Monday, October 12, 2009

Catoctin Mountain Park

Date: October 11, 2009
Place: Catoctin Mountain Park, Maryland
Trails: Falls Nature, Hog Rock Nature, Blue Ridge Summit, Thurmont Vista, Wolf Rock, Chimney Rock
Distance: 8.5 Miles
Difficulty: Moderate

More fall season hiking, this time at the Catoctin Mountain Park managed by the National Park Service. It's a beautiful drive of about 50 miles from DC leading to the park. The mountains here are part of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the ancient Appalachian Mountains. The park itself is forested thickly with hardwood trees like oaks and maples and also has some interesting rock formations wrought over hundreds of millions of years of geological evolution.

Shankar and I chose the longest round-trip trail, listed as being 8.5 miles with a few strenuous climbing sections. This loop skirts around the edges of the park, from the Cunningham falls in the west to the Chimney Rock in the east.

Falls Nature Trail to the Cunningham Falls
Around 1.5 miles from the visitor center trailhead, and along the Falls Nature Trail, lies the Cunningham Falls viewing point. The hike up is moderate, and the falls are set in a beautiful wooded area.

Hog Rock, Blue Ridge Summit and Thurmont Vista
From the Cunningham Falls, it's a strenuous hike up of around 1.25 miles to the Hog Rock. The Hog Rock is at the center of the park, and is made of metabasalt, a dark greenish-gray igneous rock. It's also called the Catoctin Greenstone. After sunbathing here for a while and taking in the beautiful views, we resumed our hike up to the Blue Ridge Summit about half a mile away.

The view here opens out to the Blue Ridge Mountains in the far west, hence the name. Another half a mile away on the trail led us to the Thurmont Vista overlook. You can see the town of Thurmont in the valley below, the valley itself a geological attraction made by erosion over millions of years.

Wolf Rock
Another moderate hike of 1.5 miles took us to the Wolf Rock formations. The quartzite rocks and the erosion by wind and rain water (through frost wedging) creating spectacular shapes were a treat. We spent considerable time here jumping from rock to rock.

Chimney Rock
Chimney Rock, another 0.6 miles away, was the highlight of the entire hike. This is again quartzite rock formed in the shape of chimney. In order to get on the chimney rock though, we had to jump across very deep wedges that had formed cliffs along the rock walls. Dangerous and exciting as the jump was, we were rewarded with the best panoramic views yet. After spending half an hour here, we jumped back onto the main trail and headed back.
A couple of miles more of hiking brought us back to the visitor center just as the sun was setting. The hikes made for a good workout among beautiful wooded and forested sections for the most part, and there are viewing spots all along the trail every mile or so. It is an enjoyable and rewarding hike through some of the best scenery in Maryland.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Shenandoah NP: Overall Run Falls

Date: October 4, 2009
Place: Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Trails: Overall Run, Beecher Ridge, Trace Trail
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous

Shenandoah! (Just love saying that word aloud!)

The day was nice for a hike/run - sunny, in the 50s and 60s, fall season. The Shenandoah National Park is about 90 miles from DC, and consists of breathtaking scenery of forested Blue Ridge mountains and meadows. The plan was to hike/run the 11.5 mile round-trip connecting the Overall Run and Beecher Ridge trails. The trails are listed on hiking websites as being strenuous and having an elevation gain of 4000'. Despite all that, Shankar and I started the hike, for various excuses, at 4.45pm. Even as we started, we knew that it was miserably late and that we would finish when the fullish moon was overhead.

We started at the Traces Trail trailhead, and the trail started climbing steeply immediately for a mile or so. On the way we passed a few trail intersections, randomly chose what we took to be the "main" trail, wondering why these extremely well maintained trails were not marked at all. After hiking a mile, we came across another intersection, and we finally figured out then that the funny looking stone pillars had tiny metal plates on the sides that gave out the information on trail directions that we could have used 0.5 miles earlier. This intersection was with the famous Appalachian trail, which we had definitely not planned to meet.

Backtrack. Back to the previous intersection then, a fast downhill run on trails nice, rocky in parts but mostly soft. We finally got back to the Overall Run trail, our initially intended itinerary. We then hiked up steeply and then down steeply for a couple of miles through thickly wooded forests. There are no scenic views here, but the trail itself is colorful with the red, pink, yellow and green leaves from oak and maple trees that herald the arrived fall season. This part of the hike ends at a clearing with fantastic views of mountains and the nearby 93' Overall Run Falls. All the prior steep climbing was forgotten in this vista of meditative beauty. The setting sun added a picturesque background to the valleys of the Blue Ridge mountains.

We continued hiking steeply downward along the trail for some more, though Shankar by this time was plodding on bravely despite ITB issues and foot blisters. It was soon 7pm and darkening rapidly, and we decided to turn back to conquer the trail another day. A surreal night hike in the forest ensued, navigated safely with the help of a flashlight and a headlamp. The trails were empty of any people other than us two, quite reasonably, and that added it's own charm in the night with birds tweeting and creatures strange rustling the leaves on the ground. We got a little lost though and ended up at the Mathews Arms Campground instead of the trailhead, but we knew the way down to the trailhead through the campsites. We finished finally at around 8pm.

If the 7 miles or so that we did on the trail is any indication, this is a strenuous hike with rather steep uphill and downhill sections but well worth the effort for all the beauty there is along the way. Among the wildlife we saw today were white-tailed deer, gray squirrels, vultures and white caterpillars.

The little we saw of the trail and the park was enchanting. Enough to make me want to go there again. Soon.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Visit to RMKM

A report from my visit earlier this year to RMKM, a non-profit organization working on women's empowerment and other issues in Rajasthan.

Project: Rajasthan Mahila Kalyan Mandal (RMKM)

Date of Visit: Mar 12, 2009

Project coordinator: Kshama Kshade

Project Details

RMKM is an organization mainly focused on women’s rights and empowerment in the Ajmer district of Rajasthan, India. The projects I have been associated with are initiatives for mentally handicapped children in Ajmer.

Getting there

I traveled by train from Chennai to Jaipur along with my friend Stanley Berly. The train arrived at the Jaipur station early in the morning, and then we took a bus down to Ajmer immediately from there. The bus took about a couple of hours to get to Ajmer, and as soon as we landed, we called Kshama and got a ride to RMKM.

The RMKM campus and activities

At around 9am, we reached RMKM’s campus at Chachiawas. I had visited the campus earlier in 2005, and could visibly see several improvements and new vocational units. Kshama then gave us a tour of the building and campus.

Vocational training

We started with the vocational units including carpentry, paper products, embroidery etc. The vocational training program has been partly supported by Vibha since 2006. Chandrasekar heads the vocational training program.

Finished products

RMKM has a showroom of sorts where they display many of their finished products. There are teaching and learning materials to be used in primary schools, made by the vocational trainers and finished by mentally challenged children. The teaching and learning materials can be sold to other schools, and RMKM may also be able to sell some through the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) scheme. There are several arts and crafts made by the children as well.

RMKM is an organization primarily devoted to women’s empowerment, and a big focus is their work through women’s Self Help Groups (SHGs). These women have formed a cooperative through which they make products and sell them at the Pushkar fairs. The social and economic position of these women has improved in society through these activities.

The National Trust supports the sale of products, and some expenses for the hostel etc. ARUNIM is an organization set up for that purpose, and RMKM had sold Rs 13000 worth of products through ARUNIM. ARUNIM had preferred the wooden products. They have also assigned RMKM to be a resource center for other organizations so that RMKM can make some money through training as well.

After we checked out the products in the showroom, we visited some of the outdoor vocational units like vermicompost, water plant, and rainwater harvesting.

The tiger and the goat

While we were outside, we saw a teacher lead some of the children in a game of “tiger catches goat”. This game allows children to mingle with one another and improves their reflexes and other psycho-motor skills.

The wood craft unit

Saurav was trained in 10 months. He is physically disabled, but now works full-time at the wood craft unit.

Paper cutting unit

Manoj initially studied at RMKM’s day care center. He has been working in the vocational unit for more than a year now. When RMKM first started working with Manoj, his initial diagnosis was social awkwardness and cerebral palsy (CP) with monoplagia.

Special education classrooms

The children learning here are at different levels, and each special educator works with only 5-6 children at a time.

Physiotherapy unit

This unit is used for physiotherapy for all the childen. The schedules are printed and pasted on the wall. While we were there, a trained worker was stimulating the nerves for one child, and another child was training to walk on the stair-step stool.

The deco unit

Here’s where RMKM makes its greeting cards, jewelry and other products that require decorative finishes.


Separate hostel rooms for boys and girls currently exist within the building. They are constructing a new hostel building with help from the Embassy of Japan.

After the tour of the building, I met Rakesh Kaushik and the accountant. We discussed RMKM’s accounts, and other operational issues. Shortly thereafter, we went into the mess and all the staff and children settled into a communal lunch. There was lunch prepared in RMKM’s kitchen, and also food that most staff members and children had brought. It was a great experience to sit in a circle, share stories and laughter, and sample so many different kinds of fantastic native Rajasthani food. We really gorged ourselves here, helped in no small measure by everybody insisting that we have more and more of the food they had brought.

Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) program

The CBR program is currently supported by Vibha and the Austin chapter of Asha. In this program, workers trained in special education, physiotherapy and speech therapy visit children periodically (about 1-2 times a fortnight). Parents and other community members are sensitized to the child’s issues and given training so that the child’s rehabilitation is continuous.

We first visited J., 8 years old and diagnosed with a severe handicap. J. needs daily intervention, but he is unable to come to the day care center where he will be taken care of better.

Mohd is 19 years old. When he was younger, doctors and others told his parents that there was no cure. His Muslim parents, in their desperation, had even taken him to various temples. His younger sister is also disabled. His father, who had a secure job with the Indian Army, gave up his job so that he could take care of his children. Mohd can now walk with the help of a walker and wheelchair. He has a natural talent with operating cell phones, and is now assisting in his father’s shop with accounts. RMKM has arranged for Astha disability benefits and insurance for the family.

G. was initially diagnosed with ADL. RMKM has been working with him for 2 years now, and he is now able to take care of some basic daily activities like eating etc. It will be better for him if he can stay at the RMKM hostel, but his relatives (no father) are reluctant.

R. is 17 years old, and RMKM has been working with him for a year now. His family is agricultural, and they own a few bighas of land. Since his childhood, his relatives have made him very conscious of his disability, and even when we were there, they were mocking his “lesser” brain. He was initially diagnosed with mild retardation, but because there has been no childhood intervention, he now needs more attention. RMKM wants to get him admitted into the vocational training program, as they feel that he can pick up a few remunerative activities. However, the parents hesitate to check out the program because they fear the loss of their daily wages if they spend a day traveling to RMKM’s campus.

Discussion with RMKM staff

Well up to 3% of the general population in India is suspected to have some form of mental disability, like retardation or autism etc. This translates into many thousands of children in the Ajmer district alone and RMKM is the only organization working on this issue. The resources available to RMKM in terms of funds and other logistics mean that they are handling far fewer children than they should, and are also strapped in terms of how well they can help these children who are distributed all across the rural landscape. They have been thinking hard and coming up with innovative means to reach more children and make their intervention more effective.

Regarding the vocational unit, they currently support only about 35 children. They can expand with current resources to about 100 children if travel could be arranged for them. In the hostel itself, lodging and food cost only about Rs 100/month. Vocational product sales range from Rs 50-100,000/year, but this is felt to be far below the potential. Part of the problem lies in Ajmer being located in a fairly remote area. They plan to focus on self-sustainability unit-by-unit.

Other ways to expand the number of children with existing resources are being explored. They can train physically handicapped children who can then help with the training of mentally challenged children. Some of these vocational units like decoration and vermicompost can be set up at community centers across the district.

Our RMKM visit concluded here. It was a wonderful experience interacting with all the children, the community members and the staff of RMKM.


1. Rajasthan Mahila Kalyan Mandal (RMKM)

2. CBR program supported by Vibha

3. CBR program supported by Asha Austin

4. Vocational training supported by Vibha

5. Pictures and videos from site visit

Friday, July 31, 2009

Mind your language

Complementing Jane Sahi's thoughts on the power words chosen carefully have in conveying a wealth of meaning and raising our consciousness, here is a wonderful post by Huma Yusuf in the Pakistani newspaper Dawn about how words chosen carelessly or possibly even intentionally can have a demeaning and deleterious effect. Huma provides some telling though sadly common examples of chauvinism and prejudice against women expressed through words like eve-teasing and sharminda (ashamed, shy):

...the Karachi police surgeon, the man who oversaw all medical examinations that could have a bearing in criminal cases, was referring to women who had been raped and gang-raped as girls who had ‘become sharminda’ or suffered a ‘beizzati’. The surgeon’s choice of words instantly bothered me. They inappropriately cleansed the act of rape of all violence and violation. Even worse, they seemed to put the onus of the heinous act on the female victims – instead of having been violated and abused, the surgeon’s description implied that the women had done something they should be ashamed of.

...let’s be honest, ‘eve-teasing’ is a charming way of talking about blatant sexual harassment...Eves are not being ‘teased’ – there is nothing flirtatious or innocent about men fondling women on buses, yelling out obscenities to college girls crossing the street, or groping young girls outside schools.

Do words reflect the true intent and conception of the speaker? Or, is this merely a cultural or linguistic handicap? It probably varies from person to person using such terms, but there is no doubt about the cultural acceptance of such verbal euphemisms that transform ugly truths into tolerable constructs, in not just Pakistan, but across the border in India and the wider world as well.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Raising consciousness

There are moments in our lives, perhaps when reading a book or when talking to someone or even when in thought, when we go "aha!". A moment that fundamentally alters our vision, our carefully constructed world-views, and perhaps even our calling in life. A moment in which our consciousness is raised.

Words are especial transport vehicles for such moments. Simple substitutions in everyday phrases can add a wealth of information to common understanding. An example of that was in the '70s and '80s, when feminists consistently challenged the phrase "one man, one vote" and successfully substituted it with "one person, one vote". Such a simple change can carry an important social message. If "man" in the former phrase is meant to represent an adult of the human species, then using "person" is more precise and inclusive, and is less misogynistic in usage. Importantly, when people start watching their phraseology deliberately to avoid any unintended misogynistic connotations, the consciousness of both the speaker and the listener is enriched.

Recently, I had the opportunity to interact with Jane Sahi, who runs Sita School outside Bangalore. She is an inspiring educator, thinker and speaker who has the ability to communicate in a manner that fosters mutual learning and understanding. And, she also did something far more important for me: she raised my consciousness by choosing her words so carefully and precisely. The effect is quite stunning. 

Learners vs school-goers
To her, education for a child is far more than the child just going to school every day. This leads her to use phrases like "first generation school-goers", as opposed to the more commonly used "first generation learners" to describe children who are first in their families to get a formal education. When you think about it for a minute, you realize how many profound thoughts can be conveyed just by being precise with your words - school-going is not necessarily learning, learning does not happen exclusively at school, people who are considered "uneducated" (defined by the world as folks without a school education) actually have a lot of learning to offer their children, learning happens in the home, the community and other communal spaces. And so on.

Economically Poor
Another example of her consciousness-raising for me was this: about how we call some people "poor" or "under-privileged" in an unqualified manner. She makes it a point to be more concise in how she describes people: for instance, who we think of as poor are actually only "economically poor". The term "economically poor" says a lot about these people, and also about what the speaker thinks of them - you realize their poverty is in only one dimension among many, unlike the meaning conveyed by the more generic "poor". So people may be intellectually rich, emotionally rich, culturally rich etc, but in just one aspect, they are impoverished. 

Under-privileged vs dis-privileged
And how about saying "dis-privileged" instead of "under-privileged" when you want to convey that some people were denied or stripped of their privileges, as opposed to being born into them. Again, says a lot about them, and also establishes the existence of more active agents.  Again, the difference in the effect it has can be dramatic - "under-privileged" people need our charity, while "dis-privileged" people need the active dis-privilege-ising agent removed. Using the latter term forces us to recognize the existence of agents that strip away privileges. Do starving third world agricultural communities need our aid pennies, or would they rather have the crushing "free-trade" agreements modified and first world subsidies removed? Depends on how you think of them, "under-privileged" or "dis-privileged".

Choosing the right words is important. In some cases like the ones used by Jane, it can show how thoughtful we are, can convey precise and concise meaning, and could ultimately even bring about a change in the way we think. And collectively raise our consciousness for a better world for all of us.

Some links to Jane Sahi's work:

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Orphanage Benefit Run 50K

The Ciudad de los Ninos (City of Children) Orphanage Benefit Run, a 50K race was organized at the Bluff Creek Ranch, Warda, TX this year on January 24, 2009. The race raises funds to construct a water line from the city water lines to the orphanage building in Matamoros (Mexico).

I used this race as a training run for my upcoming 50-miler at Rocky Raccoon. I was familiar with the course as I had already run 25K at the Cardiac Run in November. There were 4 loops of around 7.75 miles each on this semi-supported race. The trails are mostly single track, 70% shaded with pines and old oaks. The trail also winds through acres of cow pastures and even an oil rig in the ranch!

It was cold and windy, but overall, it was a good day for a long run. I had fairly even splits to complete my race at 6hrs and 10 mins (a PR for me by 25 mins). I started out very slow, partly by choice and partly because I was very sore after playing squash on Thursday after 12+ years! I was in pain the first 2 loops but slowly eased into some comfort in the latter half of the race.

Running slow had some almost unintended effects. For the first time in a long run, I maintained roughly the same pace throughout as opposed to tapering off and taking more walk breaks towards the end. A lesson learnt then about my body: if I start out slow, then I am able to maintain stride and form steadily through a longer time without pushing myself too hard.

The race was, as usual for the organizers, well directed and the volunteers very helpful. Thanks to Damon and family for putting up a wonderful race! I now have to run the Doogies in March to complete the Warda triple!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Bandera 50K

So it was finally here. The race that I am actually feeling trained for - Bandera 50K at the Hill Country State Natural Area (HCSNA) in Bandera, Texas on January 10, 2009. This is a very beautiful park, and typical Texas hill country - rugged. The trails are steep, rocky and flanked by sotol bushes with sharp thorny leaves. You slide on loose rock, climb over stone ledges and get scraped, cut and bruised by sotol and other cacti along the trails.

I am feeling good about this race, I have been running well this winter. Both physically and mentally, I feel ready for what surely is going to be a tough challenge. Here is the race course.

Pre-race (Friday)
Gaurav and I, after our customary invocation to the Taco Deli gods, drive into the park on Friday afternoon. As we reach, we see that the kids' race is just over. The wind is starting to pick up, so now would be a good time to set up our tent. We walk into the Lodge in time for packet pickup and the race briefing. Joe and Henry are giving the lowdown on the race course and what to expect, but all I can hear and sense is the atmosphere in the briefing tent, 'twas electric with anticipation and excitement from all the runners! Ah, friendly faces all around, chat meet shake-hands chat, and is that food over there, attack chop chow. It is dark and getting late, and I reluctantly tear away from the fun and head over, along with Naresh, to a-bar-a-bunk-house, a home accommodation in town.

The house is nice, it looks cozy and it is warm and Cris is making tea. Hello! How are you? How is the tea? I am done with tea, let me take my bags upstairs and get ready for the race. I am feeling brave, let me wear just a long-sleeved shirt for the race and drop my wind jacket in my drop bag that I can access 15.5 miles into the race. Yeah, and since I start with a long sleeve, the natural progression is to have a short sleeve shirt in the drop bag as well. Surely, if I am not frost-bitten by 15.5 miles, my bravado can continue on for 15.5 more.

Pre-race (Saturday)
My nose is all stuffed up. My cedar allergies are acting up, and I am not able to sleep. I sneeze, breathe hard and noisily and turn over many times, all to no avail but keeping Naresh awake. I wake up still excited but sorely lacking sleep, and head over to the park. I decisively stick to just a long-sleeved shirt, and am determined not to listen to any doubting Thomases in the form of Gaurav, who asks when I see him 15 minutes before the start, 'is that all you are wearing?'. In a sea of eskimos, I am dressed for a warm day at the beach. Almost. After informing him that all that separates his tent from becoming an unidentified flying object is one flimsy peg, I head out to the race start.

Race start to Boyle's
It is nice to see all my friends along the start line. Hi Cris, Oz, Justin, Tania, and hey Jeff, long time! And after a rather social gathering, we go. I cannot go out too fast, I start out slowly, breathe slowly, go slowly. I think I should line up behind Bhavesh and John, they seem to have the same nice idea of going slow. Oz is off in a flash, but my legendary determination wins through and I stay turtlesque.

Hey Roger, good to see you man! Roger is at the Last Chance aid station half a mile into the race, where we pass the station but get no aid other than Roger waving us away.

Cairns' climb is ahead, and I start slowly. I feel good, but climb rhythmically. I let some of the stronger climbers go, I need to run my own race not someone else's. There is a lot of mental talking-to-oneself going on. Wow, is that all that Cairns' has to offer? What a wimp! Here I go then, yippee yay, I see downhill. I find that downhill is good. And I said let me do the downhill. Cairns' goes by without making an impression, maybe Boyle has something bumpy to offer?

The uphill climb on Boyle's Bump starts out a tad gentler than that on Cairns'. This is almost enjoyable. I am not cold, and for once, I am in a position to commend myself on my sartorial choice. I come up along a ridge and I start running, it feels great. I take the Bump of Boyle in my stride and I am having a party down the other side. I stretch out my stride and move...

Boyle's to Nachos
As the downhill tapers off, I am letting the momentum carry me past the aid station at the 5 mile mark. I know Gaurav is supposed to be here, but I cannot see him initially. Hey Gaurav! I have everything I need, food and water, and I don't feel like breaking my momentum. So I just keep running and turn back to see Gaurav make some hesitant steps towards me. He decides wisely to not follow me and just tells me I am doing great. Which is a lie, but it still feels good to hear that. I look at my watch, and I realize that I have been doing 10-minute miles on the hardest section of the course.

John and I are doing good pace along the Sky Island trail. Rob the coach is up there, perched on top of the sky island. He tells us we are doing good. These hills are enjoyable, partly because I still have my head and it tells me that what goes up must come down. And I have just come up quite a bit, and go down the hill with glee.

As we near Ice Cream Hill, we see Damon and he's telling us we are doing good. Everyone lies on a day like this. Bhavesh catches up with us here, and we climb up. There is no darn ice cream up the hill, hey you dark-humored cynic! I am done feeling good now, I want Nachos.

Nachos to Chapas
Nachos! I take a small break here, re-fueling and putting a piece of banana in my mouth. I head out slowly, its a nice day for a soothing walk in the park. Five minutes into the aforementioned s. w. in the p., I hate to break it to myself but it must be done. Buddy, this is a race not a picnic, move it, will ya! Reluctantly, I break into a trot and maintain a steady shuffle. I pass Bar-O and for the first time, I am doing trails I havent been on before. I take it easy here, not because it is hard, but because I want to finish strong.

Chapas to Crossroads
The Chapas house and aid station comes out of the woods like an unexpected gift. I am so happy I just sit down and get into my Patagonia Capilene shirt, and start eating my tamarind rice. And that is about how far I get with the eating, the rice is hard and dry and I cannot eat. While I am still struggling with my picnic preparations, Cris walks in and lets me know what she thinks of my slow pace. I realize she is right. I just pick up a gel or two and head out into the wild.

I have stayed too long at the aid station, I am feeling cold and my body is not warming up. I try to pick up the pace but don't want to push it when I am not feeling warmed up. I continue my slow and steady shuffle and run into Crossroads. More friends here, it is just wonderful to see everyone. Jeanette, Jim and Jeff and more. 5 miles after parking at Chapas, I positively hunker down again at Crossroads. My mind goes, if there is food to be eaten, eat it. If there is a chair to sit, sit.

Cris turns in once again, she is just 5 minutes behind me at this point. Once again, she goads me into moving, thanks Cris! I pick up my reluctant body and head out into the Three Sisters loop.

The Three Sisters
I am in no mood to push uphills anymore. I take it easy, as easy as you like, climbing up. Surprisingly, I still feel good hurtling down and I do, down all the Three Sisters. The Three Sisters are three hills that you go up and down in rapid succession, and they do go by eventually and I hit upon the flat and downward mile back to the Crossroads. This is all familiar territory and it picks me up considerably, I start running well knowing that the aid station is not far away.

Surprise, surprise! Gaurav is outside Crossroads even as I run in, taking pictures. Bhaskar and Gaurav start fussing over me, and that perks me up so much that I want to just head out again and take on whatever comes my way! Gaurav fills my bottles. To the full, to the hilt...

My bottles are starting to feel heavy. Its just a 5 mile loop, mostly flat, and I start watering the plants along the trail. Better them than me at this point. I run/walk hesitantly here, for my mind is expecting the dreaded Lucky's Peak. I tell myself that I am never going to listen to anyone else's opinions, especially dreads, anymore and let them affect me. Lucky's eventually shows up and I struggle up that monster. I call this the second FUJI, J for my coach and race director Joe. Hauling your thingy over Everest at Mile 30 is not fun. But it gets over, all hills at Bandera do eventually get over.

And now it is just a mile more of fun flats and downhills. I pick up speed and excitement as I narrow the distance to the finish. Good to see Roger again, I must be close now. Stretch 'em legs boy, lets go, there's a party waiting to happen in just a bit. Just a bit. Just a bit.

Done. Done! Joe is standing at the finish clapping and cheering and puts out a hand. I smack his outstretched hand with my bottled hand. Sorry Joe, didnt mean to, just really excited. Joe is cool, hands me my medal and Gaurav comes in all smiles. I sit down for a while, enjoying this moment, it feels very good. I check my time, its under 7 hours which is nice. I had a reasonably good race, and given all the things that generally can and do go wrong in a race, I have a rather smooth affair. I am happy.

Lessons learned
I have had a good race, but I still learn. I learn to keep my body warmed up at all times, and to move through aid stations more quickly. And perhaps head out even slower at the race start. And I also realize that my race goes well when I am well-trained.

After eating continuously for hours on end, I wait around the finish area and cheer all the runners finishing. Savitha eventually rolls in with a big grin on her face, she has had a good race and tells us stories about her rolling down every hill on the course. More runners finish, and a lot of backslapping happens.

Course tear-down
At night, as the course tear-down gets underway, Gaurav and I head out to pull down the glow-sticks, ribbons and signs from a section of the course from Nachos to Chapas. Its almost 6 miles, but at night, it is very beautiful and we enjoy the hike a lot. The bright full moon casts a strange and beautiful halo around itself, and nature itself seems to be enjoying this night. We pull down ribbons and as we climb into Chapas, we join Joyce and others as they tear down the aid station.

It has been a long and tiring but enjoyable day. I am in the grips of a Bandera hangover for several days after that. And I cannot wait to go back there and race, and volunteer, and meet all my friends again.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year's

What were you doing when the new year broke? Here is a short selective history of my eves. The New Year kind.

2009. This year, it was a comparatively quieter affair at the Draughthouse Pub followed by some samosas at Ken's. It was good fun nevertheless with friends old and new.

2000. The last new year's eve of the previous millennium was a sodden affair at San Francisco, with hundreds of thousands of revelers. Not much to write home about though, could have been just about any other night at the pub.

2001. The millennial start! The hype led me and a friend to New York, where we stood in below-freezing temperatures for the better part of an evening and night, and watched, with dumb anticipation, the ball, only a ball really, drop. This was clearly one of those moments that you presently can't dig but talk about endlessly in future. One for posterity, nothing more.

2005. The most surreal one. And perhaps, for ironical reasons, the most memorable one. Subbu, Ramdas and I had gone to Big Bend for a multi-day backpacking hike. We had planned to continue the tradition of a wet new year's, but what happened out there was an altogether different experience. At 4.30pm on the 31st, we came across a nice campsite, primitive though it was, it was still a campsite. Feeling cocky however, probably through inexperience, we decided to move on to find the next campsite. Darkness fell at 6pm, and we could barely hike through the trail at this point. Desperation led us to search for anything that might work as a camping spot, and this thing turned out to be a stony ledge, slightly slanting downward and enough for maybe 2 dwarves to sleep comfortably. So here we were, 3 grown men, lying on that sloping stone, sleepless in mild fear of snakes, scorpions, and nameless fiends, and just counting all the stars all through the dawn of 2005. A memory keeper.

1999. Another memorable one. In Madras this time, a few quick ones and then a ride to the Elliots Beach. The beach where tens of thousands of inebriated men (men alone) were waiting like a cinderbox for an explosion of excitement. Any girls foolhardy enough to venture into the beach got earfuls of tips on improving their personas, and a
few frank verbal appraisals of their bodies, which in some cases, turned physical. The large posse of uniformed, good-humored and indulgent coppers however seemed to draw a hard line at the physical bit. Out came the lathis, and a lathicharge perhaps not unlike the freedom movement days, ensued. All the freedom-loving patriots ran for cover, many into the cool water and I got hit smack on my elbow for the sole impropriety of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Nevertheless, a badge of honor that I now share with a few luminaries of this world.

2002. At home in Bombay, wandered around late-night with a bunch of newly made acquaintances, bestowing visits to a seedy "beer bar" and a late night roadside eatery making "fry ry". Got back home at an unearthly hour and woke up next morning to smells that reminded one of past misdeeds!

2006. A tradition of
bring-your-own-scotch-but-drink-all instituted. There may have been some dabbanguthu involved, but that was a fairly regular occurrence back then.

2007. A tradition of bring-your-own-scotch-but-drink-all continued. New Year's Eve spent with friends and their families in a downtown club.

1997. A Goan binge to forget, and promptly forgotten. A few fennys (the local drink then available for 3 rupees or 10 cents a pop), some wholesome seafood and some contributions to increasing the noise levels later, we went to sleep. If there are any allegations about my indulgences that night, I meet them stoically with stout denial.

2008. First Night Austin. Music, love and fireworks.

Happy New Year!