As I've mentioned before, I have several hobbies, er… passions… besides running ultramarathons.
One that I have been involved in the longest is homebrewing beer and wine. I began making beer almost 20 years ago and have been making it off and on ever since.
What better way to relax after running an ultramarathon than sit in our hot tub overlooking a pine forested canyon enjoying a refreshing cold homebrew?
We had an Oktoberfest party recently; after an evening of visiting and listening to Bavarian beer drinking music…our friends emptied almost all of our kegs.
I love when my kegs are empty. That means I have space to store new beer and can start brewing again. Making beer is as much fun as tasting it-almost. The creation and trying out new recipes are the best parts of the hobby. However, I could never ever consume all that I make which is why I'm always eager to share.
I started out using kits and simple recipes. I learned from the mistakes I made along the way. I've never made a bad batch of beer- but some have turned out better than others.
One bit of advice is to aquire a good homebrewing book and/or have an experienced homebrewer show you how.
My favorite book…indeed it should be called the "bible" of homebrewing… is The Complete Joy of Home Brewing by Charlie Papazian, one of the pioneers of home brewing beer.
It was he who first coined the phrase "Relax… Don't Worry… Have a Home Brew!" which remains the unofficial motto of homebrewers to this day.
I make all kinds of beer. I also enjoy trying out new microbrews or imports to get ideas of which style of beer I might like to try brewing next.
Sometimes I am asked which is my favorite: "I have none… I appreciate them all…."
A pale ale with the citrusy bitterness of Cascade hops may be just the thing on a hot August afternoon after working in the garden… while a rich, creamy oatmeal stout accompanied with homemade whole grain bread, soup and salad might be exactly what's needed after coming in from slitting firewood on a winter's evening.
Which beer is best? It all depends…
There are two main styles of beer: ales and lagers. The difference is in the type of yeast that is used.
Ale yeast forms a thick krausen or head of foam on the beer as they ferment- they're top fermenters. Ale yeasts produce fruity esters. Sometimes these are clove-like and spicy, sometimes they are fruity, even banana-like- it all depends on the variety. Ale yeasts work best at room temperature and usually they do their job more quickly than lager yeasts. Thus, ales are the best types of beer for a beginner to learn to make first.
Examples of ales include: Pale ales, English Bitter, IPA, red ales, light ale, amber ales, stouts, porters, and wheat beers.
Lagers, on the other hand, ferment more slowly and require cold aging, often as long as 3 or 4 months or more. They are bottom fermenters and do not work asaggressively as most ale yeasts. However, the wait is worth it: lager yeasts produce crisp, clean tasting beers, highly prized by beer drinkers around the world. Nevertheless, lagers are slightly more tricky to work with which is why it is best for beginners to develop their skills on ales first.
Examples of lagers include: Pilsner, Amber lager, Vienna lager, Oktoberfest, Marzen, Bock, Dopplebock and others.
My second bit of advice: use liquid instead of dry yeast.
The quality of beer made with liquid yeast is markedly better than with dry yeast. I keep a few spare packets of dry yeast around in case I have a "stuck" batch of beer that won't ferment. Dry yeast does not expire as quickly as does liquid. Otherwise, I use only liquid. Plus, there are many more varieties to choose from.
My favorite brand is the Wyeast Activator, avalable in countless different strains. There's a kind for every conceivable style of beer you might want to make.
The next important ingredient in beer is hops. There innumerable varieties of hops available. Hops are used either for bittering or aroma. Some varieties are used for both.
Hops are the dried female flower of a perennial vine that dies back to the ground every winter before sprouting up again from its roots every spring. We grew hops on the south wall of our house back when we lived in Wisconsin. Within a couple of months every spring they were touching the roof of our two story farmhouse.
Amazing vines- hops can grow a foot or more in a day!
Hops add both bitterness and the familiar aroma to beer. They also possess natural antioxidants which help preserve beer, a useful trait back in the days before pastuerization and refrigeration.
Some beers, such as the India Pale Ale were purposely made extremely hoppy so they could survive the travel for months on a ship around the Cape and through the warm tropical seas- eventually to quench the thrist of the British in India a century ago.
Certain beers are known for the specific type of hops they are made with. The noble Saaz hop is an essential ingredient to Pilsners; the citrusy, almost grapefruit-rind like, aroma and bitterness of the Cascade hop is a favorite in American Pale Ales.
One confusing thing, sometimes the same variety of hop is used for both bittering AND aroma. Bittering hops are added to the wort (unfermented beer) early in the boiling process- aroma hops are added only a few minutes before the boiling is done. Bittering and aroma hops can be two or more different varieties or they can be the same- it all depends on the recipe.
Hops are available as dry leaves, plugs or pellets (pictured above). I prefer the latter for availability and ease of use, unless I happen to be using some hops I've grown myself.
But yeast and hops without malt would be nothing more than bitter hop flavored tea. Yeast needs food to grow on and carbohydrates to convert into alcohol. Just as bread yeast feeds on the starch in flour; beer yeast needs the sugars in malt. Malt is made from the sprouted barley and other grains. As the grain begins to sprout, starches are converted into sugars, easier for yeast to digest. The malts are then dried and roasted to various darkness, imparting a rich complexity to the beer. In the past, all brewer had to malt and roast their own grain- a few still do.
Now however, you can buy pre-made malt extract from homebrew suppliers- it is easy to use and almost as good. All grain brewing is much more challenging than using malt extracts. I prefer to use a combination of grains and malts. The quality of beer is better but using some extract makes brewing more convenient.
Finally, the last important, and probably least appreciated, ingredient in beer is water. Most tap waters are acceptable- as long as they don't have off-flavors or are too highly mineralized.
Our pure cold Black Hills mountain aquifer water is perfect for creating great beer.
Many homebrew suppliers offer kits with all necessary ingredients. These are tried and true recipes which minimize the possibility of starting a batch and later finding out one or more essential ingredients is missing. However, before you can begin brewing, you need the tools to do the job. Again, homebrew suppliers offer new to homebrewing supply kits for new homebrewers.
The minimum equipment and tools required to make beer include the following:
- Stainless steel brewing pot: to boil the wort (unfermented beer).
- Slotted bewing spoon- to stir the wort while it boils
- A burner to boil your beer- a stove top will do but does not heat as quickly and is harder to get the exact right temperature to allow a slow bubble without messy boilovers. I bought a propane burner for frying turkeys on sale after the Holidays. It works great!
- Cheese cloth muslin: to put the hops and specialty grains in when steeping and boiling
- Household bleach- diluted it makes a cheap and effective sterilizer for beer equipment. Use gloves and don't forget to rinse!
- Carboy- preferably a large glass one instead of plastic bucket- for the beer to ferment in. Glass is easier to keep clean.
- Air locks- the beer needs to "breathe" or release CO2 as it ferments but oxygen must never touch it. Air locks with filled half-way with water do the trick.
- Stoppers with hole- to fit the air lock into and put on the carboy
- Strainer and funnel: to strain the wort and allow it to be poured into the carboy. Make sure the wort has cooled before pouring it into the carboy or the glass will shatter!
- Siphon with plastic hose: for transferring beer into another fermentor, into a keg or into bottles
- Bottles (until you move up to kegging beer as I have): to store your beer until you drink it- duh!
- Bottle caps- to cap your bottles- another duh!
- A bottle capper- I recommend spending the extra money to get a stand alone one. They're much easier to use, with less hassle and frustration
The above are the minimum equipment needed. As you become more experienced, you may decide to invest in a set up to keg your beer and more specialized equipment such as a wort chiller and so on. Those are nice but not an absolute necessity when starting out.
Once you have assembled your equipment and ingredients- it' time to make beer!
I've been back running for a couple of weeks. So far, so good. My tendon burns slightly when I stretch it in certain positions. Otherwise all feels OK but I haven't run over 5 miles yet. My plan is to do slow 3 to 5 mile runs only for this first month I'm back and then slowly move back to my usual distances as tolerated over the winter.
I haven't made any decisions on which ultras I'll do next year. It all depends of it this tendon injury is really behind me or I will be forced to deal with it next year. I hope not! At the very minimum, I'd like to attempt the Bighorn 50 mile and the Lean Horse Hundred again.
A friend/co-worker suggests we try a 3 day multi-day 150-k stage trail race in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas: 3 Days in Syllamo. My friend is a marathoner whom I've been trying to convince to move up to "real" distances. Based on his marathon times, when he finally does, he'll finish hours and hours ahead of me. He has a few friends from Missouri who run it every year.
This event is run on trails over three days: 50 kilometer, 50 miles and 20 kilometers on March 12, 13 and 14th. The 50k has a 9 hour cut-off, the 50-mile a 14 hour cut-off and 20k a 6 hour cut-off.
Even if I must stop early or am unable to run one of the days, it'll still be a nice early season training run.
On the other hand, if I am able to run the entire 93 miles over three days, it'll be great training for doing 100 miles in less than 30 hours later in the year.
They limit the runners to 100 but as far as I know, it does not fill up quickly. There are only 4 registered right now.
Does anyone care to join us?
I have many interests…er, passions… besides only running. Because running provides inspiration about which I enjoy writing about, I spend most of my personal blogging time writing about it.
A friend once asked me, "why don't you blog about the other things you do?" Quite honestly, if I wrote about all of my other passions as I do about my experiences running.. I'd have no time left to do any of them.
My recent injury and following series of upper respiratory illness allowed me to rediscover some of my other interests, including music. We recently went to a friend's barn dance/jam session where I got to play with a variety of other musicians. It was inspiring.
The music I play is very unique (what a surprise: me being unique, huh?). I play old time folk music of the western frontier from about 1840 through 1920. I play many songs that do not exactly fit this definition but are in the spirit of this genre'.
It is definitely not country-western music nor is it bluegrass. I have nothing against either of those types of music. Indeed, I enjoy listening to them on occasion- they are just not what I play.
My music is the music that would've been played across the American South and West during the time from just before the Civil War through the westward expansion and into the time of the first and second generations of settlement. It includes the music that was sung and played by the cowboys before there was even such a thing as "cowboy" music.
Although I try to be authentic, I play to keep the music alive and that is all. I am not trying to be an accurate living history re-enactor. I have nothing against folks who do living history, who are buckskinners trying to re-live the mountain man days or cowboy action shooters who enjoy playing cowboy- what they do is important and even a lot of fun- but again, it is just not what I do.
So why do I play this little-known and obscure form of traditional music?
That is a hard question to answer. The reasons are personal. This music is as much part of me as it is part of this land. Music can speak not only to one's soul but also to a sense of place. And there is no place that speaks to me more than the wild open spaces of the West. Over the years, I have ridden my horses and pack strings over the mountain ranges and through the deserts; now I run where I used to ride. I have lived and traveled to many places but there is no place like home. It is part of me as much as I am part of the land.
I enjoy listening to a variety of music styles. However, unlike many other forms of music, the music I play is the kind best listened to while sitting around a campfire with friends and family. It is best accompanied by the crack of the fire and the wind in the trees and sage. If there are crickets chirping or the bells of the pack string ringing- so much the better…
Although you'll almost never hear this music on the radio, it is still being played by folks such as myself out here on the prairies and in mountain valleys of the West. We are keeping the spirit and traditions of the past alive, even if we are not trying to re-live history. As much as we might like to romanticize our past, we live in the year 2009, not 1909.
Some years ago, when I was first exposed to this music, I realized that many of the musicians were older and not going to be around much longer. Often I'd sit around a campfire and wish that so-and-so was around to play and sing a song. I then realized that if such music was going to be played, it would have to be by me.
So I taught myself to sing and play. With time, I learned how to read music and play the guitar. I learned how to sing and yodel. Yodeling is not authentic to the western frontier. It was not introduced into this type of music until the days of cattle droving had been long gone for several decades. Nevertheless, yodeling is what many people think of when they think of "cowboy music."
I also have been playing the Native American flute for 20+ years and even have a small flute which I play sometimes while running. It's like an I-pod that never needs batteries. Sometimes, it even attracts wildlife such as coyotes. I'm hoping to get a new low D flute in the future from a local flute-maker just down the road.
Maybe Santa (ie my wife Jeanne) will get it for me if I'm good?
I taught myself to play claw-hammer banjo. "Claw hammer" is so named because of the way the hand is held during playing. Also known as "frailing," claw hammer was original style of banjo playing for three hundred years before Earl Scruggs introduced three-finger bluegrass style in the 1940s. It is not as obnoxious as bluegrass (is it ever really possible for a banjo to not be obnoxious?) and allows one to sing along with it.
I got a harmonica and harmonica holder so I can play my guitar or banjo at the same time I play the mouth harp. Playing the harmonica while strumming on another instrument seems easy now but was very hard to learn at first. Much harder than walking and chewing gum at the same time…
During this entire time, I longed to play the fiddle. The songs played on the fiddle can be haunting, beautiful, stirring, mournful, exuberant, and/or joyful. The fiddle is more expressive than any other instrument I know.
Despite the scenes portrayed in movies, most cowboys during the time of the cattle drives and settlers traveling west did not play a guitar. If any instrument were brought along in the wagon, more than likely it would be a fiddle. Cowboys and former Confederate soldiers from the south looking to start over post-Civil war, might bring a banjo. However, until the 1890s and later, the guitar was primarily a parlor instrument. It was much too large and bulky to bring along on the cattle drives or during the overland migration. It wasn't until the 1920-30s that the guitar became a cowboy instrument.
Last week, my nurse's mom (By the way, I have the best office nurse) lent me her violin to see if I might be interested in acquiring a fiddle of my own.
I've been playing for only a week and of course I'm already hooked!
Long ago, I promised myself that if I ever learned to play the fiddle and I only learned one song it would be "Wild Ripplin' Waters" also known as "The Cowboy and the Lady." The melody itself has been around for a couple of hundred years at least. Only the words have been changed over time from a soldier to a sailor to a rake to a cowboy.
The following video was recorded on the cliff edge right outside our cabin this afternoon. I try to practice outside when I can to avoid irritating my family too much. We live in a rural area in the Black Hills where there are few neighbors. The neighbors we do have, live some distance away from us. Lucky for them!
My playing is a little scratchy and hesitant. I need to work more on how to bow properly. However, considering I've been playing for only a week and this is my very first fiddle tune, I don't think I'm doing too poorly!
The words of one version are as follows:
Wild Ripplin' Waters
One mornin', one mornin', one mornin' in May,
I spied a young couple a-comin' my way,
One was a lady and a fair one was she,
And the other a cowboy and a brave one was he.
Oh where are you goin' my pretty fine maid
Just down by the river, just down by the shade
Just down by the river, just down by the spring
To hear the wild ripplin' water and the meadowlark sing
Oh they had not been gone but an hour or so
'Til the cowboy from his satchel drew a fiddle and bow
He tuned his ol' fiddle all on the high string
And he played her a tune caused the valleys to ring..
"Oh ho," said the cowboy, "I should have been gone,"
"Oh no!" said the pretty maid, "just play one tune more,
For I'd rather hear the fiddle all played on one string
And hear the wild ripplin' waters and the meadowlark sing…"
Music like this is timeless. Although you won't hear it on the radio, it is still very much alive. I'm grateful to be playing one small part in keeping up the tradition.
After my torn anterior ankle tendon at mile 50 during Lean Horse in August, I intended to take off about six weeks from running entirely to allow everything to heal. My sports med doc was very reassuring and didn't think it was that big of a deal. Just take some time off, if it hurts then don't do it and when you're healed, you can start running again. In the meantime, you might want to think about other sports such as biking or swimming.
"That is all excellent advice," I thought but I also wondered: "how many other patients do you have whose next goal is to run one hundred miles?"
During the last six years I had not taken off more than 7 to 10 days from running. "Who knows what other overuse or degenerative injuries there might be lurking around the corner?" I thought, "It's the off season, what better time to take a break?" Taking some time off would be good for me.
At first, it was difficult for me to not run. Running is an important part of what I do. It is a time of queit reflection where I let the stresses of life fall away, like the golden leaves from a quaking aspen in an autumn breeze. I missed my time of relaxation, meditation, escape and communion with nature.
To avoid feeling too sorry for myself for not being able to run, I devoted my free time into other acitvities which I had neglected. I spent time with my family. Jeanne, Nathan and I cut and stacked firewood. They joined me on trips to Tucson, Arizona and then to Casper, Wyoming.
We threw an Oktoberfest party. I wore lederhosen and sang Bavarian beer-drinking songs (Photo above). Friends emptied almost all the beer from my kegs. So much the better; it's fall and time to start brewing beer again. One of my other hobbies beside ultrarunning is homebrewing. I can't make more beer until I have space to keep it. I appreciate when friends rise to the occasion and help make space in my kegs to store new beer.
We went to a friend's barn dance and I got to jam with other musicians. That was very insipiring. I hadn't played much the past year. Hopefully I'll get to play with others more often. I play guitar, harmonica, claw hammer banjo, ukulele-banjo, Native American flute, and sign/yodel old time folk music of the American West from about 1840-1930. My nurse's mom has lent me her violin so I could start learning how to play. I'd always wanted to play the fiddle.. now I am. The songs were pretty scratchy but I'm already improving. I don't have any desire to be at the level of a concert violinist, I only want to be able to play a few old time fiddle tunes around the campfire with friends.
During these last weeks, I did not write anything on this blog because no one wants to read a long drawn out whining post: "This sucks. I'm injured and I can't run" I avoided reading or commenting on other's blogs- not because I wasn't interested- but because I did not want to be reminded of all the things others are doing while I can't. I'd end up feeling even more self-pity.
Just as I was ready to start running again, I came down with bronchitis. After three weeks of coughing and right before the remnants of that was almost gone, I then caught a cold. I was frustrated and dejected. "This sucks!" I thought. Well, there's one thing I could be thankful for: at least I was sick without it being before any upcoming major races on my calendar, unlike how it had been so many times in the past.
"I'd do anything, just anything, if I could even go only ONE mile," I thought to myself. It's funny how humans, myself included, take so much for granted, including our fitness and our ealth. We don't realize what we have until we lose it.
Yesterday was sunny with clear blue skies, a mild beeze and a high temp of 74 degrees. Even though I still have a trace of cough and reactive airway, I just couldn't stay away from running any longer. It has been almost ten weeks since I've run more than a few hundred yards. If I had to stop and walk back home, so be it. I wasn't going to put off returning to running any longer.
I put Ruby on a lead and my Vibram Five Fingers on my feet. We padded slowly, silently down the gravel road. It was Friday afternoon and we saw only a handful of vehicles. We saw deer, horses, cows, wild turkeys and one other jogger (rare here in the rural Black Hills of South Dakota). The vanilla aroma of fresh-cut ponderosa permeated the warm afternoon air where wildfire suppression crews had been thinning the forest.
I would have loved to run on a trail instead of a road but thought I'd better not push it. I only expected to go a mile or two and see how I feel. The first mile I coughed and coughed and coughed until finally the remnants of post-bronchitis mucous were gone. Running clears my airways even better than a nebulizer treatment. My legs felt well if not strong. The area of injury felt tight but there was no pain. Every few hundred yards I thought about turning back but felt so good that we kept going. At mile 2.5 we finally turned back.
Today, I have few minor tight spots in my hips and calves. That's no surprise, given that we ran 5.1 miles and it's been almost ten weeks since I had gone for a decent run. I will take it easy the next couple of months before I think about races for next year. It would be foolish to push myself too far, too soon and then end up re-injured.
Perhaps a short ultra such as a 50k or a 26.2m trail marathon in March/April might be possible? I have no idea how well I will recover my fitness and whether that tendon injury is truly gone.
I have plenty of time to think about future races. I'm just glad that I'm running again. My only goal now is to simply keep running without injury. Ultramarathoning is all about persistence and taking the long perspective on things. This philosophy applies during races themselves, during those up and down times between races, as well as to life itself.
Enjoy the seasons of running and of life, my friends.
Float softly and quietly down those forest trails.
Run well and run strong.
I haven't posted at all since Lean Horse Hundred because I've been injured, sick, traveling and not running. No one wants to read a long discourse of whining self-pity about someone injured and not able to run. So I haven't been blogging.
For all of you who are still out there running and being physically active: don't ever take your health and fitness for granted. We are all one misplaced foot step away from injury and one unwashed handshake away from a cold or influenza.
More to come soon… I hope.
My family and I did have an interesting experience with bedbugs a few weeks ago. Fortunately, we saw them before they had a chance to enjoy us as the main course. It is good to be someone who pays attention to detail and is curious about the natural world… including insects.
In 2006, a survey of hotels in the US revealed that as many as 20-30% have bedbug infestations. I posted about our experience at my professional blog: http://www.endocrinetoday.com/comments.aspx?rid=44959#com They don't carry disease but they do have quite a bit of "creep factor."
I hope that I will be able to start running and posting at this site again soon.
Good night, sleep tight…. and don't let the bedbugs bite!