Move Your Body
It probably comes as no surprise that one of my favorite undergraduate courses was comparative vertebrate morphology. In particular I loved the fanciful (though also sometimes eerily accurate) idea that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. The idea that we carry within us the fishy memory of gills, the lateral undulation of salamanders or the wisp of a monkey’s tail. And oh, that hyoid bone, what a fascinating floating remnant! Well, here Leslie Kaminoff explains the phrase and how it relates to the primary and secondary curves of the human spine.
Not all of you are Facebook fans. But if you are, and you like Wildopenheart’s page you’ll see videos like this more often. At least watch to the part where he almost drops back from handstand into a one-leg backbend but then comes back up without touching down. It’s lovely to watch in the same way that it is fun to know that Ellie Greenwood can run 100k in 7 ½ hours. It’s nice to celebrate our fellow humans who are able to so beautifully combine physical talent and effort.
If you have participated in my seasonal cleanses you know I am not a fan of vegetable oil. This article explains how refined vegetable are likely contributing to inflammation, heart disease and cancer.
Another one of my Seasonal Cleanse imperatives – don’t eat after sunset – get’s some affirmative press in this New York Times opinion article.
And finally, even if you haven’t done one of my cleanses you likely know how obsessed I am with the relationship between our inner and outer ecosystems – well this New York Times article makes an important point about human microbiomes – there is no one perfect ecosystem. Just like our global ecosystem, the health of the human population likely relies on diversity, adaptability and ultimately, evolution.
Read this commentary on the Ashtanga Picture Project and replace the words “pose” and “yoga” with the phrase “sitting in a chair” and you’ll understand how problematic this post is. Yoga poses are not divine commandments and they are not configurations immune to the limitations of the human form. That pain and suffering you feel when you externally rotate your hip and internally rotate your knee? That is not all in your head, nor is it caused by your flawed anatomy or lack of spiritual development.
The idea that your body is limited by your ego is not new, though one could equally argue that ego-attachment is a necessary condition of embodiment. The idea of mind-over-matter becomes problematic when it is embedded in the context of a striving, power-hungry yoga world and guided by a confused mashup of Karmic teleology, Blavatskian Theosophy, Jungian psychology and the body-ego detachment of the Yoga Sutras. If you agree that a torn meniscus is primarily an ego problem then you must to be willing to see that belief all the way through to its logical end: homeless, friendless, childless, posessionless and ultimately preferenceless. Which (thankfully) means you won’t care if you can do that pose or not.
Now here’s the thing, I totally understand where this author is coming from. I have gotten significant delight from pushing beyond my preconceived, ego-limited notions of what my body can do. But in all cases, where I felt this joy (or freedom) it was because I was feeling that way throughout. Yes, I might be suffering from extreme fatigue, or even pain, but there is no sense of masochism or worse, spiritual striving in that experience. I am not pushing through to attain a higher level of freedom from what I am feeling in that moment. I am not ignoring pain (knowingly) to achieve some kind of post-race bliss that includes an operating room. That’s the key – as householders that have chosen to live in society, to serve our families and communities and ultimately the world, it does not serve us to surrender to the disintegration of the physical body – as yogis, as athletes, as caregivers, we owe it to this egoic world to remain physically functional.
Also, it’s a sweet promise, but I assure you, whatever freedom you find on the other side of that “dark night of the soul” is fleeting. Last time I checked, most modern yogis, having worked through a dozen or more injuries over the same number of years, are not now floating around in a detached state of blissful samadhi. Of course if they are, they wouldn’t be here on the blogosphere to write about it.
We need to think long and hard about why we choose to push our bodies in any particular way – be it running faster or further, sitting for 10 hours a day, or putting a leg behind our head. These things in and of themselves are not virtuous, nor is the striving. So what are they?
If you are as curious about this as I am, you can help Matthew Remski continue this conversation by helping to fund his new book here.
Natural History Musings
When Jerome and I met I (half) joked that he would need to court me by bringing me blue things. Here’s why.
Picture of the week:
I spent the month of October leading my seasonal Fall Cleanse and wrapping up my race season. Just in time too because last week brought a foot of snow and an eight-day power outage. Which means I’ve spent a lot of time shoveling, heating water and cleaning out the contents from my thawed freezer. But I digress . . .
In this week’s news I give you a self-indulgent re-cap of my 2014 training/racing season. But first I need to set the proper context. I think most people who know me greatly overestimate my natural athletic ability, they think they could never do what I do, that I am some kind of uber-human-amazon-woman who thrives on difficulty and discomfort. It’s a funny thing because when I am immersed in a world of fellow-athletes I continue to see myself as a harbor seal/house cat toddling along behind a sleek pack of sharks and gazelles. At the same time, I care less and less about what other people think (about me, my body, or my achievements). I enjoyed this season of training partly because I was much less anxious about my performance. The plantar fasciitis forced me to back way off and put aside any competitive delusions and I began to really enjoy the little bit of pain-free running that I could do. Also, for the first time I fell in love with open-ocean swimming. I explored the entire coastline of Blue Hill Bay and made several open-water crossings on my own (if you’re looking for a lost mooring let me know, I saw several outliers this summer). I love the feeling of total independence and self-sufficiency, it reminds me of the feeling I had hiking alone in very remote places pre-cell-phone and gps. I don’t like the thought of global warming bringing more sharks to the Gulf of Maine. So, moving on . . .
At the end of last season I was in rough shape. My left hip joint was screaming, and I was told by PT’s and MD’s that I’d be lucky to run at all before an inevitable hip replacement in 3-5 years. My calves and feet were trying to take up the slack from my hip and I ended up with variations on plantar fasciitis and achilles tendonitis on both sides lasting about six months in each case. Then, after a slow steady build up of glute strength and overall endurance, NO hip openers (yoga-type stretches that include external hip rotation), and very little running (10-25 miles per week) my pain started to subside. I frequently switched up my footwear (from barefoot to New Balance minimus to Hokas) to spread the stress across different parts of my body and I spent way more time fast-hiking up and down hills than running on roads.
My goal was to end this season un-injured and un-sick and I totally succeeded. I managed to keep my attitude relaxed but focussed and while I don’t feel at all like an uber-human-amazon-woman, I did get to have some amazing experiences.
2014 Season Recap
March 16, Maine Huts and Trails 40 Km XC Ski Classic, Carrabassett Valley, ME
I started out WAY too fast – sustaining a heart rate of over 160 bpm for the first hour and over 150 for the next two hours. Whoa. It was a fun, competitive race, and I finished in 3hrs 26mins.
May 24, Pineland Farms 5k Barefoot, New Gloucester, ME
The Trail Running Festival and Pineland Farms is family-friendly, scenic, well run and laid-back. This was the second year that Lucy (7) and Georgia (6) and I ran the barefoot5k together and we had a great time. I think it would be great if small trail races like this could add an award category for 5-10 year olds, and offer a more generous family discount. Kids are natural trail-runners and it would be fun to see more of them out there.
May 25, Pineland Farms, 25k Trail, New Gloucester, ME
I dropped down from the 50k to the 25k since foot pain had kept me from running more than 5 miles at a time all Spring. Jerome ran this one with me and it made for a great date! He hadn’t run (at all) since his MDI Half Marathon the year before, so I had to really push him up the last few hills and we finished in just under three hours, happy and humbled.
June 8, Pirate Tri Sprint, Casco, ME
I love this little early season Tri. The swim is generally freezing, the bike course is lovely and hilly, and the run is a totally mundane, fast flat out and back. I generally camp out in the back of my car so I can wake up at the start line. My cousin Sam and my friend Sloan joined me. Sam and I both came in second in our age group and Sloan proved she can rock a triathlon even after a winter of hibernation.
July 12, Norway Tri Sprint, Norway, ME
This is my favorite local triathlon. The swim course is long (2/3 mile) and the water is always warm and lovely, the bike is 6 miles up a hill and 6 miles back down – fast, and the run is a steep 3+ mile course on local xc trails. When the Western Foothills Land Trust started this race 6 years ago it was a small event filled with first timers, retirees and mom-athletes but it is growing and each year there are a few more New England speedsters leading the rest of us around the course in their zippy suits and million dollar bikes. This year both my cousin Sam and her 17 year old daughter Kira joined us (for her first ever triathlon)!
This year Jerome, the girls and I camped out nearby and had dinner at the torturously slow Cafe Nomad, where unbeknownst to us they served Georgia a gluten-filled tortilla. She proceeded to spend the night puking on me in the tent while Jerome and Lucy snored nearby. Every time I opened the tent door to let Georgia puke outside a whole flock of blood-thirsty mosquitos would clamp down on my face, neck and exposed arm flesh. It was a night to forget and I spent the hour before the race in the morning cleaning myself and my gear up, didn’t get to eat breakfast and forgot to pump up my tires. This is all makes a great excuse for why I didn’t compete well this year, but I was also in the middle of a very hard Ironwoman training cycle and probably needed way more recovery time than I was giving myself. By the end of the weekend (which included a 50 mile ride through the White Mountains and teaching at the Maine Yoga Fest) my left foot was hurting so badly I couldn’t walk straight. Live and learn.
August, 8, Long Island Challenge, Blue Hill Bay, ME (2.4 mile swim)
This year’s swim was a bit on the choppy side and we didn’t hit the incoming tide quite right so it took us all a bit longer, but every one who got in the water made it to the Becton’s dock where hot tea and scones were enjoyed by all.
August 10, Granite Woman, Downeast, ME (2.4mi swim, 120mi bike, 10mi hike over Katahdin)
This year to keep the support logistics simple, I swam a 2.4 mile route alone in Toddy Pond and then biked up to Millinocket on my own. I got a late start and was once again racing the sun down the final hill into town where Jerome met me at the Hikers Hostel with a lovely roast beef sandwich. The next morning we got to the Baxter State Park Togue Pond gate as soon as it opened at 6am to try to beat the forecasted afternoon thunderstorms. We hiked up the Helon Taylor trail to Pamola Peak, arriving before 10am, but still the clouds were moving in really fast! As we crossed the Knife’s Edge we watched huge thunderheads rapidly forming overhead. If you know me you know how much I hate electric storms so I was on edge the whole way
up to Baxter Peak. When we got there everyone was acting very casual and all I could think was “how fast can we get down”. Half way down the Tablelands we hit the Cathedral Trail intersection and decided it would be wise to head down from there instead of completing our planned route up over Hamlin Peak. Of course as soon as we made that decision it became clear that there wasn’t enough heat to sustain the cloud build up and I was reminded once again, this is Maine, not Colorado. Even so, the Cathedral trail makes a very fun down-scramble and nobody uses that trail in the afternoon (people only hike up it) so unlike the more popular descent route down the Saddle trail, there is no threat of people dropping shit or kicking rocks on your head.
September 6, Lobsterman Tri Olympic, Freeport. ME
This year’s Lobsterman came right at the end of my peak Ironwoman training and my for some reason I can’t remember now, my left foot was killing me. I shouldn’t have raced at all but I am stubborn. I did end up cranking the bike ride at an average pace of 19.6 mph. But when it came time to run I was practically in tears. Somehow for the first time all summer the temperature soared into the high 80’s with nearly 100% humidity. My foot pain was acute, and I had to wear shoes because the pavement was too hot to go barefoot. I ran-walked myself across the finish line and hoped I hadn’t done any lasting damage. After all, I had an Ironwoman to complete the following weekend!
September 28, Vermont 50, 50k Trail, Brownsville, VT
I was originally registered for the 50mile race, but wisely dropped down to the 50k. I wasn’t even sure the week before if I would be volunteering or running (the most running I had done all season was the marathon at the end of the Ironwoman). I had talked two girlfriends into running their first ever 50k, and I was determined to join them. It turned out to be a lovely day in the Vermont hills, I felt strong if not fast, and finished singing and swearing loudly!
October 5, Cadillac Century Challenge, Bar Harbor, ME
This is not so much a race as a group ride. All my girlfriends backed out the morning of. Probably because it was pouring rain and blowing hard enough to knock down the registration tent. I tagged along with a friendly group of guys for the first 40 miles until I got a flat tire and realized my CO2 cartridge was spent. Miraculously I was a mere 500 ft away from Bicycle Bob’s house. He must have heard me swearing because he eventually he wandered out with a hot cup of coffee and a bike pump. I continued the ride with Maine’s friendliest doctor (who stuck with me throughout my flat incident and realized he also accidentally had no pump or cartridges). After 90 hilly miles around Mount Desert Island we finally pulled ourselves up Cadillac Mountain around 2pm. The sun was shining and I was mostly dried out. The ride down was much less scary than I had anticipated as the wind had really died down. All in all, the bikers I met that day are some of the best men in Maine. Thanks guys!
October 19, MDI Marathon, Bar Harbor, ME
I was still pain free and I hoped to stay that way so I donned my pair of Hoka One One marshmallows and jogged to the Bar Harbor start line to join a few hundred other Thunderstruck runners. Jerome and the girls dropped me off and headed over to Southwest Harbor for the girls “Big Run”. They spent all summer running a total of 25 single miles and today they were going to run their final 1.6 miles to complete their marathon and get their own golden lobster claw medals.
I underestimated how much fatigue I had accumulated over the last month. By mile six I felt like I had already run 26. I had a sudden, brand new sharp pain in my inner right thigh that kept threatening to throw me to the ground with a debilitating leg cramp. And then my left knee decided to rebel, well not the knee exactly but the TFL/IT band along the outside of my leg but it kept my knee from wanting to bend. The result was a very tough mental run. Which you know, I kind of like. I mean, when the physicality of an event is not really happening, when running faster is not really an option and just running forward at all is a step by step miracle, it really takes the pressure off. I downed my Tailwind and Gu, met Jerome and the girls at the top of the hill around mile 24 and finished only a minute behind my time last year (4:42). The best part? My feet didn’t hurt. No plantar fasciitis or tendonitis. Just good old fashioned fatigue. I can live with that.
October 26 and November 9, Down East Double Trouble Trail Race Challenge, the Wildlands and Sullivan, ME
Two little trail races packed with adventure. On the way to the first one I got in a fender bender so my girlfriends and I were late to the start, which meant we had to park and run 1.5 miles to the start line, before actually getting to start the race. But the race director was very kind and let us have our own timed start (once we got there). It’s a hilly course (~1,000ft gain) and with only a week between me and my last marathon those downhill outer leg muscles were pissed. I think I averaged 14 min miles downhill and 10 minute miles uphill.
The real highlight of my season was getting to run the second race of this series with Lucy. She had been looking forward to running with me for several weeks and when the day came she had her running clothes all laid out and her bottle of tailwind pre-mixed. We got there early enough to relax but she was just like any other racer, nervous and ready to go! I can’t describe the motherly delight and pride I had following her down the trail that day. She is light on her feet and kept her own pace. She ran most of the time and walked some hills, but never once complained. She seemed to actually be digging in the exact same way I do, I couldn’t believe it but I swear she was having fun! She crossed the finish line exhausted and smiling. While she refueled with post-race chili the race committee kindly gave her a “Youngest Runner” award which only added to her joy. She was beaming all day and kept saying “that was so much fun mama!”.
It was truly a great way to end a great season.
Up next? The goal is to fit in as much strength work as I can before xc ski season hits. And I’ve got a gorgeous little 50k planned for my 40th birthday in February out in Antelope Canyon in Page, AZ.
Photo of the month:
Georgia showing us how it’s done.
Thanks to Emma Watson’s speech to the U.N., this week’s news is brought to you by the word Feminism. Sadly this has become an unpopular word with her fellow Millennials so I appreciate her courage to initiate a generationally appropriate discussion about gender equality. I admit I find the campaign title HeForShe a tad confusing because to me it connotes transgender rights (which I am also in favor of). But being an old-school(?!) feminist I would prefer the name SheForHe for the obvious reason that it puts women first. I was raised in the 1970’s on the Free to Be You and Me soundtrack and when I was Emma’s age I took it for granted that feminism was a universally accepted and popular concept. I took it for granted that feminism meant women would define the terms and agreements by which we would participate in the modern world.
My favorite Free to Be You and Me story was the one about princess Atalanta that I retold to my Saturday morning yoga class a few weeks back. I had no idea there was a cartoon version of this story until I looked it up online just now. Putting aside how disturbing it is to see images of a story that has lived in my head for the better part of 40 years, I have to digress (further) here to note that despite their killer heel-striking both Atalanta and Young John’s physiques appear pleasantly un-photoshopped. Unlike every single yoga teacher that has ever graced the cover of Yoga Journal.
Which is what this post is really about. Yoga and feminism. Or, how the use of women’s bodies in yoga marketing is defining the role of women in 21st century yoga. It seems to me that yoga femininity is a stand-in for Yoga Feminism and that’s not really working for me.
As a yoga teacher I have to constantly acknowledge and remind myself of how dangerous and insidious the yoga-body-ideal is. When I look at the cover of Cover Girl or Cosmo I expect, I know (because I am a smarty-pants X-generation, yoga-teaching, enlightened, feminist) that those images are altered. It is after all a fashion magazine. But when I see the pictures of my friends in Yoga Journal, in clothing, vitamin and prop advertisements, my eyes (and brain) fail me. Instead of seeing photo shopped art I see an ideal that is supposed to be achievable through dedicated hard work, positive thinking (and the right social circles.) No synthetic makeup, silicone implants or crash dieting here, just a whole lot of all-natural, wholesome yoga.
Hah! If you think the yoga-world is immune to the ills of masochistic, body-manipulating marketing you are soooo wrong. While it’s true those women are of course beautiful in real life (because we all are), their images are just as manipulated as the ones in any fashion magazine. With or without manipulation the limited range of figures chosen to represent our business contributes to a dangerous illusory ideal. One that I myself spent years chasing down. Fueled by how much attention I got or didn’t get at various yoga gatherings I pushed myself toward that perfect, slim, strong, flexible, flawless ideal. And what added to my crazy-making chase of perfection is how much the subtle differences in weight and fitness mattered. The years I showed up 10-20 pounds lighter then my average weight the compliments poured-in, I was offered pro-deals and free merchandise by retailers and I was accepted into the pecking order of slim-fit-accomplished yoginis (meaning I was invited to fancy meals and parties and given premium mat space.) But the years I showed up at these gatherings 10-20 pounds heavier than my average I was shunned and or given a ton of unsolicited, concerned-sounding advice (including a few offers for nutritional counseling!). The success of my business as a yoga teacher beyond the confines of my local studio appeared to depend entirely on my weight. I know it sounds extreme but it really was that extreme. In no other community has the size and condition of my body counted for so much.
Four years ago I was teaching at Wanderlust in Vermont when I noticed that I was the largest teacher there. Once I noticed I could not stop noticing. The students came in a broader spectrum of shapes and sizes, but the teachers came in one size and it was not mine. I decided I’d had enough of the national yoga scene. I was sick of trying to fit my body into a business that I didn’t admire and that certainly wasn’t admiring me back.
Now, this isn’t a story about sour grapes. I am very happy living and teaching in a rural community where everyone buys their yoga clothes at T.J. Maxx. I am very happy that when I walk into my studio nobody comments on my body or my clothing, nor do I comment on theirs (even if the crotch of their favorite tights is starting to rip out).
This is a story about the insidious message we teachers send to the yoga community when we agree to sell our looks and our bodies to market a practice that really has nothing to do with either. Really. Either you are born with that ass or you are not and no amount of Warrior II is going to make it go away. I love my body, I love feeling strong and supple. But I don’t agree with the idea that women should be outwardly celebrating and showing off their bodies as a sort of self-improvement trophy. Nor is yoga-adornment ($100 yoga pants and thousand dollar crystal om-necklaces) a self-empowered reclaiming of feminine beauty. It is time for the yoga world to get over the idea that femininity is feminism. It’s not. This generation of yogis is literally shaping the role of women in modern yoga, do we really want that role to be based on our shape?
This is exactly the conversation that Carol Horton, Chelsea Roff and others are having about the confusing (at best) Yoga Journal article titled “Love Your Curves” which gives advice on how to flatter various body shapes with proper yoga attire, and then this month’s response (including what appears to be a mostly un-edited Kathyn Budig on the cover).
I wish I could say I have always been above the marketed yoga-ideal. I wish I could say that I was always content with my body, running faster than the wind like Princess Atalanta. I wish I could say I don’t compare and evaluate my form with others, that my sense of worthiness doesn’t fluctuate with the scale. But it’s not true. Being a feminist does not make me immune to the cacophonous perfect-body, perfect-person message that floods the yoga world. It’s a sad commentary on the state of the popular yoga world (though a great boon to my well-being) that the further I move away from it the better I feel. So much so that these days, tucked away in the nearly media-free enclave of Downeast, Maine, I feel pretty great! Hell, I just finished a full Ironwoman, does anyone really care how big or small my various body parts are? I’m closing-in on 40 and I don’t mind that I look ten years older than I did ten years ago. I trust that my body-mind-spirit in all of its diverse forms has something meaningful to offer the world. That’s a big reason I’m still in this line of work. The world of Yoga and Wellness can use all the Feminists it can get.
And on that note I want to plug my upcoming Fall Cleanse. Because it’s not about attaining the perfect, squeaky-clean yoga-ideal. It’s about you as you are, not as you aren’t. It’s about taking three weeks to focus on taking care of yourself with love and care. It’s about nourishing your body-mind-spirit in a way that allows you to sit comfortably in your own un-photoshopped skin. It’s a cleanse that my feminist, ERA-necklace wearing Granny would be proud of.
Friday morning I packed the girls off to school and headed south. My first stop was Gorham Bike and Ski in Portland where I picked up a nice pair of zippy Zipp rental wheels. I don’t know how much a pair of these cost in real life but driving west on the Mass Pike on a Friday afternoon with these carbon-fiber creatures clinging to the Nashbar discount bike rack on the back of my rusty, dented Mazda was a little like flying Southwest, packing the Hope Diamond into your check-in luggage and expecting to see it on the other side. I made it to the Catskills without getting rear-ended by a tractor-trailer and just when I thought I could start breathing again the road started winding uphill. Really uphill. There were no shoulders, and three cement trucks came barreling down the road toward me. I thought “I will die tomorrow. These roads are insane.”
Just then Sam texted me from packet-pickup “Are you sure you registered and paid, they can’t find your name anywhere”. Several deep breaths later I figured out what had likely happened. Jerome and I registered and paid for the race together in the spring but then Jerome decided last week that trying to do this race, for which he had not even pretended to train for, in the middle of starting a new job at a new school would be stupid. So he deferred his race registration until next year and somehow they must have accidently deferred mine as well. It turned out this is exactly what they did. By the time I got to packet pickup they had re-enrolled me in the race and given me a bib number from one of the many cancelled racers.
As the race grew closer the weather forecast deteriorated. Scattered showers in the afternoon turned to 80% rain starting in the morning with a low of 39 and a high of 53. Apparently many other registered racers looked at the weather forecast and decided to stay home.
But Sam and I were here, we were trained and we weren’t giving into a little fall weather event. I still hadn’t ridden my bike after putting the fancy wheels on so after I registered I zoomed around the parking lot a little bit and then realized I hadn’t put my bike computer magnet on the new back wheel. I put it on and rolled around a little more but my computer refused to cooperate. Fortunately the friendly bike repair volunteer got it up and running and I racked it in transition where I nervously patted it good night, promising to be back in the morning.
With only an hour of daylight left we drove into Hunter and quickly checked into our hotel, where a much-anticipated package was waiting for me. The little square box sent overnight from Washington State contained none other than my dream wetsuit, the Helix from Blue Seventy. Let’s just say that I have some amazing friends that have some amazing friends that made this miracle happen. I was dying to strip down right there to try the suit on but we still needed to drive the bike course before sunset so I reluctantly tossed the box into the car and off we went down the road. Which was looking much better than the road I had come in on. In fact, it looked great! Nice pavement, good shoulders, no sharp turns. Things were really looking up. After reviewing the course we headed to dinner at the Last Chance restaurant in Hunter and though I wasn’t at all hungry I thought it unwise to arrive at the beginning of a race having not eaten since 3pm the previous day. I ordered a grilled portabella, goat cheese pita sandwich – a happy compromise between an all out pre-race carb fest and nothing at all.
We returned to the hotel and of course the first thing I did was try on the wetsuit. It fit absolutely perfectly. The only weird thing about the suit is that somebody at Blue Seventy thought it was a good idea to reverse the zipper on this suit design so that it zips down instead of up. This is somehow supposed to make it faster to unzip during transition. But this also means you need to bring a friend with you every time you go swimming because there’s no way you can zip it down yourself. Or at least I couldn’t figure out how.
We spent the rest of our pre-race evening sorting and distributing gels, water bottles and warm clothes between all the various transition and ”special needs” bags. And finally got to sleep around 10:30pm. I slept well until about 2am, when the pre-race-demons got the better of me and I restlessly and unsuccessfully tried to meditate myself back to sleep for the remaining 3 hours.
We got out of bed at 5:15am, packed the car and made some tea. I ate a few slices of sprouted Mana bread and tried to drink a quart of water but it was cold! I would have loved my usual quart of hot water but the hotel kitchen wasn’t fully functional yet and the tea water tasted like stale coffee. I was too nervous and distracted to notice I wasn’t really eating or drinking. We headed to the start line in Sam’s car when five minutes into the drive I remembered I had left my bag of running shoes in my car. We turned around, I grabbed the bag from my car and off we went, again.
We had 35 minutes to finish setting up our transition areas – barely enough time! I still didn’t have a special needs bag because of the registration mix up from the day before and they wouldn’t let me use my own plastic bag so I had to go up the hill to packet pickup to get one of their bags but they only had the smaller half-ironman bags left which meant I had to repack all my special needs gear and re-label the bags and re-decide what should go where. Finally just as transition was closing I got it all sorted out and ran down to the beach, wetsuit in hand. I met Sam at the beach, wriggled into my suit, applied Glide and she zipped me down as we listened to the last bit of the pre-race meeting. There seemed to be about 100 racers on the beach and it looked liked a third were wearing the dark blue caps for the full distance. Sam and I were trying to suss out the competition but there wasn’t much time.
At exactly 7am we were off! The swim consisted of 4 loops around a shallow lake. The water was lovely and warm though the air was a chilly 41 degrees. Because we all started in one wave the first lap was crowded and I narrowly avoided several foot-in-mouth kicks. By the third lap we were more spread out and I was really enjoying the swim. I kept thinking, “this wetsuit is so unbelievably comfortable!”. I felt like a sleek seal cutting through the water with long efficient strokes. We all know perception is more important than reality. In reality I was way at the back of the pack. But in my perception, this was the best race swim I’ve ever had.
I completed the 2.4 mile swim in 1hr 21mins and ran up to the transition area to change into my biking clothes. I decided that because it was so cold I should put on entirely dry clothes, which was tricky to do with my numb hands and wet body. I used a skirt to cover myself while I put on a dry bra and dry bike shorts. A friend had lent me her wool bike shirt and I pulled on the rainbow arm warmers I wear in honor of my twin brother and Georgia – my two favorite rainbow lovers. I spent 8 minutes in transition, twice as long as I planned, but it’s hard getting dressed when you’re cold and wet!
The bike starts with an uphill so I warmed up and little did I know, it would be the last time I would break a sweat all day. About five miles in the course starts a 20 mile downhill and that’s when it proceeded to dump torrential, ice bucket challenge rain on us and continued to do so for the next seven hours. As I finished the first 56 mile lap I was getting colder, even though I had just climbed back up the 3,300 ft mountain to the turn around. When I got there Mark the race director greeted me and told me I was the second woman (hah! little did I know . . .) He refilled my water bottles and handed me my fleece arm warmers as I headed back out for the final lap. It continued to rain and the stiff tailwind going downhill was lovely but just as I was hitting 42mph I saw something black coming out of the woods and onto the side of the road. I yelled “Oh Shit!” out loud and watched in horror as a black bear ducked under the guardrail and onto the shoulder. The thing about Zipp wheels is they are essentially break-less. Even more so when they are wet. I had literally no stopping power and very little quick maneuverability so I tightened my grip and prepared to hit the mid section of a bear going 40mph. I yelled again, it looked up. I’m always surprised at how fast and agile bears are. Somehow with its back legs still on the other side of the guardrail it whipped a 360 and retreated back into the woods. Ok, now I had some serious adrenaline going.
At the turn around point on my second lap I realized I was running out of fuel. I think I was burning through 1/3 more fuel than I had planned just to stay warm. I grabbed a couple of disgusting Hammer gels. I finished those off in the next 12 miles and still had another 16 miles to go – all uphill and into a head wind. Somehow I must have miscommunicated because Mark had only refilled two out of my three water bottles and the packet of Tailwind powder in my back pocket was useless without water. I could feel my legs hitting empty the last ten miles but I was still passing other racers. I passed one guy going so slow I thought maybe he was injured. I asked if he was ok and he muttered something about running. He was wearing a tank top singlet, shorts and nothing else. I thought for sure he was hypothermic. I was cold too. My hands were so cold I couldn’t shift. I tried sucking my thumbs to warm them up but it didn’t work and I had to get both hands onto one shifter and then lean all my body weight onto that thumb to get it to press down hard enough to shift. I finished the bike in 7hrs and 12min. Far from a personal best but definitely the hardest and most satisfying 112 mile ride I’ve ever ridden.
Once in the transition area I became aware of how ridiculously cold I was. All I could think about was getting dry warm clothes on. I tried to gulp hot tea from my thermos but my hands were numb and I spilled much of it down my shirt. I was starving too and I tried to chew cookies while changing clothes. With two bear paws for hands I kept my compression socks on because I couldn’t figure out how to get them off (that would have required thumbs) but I was determined to get a warm shirt on. Somehow it took me a whole 15 minutes to get my bike shoes off and running shoes and tights on. I have no idea where the time went, I just know that I was really really cold.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that running on frozen brick feet wasn’t so bad. I was excited just to be running. Surely I would warm up now! The first part of the run is on a rocky trail but then there’s a nice two mile climb. I have never been so grateful for a hill. By the top I was no longer shivering and on the way down my hands started to throb and tingle as they warmed up.
The run was the first time I got a handle on who else was competing in the full distance race and I was surprised to discover there weren’t very many of us left! There was a young woman ahead of me by a few minutes and gaining. And there was Sam, a few minutes behind me. And there were about six men in front of me and five behind.I wasn’t going to break any speed records on the run but I was running, I was pain-free and I couldn’t be happier!
I completed the first two loops (13.1 miles) in 2.5 hours. Just three days before I couldn’t even walk my kids up the driveway to school without limping and here I had just run a half marathon. I was psyched! My stomach was queezy but I forced myself to drink a cup of coke at every aid station. A few hours in I was able to choke down some chunks of green banana and with one lap to go I got out my headlamp and a water bottle with Tailwind from my special needs bags. As I started to add water to the bottle from a thermos on the aid station table a volunteer told me it wasn’t water but hot chicken broth. Oh well, nothing like a little sweetened lemon-chicken water to keep you moving!
Sam passed me about 14 miles into the run, she felt bad but I didn’t. She was racing well! She was a little slower on the bike, but she was smart and put her rain coat on at the half way point and so stayed warmer which probably helped her have a faster transition time. That’s what makes triathlons fun, there are a lot of decision points and they all add up. Focus and efficiency count as much as fitness and keeping your head is a big part of triathlon success. Not to say Sam isn’t fit as well! She did a ton more running than me this summer and was keeping a great pace. The 4-loop run course made it easy to cheer each other and the other racers on. I can be a bit of a lunatic cheerleader when I race, hooting and yelling at everyone – even if they aren’t in the race. By the end of the night I had an entire campsite drunkenly yelling my name every time I ran by.
By 9pm I was done eating. Nothing else was going to stay down and I knew the clock was ticking. I had about 3 ½ miles left and it was time to dig in. I kind of live for this point in a race. I start talking to myself and anyone else who will listen (deers, crows) . . . I don’t think about what’s ahead as much as what’s behind. What I have to build on and what I don’t want to loose. I love the pure grit, the focus and single mindedness required to get to the finish line from this point. I’d been racing for 14 hours straight, my legs were on empty (again), but I was still running. It stopped raining. The stars came out. I forced myself to pick out and talk to the constellations, Sagittarius, Corona, Hercules, Cassiopeia . . . The wind picked up and it felt good. It reminded me of all the nights I’ve spent alone camped on the edge of wild lakes, feeling the wind off the water and watching the night sky turn overhead. I felt tremendous gratitude for the freedom I’ve had my whole life to live this life style. Gratitude that I love being outside and that I have the rain, wind, stars and bears to keep me company.
I didn’t sprint to the finish line but I am proud to say I still felt like I was running strong at the end (again, perception is more important than reality!). It took me 5hrs and 45mins to run the marathon for a total of 14 hours and 43 minutes to complete my first Ironwoman distance triathlon and it felt like a real accomplishment.
As soon as I finished I knew I needed warm dry clothes so Sam and I went back to the car to change, then we cleared up our gear from the transition area. We didn’t get to the post-race food for nearly another 40 minutes. Which was a big mistake. By then my stomach was in full revolt. I tried alternating bites of pasta with sips of hot water but I could barely manage a single serving. At the same time my blood sugar was so low I kept thinking I was going to pass out. But at least I was warm – I had put on a full compliment of winter gear including my down coat. We gave up on trying to eat and opted to try to sleep instead. Which wasn’t difficult, until about 4am when I was simply too hungry to go back to sleep.
Even though we had left over gels and race food in our hotel room the thought of even one more bite of sugar repulsed me. Finally at 8am the hotel’s advertised “hardy breakfast buffet” opened and we immediately ordered one of everything. Still feeling queasy, the only thing I could stomach were the various salty breakfast meats and scrambled eggs (I don’t want to talk about it). The starchy potatoes were hard to choke down and the coffee smelled awful. My body was clearly telling me “give me fat, salt and protein, but please no more caffeine or sugar!!”.
An hour later we packed up and headed to the awards ceremony. After all, we were the 2nd and 3rd overall female finishers. Ok, so only four women actually finished, but given the course and the conditions I think all 15 finishers deserved a special award. (31 participants started the full race and 16 finished).
After receiving our awards and taking several group photos with our newly bonded group and the nicest race director ever, we watched a few of the Olympic distance racers cross the finish line. We overheard several of them complaining about how cold it was and how numb their fingers and toes were. Hah! It was sunny, dry and practically 60 degrees out. If only they knew what it had been like the day before . . .
The drive home was uneventful except for a much needed stop at Whole Foods in Portland for a large green juice. I returned my fancy wheels no worse for the wear and got home late that night.
Perhaps the most remarkable outcome of the race is that I am not sore. At all. I was fatigued of course, but not sore. Not only that but my left foot feels better than it has since June. It does not hurt at all. I wish I had a good explanation, a recovery plan that I could repeat next time – maybe one that doesn’t require completing a long distance triathlon? I am so grateful to be comfortable and healthy in my body. Here are four potential causes for the miraculous healing: 1) Dick Bartlett’s help with shimming up my left bike shoe. 2) Gerry Bracht’s ripping my calf fascia apart on Thursday. 3) Boiling my foot in epsom salts every day for a week before the race 4) The two Aleve I took during the run (maybe they disrupted the inflammation cycle and my body forgot to return it’s pre-race pain pattern? I never, ever take NSAIDs, but after this incident, I may not be so reluctant next time!)
I have a few races coming up but nothing I need to specifically train for. The VT50 is in ten days and I promised myself I will only run if I am still 100% pain free. Just to be on the safe side I switched my registration from the 50mile the 50k. The following weekend is the Cadillac Challenge Century which is a 100 mile ride around Mount Desert Island and up Cadillac. I won’t be using carbon brakes on that one. Then finally the Mount Desert Marathon in mid-October and a couple of short fun trail races in early November. Hopefully soon after that there will be snow . . . and you know what that means!
24 weeks of training down and only three days to go until the big race. This is my longest and most gear-intensive race so far and there’s a ton I need to get together in the next 24 hours. Little packages have been arriving all week, things like Tailwind (my favorite powdered drink mix), a box of carmel-salted Gu (the only flavor I can stomach and only available online) S-Caps (salt tabs for when all the other electrolytes fail), and a brand new pair of padded bike shorts (the ones I’ve been wearing all summer are now see-through in the back).
If you’ve ever prepared for a big event you might recognize the overwhelming urge to buy new shiny things right before, as if a new pair of hot pink calf compression sleeves will make everything ok. I have learned to resist this urge, but I did agree to rent a pair of fancy bike tires for the weekend. Fun and fast, what could be the harm? And instead of buying a new shirt I am sewing up my old one to make it less flappy in the wind. Oh yeah, and I spent a couple hours with Dick at Kingdom Bikes this morning getting my bike fit adjusted. He shimmed up my left shoe to make my hips more level and maybe, just maybe, to help with the nagging plantar fasciitis on that side.
The advantage of living in this rural area is that I have to go to at least five different stores to collect everything I need, and there are at least three people I know and need to chat with at each place so getting my food and gear together ends up being a highly social, all-day experience. For better or worse!
So far I’ve collected goat’s milk fudge from John Edwards (the store, not the politician). This stuff is pure sugar, but somehow feels more solid than Gu and hits the spot around mile 80 on the bike. Then off to the Blue Hill Wineshop for Tinderhearth Bread. I got a Focaccia for my cousin and training partner Sam because she just got back from France and at the Lobsterman Tri last weekend she was trying to prolong her Parisian culinary experience with a Trader Joe’s baguette. This is not a tragedy that needs to be repeated. Then to the Blue Hill Co Op for a few Sunspire chocolate coconut bars. And Tradewinds for a package of gluten-free vanilla sandwich cookies. Yes, I am going to be so ready for the fall cleanse after this!!!
Then to the hardware store to buy electric tape so I can re-wrap my handle bars (I tore the ends of the tape when I *almost* backed over my bike a few weeks ago, it’s a long story . . .) and spare batteries for my headlamp which I really really hope I won’t need.
Then to the drug store to collect bandaids, Tegaderm for the nasty blisters I obtained in last weekend’s race because it was so hot I had to wear shoes so I wouldn’t get burned on the pavement, but I never wear shoes and they eat my feet up . . .
Oh, and a bottle of Aleve, which I haven’t used since 2000, but might come in handy given how inflamed my left foot has been. And Epsom salts. I’ve been soaking my foot in scalding hot water every night for a week. I learned this brutal technique from the Curanderas in Central America who universally treat all my injuries by plunging them into a boiling pan of plant parts (toothlessly cackling and holding down the body part while I scream and writhe in pain.) So far it is working and my foot has been slowly healing all week. I’ve also been getting help from Dr. Sarah DePreter who patiently tries to put me back together after I insist on biking, running and swimming too far and too often. The problem is I tore a couple ligaments in my ankle 20 years ago and there’s not much left to hold the bones in place once she gets them where they are supposed to be.
After the bike fit with Dick I went for a 30mile ride to test everything out. My foot felt pleasantly neutral after the ride, and I ran a mile with Georgia around the track to try out my Hoka shoes. Aside from the incredible awkwardness of running in marshmallow-like casts, I was sort of pain-free. Unfortunately somehow between the end of my ride and tonight I mysteriously gouged my front bike tire. The actual tire is ripped, not just the tube, so now I’ve got to scrounge up a spare tire and tube.
I have one more day to collect and pack. One more session with Gerry to work out the fascia in my left leg, and one more day to help get the girls and Jerome set up for three days without mom.
I hope to get to Hunter, NY in time to preview the bike course and get a handle on gear and water stations. I keep telling myself, even if I don’t get that handle bar tape wrapped up before Saturday morning, even if the blisters on my feet don’t heal, and even if I forget running shoes (again) I will be fine. I will be fine. I can totally do this. I am well rested, and super strong and healthy and I have until MIDNIGHT to finish the course. (And I really hope I didn’t just jinx myself!).
September is race month for me, which means NO CLASSES Saturday September 6th or 13th or Friday September 12th. I’m headed to the Lobsterman Olympic Triathlon in Freeport, ME this weekend and the HITS Ironman Triathlon in Hunter, New York next weekend.
However, if you’re headed to the Common Ground Country Fair on Sunday September 21 you can run the Organic 5k with me and the girls and then later in the day (2pm) head over to the Health and Wellness tent to hear my talk on the essentials of barefoot running.
Speaking of fairs. The Blue Hill Fair (home of E.B. White’s Wilbur and Charlotte) came to town last weekend and after surviving the tilt-a-whirl, and completing the 1 mile fun run my girls whipped up a batch of no-bake-cookies and WON first and second prizes. Check out their winning recipes below.
Fairs are an opportunity for my family to see what other people consider edible. Which always gets me thinking about how incredibly lucky we are to live in an area where the community supports access to high-quality local food for all socio-economic groups. From the Tree of Life Food Pantry to Healthy Peninsula’s Magic Food Bus to the local school’s lunch programs, there is a pretty good abundance of affordable (free!) produce grown and gleaned from Peninsula fields. Not everyone has it so easy, this article from the Atlantic looks at the growing gap in the U.S. between the food-privileged and the food-poor.
For those wealthy enough to choose where they get their calories from, the debate between fat and carbohydrates continues. This New York Times article has fat taking the lead. Nice to hear as we head into hibernation season! (Learn more about all the great ways you can nourish yourself with fat during my Fall Cleanse! Registration opens next week . . .)
Move Your Body
I have never wanted to go to Burning Man. I tend to prefer quiet, wild open places, but this video of the Burning Man 50k race is cute and his enthusiasm is almost contagious enough to make me want to head west. Almost. (Warning, this is a Burning Man event, there is semi-nudity and crudity).
As fun as running in the early morning desert looks, I more likely to jump ship and take my family on a long walk through the forest. The Kallin Family just finished their Appalachian Trail thru-hike with their 7 year old daughter, 9 year old son and dog. Super inspiring!
Now for those cookie recipes:
Toasted Almond Lemon Tasties
Combine all together in food processor or mixing bowl to form a stiff paste:
¼ cup Almond Paste (or marzipan)
¼ cup Toasted Sliced Almonds
1 tsp Grated Lemon Peel
¼ cup Lemon Juice
1/3 cup Almond Flour
1/3 cup shredded coconut
¼ cup powdered sugar
Roll dough into bite-sized balls
Coat balls in toasted, shredded coconut and garnish with toasted almond slices. Optional, chill for firmer cookies
Three Layer Fake Italians
Combine all together in food processor or mixing bowl to form a stiff paste:
¼ cup Almond Paste (or marzipan)
1/3 cup coconut flour
1/3 cup Almond Flour
1/3 cup shredded coconut
¼ cup powdered sugar
Roll dough into bite-sized balls and squish flat. Place on plate.
Melt 1/3 cup dark chocolate chips
Use a butter knife to spread a thin layer of melted chocolate on top of each cookie
Sprinkle toasted pine nuts on top. Chill for one hour before serving.
And one last photo from the fair – the girls at the end of the their barefoot fun run.
What should you be eating? This National Geographic article loosely examines the diversity of hunter gatherer people from around the world and is full of beautiful (and somewhat horrifying) images of dishes you have surely not tried yet. Fried geranium leaves anyone?
Ayurveda has long advocated for a Seasonal, Local and Diverse diet. Which is the foundation of my upcoming Fall Cleanse (October 8-29). Early bird registration will be opening soon!
There has been some question about the effect of cruciferous vegetables (broccoli et al) on thyroid health. This article makes some great points about how and why too much of a good thing could be harmful, but also the real root of the problem which is that most of us aren’t getting enough iodine and other important trace minerals to protect our thyroid.
Here in Maine we have no shortage of fantastic seaweed options as a natural healthy source of iodine.
Move Your Body
You might want to stand up to read this article about how to undo the effects of sitting. Scroll to the end for a useful summary of glute-awakening exercises.
You do not need to be training for an Ironman to reap the benefits of exercise. This article argues that just five slow miles a week is enough to keep you healthy . . .
B.K.S. Iyengar died last week at the age of 95. Here’s the NYT article about the life and death of this tremendously influential yoga teacher.
And here’s an On Point discussion about Iyengar’s legacy.
According to Hindu tantric cosmology, mass, time and space are all relative attributes of the absolute. This quantum physics article is a fun example of how difficult it is to describe the infinite universe from a relative perspective. Very nerdy, but very fun stuff here.
After disastrously low numbers in 2013, Monarch butterflies seem to be doing better this summer. We’ve found a few caterpillars in the field below Blue Hill Mountain and others are reporting the same around the Peninsula. This CBC article concludes that numbers are indeed up from last year.
In my star talk last night I mentioned that song birds use stars to navigate during migration (yes, they fly at night). This site describes how. Which reinforces the point that you should be turning your outdoor lighting off for the next month (at the very least). And be sure to check out the good work of the Acadia Night Sky Festival, including the Bar Harbor Ordinance about lights and glare that helps keep the sky dark and the birds heading the right way.
Photo of the week:
Not a Monarch but a pretty and very tame Fritillary.
My first Iron-distance triathlon is in 26 days. I’ve been training solidly for 20 weeks, the first half of which was fully enjoyable and manageable. Then the hours started to creep up. A couple 20hr training weeks in mid-July and mid-August have left me pining for my yoga mat, wondering if I’ll ever do a full back bend again. When I finally dragged myself into his office, my body worker wasn’t very enthusiastic about the state of my body either. I mumbled some excuse about how my neck gets tight when I’m swimming in rough water while he gently pummeled the knots in my upper back.
The past two weeks have been particularly full training weeks (hence no Weekly News last week). They included several miles of open water swimming, a couple hundred miles of biking, a boulder-hop-hike up Katahdin and my own half-ironman yesterday. I rarely drink alcohol because I hate the hangover, but waking up the morning after hiking Katahdin I felt like I had been on a wild bender the night before. Stiff, tired, queasy and all I wanted to do was return to bed. I’m not very good at taking time to recover, but last week I was forced to lay low between workouts. The girls love it when I’m tired because it means more puzzles and books with them. The house and garden are showing my neglect and Jerome is definitely taking up the slack. (Thanks buddy!)
At this point in my training, when I am so fully committed that it would be an insult to all involved if I back out is exactly when I start to question the worthiness of my endeavor. A significant part of trail running and triathlon feels so utterly meaningless and self-involved. At my low points I start brooding: summer is almost over and all I have to show for it is some bike grease on my calves and a new forehead wrinkle where my swim goggles fit too tight. I mean, I have all these amazing friends who do all these amazing things in the summer – renovating their old farmhouse (and having babies), organizing gorgeous farm to table dinners and building their own permaculture yurt homestead. They are producing beautiful things and making long lasting friendships while I run around the Peninsula like a frenetic Labrador retriever.
I’ve heard that when you’re in the middle of a very long, very difficult training run or race, it’s helpful to have some meaningful reason to be out there. Something that keeps you from throwing in the towel, something wonderful and selfless to dedicate your efforts toward. This doesn’t seem to apply to me. I am really good at moving forward, albeit slowly. Moving forward is my default. Instead, it seems like I need something meaningful to hold me in place. For the most part that’s been my kids. If it weren’t for them I would surely be off wandering the wilds with my sketchpad and gallon jug of water. Least you think I’m heartlessly throwing Jerome under the bus here, have no fear, he would happily come along with his own beat up copy of Lord of the Rings, that’s why I married him, he’s just as happy wandering the desert as I am.
For me there is no bigger meaning, no broader dedication behind what I do. In all of my various practices I move for the in-the-moment feeling of connection to myself and to nature and because it quiets the static of my mind and mood. Also, I love setting an impossible goal and proving myself wrong. I’m not opposed to pain and discomfort, though I’m not as masochistic as some think. When the going gets tough I do say little mantras to keep myself going. I chant to my friends that I know would love to be out moving their own bodies down the trail but for various reasons can’t. I think a ton about the immense privilege I have of choosing my challenges and I try to honor that by not resenting or regretting how I spend my time.
Exactly how have I been spending my time the last 20 weeks? Here are some stats. It’s a little horrifying to see this in writing, but it also explains why my garden and house look the way they do (and why I may have failed to return your email recently):
April 1 – August 17, 2014:
Swim 85 miles (~56hrs)
Bike 2,050 miles (~130hrs)
Run 360 miles (~65hrs)
The numbers average out to 12 ½ hours a week, which doesn’t seem too crazy . . . Not included is the hiking I’ve been substituting instead of running. I’m working with some nagging inner heel pain that gets worse when I run on the road or when I use my shin muscles to lift my feet instead of my glutes and the pain goes away when I hike barefoot on uneven trails uphill, which the girls are happy to do with me.
Two more weeks of heavy training and hopefully the grass won’t be too long to mow during my two easy pre-race weeks. I’ll have a practice go at the Olympic distance Lobsterman Tri on September 6 in Freeport and then the big one in Hunter, New York on September 12. I’ll let you know how it goes.
P.S. Can we change the name yet? I simply cannot identify with or take pride in being an Ironman. Not that Ironwoman sounds much better, but at least I can own it. Multi-Sport-Person is appropriately gender and mineral neutral but still lacking something . . . help me out here.
A Kitten’s Guide to Blue Hill, Maine
“Just because a cat has her kittens in the oven doesn’t make them biscuits.” Even though I was born in Ellsworth (the Blue Hill Hospital doesn’t do twins), and even though I’ve lived in Blue Hill off and since then, I’m definitely not local. Nor are my children or m theoretical future grandchildren. Nor are the summer people whose families have been coming here since the mid 1800’s. Nor is the fisherman who moved here from Gloucester to dive for sea cucumbers in the ‘80’s and stayed.
So now that we’ve established that unless your name is Denny Robertson, you are not a biscuit, I’m calling this post the Kitten’s Guide to Blue Hill. Basically, this is a random ramble about the things I like about living in Blue Hill, Maine. I’m going to leave out a ton, so if you’re looking for a less personal, more inclusive guide to the area check out Melissa Coleman’s 2010 Maine Magazine article – just be aware that many of the eating establishments listed there no longer exist.
Let’s start with a typical summer day here on this eastern edge of the Avalonian Island Arc . The climate here is not as tropical as it was back when our bedrock was forming but because Blue Hill is slightly tucked in away from the Gulf of Maine it tends to be warmer and less foggy than neighboring Bar Harbor and Deer Isle. Somewhere in July or August we get at least one week of heat and humidity. Made more so because of the lack of air-conditioning on most of the Peninsula. But why would you want to cool off during the one week a year it gets over 80 degrees? I say soak it up kittens, you’re going to want that heat come January.
The sun is up early in the summer and I try to make the most of it by getting out on a bike or run before I teach my morning classes. Friends often tell me they are scared to bike on the shoulderless roads here. But early morning traffic is very light, especially on the weekends. Also, it’s good to stick to the roads that have good clean pavement so you can fully own your three feet – don’t move over onto broken pavement or a soft shoulder to make way for cars or you risk loosing your balance and falling perilously into the traffic you’re trying to avoid. The road around Brooklin was freshly paved last year and heading out that way from the center of Blue Hill makes for a scenic low-traffic 20-40-mile loop (add Naskeag, Flye Point and Harriman Point for additional quiet, gently rolling, scenic miles). The East Blue Hill Road was also recently paved though it is a hillier and curvier road. Novice bikers will love the flat and slow-traffic stretch on Newbury Neck, and I bike Toddy Pond Road a couple times a week because I love the pretty blueberry fields, views of Bald Mountain and light traffic. Beware of Route 15 between Blue Hill and Sedgwick (a.k.a the Mines Road), the visibility is terrible, the road is narrow and overburdened lobster trucks barrel by carrying their loads between the Stonington Dock and Bangor airport leaking rivers of fishy effluent as they go.
Trail Running and Hiking
Some mornings I start with a trail run instead of a ride. I live close to Turkey Farm Road, so I like to run up the 1.5-mile Becton Trail on the backside of Blue Hill Mountain to the 934 ft. peak, then down the front side past the Mountain Road and into town via the Post Office Trail, then back up again the same way for a round trip of eight, mostly shaded trail miles. All these trails and several more are maintained by the Blue Hill Heritage Trust. You can purchase a guide to all the trails on the Peninsula at their office on the corner of the Mountain Road and Route 15 (Pleasant Street).
I do a couple of long swims a week in the summer. The ocean water is cold enough that I try to time my swims with an afternoon high tide when the water is warmed by the shallow mudflats and beach rocks. I often launch from the big rock off the Blue Hill Town Park and swim a circle around the middle part of the Harbor. This doubles as a nice DIY tour of the pretty wooden boats and summer houses along the Parker Point shoreline. I have several friends who swim an hour or more out into the Bay relying entirely on their winter blubber supply, but I’m a little wimpier and usually supplement my own insulation with a wetsuit. If I’m feeling ambitious and brave (great white sharks, also not biscuits, have recently discovered the Maine Coast . . .) I love swimming around the seal rocks or out to Long Island (~2 miles away), where my family meets me to ferry me back in our tin boat.
Aside from my own exercise-recreation, our whole family spends most of our time outside in the summer. There is a very popular and scenic swimming beach in East Blue Hill but since it is technically on private property, I won’t mention it by name. It, along with every other rocky, muddy, fir-lined beach in Maine, is optimal kid habitat. Unless there are explicit private property signs (uncommon and unwelcome), we freely wander the beaches around Blue Hill Bay. We mindfully avoid marring the view sheds of weddings and summer-people cocktail parties that take place in August. As a general rule, for 11 months out of the year, our beach is your beach. Or rather, your beach is our beach. We thank you. Those of us who can spend whole days on your (our) beaches with the kids running in a wild, salty, muddy pack, parents coming and going to and from work, trading off kid-watch, feeding and towel-wrapping duties. The kids bury jelly fish under rocky piles, hum to snails, sport rockweed wigs, dig up clams, engineer complex hydrological experiments and collectively threatening to blow out to sea on inflatable turtles, inner tubes and rafts. It’s a good life.
We have seen some wonderful restaurants come and go over the years (Pie in the Sky, the Left Bank . . . sigh . . .) and everyone I know has a vision of the perfect Blue Hill café. Mine is a warm, comfortable space with sunlit tables and a couch for the kids to play on. The food is heavy on flavor and freshness and light on Sysco . . . Alas, the combination of a low year-round population (2,600) and the annoyingly inflated cost of commercial and private real estate make it hard if not impossible to sustain small local businesses that don’t rely on national/corporate food distributors. Ideally Blue Hillers will get it together and figure out a comprehensive town plan that can keep downtown rent reasonable, prevent crappy dollar stores and fast food drive thrus and support local family businesses that cater to and thrive on the local income bracket. But too many people think that kind of planning would incite (another) kitten-biscuit war and no one wants to go there.
In the meantime there are places making it work by working harder than anyone should. Visit them often and tip them well . . .
Breakfast and Coffee
After I teach my yoga or Pilates classes I head to the Blue Hill Co Op Café for a cup of vegan soup or a warm gluten-free muffin. The baked goods are overpriced and the quality is variable, but the fact that there is a gluten-free, whole grain, kale salad option in this area makes the Co Op a miracle worth supporting. Another miracle is Anya’s brand new Greenspeed juice bar on Water Street (next to the tatoo parlor, and beneath the yoga studio!). At the moment she’s making fresh pressed green juice and real, whole food smoothies and there’s talk of adding some fresh, raw food options too. Three years ago the nearest espresso was in Ellsworth, but currently there is a gluttony of choices. I love meeting my girlfriends at Black Dinah’s for a latte made with 44 North beans surrounded by the sweet scent of Fairwinds Florist flowers. Or I head up to the Blue Hill Wine Shop where Max will make you an espresso while you nibble on one of their delicious little sandwiches made with Tinderhearth sourdough bread and real cheese combined with the smell of tobacco, old wood and coffee beans. Sometimes I just want to go loiter in the Wineshop without needing to buy anything (Max would undoubtedly be fine with this as long as you lend your ear and something of worth to add to the conversation). Sandy’s Provisions in Brooklin is similar and I often make up reasons to head that way so I can stop in for a cup of Bucklyn’s coffee and a homemade cookie. Having pretty much dedicated his life to the cause, there is no doubt that David makes the best espresso on the Peninsula.
After my Saturday morning yoga class I head over to the Blue Hill Farmer’s Market to grab the last bunch of broccoli or a pint blueberries before they close up at 11:30. One can make a pretty good brunch out Farmer’s Market fixins’.
Lunch and Dinner
My family rarely eats out for lunch or dinner because we tend to be picky and high maintenance. So when we do go out it is more for the social aspect. And Barncastle fills that need nicely. It has a cozy, family appeal and almost meets all my qualifications for the ideal local restaurant with the only problem that most of my family can’t eat dairy or gluten and Barncastle’s main gig is wood fired pizza. I suspect most of my friends eat one or more Barncastle pizzas a week. (They also serve nachos, ribs, salads and mussels).
The Fishnet (aka the Fishy Snack) is another glutenous-dairy-filled venue. Every spring on opening day they offer free soft serve cones and people emerge from the woodwork like carpenter ants on a warm day. The Fishnet is the place for authentic Maine fried and rolled seafood. When I was pregnant with my first daughter I was consumed by morning sickness. I would go into the hospital to get rehydrated and they would give me this medication that briefly allowed me to contemplate eating without barfing. The only thing I could think of eating during those few sober hours was a shrimp roll from the Fishnet. So, every June, on Lucy’s birthday and in honor of being un-pregnant, I order a Fishnet shrimp or crab roll and it is really, really tasty, white bread hotdog bun and all.
The other place to go in town if you are craving a fish sandwich, iceberg lettuce and thousand island dressing is Marlentinis. The only time I ever end up here is when the local Audubon chapter meets to go over our Christmas Bird count lists. There are times when it is the only restaurant open in town and it draws a steady loyal crowd, though it sadly lacks in flavor, freshness and atmosphere.
In downtown Blue Hill the De-li and Millstream bakeries are making a go at surviving the high rent/low traffic dilemma and both serve up sandwiches, coffee and baked goods. I admit I don’t visit either often, but they are great alternatives to the unmentionable chain venues that lurk on the edge of town.
A few times this year I’ve made the trip out to Jill’s new Millbrook Company Bakery in the old Country View building on Route 15. This is my daughter’s favorite place for special “Mom” dates (I think this is because unlike the Co Op Cafe, I am unlikely to know anyone at Millbrook so I will be free to pay full attention to them instead of chatting with my girlfriends the whole time). I like the fresh recipe ideas, the local ingredients and the sunny view. On weekend summer afternoons we like to swim in Walker Pond and then continue down the road to El El Frijoles which serves up fresh, fun, zesty, mexi-gringo grub. There’s always a local seafood option and my kids love the thick homemade corn tortillas, which resemble nothing I’ve ever had in Mexico but make a lovely platform for the refried black beans grown up the road on Horse Power farm.
There are two fancy dinner options in Blue Hill, the Blue Hill Inn and Arborvine – both serve Frenchish cuisine with attention to detail. The environment is a bit too tranquil for this family’s children so we tend to go next door to the Deep Water Brewpub where you can get Blue Hill’s local pint served by the cutest bartender on the Peninsula. Oh wait, that’s my husband. He’ll also serve you mussels, curried fish, a local grassfed burger and handcut fries. We eat there every couple of weeks to keep him company. We’ve never gone to the Boatyard Grill, but the Deepwater bartender reports that it has a good reputation.
In truth, most of our meals come from Tradewinds Market, which deserves a ton of credit for providing this area with a steady and decent supply of affordable, organic and often local produce. They also have a very generous section dedicated to gluten-free, organic and other pseudo-health stuff like almond milk, kombucha and goat cheese. What we can’t get there we get at the Co Op or Farm Drop.
The Blue Hill Library provides about 95% of my family’s non-outdoor entertainment. Just last night the kids went to a magic show the library hosted at the Bay School’s Emlen Hall. On Wednesday afternoons in the summer musicians from Kniesel Hall play in the Library’s Howard room and every week there are local authors and artists discussing and displaying their work. In lieu of a formal event there is always something waiting to happen in the comfortable, well attended kid’s section.
There is so much else happening here socially – the Weekly Packet is the best place to find information about upcoming plays, music, gallery openings and more.
I’ve heard visitors complain loudly about what kind of community “allows” a car garage and a firehouse to occupy the most scenic acres in town? And how is it that the library (i.e. the only place in town with public internet) doesn’t open until 10am? Summer people might be tempted to think of us year-rounders as unsophisticated, unconnected, unwashed bumpkins and might wonder what we do for fun with little to no media or commercial entertainment.
The truth is, most of what we do involves getting together to muck around – building, stacking, planting, killing, chopping, hauling and fixing, as well as sailing, swimming, knitting, singing, dancing and hiking. Unless it’s a funeral or a wedding, we rarely get together to sit still.
I’m not trying to overly romanticizing our little village. The truth is, most of us move here because of all there isn’t. But those of who stay, stay because of all there is. If you find yourself driving through or spending a week in a summer cabin nearby, just know that behind the shuttered windows on Main Street, the ubiquitous blue tarps, stacks of lobster pots, broken cars and decrepit backyard boats, there is a vibrant community of talented, happy people struggling to balance easy living with making a living. We don’t care if you’re a biscuit or a kitten, how much money you make or who you know. We care if you are kind and generous and willing to see what we see – a quiet village, surrounded by wild woods and coast. Nothing more, nothing less.