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Grand Trail

Grand Trail by brothers Alexis and Frédéric is a worship-inspiring coffee table-worthy tome of

  • 16 [famous] ultrarunner portraits (Killian Jornet, Anton Krupicka, Scott Jurek, Anna Frost to name a few)
  • 13 [also noteworthy] trail races portraits (from the more widely known like Western States and Hardrock 100 to ones new to me like Ultra-Trail Mt. Fuji and Lavaredo Ultra)
  • 16 meta chapters including ultrarunner profiling, trail racing history, ultra physiology and race conditions
  • and a list of 150 ultras by country (along with elevation gains)

Every mile relayed through wonderful essays and 100s of gorgeous photographs with storytelling captions.

Sarah Lavendar Smith recommended this book in her 2016 Gift Guide for Trail Runners. Another winner just like Nowhere Near First.  Thank you Sarah!




Nowhere Near First

img_4796Thanks to Sarah Lavendar Smith’s 2016 Gift Guide for Trail Runners post, I bought Nowhere Near First: Ultramarathon Adventures From the Back of the Pack by Cory Reese. I laughed. I cried. I read the book when I couldn’t sleep at night.

Reese is not a pro, not a Killian Jornet. He runs closer to the cutoff time than the record time. He understands what it’s like to finish DFL (Dead F*****g Last or Deserving Full Lionization, ahem) and to DNF (Did Not Finish). And yet, persist. He’s run multiple 100 milers. Because he loves trail running and being able to run.

Reese writes serious things rolled like Twinkies (he also hosted a Twinkie party) inside of funny things. Here the briefest example:

6. If you start hallucinating that your running partners on the course are Care Bears, leprechauns, or unicorns, don’t talk to them. Just keep moving.

7. It is always darkest before the dawn. Just like in life, it can get a little ugly out on the trail. It’s not always smooth sailing. But don’t give up. Whatever you do, don’t give up. Be patient enough to let things turn around. I have had so many experiences where I was really struggling and didn’t have think it would get better…and yet it did. But you have to stick with it long eough for things to turn around.

On the serious side, his father’s severe diabetes and suicide when Reese was very young, gives Reese gratitude for being healthy and out there participating. He wrote that getting a DNF is not failure. Because you had the courage to risk registering. Because no matter how far you did or didn’t make it you are blessed to be able to run. Because you showed up at the start line and dared greatly. Because you learn a lot from not finishing about how to finish better. And you can use it to motivate your next race.

I may keep this book as I plan out my trail races for next year. Reese has some good advice that I’ll probably need. And a hilarious way of delivering it.

Flowers American Pale Ale

Jennifer’s Summer Stout turned out well so I thought I would brew something else.  I used to not like IPAs but after tasting a few realized the tremendous range available in what appears to be a narrow category. An IPA seemed like a reasonable thing to try. My favorites are Fort George’s Vortex IPA with an ABV(alcohol by volume) of 7.7% and 97 IBUs (International Bittering Units) and Pfreim’s IPA  with an ABV of 7.2% and 65 IBUs. Those numbers give me something to steer by.

You start the brewing process with water. Adding 15 grams of Calcium Sulfate aka Gypsum to soft water will help dry the finish and improve the perception of hops and bitterness in the beer. Next up are the grains.



Grains (determines SRM – Standard Reference Method for Color)

  • 30 lbs Brewer’s Malt, 2 Row, Premium (Great Western 2.0 SRM)
  • 5 lbs Munich Malt – 10L (Great Western 10.0 SRM)
  • 3 lbs Victory Malt (biscuit) (Briess 28.0 SRM)
  • 1lb 8.0 oz Cara-Pils / Dextrine (Great Western 2.0 SRM)
  • 1lb 8.0 oz Crystal 15, 2-Row, (Great Western 15.0 SRM)

Brewer’s malt forms the base while Munich and Victory malt increase the malt complexity of the beer. Crystal malt adds color. CaraPils is a body and head enhancer. The target color is 8.3 SRM, something like a light orange. Next up are the hops.


Dried Hop Flowers at Pfreim Brewery & Restaurant

First I determined the target flavor profile from hops. Flowers are one of my favorite things so of course I want them in my beer. I also like grapefruit and neroli flavors and aromas and a crisp taste. I did not want lemon, tropical fruit, pine nor an astringent feel. I researched hops that would yield this combination.

The Vortex IPA uses Simcoe and Amarillo. Amarillo, Centennial and Willamette hops are all known for their floral flavors. Horizon yields a clean taste. Centennial, Willamette and Cascade are hops commonly used in National Homebrew Competition IPA recipes and are American types. If I wanted to go English I would use hops like Goldings, Fuggle, Northern Brewer and Saaz.


Hop sack steeping after the boil

Hop Additions During Boil (determines IBUs or International Bitterness Units)

  • 2.5 oz Bravo (15.6%) 60 mins (adds 36.3 IBUs) for bittering
  • 2.0 oz Centennial (9%) 30 mins (adds 12.9 IBUs)
  • 2.0 oz Horizon (8.9%) 30 mins (adds 12.7 IBUs)
  • 1.5 oz  Amarillo (9%) 15 mins (adds 6.2 IBUs)
  • 1.5 oz  Cascade (8.2%) 15 mins (adds 5.7 IBUs)
  • 1.5 oz  Horizon (12%) at finish, steep  (adds 0 IBUs)
  • 1.5 oz  Willamette (3.9%) at finish, steep (adds 0 IBUs)

This recipe yields 73.9 IBUs. All that work takes 5 hours and it just gets you to wort which tastes like liquid bread. It’s not going to become beer until you add the yeast. For an American Pale Ale you add American yeast. If you want an English version, you add an English yeast.

The Yeast (makes it alcohol)

  • 4.0 oz Safale American (DCL/Fermentis #US-05)

Hop Additions During Fermentation

  • 3.0 oz Centennial (10%) Dry Hop 0 days (adds 0 IBUs)
  • 2.0 oz Citra (13.4%) Dry hop 0 days (adds 0 IBUs)

The wort is fermenting right now. In 4 to 6 weeks I’ll know what happened! Stay tuned.


Esteemed Eleanor


In her book, You Learn by Living, Eleanor Roosevelt wrote about eleven keys for a more fulfilling life. I’m just getting to know who she was as a person. She was quite a prolific and thoughtful author with a voice of the times. She was the First Lady from 1933 to 1945 and was quite a public servant. This book was published in 1960 and she died in 1962.

Here are 5 of her keys that resonated for me:

In the chapter, Learning to Learn, Eleanor wrote, “Life is interesting only as long as it is a process of growth; or, to put it another way, we can grow only as long as we are interested.” And more emphatically, “You must be interested in anything that comes your way.

The advantage of this attitude as she saw it is “If we can keep that flexibility of mind, that hospitality toward new ideas, we will be able to welcome the new flow of thought from wherever it comes, not resisting it; weighting and evaluating and exploring the strange new concepts that confront us at every turn.”

In another chapter called Readjustment is Endless, she wrote, “Readjustment is a kind of private revolution. Each time you learn something new you must readjust the whole framework of your knowledge. it seems to me that one is forced to make inner and outer readjustments all one’s life. The process never ends.”

She made some interesting observations in the same chapter about age: “Every age…is an undiscovered country. We are constantly advancing, like explorers, into the unknown, which makes life an adventure all the way.” And a couple of pages later, “Whatever period of life we are in is good only to the extent that we make use of it, that we live it to the hilt, that we continue to develop and understand what it has to offer us and we have to offer it.”

According to Eleanor, a person’s ability to deal with setbacks in that life and be happy is directly related to how he or she manages her mind because “nothing ever happens to us except what happens in our minds”

In the chapter Facing Responsibility, Eleanor outlined a way to balance perfectionism with reality: “all choice, to some extent, must be compromise between reality and a dream of perfection. We must try to bring the reality as close to that dream of perfection as we can, but we must not demand of it the impossible. It is only an approximation that anyone can reach, but the closer one tries to approximate it, the more he will grow. If he keeps his dream of perfection and strains toward it, he will come closer to achieving it than if he rejects the reality because it was not perfection.”

As we near November’s election day, parts of the chapter, How Everyone Can Take Part in Politics, resonated for me: “The minimum, the very basic minimum, of a citizen’s duty is to cast a vote on election day. Even now [in 1960] to few of us discharge this minimal duty. By such negligence, such indifference, such sheer laziness, we discard, unused, a gift and a privilege obtained for us at gigantic cost and sacrifice.”

And if you wanted to take politics further, in the chapter called Learning to Be a Public Servant, Eleanor points out that learning to learn is a critical part: “To meet these new challenges [of change] we look for new ingredients in our public servants, an elasticity and flexibility of mind that enables them to change in order to meet changes, an alert and hospitable intelligence that can grasp new issues, new conditions, new peoples.”

After reading just one of her books, I’m impressed with Eleanor’s voice, her scope, and her depth. She seems like a real person to me genuinely concerned with and thoughtful about the issues of her time, which, like many, are issues of our time too.


Brewing Day

Last summer , in pursuit of my dreams, I took a Brewing Basics: Going Beyond the Kit course at UC Davis and have been learning brewing lessons  ever since including 3 great resources for drinking beer better. Recently, I tried my hand at brewing an American Stout.

Jay at You Brew helped translate the flavor profile that I wanted for my stout into a recipe by pairing his expertise with the Beer Smith calculator. When I showed Jay my list of favorite stouts and porters from my Untapped checkins he was familiar with Harviestoun Old Engine Oil Porter and Crux Fermentation Project Stout so we went from there.  A 15 minute consultation later and I had a custom recipe and soon thereafter, the ingredients.

I added minerals to the hot water before mashing in (adding the grains) to imitate the famous brewing waters of Burton on Trent (in England). This pre-mixed additive contains calcium, carbonate, chlorine, magnesium, sodium chloride and sulfate.


  • .5 oz Burton Water Salts

Next I added the grains. Before this I had to weigh the grains out, then thoroughly mix them together, then mill them to break them open but only slightly.

Grains (40 lbs)

  • 35 lbs Pale Malt, Maris Otter (Thomas Fawcett) for enzyme content, adds little color and flavor, very fermentable
  • 3 lbs Roasted Barley (UK) (550 SRM) for color
  • 1 lb 8 oz Crystal 40, 2 row, Great Western for color and for malt and caramel flavors
  • 1 lb Chocolate Malt (350 SRM) imparts a nutty cocoa-like flavor

I stirred the mash into the hot water (I chose 155 F). It’s more like folding a heavy cake batter from a long distance at first and then it got easier as all the grains got wet. I used a single temperature infusion and held the temperature for an hour.

After mash in (adding the grains to the water) I opened the valve at the bottom of the mash tun and began pumping the water out through the hose on the right to the boil tank. This separated the mash from the grains. Moving the liquid to another vessel is called lautering.

Of course that lowered the water level and I had to sparge (add water from the top) to keep water flowing through the grain and out the bottom. I added water in small quantities at a time so that I didn’t slam the mash bed. Crushing the mash is like squeezing a tea bag after a 3 minute steep. All the tannins come out.

When the water flows through the grain it’s pulled out of the bottom of the mash tun and pumped into a boil tank. That’s where I boiled the wort and added the hops.

You can see my wort had a lot of foam rich dark color.


Next I added the hops during the hour long boil. The hops were in pellet form and while they have a higher utilization rate (35%) than whole hops (10% – 20%), they have a lot of dust. I put them in giant tea bags to keep the hop solids out of the beer. I added:

  • 1.75 oz Herkules (17.3% alpha) 60 mins (added early for bittering rather than aroma, from Germany.) Specific aroma descriptors include robust hoppy with some citrus and melon.)
  • 3.00 oz East Kent Goldings (5.7%) 30 mins. Specific aroma descriptors include smooth and delicate with floral, lavender, spice, honey, earth, lemon and thyme overtones.

Before I cooled the wort I needed to get as much of the finings out of it as possible. To do this I added a floculant or fining agent. I added a Whirlfloc tablet 15 minutes before the end of the boil. Whirlfloc is made of seaweed and purified carrageenan.

Next, I cooled the wort. The slow way is to immerse the wort container in ice. It takes forever! And it’s hard to hit the right temperature for the yeast. A faster way is to use an immersion chiller but this risks contamination because you are putting something in your wort. The fastest way is to run the boiling wort past essentially a radiator through counter current heat exchange. Instant precision cool. And when you add the yeast, they will be happy.

Then I pumped the cooled wort into a container after completely sanitizing it inside and outside including the caps, gaskets and threads. The process is a bit like pumping gas into your car. Except you pump wort into a 15 gallon plastic drum fermenter sometimes called a carboy.

Then I added the yeast.


  • 4 packages Safale American US-05.

This is an American ale yeast producing well balanced beers with low diacetyl and a very clean, crisp end palate. Forms a firm foam head and presents a very good ability to stay in suspension during fermentation.

And that started fermentation!


God is Always Hiring

I had read Regina Brett’s first book, God Never Blinks: 50 Lessons for Life’s Little Detours, a couple of years ago. I found it in Watermark Books & Cafe, a well-curated thriving independent bookstore in Wichita, KS.  Anne Frey helped me and we’ve been pen pals ever since.

When I saw God is Always Hiring: 50 Lessons for Finding Fulfilling Work in a bookstore in the Raleigh Durham airport, I knew I was in for a treat for my 6 hour flight. Each lesson bears a forthright title like “In this drama of life, there are no small parts.” and “Don’t confuse your work with your worth.”

Each chapter is short, attitude adjusting and often has to do with God. Some examples include “God completes our work” and  “It’s not about what you can do but what God can do through you.”

Brett has been a newspaper columnist for twenty years, fourteen of them for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Many of the lessons were originally published as a newspaper column.



My grandmother asked me to tell you she’s sorry

Britt-Marie was here too. But this story by Frederick Backman is about Elsa. A seven almost eight-year-old and her Granny who tells fairy tales about the land of Miamas and its seven kingdoms. Granny sends Elsa on a treasure hunt where she finds a series of letters. Each letter delivers an apology to the recipients, all of whom live in the same building as Granny did and Elsa does.

Elsa learns that each fairytale and kingdom are based in real life. And the most interesting fairytale and kingdom are yet to be made.

Backman tenderly unwraps each character. People who look like monsters turn out not to be and some who look normal turn out to be monsters. And according to Granny, each person is a combination of a “shit and a not-shit.” It’s the proportions and forgiveness that matter.

P.S. Britt-Marie’s backstory is in this book. It was written before Britt-Marie Was Here