Barefoot and Covered In Glitter

For anyone who hasn’t caught on yet, this is more than just a running blog.  It started as a place for me to explore the C25K program along with Vibram FiveFingers and, as I mentioned in my intro, it’s also a place to discuss other “barefoot” activities.  Running, hiking, swimming and playing in my Vibrams often leaves me wanting to discuss my physical experiences but also the spiritual/emotional/intellectual experiences that come from being outside on the trails.  Today’s entry is not about running, it’s about glitter.

I mentioned in my previous post that when I ran on Friday I was alarmed by the massive amount of silver glitter poured all along the trail.  Without exaggeration, many areas of the trail resembled sheets of glitter; I seriously don’t want to know how much money was spent on all this glitter.  I became more and more upset as I ran the trail and found that the glitter extended for close to a mile!

I initially believed the glitter was related to the Story Walk event, sponsored by the Kellogg-Hubbard Library, that many of the trails in Vermont are participating in.  Story Walk is an awesome program in which a children’s book is photocopied, each page is laminated, and the pages are staked alongside a trail so people can read while they walk.  I love the idea of promoting reading and exercise and think this is a phenomenal children’s event.  I couldn’t understand how polluting the trail with glitter was part of an educational event.  It turns out it wasn’t.

Waitsfield had terrible storms Sunday night into Monday; strong enough to down trees along the path.  When I ran on Monday I noticed that the bulk of the glitter had been washed away (most likely into the corn fields and Mad River) but the path was still saturated with sparkles.  When I got to the gazebo I picked up the guest book with the intention of writing a comment when, to my chagrin, I noticed the last comment was from someone praising Story Walk which began with, “I LOVED the glitter!!”  Really?!  REALLY?!  You double-underline-LOVED the glitter?!  Ignorance is not always so blissful.

I’ve lived in enough cities that I know I shouldn’t be surprised by people littering without thinking about it.  While it’s always bothered me, I find I get much angrier when it happens in areas that pride themselves in being eco-friendly and “green”.  I feel those of us living close to nature should somehow know better, really, everyone by now should know better, but I am obviously wrong.

So, I wrote a letter.  I wrote to the Mad River Path Association and to the Kellogg-Hubbard Library complimenting them on Story Walk and expressing my concern for our new glistening path and wondering what the clean-up plan is.  I explained that glitter is not only incredibly difficult to clean up, but it does not biodegrade and in the area it was spread it is likely to be washed into the Mad River which can cause death to small fish, tadpoles and other wildlife that is attracted to eating small shiny objects.  Even without making contact with the river, there are several species on land who could suffer ulcerations if they digest the glitter (including curious dogs).  Since I also like to have sources beyond myself, I quoted a nice summary of the environmental impacts of glitter from Wikipedia (there are several other in-depth articles on this if you Google it, but I really liked Wikipedia’s brief synapsis):

“Because of its small size and durable nature, glitter is a persistent environmental pollutant. Glitter is commonly made from[2] copolymer plastics, aluminum foil, titanium dioxide, iron oxides, bismuth oxychloride and other materials. These materials are not readily biodegradable. Being heavier than water, glitter sinks to the bottom of waterways and contributes to toxic sludges. Most glitter is used only briefly. At the end of each use it is showered off, entering waste water systems, or swept up for disposal in landfill. Glitter is not recovered or recycled in any way. Because of its small size, down to 15 micrometres, glitter is often lost or spread by humans throughout their environment. Insects and other small organisms are unable to deal with glitter, as it is inedible. Larger creatures can ingest it involuntarily, allowing it to enter the food chain. Because of its metallic nature, static electricity effects can cause it to stick to body parts or habitats. Some of the oxides glitter is made with can be reactive when combined with other waste streams, particularly in water. Glitter has very sharp, hard, edges which are uncommon in nature, are also a problem for very small life. When the same material as glitter occurs in industrial situations as swarf, it is considered a hazardous contaminant, for which extensive safety measures are required. Micro pollutants in animal bloodstreams can have significant health effects.”

I was pleased to receive an email back from the Mad River Path Association the very next morning.  They were as surprised as I was about the glitter and immediately began investigating.  As I mentioned earlier, it turns out this was not a part of Story Walk, so my apologies for assuming it was.  That leaves all involved wondering where the glitter came from and why.  Was it a prank?  Was it someone’s ignorant attempt to make the path more “magical”?  Who’s responsible for this random act of glittering and how the heck do we clean it up?

Many of those questions will never have answers, and the clean-up question is really the only one that can be realistically focused on.  Speaking of which, do you know any way to clean up glitter from grass and mud and rocks spread out for almost a mile?  I’d love to hear your ideas. 🙂

I’m not beyond seeing the humor in all of this.  I can see in some teenager’s mind that turning our path into a silver version of the Yellow Brick Road might seem like a brilliant idea, especially after smoking some Vermont Green.  That said, as a culture I believe we’re past the point of laughing off environmental blunders.  The Mad River Path brings joy, wonder and relaxation to hundreds if not thousands of people every year.  It, along with all of our natural resources, needs to be respected and cared for.

The world right now is outraged by the BP Oil Spill, but few people seem to care if someone drops a gun wrapper or a cigarette butt on the ground.  Where do we draw the line and when do we as a society stand up to educate ourselves on how the small environmental impacts we make every day accumulate in massive ways?  I’m standing up for glitter.  Hey, we all have to choose our battles, right?

Part of the glittery Mad River Path after several huge storms.

Vibram Takes Me Where I Want To Go

It seems like the last two weeks really flew by and I apologize for the lack of an entry last weekend.  I have an admission that I’ll just get off my chest right off the bat; part of why I didn’t write last weekend was that I ended up not running during the crazy heat wave we had in VT.  With temps into the 100’s and incredibly heavy humidity it wasn’t exactly appealing.  When that was mixed with a holiday and then family in town I let the excuses pile up and I decided to find alternate sources of activity for the week.

It’s easy to make excuses.  I was reminded of the new Nike commercial, “No Excuses”.  I’m sure we can all relate:

However, my week was not a bust.  I had a full practice of massage clients and I swam almost every day.  The highlight of the week was hiking to Cady’s Falls with my pup.  Cady’s Falls is a natural waterfall and river carved out of a rock formation in Morrisville, my home town.  I had heard about it but kept looking in the wrong places (though that did help me find a nice swimming hole on the Lamoille River).  The hike was gorgeous.  The first quarter mile the path is surrounded by raspberry bushes and I snacked as I walked towards the river.  I learned later that I could have walked down the river to get to the waterfall, which would have been far less challenging than the road I chose.

I veered left up a path and headed on a steep hike upwards.  I ended up crossing paths with a couple who told me I was headed in the right direction so I kept going until I found the waterfall…and I was above it.  Two men swam below and, despite the loud wooshing sounds of the falls, I could hear one say, “Look, she’s up there!”  Obviously, I had not taken the “standard” path to get to the falls; though the path was well-traveled enough that I don’t really get points for originality.

After casing things out I stashed my belongings behind a rock above the falls and I slowly scooted myself down slippery rocks at the edge of the falls.  Since I didn’t risk bringing electronics down with me, I have no pictures of the beauty, but it really was a sight.  The base of the falls opened up to a deep swimming area that was almost ice-cold; much colder than the rivers I’d been swimming in.  However, given the heat and humidity it felt so good!

Toby ended up jumping down the falls.  I didn’t get to witness this but the reaction of the two men who saw him jump was pretty stellar.  We played around for a while and then I started scoping out the banks of the river to see how we could get back up.  That’s when I realized there was no safe way up.  We’d have to go back the way we came which meant climbing up the waterfall.

My Vibram Fivefingers were such an asset on this venture.  I definitely took my time, but I had no problem scaling the rocks back up to the top of the falls.  Toby, on the other hand, took some coaxing.  He was scared, and I was nervous that he might get hurt but I wanted to let him try it before hiking down and rescuing him.  I stood at the top of the falls and called to him.  He anxiously ran all around trying to find another way up until he came to the same conclusion I did.  I could see when he made the decision to try to climb up the falls, it took all his puppy courage.  He did a great job climbing up the rocks and only had one paw slip.  My dog is awesome!

Truthfully, I don’t think he would have been able to do it if I hadn’t been running with him and building up his strength in the past few month.  To be honest, I don’t know if I would have either.  Running has brought me confidence in areas that yoga, weigh lifting and aerobics have not.  Running encourages me to be adventurous and that sense of adventure crosses over into my hiking and swimming experiences.  I feel not only in shape and physically strong, but I feel a strong mind-body connection and an organic push to be in motion.

Wow, I’ve yammered on so much that I barely have time to write about the running I actually did this week.  While many Vermonters are still complaining that we’re in a heat wave, as soon as the temps dipped back into the 80’s I was ready to hit the trail and I was back on schedule for this whole week.

Monday’s run was such a relief.  I thought getting back on the trail for the first day might seem arduous but it was anything but.  As soon as I started my first sprint through the field I realized how much I missed it.  The runs were some of my fastest, but the speed-walking parts were slow as the raspberries and blackberries along the path are ripe and I just had to steal a few bites.  By the time I finished I was covered in sweat and Toby and I jumped right into the river which was warm and wonderful.  I just floated there for a while and let the current take me.  Have I mentioned just how much I love Vermont this time of year?

Friday was less amazing but still fun.  It was extremely humid and I thought I was timing my run perfectly to be out during a downpour.  Unfortunately, while I managed to stretch during the downpour, it really turned into a sprinkling while I ran so it was not the nice relieving feeling I was looking for.  I also had to forgo my swim as I had an unusually high workload for a Friday.  Oh well, I’ll certainly be swimming today and I’ll be back on the trail again tomorrow!

I’m going to risk the tl;dr labeling and add one more soapbox paragraph.  The only really discouraging thing about my explorations of Cady’s Falls and my Friday run was running into litter.  Cady’s Falls had empty beer bottles and soda cans strewn about (I’m definitely bringing a trash bag with me next time I head there).  Yesterday began an event on the Mad River Path called “Story Walk”.  It’s a really cute concept in which pages of a children’s book are laminated and posted on the path so as you walk you can read the story.  Good to promote reading and exercise, I love the idea!  I’m not 100% sure this was related, but along the parts of the path that had the story there was a ton of silver glitter littered all over the path.  I was shocked.  Who the hell would pour non-biodegratable shards of reflective plastic all along the path?!  Anyone who’s been to a rave knows how freaking hard it is to clean glitter off of anything, let alone an outdoor trail!  I’m planning on complaining to the town (something I rarely do, but this really bothers me) and I encourage anyone else who uses and enjoys The Mad River Path to do the same.

Happy running, swimming, hiking, jumping and anything else fun and outdoorsy you’re up to this week!  Yay, summer!

Running, Swimming and Loving This Vermont Summer!

Friday brought gorgeous sun and relatively mild temps to the Mad River Valley.  I chose to run after work and while the humidity was slightly higher than I would have liked, it was a night-and-day difference from my Amazon-esque experience on Monday.

My biggest roadblock in this run was shear exhaustion from working a double-shift the day/night before for a server upgrade.  I was running (literally) on about four hours of sleep and for a Friday it was a pretty darn busy workday.  Despite the grogginess, my run was pretty awesome.  The path was busier than usual but I was joined by a few other people running with their dogs and Toby made plenty of new buddies on our journey.

The river was almost back to normal and I took a better comparison shot (both with the iPhone).  Keep in mind that the river can get 2-4′ lower than where it is, but when you consider that the two pics were only taken four days apart it’s pretty amazing (click for bigger image).  I’d also like to give a quick shout-out to RunKeeper‘s Pro App, which has the ability to take pictures right from within the app, which are then automatically added to the activity map and transferred to the RunKeeper website.  I love this feature!

Aside from the run, I had two awesome experiences with my Vibram Fivefinger KSOs this weekend.  I headed to Jeffersonville both Saturday and Sunday to swim in one of the gorgeous swimming holes along the Lamoille River.  Saturday I decided to adventure through Cambridge after my acupuncture appointment; mostly to avoid going back through Stowe Village which was swamped with tourists for the holiday, but also so I could pick up some Brown and Jenkin’s coffee and Boyden Valley Rhubarb Wine.  I had two goals in mind: find a cute random place to eat and a nice place where Toby and I could swim.  I believe I found both:

Sunrise Cafe served me Vermont sausage/cheddar/apple crepes with latkes and fresh fruit as Toby and I sat outside gazing at the mountains.

Lamoille River Swimming Hole in Jeffersonville, VT

As you can see from the picture above, Toby and I chose an area of the swimming hole that was mostly all rock.  To the right of us was a more populated swimming hole/portage area with a real parking lot.  Given the heat and the holiday weekend it was full of a mix of tourists and locals dragging in their kayaks and canoes.  I felt pretty smart finding a pull-off just upstream of the main area; while I was still fairly close to the action, the portage was blocked from sight by a bend in the river and everyone was headed with the current in the opposite direction.  It left me feeling like I was on a private stretch of this gorgeous river.

The reason my little swimming area was practically abandoned is that to get to the river one has to maneuver some semi-steep and uneven rocks.  I wouldn’t call it challenging, but it was important to be sure-footed (as a friend of mine found out the next day when she totally bit it climbing down).  My Vibrams were perfect for the occasion.  I felt like I had a nice firm grip on the rocks and it made walking around the riverbed easy and smooth.

A quick note on the picture above: that rock that Toby is standing on is perfect for diving.  It jets at least 12′ into the water; as Toby discovered when he fell in the first time.  It also happened to be a great sitting rock as it’s recliner-shaped.  I hung out there for quite a while with my legs dangling into the water.  While it wasn’t quite as awesome as our Sunday excursion, lying in tubes on the river for two hours, it was still pretty darn awesome.

I hope you all had a good Independence Day or Canada Day (or just a good weekend for those not celebrating).  I’m enjoying one more holiday day off and then will be getting back on a trail either tomorrow or Wednesday.  We’re getting unseasonably warm temperatures in Vermont for the next few days (90-95ºF) so it’s really going to take some motivation to get out there but I can do it!  That means you can too. 😛

Amazon Warrior

Wowza, what an adventure!  My run on Monday was more like a run through an Amazon jungle than a trail-run in Vermont.  Sunday night brought torrential downpours to the Mad River Valley that continued through Monday morning.  Honestly, given the high heat and unbearable humidity I was really hoping the rain would hold up and shower me during the run.  However, by the time I set out around 12:30 the skies had turned rust-colored and sun was hazily spreading across the sky.

I’ve complained about humidity often in the past few weeks, but please believe me when I say this was the worst it’s been so far.  It reminded me of the first time I went to St. Maarten, one late April, which I later learned is off-season due to the egregious humidity and lack of a cooling breeze.  The ground was still sopping wet when I headed out, so at least I had a cooling sensation on my feet to break up some of the wet-hot air.

As I set out, I couldn’t believe how slippery the ground underneath me was.  I slipped and slid on mud as I speed-walked, almost biting it a few times.  However, I was quite proud of myself for not sliding around at all when it came to running.  I’ve mentioned previously that early in my running research I found a blog where a barefoot runner compared proper barefoot form to “running through paint”.  He said one must be sure not to smear the paint.  What he meant is that it’s important to pick your feet straight up (kind of like jogging in place) and not push off the ground.  Sometimes when I’m feeling heavy in my body I turn to a mantra of, “Pick up, pick up” as I lift each foot.  On my return trip I even noticed that my footprints when I ran were solid marks, whereas my walking footprints were smeared.

Along with the wet wet wet came unexpected challenges on the path.  Trees had fallen down from the high winds the night before, the edges of the path had become overgrown from a week of high heat and a solid mix of sun and rain, and parts of the path were actually flooded by the massively swollen river (more on that later).  These obstacles provided a motivational distraction from the humidity and kept me entertained as I ran.  While I definitely sweat more than usual, and had some issues pushing myself on the way back, overall this was a successful and fun run.

The one thing I was really looking forward to after a long hot run was a dip in the river.  However, while I ran it became apparent that might not be possible.  Generally, the banks of the river are anywhere from 2-6′ high and beyond the height of the banks there are some swimming-hole areas that have up to 20′ of pebbles where one could sit or stand right next to the river.  As I ran, I saw that the river had swollen over the banks and pebbles and crept up the paths to the trail.  It only covered the trail in a few areas, but the paths to get to the beach areas were covered with a good solid 1-2′ of water.  Even in Spring, when the river is high due to the snow melting, it’s never that high.  Even last year when we had unusually high rain falls all summer, which contributed to the tomato blight and there were e.coli warnings in the river that stopped us from swimming most of the summer (quick note: when we get a lot of rain in the valley runoff from the farms end up in the river causing high bacterial counts), it was never that high.  This was crazy!

I took a picture, albeit with my iPhone because I don’t exactly run with my fancy Canon (kinda wish I could!).  I looked for a comparison shot and all I have is a shot from early Spring, so the river is a high in that one too but this is the same area of the river (the Spring picture is just taken with a wider-angle lens):


To give you a little perspective, the rocks that you can see poking out in the Spring picture are usually fully exposed this time of year; people sit on them and picnic or play music; it’s usually a safe place to sit fully clothed.  The banks in this area this time of year are usually a good 6′.  The picture on the right shows the rocks are totally covered (though you can see a lip of waves on the right side gliding over the highest rock) and the banks are basically indistinguishable.

Needless to say, this was not a good time to swim.  Toby and I did venture down one path to the river in an attempt to brave it, but we were quickly swallowed up by brown murky river water and were unable to even make it to the river.  This was probably a good thing considering how fast the current was moving and how much bacteria was most likely in the flow.

Next run is Friday!  So far it sounds like the weather will be fair and sunny.  Fingers crossed!