Grand Canyon Rim to Rim: What a Walk

Thirty plus of us started at the North Rim at 7a.m. The group consisted mostly of Federal Highway administrator friends of Dan, Dan, the Transportation Man. Pre-trip, I asked him about the weather. He said he’d never seen a cloud on his previous three hikes.

Within the first 500 meters, lightening danced around us, hail fell from the sky, and we saw a dead mule covered with a tarp. The hail turned to light rain and we enjoyed cloud cover off and on throughout the day. The Canyon vets said it was about 25 degrees cooler than normal. I may have never made it if it was 100+.

Hiking the canyon is an enigma, your spirit is lifted while your body is punished. I had my bike computer in my pocket, but its global positioning system was cutting in and out meaning the mileage was off, but the first half descent of 6,600′ seemed spot on. The toughest point for me was the middle because as I descended my lower back got progressively tighter to the point where I thought it was going to completely seize up.

There are no rescues in the Canyon, once you drop in, you’re committed to the full meal deal. I took some comfort in the fact that I was among the first few hikers in our group meaning if my back completely gave out, people would find me on the trail and provide a proper burial. I also rolled my ankle at one point, took a wrong turn, did some ill-advised bushwhacking that added distance, and nearly ran out of water before lunch at Phantom Ranch.

I was not hiking particularly quickly, but I spent the first half of the day enjoying wonderfully long stretches without stopping for more than a few seconds for a picture or water. I reached the South Rim at 6:15p and guess that I was moving for about 9:45 of that 11:15. I enjoyed a longer lunch than normal, about an hour, because Dan and others rolled in just as I was beginning to feel semi-normal.

I used the additional time to stretch my back. The ascent was unrelenting and damn steep. I was conscious of how uniquely beautiful my surroundings were about 75% of the time. The rest of the time, I was so shelled that all I could do was focus on the next twenty meters.

There’s something wonderfully primitive about walking long distances. Maybe because it has been the dominant mode of transportation for the vast majority of world history. I dig my carbon fiber bicycle, but it doesn’t connect me to the ancient past in the way that walking long distances does. And in the Grand Canyon the ancient past is in stereo because your constantly surrounded by unrivaled geologic wonders.

Thanks be to God for the health to walk into and up out of the grandest of canyons.

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A Plea to Drivers—Let Us Live

Happy to report that I’m running, cycling, and swimming mostly pain free. Some low level tendonitis, but nothing ice can’t remedy.

I’m hiking from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to the South, on May 23rd. Twenty-four miles in a leisurely 12 hours, assuming a rattle snake doesn’t get me. Then, to the top of Mount Humphrey, the highest peak in AZ, the next day.

A five day cycling camp in and around Bend, Oregon the first week of June.

In late June/mid July, I’m considering entering a shortish local triathlon and/or a nearby half iron.

And thanks to lottery success this year, on July 31st, the always epic Ride Around Mount Rainier in One Day. Here’s another RAMROD write-up. And here’s more course info.

Runners and cyclists have an obligation to follow the rules of the road and run and cycle defensively. Among other things, that means wearing bright colored clothes; using flashing lights early and late in the day; and following the rules of the road, including stopping for stop signs and red lights whenever anyone is within view; and always running behind any car with tinted windows.

Drivers also have an obligation to follow the rules of the road including stopping at stop signs, looking both ways before pulling onto a roadway, adhering to the speed limit, and respecting bike lanes.

I’ve had a scary number of close calls this spring. I don’t know why, but lots of drivers in my community are in a BIG hurry. That means they routinely brake 10-15 feet beyond white stop sign lines. Which can mean broken bones if not worse. Then, the same hurried drivers glance one way and quickly speed away.

Another common occurrence is what I think the police should write up as an “out of sight, out of mind fuck up.” This is when you, the driver, pass me, the faster than you realize cyclist, and immediately forget I’m right behind you in the bike lane. Then, you suddenly turn right, right in front of me. Recently, I locked my brakes up, swerved, and somehow managed to avoid contact with you.

Even worse, recently, a guy buzzed our bike team by passing closely by us at about 65mph and then immediately swerving into the bike lane. Then yesterday, Mark and I were riding side-by-side in a bike lane when a hulking SUV edged towards the line and gunned it. The message, “I could kill you, if I wanted.” As happens on occasion, we caught the offending SUV at a red light 200 meters later. The driver immediately looked down at her cell phone to avoid eye contact with us. Like driving a drone, she didn’t want to see the individual people on the bicycles.

I imagined her chuckling with her husband about her feat at dinner. If her window was down, and I had a chance to collect myself, I would’ve said to her what I want to say to you:

You’ve got about three tons on us, so if you want, you can easily kill us. But we have wives, children, and sometime soon, grandchildren. They would be sad. So please share the road peacefully and let us live. Thank you.

 

Youth Fitness Should Trump Athletic Competition

“Combined participation in the four most-popular U.S. team sports—basketball, soccer, baseball and football—fell among boys and girls aged 6 through 17 by roughly 4% from 2008 to 2012.” [Wall Street Journal]

Docs and others are worried because “It is much more likely that someone who is active in their childhood is going to remain active into their adulthood.”

Forgotten in this discussion is the fact that there are lots of ways to be active. When it comes to youth, we focus far too narrowly on athletic competition at the expense of fitness.

One common theory for the decline is that social networking, videogames and other technology are drawing children away from sports. And of course football faces a more specific challenge, “growing concern that concussions and other contact injuries can cause lasting physical damage.” The Journal speculates on other causes including increasing costs of participation to excessive pressure on kids in youth sports to cuts in school physical-education programs.

I was intrigued by one student’s story in the article:

Fifteen-year-old Jessica Cronin is the daughter of a former three-sport high-school athlete. But Jessica doesn’t participate in high-school sports, choosing to spend her time outside of class volunteering in her community and going to her temple youth group each Wednesday. “I considered doing track, but it takes up so much time,” said Ms. Cronin, a sophomore at Bethlehem Central High School in Delmar, N.Y.

Since most fifteen year-olds can run 6-7 miles in an hour, I suspect Jessica prefers her community service and youth group activities because they’re based on cooperation more than competition. Most young athletes don’t care about winning as much as their coaches. They’re not anti-competition per se, they just can’t relate to, and therefore resent, many of their coaches “win at all costs” approach.

That’s why a lot of young people gravitate to alternative sports like ultimate frisbee and alternative activities like skateboarding.

Survey youth basketball, soccer, baseball and football coaches about what’s most important to them and their athletes long-term health probably won’t make the list. Too many youth coaches are fixated on scoreboards and win-loss records. School principals, athletic directors, and parents aren’t doing enough to train, hire, and reward coaches who think about team sports as a context for healthier living.

Switching from a competitive team sport orientation to a fitness one should start with wider, better lit roads with generous sidewalks so that most young people can walk, bike, blade, skateboard, or run to and from school. Next physical education classes should emphasize life long activities including walking, running, yoga, swimming, and related activities. Students should be encouraged to compete against their younger selves to walk, run, cycle, and swim farther faster.

When fitness trumps athletic competition physical education classes and team sport practices will be more fun than video games. There should be little to no standing around. I have fond memories of some high school water polo practices where our conditioning consisted of a crazy obstacle course that culminated with a celebratory jump off the three meter board. We improved on the coach’s design by firing balls at one another mid-air. Granted a nose was broken and that was in the Pleistocene Era before the first lawyer emerged from the primordial ooze. Practices would be shorter because the emphasis would be on quality of activity more than quantity.

Who is with me?

 

My No Good, Horrible, Very Bad Year, So Far

“It’s not how many times you get knocked down,” Stuart Smalley, Socrates or some spandex shorts wearing high school football coach once said, “it’s how many you get back up.” I’m not sure who to credit with this well intentioned quote because 2014 has not just knocked me down, it has damn near knocked me out.

To fully appreciate my wretched present, we have to rewind to October when I tore a calf muscle while doing too many hill repeats in prep for the Seattle Half Marathon which I ended up missing. Even writing “half marathon” makes me laugh now. I took four weeks off and then returned slow and easy. On the fourth recovery run the calf again rioted. So now I’m not even half way through an eight week hiatus. The other day I started corralling wayward Christmas tree needles when I had to turn the vacuum off and sit down and rest before continuing. All this, eighteen months removed from long distance triathlon success. We are always the last to know when we’ve peaked.

Add into the mix an enlarged prostate which means sucky sleep, contacts that are shot meaning sucky vision, and an unplanned trip to Dante’s Inferno compliments of an influenza roundhouse that left me too sick at times to watch television. Somewhere along the long downward spiral, I went from thinking “I should probably try to get back up and do Stuart Smalley or Socrates proud,” to “Screw it, I’m just gonna curl up in the fetal position and stay down. If I tuck tight enough it may not matter if 2014 continues kicking me in the gut.”

A part of staying down was going to the dermatologist who always smiles when she sees me. You’re thinking she’s probably turned on by me, but I looked liked I just returned from the lower levels of Hades. She always smiles at me because my tired skin pays for her boat. She has zero interpersonal skills, but she’s damn good with a liquid nitrogen canister. It was as if 2014 asked her to liquid nitrogen me until I begged for mercy. So now, a few days later, red blotches are forming all over my formally handsome self. And I haven’t shaved for ever, I need a hair cut, and if my sinuses weren’t completely blocked I’d probably lay on the floor of the shower for awhile.

Like a paratrooper who perfects her aerodynamic tuck, I thought if I just give in to my cosmic fate, I’ll hit bottom faster and bounce higher when I do. So why not roll the dice with one of the things I most cherish, my marriage.

“You know when I asked if you’d get me some 7-Up or Sprite?” “Yeah.” “Well, the funny thing about that is that’s what my mom always gave me to drink when I was sick as a kid. It’s funny, there’s something about a near-death experience that makes a part of me still want my mom. That’s probably the least masculine thing I’ve ever said, huh?” “A mother’s love is primal.” Say wha?! The first sign yet the calendar may not have it out for me.

And then I visited Australia, well actually an Australian blog after the author visited here. And I read this:

People often ask me what it’s like living with a chronic illness. And by ‘often’, of course I mean never.

So, for the benefit of absolutely no one, allow me to explain. You know that feeling you get when you start to come down with something? Your throat starts to hurt and your glands swell up. Your sinuses block and your nose starts to run. Your head hurts and you can’t think clearly. Your bones ache, your body feels weak and no amount of sleep seems to make a difference.

Well, to the best of my admittedly limited scientific knowledge. . . these are actually the body’s natural defences for fighting off infection. It’s your immune system switching on and kicking in to gear.

And these are the symptoms I’ve had 24/7 for the last seven-and-a-half years. Because, as I’ve explained before, my body has been fighting off an infection it can’t beat and my immune system remains permanently in the ‘on’ position.

The good news is that it means I rarely get whatever bug it is that’s going round. Happy days. The bad news is that I permanently feel like I have the flu. Not so good.

Of course, there are other symptoms, too, like sensitivity to light, noise, cold and heat, significant memory impairment, insomnia, chronic pain and various bodily dysfunctions not appropriate to discuss in this type of public forum. And that’s without the introduction of any number of medical treatments — and believe me, I’ve tried a few — which inevitably make you feel worse than you did to begin with.

So, in short, living with a chronic illness is a real party and that’s your answer.

The first gift of 2014. Perspective.

I am fortunate that the relentless attack on my body is abating and that most of my many ailments are fixable. I will ask the lifeguard to roll my pathetic, coiled bod across the deck and into the pool in a day or two. I will try to ascend the trainer tonight and soft pedal while watching college basketball. The torn fibers in my calf muscle will eventually reattach. I will start running in mid February and should be back to semi-normal in June. Meds make the prostrate manageable. I will make an appointment with the optometrist. My ugly sores will heal. I will shave my face and head. Then I will shower, put on clean clothes, and resume my rightful place among the mostly living. And that is the best I can do.

Forget Mayweather-Alvarez, Seahawks-Forty Niners, Alabama-A&M

The best matchup of the weekend is Byrnes-Kennett.

Black Diamond Half Ironman Saturday morn @ 0900 at Nolte State Park.

Last year Kennett destroyed the 50-54 year old division by 22 minutes. I was recovering from Iron Canada. My plan tomorrow is to sneak up on him and make him earn the victory.

Swim Transition 1 Cycle Transition 2 Run Total
2011 Byrnes 30:42 3:12 2:42:54(road bike) 1:52 1:40:09 4:58:49
2012 Kettering 33:37 3:12 2:39:32 1:20 1:39:51 4:57:33

I’m fit, but not as fit as 24 months ago. Unlike the run up to Canada, I’ve missed workouts. I feel undertrained and it’s going to be unseasonably warm (70s), but I will empty the tank and report back in case no one from SportsCenter shows.

cropped-sierra-killer-climbs-5-2012-151.jpgPostscript—I got spanked.

 

Maybe Our Most Perfect Drug

Lots of people are seeing therapists and taking meds to combat anxiety disorders and depression. Stacy Horn suggests a much less expensive alternative, join a choir. She explains:

. . . as science works to explain what every singer already knows, no matter where you fall on the voice suckage scale—sing. I know of no other activity that gives so much and is this eminently affordable and accessible: Just show up for choir practice. Singing might be our most perfect drug; the ultimate mood regulator, lowering rates of anxiety, depression and loneliness, while at the same time amplifying happiness and joy, with no discernible, unpleasant side effects. The nerds and the church people had it right.

In high school, following the lead of some close friends, I sang in a large Lutheran youth choir. We toured for two weeks each summer, wowing Lutheran congregations all over the fruited plains. One summer at Indiana University in Bloomington, we even won a large national competition. But, as any Lord’s Joyful alum will tell you, no thanks to me. When you look up “voice suckage” in the urban dictionary, you see my larynx. Little known fact. Kool Herc, Kurtis Blow, and The Sugarhill Gang started rapping in the late 70s so that I’d have an alternative to singing.

Horn earns my enduring affection with this confession:

One of my main goals in our weekly rehearsals is not being heard. Over the years I’ve become a master in the art of voice camouflage, perfecting a cunning combination of seat choice, head tilt, and volume.

As they liked to say on The Wire, I feel you!

My alternative drugs of choice, by which I mean social activities that help me maintain some semblance of mental health, are swimming, cycling, and running with friends.

The GalPal and I recently enjoyed catching up with old friends from the state that just decided to stop paying teachers extra for Masters degrees. One whom struggled with depression recently. Her most perfect drug? Caring for and riding a horse. Almost daily. At first glance, this activity isn’t as social as the others, but in fact, our friend always looks forward to seeing the same few horse owners at the medium-sized, community-based barn. A couple of times a week, after grooming and riding their horses, they cross the street to a golf course restaurant where they eat and visit. Her mental health in tact for another day.

Reduce anxiety and depression without therapy or meds. Follow Horn’s advice and join a community choir. Or follow my lead and swim, cycle, run, hike, or walk with another person. Or if you can afford it, horse around with friends. You feel me?

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Me at my last concert performance

Should Schools Be Responsible for Childhood Obesity Prevention?

No. No. No.

According to Emily Richmond, Kaiser Permanente recently conducted a nationwide survey and found that 90 percent of respondents believed schools should “play a role in reducing obesity in their community” and 64 percent supported it being “a major role.”

Richmond also notes that The American Medical Association has recommended that K-12 students be taught about the dangers of obesity and supported using revenue from proposed taxes on sugary sodas to help schools pay for such educational programs.

Mayor Bloomberg, at least, would be down with that.

Sixty-four percent of the public and the AMA are wrong. Schools absolutely should not be responsible for childhood obesity prevention.

With every societal problem teachers take on, public criticism of their work, already considerable, will increase. That’s because they’ll have less time to teach students to read, write, and ‘rithmatic and any progress in solving the problem will be so slow as to be imperceptible. A double whammy.

No one asks whether doctors should be responsible for cancer prevention because they’ve done a great job of saying there are many contributing factors—genetics, nutrition, smoking, environmental factors, etc.—and no cure in the foreseeable future. Teachers should eschew their built-in altruism and say, “Enough already. We love our students, but many things are outside of our control and we refuse to be substitute parents.”

Feel free to disagree, just explain where we should draw the line. Should schools be responsible for making sure students brush their teeth regularly, floss, make their beds, leave campsites nicer than they find them, get adequate sleep, exercise, limit television, avoid violent video games, and never ever text or post anything unkind on Facebook?

When considering a blurring of the lines between schooling and public health, it’s important to remember that students spend approximately 23% of the time that they’re awake each year in school. Richmond hits a homerun here:

As the Las Vegas Sun’s education reporter, I did some quality control spot checks at various campuses after Nevada’s junk food ban was passed. I found that bottled water and graham crackers had indeed replaced the sports drinks and chocolate bars — with one notable exception: the machines in the faculty lounges were fully stocked with the familiar array of candy, chips and sugary sodas. That the ban didn’t extend to the adults on campus illustrates the larger challenge facing schools, families, and communities as a whole.

Amen. Until adults figure out how to eat and live more healthily no amount of in-school teaching or behavior mod will have any kind of lasting effect. The only guaranteed outcome is a further devaluing of teachers.

Stoicism Fail

A wannabe Cicero, I’ve enjoyed thinking about and trying to apply aspects of Stoicism to my life ever since reading William Irvine’s “A Guide to the Good Life” four or five years ago. The ancient philosophy’s anti-materialist emphasis on tranquility and joy resonates with me.

Irvine thoughtfully explains how to apply the ancient concepts to modern times. One stoic insight concerns internal goal setting. Irvine argues that we often succumb to negative emotions—anger, fear, grief, anxiety, and envy—because we focus too much on things outside of our control.

Irvine:

When a Stoic concerns himself with things over which he has some but not complete control, such as winning a tennis match, he will be very careful about the goals he sets for himself. In particular, he will be careful to set internal rather than external goals. Thus is goal in playing tennis will not be to win a match (something external, over which he has only partial control) but to play to the best of his ability in the match (something internal, over which he has complete control). By choosing this goal, he will spare himself frustration or disappointment should he lose the match: Since it was not his goal to win the match, he will not have failed to attain his goal, as long as he played his best. His tranquility will not be disrupted.

This weekend, at my first triathlon competition in 10 plus months, I learned how far I have to go to apply this more Eastern, process-oriented approach to goal setting. I’ve always really enjoyed competing at Hagg Lake, a large clean body of water surrounded by dense woods 30 minutes west of Portland.

There’s another Olympic distance (1500m swim, 40k bike, 10k run) race in Portland every June that draws four times as many participants probably because it’s flat. The 11 mile road that loops Hagg Lake has one 300 meter flat stretch across the dam. Total elevation on the bike is 1,500′. The run is up and down throughout as well. It’s a course that’s perfectly suited to me. The hills are our friends.

Check out my times from my three Hagg Lake races.

Swim T1 Bike T2 Run Overall Time
2004 23:17 2:54 1:17:15 1:24 44:37 2:29:27
2007 23:08 3:37 1:16:16 1:32 45:23 2:29:56
2013 26:21 2:40 1:14:28 1:24 46:29 2:31:22

Note that I forgot to race in 2010. My goals for this year were to beat my 2004, 42 year-old self course record. I thought I could drop enough time in the bike leg to make up for a slight loss of time in the swim and run. Pretty darn Stoic I thought, racing against myself. But then I wavered. I looked up some of the guys who pre-registered and I knew I was faster than them based on previous races. I thought I could win my smallish, oldster age group.

Then I raced to the best of my ability. Which, if I was any kind of student of Stoicism, would be the end of the story. But of course it’s not. I passed a few guys in my age group during the run and thought I was probably second. In the finishing chute a 33 year old, who I had been leap frogging back and forth with throughout the bike and run, sprinted past me to finish 1 second ahead of me. He was pumped. I didn’t remind him that my wave started five minutes after his and that I beat him by 4:59. Hey everybody, gather round. Watch Ron carom off the Stoic rails.

After a dip in the lake with the world’s best wife but worst race photog, I checked out the results. Damn. I got spanked by four fellow geezers and finished fifth out of fifteen in my age group. Forget that “best of my ability” bullshit, I felt like I had failed. Doubly, as an athlete and Stoic. Why dear friends did I let the computer printout alter my mindset so much? I lost touch with the fact that I’m really lucky to both have the resources and be healthy enough to compete in a beautiful natural setting. And I lost touch with just how inconsequential my triathlon performance is in the grander scheme of things that matter even a little bit in life.

In hindsight, fifth out of fifteen isn’t terrible, but after my excellent performance at Canada last year (14th out of 217), I started to get cocky. In Canada I rolled for almost eleven hours, what’s two and a half? It showed in my poor race prep. Pre-race I ran twice off the bike for a total of 7 miles. And this summer I’ve blown off as many swim workouts as I’ve completed. And my cavalier attitude culminated in me forgetting my wetsuit which explains most of the additional time in the swim.

Truthfully though, best case scenario, had I remembered my wetsuit and trained with greater focus and intensity, I could have gone four or five minutes faster, but I still would have finished third or fourth.

See that, still focusing on time and placement. I have even more work to do as a Stoic than I do as a triathlete.

Pre-race breakfast at McMennamin's the Grand Lodge. The GalPal gave me the bottom bunk.

Pre-race breakfast at McMennamin’s the Grand Lodge. The GalPal gave me the bottom bunk.

Perfect weather, calm, 60 degrees, lake was 75

Perfect weather, calm, 60 degrees, lake was 75

Rockin' the daughter's sweatshirt

Rockin’ the daughter’s sweatshirt

The failed Stoic post-race

The failed Stoic post-race

A Panacea for Improved Health

I have a neighbor who makes money off of his car. He carefully shops for an underpriced used one, then takes immaculate care of it, and then gets reimbursed by his employer at 50+ cents per mile.

I admire his fiscal discipline, but who wants to spend their weekend washing their car the way he does? One time he yelled at another neighbor who was washing the bottom 90% of her van. “You gotta start with the roof and work down!” Best comeback ever, “No one’s gonna see the top!” Blood pressure spike. And he routinely rips me for using the last bit of dirty water in the bucket to wash my wheels, but I tell him my goal is for my car to be 90% as clean as his in 10% of the time. And normally it is.

We’re all obsessive about something. One could argue I substitute exercise for car washing. Last week was pretty typical for April. Four runs for 28.7 total miles. Two swims for 6,000 meters and two bike rides for 90 miles. And an hour lifting weights. Total time, 11-12 hours. People like me tend to have a lot of fitness activity-based friendships and we often find the swimming, cycling, and running enjoyable in and of itself. We’d still go out and run, swim, and cycle even if there weren’t empirical health benefits tied to those activities. We’re lucky that our hobbies come with health benefits.

Some people no doubt think about my commitment to fitness the same way I think about people who obsess about the stock market’s every move and spend their days thinking, talking, and writing about money. There’s an opportunity cost to finance tunnel vision. Life passes by. Investing wisely is a means towards other more meaningful ends—like learning about other people’s interests and engaging with them.

Like extreme car washing, there’s a tipping point where a person’s fitness routine can detract from their physical, emotional, and spiritual health. That’s where “Doc Mike Evans” comes in. He asks a great question near the end of this high-speed informative whiteboard lecture—Can you limit your sleeping and sitting to just 23.5 hours a day? 

Like my quicker, more casual approach to car washing, Doc Evans explains how you can achieve most of my health benefits in much less time. Walk 20-30 minutes a day. Even better if you integrate walking as a means of transportation by living within a mile of your work, a grocery store, and other stores. And of course driving less is good for your pocketbook and the environment too.

Forget my approach of driving to the pool and overdoing it in the form of occasional marathons and triathlons*. Instead, as Doc Evans advises, walk 20-30 minutes a day and enjoy markedly improved mental and physical health.

Maybe you’re already a walker, but wish there were even more tangible health benefits. Evans explains how you can reap additional benefits by extending the time and distance of your daily walks. But since time is most people’s greatest obstacle, I suggest picking up the intensity by choosing more hilly routes. My running teammates probably get tired of me saying, “The hills are our friends.” When I don’t feel like exerting myself much, which is a lot of the time, I sometimes commit to a hilly route because hills force me to increase the intensity. As an added benefit, when I’m running up hill, my conservative Republican Nutter friends don’t have enough oxygen to complain about the current political scene. If you’re a Florida or Texas flatlander, move.

We expect complexity today, but this isn’t. If you want to enjoy an improved quality (and quantity) of life, take a ten minute walk sometime today. And then repeat tomorrow. And the next day. Extend it to twenty minutes next week. And repeat. Every day.

* This summer I’m going to be more family focused than last year. We’re looking forward to a fair number of visitors from afar, and at the end of the summer, launching Seventeen at a still-to-be-decided college. I’m #34 on the RAMROD waitlist which means I’ll definitely get in and Danny and I plan on running the Wonderland Trail in mid-August. I may throw in a few short/medium distance triathlons on unscheduled weekends. Or maybe I’ll just take a walk.

Betrothed and I walking

Amazing she’ll still hold hands with me after all these years