Sunday, June 10, 2012

Baltimore Vacation: Blacksmithing, Farm-fresh, and Cardamom 

This time around, Baltimore wasn't 99 degrees and humid. A chilled, dry, and sustained front transformed a once-searing mass of brick and cobble in to a delightful East Coast tourist town. Clipper Mill, the restored steel-foundry and industrial park from the turn of the last century, looked fit and swanked-out for the more affluent "Bawlmer" crowd. And Hampden, ever on the rise with hipsters, flaunted its new delis, Espresso lounges, and wine-bars. I fit right in to things, and despite a three-year hiatus, I remembered street-names, directions, and stores. 

The same could also be said for my return to Mandala Creations. 

The second I stepped in the shop, familiar smells, machines, and metalwork greeted me. It's gratifying to work so long in my own, secluded context, then travel 3,000 miles and instantly contribute to the productivity of Mandala Creations. Chris Edie, Chris Gavin's right-hand man, laid out his menu of work before me, and said "take your pick!" So I did. Tapers, power-hammering, hydraulic-press work, machining, and some very fun encounters with the metal lathe filled out the week. I got my hands dirty on a exquisitely clean and well-designed pot-rack for a new restaurant in downtown Baltimore, and it was a bit surreal to encounter the vibe of a job-site on the right-coast. 

Here's a close-up of the new pot-rack in the forthcoming Fleet Street Kitchen:

Back on the farm where Chris lives (twenty minutes outside Baltimore), we made our mornings happen with ground cardamom in our coffee (try it!), bounteous spreads of farm-fresh food (literally... Chris manages a small organic farm as well) food, and nightly bonfires. True Maryland country-chic, I suppose. 

I have a number of other photographs depicting the forging I did, but they'll have to wait till I get home. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

My first Ultra-Marathon: A Budget-Tour of Eastern Sierra Geology

This is me, about 45 minutes after running thirty-three miles through the mountainous terrain outside of Bishop, California. Probably, I'm tired. Likely, my stomach wants to heave. And there's a good chance that I'm prone because my hip-flexors have given up the ghost. What this picture doesn't convey is my elation at running further than I've ever run, by a factor of 13 miles. That's right: prior to this event, I had never run an "ordinary" marathon, or even slogged past twenty miles during my training. I went right for the grail: the Ultra-Marathon, on trail, in the mountains. Now I will exhale a big, fat, UFDA. The un-glossy details of achievement abide on paper, but they read like gibberish to me now:

— 33 miles in 6:22
— 4,600ish feet of vertical gain
— 4,600ish feet of vertical loss
— 1.5-2 gallons of water imbibed
— 1 Gu Packet, multiple orange slices, 1 tiny boiled potato with salt, 1/8 banana, and some pineapple consumed over the course of the day
— 1 bowel-movement in 36 hours
 — Placement: 17th out of 70 runners, and 5th in my age-group

I don't know if what I did is quantifiable in a standard, cocktail-party-conversation kind of way, since the venture of an ultra-marathon resides so far out of ordinary athletic discourse. Ultra-runners come from the gritty niches of society, and since the sport imparts so much esoteric suffering on its participants, the ratio of sadists-to-fun-runners is quite imbalanced. I'm not saying all Ultra-runners are Greek gods, clad in Saucony lycra. I saw the obese, the lanky, the stocky, the average, and the exquisite. Racers truly spanned the breadth of physiognomy. They also spanned a wide range of ages. Let me rephrase that: I saw more viciously gnarly old cranks smoking my 30 year-old butt than I ever thought possible. In fact, the population of racers was HEAVILY weighted on the 50-70 year-old side of things. I appeared to be in the whippersnapper bracket.

Since this was my first ultra (and the shorter of ultra-distances at that), I knew this was all just the tip of the iceberg, and were I to keep running these things I would see much, much more. For the present, I'm quite satisfied with how things turned out. My goal was to finish under seven hours (I'm not fast, just steady), with my legs still intact and my desire to run un-sullied. Those goals in and of themselves seemed fleeting, especially about a month out from the event, when my body was falling apart from all the training. Not only am I not injured at all right now, I still want to run, and I think (whilst simultaneously shuddering at the thought) that I want to run another ultra. And maybe another one after that. But it's summertime now, the prime season for evening bouldering sessions at the Brickyard, and canyon-climbing up Rattlesnake. I've got more projects than I can count and a mini-guidebook idea I want to realize. The shop is cranking, and I have a Baltimore-blacksmithing-vacation planned for next week. Ultras take up so much time!

Oh, and a BIG shout-out to Travis Madsen. He trained for and ran the ultra with me, placing 15th ahead of my 17th. He's a 35 year-old running machine, and rather than merely finish the 33 mile course, he continued jogging for another two miles to run his age—just for a fun birthday-challenge. He and and I have racked up a rather long list of painful long-distance/long-duration activities over the years, both in the climbing realm and running world. Here he is, pre-race, happy as only Travis can be:
After catching a night of rest in the Pit (climber's campground outside of Bishop), we drove home. A quick stop at Whitney Portal punctuated the weekend.
Next in line: 50 miler. Then 100 miles. Then Western States.

Monday, April 30, 2012


Shattered, after my last twenty-mile run. For this runner, twenty miles is a big training run. I had an exceptional long run about a month ago that tricked my nascent runner-ego in to thinking the Bishop 50k was in the bag. On said outing, Travis, Emmett, Will and I cast off from my house on Bath Street at 5:55 a.m., ran straight to Tunnel Trailhead, and within four miles were trotting through the steep Santa Barbara front-country trails as the sun crested the range. By the twenty-mile mark, Travis and I (Will and Emmett pulled out much earlier) had gained a total of 4,000 feet, managed to NOT injure ourselves, and finished with a smile on our faces. I remember a particular moment of hubris where I said "let's just keep going, Travis. A marathon isn't that much further." Then life happened, the shop picked up pace, and the cumulative effect of long-distances on trail sapped my stores of psyche. Finally, last week, I bottomed out. My version of "bottoming out" pales in comparison to the gut-busting travails of real trail-runners like Anton Krupicka and Geoff Roes, but I did experience a pervasive sense of flatness, inability to fully recover, and constant hunger. So I took some days off, drank gallons of water, and slept a lot. Problem solved—or so I thought. The couple of days leading up to Saturday's run saw me working long, hard hours, including a frustrating day on Friday where I had to slog away in the shop till 10 p.m., then get up early on Saturday to finish some odds and ends. Then, after going home on Saturday afternoon, I rested for about 45 minutes, rustled up enough energy to wake up, and began to eek out my twenty-miler. Travis felt a little flat as well, but man, that guy has STORES of energy. I won't give you a blow-by-blow. Just know that we finished, and as fate would have it (or planning), the run ended right around the corner from Daily Grind, home to the finest baked goods and smoothies in Santa Barbara. Now begin the taper...

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Metal, Ultra-Marathons, and Mugs

I've been making things over the last six months. Really, I have.

Leading up to the holidays, the shop veritably hummed with activity, but not all of it was borne of creative energy. Deadlines—courtesy of generous but demanding clientele—loomed and sanity wavered at times. Still, Santa Barbara Forge and Iron prevailed, and pumped out some great stuff despite (or because of?) the madness.

I've always liked hardware—door-pulls, knobs, hinges, hooks, etc.—partly because you interact physically and visually with hardware on a regular basis. I was fortunate to outfit an entire office with pulls, as well as a bedroom clothes-chest. Check em' out:

This bed-frame, designed by Dan and executed by myself and Joy, conveys the strong, slightly masculine theme of metal the client desired. With repeated scroll motifs, oiled finish, traditional joinery (read: no welding), and simple but dramatic lines, this bed causes its occupant to dream of Valkyries and Wagner.

My old friend (old in terms of the length of our acquaintance, not his age) turned thirty this year, so I made him a mug out of metal. Mild-steel doesn't exactly have the best anti-microbial properties, but we made him sip some frosty brew from the mug nonetheless.

And amidst the busy season, I still found time to sate the LARP appetite within me and forged a sword. If my thirty-year-old self could meet my ten-year-old self, my ten-year-old self would pass the proverbial brick.

Somewhere along the line, amidst work and climbing, my love of running turned in to a love of more running, and thusly, more running still. So I signed up for my first ultra-marathon, which goes down in May. To be sure, I'm merely doing the smallest distance in the ultra universe (50 kilometers), but the course looks amazing and quite challenging. It starts outside of Bishop, climbs up to the Buttermilks, traverses the hills below the snow-capped Sierra, then descends back to Bishop. I did a training run on part of the course this last weekend, and even eked out some post-apocalyptic cross-training as well.

And since no blog-post would be complete without an obnoxiously cute picture of Dale, here you go: