Ultra-marathons, Blindfolded Unicycling, and My Next Book(s)

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Spring In Austin, by Cary Gray

Ultra-marathons, Blindfolded Unicycling, and My Next Book(s)

Starting the day after I ran the Austin Marathon, I worked two jobs for two solid months.  It was the most I’d worked at a “normal” job, for anyone besides myself, in 16 months.   It was void of all meaning.  Eventually, I quit one and then a few weeks later, the other, and began commuting 80 miles to San Antonio each weekend (and staying overnight between doubles) to work for my old boss at Dick’s Last Resort.  (Have made the trek by motorcycle, bus, and unicycle, and I hope to run part of the distance at some point, too.)  I haven’t looked back since.

  I had taken those jobs, and now continue on at Dick’s for the weekends because this Spring I found myself in a money hole.  I have set to building my dream on my “off” days by working on my writing, artwork, and children’s books.  This bad habit of having a side job falls in a long tradition of creative types, successful or not, surviving on intermittent normal jobs.  Writers Margeret Atwood and Stephen King worked as a coffee barista and janitor, respectively.  Douglass Adams, author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, worked as a bodyguard.  Science writer David Quammen was once a waiter in Montana.  And besides, what would be more effective at fueling me to do something different, something that I’m meant to do, than boring my eyeballs out earning cash and not achieving my potential.  What else would be better fodder for future writing than time hilariously and grossly misspent to pay bills?

On my “off” days I have been working on a new children’s book, called “My Uncle is a Wild Beast.”  It’s narrated by the 7ish-year-old version of my 11-month-old niece, Lucy.  (I’m the Uncle.)

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Lucy tells us what most people think of Uncle Cary.  Then she says what she believes: he’s a wild beast.  The evidence?  He sleeps outside.  He snarls and growls.  He smells bad.  He rides a one-wheel machine like it’s a horse.

I am currently re-publishing my first children’s book, Luno! under a new publisher.  Mascot Books will be printing the books, and this time it will be available through a variety of channels. Online and at numerous retailers.  After these are printed in mid-June, I plan to get Wild Beast on the press afterwards!

Another book? Yes!

I have always been passionate about the environment (i.e. the one source that inarguably sustains us all and all life on earth) but more recently I have been reading about island biogeography.  It’s the study of evolution as it relates to islands.  I have read and highly suggest reading David Quammen’s The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction.
I have also started an eco-blog called Hitched to Everything, which discusses the interconnectedness of humans, animals, and planet.  Link here!
For these reasons, I thought it wise to turn the research into a children’s book.  I present to you….

All Out of Bounds: A Youngster’s Guide to Habitat Fragmentation. 

Although the title may seem hefty, this book will likely be readable by fourth and fifth graders.  It will follow a deer that lives in between suburban neighborhoods, and will cover the threat of habitat fragmentation.  This is when human development breaks up livable and often critical wildlife habitat into smaller pieces.  Often, creatures cannot cross from the remaining habitat “islands” to access food or new mates.  Stay tuned for more on that!

———

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Exactly two months after my marathon, I took part in another endurance event.  A new friend, Jimi Agnew, and I, organized this all day event at a school he used to teach at.  Jimi left teaching to continue with his growing unicycle club at that school, St. Andrew’s, and other schools in Texas.  His club is called the UniSaders, and you can see their website and short video here (link).  We invited the kids out to the school track at St. Andrew’s on April 23rd to unicycle around and watch my event.  I had planned to break two world records for unicycling that day.  The world record for greatest distance ridden on a unicycle blindfolded, and the greatest distance unicycled continuously without break or dismount.  In the morning we tied the blindfold on me, and then Jimi, mounted on a bicycle in front of me, acted as my eyes.  For 42 laps he cycled straight ahead of me while directing me with his voice.  He gave me verbal corrections when I went out of the middle lane, and warned when the curve was coming up or ending.  In the beginning it was nerve-wracking, but by the end most of what he had to yell at me was “follow my voice” and “great job.”  The emotional ups and downs of riding through complete oblivion were the biggest challenge.  And believe it or not, the only reason I continued to ride calmly and for that distance, was for what became quite soothing: “Yeah mean, great job.  Follow my voice.  You got it.”

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         Can we all just have that on a recording, and listen to it for a segment of each day?  I feel like so much of our lives, especially those of us who have endeavored to do something odd or novel, most of our lives are spent riding in complete blankness.  We feel we’re not moving, or we’re going to fall off course, or we’re never going to reach that certain goal because we have no sensation of how far we’re going.  We often have no metrics by which to judge our current progress.

At lap 42, or 10.5 miles, we removed the blindfold.  Jimi, bless him, had developed insane pain in his neck from craning it backward to yell at me, and then forward to direct himself.  Next time we’ll get someone to operate a quiet electric motorcycle, and Jimi can sit backwards in the side cart with a megaphone.  “Yeah Cary. 10 more miles.  Hell, let’s do 50.”
Without dismouting, I threw the blindfold off, thereby counting the 10.5 miles for the larger record as well.

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Toward the end of the day, around mile 100.

The continuous riding record had been set by Sam Wakeling of Wales at 105.5 miles.  I had done an unofficial ride in an attempt to break that in 2012 while training for my big trip.  That day I recorded 107.5 miles, but no one ever knew.  On April 23rd of 2017, at this event, I rode 130 miles without stopping, falling, or dismounting.  Most of the day went by in a rush.  I had Jimi and volunteers throw me snacks, water, sunscreen, towels, and whatever every few laps.  It got boring and lonely out there, so I had Jimi ride with me on a few occasions.  My brother, who has completed multiple half Iron Man and one full Iron Man events, also hopped on the bike and joined me for a bit.  The greatest challenge all day was the wind.  It blew hard at the end of the curve on the opposite side of the bleachers.  During the blindfolded event this led to at least a couple flailing course corrections, and during the overall ride led to very low averages for speed.  Toward the end of the day, the gusts died down and I was able to summon my body’s second wind.  I did quite a few fun speed laps, getting down to as fast as 47 seconds for a lap (a quarter mile).  That’s just a hair under 20 mph.  The world record for fastest hour is 18.63 mph to give perspective.

 

…Next time?

 

 

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Former Navy SEAL and Ultra Endurance Athlete, David Goggins at the Badwater 135 race.

After re-listening and re-re-listening to the Rich Roll podcast with David Goggins about ultra-marathons, I decided that yes, I do want to run one.  I have committed to run the TARC Fall Series 50-miler in Carlisle, Massachusetts on September 30th.  I will be ramping up my training one week at a time until August, at which time I will hit the road, riding my new motorcycle up to New England, to visit friends and family, go climbing, and ultimately run the race.

My the universe have mercy on my feet.

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