With each passing stride you descend deeper into a world that is effort and motion. Simple, relaxed function. A slowly-building euphoria. You are alone. Your mind is drifting.
Relax. Conserve effort. Shorten your stride over a low hill. Cut the corners. Watch out for potholes on Bull Creek Road. What was the time for that mile? A little fast. Was that mile marked in the right place?
It is the first Sunday in May. Race day at the Avenue of the Giants Marathon.
Old injuries begin to ache and then fade as the miles pass. How do the aches occur in their chronological injury sequence? Weird. The sun is warming. Drink at the aid stations. Love those volunteers.
Breath deep, extend your stomach, maybe that side ache will go away. After the turnaround it is downhill, slightly. Watch the pace. Did those rolling hills get bigger?
There’s the bridge and the half way point. Somebody yells something. You make the turn and head out on the second half on the Avenue of the Giants. You still feel good, but it is still a decision to face heading out for another 13.1 chunk of miles. Do you feel good enough? Drink at the aid stations. Try to maintain pace. Why does this flat terrain feel more difficult? Oh yeah, the previous downhill part. That overpass takes too much effort.
Miles 15, 16, 17 pass although they seem tedious. The pace is slipping a little. Fatigue is creeping in and settling on you like carrying a sandbag. There’s the park headquarters. The turnaround must be close. People are streaming by in the other direction. You see friends. How much time between us?
Where’s that turnaround? Around this next bend, no, damn. Wait, there it is. Finally heading home. What have you got left? The fabled 20 mile mark passes. HALF WAY! The last six miles are as tough as the first 20.
It must be OK to walk while you drink at the Burlington aid station. Where did that euphoria go? Some people really maintain that feeling the whole way? I thought I trained hard. Was that a cramp? Relax.
What was the time for that mile? Too slow. Was that mile marked in the right place? Wait, I helped mark them. I guess it is my fault. But marking the course is a fun way to spend an early spring day with the Timeks.
Miles 21, 22, 23 take too long. Cramps are setting in. The long Weott hill in the sun. Where did my friends go that were so close at the turnaround?
Mile 25 on a long gradual incline seems to move further away every year. That blankety-blank overpass. Finally mile 26 in the shade. The bridge. The bridge too far. But there it is. A few kind spectators yell encouragement and lie about how you are running. It still helps. It is better than hearing what they really think. There’s Charlie Lawrence directing the runners into the chute. Trademark straw hat.
Those wonderful golden voices of the Wendys announcing the finishers. The mat. Done. Now what do I do to keep from cramping? Lime juice bars. Jim Ely is no longer there. We miss you Jim.
I wish I could see George Crandell and his trademark fist pump. Another victory against limitations imposed by others. George is no longer there. He ran every Avenue of the Giants Marathon held during his lifetime.
I finished only 10 marathons, none of them good. But, the memories of the training and the races are treasures. Running friends make the endeavor rich. It beats sitting on the couch watching someone else exercise (earning millions of dollars to perform) on TV!
This posting is an assemblage of marathon impressions at Avenue of the Giants. Some of the names will only be meaningful to local runners.
The 40th Avenue of the Giants Marathon, Half Marathon, and 10K races will be held May 1, 2011 in Humboldt County, California. The races are held by the Six Rivers Running Club. You can find me at the T-Shirt table and store.
A souvenir map for these races is available at the Maps link above.
Thousands of people crowded onto the dirt floor of the bull arena in Jerez de la Frontera. Plastic chairs stood in long rows where matadors usually roamed. Rhythmic, syncopated clapping reverberated through the bleachers that circled the arena.
There was a happy fiesta mood in the air and long lines at the refreshment counters under the stands, deep inside the arena. The local fino (sherry) flowed into pitchers. It was a long-anticipated night and the famous flamenco performers were ready.
This was a bulería festival. The bulería is a fast and dramatic style of flamenco music. Jerez is the home of the bulería which originated there in the 19th century. The music involves one or two guitarists, a lead singer, and several people clapping in unison as the percussion section. The guitar playing is fast and incredible. The singing is intense and very dramatic with a narrow range of notes.
The clapping is distinctive because it is very fast and the complicated rhythms accent the guitar playing. Despite the complicated rhythms, as each performer gained speed through their performance, thousands of people joined in and kept up. Between acts there were call-and-reply clapping challenges sent from one side of the arena to the other. Inside the halls of the arena, where people went for refreshments and restrooms, impromptu groups of young adults started clapping and singing performances. Rather than being cynical about traditional music they relished it.
These performances were a highlight of the autumn fiestas (Fiestas de la Vendimia) in Jerez in September. There were many musical acts but very little dancing. We expected more dancing. It was a long evening and when we left at 3:30 am there was still one more performer before the finale and jam session.
The evening did feature one act headlined by a dancer. Of course a still photograph can not portray the speed and intensity of a flamenco dancer. This photo is only a frozen instant. This is Andrés Peña. Even though it was after 2 am his performance was a furious and extended virtuoso exhibition. The sounds of the racing guitars and staccato clapping barely kept up with the flurry of piercing taps from his flying boots. It was a memorable end to an immersion into flamenco and Andalusian culture.
In a quiet glacial canyon in Les Pyrénées Parc National the tallest waterfall in Europe pounds onto the jumble of rocks at the base of Cirque de Gavarnie.
The Cirque de Gavarnie retains a few remnants of the glaciers that carved the sheer wall. The cirque wall is up to 1,500 meters (~4,900 feet) in height and 3,000 meters (almost two miles) wide. The small glaciers hang in the ledges high above the canyon floor and their melt water feeds the waterfall which is called la Grande Cascade. You can just see the top of the Cascade (white vertical line in the sun) in the distance in this photograph. This view only shows a small part of the eastern edge of the cirque. The stream is called Gave de Gavarnie.
When you are anywhere in the canyon the only things that you hear are the constant crashing of the water on the rocks and sheep bells. For generations sheep have grazed these high mountain pastures and they remain an integral part of the national park.
The small village of Gavarnie is a popular tourist destination and is a great base for mountain hiking. It is not too crowded in September and sometimes the weather can still be great. The close-cropped grasses make great picnicking grounds on the ridges on the sides of the canyon.
The Pyrénées are a rugged part of the Tour de France. These are some of the most difficult high mountain stages of the race. This year the tour starts on July 3 in Rotterdam. After punishing climbs in the Alps the riders will enter the Pyrénées late in the race at stage 14 on July 18. You can be sure that riders are scouting the stages now during June, since the stages change each year through an elaborate selection process.
One of the marquis climbs is the legendary Col du Tourmalet. It is in the heart of the Pyrénées and is near Gavarnie. If you were standing at this point looking at the stream you would just turn around and follow it down the valley to Gavarnie and then drive down through Gedre and turn east at Luz-Saint-Sauveur to reach Le Tourmalet in about a half hour. The roads are very narrow and windy, but it is only 30 km (~18 miles) to the base of the famous climb up Tourmalet. In a perverted twist this year the riders will climb Tourmalet TWICE!
The Tour is one of the toughest and most beautiful sporting events there is. As you watch the race this year and you see the masses of fans along the ridiculously steep road near the summit of Tourmalet, the fat guys with capes and pitchforks, the crazy wigs and costumes, the Elvis impersonators, the club fans, the Breton flags flying proudly, the crush of team cars and motorcycles, the words of encouragement painted on the road, during that brief time as the riders reach the summit and then fly down and away, stop and think about the quiet and remote valleys nearby.
Think of Gavarnie and all the other glacial basins at the top of the Pyrénées. And just over the top of that mountain is Spain. It is a beautiful part of Europe and one of the highlights of the Tour de France.
Official Kinetic Officials, Arcata, California, USA
A human-pedaled giant silver lobster, a fire truck with a fire-belching hookah, a taco truck with a band, and dozens of outlandish, welded monstrosities, all of which had to navigate 42 miles of roadway, sand dunes, water crossings, and fiendish rules in front of inglorious officials and thousands of spectators.
Just another festival on the Arcata Plaza.
Even though there were some cranky people who resented the farmer’s market being relocated, most people were dazzled by the absurd performances of otherwise normal citizens.
The Kinetic Grand Championship is complete for another year!
The upper photo shows officials officially checking off the official checklist for vehicle safety and many kinetically important rules. Bribes were flowing.
Kinetic Sculptures Engulfed By Fans
The middle photo shows the throngs of spectators trying to see all of the sculptures up-close. Several of the sculptures are visible above the crowds. They are bigger than life!
The bottom photo shows the race underway as they took several laps around the Arcata Plaza before exiting the safety of town in search of ultimate glory or profound shame. Those may sound like opposite results but they were all in the eye of the beholder. In other words, if they weren’t caught cheating they may have achieved glory but they would be ashamed if their fellow competitors thought they had completed the race without some creative route navigation, propulsion augmentation, or equipment enhancements along the way.
The Kinetic Grand Championship 2010
It is just the way that spring is supposed to be celebrated!!
Three days of human-powered, all terrain, endurance silliness.
There are a few so-called Kinetic Sculpture Races around the world. But the original one was held in Humboldt County, California, USA in 1969. It is now called The Kinetic Grand Championship.
It is a three day 42 mile (67 km) race on roads, beaches, sand dunes (Deadman’s Drop), bay and river crossings, and slippery slopes. The contraptions are human-powered, usually by peddaling. Elaborate and highly suspect propulsion systems involve chains and gears welded into a nightmare of breakdown potential. Some entries deserve to be called sculptures because of their exotic artistic structure and elegant engineering. Others are really humorous because nobody in their right mind would expect the thing to work.
And there you have the essence of the silliness. There is honor in being absurd and eccentric. The impractical imagination and naive energy required to enter some of these contraptions is truly exquisite.
If you just had to pedal down the road that would be easy. But the skinny tires for efficient road cycling are horrible on the beach and the dunes. And the sturdy structure required to withstand Deadman’s Drop (a ridiculous plunge down the back side of a tall dune into very soft sand) can add enough weight to sink your dreams into Humboldt Bay when you go in the water. So you also need to be able to deploy significant floatation. And everything has to be on-board and carried with you for the entire race, including toothbrushes and teddy bear.
The race starts with the noon whistle on the Plaza in downtown Arcata. The contraptions line up on one side of the road and the pilots and crew are on the other and with the whistle the Le Mans start is underway. After several laps around the plaza to the delight of thousands of cheering fans they head out via farm roads toward the beach and three days of voluntary pain and shame. And some few will gain wonderful glory.
With a silly race there has to be silly awards and silly rules. There are. According to the official website: ”…when Hobart Brown started the Kinetic Sculpture Race 40 years ago, he lost the race he created! Now one of the most coveted awards is the “Mediocre Award.”
Other awards include “The Golden Dinosaur,” which is the first sculpture to break down after the start line, “The Golden Flipper,” for the best flip of a sculpture in sand and water, and “Poor Pitiful Me.” Racers can also “Ace” the race, which means they race the entire course for 42 miles without pushing or ”getting caught” cheating. Each award is handmade by a local artist!”
The race starts tomorrow and is now held on the weekend of the US holiday of Memorial Day. My wife and I met at the Kinetic Sculpture Race in 1980. We have seen the start of most of the races since that time.
As you can imagine it is a photogenic event. I will be there using my ladder again for a vantage point over the crowds.
Bird Researcher, Coast Range, northern California, USA
Each spring hundreds of people migrate to the northern coast of California. They come to see migrating and resident birds. They also gather for camaraderie, art, education, and fun.
The event is called Godwit Days, California’s North Coast Spring Bird Migration Festival.
The event is held in Arcata, California, USA.
Participants can spend up to a week going on field trips, with the main events happening over a weekend. These field trips provide easy walking tours of ancient redwood forests, grasslands, coastal marshes, rocky shores, and high elevation forests. Participants can also take kayak tours and other boat trips in coastal waterways and bays. There are over 100 field trips. There are also workshops, lectures, and opportunities to view huge birds of prey up close and visit an operational bird banding and research facility.
Whatever your impression of bird watchers is, the range of ages and interests of Godwit Days participants defies stereotyping. The things they seem to have in common is an enjoyment of the outdoors and learning about birds and the natural systems that they thrive in.
This is the second year that I have volunteered to take photographs of the event to provide promotional photos for Godwit Days. This year I was assigned a high elevation forest field trip, a field sketching workshop with local illustrator and artist Gary Bloomfield, and a shorebird field trip to local restored marshlands.
This photo is from the high elevation forest field trip. The tour travels about 40 miles inland to the Coast Range. By ‘high elevation’ they mean 1200-1800 meters (4000-6000 feet). Most of the other field tours are near sea level so it is a relative term. On this field trip participants heard or saw about 30 different bird species, even though the birds were still mostly at lower elevations or had not arrived yet from their winter homes to the south.
Each of my assignments was interesting and fun. The field guides were very informative and provided a fun atmosphere. And I got to see and learn about things in my own ‘backyard’ that I haven’t seen before.
This event is a good way to learn about the birds and habitats of the north coast of California and the clouds of spring migratory birds that travel through the area. You can learn more about it at: http://www.godwitdays.com/
When I went for my morning walk today the traffic and honking were hard to ignore.
The geese are heading north along the Pacific coast!
The coastal overcast provided a neutral gray background for low-flying flocks of geese. They were very low and very loud.
I go for a short walk to start each day. We live in a redwood forest. So it is hard to see very far toward the horizon. But if you look straight up through the overhanging redwood branches in forest openings you can see the sky. I could hear the geese approaching, but could not see them until they were directly overhead. They were not very far above the top of the redwoods. Their formations were ragged as they were not very far from the marshes nearby where they probably started the day.
The sound catches you off guard when the first geese of the season fly over. It sounds like strange laughter or chattering. Robert Redford described it as a “cocktail party” in the great movie Sneakers.
I was able to photograph at a local birding festival last year, and will again this April. I had not been involved in birding since early in my college days. My assignment was to photograph the bird watchers, not so much the birds. These photographs would be used to publicize the event.
This spring bird migration festival is called Godwit Days. It is held in Arcata, California, USA. There are over 100 different field trips over several days to marshes, forests, rocky shores, and bays. To find out more about it, visit their website at: http://www.godwitdays.com/
The photo above is from Godwit Days last year. This was a shorebird field trip. The participants had great overviews of rocky shores along an easy trail. It was fun to tag along and see their enjoyment and fascination. I used a small step ladder to provide a view over their shoulder in many settings. Most bird watching photos show a front view of a group of people looking into telescopes or binoculars. But you have no idea what they are looking at. I thought it would be more interesting to stand among them and provide a view of what they were seeing also. This photo is taken from a more distant position to show more of the setting. Photo: 1/320 s at f/6.3
I gave myself an assignment to cover the local county fair.
A fair is a very visual event. The workers at the carnival trying to entice customers onto rides or into games; the livestock auction; the vendors; the performers; the people; and the horse races, are all interesting.
I had never stood at trackside at a horse race before. I walked around the track from the entrance so that the grandstand was in the background of the photos and in the sunlight. There were shadows across the track in front of me, but I wanted to get the horses as they emerged into the sunlight with the shadows behind them.
I photographed several races. There was anticipation and excitement as the horses came down the straightaway in front of the stands. Each time I tried to be prepared as they came around the corner. I set up the composition and practiced panning before they got there. Each time I was shocked at how fast they were going. They went by in a flash. If you have not stood next to the railing at a horse race it is hard to imagine the pounding of the hooves, the adrenaline, and the chaos of the dirt storm that the back horses and riders are covered with. They run the entire race in a shower of dirt clods and dust from the front horses. The riders wear goggles. They duck behind the head of the horse for aerodynamics, but probably also for shelter. I don’t know how the debris affects the horses.
I chose this photograph because the lead rider is just entering the spotlight of the sun. He is very calm and relaxed. In contrast the riders behind him appear to be frantically fighting to find speed and move ahead. Photo: 1/1250 s at f/4 (2009)
You can visit my online galleries to view more of my portfolio. Click the Photography link above.