Thursday, July 2, 2015

My Favorite Way to Focus and Avoid Cramping

I have been a big fan of Hammer Nutrition ever since I was introduced to their products a couple years ago at the SUP races in Traverse City, Michigan. They had a very knowledgeable young man at their tent who gave me advice and product samples that he said would help my cramping issues. Leading up to Traverse City, I had always had cramping issues in any race over 7 miles. My cramps always came on around mile 8 - 9.5 depending on the length of the race and my output. I did the 10 mile "downwinder" and a 3 mile technical race that day in Traverse City and did not even feel the hint of a cramp. I had Hammer Gel in my pocket and Fizz tabs in my hydration system. I couldn't believe I went bonk free the whole day! That weekend I became a believer in Hammer Nutrition and have used a variety of their products ever since.

When researching nutrition there is a lot of information to weed through and that information contains a lot of big sciencey-like words. You won't get that kind of look-at-me-I'm-such-a-smarty-pants nonsense in An Eccentric's Take. Here you get the only the facts...the facts from a verified slacker that likes to train as if he is a sub-par-wanna-be Australian Ironman. The facts I give you are what have worked for me in paddling. All I can do is tell you what works well for this 45-year-old man who tries to stay in shape enough to remain competitive in paddling events. So far I have been pretty happy with my progress and many of my results. My needs are not based on any scientific knowledge they are just based on...what my body needs. I don't know that much but what I do know is that sugar, in the heavily processed form, is bad and that supplements are necessary to help one maintain a healthy and energetic daily existence, when training hard. I am sure that if I had all the money in the world and could grow and catch my own food or eat high quality sushi 5 nights a week, I might not require as many supplements. However, when you live on the sardine and Quaker Oats budget, getting a little help from a company dedicated to helping athletes reach peak performance isn't such a bad thing.

Training to compete at a high level will have an effect on your immune system. One cannot avoid the toll getting' after it takes. Why not help your body out and send a little love down the hatch? I have tried many of the Hammer products because once I found I wanted to compete in some of the bigger paddling events, I knew my body needed more love than what a turkey sandwich should provide. Some of what has worked for me may not work for you and some of what did nothing for me may help you improve your average pace by .5 mph, like what has happened recently with my prone paddling! All our bodies are different and our systems have individual requirements for maintaining a healthy existence.

The Hammer Nutrition website is a fun destination on the Internet. I like browsing through all their offerings because I always learn something new and often discover a new item I might want to try. The writing isn't too heady. It is easy to stay engaged enough to learn whether or not a product might benefit you or not. The instructions on when and how to use the products and the intended benefit of each is written in a well-thought-out and clear manner. Hammer also has consultants available to talk about your needs and desires when  it comes to using their products in your training. I highly recommend talking to someone that is more knowledgeable than me if you have needs and want them properly addressed.

My favorite products are HEED, Recoverite, Race Caps Supreme, Hammer Gel,  and Xobaline. All the information you need is available by clinking on each of them. Me regurgitating information that is already out there is kind of like a college professor handing out the syllabi and spending the first hour of class reading it to you...ridiculous. These are what have worked for me. I will touch on some the benefits I have noticed.

Lemon-lime HEED tastes fabulous, as does the melon. I sip on a bottle of HEED in the morning before a workout. For some reason, and I think it may be purely mental, HEED gets me focused on the task ahead. If I drink a Hammer product I know it is getting close to go time and I need to get my mind right. HEED really works when I am feeling lethargic and a little blah. I slowly sip HEED after coffee and my mind wakes up. Once my mind wakes up my body usually follows and I am ready to get out the door and onto the lake. I also take HEED with me if I am paddling over 4 miles. HEED has the electrolytes and other anti-cramping ingredients to help you through even your toughest training session.

Recoverite (for me the strawberry flavor is the deal) and Xobaline are musts after a heavy-duty workout. My problem has always been the afternoon fade if I workout hard in the morning. I recently added Xobaline to my post-workout recovery and I have noticed my energy levels are remaining much higher than they have been over the past two years. I take a Xobaline right after I walk in the door from the lake and follow it up with a hefty serving of Recoverite as soon as I get dry and my heart rate gets back to normal. I am quite pleased with this combination to help me get to the desk and get working on the Great American Detective Novel despite it being siesta hour.

Before races and before a workout of more than an hour I will go with Race Caps Supreme. Before races I take 3 capsules and before a training session I take 2. If I am feeling run down and it is anywhere near flu season I will take 1 capsule a day for maintenance purposes even on days I don't train. I am a big fan of Race Caps Supreme and truly believe that have helped me stay energized and focused in races.

If you want a tasty treat then grab yourself some Peanut-Butter/Chocolate or Nocciola Hammer Gels. These are my 2 favorite flavors. They can be used as a pacifier when the sweet tooth starts going out of control and you want to drop everything to grab some Breyer's Caramel Vanilla Gelato and you know you shouldn't! Oh...and the gels help in races too! At the 2014 Cold Stroke Classic I had a great start but midway through the first lap my energy was pretty zapped. By the halfway mark I had fallen out of the top five. I stopped paddling for about 30 seconds and took a Hammer Gel with a few sips of water. I paddled at a recovery pace until I felt the gel was getting into my system then slowly increased my output until I was able to draft the guy ahead of me. At the end of the upwind leg, I was able to reclaim that last spot in the top five. Hammer Gel is definitely a fuel I now take with me everywhere and I usually have a couple in case anyone else wants to give it a try!

I add in other products as needed depending on time of year and what my training regimen might require. In the really hot months I like Endurolytes Extreme and in winter when I do strength training I will take Tissue Rejuvenator to help the legs deal with box squats.

Hammer Nutrition products and a better diet sure have made for an improved overall sense of health and well being in my life. I can't say enough good things about the company and what they put out there. I forgot to mention that the products you don't like have a 30 day money back guarantee! I have  put this policy to use and Hammer was very accommodating. I also like their coffee too!

If you have any questions about Hammer don't hesitate to contact me. I love talking about their products and how they have helped me out in paddling. I also like hearing about other people's experiences with cramping and fatigue when it comes to training. The more we talk about our regimens the more we can help each other benefit and avoid pitfalls.

If you do want to order some Hammer Nutrition products after reading this, please use my name and customer number (229350) in the referral program. Once you start an account you can also use the referral program to get your own benefits. The stuff works you might want to give some their fuels and supplements a go before and after your next training sesh!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

BARK 14' Commander Review

I hate when I'm at a restaurant and the waiter drops off bread and butter and the butter is so frozen you have to use a saw like motion to get the dull knife through. Is it so hard for an establishment that has freezers, microwaves, ovens, broilers, chefs, prep cooks, servers, and busboys to make sure tables get butter that is easily spread? How wonderful does it actually feel to slice through butter that is malleable enough to spread so easily that each crevice in the stone-ground wheat bread soaks in all that artery-clogging yet delicious fat? It feels good. Not only does it feel good when butter is served at the proper temperature it tastes even more decadent. When Mike Meyers, during the SNL skit "Coffee Talk" described something as being like "buddah" (as in Land O' Lakes buddha, not to be mistaken for the fact guy who believes in nothing) that was a very, very good thing. Buddah is decadent.

The same goes for paddling. Paddling should be decadent. If you are on the right board then you will travel across the water like you are flying through a cloud. At least that is what I think the true intent of shapers should be when they create an experience for the consumer. Moving through the water should be like a knife traveling through room temperature "buddah." When you go through the water on the wrong board you can feel the friction as the water molecules cling to the board while you are trying to push it past said molecules. It's like trying to slice a dull knife through a frozen pat  of butter that slides of that tiny plate. It's infuriating! You can't even spread the butter on your bread and you get left with one bite of butter on your bread that is cold and irritating and not satisfying. Frozen butter is like being on the wrong paddleboard.

Choose wisely so you're paddling curiosities are sated. If your paddling experience isn't pleasant check yourself. Maybe the board doesn't have enough volume for you? Maybe it's too wide? Maybe it's too narrow? Maybe your stroke is off? To find the right experience on a board you HAVE TO try a lot of them. I have. Some have been fun; some have been bad. Almost all boards I have owned were for sale within a few months. That momentum has ceased. Riding the 2015 14' BARK Commander is like buddah, baby. It's awesome.

For those of you who have heard my stories from last year about boats coming over to see if I was okay while trying to paddle my 12' Commander in chop or the time this winter when tourists in Oxford called the cops about somebody being in distress out on the river, you know I have had my ugly moments when it comes to traditional paddleboarding. Now, I seem to be over the plateau. Last Saturday I took the 14' Commander out in the bumps and boats actually came over to watch! It was glide after glide and thrill after thrill. By no means am I saying Jamie Mitchell's Decade of Dominance is going to be threatened by me anytime soon, but I am saying that I have found the first board that I plan to hold onto until it disintegrates. The 14' BARK Commander provides you with all the tools you need as a paddler to do well in ANY conditions. How well one does is up to how well tuned, well oiled, and well trained one's engine is!

Stability is the biggest issue in prone. The 14' Commander has it. The board feels more stable than my 16-6 BARK unlimited. Going downwind, even in SUP, has always been my achilles heel. Not any longer. I cannot wait for nuking downwinders this fall when the wind screams out of the Northwest. The shape of the Commander caters to heavier paddlers keeping us in the saddle even when getting nudged in the rear quarter. In a race last Sunday, I was even able to get to my knees in side chop. The stability is unmatched compared to any stock or unlimited board I have ridden previously.

Because of the stability, confidence is gained in the stroke. The ability to catch bumps and even connect bumps, while of course is not easy for us newbies, comes quickly with just a little bit of practice. On my 3rd session on the board I was doing a downwinder after a 12 hour car ride. The board is that forgiving. The board is also willing to catch the slightest of bumps if you are able to put it in the position to do so. If you get the nose in the right position you will get a glide, even in the slightest bit of wind chop. It's unbelievable how much the board feels like it is willing to go to work for you in favorable current and chop.

The board is comfortable to paddle. The chest ramp is set at an angle that doesn't apply too much pressure to my spine. I could take a nap on the padding because it is so soft and thick. At 20.75 inches wide the board fits snug but not too snug. Someone a little wider than myself could feel just as comfortable in the cockpit of the 14' Commander.

If you were having any thoughts about trying things lying down or on your knees and you are over 185 lbs then you need to give the 14 BARK Commander a test drive. If anyone wants to meet to demo mine I would be happy to oblige you. I am going to have mine for a long long time. Any bad outing on this board will be due to operator error only!

Operator error is okay now. It's summer and who cares about falling in the water now? The 14' BARK Commander is so user friendly that within no time your falls will be on purpose.

Bravo, Surftech!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Swimming to Peak Performance

Swimming out of Necessity

I first jumped in the pool at my local gym because it was all I was allowed to do as I tried to heal from a herniated disc without the benefits of health insurance. I could barely swim two lengths before having to stop. My recovery time was embarrassing. I stood against the side of the pool trying to catch my breath for longer than it took me to swim the two lengths! Once I regained control of my breathing, I was only able to swim one length of the pool a few times before I could attempt a two-length swim. If I tried to swim too far too quickly I often had to do the unthinkable - stop in the middle of the pool. Thank goodness the pool in Chicago where I first started swimming was only chest deep!

What added to the difficulty of swimming was my lack of confidence in the water. As a bad surfer I spent most of my time in the ocean getting tossed about by waves of minimal height. Getting caught inside when the surf was about waist high and feeling the panic pulse through my body like an injection of hemlock was no bueno. Panicking under water is the fastest way to make an enjoyable day turn sour. I couldn't help it. Losing control of myself while underwater was scary! Even the deep end of the Easton YMCA gave me pause when I tried to push my swim workouts beyond my comfort zone. Until recently a few 100s (4 lengths in most local pools) during any planned workout, made for an incredibly tough session.

I don't now where all this went wrong with me? My family tree is full of accomplished swimmers. My aunt was one of the most respected swim coaches in the Baltimore area and my cousins were quite proficient at swimming and diving. Their house was full of trophies. Somehow I must have missed out on those chromosomes…

Discovering the Benefits of Swimming

The beautiful thing about making swimming part of one's regimen is the wide-reaching lateral affects upon one's overall health and well being. A proper stroke will engage the whole body. I feel the muscles working from my fingertips to my toes. When you leave the pool, no matter how short or how long your session is, you will feel like you have accomplished something. You engage your upper body, your lower body, and your core so you make incredible gains without over-stressing your musculoskeletal system. You can even cheat on form and technique and still improve your overall health and well-being! (I must add that once I started working on bettering my stroke technique the gains I've made are well above and beyond any of those I made while thrashing around for a few hundred yards per day.)

Now I'm no scientist but swimming seems to be incredible for lung capacity. I know it has helped me but I think a better example would prove more credible evidence.
Example One: Jamie Mitchell, winner of the Molokai to Oahu Race 10 years in a row.
Just watch "Decade of Dominance" to see how integral a part of training swimming was for Jamie.  He started swimming as a child to help deal with asthma. Breathing in an upright position for 32 miles is hard enough; I can't imagine trying it hunched over on a traditional paddleboard, or at least I couldn't imagine it last year when I started entering the prone zone. Recently, with swimming as my number-one-go-to workout I feel as if longer races could very well be a part of my future. If one of the greatest paddlers in the history of the sport is a swimmer then I think it a grand idea to make swimming a major block of my training schedule.

Another inspiring example of how swimming can benefit the paddler became very apparent at last year's Mt. Pisgah Duathlon held by the Outpost of Holland when young Cassie M. put on a prone paddling clinic when she blew by the rest of us and kept up with the elite men on 14' SUPs. I remember being next to her for a few seconds at the start while she was laughing and chatting about how cold the water was while I was huffing and puffing trying to find oxygen for my lungs without passing out. Her performance was incredible. That girl made that stock paddleboard move like a rocket ship! She's not a paddler; she's a swimmer, a Division I swimmer currently in her freshmen year. If you had seen her paddle you would incorporate swimming into your training program too!

The Benefits Far Outweigh the Sacrifices.

Getting to a pool isn't always easy. Often, the times available for lap swimming mean setting the alarm quite a bit earlier each and every day or staying out later and missing all those wonderful reality tv shows in the late evenings. Time management around a pool schedule may seem difficult but if you know why you are doing it you will not hesitate to get out of bed at 4:05 am for a session or get home well after dark just in time for the ten-o'clock news.

Misery loves company. There will be others at the pool who are going after their own whys that will make you feel comfortable and welcome. A bond forms quickly when you walk into the locker room and find others who are willing to do what it takes. I guarantee, that if you have the right attitude, being around the athletes you meet at the pool will make it easier for you to want to improve. I'm a paddler. The people I meet at the pool are mostly accomplished triathletes. Most of the people my age swim in the fast lanes while I am pacing myself with my new friend Steve who is nearing 70. I want to keep working until I can move over to the fast lanes.

Being in the water in some capacity, meaning the pool, will loosen winter's stronghold upon your psyche. When there is free water I paddle and swim, but when all the nearby waters are frozen I rely on the pool to help keep me striving toward my 2015 goals. Although I am inside I am in the water and that makes seeing the icy river, lake, and bay a tad less heartbreaking. Sometimes just getting wet makes for a good day!

There are tools of the trade to make your swimming life easier. I wish I had been swimming with fins over the last few years. I got some TYR fins for Christmas and they have changed my world! Even the most lackluster session can turn into something with the addition of fins. I used to think that I would be cheating if I wore fins but that has not been the case. In the short time that I have been using them, fins have made my legs stronger. I am well aware of the need to kick wearing fins and that has transferred to my normal freestyle stroke. The gains I have made are, to me, incredible. I went from not being able to swim more than two lengths, when I first started, to now swimming at a good pace for 30 straight minutes as soon as I hit the pool. Having stronger kicks has a lot to do with my improving speed and endurance. Just like in SUP when I  started I was strictly an arm paddler . The same was true for swimming as I don't even know if I ever used my legs to kick. Thanks to implementing fins into my training sessions I now am well aware of my kicks.  Improving stroke technique is improving my swimming and, therefore, improving my overall athleticism.

Water, Even Chlorinated Water, is Fun

What makes pool swimming so great for me is being able to target a major weakness I had been dealing with any time I went out in surf. When I am done with my workload I do some fun drills that involve getting to the bottom of the deep end and either trying to run as many steps as possible or just to move through the water and surface then go back under and move some more trying to simulate being out in the ocean. This past summer I had a breakthrough. Panicking under waves was no longer as issue. I had never felt more comfortable being under the waves as I did this summer. I even tested myself to see how many waves I could stay under before needing a breath! If I knew I was going surfing I made sure to get to the pool to swim laps and do some underwater-breathing drills. The confidence I have gained from the pool makes dealing with all the logistics worthwhile.

Thanks to my new-found love for swimming, in 2015 I am planning on doing the two pier-to-pier races in Wrightsville Beach. One is in May and the other is in September. Swimming has done so much for my paddling and my overall health that I want to make it a major part of my recreational schedule. I am only waiting for the warm weather and that salt-water buoyancy to take the training out to the open water. I can only hope that, like my friend Steve, I'll be hitting the pool as I near 70 too!

Sure swimming is hard at first but isn't everything when we first start? Swimming will become FUN! I used to sink. I was asked to not be on the swim team when I was younger. It was hard and I wasn't very good at it. I'm still no Michael Phelps in the pool but I don't need to be. I am making gains every time I hit the pool for a session, even if I am in the geriatric lane. Not swimming in winter is almost like not paddling in spring summer, and fall. Once you reap the benefits I bet you will feel the same way. No matter what your main discipline is, swimming will help you rise toward your goals. I suggest you go get wet!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Prioritizing and Finding Life Anew in 2015 - Part Two

As the cold temperatures continue to infect the local climate, there are many hesitations that arise when it comes to training. However,  if there are good, well-thought-out, and concrete reasons for undertaking the training in the first place then the hesitation is lessened and time, temperature, laziness, and all other inhibitors will not keep you from your scheduled sessions. I told myself that until the right job comes along I am going to treat my training like it is my job. When the weather is cold you still get up and go to work. When the call time is before sunrise you still get up and go to work. When your body is sore from hauling cable all around Baltimore because some flake director tried to save money by not storyboarding each scene and therefore comes to work without a solidified shot list and has electricians running cable and lights up the block, back down the block, then back up the block again, for 16 hours, you still have to get up and go to work the next day and do it all over again. That is how I am looking at paddling. Right now, I am scheduling my days to try and become the absolute best paddler I can be, while keeping in mind that I want to be a better Christian, husband, son, and dog owner first.

Earlier in the year I read an article on Distressed Mullet that was written by Mark Colino. This article put things in a very clear perspective for me. Mark Colino's Know Your Why spoke volumes to me. I even re-wrote the article in a way that made each decision to get up and face the day much easier. Each paddle session that I had scheduled has been met. Getting up at 4:05 am to hit the pool by 5:30am wasn't an issue when I realized why I was getting up to do so. Of all the motivational articles, books, quotes, and philosophies I have read, Mark's article had the most profound affect on me. Wanting to discover my why also made me really focus on a thorough self-evaluation that I had been dreading and putting off for so long!

While a lot of my close mates give me guff for my oh-so-demanding job as a househusband, this same philosophy can apply to those who do have much more to deal with like full-time jobs, kids, school, extended-family demands, community obligations, and a combination of all or some of these things as well as any others I may have missed. If you thoroughly think through your approach to whatever it is you are pursuing and set your goals accordingly, you will be able to get up a little bit earlier or stay up a little later in order to achieve the ALL the demands you put upon yourself. The more you have to do the more you can get done. You just have to decide how much you want to pursue the endeavors you undertake. I miss a busy and hectic schedule…at times...

I'll never forget the opportunity I had to produce and direct Keller Williams' (the musician not the real estate company) first music video for his song "Play This." That endeavor demanded all of my time and energy. Leading up to the two days of shooting I slept maybe four hours a day and spent the other 20 trying to keep all the various moving parts in order and on time. That was an insane few weeks. What I noticed most was that my time management skills greatly improved and my sleep was quality sleep. I went to bed thoroughly exhausted and woke up ready to face the demands of the day. With so much to do I had to prioritize and find the most efficient way to complete tasks or I would have stressed out everyone else involved in the project. A full schedule made getting things done much easier. The demands of house-husbandry are a little bit less demanding and the budget is much friendlier, thanks to my amazing wife! With fewer demands, my time management skills are a little bit lacking. Many times I had trouble getting the few things done that my wife asked of me because I had so much time to do them. One of my goals in 2015 (besides getting a job) is to make the most of my time whether that be training, cleaning, cooking, or finally finishing that Great American Mystery Novel. I am jealous of you all getting those big paychecks and having much of your day already planned out for you!!

My point is: even though you are stretched thin with all the demands life places on us, you can do what you say you are going to do when you know why you want to do it. I finally understood this philosophy and evidenced it when I actually followed Mark's instructions and wrote down my goals and kept working on them until I narrowed them down from being the best paddler I can be to diving in deeper into my dreams as well as the desires of my heart and soul in order to be more specific as to what I wanted out of life in the months, days, hours, and seconds ahead of me in 2015. The goals of the present are to ready me for the longer-term goals of my future. I just had to get them down on paper and go from a broad narrative to being much more specific.

Keeping a journal is helping. This journal is focused on my training and how I feel from my efforts. My plan is to analyze each week and evaluate the way I feel both physically and mentally. I want to do as well as possible training in order to do well racing in 2015. I want discover what my body is capable of not only for the now but for the future because I would like to return to teaching and coaching. As I examine my own training regimens and go back over all that I have done in the previous week I can assess what might work and what might not. I want to take the knowledge I am gaining and put it to use helping others reach their goals in life, education, and athletics.

A few blogs ago I talked about writing down training goals in pencil in case a plan was missed or had to be altered. I don't feel that way anymore. I write my plan down in pen then write what I did in pen to see how it went. I am holding myself more accountable in 2015. Hold yourself accountable to the goals you set for 2015! As we get older it gets to easy to alter a plan to something less demanding or skip a session altogether. That is okay if you don't really know why you are doing something whether it is paddling, triathlons, snowboarding, or other athletic pursuits. You don't have to know why to go out and have a good time when participating in any hobby of your choosing but...if you want to do more than just go through the motions you have to set goals and make sure that they take you outside your comfort zone. If you want to achieve your goals bad enough you will accomplish what you set out to do not matter what it demands of you…because you know exactly why you are doing it. Any time I feel like skipping a session I think back to Mark's article and it helps me pile on the neoprene and get out on the water no matter what the weather report is or what the weather is doing when I walk outside my door.

Becoming part of the Hammer Nutrition team for 2015 has only helped me reach my daily goals and have the energy to fulfill the other duties that life requires. I believe in supplements to help keep the body in tune and able. I love a little melon Heed, strawberry Recoverite, Race Caps Supreme, Tissue Rejuvenator, and the peanut butter-chocolate gels to get me through workouts of multiple hours and multiple disciplines. I cannot believe the energy level I have been able to maintain while trying to get back into fighting shape! Scripture, prayer, a supportive wife, Hammer supplements, and knowing why I am doing all this helps me stay focused and energized no matter what may unfold throughout the journey.

Good luck on your own journey!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Prioritizing and Finding Life Anew in 2015 - Part One

As winter rolled into the Indiana Dunes in late December 2014, I was knee-deep in some heavy duty contemplation about my compass heading. As many who may read this already know, my wife and I had a vagabond existence for most of the year. We moved east and we moved back to the midwest. While we currently still reside in the midwest we feel as if we are still living out of our suitcases as our roots are yet to be firmly planted in the ground…anywhere. For most of my life, not being settled was fine. In fact, I loved it. As a husband and owner of two anthropomorphized mongrels, still living out of bag is rather unsettling. While I have loved training hard for and attending races over the last few years one thing became quite apparent in 2014 - family comes first. Attending races was low on the list as I tried to make sure that my wife had all the support and breaks from the mongrels she needed as the main breadwinner.

While being iced in and unable to train until April had a little something to do with the course I took last year, being a little more fiscally responsible also played into the equation. Gas prices were outrageous. I had yet to find work and I just didn't feel like a good husband having my wife foot the bill for a hobby that can be damn expensive at times. I really decided to pick and choose what events I attended based on proximity, cost, rating of goody bags handed out, and energy level the morning of. In 2014 I missed a bunch of great events and even the not-so-great ones run by greedy race directors just trying to make a buck.  

Prioritizing wasn't easy. The Carolina Cup, the Key West race the following weekend, and the Gorge Downwinder were all on my list for 2014. None of those were made. There were a few instances of pouting. y wife would say "Go!" and I would just pout for a few more minutes then get over it realizing that being around just to walk the dogs made my wife's existence a little bit easier. However, when I missed out on a big week in Maryland, which was to coincide with my mother's birthday, going to the East of Maui race in Annapolis followed by Walk on Water's and the other East of Maui's races the following weekend I took a little longer than a few minutes to get over the disappointment. Also, I missed both of Dawn's events. She works hard to put on two great events in Ocean City and I missed both! Dang, that was upsetting…

Living in my mother-in-law's beautiful beach house and being able to spend those weekends with my wife and mongrels wasn't a bad alternative. I had a fun summer with my wife and the dogs. In fact, we spent so much time together in 2014 that my wife often asked - "isn't it time for you to go visit your mom?"

I feel I need to interrupt the flow of this blog to fill people in on a little backstory. When my wife and I first met and started dating, I was working as a lighting technician on movies and commercials and also as a photographer's assistant. I would be gone from anywhere between 2 to 4 to 6 weeks at a time depending on the job. That worked well for us. We both loved me working on location because that cliche absence makes the heart grow fonder is 100% true for us. As I phased out of work that took me away from home my absences were fewer and farther between. To make up for my lack of location work my wife LOVES me going to races now! I just hope she will make it to a few more races with me this coming year!

Back to the point I am trying to make…

Sure it was time for me to go visit my mom but what was I going to do back east? I still enjoyed paddling but I wasn't training of anything in particular. You can only paddle around Oxford so many times… Something needed to give. As 2015 loomed around the corner, I really had no idea what direction to pursue. I had sent out hundreds of resumes from teaching at a community college to bagging groceries at the local Jewel Osco. Having spent most of my meditation and prayer time asking God for direction, I was working on patience and faith for much of the year and was having a hard time keeping my side of that bargain. Then I finally got an email about a job!

I was hired as a driver's assistant for UPS over the holidays, with the possibility of moving into a full-time position at the warehouse if I proved myself. Having worked outside in all types of inclement weather, I thought for sure that I would sail to the top of the totem pole and receive the MVP award for driver's assistants and start raking in the dough and then start ordering all kinds of custom paddleboards. After two shifts, and a total of 6.18 hours worked, I had to hand in my uniform as one who was not physically able to handle the demands of the job. What a humbling experience that was. Not only was I mortified but I was as humiliated as I ever remember being. Sitting on the little flip-down board those trucks have as a seat for the driver's assistant destroyed my, already susceptible, lower back. I head in for an MRI this thursday to see if anymore damage has taken place since my last MRI in 2010. Ugh.

The only thing that has really helped my back over the years is exercise, especially paddling. This is even more true now. The shape of my BARK Unlimited allows me to lie down and kneel positions most advantageous when it comes to helping ease back pain. So paddling I did. Now Lake Michigan in December is not the most fun place to paddle but it sure is beautiful! I have the gear to stay warm so as long as there was access to the lake and I was able to stay near to shore in shallower water I was going to paddle. I also started swimming again. While it was disheartening to realize that I have to be more choosey about what jobs I can handle, I was enjoying the results of multi-hour training sessions. Ice moved in so I spent more time in the pool and at the best gym in the world - Applied Strength and Conditioning in Chesterton, Indiana. Check out their website; it's quite an enjoyable read! But what was I doing all this for? I was still unclear as to where I was heading and why.

Being the midst of all the trauma dealing with the fact that I am just not one who is able to handle the rigors of working, I received an email from Hammer Nutrition welcoming me to their team for 2015.

What!!?? Where did this come from!!?? 

Oh yeah, I know where it came from. It was a heavenly gift sent to me at the right time when I needed a little nudge in the proper direction. Hammer was responding to an email I had sent them almost one year earlier. I had almost forgotten I contacted them about the 2014 season. The email from Hammer Nutrition, some praise and thanks sent high to the heavens, some articles written by athletes, and encouragement and support from my wife, have given me a renewed motivation for 2015. So I have an idea of where I am now heading. I know I am heading to Wrightsville Beach, NC in April for the Carolina Cup!

More to come on the rejuvenation soon!

In the meantime if you have any questions about Hammer Nutrition hit me up through email or a Facebook message and I will be happy to give you my take on their products. I am really happy with how they have helped me, especially recently as my training has really picked up in intensity.

Monday, September 15, 2014

But I Asked for an Airstream...

Prelude: take 4 minutes and listen to this:

Since my affection for paddling became an all-consuming obsession I have longed to participate in an event in Charleston, South Carolina. The Holy City has long held a special place in my heart since I spent some time there in the mid nineties trying to live out a few chapters from a Pat Conroy novel. During my stint in Charleston I gained a few firsts that will always be with me. I built my first dock, rode my first wave during 1996's Hurricane Bertha, built my first boat as part of a team that converted a tractor trailer load of plywood and pine boards into a 50'x25' catamaran, crewed on my first ocean delivery from Charleston to Fajardo, Puerto Rico, which took 8.5 days and included ghost ship sightings in the Bermuda Triangle, changing sails in a squall without harnesses or lifelines, and swallowing gasoline while siphoning. There was also dating girl who grew up south of Broad, buying my first couple antiques, and being seduced by architecture. My time in Charleston was short but I took advantage of all that city had to offer a young man fresh out of college. When I moved away I honestly did not think it would be forever.

Being a good husband who spent most of the summer adhering to domestic responsibilities, hanging around holding purses and walking dogs, my wife politely suggested that I take some time away from the house and go paddle somewhere…somewhere far away. Lucky for me the Chucktown Showdown was taking place at a good spot on the calendar and I was released from duty and booted back east for a while. I left a little bit early to break up the drive by going to my mom's in Oxford, then down to Wilmington for some stretch paddles with the plan to end up in Charleston the day before the race. 

Being 44, I like my own space. I love family and friends but I like alone time a lot. Being such an amazing husband means I am always putting the needs of my wife and dogs ahead of my own, which can be very demanding. When I get away I need to get away. When I am by myself I can enforce the rule of "No Talking" before coffee. At home, or even at my mother's, I have a hard time enforcing that rule. I told my wife that in the long run we could save money by getting an Airstream trailer because they were much more efficient than hotel rooms and I could put a great coffee maker in one! She countered with a tent and an extension cord.

What idiot goes camping south of the Mason-Dixon Line before November!!??

At the KOA Campground in Wilmington, NC on Thursday night at 7pm it was near 89 degrees in my tent. Wednesday night was a little better as it did finally cool down just before dawn so I could get some sleep. This year we didn't have much of a summer in Indiana so my body was not ready for the heat (that I used to LOVE) that I experienced down south. I felt like someone had wrapped me up in a dampened wool blanket and sealed the ends. The only time I felt normal was when I was in the water, which was good. The heat forced me to stay active. I can easily sit back and watch the wind blow the tree leaves and day dream for hours upon end and be content but the heat kept me on the move.

Moving about was great. I paddled with the Mullet, paddled by myself, met some new friends randomly roaming around Wrightsville Beach, visited my sister, brother in law, and goddaughter, ate shrimp and watched football over at my friend Katharine's, and enjoyed the air conditioning while bartering over at Carolina Paddleboard Company. Everything was great about Wilmington except for the nighttime heat and not having enough time to see all the folks I wanted to!

By Friday morning the heat had taken its toll. I lost 5 pounds of water weight just packing up the campsite. On my way out of town I did go for a quick surf and swim in the Atlantic because submerged in salt water is where everything is wonderful no matter what might be going on in your world. However, I was tired and feeling drained and as soon as I got in the car to make the drive the effects of the Atlantic started to dissipate.

That drive seemed to take an extraordinarily long time. When I crossed over the Cooper River bridge I had no desire to take in the surroundings. My focus was on the Marriott, the air conditioning, and the bed that would be in my room. After checking in and collapsing in my 65 degree room, I thought about staying horizontal on that king-sized bed until checkout Sunday morning. 

I did manage to be social on Friday afternoon and wandered about the hotel looking at boards and seeing familiar faces. The vibe at paddle events is always so positive. Seeing all the familiar faces and meeting a few new friends is so uplifting. The collective energy that filled the Charleston Marriott was enough to snap me out of my heat stroke and re-ignite the excitement that had initially brought me down south. By the time I went to bed Friday night I was filled with all I would need to get me through 9 miles of prone paddling.

On Saturday morning I woke up to the false dawn and headed for the supermarket in need of some good water and other treats for my cooler. Instead of heading straight back to the hotel I drove on East Bay street toward the Battery and as the first warm colors of the new day begin the fill the horizon I was quickly reminded why they call Charleston the Jewel of the South. If there is a more beautiful place to be at sunrise please let me know. The kind of beauty I witnessed last Saturday morning is the kind that forces you to breath deep as you realize that you are in the presence of what inspires. There is the hand of God at work in the universe and my beliefs in a Higher Power are always reaffirmed when moments like that are witnessed. I drove into the middle of a scene that make writers sit at their desks to write, painters to paint, and cinematographers to fill the darkness with light. 

I am glad I drove around the Battery Saturday morning because a few hours later I would be paddling around the Battery battling the currents, the chop, and the heat to complete the task I signed up for. There was no time for sightseeing along that course! 

And oh my…that was a battle. Despite the tough conditions, it was quite fun to be part of an event with a large handful of prone paddlers. Nine miles was a challenge. At around mile 5 or 6 I was starting to have some mental issues as my body was drained, my left leg was starting to cramp, and my water bottles were nearing E. Lord help me, I prayed. Wouldn't you know it…on the way back to the finish line as we all paddled with the current (but against the wind) a rain squall came up. Rain flattened the chop and cooled our bodies down making for a great run back to the finish line. I am sure I was not the only one praying for a little Divine intervention around 10:15 am Saturday morning but prayer was sure answered. That rain shower, with no lightning, was a gift from above!

After the race I was toast. My underarms were so chafed that wearing a shirt for the rest of the day was agony. I tried to walk around the event site but the heat was just too much to stand. At the end of the Chucktown Showdown I didn't want a dang finishers trinket I wanted a bottle of cold water! That sure was a misappropriation of funds and my only complaint about the whole event!

What little energy I had left I used to get over to surprise my nephew who is in school at College of Charleston. Paddling a challenging course with good friends made for a fun getaway but seeing how my nephew has grown into a handsome responsible young man certified the long drive as well-worth-it.

I did hate to leave Charleston Sunday morning. After a few cold Sierra Nevadas, heavy applications of Neosporin and some good sleep I felt somewhat recovered. My wife and I had plans to spend an actual vacation up and down the Atlantic seaboard but she is exhausted after dealing with that respiratory funk sweeping the nation and only missing one day of work. Being the awesomely attentive husband I am, I dutifully fulfilled her request for me to return home (well after the contagious period had expired of course) and gave up all the surf sessions, seafood dinners, and birthday celebrations we had planned. Once she is fully recovered I think I will have the opportunity to start guilting her into an Airstream or better yet, an unlimited paddleboard! 

Back home (and yes, it is wonderful to be home with the family) I am already thinking about the next excursion in order to be around all the good paddle people that are in our world. I imagine I will be in a tent so Wrightsville Beach in November sure sounds good to me. I just hope logistics might allow the trip to become a family adventure with my wife and mongrels so we can all enjoy the goodness! Eli sure enjoys a good run on the beach by Masonboro Inlet. Plus, if my wife goes she would insist upon a hotel room instead of a tent and that would be fine by me!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

As Far As I Could Go Then and Now Able to Return

Missing the Carolina Cup was rather disappointing; missing the Key West Paddleboard Classic will trump disappointment and push the envelope toward level one of traumatizing.

Social media certainly does not help the SUP junkie going through warm-water withdraw. Seeing all the pictures of the masses gathered at Wrightsville Beach, and thoroughly enjoying themselves, made for quite the test when it came to stifling the relentless feeling of envy. Going for a paddle is the only methadone available yet that methadone is rather painful when you  hit the lake without gloves and have to return to shore after a mere two miles due to numb hands. It is nearly May 1 and I am about neoprene-ed out. Sure, any day on the water should be considered a blessing but gloves in the last week of April? That hurts...

In January, on the drive back to Ogden Dunes, my wife had given me the go-ahead to attend the Carolina Cup AND the Key West Paddleboard Classic. She knew I was very disappointed in the fact that nothing about our move to Maryland seemed to work in our favor. The Old Line State, my birth state, had beaten us down and that was tough, especially on me. By the end of March when the ice had yet to melt on Lake Michigan the idea of doing two 12+ mile races back to back seemed more like a pipedream than a vacation. The expenses could not be justified. After my last paddle of just over two miles that left me numb and with the sniffles, I think it was definitely a wise decision save on gas and cheer on my fellow paddlers via Facebook and Instagram.

DANG!  I have been wanting to get back to Key West for so long...that is a special place, or at least it was back when I lived there in 96-97. Had SUP been around I might have spent less time at places like Grunts, Finnegan's Wake, and the Half Shell Raw Bar, might have being the key words. I doubt anything could have set me on the right track back then. It certainly wasn't the right track but it most definitely was a fun track!

Escape had always initiated my aimless wanderings. After college, I worked my way as far south as possible. Getting to the southernmost point was a slow process but eventually I made to the end of the road. I might have never made it to Key West had I been mature enough to face problems head on and gather the determination necessary to correct them. Such was not the case in my life so I checked into places for a spell then experienced something that didn't go my way and checked back out. I even went to sea and headed further east to see if anything might jive but it didn't. In November I flew from Puerto Rico to Key West to visit friends. We went deep sea fishing and I knew what I wanted my next job to be.

I arrived in Key West in the middle of December and started my first day as an apprentice on the Fishbuster Christmas Eve. That was one of the biggest boats on the row with the best gear and I quickly learned how to run the deck and handle the customers. I earned a reputation as a good guy to have onboard after diving across the fishbox and saving a rod from going overboard. By February I had my job as first mate on a boat down at the other end of the dock, where I learned fun went to die.

There was a serious side and a not-so-serious side with a clear line of demarcation dividing the two schools of thought at Garrison Bight Marina. My time on the serious sided was short lived. I longed to be back down at end near the causeway where laughter usually filled the air. There were the drunken arguments full of false bravado and a few coolers destroyed with aluminum bats, but by the next morning there were hugs, 70s disco music, and a quick cold one or two to set things back on an even keel, starting around 6:00am. It was awesome...for a while. This lifestyle took its toll. I'll fast forward through the rest, my Great American Novel, and get on to my Key West demise.

Dancing naked in a thunderstorm near the old City Electric building, is where I found myself on my last night in Key West. Just a few feet away a beautiful young lesbian from France twirled about under a streetlight holding her clothes in her right hand. This had been the way we walked from Garrison Bight Marina to our current location on James Street. Rain soaked yet still clothed we made way from Charterboat Row headed for the Half Shell. Only when we hit the side streets did we decide to disrobe and move about in aimless freedom. There was no music playing, per say. The rain fell heavily upon tin roofs, car hoods, puddles, the asphalt, the concrete, our heads, our skin; it fell everywhere and on that night it coalesced into a symphony for our rum addled minds to interpret as music.

Eventually Sophie began to sing along with the night and I have no idea what song it might have been but it sure sounded fine to me. When she beckoned me to join her in her own interperative dance I thought that this would THAT night, the kind one spends their whole adolescent life dreaming about.  What else would a twenty-six-year-old inebriated male dancing in a tropical rainstorm with a French lesbian think? Unfortunately, in my head, all the reasons why she might beckoned me to her were all way off base, as was most of my thinking then. Sophie held out her hands for me to come enjoy the moment with her, not with her. We were naked, dancing in the streets, living life in the tropics to its fullest. It was a moment to be simply enjoyed for what it was without moving it into awkwardness. The last thing this girl wanted was some drunken idiot dancing around with his boardshorts around his ankles attempting to make the night into something that it could never be. All this was was the definition of fun and to make the moment endure into a lasting memory that was how the moment had to remain...simply fun.

Maybe if I had been a better dancer (as in had more freedom of movement rather than the restriction of boardshorts around the ankles) things might have been different but THAT kind of night was not in the cards for me. To my defense, I was staying prepared as a good mate should and there is an awkwardness that comes with being ready to put wet clothes back in case the cops come. But it was Key West...who calls the cops on people dancing naked in the rain under a streetlight? Only when we saw the faces of those taking their evening meal inside Finnegan's Wake did we put on our clothes and run to the Half Shell to meet up with some of the other motley fools from Charterboat Row.

The rest of the night could not match the fun of walking from Charterboat Row to the Half Shell in a tropical rainstorm. I did my best to try with as much rum as the Half Shell would serve me. Instead of adding to the fun, all I was doing was adding to the amount of sugar my body would eventually reject. The night would end quickly as would my time in Key West.

Would I have changed a thing about that night? Hell yes I would have! There might have been a better ending than waking up alone the next day in sweat-soaked sheets with a case of the delirium tremors that I thought one only read about in Jack Kerouac novels. The self destruction had been building momentum for a while. Only after striking out trying to convert a lesbian to heterosexuality, on a night like no other, does the free fall end with a sudden and harrowing impact. That morning I knew that if I did not leave Key West immediately I would end up in bad place, maybe not dead but I felt my grip on sanity beginning to loosen. I paid my rent for the next month and told my landlords, who happened to be very close friends that I was leaving. That afternoon I packed up a U-haul and left Key West headed in a northerly direction for a month of drying out at mom's.

To put things in a more business like perspective of how bad, or maybe stupid is a better word, I had become let me just say this: I passed the test to get my 6-pac captain's license, had an offer to start running a boat on Charterboat Row, but never got around to filling out the paperwork to finalize the process. I had one year from the date of the exam to get the paper work filled out and just never did. You know what they say about idle's true! My reputation as a fisherman had grown to the point that I was getting job offers from a lot of boats. I had a captain threaten another if he tried to lure me away again. Looking back on this now I further realize how bad I actually got. Nobody has been so anxious to hire me since!!

Everything happens for a reason. I am a firm believer in this in the Biblical sense. While I may not have always lived as a good example of the Christian walk, I knew I was always being watched over. I am quite sure that it is a good thing I did not get my Captain's license and stay in Key West. I couldn't handle it all.

I sure bet I could handle Key West now! At home I have three wonderful mongrels and an incredible hobby as my support system. Also, I am much older and much more content with who I am, allowing me to just sit back and watch the tide roll in and out of the channel without wondering what I might be missing out on (except when it comes to cool SUP events!). Yes, I can look back on the crazy times of yesteryear in all the wonderful places I lived and laugh at that foolishness. Being strong enough now to laugh off any temptation with the been-there-done-that-and-am-very-fortunate-to-still-be-alive-with-all-my-faculties-in-place attitude gives me a clearer vision of the world. I long to experience the true beauty of such amazing places as Wrightsville Beach, Key West, Charleston, New Orleans, New York, and Miami without the foggy mind. Key West by SUP?? I can't imagine the feeling one must get being able to see the island from that perspective!

My time at the southernmost point still provides me with so much even though I have been away from there for too long. I learned so much about the sea and spent some quality time with a lot of wonderful people. Thanks to social media I am still in touch with a few of the good ones. So many memories from that time in my life are still with me. There are the bad ones that help me make better decisions and there are the good ones like the way starlight cast a warm glow over Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas. I feel so fortunate to have spent a few nights in that part of the world. That picture is still as vivid now as it was back then from the deck of the Cha-Cha. 

And now there is SUP in Key West to make it even more of a special place. All I hear about is how awesome the crew at Lazy Dog is. I want to meet these folks! They are everywhere spreading the stoke of SUP and I feel like I am the only paddler who has not met one member of that crew! I wish everyone attending the Key West Paddleboard Classic the best and while I may hate you for a few hours on Saturday I look forward to paddling with you in the near future.