Tolkien and Me

Tolkien and Me


Ron Heerkens Jr. recently interviewed me as part of his Cultural Stew podcast. He has a mini series called "Moments of Influence", in which people talk about how the media have changed us. I chose to talk about JRR Tolkien.

Ron did an excellent job guiding the conversation, editing, maintaining what was said. I still came away wanting to say more. It will not be 100%, it'll not even convey a portion of what I want to. But we try.

Legends of the Fall

When I first read the Ainulindalë, Tolkien presents his creation myth. In it, Eru (God) creates the Valar (gods) and teaches them to sing. At first they sing alone about what they care about, but slowly they learn to sing duets and small groups and

Yet ever as they listened they came to deeper understanding, and increased in unison and harmony.

Finally, Eru gathers then and teaches them his Great Song. And they sing together. During this, one of the Valar tries to impose his own visions and there is strife in the music, and Eru changes plans, and more strife, and more changes

And it (Melkor's imposed vision) essayed to drown the other music by the violence of its voice, but it seemed that its most triumphant notes were taken by the other (Eru's) and woven into its own solemn pattern

He then "Behold your Music!" gives them glimpses of the world that their song patterned. Taught them that many things would emerge that they hadn't planned but were right. But, not everything, and the advent of man and their agency hid more from them. Eru then spoke "Eä! Let these things be", and the world was created.

There was so much more that I just skipped, but I immediately adopted this as my creation myth. Everything in my religious thoughts about this world is tinged by this story. How councils and empathy work. The nature of the Enemy's fall. Agency versus foreknowledge. Being comfortable using the word "myth" for something I believe.

Beren and Lúthien

This is one of the first stories Tolkien told. I just got another volume attempting to make this story coherent. I can't wait to read it. It ties in to the early stories of the Wars of the Jewels. It is reflected through a glass, daily in the story of Aragorn and Arwen. Fundamentally, it is a love story. Tolkien had those names engraved on his tombstone, as here identified with himself and his wife. It is a story of love, pain, loss, joy, change.

As the defining love story of my chosen mythology, it has informed my relationship with Elnora and colors how I view others. I'm still annoyed by the lyric in Frozen about how people don't really change, because Lúthien did, and I am. I recognize the danger of expecting change in your partner, but denying it's possibility... I have much to learn about love and passion and people.

Gandalf and the Eagles

I guess if we were to talk passion, this would be a topic that elicits it. In the books, Gandalf (and Radagast, and Saruman, and two others) are angels that have been sent by the Valar (let's go with gods) to support and succor those that oppose Sauron. In the books, the giant eagles are the spies and messengers of Manwë (the chief god).

The eagles work to counter the mistakes the gods have made, they work to keep the danger presented by the Enemy down to levels that can by overcome by those willing to fight. They're the reason there aren't dragons everywhere. They rescued Beren and Lúthien, and Bilbo and the Dwarves, and Frodo and Sam. But they didn't solve our problems. They didn't just carry the ring to the volcano. The eagles provided salvation after all Frodo et al. could do.

The mission of Gandalf and the other four Istari was to provide support and encouragement and succor to those fighting Sauron. He didn't force the council to fight the Necromancer, he didn't take the ring and destroy it himself, he didn't just shoot firebolts at every obstacle. Saruman tried to take the ring and win the war himself and fell. Radagast found something worthy and cared for it, abandoning his mission.

The eagles and Gandalf teach me about the nature of salvation and power and the limitations of righteous living and agency.


With purposeful capitalization

I've used a bunch of language of christianity in this post because that is my native language. I hope that that does not drive you away from Tolkien. He felt that the way to teach christianity was through example rather than allegory. Love and kindness and care for mankind (hi humanists!) rather than retelling the Christian stories with Lions. He understood that the world was complicated and not subject to trite rote answers. I'm still trying to learn those lessons.

Short Conclusion

There is so much more, and what I've written is inadequate to convey my thoughts. Let's go out and eat or run or picnic or whatever and chat.

Nai tiruvantel ar varyuvantel i Valar tielyanna nu vilya

Ossian Mountain 2017


I'm sitting here the night beforem a bundle of nerves. I only signed up for this race this week. In my inadequate defense, I was riding high on endorphins from last week and the bad advice of good friends. Tomorrow, myself and my 13-yo boy are running up and down a mountain. I haven't climbed nearly enough for this, but I'm an addict, and so I run. I don't know what my boy was thinking when he agreed to go. In a spate of silliness, I went to the gym this morning, and we really beat up the legs, I can feel the tiredness even now, and they're starting to cramp a bit. Great for evidence of muscle usage, not so great for running in the morning. But, tomorrow should still be fun. Fingers crossed.


We're at Swain Resort an hour early. It is cold, and I only packed a water bottle to carry and the clothes I'm wearing. This year long hiatus from races has really destroyed my ability to be prepared at these things. I have a rhythm stuck in my head that I can't get out. It is catchy. I finally figure out what it is, discover WiFi at the lodge, buy and download the music (sorry Ron, I didn't already own that album). People I know start arriving, and so I distract myself by standing around them and listening-to/analyzing their interactions. My kids quickly retreat back into the van and hide, and race time cometh.

The Route

For your following along pleasure, I've included a map/profile of the course. This is linking to the Strava segment and not my run, because technology; so ignore the date.

The first climb

Eventually, we get the usual nonchalant you-can-leave-now, and I'm relieved to be leaving. Almost immediately, my left foot seizes up. I slow down to give it a chance to stretch, and the entire field leaves me. Eldest bounds ahead in the front quarter of the race. I know he can't sustain it, but I have hope that he actually tries his hardest. Heckling from behind me about how slow I'm going, and I respond uncharacteristically by scratching the back of my head with only one finger, and next thing you know, we're into the woods with me in last.

I feel good moving up the hill, but I cannot get that beat out of my head, so I resort to the headphones much sooner than I had any intention. The bass line of Seven Nation Army fills my head, and I cannot just walk up this hill any more. So, I run. Well, Jeff run. It is enough, and I pass someone. No more DFL. The rocks and roots are omni present, but not irksome. If anything, they are a welcome distraction from the climbing. There are moment, where I'm hands on knees and wishing for poles, but the weather and the terrain are a delight. There is a moment that the trails pass near each other, and I stop and grab pictures of a couple of my friends as they run by. My camera can't keep up, and I don't see Eldest, so I abandon the excuse for going slow and try to catch some more people. My glasses fog up, and I take them off and stow them away.

All these trails are yours -- Except the obstacles

All these trails are yours -- Except the obstacles

The only flat part

So, at the top, you finally hit a long flat area. I speed up, but with my glasses off, I struggle to distinguish the flags for the race and the ribbons for next week's race. Over all, I know I could have pushed this bit harder.

Movie Titanic

If you've ever watch a movie or Mythbuster, you'd know that one of the sinking modes of a ship is a slow settling that accelerates until the ship starts disappearing unbelievability fast. Well, that describes my impression of the descent. This first one is vaugely downhill that becomes less and less vaguely and after a bit, you're muscles start pointing out you've been going down for a while, and isn't there a bottom soon? This was a lot of fun. I feel it today around the stabilization muscles in the knees and hips, but man this was great.

The second climb

Eldest proving what a boss he can be

Eldest proving what a boss he can be

Me, wobbling up yet another hill

Me, wobbling up yet another hill

Elnora meets me on the bottom and asks how I'm doing. I reply with a vague answer, 'cause I don't want to do a body check right now and dislike what I find. I see people ahead of me on the hill, and I was to catch them. The start of this is straight up a grass hill, and I almost fail my morale check. But, once into the woods again, I'm happy again, and just keep climbing. Up ahead I see a grey shape with long hair on top of a rock. I don't recognize the satuesque figure, so I keep listening to my headphones that have taken me from the White Stripes, to a documentary on the life of Jane Fonda, to a discussion of why so many languages share parental name sounds and pronoun sounds (mama, papa; me, you). I hear my name shouted and take off the 'phones and discover that the figure was Sheila Eagan, who had climbed the hill to spectate and cheer and that I've just missed a five minute conversation with her. Chagrined, I apologize and move on, not learning my lesson. As I leave the woods, she informs me that Eldest is not far ahead of me now, "Why did Mom think that this was a good idea?". I have a new goal. I get lapped. I had so much wanted to not be lapped. I knew that the likelihood was low, as I haven't run/raced/hill climbed in so long, but I had made it so far.

The second descent

Up ahead of me, I spot Eldest. Much closer than I would have guessed, I start pushing just a little bit harder. He suddenly starts running up a hill, and I'm sure he's spotted me. I redouble my efforts. Just about then, I'm startled as Scottie Jacobs dances past me. Stupid headphones. I apologize profusely and take them off. If I had been on any narrower ground, I would have been slowing him down, and I hate being rude. I don't need the headphones. I haven't needed them since the first climb, but I got lazy. I have to chase my boy.

Every once in a while I catch sight of him. He is taking the downhills slowly (I'm a better downhiller anyway). Each downhill I get close, each flat he pulls away. I push harder (risking in my head, injury, as I've really not tried out these muscles in a long time). I finally catch him, with momentum, on the flat, and he glances behind him. Sees me. "Oh crap! Daddy", and lays on the speed I knew he had. We hit the last descent, and I'm moving from fast to bombing, my long legs and shoe confidence gobbling up the distance between us. We pass several people, who look at us in horror. We narrow down to single track, right at the finish line, and he's in front.

I could have had him

I could have had him

We probably terrified her

We probably terrified her

I want to run again.


While I'm sure the race with my boy is part of it, I cannot recall a time that I've transitioned from "wow that's hard" to "I want to do this again" so quickly. Andy puts on a great event (duh), and it is a cry in shame that this thing is not better attended. This being the second time I've fallen in immediate love with a mountain running event, as I type this, I wonder if I have some deep hidden desire to do those more. I may need to find some way to get over my fear of heights so I can do some of the iconic mountain runs.

If you haven't run Ossian Mountain before, go run it next year, you won't regret it.

If you've run Ossian Mountain before, and didn't this year; what's wrong with you?!?


The Lion Ate Me

Great Expectations

Today was the result of a delusional plan back in December. I had a great year planned. Ontario Summit, Many on the Genny, a six hour ROGAINE. Then I would cap it off with my first double. In the morning, I would do my first triathlon in three years and the new MedVed Midsummer Madness in the evening. I was finally recovering from 9 months of Plantar Fasciitis, which really was the continuation of a year and a half of lower leg injuries. I'd start strength training again, work through more miles on the trails, and get back to the life I love. If you scroll down this blog, you'll see my dreams. Today was to serve two purposes, the capstone to a tough year, and a gut check for my bigger goals next year.

Except my life didn't work out that way. The lower leg injuries continued, and I dropped one race after another. While the strength training has gone great (thanks Rossi & 4Performance), and the PT has gone great (thanks Sherry Kessler), I could not shake the pain. So with a week to go, MedVed sent out "Hey you can defer" and "Hey uyo can drop to a relay" emails and my faith (not for the first time) faltered.

I was wrong to doubt, and right to run. At least until the endorphins wear off and I feel what I've done to myself...

We tell the story backwards

There was a great after-party, the food was wonderful (I was a bit of a glutton, though), and the high point of my night was watching my astounding wife sprint to the finish line, with all our trail family cheering for her. A close second was the moments of conversation and laughter I got to share with my trail family tonight. Thank you for the acceptance of us into your ranks and lives.

The last time I ran a triathlon, I had posted to Facebook that I was experiencing the ultimate first world problem. That I was paying someone to let me swim/bike/run a bunch of miles for fun, instead of because a lion was after me; as nature intended. Well, in the end, the lion caught me. I had been planning on dropping partway through the MedVed race for a couple weeks, as it became clear that I wouldn't be healed and wouldn't get my training done. In fact, I had gone so far as to contact the race director and warned him that I would be dropping early. But, early in the second loop, while I was bonking hard, the gentleman in last place passed me. And, try as I might, I never quite caught him. I had run the preview version of the second loop last week, but the sneaky twerps swapped the chirality of the run. But, that skips the delightful first loop, I came in fourth from last after spending some time with the other three and the sweep wandering West Esker, trying to find flags for the course. I had caught them around mile 1.5, after passing the sweep around mile 1. Yes, I passed the sweep. As I was driving down to Mendon Ponds, I looked at the clock and saw that I was going to be eight minutes late for start. Elnora went and talked to the Race Directors and they all decided to let me start late, with verbal directions for the start of the race, in the hopes that I would catch the sweep quickly. Who does that? I made their volunteer's life harder, their life harder, raised the possibility that they would lose a racer, and ruin their evening. I am deeply grateful to the RDs and Volunteers for MedVed's Midsummer Night's Madness for their generosity and for believing in me.

Rochester Sprint Triathlon 2017

You get told that you shouldn't try anything new on a run. That makes lots of sense, but today wasn't about sense. One of the things that I've been doing to try to get healed has been switching up my shoes. This has gone remarkably well, I have some Xero sandals that get me through casual time, some Vibrobarefoot dress shoes that get me through formal time, and my trail shoes have been zero drop. All in all, I'm in so much less pain than I had been previously. I you notice that there is a shoe type missing from the list. I didn't have any road shoes that didn't send my feet into paroxysms of pain. So, off to MedVed, a special order ('cause my feet are boats), and I had some shoes. A couple days before the race. In the end, I didn't get a chance to try them before today. Sure enough, before a tenth of a mile had passed, I was limping, but then I saw Shea Coleman and I faked it. And the feet loosened up and I got shin splints instead. Until this couple, trying to distract themselves from what they were doing were singing a full throated duet of Bohemian Rhapsody. Instrument solos and all. I joined in, and ran to make it last longer, and all of a sudden, I'm in the shade, on more varied terrain, and I'm happy again. I danced and swiveled my hips at the turn around in time to the music, and busted back singing the theme song to "New York, New York" as I crossed the finish line. My jaw didn't work, and I couldn't get food down, and I ran out of water quickly. As previously noted, this burned me later in the day at Mendon Ponds.

Prior to the run is a bike ride. Gary, Danielle, Jaime, HBO were all out there cheering me on, and helping keep me safe. Which at one moment became vital. Half way through the second lap, a police officer, decided to pull out into the (closed) road directly in front of me. It was only the frantic waving and yelling by Jaime and John Strossman that kept me from getting clobbered. The hill up Log Cabin road seemed, insignificant, and if I had had my gears on the current bike in my mental model (don't try new things on race day, folks, you might drop the chain off several times while trying to climb a hill), I could have done better with less energy. There were two disabled athletes on the course this year. I admire the dedication of these parents in participating in such a difficult sport with them. I wish we had something equivalent in trail running.

Prior to the bike ride is a swim. Todd Beverly was in charge of making sure I didn't drown, and he did not fail. I think I swam well. Like, passing people well. It wasn't an amazing swim, but I comported myself well. I continually skewed left during the swim, which was annoying, and you can see in my tracks me noticing and trying to fix.

Prior to the swim is a lot of rules and preparation and waiting around. I hate that part. And yet, this year... Shortly after I started running with #TrailsRoc on Wednesday morning, the Triathlon came around, and at the top of the hill was HBO, cheering at the top of her lungs. It made that part of the course for me. I've been hanging out with the trail running community a lot more since then, and today was. Amazing. I'm pretty sure that 75% of the volunteers were members of the trail running community. People that were helping a sport outside their primary love. People that know me and love me. I walked into the triathlon area uncomfortable and stressed and ill prepared, and was surrounded by friends.


That protective blanket was there the whole day. At the tri, I was never more than five minutes away from a friend cheering for me, by name. Knowing what I've experienced, and was trying to do, and being my help where and when I needed it. This afternoon, I ran in a race that I had no business being allowed to start. I was cheered and paced and congratulated and conversed with by people that knew me, and cared, and shared my love for this crazy hobby, the outdoors that allow it. Mormon scripture (right near some great bits that talking about not running too fast :) ) talks about our relationship with God and says because all that we receive from Him, even if we served him with our whole souls all our days, we would still be unprofitable servants. Today, I saw that demonstrated on a smaller scale by the people that I run with. I've volunteered at most of the races that I've had to drop this year, and tried to help where I could. But, it cannot compare to the magnitude and scope of what I receive in return from all of you. I've been paid back an hundred fold today, and my heart is full of love for all of you and your generosity and kindness and care that you have for both me and my family.

Thank you!


Twisted Branch 2017

In which I don't know how to start this

I've struggled on how to start this report, as my heart is full.
Allow me to presume a bit and tell you how to live. Have multiple social circles.
I've long conceptually understood the dangers of living in a monoculture, but I hadn't fully grasped the joys of the inverse.

A long long time ago, in a galaxy far far away

So long ago, that the month has been lost to me in the mists of time, MedVed held a Conversation about running trails and ultra distances. It would have had to have been in 2014 some time. Anyway, I only remember two of the panelists (sorry all the other awesome people that spoke): Ron Heerkens and Scott Magee. Ron because, I was ascendant in my running, and his excitement and joy convinced me that I could someday run an ultra myself. Scott's because he laid out for the community a vision of a race that he had fought for years to make happen. The Finger Lakes Trail complex was known to me, almost exclusively by looking at the maps dreaming of hikes. As he described the ineffable beauty of the course he laid out, I could see in my minds eye the topographic contours, the fields, and roads, and trees. I heard the enthusiasm that Scott had for his dream, the anticipation of my newfound friends, we had the weekend free, and I didn't want to miss out.

Now this is camping

My kids were young and so we picked the aid station that allowed onsite camping and had a playground and a pool. We promised to stay until noon, figuring our kids would be done and we could slink off back home.

Up at the crack of dawn, setting things up, and anticipating the arrival of the runners; the trail ahead and behind me were both hypothetical concepts. The runners were recently met, with names already forgotten, only the vague knowledge that they were mine. Those next several hours were transformative. As a family, we finally, served together, with all five pitching in to help the needy as they straggled into our station. Elnora and I learned to lead and guide and diagnose and scold. My children watched and learned and helped and grew.

Last year we rinsed and repeated, confident that we knew what we were doing. And the weather changed the experience completely. We were no longer cranky helpers pushing people out of our station, but rather lady liberty crying

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,"

We watched as our before acquaintances, now friends crashed one by one against their ambitions. All we could do was smile and hug and help.

This year, we rinsed and repeated confident we knew what we doing. And, my family had to be away. Once friends, now boon companions, my trail family, stepped up to help fill the gap and we had a phenomenal year. Several of our volunteers were first time aid-stationers, and by the end could have run the place; so smooth with their help and kindness. I took some time to take pictures, and got to capture smiles and grimaces and power that will stick with me. This family that I've found by opening my social circles to a new group, made all the difference.

Vague Summary

Again, I don't have a narrative for this event. People were faster than I would have deemed possible. Others were crushed by the course, then rose up phoenix-like to support and give and allow others to supersede themselves. I'm inspired by and in love with this community. I have previously said that Twisted Branch is the capstone of our running community. I stand by that assessment. Remote hugs to all of you


For the Strength Of The Hills

For the strength of the hills

I'm sitting here atop the mountain that was at the end of a hike that precipitated my spiritual reawakening, and not coincidentally the precursor to my fitness awakening. I had not been back since, and had no intention of returning ever. The years have twisted and distorted my memories of the trail, but as I got to various points, the old emotions come flooding back. I can recognize now that strong cross winds and exhaustion contributed to the existential dread I felt while climbing this. My friends and a base understanding lifted me up. Today I am sharing the beauty of these hills with my family. Previously, I had wrapped myself in the comforting lie that all was well. Now I know I'm broken, that I know how to get better, and that I am surrounded with help every step of the way. I stand all amazed at the love proffered me by my friends, by my family, and by my Lord. Thank you