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.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

All the Soothing Waters Meet in Wrightsville Beach

Tis the season for many of the more awesome events to take place. That's the good news paddlers…some paddlers. The bad news for this paddler is that I am in good enough shape to go about half the distances these courses require. In 2014 I had hoped to travel to some of the more notable events but as can happen when we least expect it life and weather get in the way. When I cannot attend a race in a locale that is special to me I will exorcise the disappointment in way that is healthier than downing Budweisers put down in front of me by a scowling wife at the Old Town Ale House. Rather I will recall experiences I have had in these locations. This way I will be able to stifle the jealousy I might experience while all my brethren wave their paddles in an enviable solidarity at these events . This week the Carolina Cup will commence and I will be tucked between the rolling dunes in northwest Indiana staking out a fence for two unruly mongrels. Where I will be is a pretty special place in it's own right but where many of my friends and fellow paddlers will be this weekend has an aura that is all its own.

Now I regress...

As summer came to a close in 1996, so did one of my more memorable relationships, leaving me downtrodden, alone, and unaware of what to do next. I was living in Charleston, South Carolina after way too many years pursuing an unwanted college degree followed by an awkward year gainfully employed in New York's fashion industry. Manhattan had beaten me down into into a young man who had no idea who he was. I sought solace in the crown jewel of the south in order to imitate the lives of others and begin to develop my own niche. Being so insecure and lacking self confidence I knew I would be more comfortable dipping into someone else's life and stealing parts to build a foundation I might one day call my own. That someone did not need to be a real person. That person could be a construct. In Charleston, that person would be a character from a Pat Conroy novel.

The story I wanted to live had already been told numerous times and published for the masses. The pressure was off me trying to make my own way in the world. At first Charleston was not easy. For the first few months I spent many nights alone re-reading Conroy's novels planning my moves for the next day.  When an old boarding school mate visited town and acquainted me with a close group of people, that would soon include new friends and a few familiar faces from my dreaded prep school years, things fell into place quite nicely. I found myself having the time of my life waking up every day with a big smile on my face. Most mornings there was a hangover, before strong coffee could settle the storm, but that hangover came with a tan. That tan came from working in a boatyard with a great group of guys and a boss who was, and still is, a master craftsman. These guys taught me how to surf and put up with me as I spent months kooking it up and trying not to drown. Finally, I rode my first wave during Hurricane Bertha and went home to celebrate this triumph with a fine looking woman who had grown up south of Broad. I had studied the blueprints well!

What does this have to do with Wrightsville Beach??? I'm getting there…

Because I was living a life that was based on the work of another I was incapable of making decisions on my own that were mature, well-thought-out, and served an intended purpose. Good times only go on for so long then the realities of life on Earth command one's attention and demand a proper response. Works of fiction have no relevant chapter providing the blueprint for what to do next. My charmed existence in Charleston soon came to an abrupt end when my relationship with the local girl came to an abrupt end. Before our demise I had booked an non-refundable suite in a boutique hotel on Ocracoke Island, N.C. in order for us to have a romantic getaway. However, she decided to get away from me before the trip. What does one do when plans go awry with a lady and logistics are already in place near some of the best surf spots on the east coast? You load up the boys from the boatyard and head in a northerly direction with a cooler full of cold Budweisers and Thule rack piled high with surfboards.

Finally we arrive in Wrightsville Beach…

As we headed north on Route 17 it was either Jamison or Jaybird who suggested we stop in Wrightsville Beach to break up the drive and check out some waves. At the time, none of us had cell phones, laptops, or anything close to Internet access to find surf reports and locations. To find out where we should go we stopped into Surf City and met the former owner (whose name I forget but he was a super nice guy). He greeted us with smiles and provided us with plenty of good information. We immediately headed to what turned out to be a mighty fine surf spot that provided ample amounts of waves and a section of the beach that we would call our own for the day. My rehabilitation had begun.

I couldn't get over how clear the water was surrounding Wrightsville Beach. I wondered how such clarity was possible outside of the Caribbean, but I did not concern myself with the how or why for longer than a passing thought. Those waters were there for me and my companions to enjoy to the fullest. Those fine waters diluted the bitterness that had been circulating through me for far too many weeks. Sitting out in the ocean I started to feel the paralytic effect of stress ease off a bit. I began to think on my own and quickly realized what a jackass I had been. It was offshore of Wrightsville Beach that I shook my head in embarrassment at my epiphany: Pat Conroy would have never included someone who lived life as foolishly as I did in one of his works. By sunset I would begin to gain momentum into becoming the man God put me on earth to be. Some Swedish girls staying on Ocracoke Island would help further that momentum.

Salt water has always been the best prescription for healing what ails you, whether is be physical or mental. Such is true for all salt water but there certainly is something special about the waters that flow into and around Wrightsville Beach. It was in those clear salty waters that I began to heal after my character had been written out of Charleston's eternal story. I enjoyed the Outer Banks but I did cast some longing looks back to the south in the direction of those healing waters. There is substance in that part of the ocean unlike anywhere else. There is a power that encompasses you. The fortunate ones who realize they are in a special place can harness that power and channel it into any affected area of life that could use a good cleanse. I was struck by the place and knew one day I would return for a more in-depth exploration of the area.

I have been back several times since 1996, especially due to the explosion of SUP in the area. Back in January, my wife and I spent a week in Wrightsville Beach that coincided with the Cold Stroke Classic. Only can a race with awful, terrible, horrible, no good, very-bad conditions (sorry Ms. Viorst) still be well worth the long drive when that race is held in Wrightsville Beach. That was a week we needed amidst a big move that turned out to be very trying on us. Wrightsville offered great food, time with family, a few new friendships, and some more time in those soothing waters. There, we were able to regroup before retracing our steps back to the Midwest and settling into the life that suites us best, although we found it very hard to leave Wrightsville…

In just a few days paddlers will partake in the Carolina Cup and I am super bummed to be missing the race. Actually, I am not missing the me racing part of the race; I would be happy just to be there to watch the start and finish. The list of participants promises a stacked field and the Graveyard Course certainly offers all kinds of conditions that will test paddlers of all abilities. This year is going to offer plenty of excitement for both paddler and spectator. I am sure everybody in attendance will have a great time. How can they not? It's Wrightsville Beach after all!    

Yes I am envious of those going and yes I will be ignoring all the pictures that will be posted of all the folks having a good time in one of my favorite places in America. All the other people obsessed with SUP, such as I am, will be gathering to share the vibes and to share the stoke. From all over the world people will gather and form into one tribe where are all are welcome and more are always encouraged to join. I don't know what I will miss more, taking full advantage of those all-powerful waters or the Tower 7 shrimp tacos. DANG! I am so jealous!

Then weekend after the Carolina Cup is the Key West Classic…ugh. I got the luck of a gypsy to be too far out of shape to justify all the traveling to these wonderful events. Next year I have to do better in the offseason, even if that means sacrificing time away from my lovely wife by spending all of February and March training in Florida!!

After I was written out of the Charleston novel I would set sail, literally, further south. My gaze focused on an even warmer climate as I sought to start anew.. Although I left one paradise for another with the intention of growing up, I was still a much addled youth full of stupidity and foolishness. Heading to Key West with these traits would not make for a dull experience. If only stand up paddle boarding had been around when I was there, I might not have left the way I did…in a hurry!

To all those attending the Carolina Cup: be safe, have a blast, and eat some shrimp tacos for me!! Take a few moments to soak in the ocean and feel that love enwrap you. Enjoy your time in Wrightsville Beach and soak in the comfort of the moments you spend there. Those moments will be with you for the rest of your life.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Find the Truth About HOW TO EAT from Your Own Body

To juice or not to juice (as in fruit and vegetable juice not pro-baseball player juice)  that is quite the question these days. Whether tis nobler to pulverize and strain your kale like the hipsters do, paying 9 dollars for a 10oz cup of the swill, or eat it cooked like your grandmother tried to make you do wayyyyyyyyy before the idea of juice bars came into being.

Kale is disgusting, so gross. For me it has been since the 70s when I stared at a big glop of it on a plate at 1321 Highland Drive in Baltimore. Give me a kale chip smothered in sea salt and I can dig it, but to get it in my body any other way is a battle.

CONFESSION: I have read the articles online now deeming kale the magical elixir and I have choked down many overpriced cups of kale juice waiting for that BAM...instant magic to transform me into a lean, mean paddling machine. Such did not happen and I am not really sure if "lean" will ever be used as an adjective to describe me again. To save money I went to the store and bought kale (we have a juicer thanks to a Lowe's gift card we received at our wedding) but I had to add a bunch of apples and a serrano pepper to act like I was enjoying what I was drinking. Still no lean me. I should have bought a toaster make me some TOAST! Toast is fuel!

Paleo seems to be all the rage now. That incorporates kale into the program doesn't it? I see a ton of awesome looking dishes on my friend Amy's Facebook page. That girl can cook some dang good looking food and I don't even think she uses a food stylist. My mouth waters and I get hungry looking at the pictures she posts. Those dishes look good and I bet they taste even better. Unfortunately, I don't think the Paleo diet includes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I'm out.

There is too much pro and con about the same issue whether it's juicing, strength training, low carb/no carb diets, and every other aspect of the athletic lifestyle. Information overload and it's too much to get your head around. I always wonder whether or not I am doing the right thing when it comes to eating and training because I like staying up to date on what researchers say, but maybe that is not the best idea. I should be the researcher for me. You should be the researcher for you.

I am by no means a nutritionist, but I will compare my way of thinking with the literature that is out there. I check out some websites and I have even bought a few books to help me learn how to eat well, or maybe properly is a better word. Is there a correct word for the program I choose to follow? The way I eat constantly changes. It goes from good to bad to middlin' to well-thought-out to downright stupid to rabbit-like to fine. I'd like to make healthy the best word to describe the way I eat. To do that I need to think back to...when was I the healthiest and when was I the least healthy?

Least healthy: November 1985-August 2002, October 2002-not too long ago

September 2002 was when I was the healthiest I have ever been.

I was in the woods for 28 days on an Outward Bound excursion around the North Carolina-Tennessee border. Whatever we ate then did the trick. We ate a lot of meals that would probably send Laird Hamilton and med-degreed nutritionists into fits. Breakfasts consisted of bagels sauteed in butter and smothered in cream cheese, Cream of Wheat, granola, oatmeal, and bread. Lunch was canned salmon, beans, cheese, sardines, crushed crackers, and bread. Dinner was pita pizzas with veggie toppings, pasta with tomato paste tomato sauce, beans, breads, cheeses, and carrots. There were more items but not many. Meals were subsidized by apples, oranges, and various trail mixes that had chocolate, nuts, pretzels, cereals, and dried fruits. You know what I did after these meals...I carried a 70+ pound pack up and down mountains from sunrise to sunset, climbed unfathomable rock cliffs, canoed down rapids, and dropped to a very low, but very healthy, percentage of body fat. At the end of the 28 days I ran a half marathon up and down three peaks, beating the rest of my group by 40+ minutes and almost breaking the best time ever posted at North Carolina Outward Bound School. I was sprinting for close to half the race and I give most of the credit to Cream of Wheat. I was older than the rest of my group by almost a decade.

Of course my body needed this fuel to survive a very rugged lifestyle. Today, I definitely don't need the fuel that kind of diet demanded, but I do need some of it. I'm getting older and I am trying to maintain an "elite" level of fitness. I truly believe that in order to do so I cannot adhere to any kind of diet that excludes items. I think one has to be smart and analyze the way they eat with the way they feel and their level of activity. I see a lot of people that look amazing at races but do not perform at a level I would have imagined. Give them a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and I bet you would see one hell of a difference! Or maybe all depends upon the person and what lifestyle they lead. We are all different so we have to be honest with ourselves and, I think, maintain a balance that constantly changes depending up our lifestyle.

I think the hardest aspect of eating is discerning our cravings. Know your cravings! I crave ice cream and Snickers bars all the time. I know those cravings are coming from a not-so-good place. Sometimes I crave cereal and sometimes I listen to these cravings. I look back at what I did leading up to the craving and what I plan to do after the craving. If I put in two workouts beforehand and would like to workout the next day you are correct if you believe I succumb to that craving and have a bowl of cereal. I'm not eating Frosted Flakes but I'm not eating raw bulgur wheat as well. I totally enjoy some granola that isn't too processed knowing that I am going to burn that stuff off in the very near future. Not every time you feel hungry do you need to eat. Water helps; tea helps. Also, don't wait too long to eat so your cravings and your hunger don't join together to mess you up. Your stomach is roughly the size of your fist. I try to remember this but sometimes that 12 inch meatball marinara Subway sub is too dang good to only eat half...

Really? A 12 inch meatball marinara Subway sub all in one sitting. I know my fist ain't that big!

At this point in my life I tend to look at eating like staying hydrated. If you are thirsty you are already behind the eight ball. Eat a little portion of something healthy before you feel hungry. Snacks are good. Pop tarts probably aren't the best snack and neither is an over-processed protein bar. Keep it simple. If it takes you more than a few seconds to read the label on an item then put it away. There are no labels on apples, bananas, and almonds. I really dig dried figs as a good snack that will fill me up and the ingredient list on the label is really short. Short labels are good. No labels are better. I'm a realist. SOme of my food is going to have labels and I am not going to know exactly what everything is...and I am okay with that. A few minutes of exercise and a glass of red wine will offset that big word or two on the label.

Balance is key. Know yourself and know your schedule and eat accordingly. Don't let the do's and don'ts on the web rule your eating habits. Be smart and examine the way you feel and your activity level to determine what you put on your grocery list!! And don't be lazy!! Cooking your meal is much better than buying your meal and it really doesn't take that much longer. I get lazy. We all do. If we keep it simple we can easily succeed when it comes to eating in a way that is best for our bodies. Rule your own inner kingdom and discover what fuel keeps you at peak performance.