards or so, I took off my water-shoes and did it barefoot. The sidewalk was snow-covered and quite cold. But, like the last time I did this on Monday, I felt my feet try to heed the call for more warmth. My theory is that I can increase the circulation enough that I might be able to go out for long periods of time. That, however, won't be for quite a while.

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FrostBurn Day 1

Today I headed out from Rochester and drove to Cooper's Lake Campground (205 Currie Rd., Slippery Rock, PA) to attend FrostBurn.  Last year it was during President's Weekend in February but they mentioned that they planned to change it to Martin Luther King weekend this year.  Ali and I realized we'd have to rearrange her mom's annual visit to accommodate the trip — but we forgot and, although I remembered again in November, it was too late.  So, it was just me this year.

The trip out was not bad, except for lake-effect snow around the lake near Buffalo.  I slowed down to 45 MPH or so and was getting frequently passed, but after 80 miles or so I did successfully drive out of it.  I arrived around 4 p.m. or so and got settled in.  The commercial campground where the event is presently held is located on a hill, and the organizers decided to split it up so there were people camped on top and at the bottom. Initially I was placed at the bottom of the hill.  Since I had the rear-wheel-drive Buick Roadmaster, I figured it would be impossible to drive down.  And since I also had a 180-pound base to the winter shelter I made, I really had no desire to try and make that happen either.  Thankfully there were some spaces available at the top so I camped there.  Also, I had access to electrical power: even though my winter shelter was pretty good, the predicted sub-zero temperatures would have been overwhelming without use of the electric heater I had at-the-ready.  As it turned out, I never even got to try it out that night.

Because of the cold — it was, after all, no warmer than 5°F outside — I decided to consume and share the two bottles of homemade wine I brought rather than let them freeze.  I got to meet lots of nice people and check out the whole event. Along the way, I met another Jason who ended up … umm … overdoing it, and ended up in bed early.

By the time all the drinking and debauchery was done, I was leaving the lower section and really don't remember much of what happened.  Based on legend, I became "the guy who passed out in the snow," "almost died," or "got frostbite."  As it turned out, this guy Tony helped me up the hill and let me stay in his heated RV overnight.

So now as you all cluck your tongues and "tsk-tsk", let me add two things.  First of all, I didn't go out with any plan whatsoever to end up passing out.  And second, this event isn't like day-to-day life: it's more like a village or an extended family.  Rather than stepping over somebody passed out, anyone there would have stopped to help.

That said, it got down to -11°F in nearby Slippery Rock, PA and, depending on who you asked, it got as cold as -14°F or -18°F — so there was some real danger of getting injured out there.  Thankfully I had on a full 4 layers on my legs and 6 on my torso along with chemical warmers on my hands and feet that were still working by morning.  For the most part it was pretty comfortable.

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Back to a bit of barefoot running

Just a brief update from the running file: I went out for a 15-minute run and did about half of it with water-shoes on then the other half barefoot. It was about 27°F outside and a light snow had made the ground damp. When I got home, the coldest part of my toes were still only around 50°F. It felt good to get back out there again after a wintry hiatus.

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Running Barefoot and Glass

Yesterday I went out for a run and mixed between water-shoes and bare feet depending on whether the pavement was snow-covered or not, respectively. Due to the minor thaw I was even able to get out onto the canal path. It was around 25°F outside. I decided to run barefoot through the snow-covered sidewalk on the last 100 yards down the street. Naturally my feet got extra cold but I'm trying to get increased circulation and I figure the way to do that is to train my feet that they need it — not so bad that I get frostbite, but enough that it's uncomfortable.

Anyway, this morning I got a sharp pain my toe. I figured I'd stepped on something yesterday, although it could have been around the house or any time since yesterday morning. It looked like a sliver of some kind so I dug around and cleaned it out. When I finally got it, I realized it was a tiny piece of glass. I was so excited: I finally got cut on glass! It's usually the first thing anybody says when I say I run barefoot on pavement, "aren't you afraid of glass?" Well usually I don't run through it — I pay attention to the ground when I run. But I guess in the winter I can't see it under the snow so I might get a cut now and then.

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Running, but not barefoot

I got out to go for a run this morning. I figured I'd try going barefoot in the snow that still covered the ground. Well, I barely made it three houses down the street like that. I had read on the Running Barefoot Yahoo! Group that you can use some very minor foot cover (like water shoes or special footwear for barefoot-like running) in such conditions successfully. Figuring I wouldn't be able to hack the snow I had brought along water shoes which helped a lot. I ended up running comfortably for 15 minutes or so (I took a short course to try things out) and found that my feet were a lot warmer than they have been.

I had thrown out the theory that, like the callousing from barefoot running in the first place which seems so counter to "conventional wisdom", that humans might be able to adapt to the cold weather as well. I know this kind of running — well, running in general — does improve foot circulation so it's not out-of-the-question to get to a point where I'm able to run in extremely cold conditions without danger or discomfort.

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Running barefoot in the not-too-cold

Just a quick note that I went for a run this morning. It was about 32°F outside (the ground was probably a little colder still), the ground was dry, and it was somewhat breezy, but I was much warmer than Wednesday's run — when I got home the bottoms of my feet were around 60°F. I timed myself: 27:43 to run the 2.6 mile course. Although it's slower than my estimates, 10½-minute-miles are not all that bad.

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Too cold to run barefoot this time

I went out for a run and it's about 23°F outside. I figured I'd see how far I could get since there's no snow and it's calm. I ended up going down the block and back — about 6 minutes. My feet got really cold and the bottoms were numbed enough that I decided to cut it short before I injured myself. I got back and the bottoms of my feet were around 55°F and my toes were 52°F — just a few degrees colder than I'd experienced before, but cold enough. At least for now.

I also spent some time on Gmaps Pedometer which lets you draw on a Google Map, point-to-point and accumulate the distance. I did some measuring and the course I thought was 2 miles was really more like 1.8, so I'm not running as fast as I thought I was. Oh well.

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Running wet, cold, and barefoot

I went out for a barefoot run this morning. It was about 42°F outside and wet from drizzle. The ground sapped away heat from my feet fast and it felt colder than dry pavement that was 10 degrees colder. However, I got back from 2 miles in 18 minutes and my soles were 58°F and felt okay — cold, naturally.

Now you may be wondering why I started doing this. I briefly touched on some of the benefits when I first started, but since then have mentioned only that my calves got sore from the workout and that I kept with it. Well, way back when I was running — in shoes — The Corporate Challenge back in 1999 and 2001, during the race and during practice I felt like I was beating myself up. All the joints in my body were sore, especially my knees, but also my back, and I would finish up wheezing like I was going to die right there. I quit running for a long time because of that — and especially because I started getting chronic knee and back problems.

So I happened to start reading about this "barefoot running" on and off. Once I heard that you use the arch of your foot and your calf muscles as shock absorbers, I was intrigued. I mean, running is a great way to lose weight, but if you end up spending more time on a chiropractic bed then doing it, then it's probably not all that great. So I started — slowly at first — and now I feel like I can run a 5K race. Well, maybe with a little practice.

The best thing is that when I get home, I feel great. I'm tired from the exercise, but I am not sore at all. After today's run, for instance, my toes were scolding met that they were really quite cold, and my calf muscles complain when I walk up the stairs, but that's it. My knees feel great. My back feels great. And I certainly don't feel like I just got beat up.

Now if only I can figure out a way to continue without actually getting a debilitating case of frostbite this winter …

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