Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

2014 – Year End Review of a Runner

January 13, 2015

Well, I never thought I would run more than I did in 2013 – but in 2013 I had a lot of injuries – constantly battled an ankle issue and still got over 2500 miles. Fast forward to 2014 and a year where I learned what to do and not do with my ankle I was able to break 2900 miles – including walking and running.


The gang at TARC Spring Classic


Training and injury

What I learned was that I cannot really run on my ankles on tough trails often – I can do them, I love them – but if they are every day I end up having trouble walking – let alone running. So 2014 saw me do some road running – which I almost never did before and running more and more on easier surfaces – wide forest roads, bike paths, rail trails etc. It worked.


In late April I returned for the third year in a row to the TARC Spring Classic 50k – had a great run – so nice to see so many friends again!

On the trail at the TARC Spring Classic 50k

On the trail at the TARC Spring Classic 50k

In the area of “let’s try something new” I was led on again with Eric Sherman to try a fixed time event. I went down to New Jersey to run the 24 hour race at 3 Days at the Fair. We made a trip out of it and had a great time. We lucked out as our date of choice was warm and dry – the prior day was a monsoon! The day was a bit on the warm side but the overnight was great. I cruised right along – pretty much mixing up 25/5 (minutes) and keeping the stops to a minimum. Chafing got the better of me and started to slow me a great deal in the early morning. Around 5 am after I had long since PR’d for distance I stopped at our car/camp and got in the car to warm up as the sun was beginning to rise. At this point I had 79.5 miles. After about a half an hour I got out and carried on what was perhaps the ugliest ½ mile ever turned in – must have been about a half an hour – but I got my 80 miles, a PR and 10th place. Very happy – cannot wait to go back again next year!

I did something a little off beat and different too last year. In memory of my mother and along with my family I was a team captain for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life in Peabody. My plan was to run the entire event the best I could. It was on a high school track with hundreds of people on it. A great experience – the family camped and walked and I ran as much as I could. At the end of the event we had raised $3000 for ACS and I ran 62 miles. The kids did great – both getting well over 10 miles!

After that was out of the way it was time to recover a bit and focus on the fall event – the return to Ghost Train. Yet another attempt at 100 miles. Last year was great until about mile 55 and then it fell apart – I wanted to give it a shot. As like so many New England ultras it was great to see so many friends – and to meet so many new ones! Scott Baver, Kim Vanyo, Luciana, Gail Martin, Colleen, Gwen, Eric Sherman…it goes on and on – great group of people! Kim and I more or less ran the first leg together and then did run the next 60-65 miles together – Eric Sherman was there for support and was going to join us for some miles after mile 67.5 to hopefully get us to the end. Much like last year I was really good until I was not. Looking back I know I did not take care of myself at the last aid station I was at and I slowly over the next four miles deteriorated to the point that Kim went off to get help and Eric walked me into the aid station. I will always think in hindsight I quit to easily. Kim fought off a very tough overnight of fatigue and got her first 100 and Eric who was just going to do a few miles on his pre-surgery knee ended up pacing her for the last 30 miles! A great experience!

With friends at Ghost Train finish

With friends at Ghost Train finish

The Numbers

  • Total miles 2903
  • Running workouts 232
  • Walk/Bike workouts 234
  • Total cardio workouts 450
  • Calisthenics sessions 137 (epic fail – major disappointment – especially considering that 76 of these sessions were in January and February)
  • Total hours of cardio 614 (1.65 hours/day average)
  • Total hours of exercise 651 (1.75 hours/day average)

Total elevation gain 130,352 feet (a lot less than last year – but was not training for a mountain 100)

 Other crazy stuff

  • Number of runs over 5 miles 208 (50+ from 2013)
  • Number of runs over 10 miles 71 (+11 from 2013)
  • Number of runs over 15 miles  28 (+ 4 from last year)
  • Number of runs over 20 miles  13 (+ 2)
  • Number of runs over 25 miles    9
  • Number of runs over 30 miles    9 (+ 5)
  • Longest run  80 miles at 3 Days at the Fair (18 mile PR!!)

 Where I ran and walked (number of times)

  • Willowdale/Bradley Palmer       11
  • Middlesex Fells                        26
  • Lynn Woods                            10
  • White Mountains                      14
  • Danvers Rail Trail                     49
  • Treadmill                                   14
  • Roads                                      290

The Aftermath – where do I go from here

Well – I am just going to keep on running and walking fast. It works for me – it makes me happier and I love my running friends and the few events I do each year.

In 2015 I will do the TARC Spring Classic 50k again as part of my training for 3 Days at the Fair 24 hour again in May. The Relay for Life is happening again – but the city forced some changes. It is now 6 hours shorter, does not go overnight and is not on a track but in a field. My initial plan was to run two separate marathons in the 12 hours – but I am not committing to anything until after I see what the course looks like. If I do not like it I am going to walk the entire 12 hours.

In a sudden curve ball I threw at myself on a whim the other night I decided to enter the Vermont 100. I was bumming out when my friends entered and I said “the hell with it” I want another crack at a 100 and not be the crew, pacer or following online. So this will motivate me a ton to get thru my training. Need to work on elevation, running and power hiking – and I will!! I also really need to be much more consistent about my cross training – core stuff cannot slide like much of it did in 2014!

Thanks for listening – and all your support – hope you all have a great 2015!




Across the Years – Glendale, Arizona – December 29-30, 2012

January 1, 2013

A little over a year ago Eric Sherman (why do I listen to this guy?) told me about this 24 – hour race in Arizona named “Across the Years” which of course immediately got me to the race website to learn all about this idea of covering as many miles as possible in 24 hours. Of course there are also 48 and 72 hour (and 6 day coming in 2013) options on the dance card – Eric and I were satisfied to enter the “kid’s race.” We pulled the trigger very early on this one – we were entered and had our travel itinerary set by mid February.

Author and Eric Sherman a couple of minutes before the start of 2012 Across the Years

Author and Eric Sherman a couple of minutes before the start of 2012 Across the Years


A few notes on traveling for races. You will need to bring a lot of things, particularly if the race is an ultra and you have to be concerned about a wide range of temperatures. With this in mind, flying with free checked bags is nice…we did this via frequent flyer miles on American, but Southwest and JetBlue are also options, you can easily spend a couple of hundred extra dollars on baggage fees these days. My rugged New England mindset did not respect the race temperature enough, I really wished I had packed warmer clothes for the night – there will be more on this later. One big piece of advice – make sure the hot water works in your hotel. We had lukewarm water the first night and I complained – when we got back from the race we had cold water. We ended up waiting three extra hours to hit the showers when we got to our much nicer hotel near the airport. All in all the traveling, especially considering it is winter and a major holiday week went very well – in fact, I am creating this article at 35,000 feet on our final leg home, and we are going to land early.


I was very comfortable during the daylight hours with a start temp of around 40 and midday in the upper 50s. The first eight or so hours my TARC t-shirt was great (yes, I wore shorts too) – I wore sleeves and gloves for the first lap and after that was comfortable until about 8 PM when I added a long sleeve shirt. Later in the evening I switched to long pants with shorts over them, three shirts, winter hat (first one, then two) then for awhile even a fleece jacket. The temps would have been a minor issue if I were running and not walking, but it was slow going and it got cold even for me. Interestingly, after the blister repair, and getting going again I actually warmed up quite a bit again and aced the jacket and gloves. The bigger clothing and need for warmth issues were tied into a lengthy stay in the medical tent that I will describe below.


We got into Phoenix around 9 PM and other than waiting way too long for our rental car things moved smoothly and we were to the hotel around 11 PM. We were able to pick up our numbers, race pack and select our tent the afternoon before the race, this is a great help to the terminally nervous. With our early check in we had a tent location that was right on the course. The Aravaipa running club is cut from the same cloth as TARC and GAC (and the ultrarunning community in general) – these people know what they are doing. Can you imagine a one mile loop that has port-a-johns in four locations, not to mention a heated inside restroom about 50 feet off the course as well? Incredible food tent and a great medical aid station where Sue and Todd worked on my late night/early morning blisters. Oh, did I mention there was even a second water station at the half way point? Even if you were walking slowly you were never more than 4-5 minutes from a toilet and 12-15 minutes from water – incredible.

We stocked up on supplies- small cooler, snacks, lawn chair, table, etc., for our tent area and did very little else all day. With a little too much time on our hands we went for about a 50 mile ride up I-17 into the mountains. When we got out to look around I noticed Eric and I share the same disease – we cannot survey beautiful terrain without evaluating it for its trail running possibilities.

An early dinner at a local Mexican place (my normal pre-race meal is sushi, but that scared me in a new city 400 miles from the ocean so I went with some not too spicy shrimp tacos) had us back to the hotel and resting by about 7 or 8 PM. We set the alarm clock and two smartphones for a 5:15 AM wake up. Seeing that we were already packed and checked in, and that we knew where we were going we did not feel the need to get there much earlier than 6:30 or 7 for the 9 AM start.


Nick Khoury, the very thorough race director (and brothers Nathan and Jamil) gave the pre-race briefing at 8:50 and the race started promptly at 9. The course is very flat, with perhaps 10-15 feet of gain per loop. The course is over 90 % dirt with small paved and  short concrete sections. The direction of travel is changed seamlessly every four hours. Although I looked at this as trail race it really plays out much more like run on pavement – the desert dirt is hard packed and you feel it much more than New England trails.

Because it handles like asphalt and it is flat it is very difficult to run as slow as you know you should as much as you drill into yourself to slow down. I ran at the first 11 miles with Eric and we were clicking them off at around a 10:20 pace which was not sustainable for 24 hours. In an attempt to slow it down I decided to walk a half mile after the “fives” and a full mile after the “tens.” This was a brilliant plan but it was not enough – I should have gone in with a better walk/run plan – you need to remember constantly just how long you are going to be out the and just what is sustainable.

As the early miles moved on I kept the pattern up and was doing OK but I was having foot and ankle issues but the 10 mile mark which maybe attributable to never running long on pavement. I was also way too impressed with my early splits. A gigantic red warning flag should have hit me in the head when I beat my 50k time from Pisgah. That is all great, but I had 17.5 hours to go!

Sometime around when I passed the marathon mark I switched to a plan where I had broken the course into six short segments – of those six I walked three and ran three – I did that up until about mile 35 and then I was just feeling like I was going just as fast walking and I was able to maintain that. I told myself I would walk exclusively for the third four hour segment (5 PM – 9 PM) and I was able to do that, and for even a couple of more hours – see “THE ISSUES” segment next.

Self portrait - about 9 hours into Across the Years

Self portrait – about 9 hours into Across the Years


After getting to about 47 miles I decided I needed to get my left foot looked at. At the 8 hour mark I switched out of my New Balance trail shoes into some newer ASICS road shoes – lots of new cushioning and I like them. Problem is I had never worn them for a real long stretch – more of a shoe I wear on a short run in the neighborhood or on the treadmill. They were good for awhile and then I felt a blister forming in the middle of my forefoot – the shoe was probably too constricting. After running thru it for a while (it was not a major annoyance) I stopped at the medical tent and got a quick patch from the EMT Sue – was probably in and out in 5 minutes. An hour or so later I felt the exact same issue on the right foot – this pretty much proved to me it was the shoes. This time things would not go so smoothly. I finished a lap that put me just over 49 miles and entered the medical tent. Sue was still there but this time I was number three on her list and I was in the tent for over a half an hour. The tent was heated and I took a load off. By the time I was repaired and ready to go I was as stiff as a board and got cold immediately upon returning to the trail. Within 100 yards out I was approaching hypothermia. I was shivering, teeth chattering and was having trouble walking straight. I pushed on and finished the lap – I was over 50 miles.

At this point I thought I was done. I went to the food tent and got some hot chocolate and hot noodle soup and I went to the tent and put long pants on, two more shirts and a fleece jacket and two hats. I actually lied down on the cot and tried to sleep – I doubt I was there for 15 minutes. I got up and went to the warming tent and stayed there for a long time. Some how or another, around 12:30 AM I decided that I was going to get up and try again. It took me 10-15 minutes to get going but somehow I did and I managed to go pretty steadily (and slowly) until 5:07 AM when once again cold and tired, I thought I was done for the night.

At this point it did not help that Eric was in the same boat. We were both in the warming tent with blister issues and cold and tired issues. We actually lied down on cold concrete – dozing off for perhaps 5 minutes. It was only marginally warmer in the tent, and the way some folks stood right in front of the heater it really did not heat the entire tent area. At daylight, for some reason I just decided to walk a lap. I knew I needed one lap to cross 60 miles and another lap to get within steps of 100km. I started to walk and another runner/walker (Kimberly Miller) was walking and talking with me. The daylight, conversation, seeing others in the same shape or worse etc. motivated me. I got the two laps between 7:30 and 8:30 and I called it a race. Not what I had hoped for, but an epic experience and I am very pleased with my ability to adapt, adjust and get moving again.


I managed to keep a note pad on our table so I could make quick notes occasionally. One of the smarter things about this was recording the times that I took Advil because as the evening wore on I never would have had the wherewithal to remember things like that!

As for some race numbers that I managed to jot down…

10 miles – 1:45

15 miles – 2:49

20 miles – 3:48

25 miles – 4:59

26.2 miles –  5:15

30 miles – 6:12

50k – 6:28 (faster than Pisgah 50k – how stupid was that?)

40 miles – 9:34

47.25 miles – 12:08

49.3 miles – 13:23 (10:23 PM) (this is where I stopped for medical help and fell apart for awhile)

15:42 (12:42 AM) I forced myself to move again

59.84 miles – 20:07 (stopped again, dead and cold)

7:30 AM somehow got the urge to go again and eeked out two laps to get just under 62 miles/100km in 23:30 with 3-4 hours of down time and I was done.

…and I took three Advil at 11 AM, 4:35 PM, 9:35 PM and 2:35 AM!


  • I entered and challenged myself.
  • I set a pace to start that gave me a chance at my goals of between 80 and 100 miles – I knew I would have no chance if did not have over 45-50 at the halfway point (for 80 miles) or if I did not have 55-60 miles at 12 hours (for 100 miles.)
  • Nutrition – I ate enough to never bonk – I managed this well – no serious nausea, no hunger.
  • Hydration – A little tough during the afternoon as it was warmer and I was going faster – but I drank all day – probably in the 20 ounce per hour range – even after it cooled off at night.
  • Electrolytes – took one S-Cap per hour – when I noticed a slight twinge in my hamstring during the heat of the afternoon I moved up to 2 caps per hour for 2-3 hours – I stayed ahead of the cramping curve.
  • Getting back up after a disastrous stretch around 11 PM -12:30 AM – I was mentally convinced I was thru, but I got up and managed around 11 miles between 12:45 AM and 5:07 AM. It was not pretty – but I did it.
  • Again – getting back up again after stopping at the food and warming tent at 5 AM. Totally convinced I was done. At 7:30 AM I managed to get on my feet again and I started walking. I met Kimberly Miller (who along with her husband was doing the 72 hour) who was kind enough to walk and talk with me – I ended up doing two laps which had a great two-fold effect – I passed 60 miles and ended up at 100km (which had become one of my “adjusted for reality” goals.)
  • Glad I stayed off the caffeine – I am not a user…other than a little dark chocolate and some hot chocolate I did the up all night thing (actually – it was more like 31 hours) pretty OK. And I only took a three hour nap in the mid afternoon. Was in bed last night from about 7 PM – 4:30 AM – needed it!
  • Brought my mp3 player – I do not usually listen to music when I run, but it was a big help here – probably listened for about 8 hours. To what you ask? Jane’s Addiction, Melvins, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Smashing Pumpkins, Motorhead – I think that is the full list. It helped – a lot!


  • The number one thing us ultra folks tell newbies (and I have been running ultras for less than a year) is not to go out too fast. Well, easier said than done sometimes. The easy course made it hard to go slow enough. While 10:20 pace is not that fast, it is if you are thinking about going for 24 hours – for me it is simply not sustainable. To put it into other terms, Joe Fejes who set a 72 hour record (over 320 miles) at this same race averaged over 13 minutes per mile – and I am nowhere near his level. He ran much faster at times, but my early pace was the set up for what happened to me.
  • Equipment – my shoe mistake was dumb. My shoes were great and doing fine – there was no need to switch. And even if I chose to switch I had a second pair of the same make and model. Lastly on this subject – wearing shoes that I had only run for 3-5 mile road runs in a trail race was stupid. The blisters are not what stopped me, but the down time during my second stop in the medical tent was a killer. No blisters = no stop in tent.
  • Back to pace – I was too impressed with my early paces – I should not even have been thinking about things like “how fast I ran ten miles” or “how fast I ran 50k” – a recipe for disaster.
  • For all of the strategizing I did over the past 10 months on how I would handle and attack this I should have had a better run/walk plan from the start – not a “let’s see how it goes” plan. I think I would be likely to try and run third to a half of each loop if I try this again. You need to conserve for the long haul. If I did that right I could have possibly kept up a four mile per hour average for a long time.


  • The entire process was a highlight. Planning and travelling with Eric Sherman went very well and we got along great – I am very glad he is heading to Utah with me in September. All of the great folks I have trained with over the past year – I am afraid of missing a name so I will leave it at that – you all know who you are.
  • Doing something that is a challenge and that is not a “slam dunk” result wise is also a highlight. You cannot go into an ultra race and know how it will go or what your result will be. It is a major game of adaptation and adjustment. Race management is a key skill in this racket!
  • All of the friends I have made in person and online – mainly through the Trail Animals Running Club have made this much more fun than it would have been as a totally solitary endeavor. TARC is really perfect for me – low key and fun with runners of all ages and abilities – a really great group of people.
  • So many of the people I met in Arizona – ultra runners everywhere are just damn good people. It was so much fun to meet people you have read about and to run a lap with them, say “hi” and to watch others battle the same things you are battling.
  • Lastly, I am really pleased with how I managed a lot of aspects of the race. I am not a natural born athlete and I need to excel at the management end of these things to do well. I am pleased at how I handled the nutrition and hydration and how I got going again twice after very low points.


2012 will always be the year that I really got my running going again – I ran my first ultras (two 50ks, two marathons, my first 50 mile and my first 24 hour – I got tired just typing that!) I learned a ton. Across the Years was an excellent capstone event on a very good year that saw me get over 2200 miles of running – over 90 % on trails. I made a lot of mistakes at ATY – but I did a lot well too. I will take this experience and grow and learn from it as I move into 2013. I have my first 100s on the calendar this coming year – including the first 100 ever in my home state of Massachusetts (TARC 100 in June) and a return to the west for The Bear 100 in Utah and Idaho in September. There will be a lot of miles alone and with friends between now and then. It has been a very fun and challenging year for me and I look forward to many new challenges in the coming year.

Hiking Mountains with Small Children

April 21, 2012

A Review of Up by Patricia Ellis Herr 

UPAs someone who has done a lot of what the author has written about, I easily fell in love with this wonderful book about  Patricia Ellis Herr’s White Mountain adventures with her young daughter Alex – and to some extent with her even younger 2nd child, Sage.

Society and individuals love to put limits on people – especially people that have been traditionally marginalized – women and children immediately come to mind. Trish was having none of this and refused to let societal thinking impact her young daughter’s lives.

My own children also love to hike – which may be the greatest gift I can possible give them – my appreciation of the outdoors. All children are different though. I think for my kids to hike like the Alex it would only be because I pushed them to hard. It is so obviously clear that the author needed almost no prodding at all to get Alex into this great hobby/sport – Alex loves to hike and be outdoors. Like many children there is a button that can be easily pushed when the child is told “you cannot do that.” Nothing motivates children (or me) more that being told I cannot do something. Alex did not hear “you cannot do that” at home – or from herself – but there was a good deal of it on the trail from people who probably meant well but harbored ridiculous notions of what a child or a woman are capable of (in case you did not know – the answer is “anything!”)

The chapter titles give you a hint to the lessons that are learned and taught from mother (and father) to the children. “Know What You’re Getting Into”, “I Think I Can”, “Ignore the Naysayers”, “Roll with the Punches”, “Enjoy the Journey While it Lasts” and the very tough and difficult lessons of “Mistakes Can Have Serious Consequences.” Alex and Sage are home schooled and you can see that the outdoors make up a large part of their education.

Author and daughters

Author Patricia Ellis Herr with daughters Alex and Sage

The author’s style is a pleasure to read and makes for a very hard to put down book. The well-paced narrative moves towards its climax with a sense of excitement and wonder – you really pull for Alex to reach her goal and it is great to read about her special day and the many who took part in it.

I recommend this book to almost anyone – people who like the outdoors, a great book to share with your children – but even more so I would like to see people read this book that are afraid of their own shadows and whose children never get to experience any sense of real adventure outside of a gaming or television screen. People who hate the outdoors may read this book and realized they are missing the greatest things in life. Up recounts great experiences and triumphs and like all good books makes me wish it were longer – and makes me want to get back outside where I feel the most alive.

Up is available at your local book retailer or online at Barnes & Noble and Amazon 

Author’s website

Photo credits:

Book cover courtesy of Patricia Ellis Herr

Author and daughters photo courtesy of Clay Dingman

From Heading to an Early Grave to Being in the Best Shape of My Life

September 18, 2011

September 18, 2011

It has been just over a year since I last blogged – need to get going again – I think I need to stop writing magnum opuses and just get something out – well – this subject is a big one for me – the short writings will have to wait another day. 

No one ever really plans on it, but somewhere along the line many of us stop being young and active and start a slow downward trajectory towards poor health. I was no different. I was the typical American male that could easily get away with eating and drinking anything in my youth and still always being rather skinny and able. I somehow survived my teens and 20s – a decade plus was mainly involved with cigarettes and vast quantities of alcohol (beer by the case, booze by the bottle) relatively unscathed. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind I certainly knew enough to ease up a bit as I got into my late 20s – this is when I met Gail who would become my wife. I liked her right away and was actually afraid to smoke around her or let her know that I smoked. I had my last cigarette driving home after our first date. I even flirted with good health for a few years as I took up running – inspired by my Dad’s three consecutive Boston Marathon finishes. I started to run races and even completed a marathon of my own at age 30 in 1995 (Columbus, OH). Dad even finished another one with my sister in a monsoon inWashington,DC.

The story continued for another year or two and sadly ended. I stopped running, and kept eating and drinking. It all has a way of creeping up on you and it is really hard to pinpoint anything in particular. You run less, you gain weight, you are not as comfortable – you rationalize. “Well sure – I am 25 pounds heavier than I was a couple of years ago, but that is still not that bad.” Then milestone numbers start appearing – and not good ones. 175 creeps to 180 – 180 becomes 190 – “which is fine – because, hell – I am still under 200” and then the wheels just come flying off. Even after I had some years of great activity hiking in theWhite Mountains(fairly constant since 2004) and quitting alcohol (with no real fanfare – I just grew to hate it and lose interest in drinking) I was firmly entrenched in the 200s.

In 2008 while my Mom was battling terminal breast cancer I did something that appeared to be an unconscious decision at the time, but I know realize it was connected. I joined the local Weight Watchers in Danvers, MA (my Mom was a Weight Watchers Lifetime Member.) I decided that even though I quit smoking and drinking cold turkey – and had no interest in support groups, it was vastly different with food. I eventually learned that you can live without smoking or drinking but food is required. If you do not eat you will not be healthy and eventually you will die. Even though I knew a lot about eating a healthy diet and exercising I just never did, or cared enough for more than a meal or two. When I started this venture I weighed 225 pounds.

In 2008 and I did a great job – I lost a little over 40 pounds by the time Mom died on my birthday. Again, it all seemed unconnected at the time, but this was also the time when I just stopped going to meetings, and stopped tracking my food and though I got away with it for awhile I slowly but surely crept back up. Over the next two plus years I outdid my prior zenith and topped out at 235 pounds on December 1, 2010. At this point, looking and feeling horrible I started to at least care a little about what I was eating. Wanting to not be one of those people who make New Year’s Resolutions I did not decide to go to Weight Watchers again until near the end of January – I checked in at Weight Watchers at 227 pounds.

“So what is going to be different this time?” asked my group leader Melissa. Good question – and one that will be with me forever. A few things come to mind. I truly know that my time is running out – who did I think I was kidding? Lucky men who are in their mid 40s and that are 75 pounds overweight develop bad health conditions – the unlucky ones drop dead. I have had high cholesterol and high blood pressure – I have had no consistent exercise. I have been lucky so far – but I am kidding no one. I needed to commit to myself that this is how it has to be – tracking my intake, controlling my portions and eating fruit and vegetables daily had to become the routine, not the exception.

Weight Watchers works because it is really just what we should all be doing anyways. No matter what you want to call it, a plan that has you eat appropriate portions, fruit and vegetables, and getting all of your fluid and nutrients every day is really just sensible eating. Weight Watchers calls is PointsPlus – I call it a plan for living and staying alive. The real key component for me with all of this is the weekly meeting, the group of people in the same boat with me that talk with me every Monday night in Danvers and a larger group of us who communicate on Facebook daily. Our Weight Watcher’s leader Melissa has been instrumental in my success, and I am sure hundred others would credit her as well. Like all leaders, Melissa has been there too – and like all of us – she is still there. We all know that we need to be more active and be aware of what we put in our stomachs. It is all too easy to “blow it off” and go off the charts. The weekly meetings, the online support and Melissa’s real life way of talking with all of us help to keep me accountable and eager to continue down the healthy path. I really mean this when I say that my Weight Watcher’s group and Melissa have at the very least turned my life around, and at the most have saved my life. Thank you.

The other key component for me this time around is exercise. After taking about four months to get used to eating right I started running again. A little bit at first and then before I knew it I was able to get the distances back up to what I used to do. I have had weeks in the 40-50 mile range and have been running races at a variety of distances. I have learned that I have a love for trail running and have embarked on entering my first trail marathon – less than two months away. I love getting out in the woods – getting muddy and scraped from the branches. Beautiful scenery, wildlife, quiet time and it is all good for me. In June I added yoga to my repertoire. The benefits of this have been amazing. I am more flexible than I have ever been and soreness from long runs just melts away. I started with taking some early morning classes over the summer at the Peabody Lynnfield YMCA (thank you Connie) and have since had to alter where and when I go and I started doing Bikram Yoga in Danvers (heated yoga in a humid 105 degree studio.) My hope is that this practice allows me to stay flexible and active for whatever length of time I have left.

So assuming that I can maintain my current weight for another 36 hours tomorrow night, September 19, 2011 becomes my new birthday – I will have maintained my goal weight (actually, I am about four pounds under it.) for six weeks and Weight Watchers deems me a lifetime member. This means I can continue to attend supportive meetings for the rest of my life, not pay monthly dues and I only need to weigh in once per month. I am down 71 pounds since December and 63 since I started with Weight Watchers. I am amazed. I have a lot of people to thank – so here it goes: The memory of my mother, Terry Saporito – she really stuck with this program and was never pushy with it – just encouraging; my wife Gail – who was tongue-tied at not being able to tell me some very difficult stuff – she knew how badly I needed to do this, but also new that nagging me about it was not the right way to go with me; my two boys (and a lot of my motivation) who were always interested in “how much weight did you lose this week Daddy?”; my much missed retired boss, June – another person who knew about the program and was very encouraging and helpful with advice; my leader Melissa – her sense of humor and personal experience really hits home with me and hundreds of others who have attended her meetings – she has seen it all, and while it is her job, she truly believes in what she does and has helped countless people get control of their relationship with food; to Carmen who runs the men’s meeting on Wednesdays – I attend that meeting on occasion and have taken a great deal from that meeting too; and last but not least – my friends, er, make that family from Weight Watchers, both in person and online – Lisa and Lisa, Sue, Mary, Janet, Annette, Renee, Marikay and everyone else – it is such a supportive environment where we all give and take so much.

I’d keep writing, but I am going out for a trail run.

A Few Days in the Maine Wilderness

September 11, 2010

Baxter State Park, Maine Hiking Trip

 I was going to skip this year’s annual trip to Baxter State Park due to too many scheduling issues but somehow or another I found a way to fit it in. Sadly, Eric who organized the trip this year had to bale out at the last minute so only three of us headed up this year. Maine is a very large state – one could fly from Boston to San Francisco in less time than it takes to drive to Baxter – the effort getting there and hiking to the remote corners of the park are well worth it. 

Night One Campfire

This year found me with good friends Marty and Larry heading out into the backcountry. We were there for four days to help each other thru the difficult spots and to merciless torture each other with bad jokes and awful humor – I cannot wait to do it again. I find these trips to be physically and mentally exhausting – but I also find them to be very cathartic – while you are in the middle of a death march you argue with yourself about “why do I do this?” but when it is all over it is a great memory and experience that I would not trade for anything. 

This year’s route would take me to the last remote outpost of the park that I had not yet visited – Davis Pond. To give you an idea of remote to get to Davis Pond you have to drive about ten miles into the park until the dirt road ends (and this is about twenty miles from the closest town, Millinocket. After parking your car you need to hike about 11 miles over two days to get to the pond that is nestled against steep mountain walls. This location is not visible from any road in the state. 

Wassatoiquik Stream

Day One took us from our cars to the Wassatoiquik Stream Lean To – a little under six miles of fairly flat hiking. There are nice views of the Great Basin of Baxter Peak from Whidden Pond and some interesting boulders along the route. As would be a common theme this week there was also rain. Not too bad – we got to the lean to around 3 PM I filtered water, Marty gathered fire wood and Larry fished – this was the first time I ever saw Larry get shut out in back country fly fishing! Dinner and the campfire took us up to around 7 PM – when night falls in the back country sleep is not far behind. You may not sleep well, but you certainly get rest – we got about 11 hours of rest per night! During the night a mouse or squirrel got a little bit into my food bag – no great loss – but the bear bag up in the tree did not stop them! It rained for many hours thru the night which caused a bit of concern as our morning started with a stream crossing and there would be a total of four of them on Day Two – the first one near the Lean To was uneventful and only about knee deep. 

Turner Deadwater

We would soon pass New City – the remnants of an old logging camp and swing by Russell Pond Campground where we talked to a couple of other hikers. There was a bit of thunder off in the distance but it soon ended and we were clear of that worry. Just outside of the Russell Pond Campground we would pick up the Northwest Basin Trail which would be our route for the next day and a half. Early on you cross the Turner Deadwater which was a more challenging water crossing than the first one and head out for an easy mile or so of hiking – then it gets interesting.

The trail starts to climb and climb and climb – up large boulders and slabs that are actually streams…nothing like going up steeply angled wet rock. We soon had and easy crossing of Annis Brook and soon after reached the scary stream crossing. We discussed how we would attack this one for quite awhile – we eventually decided to give it a try – took the boots off and some of us donned crocs, and one neoprene slippers and we gave it a go. Very slow, very deliberate and never more than ankle deep – but some of the rocks were hard to reach and the water speed was impressive and the depth of some of the areas looked pretty damn deep.

Stream Crossing

We all made it, got the boots on and then it soon started to rain heavily for the next two hours as we plodded on towards Lake Cowles and then finally Davis Pond. 

Davis Pond and Harvey Ridge

The pond is as beautify and as remote as advertised – this is further away than the middle of nowhere. An incredible spot that is not visited by many people – you have to be willing to make the effort to get there – it is not easy. We had another lackluster meal in camp and a long night of rest before arising to tackle the steep 1.2 miles to the Tableland. For anyone who hikes often enough a steep 1.2 miles is not that big of a deal – but when you are backpacking with gear for four nights the weight on your back, and what it does to your balance and energy is incredible. Very slow going. It took us over two hours of hiking up steep trail that was often a running stream to make it to the top. When we cleared the ridge we were rewarded with improving views and flat and downhill walking for two miles minus a quick side trip to Hamlin Peak – the second highest peak in Baxter State Park. 

Northwest Basin Trail

After a couple of sweet hours above tree line with great views we began the hairy descent down the Saddle Trail – keep in mind this is the easiest route down! There is a small rock slide that is descended as well as a lot of big boulders – once again complicated by carrying a large overnight pack. I got a little edgy a couple of times when the pack was kind of pushing me off of the mountain. This is where companions are a huge help – a little coaching and another set of eyes and I was soon thru the worst of it as we made our way down to Chimney Pond for the night. We quickly realized the bear line that is provided here was no longer thwarting the critters so we opted to keep our food close by – very tame and unafraid red squirrels would raid anything they could – I saw one eating an apple it ripped out of a sealed Ziploc bag that was in a food bag hung at lest twelve feet off the ground! We were beat and were trying to figure out what we would do the next day – energy levels and weather would be the deciding factors in the morning. 

Northwest Basin Trail - Talus Field

Morning came soon enough – and as I would have guessed, Marty, being in better shape had more energy and ambition than Larry or I did. We started out with the ideas of visiting the Pamola Caves but Larry and I soon had it with the compact car sized boulder scrambles and instead hung out by idyllic Chimney Pond and hiked around the campground. Marty went about 800 vertical feet up the Dudley Trail and was back in about an hour and a half and we decided that we would head home early. We hiked down a slightly different way and visited Blueberry Knoll on the way out – wild spot with views into the North Basin – very cool with fog and mist and some visibility. Soon we were on our way past the Basin Ponds and back to the car – a shower at a campground in Millinocket and the 5-6 hour drive home. Another great trip, with great friends has left me with aching muscles, over 400 incredible photographs and map books galore that I will read over and over planning out our next adventure. 

Descending the Saddle Trail

Pamola, The Chimney and the Knife's Edge

More images and a video: 

Baxter State Park Day One

Baxter State Park Day Two

Baxter State Park Day Three

Baxter State Park Day Four.

Davis Pond video

When Is It Alright to Kill?

July 26, 2010

Thoughts on ending suffering and moral dilemmas 

Killing is wrong. Is killing always wrong?

Compassion is good.What is compassion? Is ending suffering compassionate?

Is prolonging life compassionate?

Suffering is bad. Are we compelled to end suffering? 

Dry River - White Mountain National Forest - New Hampshire

This past week while hiking in the Dry River Wilderness in the White Mountain National Forest I came upon an unusual site – a bird that was hiding head first under a rock near bridge. I figured it was injured or less likely seeking shelter from the recent downpours. I tossed a small stone near it to see it I would move – the bird only ruffled a couple of tail feathers. I left it alone and continued to hike across the bridge. 

The downpours continued and I abandoned my hike about thirty minutes later and began heading back over the same route. I was very curious to see if the bird was still there. It was and it had moved about two feet away from the rock it had been hiding under and I could now clearly tell that it was a yellow shafted flicker and that it was severely injured. I am not a veterinarian, nor do I play one on TV – but if I had to hazard a guess I would say the bird had a broken wing. It pained me to see it struggling to move as it arched its neck back to try and flip over as it could barely walk and certainly could not fly. 

Dry River Trail

This bird was obviously not going to make it. The cycle of life and death is rapid and constant in the deep forest – it would only be a matter of time before this injured avian would be found and become easy prey for a fox or some other predator. 

It should be noted by my readers that I am writing from an atheist perspective – I have no thoughts of “playing god” or of being superior. As an often empathetic person I struggled with the desire to end the bird’s suffering immediately with a large rock or to let the bird await its likely violent fate at the hands/paws/teeth of a predator. I waited around for about ten minutes watching the bird and thinking about my two distinct choices. When it was time to move on I had done nothing – which was the choice to let nature take its course. 

Would it have been unethical for me to end this wild bird’s suffering? As painful as it was I did euthanize my dog (and sadly I probably should have 3-5 days earlier) a few years back when it became obvious that she was suffering and would not improve. My immediate family wanted to end my mother’s terminal illness “quicker” in her closing days after she had slipped into a coma – but we were legally prevented from taking such action. There is a distinct human desire to want to control things that cannot be controlled. 

Injured bird

In the end I did nothing beyond think. I did not execute/euthanize the bird much like we only medicated my dying mother as we let her cancer run its course. Of course, potential prison sentences played into that decision – not so with the injured bird. I continued to think about this as I ambled back to the trailhead – a good thought exercise with no easy answers and no guarantee of how I would handle a similar situation in the future – kind of hope it never presents itself to me again. 

As with most pieces at Symptom of the Universe I am seeking discussion from all types. What are your thoughts? What do vegans and vegetarians think? What do the religious think? What do other freethinking atheists think about the ethics of ending misery and suffering?

 If you liked this post you may like some others I have penned on atheism and veganism. By “like” I mean you may want to engage in discussion – agreement does not enter into why I do this!

Follow Symptom of the Universe on Twitter:

Arizona Immigration Reform 60 Days Later

June 30, 2010

Where are we headed and what has it done?

Follow me on Twitter:

The Arizona Immigration Reform Law (SB 1070[1]) was signed into law just over sixty days ago by Governor Jan Brewer. The passage of this controversial law has become a line of demarcation for where any politician or group stands on immigration reform. The debate on this issue has been brewing since before passage, and still more than a month away from enactment (July 29, 2010) and enforcement. Republican legislators and executives find themselves pitted between anti-immigration Tea Partiers and Hispanic voters who have helped get them in office.

Campaigns in Texas, Colorado and California have seen Republican candidates who have held leads lose them due to their loss of support in the Latino community.[2] Remember in 2000 George W. Bush received 49 % of the Hispanic vote in Florida – a demographic that traditionally voted heavily Democratic. Controversial Democratic strategist and author Robert Creamer sees a politician’s stance on Arizona SB 1070 as a litmus test for where a candidate stands on immigration – and this directly impacts the Latino voter who feels marginalized by this law. “…Republicans – especially in the West – have awakened a sleeping giant.”[3] The voters who have been disenfranchised are legal Latinos who will vote.

Two exceptionally wealthy leaders of major international conglomerates Rupert Murdoch (CEO of News Corporation, which owns FOX and many media outlets) and Michael Bloomberg (founder of Bloomberg L.P. and mayor of New York City) recently lobbied the government to create a path for legal status for immigrants. The two men brought together corporate leaders from Disney, McDonalds and Hewlett Packard and mayors of major US cities to create a partnership that will lobby on behalf of creating a legal route for immigrants to get legal status in the United States. These people believe that this is needed to sustain growth and to continue our nation’s history of welcoming people to fulfill their own American Dream. Bloomberg expanded by noting that mass deportations are likely impossible and that would greatly harm the economy.[4]

The local economy is already reeling in Arizona and not just from liberal tourists who are staying away and protesters of the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball club. An article this week in the Arizona Republic discussed the impact of fear on local Latinos, both legal and illegal has had on business. Many families have fled the state out of fear of harassment and ultimately deportation. Landlord Rollie Rankin has lost seven tenants recently – “They have had enough of the crackdown. Back in the old days, it was a wink and a nod; there was tacit approval that they were here. Now, it’s an open attack.”[5] The costs go beyond lost tenants – school districts are losing enrollment (and therefore funding) and the state stands to lose $31 billion in spending from large Latino population.[6] Arizona has a 5.6 % sales tax rate.

Bill sponsor, Arizona Representative John Kavanah (R) believes that ridding the state of illegal immigrants will save the state money in services, incarceration, education and medical costs. He acknowledges that some businesses will fail, but he states “If there are a few pockets of economic activity that will suffer, that is unfortunate, but I am sure that if their business is worth having because there is a demand for it, then they will survive,” Kavanah said. “If their business isn’t worth having because there is no demand for their services, then their business will go away. But that is the way it is supposed to be in an efficient economy.”[7] That sounds rather cold and impractical. University of Arizona’s immigration policy expert Judith Gans believes that the gains the state may make in shipping off illegal immigrants are false. “If we fill all of those jobs with legal, low-skilled, native-born workers, the fiscal burdens don’t change. It’s inherent in the job itself, not in somebody’s immigration status,” she said. “It’s sort of a myth that if these illegal immigrants weren’t here these fiscal burdens would somehow magically change.”[8]

Immigration reform is needed, and I have written this before – but it needs to be sensible and comprehensive and legal. Immigration laws and enforcement are in the purview of the federal government and not the states. The country cannot afford to have 50 states have 50 laws on immigration, trade agreements or international treaties. I fear the Arizona law will lead to racial profiling and though I have been assured by a law enforcement officer that the “bad” cop that would be reckless in enforcing SB 1070 is a rarity I cannot say I am encouraged by what I have read about Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The list of charges that have been levied against him is staggering. Amongst the “highlights” is a litany of charges from the Arizona ACLU including use of excessive force, denying medical care to a paraplegic and improper use of stun guns.[9] Recently one of Arpaio’s men was held in contempt of court for going though a defense attorneys files in court.[10] There is a legitimate fear in the citizenry that this type of “Old West” law enforcement is above the law. The law is written to guarantee no racial profiling or abuse but is that a realistic situation when renegade law enforcement is involved in some jurisdictions?

I sympathize to a point with a state that is in effect being held hostage by the federal government’s inaction to provide comprehensive immigration reform. There is too much politics being played by each side to get any real work done. Whether you fall to the right or the left we are all being shortchanged by our elected leaders. This inaction does not give Arizona or any other state the right to enact laws that are outside of their jurisdiction. Many believe that this law will not survive challenges in federal court, or even in the Roberts Supreme Court. Time will tell. As a nation we can hope for the type of comprehensive reform that Bloomberg and Murdoch are calling for – reform that will allow immigrants the chance to give their families their own American Dream – just like many of our forebears were able to do for us. There is no room in the United States for discrimination and the rejection of basic human rights and dignity.

Other articles on this subject you may want to read:



[3] Ibid.



[6] Ibid.


[8] Ibid.



Atheism Is Not A Choice

June 28, 2010

Follow me on Twitter:

NOTE: By choice, I mean that after weighing the evidence and reading and learning – a critically thinking person has to be an atheist, or at the very least agnostic. To remain otherwise would be faith or superstition based and while that may be valid for many it is not a decision that will be arrived at via critical thinking.

One of the biggest rules “they” tell us to live by is not to discuss politics or religion. I of course throw caution to the wind and discuss them all the time; politics because I think it is very important in a quasi-democracy for us to discuss ideas and platforms, and to be informed. If your position is worth anything at all to you it should be worth discussing with the opposition. We did not build this great nation by having our forefathers be constantly worried about being PC or causing a ruckus – they debated, argued and negotiated. This leaves us with the other “not to be spoken about subject,” religion – or more specifically the anti-religion we call atheism. Religious people similarly do not want to engage in debate with atheists – this leads me to wonder just how strong their belief is?

So last Saturday afternoon I find myself with three hours to kill inside the nicely air conditioned train station in Stamford, Connecticut minding my own business. First I finished up an essay I had written earlier in the day on my prior life as a hard drinking man and then I found myself reading a book I had started earlier in the week – John Loftus’ “Why I Became An Atheist.” The book is an interesting look at an ex-preacher and how he grew over time to lose his belief in the supernatural and magical and began to realize that science was a much better route to answers. Interestingly, Loftus seemed to really lose his religion when his flock turned against him at a low time in his life (after he had an affair) when he needed community support and forgiveness the most. Funny how the flock did not follow the teachings of the bible that they deem so important.

When you least expect it…expect it. A very polite security guard who I had spoken with a couple of hours earlier walked by and knowingly asked me what I was reading. He was quickly called away, but soon returned. After seeing the title and assuming correctly that atheism was my position he quickly informed me that Jesus is coming back soon. I politely told him that was not true and he is in for a long wait. He seemed puzzled how I could not share his view. I told him that I would be happy to talk with him but he had to realize that there was no chance he would convince me of his view (I have been very comfortable in my lack of beliefs of over thirty years) and I realized I was unlikely to turn him into a free thinking skeptic – but I was sure going to try.

Willie, my new friend was not willing or able to think about the bible critically, or about god or Jesus (why does this never cease to amaze me?) He looked puzzled that Jesus would speak so clearly to him and yet not talk to me. He could not see how anyone could question the bible, the virgin birth or the resurrection. Of course I could not understand how anyone could understand the magic show that calls itself Christianity. I countered by questioning his ego-maniacal god who demanded total worship and this god’s genocidal, murderous and capricious ways. I pointed out to Willie that he also is an atheist (one of our standard methods) – the only difference between us is that I worship one fewer god. He really did not seem to grasp this at all until I elaborated. Then Willie had no issue with the statement as he does not consider the gods of the Hindus, Muslims, pagans, ancient Greeks, Native Americans ad infinitum to be true gods – yet somehow he thinks his god is a real god and the one. The interesting question of the Jewish god was better received until I pointed out that the Jews think Jesus was a man and not a god. Then he suddenly abandoned the Jewish version as well.

As much as Willie wants the entire world to share in his evangelical bible study groups view of Jesus, god and the bible I am not buying. It is man made material of a pretty low quality and it is not the least bit necessary for anyone to subscribe to the lies it puts forth. I will stick with science, research and the scientific method. It may not be perfect, but it allows for adaptation, correction, testing and retesting. Society has been served much better through scientific research and methods than it has been through god or religion. Some will find the atheistic view to be dogmatic and religion like – but it really is not. Atheism is simply the negation of the belief in a higher power or the supernatural. Everything is here and now in the concrete world – not off somewhere in the ether or the heavens. Like I have always said – “you cannot fake faith.” For me to believe in the lies of religion and the supernatural would require me to lie to myself – and that is something I will not do. Do I think Willie is lying to himself? No – not really. I think he is guilty of not opening his eyes to the world around him and he is certainly guilty of not questioning enough things that demand interrogation. Of course – Willie could turn that back on me and say I am guilty of “not opening my heart to Jesus.” Again – you cannot fake faith – and atheism is not a choice.

Link to a prior article I penned on atheism:

Drink, Drank, Drunk No More

June 26, 2010

Getting From There to Here

Follow me on Twitter:

They say no little kid says “I want to be a drunk or an addict when I grow up.” Well, that may be true for toddlers but the pervasiveness of alcohol in our culture can certainly turn the worm at an early age. I am not sure of the exact time I first tasted alcohol, but it was probably at a family Sunday dinner, possibly at my paternal grandparent’s home – and it was absolutely not later than when I was in 1st or 2nd grade. I immediately liked wine – back in those days the Italians were downing a lot of sweet rotgut – Lambrusco, Cold Duck and “Riunite on ice – that’s nice.” The warm feel of the light buzz from my little glass, the sweetness and the “adultness” of it all were very appealing to an 8-year old who always saw himself as an adult.

Through my childhood I always looked forward to the warm sensation provided by alcohol as it traveled through my body – but I never got drunk until my teens, I still enjoyed the feeling at an early age. Whenever the chance arose to have some wine at a family dinner, or split a beer with my father or grandfather I leapt at the opportunity. I would hazard a guess that most of the beer splitting was my idea – not my elders. This early interest in “sauce” would only grow as I headed for my teen years.

I certainly may have liked the idea of looking cool and fitting in, but I needed no prodding from my peers to drink. I wanted to drink. The first couple of times with the guys were camping adventures in the woods near my childhood home – the first one was a few slugs from Seagram’s bottle while the second one was an adventure that led to many tall tales being told back at school.

The second incident took me and my best friend out through the woods to a liquor store on a highway where we were able to get a total stranger to purchase a case of Bud Talls. Minus getting a comb, a magazine and a pack of gum this entire episode was very American Grafitti-esque. Being the consummate organizer and planner I stashed the case of brew into a trash bag I brought along for camouflage purposes and me and my buddy ran about ½ a mile down route 1 and darted back into the woods where our two compatriots were waiting for us. To the best of my recollection I drank my six beers in less than an hour and was vomiting soon after – the story continued after I trekked home the next morning where I continued puking and foolishly thought I convinced my parents that I was sick because I over ate while camping. At some point in my late teens or early 20s I realized that they were probably just humoring me – but they knew. There was probably nothing that they could have done to stop me short of military school at that point in my life.

The events continued – rarely at first – a post-basketball season party; a theater company party; in the parking lot at the Boston Garden before a heavy metal concert or at friends house in the afternoon of an early dismissal school day. Then towards the end of senior year it began to be that the drinking was the event in of and itself. I was not aware of this phenomenon until many years later when I realized I did not want to go to events or gatherings where there would be no alcohol served. This behavior also manifested itself in my “little strategies” of being sure there was alcohol available – like showing up with my own six-pack or the ever sneaky “we really should bring a bottle of wine as a gift.” I also made sure I got the last glass of wine out of any bottle served and one particular low point was when I brought an expensive bottle of Scotch as a gift and I drank the entire fifth alone – some gift. I often used having guests over to our house as an excuse to stock the house – “you know, if Uncle Bill once had a certain type of beer or liquor it would be damn rude to not have any in the house when he comes over.” Yeah, right – who did I think I was kidding?

My twenty-plus adult years as a drinker were full of ups and downs. I was lucky in the sense that I never had a physical addiction and only had things like the shakes once or twice. But that aside, I still used alcohol as a crutch and it certainly had socially and psychologically addictive qualities that affected me. Whenever I took one of those tests to assess my drinking I generally scored in a reasonable way, but I knew the real situations that indicated some level of a problem. Drinking alone; drinking until vomiting; drinking large quantities; never wanting to be the first one to leave; all social situations revolved around drinking (you were not going to a Red Sox game – you were going out to have drinks.) Having a couple of gigantic Scotch on the rocks (6- 8 ounces each) at home while watching television really is not necessary or good.

I used to employ all sorts of crazy rhetoric to support my drinking  – “beer comes in a case for a reason” and “I do not trust people who do not drink” – all part of the vicious game. So what made me throw all of this away you ask? There comes a point in many people’s lives when you ask yourself “what am I doing this for?” That moment happened  while at a professional conference in St. Louis (perhaps the worst, most dangerous city in America) when I found myself staggering around the desolate streets of a dead city at 3 am after drinking myself into a Dewar’s hell all evening at an open bar event. “What the hell am I doing this for?!”

The next day on the convention floor, after the requisite 6 am vomit session was highly cathartic. I was paying for my behavior with a horrid 24-hour hangover. I did a lot of thinking that day – I have a nice family – my two boys were 4 years old and three-months old at the time and I felt they deserved better than this – and I was not doing my body any favors. I was sick and fed up with it all. My level of drinking was heavy, but I was not physically addicted so I never really thought much about seeking help. I tired of my routine and decided to move forward. At first I was casually quitting – I believe I had a glass of wine on my flight home – as I always drank on airplanes. Interestingly – I did not enjoy it at all. Later that summer I got two beers over the course of a long wedding and did not finish either of them – how unusual. Over the next fifteen months I would allow myself to have one beer after finishing a hike in the White Mountains – by the fall of 2007 that had lost any appeal it may have had – I found myself having a sip or two and pouring it out. I was done.

My non-belief in higher powers made me uninterested in Alcoholics Anonymous. I am well aware of the success that program has had for so many people, my friends among them. My feelings have always been that the power to do or not do is within me, but different people have different operating systems. I am very glad a number of my friends have found AA and have had great success with the program. I have subscribed to the idea of talking about my problem with others – that is a very valuable and cathartic experience. I found comfort in reading, viewing and talking. Some of the books and films that meant the most to me during that period are listed below. Reading about others battles and struggles is reassuring. I am glad with my decision not to use alcohol any more in my life and I am very lucky to be someone who does not miss it at all – although I will still joke about it. I feel fortunate that I was not further down the path I was headed on when I made my decision to stop.

Books on the subject that resonated with me:

Hamill, Pete. A Drinking Life: A Memoir.

Knapp, Caroline. Drinking: A Love Story.

McGovern, George.

Terry: My Daughter’s Life-and-Death Struggle with Alcoholism.

Moran, Molly Hurley. Finding Susan.

Some films that show a lot of drinking, the life, the ups and the downs – as someone who did not go to the nth level before quitting I would say that Sideways was the one that resonated the most with me – like Myles, I was certainly visiting the dark side:

Leaving Las Vegas


The Barfly

The Days of Wine and Roses

The Lost Weekend

The Verdict

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf

Meat is Murder? (PART II)

May 26, 2010

Or is it? – Response to A comment

Thank you all for taking the time to read my piece on veganism and my feelings on the subject. Between Facebook and my blog there has been some excellent resource sharing and thought-provoking comments. I have learned a lot and admire the position and firm stand so many of you take even if I am not willing to go all the way with my diet – perhaps time will change my views further on this. My response to a comment from Heather is below. If you missed the original article you can read it here (Heather’s comment can be read at the bottom of the main article):

Thanks for taking the time – I appreciate the discussion and commentary – regardless of whether or not I will heed your suggestions.

I clearly see your point that we are capable of feeding the industrialized world without animal products. I have read this in a few places – it takes more energy to create the animal based foods than the food it creates – not very productive. Selfishness, convenience and taste/enjoyment drive a lot of people’s appetites and it certainly factors in my choices.

As for the horrors of the dairy, egg and wool industry – I would like to know the history and development of these industries. I assume in an agrarian society, and pre industrial revolution these practices were not as despicably operated. To me this demonstrates the potential of renewable resources and for humans and farm animals to coexist without killing. Is part of the vegan dogma that all animals should be free? Should all cows, chickens, pigs and other “farm” animals be living in the wild? I have no opinion on this – just wondering what the thought is – obviously there are large quantities of these animals on the planet due to the food industries need for profit. Is 100 % of the dairy industry run this way? Are there small, local, self-sustaining farms? We do not exclusively buy from these farms as it is impractical both financially and logistically. I know the vast majority of dairy farms – or at least dairy products come about in evil ways. I see more of an issue that dairy farm practices need to become more humane, the prices charged need to be fair and not subsidized. People will want milk from humanely run dairy farms, but what do they say when milk is $10/gallon? It is not done properly now – I argue that it should be – and I suppose the pressure from the vegan and general community could help drive these changes. As I told you I will not eat or buy veal – but some research I did shows there are free-range veal farms – of course this does not change the killing portion of the issue. Like milk and cheese – I would imagine the free-range portion of the industry is infinitesimal. Thanks for the link on wool. Exploring the web showed me there is a large ethical wool movement and the industry is now sustainable. I am sure it is a small percentage of the total industry but it is a step in the right direction.

You stated the obvious as you think I did regarding what animals eat. I was projecting the notion that as a species we at times and when it is convenient we strive to help others that are oppressed. World War II comes to mind, as does Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait – but it also extends into the animal world. There are large movements to protect endangered species, veal is regarded as a bad industry by more than the vegan community and baby seal slaughter is despised. So I was positing the idea “should humans be defending the animal world from slaughter from other animals?” I know it is esoteric – it was meant as a thought exercise. I know animals do not have the choice of going to the supermarket – but extinction is a natural part of life (of course, humans have a way of helping the process along) and we see fit to intervene – should we with animals eating animals? I am curious how vegans handle insects and rodents in their homes and on their property? Do you kill ants? If there was a mouse in your pantry would you set traps? Only non killing traps? Would you want animal control to kill a rabid animal that was in your neighborhood? What if a fox has been killing pets in your neighborhood? Not trying to be a wise guy – and I know that a rabid animal is going to die and is a health nuisance and is not a food situation, nor is a rodent a food situation – just curious on the general position held by vegans on these issues .

Environmentalist leaning means that I care about the environment and I operate my life in a less harmful way than many other do. It does not mean I am a fundamentalist in the area – and I question the notion of “all or nothing.” I think improvements are the key – and they are the key to getting more mainstream people into the fold. Think about it – when I was young there were no recycling programs – or at least not readily available and easy to use programs. What did that mean? My family used to throw out batteries, paper, plastic and glass into the trash. Televisions sets and appliances went to the land fill where they would take thousands of years to disintegrate. Before it was easy to get rid of motor oil I knew people who changed their cars oil over the sewer drain in the street – awful. Now it is common place for most people to recycle their paper, plastic and glass waste. People use more and more reusable water bottles and grocery bags – batteries are easy to get rid of easily so we do it.

The same theory holds for animal products. I did some figuring – my house probably goes through less than two pounds of meat and fowl combined per week for a family of four. I figure this as no more than two dinners and two leftover lunches per week out of a total of 21 meals – in other words about 19 % of our food intake is animal flesh based. Over 80 % of our meals are at least more vegetable and grain based – which no matter how you do the math my family is contributing 80 % less to the meat industry pollution than a family that centers all of its meals around meat. There is dairy consumed and there is some seafood. I understand the point that if we are eating so little why not go all the way – but I will not buy the argument that our use of less is not a positive contribution. I would like to think the vegan community would view it as a victory if the western world reduced its meat and dairy consumption by 80 % – my instinct (please tell me if I am incorrect) is that it is for many vegans it is “an all or nothing”, fundamental position that does not want small victories – it is your right to see it in that light. I see a comparison to how President Obama discussed the abortion issue when he was a candidate. He believes that women have a right to privacy and to abortion – but that it is a horrible thing for anyone to have to go through and it would be a huge victory if we could reduce the number of abortions. If religious fundamentalists and government concentrate their energies on preventing unwanted pregnancies the need for abortions would dramatically decrease – which is certainly a positive. When the world works the same way towards the meat and dairy issue we would see large scale reductions in usage which would save farm animal’s lives, over-breeding and pollution and provide a positive impact on people’s health and the environment.

Killing for food is a moral and ethical question – and its application to the animal kingdom is subjective. The vegan position is an admirable one –I understand how its adherents have an all or nothing philosophy and are not interested in reduction of world intake of these products, but on the elimination of them from the food chain. Yes – I am responsible for killing some animals and keeping the meat and dairy industry alive – but I have worked in a positive manner towards significantly lowering the amounts used by my family and will continue to do so. I do care about things besides myself – but I also am not capable of caring for every last person, animal or cause on the planet – it is exhausting and not how I will spend my limited time being alive. The absolutist and fundamentalist aspects that I perceive of veganism work against it as a mainstream lifestyle choice. Veganism would have to become the normal diet to eliminate animals as food from the world. I respect your position but it is not mine. I believe vegans are in a higher moral place than where I choose to reside.

Thank you all for reading – please feel free to comment or share. I am interested in hearing experiences from ex-meat eaters. Take care – Mike.