Redefining Old

New Year’s Eve and finding adventure

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We packed our mountain bikes onto the truck on New Year’s Eve Day and took off for a year-end adventure, but then the rain started and the temperature dropped, so we agreed to meander through the countryside by pickup. We went all over the countryside east of Austin, not finding the right cycling opportunity, but we did find:

Pie

Friendly people

Beautiful small towns

By the time we got home, the sun was out and the temperature rose 20 degrees. So we listened to the birds and enjoyed the fresh air in our driveway, content to read a good adventure book. Not a bad way to end the year.

Oh, and the book?  It is a good read about a young adventurer traveling around the world by bicycle.  The author, Alastair Humphreys, sells books from his own United Kingdom-based website, but they’re also available via Alibri and Amazon.

 

A Year of Running

 This is a repost from the archives of Beth’s first blog that she wrote in 2008. The photo I took of her during one of our morning runs together is in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever run and another of my favorite running “trails.”

As the year winds down, I’m remembering all the great places I got to see because I laced on my shoes in the morning. Mind you, it was tough getting out of bed some mornings, but because I did I got to run:

  • through an organic pea field, then an early 1700s graveyard, then straight through a Scottish farm,
  • in full view of the stormy Gulf Coast at Corpus Christi…it was too windy to run outside, so I did this from a treadmill at the hotel’s fitness center,
  • on a trail in Tucson, past towering saguaro cacti,
  • between Fort Davis State Park and Fort Davis National Historic Site,
  • around Memorial Park in Houston (with so many great dogs running with their human friends) and then downtown and back,
  • through the beautiful arts campus at the University of Iowa before it was damaged by flood,
  • around my old grade schools in Bloomington,
  • across the UT campus and the state capital grounds in Austin, then down by Town Lake and the Stevie Ray Vaughn statue,
  • on the road leading into the old Corn Ranch where I was dogsitting,
  • countless hotel fitness center treadmills across the state,
  • through downtown Dahlongega, Georgia,
  • on the taxiway of the Fredericksburg airport, next to my hotel, The Hangar,
  • through Gatlinburg, Tennesee and down the Sugarlands Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
  • and of course, my beloved Van Horn Cemetery in full view of Turtleback and Six Mile Mountains, and the always wild and absolutely quiet Hwy 54 north of town.

I’ll beat last year’s mileage by more than 180 miles, but experiencing all those places made it a great year of running.

remembering favorite running trails, part 3

A running trail through the woods within walking distance of where you live is a true luxury in our urbanized world. Hickory Hill in Iowa City was that place for us, a small piece of woods by some standards, yes, but you can map out a 3+ mile run without having to repeat a loop and the setting was always visually beautiful and full of change and surprises. The bird population alone had enough activity and variation to attract groups of local birders regularly to monitor not only the migrating visitors but the resident population that ranged from the tiny kinglets to the large raptors and water birds.

My own personal list of bird sightings grew significantly because of these woods and sometimes it was hard to not get distracted in the middle of a run, like the days we saw a cooper’s hawk bringing food for nestlings then repeatedly flying off  into the distance to hunt. The sudden appearance of the brown thrashers with their prominent lovely and varied song was one of my favorite events. In the spring the appearance of new buds, then leaves and flowers was a special kind of excitement and the fall colors created a spectacular beauty to accompany the suddenly chilly temperatures.

Hickory Hill has some great hills to build leg strength and test your endurance. The trails twist and turn meandering around and across tiny streams. I counted 19 bridge crossings on my favorite route, some as small as a few boards, others more elaborate and substantial. One bridge, perhaps the longest, an old sagging wooden structure that had been pushed off its footings presumably by the creek overflowing its banks, bounced up and down as you ran across it. The biggest and most pleasant surprise to me however was how much I grew to love running in the winter. It became a challenge to see how much cold I could handle and the feeling of running in fresh snow might be my favorite running experience of all. The only negative aspect was that many of the paths, a lot of them just narrow foot paths used by runners and deer turn to a sloppy muddy mess when the weather gets wet so there were quite a few days we had to seek another exercise option.

You get attached to places you run in regularly. By running there I think you see it and experience it in a way you would not know otherwise.

remembering favorite running trails, part 2

This four and a half mile out and back was truly inspirational. Every morning I saw something different, a solitary northern harrier hunting low over the grasses, a pair of ravens, a pair of coyotes, javelina, a herd of pronghorn, nighthawks, loggerhead shrikes, dozens of different grass species, rattlesnakes, king snakes, box turtles, red velvet mites just to name a few.

remembering favorite running trails

For many years it has been a place I could go
without having to drive for hours
where the predominant features were woods,
a large bird population that included corvids,
owls, a variety of song birds, a few raptors,
coyotes, armadillos, raccoons, and wild rabbits.

At 3:30am when you’re one of the first runners on the trail
you could see large numbers of rabbits feeding
on the open areas of grass at the edge of the trail,
risking encounters with the predators patrolling the area
before the numbers of humans swelled beyond the level of comfort.
I fell into the habit of counting the rabbits every morning
as a kind of ritual to take my mind off the stress of the run.

There was a level of comfort there created by a trail that
evolved around the trees in one of the few natural areas in the inner city.
Millions of footfalls carving a path that meandered this way and that, weaving in and out
of oaks and pines, and probably a few hack-berry’s.
Over the decades the path and the runners evolved together
so that the thousands of regulars had the imperfections of the trail
imprinted on their brains, knowing when to run in the middle,
when to stay to the right, where to anticipate puddles.

From time to time an old friend would pass away, an icon removed,
lingering only in the memory of those who continued month after month
year after year to tread the path, to log the miles.
The specimen tree on the corner that marked mile 2
the ones sprinkled in the middle of the path that gave us shade
and a semblance of wilderness.
The winds of hurricane Ike brutalized the trail with a level
of destruction that changed it permanently.

But Ike was merely a warning of what further potential change could happen.
2011 brought a hazard that was so easy to ignore
so easy to expect that normal weather patterns would return
and with economic pressures calling for no unnecessary spending
easy to place priorities elsewhere.
So again climatic changes and weather events are dealt with
in strictly reactionary measures while this little area
of public land, the closest thing we have to nature in an ocean of private property
is now a wasteland, forever changed from the place that gave so much delight to so many.

What will happen to it now is hard to imagine
much of what was wooded, shaded, quiet and peaceful
has become completely open, exposed to sun and heat
noisy and without sufficient shelter for the wildlife
that called the woods home?
Some replanting will probably occur from donations and fund raisers.
Small trees will be planted as an effort usually referred to as restoration.
Though many of us will never see the trail truly restored to a condition
remotely resembling the gentle path we knew so well.

Viroqua

I began this post back in March, just as we were beginning to see buds on bare tree limbs and new bird songs were coming through the open windows in early morning. Beth and I went on our last little mini adventure before we moved, one inspired by a love and pursuit of great coffee, a day trip into Wisconsin. What follows is the story of that day.

I was hoping to find something interesting about the origin of the name Viroqua but apparently it is unknown.  I expected that it had its roots in some indigenous reference like so many of the names of the States, towns and landmarks in the central Mississippi River valley, country once inhabited by people known as the Ho-Chunk Nation. That part of Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota is also known geologically as  the Driftless Area, a large and distinctly more rugged section of the Midwest left relatively untouched by the last glacial retreat. To drive there from central Iowa the local landscape’s beauty comes as a surprise, looking more like part of rural New Hampshire than the rolling farmlands this region is known for. Steep and winding two land roads cut through and around rock formations that make you want to get out a rock hammer and poke around.

There are a surprising number of high quality coffee roasters in Wisconsin. Some are in cities but I particularly like those that are not. We traveled here on a Saturday morning to participate in a local roaster’s coffee cupping. This is more of an informal cupping for the public to sample the many of the in-season varietals the roaster has to sell. Viroqua is by most standards a small town, fewer than 5000 residents, but it has lots of charming 19th and early 20th century architecture. The roasting facility for Kickapoo Coffee Roasters is in a nondescript metal building on the north side of town where buildings are mostly of contemporary construction, it was hard to find but worth the effort. The last snow of the season was still clinging to the ground in Wisconsin the day we arrived. It would be the last we would see for months.

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Doesn’t look like much you say? Don’t worry, this is where they do the serious work of precisely roasting exceptional beans to bring out the best flavor and nuance. They have a more contemporary “upscale” coffee café in Milwaukee where their delicious coffees are served along with food items.

The tour of the roasting facility alone is worth the trip, they talk at length about the specialty coffee market and how it works, their role and their relationships with coffee growers, what steps go into growing exceptional coffee, processing and roasting. Their coffee roaster, that image at the top that looks a little like a steam engine, an ancient Probat, is a beauty. Even the equipment has a good story.

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After the tour and consuming much more coffee than I’m usually capable of in one day, we headed out to find lunch, following the suggestion of our tour guides to a place called the Driftless Cafe, a farm to table restaurant in downtown Viroqua. We found it in a lovely old building on a side street just off of Main Street.

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The menu was creative and interesting and the food delicious. They obviously care about food. We’re very grateful to the staff at Kickapoo. After our lunch we wandered around downtown, we had seen a bike store driving through and we wanted to investigate it.

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Around the corner we found a beautiful yarn store and the most amazing fly fishing store. Neither of us have fished in decades and honestly, the thing we both like about fishing is taking a nap on the ground by the water, but having access to this store could easily get us excited about learning to fly fish.

As adventures go, it was a pretty good day, one that included exploring new territory, meeting and talking with new people, finding good food and outstanding coffee, learning more about area we live in. That’s a Saturday well spend. I will miss the close proximity to Wisconsin. I know there is so much more to explore there. Next time a long camping trip.

Kickapoo sells beans online too, you don’t have to drive there to get their coffee.

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Green Grass, brown cows

Dear friends, we apologize for the lapse in our posts. We have some drafts started of stories we want to share but we are in that particular state of chaos known as moving across country. Think of it as an adventure with a lot of heavy lifting, mentally and physically.

I took a preliminary load across parts of four states because I wanted to get it out of the way and I wanted to look for a place to live. Two long days later I arrived in our destination, looked at a couple of possibilities, rented a self storage unit and unloaded my trailer. Along the way I saw spring green in fields and trees that was so intense it was almost painful. Lush, iridescent green seemed like flocking on the prairie in Eastern Kansas where two months earlier a number of controlled prairie burns got out of hand in the winds of March and completely charred this same landscape.  I have fallen in love again with the Flint Hills, the spiritual landscape of my youth. So often I think of them in their spectacular fall display of color but this green, this electric green even on an overcast day, grabs my heartstrings. Even the normally stoic cows seem unusually animated.

Once the dust has settled from our move I promise to get back to work here. I’ve got some fun new coffee gear to tell you about plus I have a couple of more “off the grid” brewing demonstrations in the next month. Those are always fun. So please stay tuned. Now I need to finish my coffee and get back to packing.

 

little bird

my typical run habits

I start thinking as soon as I begin to put my shoes on “are my laces too tight, are they too loose, do I really want to do this, I do but maybe a day off would be good for me.” My first quarter mile is always a slow, dreary slog until I begin to get loose and into a rhythm, more comfortable with my body and movement, not yet warm but getting there.

The sounds of the early morning in the city are minor distractions that help get my mind going, usually some kind of machine noise or distant traffic sets the ambient urban hum. Other sounds emerge, seasonal bird songs or calls, the ever present crows, sometimes I notice other runners on the trail whose gait I recognize by the distinct pattern of their footfalls. If I’m running a new trail in the country, or better yet the backcountry, there are other distractions and the newness of every step itself changes my awareness and focus. Even just one run in an interesting new place will leave fine details of the landscape imprinted in my memory for years.

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Each trail I’ve run many times has familiar features or landmarks that allow me to subconsciously measure my progress, a long low hill, a bridge, a cattle guard, a steep switchback, a tree with a low branch forces me to swing wide, an eroded stretch of the path I have to sidestep. I know where I can push hard and where I have to conserve energy. With repetition it becomes habit and I don’t even think about it. As much as I look forward to trying a new place to run I do truly love the familiar daily route. After a while I feel like I belong there and in a way it belongs to me. And every time I go out, no matter how uncertain I was at the beginning, I am always glad I went.

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Brenda Taylor Coleman’s Story in Her Own Words–From Smoker to Spandex

brenda 1It was December before my 40th birthday and on Christmas day friends were over for dinner and she asked if I wanted to go “burn one” out on the front porch. That was the last cigarette I smoked.  I didn’t want to be 40 and still a smoker.  I had been smoking less and less as my children got older.  I was embarrassed by this habit and wanted a change. I could not stand the way it made my hands smell.  I really only went outside to smoke a cigarette.  My source of exercise was redoing two older homes and a vintage trailer.  For 15 years in order to make sure I stayed “skinny” I smoked and never ate lunch. I was focused on looks not health.

Like many I joined a gym in January.  But unlike most I never quit and 11 years later I’m in the gym everyday.  The transition was very gradual.  I was the perfect weight and made sure I had cute gym clothes.  But I was “skinny fat”.  I started attending classes like Body Pump, and Body Flow.  I liked the instructors, the social aspect of the classes, the fact that you were missed if you couldn’t attend class.  In order to sustain this new endeavor I also had to start eating better.  brenda 3

The challenges of joining a gym and beginning to change your habits and health are really boiled down to one thing and that is redefining yourself.  You were know as the smoker and now your out in public in spandex.  You know your changing but you don’t know what you are going to become.  I began to want to do other things like go hiking and kayaking.  After a spill down a hiking trail at Garner State Park I partially tore my ACL in my left knee.  I began rehab and they were able to fix the tear.  I continued to go to my classes and do all the exercises I could while the knee healed.  One day I was out in the cardio area on the recumbent bike when one of the spin instructors walked by and said you need to be in spin class.  I was like “no, that’s not for me that’s for hard core cyclist and athletes’.  He assured me it was just folks who liked to sweat.  So I went to a class that this particular instructor taught and he helped set me up on the bike.  I really thought I was going to hurl in that first class to the point I was planning my tactic.  I located the trash cans and figured out I could not throw up over the handle bars as the fly wheel was on the  front and it would  send it everywhere.  I made it through that class and came back for more.  I did around 10 spin classes before I decided to buy my first pair of spin shorts. My husband was extremely supportive of my lifestyle change.  Within 6 months others were noticing the changes is my body.brenda 2

Today I am an active cyclist riding over 5000 miles a year, I also race in the the Tour de Gruene Team Time Trials.  I also paddle board, kayak, hike and camp.  Recently my husband and I took our vintage travel trailer to Ft. Davis for the Cyclefest.  It was one of our best experiences we hiked, bike and swam until our hearts were content. Planning to go back again next year and every year after.

I workout regardless of if I want to or not. Most of the time I find that once I am up and dressed the mind battle is over and I know the coming workout will make me feel better especially mentally. It is all a mental challenge, even when doing something you love sometimes you just want to go home.  With cycling it always hurts, but with good training you learn how to take the suffering longer.

brenda and bike texas at capitol

As a cycling advocate and member of the Bike Texas Board of Directors, Brenda joins others to advocate for safe cycling legislation at the State Capitol in Austin

As a NASM Certified Personal Trainer,  I see all the different ways people refuse to change, but want the results badly.  You cannot achieve weight loss, toned bodies, become a faster runner, etc. without change.  You have to embrace change.  You can’t hold on to the old eating habits and work out patterns if you want to see results. Most days I feel more like a counselor, constantly juggling when to push for changes in the diet, when to just shut up and listen, when to just relax and have fun. What a great job!  Exhausting at times.  I see about 22 clients a week and teach Group Exercise classes 4 times a week.  It is very fulfilling work, and I like learning about the different people who come into my life. I have also had to learn how to carve out time for my own training.  Between my family, clients, classes and my own training which includes meal prepping, it’s a busy life. The joys of watching change occur in my and my clients life is what makes the job worth it.

why do you drink coffee?

I won’t go so far as to say that there is a connection between good coffee and good health but I will say that without a good strong cup before my early morning run I would not have been as ready mentally or physically in all the years I got up early to run before work. Beth wanted to include coffee stories and I’m happy to oblige. After all, I love talking to people about coffee as much as I love making it. It’s another obsession, another important part, for me at least, in the pursuit of living better.

I used to drink coffee to stay awake or wash down something exceedingly unhealthy that I consumed for breakfast. Occasionally I would drink coffee in the evening if I had too much wine with dinner, there was usually a connection between food or beverage consumption and coffee drinking. With that type of purpose it’s easy to drink whatever is available and easy. Now, drinking coffee is no longer associated with something else. It is a stand alone treat and one that rivals the other great treats in life. It’s a special thing I do for myself, loved ones and anyone who would like to taste it.

For a several decades now I’ve been slowly refining my coffee brewing process in pursuit of the best possible coffee I can brew at home. Because my coffee has become one of the highlights of my day I want that same coffee when I travel so I’ve also worked hard to find brewing methods that require only hand operated highly portable equipment. I love the routine of hand brewing, it gives me a sense of intense pride to make a delicious cup. Care and patience are required with every step so that the end result is spectacular but just part of the fun. I love to see other people enjoy it as much as I do.

After experimenting with different brewing techniques and coffee types, constantly learning more about coffee production, processing and roasting, I’ve gotten to the point where my coffee is consistently delicious. Sometimes I have to experiment with dosing because every coffee is different (the correct amount of beans by weight for my coffee maker) and the right grind varies with the particular bean.

I enjoy brewing and tasting different single-origin, seasonally-available beans from small coffee farmers around the world, beans grown with great care and focus on quality, now commonly referred to as Specialty Coffee. The roasters I patronize are small locally owned businesses, close enough that the coffee I order arrives on my doorstep within 2 days of being roasted. I buy enough to last about 10 days, before the coffee loses it’s full flavor.

travel ready coffee making equipment

travel ready coffee making equipment

It starts with the best water and the best beans. You can’t make good coffee with bad water or old coffee. Grind your coffee beans just before you brew. If your beans were roasted more than 2 weeks ago don’t feel badly about throwing them away. You don’t need thousands of dollars of brewing equipment but a good quality burr grinder is the single most important piece of your coffee gear. There are some reasonably priced good quality hand grinders that are small enough to take backpacking with you so you can enjoy great coffee anywhere. My favorite brewing methods are the moka pot, sometimes called stove-top espresso, and the Aeropress. Occasionally I do pour over or french press. All of those processes travel easily.

If I’ve piqued your interest stay tuned. In upcoming posts I’ll talk more about some of my favorite coffees and pieces of equipment. Enjoy!