The Sooke Hills

In a 15 passenger van stuffed with
Books, crumbling vinyl Christian lit
Athapaskan man describes the warm hue
Rainbow flowing diffracting out of the
Snow summits spilling autumnal mustard
Willow cotton blueberry crimson lake
Ruffled in sky last blades of grass exhaust
All of summer’s breathed in energy poured
Out from ravine to valley slope to foot of spruce
I plug carrot and tomato into my mouth
In deep wood panel wall canyon at the
Toe of emerald hill blacktop strung
Flow line leaking oil of bruised human Loss
Gain Veitch Ragged Empress moss forgiven
Hidden and ever loving. These hills will be here
To breathe you in and let your deepest amber
Umber burnt ochre sky star lit and ready.

For Elizabeth

Transition

Today, in a small line up at Jordan River. Small waves, few people. The sun bore down befitting el niño. Hot enough in a wetsuit to slide off the back of my board and dunk my head in the ocean. Waves trickled in, long boarders hooted, creedleing into the sun’s glare. A prone ride for good measure. You could almost hear the tap squeaking closed or the juicer pulling the organized energy out the of the ocean. At 11:30 I was stripping out of my suit when a stiff East wind shattered the late morning glass.

An evening before spent further stripping my life of objects deeply implanted with memories I can no longer afford to hold onto but am not sure I’m strong enough to do without.

Then a date. a potential portal to new external.

Then a run through a dark forest through chirping frogs through cracked wrist and no shirt. Steamy heat in dark winter woods. Feeling stronger quads building to hot desert summer runs and quiescent ocean. It’s time for the change, for earths tilt to find a new solar aspect. To begin to write over the warped tape-memory of 2015 with some new strength. For the sounds of the season to earn new meaning or reassume their old.

A study of the alveolar sacs

image

The bus traced the toes of the Sooke hills
Wind eddying furiously through cedar branches
Making them wave and toss and throw spray back
To the sky and heavy drops to the ground
Me in this bubble of warmth, pink and humid
And my mind turned up into those hills
The cool green canyons and crevices
The flooded and abandoned roads
The emptiness of humanity there at that moment
In this building storm.
I thought of all the fragile, warm breaths
Being taken then under root-cave and rock alcove
Hidden tunnel away from trail
A massive chorus of sighing warmth
Unheard, but some how counteracting the cold wind.
Do you hunker down? Are you waiting it
Out as I am? Ducking the rain between
Spheres of comfort? Or are you out there
Eviscerating, stopping hearts, drawing nectar,
Stealing blood, staking your claim,
Licking your wounds and waiting for the fawn
Beneath cleft who snapped its last twig
In the dim rain of that forest cacophony
As I want.

Gust Buster — the 2015 Oregon Coast 50k

A gust of wind picked up and then amplified to a raging shriek in the millions of Sitka Spruce needles in the canopy above me. Huge trunks bowed and swayed. As I waited for the squeal and crack, I eyed cover downwind of large trees in hopes of any kind of protection. Shirtless, sweating hard, soaked with tropical rains and dancing down Cook’s Ridge I just couldn’t help it. I started to howl at the wind. Scream at the thrill of more than half-nakedly running through a forest alive with wind and rain; the thrill of being unquestionably alive — as close to my beating heart and thrumming brain as I’ve been in months, years, god knows how long. All of the pent up and broken relationship residue along with the held love and comfort of those times was all laid bare in those screams, yet they remained screams of joy despite working through yet another bonk and being 35 km into the race I was as alive and happy and connected as I could possibly be. This was my Oregon Coast 50k.

The race started as the skies lowered and southerly winds picked up and began to gust up the beach. Forecasts were for 20 knot gusting to 40 knot winds and heavy rains from the remnants of Hurricane Oho and that forecast was conservative. Despite rain, the beach sand was picked up and blown making the lowest 2 feet of air a sandblast. James the race director lead us out from the huddled protection of the Governor Patterson picnic area’s pines onto the beach where nothing could slow the wind. It was immediately clear that this was going to be a different kind of race. It became even more apparent when shoes sunk into the sand indicating that the beach was still summer-soft not yet hammered solid by winter waves. This was going to be interesting.

James counted down and we were off. The whole pack swerved toward the ocean hoping to find hard sand since there was no hope of finding refuge from the wind save for with other racers. The field quickly split into groups although there were the brave souls who struck out on their own, perhaps their race ethics more pure than mine. The eventual race winner set out with his brother in a pack of two. The account of the Ghelfis is here. I found myself in the second (or maybe third) pack which contained about 20 runners variously trying to hold onto and losing the group as it swerved and dodged waves, lumps, dead sea lions, and soft sand. An occasional gust would hammer down hard enough to blast us apart akin to the scene in March of the Penguins where the huddle is broken by a savage katabatic gust. The real hero story here goes to Dave Melanson who makes up half of Project Talaria. He took the lead of our group and while I strove to do my part by leading for a couple of kms, he hung in there for more than 8 of the 10 beach kms. Breaking the wind, dodging the softest sand, and swerving away from the encroaching tide was very hard work. Some runners likened it to putting out a 5k pace effort to move at slower than typical ultra pace.

My pack as we split to cross a stream. We rejoined very quickly. Note the haze of wet blowing sand. Note also that this is a picture I purchased from Glen Tachiyama (tachifoto.net). Please support his great work by purchasing a photo now and then.

My pack as we split to cross a stream. We rejoined very quickly. Note the haze of wet blowing sand. Note also that this is a picture I purchased from Glen Tachiyama (tachifoto.net). Please support his great work by purchasing a photo now and then.

So, that was the beginning. The inverse of how one wants to run one of these races. Eventually the pack approached the trails and split apart for the last km to the first aid. I hung back figuring that I would work on recovering for the next several kilometers before getting back after it. I rolled through this and all the rest of the aid stations fast.

My aid strategy was to grab enough gels to replace what I’d lost and fill up on some gu brew and water and then walking off as I arranged my gear. I was going light overall with my equipment consisting of only two hand helds, a Wilson headband, wind shell, shorts, shoes and socks. Simple and to the point. Conditions were very wet and windy but also quite warm. On the drive over the night before, we noted temperatures of 67 F in Corvallis at 8PM and it couldn’t have been much colder than that all day. because of the heat and 100 % humidity I would actually sweat a lot this race and, as a sweaty creature to begin with, this would mean drinking a lot. On final tally, I guess I drank almost two gallons of water or 11 24oz bottles.

Moving on things got easier. The 4 km after the aid were on road and still buffeted by wind but then the route entered forested trail where it would stay until the returning 4 km. And once there, conditions were much more pleasant. The trails were in excellent shape since this was one of the first big rains of the year so they had plenty of capacity to soak up water before turning to muck.

As the trail wound up to Cape Perpetua, the winds began to pick up owing to the prominence of the place. When I reached where the Amanda trail breaks out onto the overlook the storm was  beginning to reach its own climax with winds strong enough to push a runner over ripping up the slope and into the forest to the north. This was a brief introduction to the coming madness as the trail quickly dropped from there down to the second (doubles as the fourth) aid station. Again, this was a quick pass through to fill my fluids, down a bottle, and grab a couple of gels although recalling it now, I seem to have taken a while there. The extreme conditions kind of spurred a nonchalance based in feeling like just running out there was enough and that I could allow myself some comfort given the nutty weather.

Out from there the race soon reaches the halfway point as the trail parallels the coast before ducking east to climb up Cummins Ridge. This climb isn’t difficult but plays with your mind as the gradient is just steep enough to feel, but not so steep as to be unrunnable by a racer of my calibre. And so I ran despite working though a first bonk and some low mood which was causing my brain to wonder extensively about why one runs these races.

And then magic happened. About halfway up the climb, the wind made any thoughts such as those impossible to hold onto. Gusts started to pick up a banshee quality with building crescendos that climaxed much louder and harder than one thought they could without blowing the whole forest down. My eyes started to dart around during the peak blasts, searching for any tree about to fall or limb about to crash down. And with that thrill my race turned into sheer bliss. From then on, each gust was something to laugh at and to celebrate. When the rain  started to come down so hard that a small creek gushed down a rut in the trail and my headband would seep male-sheep-tasting sludge into my mouth it was just funner and funnier. When I reached the top to find the turnaround check point and that they were playing 90s electronica and that apparently a very famous pop artist was present my thoughts could be nothing but enjoyment. I was a crazed, shirtless, stringy haired and balding, flabby but completely enthralled animal.

From the top back to the final aid station was unforgettable bliss. I was alive, the forest was certainly alive, fall mushrooms were practically speaking to me, my frequent pee stops were pleasant chances to gaze into the swaying trunks and to marvel at the setting, at how cleansing the forest can be and how lucky I was to be in it at all and more so to be able to witness it at that time with warmth, fleet feet and legs, and knowing that friends and family were waiting for me at the finish. Hollering and screaming with glee I pushed on. Only 2 hours to go; the length of a feature length movie to burn into my retinas and set fire to my brain.

I finished with a slower time than last year, but with 1000 times the exuberance and that much greater will to run. I shouted it out on top of Cape Perpetua when I passed the race director, but I’ll say it again here: thanks James. This is what it’s all about.

Further down the Tartine path

For a few weeks now, I’ve re-anchored myself in bread baking. Yeah, hah, a few weeks. That’s nothing in a life. It’s the equivalent of half of one manic cycle. A pay period. The transition from full to new moon. Spring to spring tides.

Anyhow, that’s where I am. Finding familiarity doing this while much of the rest of my life bucks and flexes radically, threatening to reassemble into something less known. So it goes.

I’m about 6 loaves into the method now. Two country white and four whole wheat which in my case means a 70/30 blend of whole wheat and white flours. And, I think I’m getting somewhere with this. I understand the process and now have it down by memory. Using baking percentages makes it easier for me to keep the recipe in mind. Remember the hydration percentage, use something like 2% salt, know your flour blend and you are golden. For breads with tasty additions, just keep the percentage of those things and go from there.

This most recent round went quite smoothly. I allowed my starter a few cycles of feeding, each new feeding starting with a couple Tbsp of the old starter and running for a full 24 hours. I think this is a low inoculation method within a range of higher inoculation methods that require more frequent and larger feedings. I like the 24 hour, low feeding cycle because it prevents me from wasting flour in case I can’t bake when the starter is ready.

Last night I gave the, now leaven, the float test and it passed easily. And, at about 7PM I blended the ingredients thereby kicking off the baking cycle that took me to now, noon the following day, with fresh bread out of the oven. Here’s what the bread looks like:

A couple of country wheat boules. What you can't see is that they are a liiiiitle bit flat. Not pancakes, but a tad flat. But, I'm sure they will reveal themselves to be plenty open in structure.

A couple of country wheat boules. What you can’t see is that they are a liiiiitle bit flat. Not pancakes, but a tad flat. But, I’m sure they will reveal themselves to be plenty open in structure.

Some things I’m challenged by still:

I have difficulty getting the loaves to stand up into rounder forms. I think my dough is a little bit weak either from lower gluten content or not enough development in the turning phase of the bulk fermentation. There’s enough structure to capture the fermentation gasses and make nice texture, but not enough to really make them stand up and bloom in the oven. This could also be from a slight overfermentation in the proofing phase, or even a slightly weak starter thus requiring longer fermentation times. By smell, they seem ever so slightly over fermented with that cheesy smell from excess lactic acid formation.

Loading the loaves into the dutch oven is very difficult. The high rims make it hard to ease the loaf into the pan and also make docking the loaves very difficult. I’ve also been having trouble with the dough sticking onto the baskets despite sometimes heavy flouring. This seems to be an issue of the high hydration doughs. This time around was much better because I used more flour and the dough was better developed/stiffer. I’ve also found that even botched loading still leads to nice finished loaves. The environment of the dutch oven provides so much steam and support for the loaves that they still wind up baking nicely with only minor defects.

Loaves five and six and the baking tools.

Loaves five and six and the baking tools.

The bulk fermentation with folding process demands attendance frequently during the 3 to 4 hours and then more time to pre shape and then shape the dough. I have a lot of time for this now, but this amounts to a 5 hour stretch of time to commit to the bread. When I’m working and not wanting to be latched at home for all of that time, this is going to be challenging unless I can find a way around it. Maybe I can start bringing my doughs to work and doing the bulk fermentation there?

I’m getting better at the shaping, but still deal with sticking and awkwardness during the pre-shape and to a lesser extent during the shape. I think this will take becoming a dough scraper ninja.

The flavor is much more subtle than the Nancy Silverton way that I’d adopted into using a LOT of starter. For those breads, I was using up to 2 cups of very mature starter compared with roughly one cup (200 g) of starter for these breads. That extra starter gave the breads much more acidity and apparent flavour. In blind taste testing with family, my breads were beating some of the better breads from California artisanal bakeries. Including tartine. For flavour only. Texture was better in the other breads. I need to find the middle ground and suspect it’s a bit more starter and a slightly lower hydration.

I’m not sure how I’ll approach the baking for other shapes given that I don’t have an oblong dutch oven. I like to make small batards because they are a better size for giving away to friends. I’ll have to experiment with these and the process of baking them in an open oven maybe with a steam source?

Altogether, I’m enjoying this a lot. I’m much more excited to bake than I have been in a long time and the results are really good.