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We spent all of November fly fishing for Chinook on Oregon’s south coast. When we were done I wrote a feature story about the experience, the fish, and the weather. It came out today in the new issue of The Fly Fish Journal. Here’s a bit of the piece. I hope you’ll support small publishing and check out the rest at http://www.theflyfishjournal.com/

Scratch Tickets, The Fly Fish Journal v4.3.

They come on the incoming tide. They come on the outgoing tide. A negative tide brings them in like seagulls on trash day. They’ll come when it rains. When it clears. When pigs fly and hell freezes over. The 14th is the peak. We’ll see them in December. You’re too late; they came in October. Try the mouth. Try upriver. Up coast. Up yours. There aren’t any fish in this river. They were rolling this morning. Last night 50 moved through and the wake trailed for miles. They were getting them at the bridge, at the Grange, at the snag hole. It’s like seeing Sasquatch. Pulling all cherries at the slots. Catching a unicorn. Finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It’s luck. It’s skill. It’s scratch tickets.

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I have a piece out in the new issue of The Fly Fish Journal. Full content of the journal is not available online, but it’s a beautiful book and worth picking a copy up.

In September 2012, I was fortunate to spend time with the group Casting for Recovery, and Steve Duda at the FFJ believed in the organization, and the story, enough to give a piece about the lives of women affected by breast cancer a home in a dominantly male-read publication.

Here’s an excerpt from the piece, The Courage to Cast:

Clad in dark scrubs and operating gowns a team of doctors clusters in the center of an operating room. The surgeon holds a scalpel in her right hand. She grips it as you would hold a steak knife. On the table is a woman’s draped body. We know it’s a woman because only her breasts are exposed. They are covered in smooth skin the color of cream with rosy nipples that stand erect in the cold room. They are perfect, gravity pulling them only slightly out of the round. They are also deadly.

Leaning over table and pressing down hard with the blade, the surgeon uses her 15 years of experience to carve a slice along the top of the breast. Blood wells from the cut and is daubed away by one of several assisting nurses. The surgeon shifts angles and moves along the bottom of the breast following its parabolic half moon curve. The cuts form an eye-shaped wound that surrounds the areola.

Over the next several hours these cuts will be repeated on the left breast. More than four pounds of tissue will be removed from the body during the course of the double mastectomy. In place of the nipples, which will be removed as just more bits of skin, there will be lines of black stitches.

In the morning, the woman who was on the table will rise from her recovery bed and unwind the ace bandages and gauze pads from her torso. She will stare at the concave surface that was once her breasts and she will cry. Friends and family will come to visit as she recovers and they will tell her she is lucky. Lucky that the cancer is gone. But she won’t feel lucky. She won’t even really feel like a woman.

After a month, the surgeon will call to see how she’s doing, and to see if she’s been doing her recovery exercises. She’ll be honest and say not good, and no. After a pause, the surgeon will ask simply, “Have you ever been fly fishing?”

In the last few years, I’ve written periodically about the impact of hydrologic dams on rivers and ecosystems. Most recently I put together a piece for Oregon’s Agricultural Progress magazine about the removal of small dams on Calapooia River in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. An excerpt from the piece is below, to view the whole article, visit: The Long Memory of Small Dams.

The Brownsville Dam was soon joined by two more dams—Sodom and Shearer—built to divert water to a local grain mill. The dams became part of the region’s landscape where they helped develop commerce and community.

However, as the reality of a competitive world market set in, the mills eventually closed. The dams became maintenance liabilities, as well as barriers to fish passage and factors in the ongoing degradation of the river channel. The impact of the dams on water flow was so severe and the diversions so effective that the main channel of the Calapooia River was at risk of running dry. Something needed to be done.

Although the details of these three dams were specific to the Calapooia, the general problem of aging and failing dams was becoming a much larger issue. Across the United States, more than 2.5 million dams obstruct waterways. They range from small structures a few feet tall designed primarily for irrigation to 600-foot structures capable of powering cities. …

Back in December I wrote a profile of ultra runner Brooks Williams for Trail Runner magazine. Williams has cystic fibrosis. His lungs and digestive system are compromised by the disease, yet he runs harder, longer and with more guts than most.

In the course of writing and editing the article, the entire TR crew and I became big fans of Williams, so we’ve been keeping track of him. On Feb. 4, 2012, he ran the Rocky Raccoon 100 miler and placed 4th overall with a time of 14:58:37, putting his average pace at just under 9 min/mile. Post race, TR and I whipped together a quick Q&A with Brooks and posted it in the magazine’s monthly newsletter, Inside Dirt. Click on the link for the published piece. Below, is the unedited version, which we had to cut for length before publishing.

In December 2011, Trail Runner profiled Colorado ultra runner Brooks Williams,  for its “Faces” department. Williams lives with cystic fibrosis (CF), a chronic, an often debilitating, respiratory and digestive disease that frequently leaves him bent at the waist as his lungs struggle to bring in air. Fifty years ago, the majority of CF patients did not survive childhood. Today Williams is 28-years-old and celebrating a fourth place finish at the Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile held in Huntsville, TX. We took advantage of his recovery days to ask Williams a few questions about Rocky and the season ahead.

AB: The weather at Rocky this year was something else. How did it affect your race?

BW: The crazy rain and mud slowed everyone down, I’m sure, but for me it meant 3 sock changes and some extremely slow sections of running through the mud bogs. I’d say these factors equated to about 20-30 minutes of lost time.

 AB: Any storm related mishaps or challenges?

BW: Less than 3 miles into the race I was trying navigate around the first major water hazard, but instead caught my foot on a submerged obstacle and went face down into 6” of water. After that, I didn’t really have to worry about avoiding wet socks anymore, since every square inch of my body was now saturated… Liza Howard and a couple others were right behind me when it happened and I know it gave everyone a good laugh! Going underwater also broke my watch and caused my headlamp to go on the fritz, so I had to run the next 97 miles with no idea of my time and the threat of darkness.

AB: You beat your own prediction to finish in the top fen and cracked the top five with a strong fourth place finish. Do you think you overestimated the field, or was this a race where everything lined up for you?

BW: Having never had a top-10 at the 100-mile distance, I think I primarily underestimated my own ability to go fast. Everyone knows how fast Hal, Ian, Karl, and company are, but since I’d never done anything that impressive at a hundred, I mostly think everything finally clicked for me. I still think those other top guys are inhuman!

AB: Health-wise how has the winter treated you? How are the lungs and digestive system holding up? Any issues during the race?

BW: I’ve been relatively healthy this off-season, with nothing more than a minor cold all winter. My lungs were at 90% in December, which is stellar for me, and I’ve had no digestive issues to speak of. During the race, my stomach did pretty good –  I only had to run into the bushes twice over the first 90+ miles. Then at mile 93 I crapped myself. At that point I really didn’t care though, because I just wanted it to be OVER!

AB: Tell me about the mind games you played with yourself during the race, and your interactions with other racers, especially with fifth place finisher Josh Katzman.

BW: I had to give myself little mini-goals throughout the race to break up the monotony, distract me from the pain, and motivate me to keep me pushing. After 40 miles, I made my next goal to get to mile 50 without walking, I also decided I wanted to set a new 50 mile PR (which I think I did… hard to tell with no watch). Having never run every step of a 50-mile race before, I then kept challenging myself to go a little further without a walk break. “Okay, Brooks, if you can make it to 60 without walking you’ll have a 100 mile PR in the bag and then you can walk to reward yourself.” 60 came and went, and since I felt surprisingly better than expected – based on my 2010 experience – I just kept running. Then 80, then 90, and finally 100… I kept offering myself a walk break as a reward but never ended up taking it, event thought I REALLY wanted to. Eventually I realized that if I started walking, I would probably never start running again, so I just kept pushing.

Josh and I were somewhat separated for longer periods of time, but somehow we kept arriving at the turnaround point at almost identical times. Until G.I. issues took him out on lap 5, we weren’t more than 4-5 minutes apart from the beginning on. Having never been so evenly matched with someone for such a long period of time, it brought out a competitive side of me I’d rarely seen in past races. Despite the misery I was in while running side-by-side with him at mile 75, I had no problem lying and telling him I felt great, when asked. He must have seen right through it, because when I asked him the same, I got the identical response! Neither of us wanted to show weakness, and deep down, I’m sure we were both hoping the other would break so we could back off the pace a little. In the end, I’m sure we both ran faster times because of it.

AB: How important were your pacers and crew in this race? Did they bring anything unique to the plate?

BW: This was the 4th ultra that my girlfriend, Holly, helped me with, and the 3rd race that my buddy and crew-chief Eric, was at. Now that they know how cranky I get, and what to expect when they see me, the aid station transitions were seamless. This helped tremendously as there was no wasted time at the turnarounds. It also helped that Holly – jokingly, I hope – said she would break up with me if I didn’t get top-10!

Regarding a pacer: I had gone into the race not expecting to have one, but things changed in a hurry when Ian was forced to drop. One of his pacers from last year, Meredith Terranova, had volunteered to help me if he couldn’t continue, and it ended up being a blessing in disguise. She helped me for about 17 miles total, and was vital in pushing me HARD over the last several miles when I was falling apart the worst. I hated her so much for forcing me to not give in to the pain, run harder than I wanted to go, and not letting me know what time it was until I rounded the final bend, but once I saw 14:xx on the clock, I immediately forgave her and sprinted in!

AB: Did you go into Rocky with a plan, or racing tactics? How did you manage running, walking, aid stations, etc?

BW: I was on the ‘non-plan’ plan, especially after my watch broke!  For aid stations and fueling, I simply listened to my body and gave it what it needed, when it needed it. For me this meant drinking when I was thirsty, eating when I didn’t want to, and eating things I normally don’t, i.e. bananas, if I felt they had a nutrient I was needing (potassium). If anything, I fueled MORE than I needed, but that is always better than the alternative. I took a little more ibuprofen than I would have liked to – 2 every 20 miles – but I was well hydrated and peeing regularly, so I wasn’t too concerned about causing any damage.  For running, my strategy was to run until I couldn’t anymore, which just happened to be 100 miles for the first time!

 AB: Any memorable moments, hallucinations, epiphanies from the race?

BW: Unlike 2010, where I swore I heard and saw alligators all around me, I remained surprisingly lucid for this one. Instead of getting bitter and angry when the pain got bad, I just became supremely grateful for everyone who was there supporting me and helping me through the adventure!

AB: What’s next?

BW: Ask me that question when my exercise-induced cankles are gone, and I’m walking normal again! In all honesty, I think my next big races will be San Juan Solstice in June, and Leadville in August. Other than that, I have a lot of ‘tentatives’ on my calendar, but nothing set in stone at this point.

The January issue of Trail Runner magazine is out. I spent a few days running potions of the McKenzie River Trail and hanging out at MRTR aid stations to write a piece for the Take Your Mark department. Below is an excerpt. For the full piece check out a copy of Trail Runner: One Dirty Magazine.

TAKE YOUR MARK Basalt, Blood and Beauty. Why you should run Oregon’s McKenzie River Trail 50K.

At the start they stand in a loose herd, arms hanging, shoulders rolling, exchanging greetings in muted voices. Then, the start gun stirs them to action. In the dawn’s grey mist 200 runners explode down a winding forest trail. In a trailside stream, wild trout rise to feed on fall caddis, and, above, Northern spotted owls sink long talons into the bark of ancient cedars.

For miles black lava rock protrudes from the trail like Grendel’s broken teeth. By the finish, many participants have battled the terrain and lost, and runners regularly cross the line bruised and bloodied with small chunks of basalt still imbedded in their knees, palms and elbows. Continued at Trail Runner magazine.

The winter issue of National Parks Magazine is out, and it looks great. Check it out here: National Parks. For this issue I was fortunate to work with the scientists at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan to tell the story of the endangered Piping Plover, a small migratory shorebird that makes its nest among the cobbles of the Great Lakes.

Here’s the beginning:

A Shoreline Rescue: The National Park Service fights to bring Great Lakes’ piping plovers back from the brink.

In the morning hours, when the lake and the sky are the same soft gray, Alice Van Zoeren steps among the small stones marking the high waterline at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan. Van Zoeren walks this route almost every day from late April to June, scanning the beach for signs of newly arrived piping plovers—but this time, the scene looks different: A late-spring storm has repositioned the lakeshore’s cobbles. To most visitors, the disturbance would go unnoticed. But to Van Zoeren, who has been monitoring piping plovers here for the last eight years, it’s as if someone came by and rearranged the furniture without asking permission. Once the plovers build their nests and lay their eggs amid the stones, such a seemingly innocuous event can have disastrous consequences for the small, pale shorebird with bright orange legs. … continued here …

New column for The Source Weekly. This is the first time I’ve ever cursed in a published piece. I usually try to keep it to something I’d want my Grandma to read. I’m not sure what came over me, or the editor who wanted to keep it in. Maybe we’re all getting a little antsy. Here’s the beginning:

It’s not snowing and, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s(NOAA) weather forecasts, it’s not going to snow with substance anytime soon.

I know it’s just barely December, but I’m about one weak storm system away from stripping down and throwing a half-gallon of gasoline and a match on the pile of old straight skis and broken snowboards that has been building up in the garage for the last few seasons. All I want is one big storm. Then another. And another. Piled up on the horizon, loaded and heavy with precipitation for months to come. Nothing like a sacrificial fire and ceremonial booty-shaking dance to get that fickle bitch La Nina and all her snow-god pals on board.

For the whole piece, visit: High Pressure Blues.

The December issue of Trail Runner is on news stands now. For the “Faces” feature, I interviewed Colorado ultra runner Brooks Williams. He’s as tough as the come. The beginning of the piece is below. For the rest check out “Embracing Adveristy” in Trail Runner.

Brooks Williams, 28, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, is hoofing his way out of the May Queen aid station on his way to the 11,071-foot summit of Sugarloaf Pass in Colorado’s 2011 Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run. It is the first major climb, less than 20 miles into the race, and Williams has just hacked up a wad of mucus that resembles an olive-green cinnamon gummy bear in both size and consistency.

The phlegm is an indicator of the infection that has permanent residence deep in his lungs. For the next 86 miles he will continue to cough up secretions, first in this gummy stage, than as something that resembles tapioca pudding, and, finally, as common, stringy snot. Despite all sounds and appearnaces, the chest-rattling hacking is good for him: some mucus in his lungs is emptying.

When he was five-and-a-half-months old, Williams was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF), a chronic life-threatening respiratory and digestive disease…