On the Run

Exploring Portland’s Forest Park

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Finding myself in Oregon’s Portland with a morning free of commitments, I decided to explore. My nearly new copy of One City’s Wilderness: Portland’s Forest Park was warped from earmarks I’d folded over the last couple of days. Each tag advocating a trail worthy of running.

I always turn to running when it comes to getting to know a place. Shoes are easy to pack and placing one foot in front of the other allows a slowed-down view of the scenery in front of me. Today’s exploration was no different: I was enticed by the description of a loop beginning where Leif Erikson Drive crosses Germantown Road in Forest Park’s north east end. The payoff: six miles of dirt and almost 1,000 feet of elevation gain.

The slow ascent of Leif Erikson gave me a chance to settle in; it’s wide track was busy with walkers and mountain bikers. But at mile three I took a hard right onto the Ridge Trail and found myself completely alone. It was here the forest canopy began to shed its moisture and a second later I recognized the steady plop of watery drops hitting the leaves. I welcomed the rain – it cooled my efforts as I climbed to Wildwood Trail. One hundred year old pines towered above as I cruised the slick dirt path in the direction I had come. My route traced the ridge-line, diving in and out of deeply, fissured canyons with such consistency I turned my focus forward and paused only to capture a few images with my iPhone.

На здоровье or Sláinte

Learning Russian is the one thing I covet most – every year I swear I am going to teach myself the language – and the single inspiration where I’ve experienced the most failure.

Sure, when I’m traveling in Russia I pick up a bit of the lingo. Although, I confess to having a tendency to mix in a little Spanish or French when stressed. I’ve answered ‘si’ rather than ‘dah’ when asked about citizenship by Russian customs agents and ‘oui’ when confirming to the babushka I wished to have two of her lovely meat-filled piroshki. It’s not that I am proficient at Spanish or French, it is that when anxious, my muddled brain reverts back to the two languages I studied in my teens.

I can say “сколько” (skol-kuh), Russian for ‘how much?,’ but am completely unprepared for any answer. As Russian words spill forth from a shopkeeper, I listen intently, stand in silence with no sense of what was said and still in dire need to know how much. After a moment, I’ll respond with gestures from a made-up sign language. A style of communication that requires the use of huge, overly expressive movements as if to say, “whoa, slow down, in English please.” I’m much better at voicing simple concepts that don’t require a response, like “Доброе утро” (dobraye utra – good morning) or ‘ Baltikas два пожалуйста’ (two Baltika-brand beers please).

And as I begin to plan a return to Kamchatka in the midst of getting ready for a quick jaunt to Ireland I’m worried that yet another tongue will further conspire against my ability to learn a single language well. In Ireland will I utter some confused expression like ‘Como atá vous?’ or ‘Kakh dee-lah’ (phonetic Russian for ‘how are you?’).

I’ll let you know how I do.

Malawi Bound

LeighAnneBWJordan Romero is at it again; this time with his mom, Leigh Anne Drake. The pair leave for Malawi, Africa in late June to build a school. “We’ll be digging trenches and making bricks by hand,” says Jordan; “resulting in a school where there wasn’t one before.” Leigh Anne and Jordan will be traveling with twenty-two other teens, ages 14 to 18, and adults, and will stay with Malawian families.

Malawi is among the poorest of African nations with the majority of its population residing in rural areas outside the capital city, Lilongwe. Education is a top priority for the Malawian government and they have signed an agreement with BuildOn, a U.S.-based program that empowers at-risk teens “to change their world and the world of others by building schools in some of the poorest countries on the planet.” Malawi promises to supply teachers and support for every facility built on its soil.

Leigh Anne, a long time educator, volunteers her time with Awakening Young Minds (AYM), a Los Angeles-based non-profit helping teens “find their passion and purpose.” AYM has partnered with BuildOn for this endeavor but Leigh Anne and Jordan must fund their travels by raising $7,000.00 before June 20, 2013. Make a donation and learn what $7,000 can do by clicking here.

Wunderkid(s)

I live in a small mountain town – Big Bear Lake – that seems to be producing a number of kids (and young adults) who are kicking ass in the world of sports. Pretty sure it’s the altitude and the freedom to roam forests, meadows and mountain slopes.  Leading the legacy of Big Bear’s wunderkids is marathoner Ryan Hall followed by mountaineer Jordan Romero. And, lucky for me, I profiled Romero for the February 2013 issue of Backcountry magazine. A super fun assignment about a stand-up kid with dreams he’d rather call goals.

All things Kamchatka

Russia Hermitage

The Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia.

While the last couple of years have been calm when it comes to my travel adventures, I am ramping up to have an inspiring and journey-filled 2013 chasing two book projects (details to follow, I promise) and a number of other assignments.

First stop, San Francisco.

As many of you know, when it comes to all things Russian I am a bit of an Ian-Frazier-esque-Russia-phile. I’ve spent time in and around–from west to east–St. Petersburg, Irkutsk, Khuzir, Davsha, Aya Bay, Ust Barguzin, Ulan Ude, Khabarovsk, Vladivostok and Petropavlovsk, not to mention 56 relaxing hours on the Trans Siberian Railway.

Russia Backcountry skiing Volcanoes

Backcountry skiing on the Kamchatka Peninsula.

That’s why I am super stoked to be attending the Travel and Adventure Show in the bay area this weekend (February 16 and 17). I’ll be helping my friends out at Air Russia and chatting with anyone about what makes Russia’s Far East and the Kamchatka Peninsula such a thrilling destination. If you find yourself at the show, swing by the Air Russia booth and say ‘Zdravstvuyte.’

Inspired to Run

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It’s nice when life imitates art. As I was working through final edits on my piece for Runner’s World (in the January 2013 issue of the magazine), I was also visiting family on the east coast. Each day I was able to carve out enough time for a solitary run around a small lake in western Pennsylvania. The light, dim by the low cloud ceiling, and fall colors, just on the edge of becoming vivid, provided ample distraction and motivation to continue taking laps. On the last round, I swung by the car, grabbed my little point-and-shoot camera, and spent the next half hour trying to capture the vibe.

Doors of Tallinn

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I recently spent time wandering around Tallinn, Estonia. A capital city with eight hundred years of history. As one of the oldest cities in eastern Europe, I was quite taken by the architecture – from 11th century medieval towers to 17th century halls. Renting a bike provided the swiftest way to explore as much of Tallinn as I could – from Tompea Castle and walls to Fat Margaret Tower, from narrow Katarina Kaik (St. Catherine’s Passage) and roomy Raekoja Plats (Town Hall Square) to St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. As I cruised cobblestone streets and darted in and out of traffic – pedestrian, vehicle, and even Segway – I started to take notice of the colorful doors of Tallinn. (Truth is I became a little obsessed.) The images are not spectacular but each door moved me to stop and capture a  few stills with my Panasonic Lumix (35mm lens).