Sit Still

I am not one to remain still often. I like to move, I like to do, I like to see.

In fact, that one unutterable word comes to mind when stillness is suggested. Can’t. I know, it’s a contraction, so, actually, two words. But four letters, all the same.

I can’t sit still, nor will I.

True, there are times appropriate for stillness, though they should be brief and deliberate. Sleep, one. Those moments you devote each day to meditative stillness are certainly as beneficial as the time spent in heart-pounding activity, two. And then, third, the precious time you have the opportunity to share with the ones you love; friends, family, lover, being still and calm, relaxed and easy and immersing yourself in conversation, companionable silence, closeness, touching, togetherness.

I’ll become still when I die; literally and figuratively. Some think it is my perpetual activity that will kill me, when, in fact, it is the perpetual lack of motion that is the slayer. I’ve seen, over and over and over, the toll inactivity has taken in lives lost, and, even more terrifying, in quality of life compromised. And if I die in the course of some epic adventure, be assured, it is much more my desire than to sit and await death in my recliner, clutching my remote control. For that reason, alone, I don’t own a recliner and I’ve not ever mastered the function and operation of any remote control!

Over the past couple of months or so, I found myself with an awful lot of solitary time on my hands. Friends, family, lover, all occupied with events and situations in their lives that, well, left me to my own devices. Partially for mental and emotional distraction, but mostly because of my nature, I filled every free moment with physical action, adventure, and accomplishment.

And I have the tan lines to prove it. I have a runner’s tan; short sock line, technical running jersey shirt-sleeve line, running short line, running pant, line. My legs have bands of varying “tanness”. I have a hiker’s tan; tank top but with a wide, white band across my upper back where my daypack blocks the sun. My arms are very tan at the shoulders and darken, progressively, towards my forearms. I have a kayaker’s tan; the front side of my thighs are dark to my knees, the back side of my thighs are twelve shades lighter and there is a demarcation line just below my knees where my legs are tucked under the bow while I paddle. I’ve endeavored to “even things up”, laying on my tummy out in the sunshine, but that requires some devotion to stillness I can’t seem to prolong for more than five minutes.

I’ve decided I’d like to buy my own stand up paddle board, for two reasons; it’s a super fun activity and I can, perhaps, even up my tan while in motion.

Tomorrow is Saturday. Saturday is usually my day, a day of my own when I can exact my own agenda. I realize, however, that tomorrow I have a social event on my calendar that will be fun, but, will preclude me from devoting the entirety of the day to selfish pursuits and perpetual movement.

I’ve lost a couple of Saturdays, recently. Last Saturday, I was sick. I don’t do sick. Ever. So I’ve no idea how this occurred, but I was absolutely, positively, completely, physically sick with a summer cold. The Saturday prior, I was recreating in upstate New York with family, and, while plenty fun and plenty active, it was not my “usual” Saturday.

The Saturday before, however, was my kind of day! Left completely on my own, all my dear ones devoting their day, their evening, their time and their attention elsewhere. I devoted my day, my evening, my time, and my attention to me and expending my energy.

My typical Saturday begins early. I belong to a great running club in the Sacramento area, where I lived for many years. I’ve tried to find something similar closer to home, but to no avail. So, nearly every Saturday morning, while still dark out, I brew a large cup of strong coffee, prepare a light, nutritious, easy to eat breakfast, grab my gear bag, and set off, eastward, in my trusty Civic. I make my way to the little highway connecting Napa to the rest of the world as I begin to fully awaken. I reach the stretch of highway through a canyon; deserted, smooth, curvaceous and sweeping. Sipping my coffee, listening to music, I maneuver through the canyon far in excess of the speed limit and I feel free. Ultimately I reach Interstate 80; a dreadful, flat, straight stretch of oft congested highway connecting the Bay Area and Sacramento. Early on a Saturday morning, however, I am one of few cars and there is the exhilaration of driving fast and furiously as though I were on the Autobahn. I competitively edge past other cars, deftly change lanes to gain access to a wide open lane before me. All the while, watching the sun begin to crest over the Sierra foothills to the east. Driving fast is an expression of freedom I relish. Damn those who seek to deprive me of it.

By the time I reach the park where my running club meets, I am thrumming with energy, adrenaline, carbs, and caffeine. The runners, five hundred enrolled members, are divided into “pace groups” established at thirty second intervals. Groups are differentiated not just by pace, but by “color group”; walkers are magenta, slower runners are red, the next level is gold, then green, then blue. Each color group represents a cluster of pace groups and each has different run/walk intervals. Four years ago, having never deliberately run as an adult, other than to catch an airplane, I started out as a “red 13:30”, we ran four minutes then walked one, covering a mile in about thirteen and a half minutes. I quickly promoted myself to the gold group and began leapfrogging pace groups regularly. I’m now on the green team and am one monumental pace group away from going blue. The “greens” run six minutes, walk one. The blues run seven minutes and walk for forty-five seconds. I’ve got my work cut out for me.

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I actually run with a pace group that is almost a full minute slower per mile than I typically run on my own, but, it is with the running club that I run much longer distances. There is a little bit of trepidation, on my part, of running too fast for those longer distances. To begin running at as advanced an age as I have, I am cautious (not fearful) of injury. There are only a couple of areas in my life where I exercise a level of prudence akin to caution; avoiding running injuries and in matters of the heart. Love. I don’t want busted knees or a broken heart, yet both are so common, avoidance seems futile and probably actually limits the full joy of both, when experienced more recklessly. Still, I am focused more on distance, duration, stamina, quality and form, than I am on speed. In running. And in love.

So a few weeks ago, last I ran with the club, it was a fantastic run. We ran nine miles along the American River Parkway, chatting the whole while, taking in nature along the way, greeting other fitness enthusiasts as we pass.

I’ve been running with the club off and on, mostly on, for four years. It was introduced to me by an old friend and avid runner I know from high school. For as much as I relish these occasional days away from friends and family and lover in interest of my hyper-active pursuits, I am an incredibly social creature. The idea of 499 other runners to meet and greet explains a large part of my crazy Saturday morning ritual. Who else would get up at 4:00 AM, drive an hour, to run in the summer heat in Sacramento? Just me.

There has always been this group of runners within the club who, to me, seem like the “cool kids”. They’ve been members for a long time, are friends with the club organizer, run together outside of the club meetings, race together, and, there is even a small, elite group of folks that share beer in the parking lot after the Saturday morning workout. I won’t say I’ve always been a social climber, but I do like being included as of the “cool kids”. It’s been a weakness of mine since elementary school and is the cause of a lifetime of somewhat deviant behavior. And, so, now, I find myself wistfully wishing I were part of the gang of rule-breakers who sip beer for their recovery drink over the more common chocolate milk. The “cool kids”.

I’ve shared stories and conversations with some of the “cool kids”, know a name or two, am regularly greeted with a “hi!” and a “have a safe drive”. But, on this magical morning, after a nine mile run, as I was parked next to one of the “cool kids”, I was offered a beer, well, kind of a beer. A Coor’s Light was extended towards me, and while beer was on the short list of my morning aspirations, Coor’s Light is not really an option for me. A few other “cool kids” were mingling nearby, all with a drink koozie jacketing their clandestine recovery beverage. There was significant peer pressure to accept this beer, which I have never been good at resisting, and, in fact, have generally welcomed, if not solicited, for most of my life. The cooler was opened and it was made clear that there was, actually, beer within, as in, not just Coor’s Light. I relented and accepted a ShockTop. Still not my favorite, but vastly better than the other option. To everyone’s delight, I pulled my own, always at the ready, bottle koozie from the carabineer on my hydration pack. Laughter. Immediate acceptance. It was the best morning of my life, well, for that week, anyway.

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After my after-run-beer, I replaced my bottle koozie on my daypack and made my way to my next indulgence. I’d be headed to New York to see my daughter in a few days, and some California contraband had been requested; In N Out Burger spread. I planned on lunch at In N Out, not something I often do. I ordered my lettuce wrap burger, and fresh cut fries, and asked for a fistful of “secret spread” packets, which I stole into my pack before returning to ask for more. My plan was to pack as many of these packets into my checked bag as possible to deliver to upstate New York, per request.

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After my burger I headed to a market I used to frequent when I lived in the area. In addition to high quality groceries, though not as high quality as my beloved Whole Foods, this market boasts a fine beer selection and the distinction of being able to assemble your own six-pack! You grab a specially marked cardboard carrier, transform it from flat to three dimensional, and hand pick your own beers from the vast display, pulling, if necessary, bottles from full, homogenous six-packs. The result, a variety of carefully selected, unique, beers. To say I went out of my way for this opportunity would be a stretch, but I did pass a Whole Foods market en route. Imagine my consternation when I found no ready-to-go six-pack carriers. Imagine my dismay when, upon inquiry, it was explained to me that the “build-your-own-six-pack” now only applied to large format beers. I really wasn’t prepared to buy six large format beers. I know me, a six pack of regular sized beers is one thing, six large format beers is a prescription for disaster. And, besides, the selection of large format beers didn’t consist of six different beers that piqued my interest, and, the whole idea behind the “build-your-own-six” is to foster joy through variety. I selected one large format beer and made my way, in mild defeat, to the check-out stand.

After my typical Saturday run, without the benefit of a refreshing and fortifying beer with the “cool kids”, I normally just get in my car and begin my journey west, home, to Napa. For as wild and free and exhilarating as my morning drive from Napa is, my return is slow, hot, tedious, congested, exasperating. What takes an hour at 5:00 AM can take from two to four hours any time thereafter. I can’t sit still. I can’t sit that still. I’ve driven back and forth on this highway, regularly, for over thirty-five years. With each passing year, the crushing, clogging, congested traffic causes me to question, at times, whether living in California is really worth all this. The scorching central valley sun beats through my car windows, the air conditioning weak and powerless against the wall of heat. Traffic grinds to a halt and for mile after mile we lurch along between zero and twenty miles an hour. The interstate is five lanes wide in some portions, three lanes wide in others, and funneling untold thousands of cars through repeating bottlenecks creates a traffic nightmare I don’t care to ever experience again. Today, I chose not to.

My large format beer was nestled into a bed of ice in a little neoprene lunch bag in the trunk of my car. Not far from In N Out and the market is a reservoir. The upper American River is dammed, in several places, the largest, of course, being at Folsom, creating Folsom Lake, which, because of our continuing drought, is really just a large puddle. The water is still flowing into Folsom Lake, and is released from the lake into a smaller reservoir called Lake Natoma. From Lake Natoma, the water is released, again, and takes the shape of a river, referred to as the Lower American River, which eventually meets the Sacramento River as it flows south from Mt. Shasta. The Sacramento River flows through the Delta and eventually, into the San Francisco Bay and on, out to sea. I enjoy water. I like all of this water. I like it when it is wild and free, racing over boulders in the various forks of the Upper American River. Whitewater is adrenaline. I enjoy the water, when there is enough of it, in Folsom Lake, racing through it on a boat, or, better yet, being towed, by some means, behind a boat. Today, I shall like to enjoy the water for the brief while it is captured within the confines of Lake Natoma. This lake is strictly for non-motorized recreational pursuits. I have with me, my kayak, and it is my intent for kayak and Lake Natoma to meet for the remainder of the hot afternoon.

An elaborate and exquisite plan for escaping traffic. But I am somewhat dismayed to find nearly as many cars in the parking lot for the lake as there are on Interstate 80 on a hot, Saturday afternoon. Far from the paved parking lot, I find a patch of dirt amidst dozens of other dusty cars that’s just the right size for my car. I part with my last bit of paper currency for the privilege of parking in the stickers and dust, and hoist my kayak from atop my car. I gather my bits and pieces, stuff them into my kayak, and make a wide berth around the chaotic and congested, concrete boat launch. Again, I find a patch of bare, scorched earth, this bit ultimately leading down to the water. I carry my vessel to the edge, push it into the water a few inches, lower myself in and feel immediately cooler and very much refreshed and rejuvenated.

I have no plan. I have no plan other than to paddle, drink an icy cold, large format beer, and wait out traffic. I’ve paid ten bucks to be here, which is a lot more than I remember it costing, and I intend to get every penny’s worth. Come hell or high water. High water is unlikely, but given it is pushing one hundred degrees, hell feels very real.

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With only drinking beer and avoiding traffic in my plan, I set to task quickly. I paddled across the narrow lake towards a small patch of shade along the shore, reached for my little lunch bag under the bow of my boat, just in front of the personal flotation device I am required to carry, but, in all honesty, would never be able to retrieve from the depths I’ve stuffed it, if necessary. I’m on flat water. It’s hot out, it’s cool in the water. I see no need for artificial flotation, if I get in the water, willingly or otherwise, I think full submersion sounds delightful.

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I open the beer, balance it in the “cup holder” on the bow of my kayak, take a few pictures for my Instagram/Twitter/Facebook followers who all enjoy my photojournalistic antics. I hear a motor. I hear a loud speaker. I hear yelling over the loudspeaker. I turn around, carefully, so as not to rock the boat. I don’t mind falling into the water, but not my large format beer! Behind me a short distance I see an aluminum boat speeding past. This is a five-mile an hour, no wake lake. This boat is full throttle. At this split second, I notice the markings on the side of the boat, just as the sirens are turned on. Cops. You know that sinking feeling you get when you’ve been speeding obnoxiously, every time you drive, for three decades, without getting caught, and then you get caught? Neither do I, I haven’t been caught, yet, but I’m sure my stomach would flip like it was at that moment. I grabbed my opened beer and carefully stuffed it back into the lunch bag under the bow, now making the life vest not only totally impossible to reach, but also completely invisible. I don’t think open containers of alcohol are illegal, but I’m not sure. Though I am in compliance with the PFD law, technically, the open container coupled with fact that I’ve brazenly chosen not to wear my PFD makes me feel like I’m inviting attention from the water cops. Fortunately, they speed past without giving me so much as a glance. Phew.

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I withdraw my large format beer from its icy hiding place, careful not to spill any. I take a long draw from it and feel immediately tipsy. A short night’s sleep, a nine-mile run, followed by a wimpy, lettuce wrapped burger, scorching hot temperatures and a high ABV beverage may cause that sensation. But I’m just guessing. I bob around in the chop created by the current, the hot breeze, and the wake of the water cops high-speed pass. I take another sip of my beer and it is a full and palatable several degrees warmer than the last sip only a minute earlier. I am alarmed, I don’t want to quaff the entirety of this rotund brew, nor do I want to sip steamy beer. I hear a motor. I hear a loud speaker. I see white water spraying in divergent paths behind a boat, of course, headed in my direction. I plunge the beer back into the lunch bag, filled, now, not with ice, but tepid water. I surreptitiously reach into the cavernous bow of my kayak with my toes, beyond the beer in the lunch bag, for my PFD, failing to secure a strong enough toe-hold on it to pull it closer to me. The cops speed past me again, paying me no due. Why do I feel like a sitting duck? Because I’m bobbing around in a lake, perhaps? Again, I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong, other than tempting questioning. Still, after two large gulps of that beer, I’m wondering if I might appear as impaired as I felt. Is there a PUI? Paddling under the influence? Let’s hope not, because I am.

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The water cops disappeared, after worse offenders than I, maybe. I kind of paddle here and there, sipping here and there. I paddle along a shore marked with signs to “not land”, as it was a nesting sanctuary for herons and egrets. The trees were festooned with near-adult fledglings and their watchful parents. I made an effort to paddle slowly, quietly, and respectfully. I wanted to be close enough to see, but no so close as to cause alarm or worry. I saw an interesting rock outcropping across the narrow lake and made my way in that direction, all the while, the sound of traffic from the busy, suburban streets of Folsom and from US Highway 50, humming in the background, over the afternoon breeze. I forced myself to drink the last mouthful of hot, fermented swill and I bobbed around some more. I glanced at my watch, I’d only been out here about a half hour. I still had a few hours of traffic and a several dollars of park access fee to use up. In spite of the sun, the heat, my buzz, it is really nice on the water. The breeze helps.

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This lake is a great recreational resource, one I’ve enjoyed plenty over the years I lived in the area, but, still, wish I’d enjoyed even more frequently. California State University, Sacramento has an aquatic park at the western end of the lake. At the eastern end is a popular park and “beach”. I parked and launched near the middle of the lake, on the southern side. All three locations offer kayak and stand up paddle board rentals. The “Aquatic Center” also rents peddle boats, canoes, and sailboats. I used to send my kids there for day camp during the summers, as a slightly more expensive, but way more fun, and therefore “worth it”, alternative to day care. They learned to kayak, canoe, sail, peddle, paddle, and all kinds of stuff. I remember them recounting to me, after a full day at camp, how far it was to paddle to the far end of the lake. I’ve never done that. I’ve never attempted it. I’ve got several hours to kill, I’m in a kayak, and I’ve got nothing better to do than to sit around. I don’t sit still.

I was mid-lake, at this point. I’d paddled up a ways, down a ways, and zig-zagged back and forth a couple of times, trying to ditch the water cops. I decided to paddle west, or downstream, as the lake is really just a dammed, wide spot in the river. I figured I’d paddle for forty-five minutes, or until I reached the Aquatic Center at the western edge, then return, reevaluate, and make my next move. I paddled aggressively. Suddenly, I was inspired, perhaps I could paddle the whole lake, not really knowing what that measured out to be in terms of time, or mileage. I made it as close as I could to the Aquatic Center, as there was some kind of rowing event underway that precluded me actually touching the shore, but I was close enough to see expressions on faces. In spite of the fact I was paddling “with” the current, I was paddling into the wind, nonetheless, it only took me thirty minutes to reach my destination. I spun the kayak around and paddled back, with the wind at my back, but, now, into the current. It was no more difficult, but certainly no easier. Thirty minutes later, I was back at my launch point. I decided to paddle easterly, to the opposite end of the lake, again, not really knowing the measure in distance, or time. I paddled fiercely and reached the other “end” of the lake, Negro Bar, a park, which, technically, isn’t the end of the lake, but the curve of the lake, which then leads up to the dam. I paddled further on, up to the locally famous, “Rainbow Bridge” in Folsom. By this point, it was late in the afternoon, and I was, admittedly, tired and pretty crispy from a very long, hot day, in the sun. I whipped my kayak around and paddled, with purpose, back to the boat launch I put in at.

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I felt quite accomplished, a bit gnarly, like sort of a bad-ass, and a bit worn out.  And very, very, very, hungry. I could still feel the lingering effects of the large format, high ABV, fermented beverage, and justified splurging on a meal before heading home.  Some nourishment and a little more time to let the beer buzz dissipate.

True to nature, my day, thus far, had been filled with adventure, enjoyment, and beer. Time to round things out, completely, with some off the hook sushi! Having lived in the area previously, I am well acquainted with the most local, most legendary, sushi available in the 916; Mikuni, the original location, in Fair Oaks. I managed to drag my kayak back atop my car and lash it down securely for the upcoming, high-speed return to Napa. My car was about three-hundred degrees inside, and my anemic air conditioning did about as much to change to climate within my car as all the Prius in the world are in rectifying global climate change! Only in jest.

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It is early, for dinner, and very late for lunch, which is perfect. This restaurant often has folks, gleefully, waiting for an hour or more for a table. Plus, having run nine miles and then paddling for some number of miles over the past four hours, I’m not looking like the carefully coiffed clientele currently enjoying some sushi. I sneak in and take a seat at the very far end of the bar, kind of near the restroom and as far out of sight, and smell, as I can get from other customers. The bartender asks me if I want something to drink, and I eye the beer on tap. It all looks good, but I’m just not feeling it. I order seltzer water and drain the entire glass in one, long quaff. This process is repeated a few times over while I peruse the substantial sushi offering. After much deliberation, I settle on a roasted beet salad with some Japanese flair and a large order of sashimi. I inhale the entire thing and find myself thumbing through the menu, again. I order one of my favorite rolls, the Nine-One-One roll, the name appropriately alluding to the spiciness of the fare. By the last bite of the Nine-One-One roll, and a couple more tumblers full of seltzer water, I begin to feel both quenched and satiated.

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The sun was beginning to dip into the west as I take to the open highway. Traffic was light, making the drive home pleasant and prompt. Eastward at sunrise, westward at sunset, perfect. I made it home, exhausted, sunburned, accomplished. I showered and spent the brief evening before lapsing into a coma, recounting my day. I looked up my mileage from the iPhone app I use. I drove a total of about 170 miles, ran nine, and kayaked 12.

The following day, Sunday, I endeavored to sit still. It worked.

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