Thursday, April 21, 2011

This is getting serious

Now I’ve lost my catcher’s mitt, a 1958 MacGregor Joe Astroth model.

I found the hat, the longjohns, and even the original Photon. (Now I’ve got three, no doubt soon to be two. Then one. Then….)

Never did find the sun glasses.

But my mitt. How can this be? It lives primarily in my office these days, an artifact of my own personal Paleozoic. It’s not a mere unbelievably expensive necessity I have to replace. It’s memory and all the senses. The deep pop, the feel and smell of sweaty leather, the salt-dirt taste of playing behind the mask.

My fielder’s glove,* usually snuggled up against the mitt, still sits here attempting to entice me outside for a catch.

Something, as Miss Clavel would say, is not right!

*Something over 25 years ago, I played briefly on a company softball team. (I don’t like softball, but American men no longer play real baseball unless they are paid for it.) In my late 30s, I was our oldest player. I was unsettled, though, to realize that my glove, born in 1962 (a MacGregor GF20
Johnny Temple model), was even then older than all but three of my teammates.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Grete Waitz, R.I.P.

Barrier breaker, great champion, class act. When she crossed the line to win her first NYC Marathon, no one knew who she was.

“When she ran that first New York race, she had never run more than 13 miles. She and Jack ate a most unusual dinner on the eve of the race: shrimp cocktail, filet mignon, baked potato and ice cream, with a bottle of red wine. Waitz later told the story that she felt as if she were flying through the first 16 miles, but the final 10 miles felt as if she had a bag of cement strapped to her back. She considered abandoning the race somewhere in the Bronx, but, as she recalled, ‘I didn’t know where I was, and I had to get back to Jack.’
“When she crossed the finish line, exhausted, and setting a world record, she took off her shoes and threw them at her husband. ‘I’ll never do this stupid thing again!’ she yelled at him.” 

She was only 57.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Little skiers

About 25 years ago, we went downhill skiing with (then childless) friends at a Vermont resort, and we parked a dubious four-year-old H in the nursery/ski school for a few hours while we went off to taste the mountain. She hadn’t yet skied downhill, though she’d shuffled around with me on her little touring skis. We were hoping that the elementary lesson she was supposed to get would give her a solid start on this different form of the sport.
It didn’t. We returned to a teary and unhappy little person who wanted more than anything else to blow this stalag, with its fence and its rules and its unfamiliar faces. Away we went, comforting our lovey and carrying her tiny rental skis and boots with us.

We headed straight to the bunny slope in the hopes that we could manufacture a good taste to wash out the bad. The hill happened to have a comical lift as a prop. It looked like a standard chair lift of the era—two seats, attached to an overhead pulley system—but it rode us along the ground.
With my knees near my ears, my skis stayed in the two tracks below, and H’s dangled just off the snow. This in itself gave rise to much merriment and laughter.

At the top of the tiny hill, we jitterbugged around for a while, getting a feel for the snow and these weird stiff boots, gradually working into a star turn or two, and a few experimental uphill snowplows on a very shallow traverse. Then I got H between my firmly wedged skis, and we headed down. She fell, gently but immediately and unhappily, when her skis got ahead of her body. I caught her, and we shifted to parents’ Standard Plan B. I turned around, wedged the tails of my skis, and faced her, holding her hips over her skis. She thought this was very funny, Daddy skiing backward, but she got the right feel of things almost immediately. We did this two or three times, laughing and riding back up on the comical lift, and then she was on her own, stemming in that wonderfully sturdy way small people have. We both have the happiest memories of all this.

So H and I thought it would be a great idea, shortly after I got back from New Zealand, if I took B off for a little time on the local bunny hill. The two of them had had a terrific time a few days before,  and I think both H and I envisioned a sort of reprise of some great fun.

But no.

First of all, B is two-and-a-half—very, very young to be sailing downhill. Second, I’m five or six years older than I was in 1980-whatever, and I haven’t been on downhill skis in over a decade—I had no idea how short and fat they’d become (rather like me). And third, I think we may have hit the poor baby at the wrong part of the fatigue cycle. Excited chatter going up (a more modern surface lift that was essentially a moving walkway), but tears galore going down. I tried frontwards, backwards, a shallower traverse—everything I could think of. No go, and I delivered a profoundly unhappy little person to the bottom of the hill. One run and done. I felt terrible inflicting something so unpleasant on her. Fortunately, chocolate exists in the world and calm was restored, complements of Mr. Hershey.

She floored me, though, when at home she turned to me and said, “We go skiing again tomorrow, M, but this time you no hold my neck so tight.”

Her neck? Needless to say (I hope), I had not been strangling her. I’d held my poles horizontally in front of us for her to hold onto, until I’d turned around and held her by her hips. The best I can figure is that her jacked rucked up in a way that was uncomfortable under her chin. Nonetheless, I sense the birth of a family joke that won’t quit.

To B, “tomorrow” means sometime in the indefinite future, so yes, indeed, we’ll be out there when the New Hampshire hills turn white again. She’ll be three, and able to say, “Grandfather, my outmoded clothing is not suitable for this active pastime, but I noticed the shop carries Patagonia for Kids.” And I’ll be the chubby old guy on the chubby new skis, asking, “What color parka would you like, sweetheart?”

There’s at least something I can still manage on a ski slope.

Monday, April 11, 2011


I think I’m safe in saying that this is the last of winter’s snow. The high ridge of white mountains that had taken over the driveway has dwindled, finally, in mid-April, to this dirty, pathetic lump. Good riddance.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

It wasn’t all plodding along

Around the first of December, I was sidelined (from running, not walking) by a not very painful left metatarsal stress fracture (or maybe a stress reaction), a pretty common injury among runners, but the first one I’d ever had. I got it by feeling my oats and running too many miles beyond normal one day. A classic. A stupid. Unfortunately, a typical for me.

But walking, which I limited myself to, was no problem. No pain, no issues, no concerns. I might have had a problem if I’d followed Googled advice to wear grotesque protective footwear: “a stiff-soled shoe, a wooden-soled sandal, or a removable short-leg fracture brace shoe.” (On the other hand, I had been looking for the right pair of boots.) Tramping in New Zealand was fine, and I’m about to try to start my sun-up staggers again, gasping and moaning and once again bitterly envying that corps of ladies elegantly gliding their way along the roads while I look at months and months to get  back up to speed. (Well, not speed, but....)

All this is to explain why I didn’t run a mile at Wanganui, as I had at Oxford. I did, though, make a pilgrimage.

I wanted to pay my respects to Peter Snell, whose statue went up at Cook’s Gardens, I think at the same time the old grass track was replaced by a modern all-weather surface. Doing this was harder than I’d expected. I couldn’t find Pete. I wandered down along one grandstand, watched some young people playing soccer on the infield, exited the grounds thinking perhaps the statue was just out front, and decided to start asking around.

A lovely retired plumber who had emigrated from Nottingham in the early 1950s had a foggy general memory that such a statue existed, but was eventually forced to refer me to the good people at the St. Paul’s Church Community Centre Citizen’s Advice Bureau (otherwise wonderfully known as Te Pokapū Whakahiki Pātai mai i te Iwi Whānui). They, just across the street from the park, had not the foggiest clue, and sent me along the road to the Wanganui District Council, where, thankfully, explicit directions included everything but a GPS coordinate. Unfortunately, I still couldn’t find Pete (bodes well for walking across Scotland, eh?). Scannings, wanderings, wonderings. Finally, there he was, tucked in halfway up the stands at the end of the back straight.

Here I am, explaining to Sir Peter that his arm action could use a little work. He hardly blinked an eye. I think he was chuffed to learn that a young Wellington bartender and I had several days earlier agreed that he (Snell, not the bartender) was the greatest miler of all time.

(I also went to the Waitakeres, north of Auckland, where Arthur Lydiard trained Snell, Halberg, Barry Magee and others on the hilly winding roads and trails. It was easy to see what wonderful and challenging training terrain this is. And there were lots of runners and cyclists out doing their things.)

Lots of dissolute living during these second two weeks. There were palm trees. (Here at Rotarua).

There was good food in lovely places, as here in Blenheim at the lovely outdoor bistro at the Hans Herzog winery.

And there was utter dissipation, here with a nice Sauvignon Blanc in the spa at  Blenheim’s terrific Argrove Lodge.

And, as the ads say, MUCH, MUCH more!

I loved New Zealand. I’d go back in a flash. Or on Air New Zealand. Either way. But soon, please.

Friday, April 1, 2011


Continuing the Routeburn, and cresting Harris Saddle, we dropped down toward Harris Lake and the most profoundly beautiful view of the trip. No photo (of mine, at least) could begin to replicate what we saw looking across Harris, toward the Valley of the Trolls. A distant ribbon of water fell from the heights at the other side of a great cirque, dropping from Lake Wilson, the headwaters of the Routeburn itself. The Hobbits meet the Nordic gods. We all ratcheted our jaws up from the ground and snapped away. Others may have captured some vague sense of the sight, but as far as I’m concerned, you had to be there. (So go!)

The Routeburn Falls Hut, the last trail accommodation of this great trip, sits, oddly enough, next to Routeburn Falls.

It was was the newest and grandest hut we stayed at.

The final walk out took us over swaying suspension bridges, across the magical, turquoise Bridal Veil Stream, and through an old forest of mountain beech.

We finished our trip with a day in Queenstown, during which others did interesting and adventurous things and I wandered around sampling beer. The next day, we were off to Auckland, where the rest of the group headed home, and I ... didn’t. Another side of New Zealand was calling.