Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Flashback to Helen, GA: the Hofbrauhaus Restaurant.

Helen is a strange, picturesque town of German design in the Georgia foothills.  The Chattahoochee river like the Rhine bisects the town, pushing a Bavarian-styled Huddle House against tubing outfitters and Rhineland package stores.  Beyond this charming/cheesy tourist vacuum, at the other end of things, is a restaurant/inn called the Hofbrauhaus.  It is here that we ate.
Bar staccato and smoke are the opening impressions of the Hofbrauhaus. A tight-wound staircase ascends from the atrium to the guest rooms, with the restaurant opening straight ahead.  A brooding, wooden interior muffles the proprietress’s greeting, who studies us behind a large registrar book.  She chews the German language with my family as she leads us to our table.  The dining room feels like a hunting lodge, the scenic Chattahoochee river pushing down the mountain in the surrounding windows.
The menu is in German coupled with quipy English translations, and there is much schnitzel and braten and schwein, with some chicken dishes and a local trout.  We opened with pommes frites and found, well, french fries, not much different than those in your freezer, served with Heinz ketchup. Next was a camembert appetizer, arriving in a large foil-wrap with toasts. The rinded, creamy cheese was warm beneath carrots, haricot verts, carmalized onions, apple slices and nuts.  Easily trumping the pommes frites, the baked cheese was a beautiful opener.
My entree was the sauerbraten, a beef round roast served in a brown gravy of buttery beef-consumme, thick with the nuttiness of rue.  A raspberry jam, as juxtaposed as Helen GA herself, puddled in the gravy with two generous potato dumplings. A plate of red cabbage sauerkraut glinted a fermented beet-sweetness to complement the meat. My dish felt authentic, felt like a working-class German meal on that thick, ceramic, farm-buffet plate.
My wife enjoyed her pork tenderloin, and her spaetzles had a wonderful toothy texture that absorbed well the mushroom gravy.  My father-in-law got the jager schnitzel, which he enjoyed while reflecting on his years in Germany.  He and my wife clinked great goblets of heffeweisen beer.  My mother-in-law had some anemic chicken breast, easily the least appealing dish on our table.  A butter-wine gravy tinted the chicken, but there was not much she seemed to enjoy on the dish.  Nor was she impressed with her schorle, a reisling spritzed with soda water.
Dessert, however, was scrumptious.  We shared a cold highball of thick vanilla ice cream layered with raspberries.  The apple strudel was charmed with a conservative sweetness, a delicate balance of smooth cream against firm apples. The coffee was as dark and aromatic as the dining room. 
Service was briefly apologetic to my mother-in-law over the schorle before bringing more seltzer water.  Mixing a light drink is anti-intuitive, unnatural to a restaurateur, especially at the prices Hofbrauhaus charges.  The proprietress lapped our table twice, giving a history of Helen. Unfortunately the spiel was in German and thus lost on me, but I preferred listening to the crackly, trebled recordings of Wagner, Beethoven’s ninth, and German drinking songs.
Overall, the restaurant presented decent, hearty food.  But it served German peasant fare at the prices of refined food.  In fact, the whole town seems to snarl at tourists while simultaneously greeting them, mocking the passer-bys with high prices on anything from parking to food. Economic panthers. The kicker, and the ultimate downturn of events, was that our server included a gratuity on the check, failing to disclose this information.  I found that gesture to be a direct deception, and I read other complaints about this very thing. If you find yourself in Helen Ga, Hofbrauhaus is probably the best option for a German meal, but be prepared to pay more than you should, and watch for an included gratuity.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Snow-tide and such, December wrap-up.

December 23. Arctic Monkeys, a great band, and a name conjuring an image worthy of today's winter weather, my run through it. Thoughts on the Gator Run 50k exude an excitement approaching inspiration, the wild energy harnessed by furtive preparations. Research on endurance nutrition introduces new foods, synthetic-type non-foods including gels and chews, and "super-foods" such as quinoa (and, perhaps, fig newtons?), while daily running reinforces mental fortitude and physical durability, work and work.  Solitary self-studies reflect of the nuances of posture, generate private mantras against pain management and towards the continuing (basic, rudimentary) leg-labors of miles, the muscle-boils of intrepid determination.   I make lists of reasons why I should finish a 50k, hoping they will be there when I am struggling in my own private hell.  Much of the real preparation is accepting that 31 miles is ticked off one mile at a time, and there is no magic chariot, neither genetic nor chemical nor Zen/Tao mindfulness, that will push me through the six 5.2 mile loops other than my own body and will.

Meanwhile, a simple 7 miler has become something of an ordeal through a bout of illness, and maybe a touch of Christmas lethargia. Despite the drag of mind and body, the miles accumulate, against the viral laryngitis and bronchitis cursing the first half of my week, in fact sending me to the Medac on Tuesday morning. Against the delirium of holidays, the anxieties of Being, the punishments of Life, the curse of melancholy and false inspirations and dry paint brushes and impatient two-year olds and lost thoughts and vapid ambitions and the settling of debris into something called Existence, the miles accumulate. A goal of running 31 miles is the soul-glue at this moment, at this juncture, coupled with the pleasure of the Christmas season with my family.  But the work remains the steady metronome of routine I crave.

December 26th. A literary mania has moshed through my home, leaving a storm of books. (Sometimes reading is the best medicine against writer’s block.) A funny read is Sh*t My Dad Says. Dostoevsky’s Notes continue, interrupted by a Christmas gift, John L. Parker’s Once A Runner. . . . A graphic novel, DareDevil Noir, was my fun read for the past week. I would especially recommend Sh*t.  Lastly, a book on Rodin commands study and awe, the maddest 3-d artist since Michelangelo, and his polished marble torsos are contrasted against his vicious ink-slung figure drawings.

And now a run, or rather, the documenting of one.

The snow fell through my morning’s 8 miler, fell in fact from the coffee pot's first stirrings at 7am, two cups before I entered the window's surreal theater of dizzying ice-crystals and snow flakes, before those snowflakes shocked eyelids and tongue, before the melodic beat of sleet on wind-jacket, before the softened jam of soggy shoes. In rare moments of good running, I could have counted the many snowflakes on my eyelids in their tiny coldness, my legs running but my mind searching out the meditative silence in the muffled, dazzling air.   The snow was wonderful, the clean air was invigorating. Snow is a rare delight on the Eastern coast, but the run remained, as has been the case recently, more of a wading-push of legs, a thick-blooded trudge, Roadside puddles soaked my shoes and socks within a mile, forcing me onto asphalt, my legs protesting with dread through the concussions.  Quietly I traversed the neighborhoods into the deserted Ogden Park. But a snow-run was a pleasant mind-drift, at least in the middle four miles and certainly afterwards,  fixing a quesodilla for my son who ate voraciously for the first time in a couple of days. I watched him eat, watched him wipe buttery fingers on his shirt between bites of quesodilla, and I sipped French Roast coffee with extra sugar and cream while snacking on a peppermint-chocolate pretzel. Pandora radio played some early punk and the clatter of typing becomes a percussive accompaniment and the rest is delicious, luscious, lush, and my world refocuses.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Winter Solstice howl or hymn.

Deccember 21st. Winter Solstice of 2010. The longest night of the year, the darkest night of the year (sounds like a Lord Byron line.)

The previous three weeks of running have been solid, even with unusually cold conditions on the coast. But as life does, a series of good runs becomes viral laryngitis and bronchitis, becomes the first shift of the year missed due to sickness, becomes ennui and gluttony and then sweet easy hours. Dr. Sparr declared that Sunday’s fourteen miler, kicking into the windy cold coast and back into sun-dry air, wore my body down, that two or three days out of the running cycle could be a good idea, that running was a love of his before two knee-replacements, and that he missed it. But seeing my wariness, he amended his advice to trying a slow, short run, keeping careful attentions to my body’s response, eventually submitting a reluctant “You’ll know.” But knowing he spent much more money on an education than me, I moved on to other interests, a thing easy to do as I’ve been reclaiming my mania recently, my attentions pushing me to an easy zealousness for damn near anything. First, I convinced my wife to let me join her on her day off. Our indulgences began with a delicious meal at Flaming Amy’s where I applied my theory of spice-hot food aiding the body’s immune system. I then accompanied her to the mall, falling into the Christmas frenzy, spraying Yves Saint Laurent and Dior on small white cards and sniffing coffee beans between studying fashions she may enjoy and suits I could wear, casually and everyday-refined. Everything smelled woody, like dry wood, moth’s wings, the powder of moth’s wings. Fragrances which were normally oiled or sweet like heated cedar permeated old hair; cotton smelled of a beery hay; handmade wallets were distorted through my olfactory disarray from musk and leather to something else entirely, like a sulfuric match kissing off. Wandering through myriad ties and dress shirts, I thought of getting my two suits dry-cleaned. Cell phones rang in spontaneous cacophony. Pretzels baffled me with a certain admiration of invention. Gift sets stacked like a marvel of architecture. It was then a good friend suddenly appeared, said hello, a moment of recognition, and I was immediately There, acutely aware of my presence at the mall, and self-conscious, a mottled wreck. My hair was heavy with the oil of uneasy sleep, the fevercloud of my body’s expulsions towards wellness; eyes were heavy and brooding, pthalo shades of dehydration beneath; my lungs were busy pulling air through the filaments of space remaining in my nose, and my voice sounded like a phonograph recording of Custard’s last stand. So the Mall adventure ended with me feeling sick and dirty, delirious.

Home was warm and the sunset was flooding rich cadmium spectrums against the cotton-wad sky, and winter’s first night was swelling from the East. Winter had come as official as a calender. As official as Dr. Sparr’s prognosis.  Sweeps of raw red slashed windswept clouds as purple drapes fell in the background, deepening to bone-black and carbon-black, flecks of silver, settling ash.

In the night is the luxury to be sick. One succumbs to sputtering coughs, heavy head mulling in fog, the red-burn of fevered eyes, the labored reel of breath and wheeze and ember throat. The one work shift I’ve missed would be concluding, and the associated guilt is released. Now is when can one rest while reading essays on Pollock’s works on paper, reconsider de Kooning’s Sag Harbor or Clam Diggers, dig into Olson’s study of Twombly, revisit Hoffstadter’s Godel Escher and Bach. Hell, Sillitoe is back out on the coffee table, along with a Dare Devil graphic novel and my image/text journal. Rauschenberg combines flash fast through mind’s gallery. Shostokovich beats the shit out of a cello. A private kaleidoscope of Image. The prime internal gallery of memory. Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Schnabel, Tworkov, Courbet, Gotti, Carravaggio, Basqiaut, Beuys, Ghenti, McCarthy. . . . ad infinitum. Kirkegaard, Cantor, Wallace, Miller, Cioran, Melville, Ferlinghetti. . . . the Winter night allows, glorifies the loss of boundary, the fraying of edge, the dynamic bleeding of element into element, disparate emergence, the crossover or matrix of separate Idea and Idea, a mutation or splicing of things. A fusion in pursuit of the synergy of seasonal associations, such as an entire history of visual art. . . mind you, to elucidate, this is not a Smithsonian or a Louvre, this is not a cultural memory of Art but a private museum, a place of singular Muse, a solipsist gallery Wittgenstein or Foucault would get. A madness of Winter’s paleness. It is a stream-of-consciousness addressing the personal retrospect of image-encounters. A Proustian Collection.

A run on December 16th.

Folks Café was the first stop of my run. A three-count pour of sugar with a splash of cream readied the robust Sumatran before I stashed it in the truck, slinging my hoodie on top of keys, raisins, a cliffbar, my work apron, and a long-sleeve shirt. I stared down Princess Street with a certain nostalgia, I once lived here, ghosts of lovers and dope fiends and their counterpart peddlers, the laundry spot, desolate nocturnes pacing home from bars broke, Schoenberg or Schnittke or Dvorak in the head, the cycle of those days. Essays on entropy or the unfinished Michelangelo sculptures, the late slave series, addled dereliction and hymns, the Stab-n-Grab. . . . I turned the other direction to march then slowstride then jog, shaking out the heft of legs, letting ankles loosen, knees bend into the kick, Coca-Cola warehouse and Ninth and Princess, next a right and the park at Fifth and Chestnut and the run worked from Downtown to Greenfield Park and back up Front Street to Water Street. Ultimately it was a ten mile journey and one of my most effortless runs. The Sumatran was still hot when I returned cold, and Beastie Boys Check Your Head got me home.

Monday, December 13, 2010

And now for something completely different- JumpinGoat Coffee.

JumpinGoat Coffee Roasters and Shop, Helen, Georgia, December 2010.
The serpentine mountain road that takes you through Nacoochee Valley into Helen Georgia does not warn you of the coming mountain cabins, cascading down the road as the Chattahoochee river flows behind (and sometimes beneath) them. Worn-paint walls struggle against winter and age, and hand-painted signs claim their wares. These rustic shopsteads avoid the final, fatal slide into the river, offering interesting wares, including the goods of a stone-wheel mill, glass arts, local pottery, and the JumpinGoat Coffee Shop.

The coffee shop is separate from the roastery, located above on the mountain, but the smell of dark coffee is a thick, aromatic tincture pushing against the vapors of winter. Inside the provincial cabin, the oiled pine planks groan beneath numerous bags of flavored and roasted coffees, neatly bulging out of wooden baskets. The attendant poured samples, including a chocolate coffee so rich and delicious, I thought they had coated the cup in mocha syrup. The JumpinGoat signature blend had interesting flavor notes, was energized and layered, smooth as the wooden floors. For my afternoon cup I chose the Nicaraguan Arabica, and man alive was this a cup of java! Hearty, deep, nutty, with some smoked-wood notes, I felt like I was drinking the essence of the place. A touch of cream and sugar extracted more flavor notes, and I felt a few cravings to go run the mountain. The sumatran looked superb, like a bean of polished onyx, but there was none brewed on that particular day.

If you are in the vicinity, the sign-laden JumpinGoat Coffee and the neighboring stone-wheel mill (fresh-ground grits with molasses!!) are excellent reasons to drive to Helen, Ga. By the time you reach the Nacoochee Valley, you will be ready for a hot cup of coffee, the perfect fuel for running trails or roaming shops.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Blue Clay Mountain Bike Park, Ramones, French Roast.

it's a chilly week in wilmington which may explain the emptiness of the blue clay mountain bike park the past two days. i encountered one lady with her two dogs, and that was the whole of my human contact over two consecutive days while running the 6m loop. the coolness and the solitude suits me, makes for a perfect run. smooth, fast sections of packed earth twist through the wooded land, building into brief-but-ferocious intervals of sharp inclines/declines, then break down into bulging roots and partially-exposed stones. wooden planks form bouncy boardwalks and five-or-six bridges are engineered across creek cuts. x-slope works the strength of ankles on the hilly sections, and the many bike jumps and switchbacks keep the quads burning. the trails earn their "advanced" labels, especially for a runner, but this is still the coast so terrain determines the difficulty as opposed to the roughly 65' of elevation gains.

this trail is broken intervals of technical or speed, a sortof speed chess of legturn & mind, otherwise you’ll find yourself ground down face-first.  a moderate speed with frequent shifts of leg-gears, an involuntary fartlek run, suits my trail experience & aptitude.  (speed is not my talent.)  the scenery dissolves into a rapid foot-dance, with certain passages keeping your eyes glued to the next 10' of trail. sun-dappling and shade, pine needles and leaves, all serve to distort the perception of approaching terrain, the effect intensified by increased mileage/pace. nascent growth encloses the trail, a mixture of hardwood and evergreen- which includes young long-leaf pines.  squirrels scurrying across leaves in the quiet of the woods assume gigantic proportion-- robin birds sound like they might be thirty pounds when flittering out of a creek bank.  several of the seven dwarfs hang out on trees (trust me, this isn't another "creative visualization."). the loops range in distance from 1.6 m to 3m to 6m to any combination thereof, and are easily interchanged.

my first introduction was three years ago when i scouted the trails after registering for the first run for ray 10k. a week before the race, i followed my scribbled map to the blue clay trails, and immediately fell into the spirit of running in the woods.  blue clay was born of the efforts of a local mountain biking organization, Sir-Bikes-A-Lot and SORBA, who started (and still maintain) the trail while pushing for its endorsement as an official county park. the park is well-marked and well-groomed, with a map at the trail head.

while i enjoyed having the trail to myself, i imagine its an unusual luxury. if you head out to blue clay trails, be mindful of the space and others around. a runner can stop and step aside ten times easier than a biker, so remain alert and respectful. there is no water, but there is a chemical toilet and parking is plentiful (and free).

Monday, December 6, 2010

lung distance logs ii. georgia blue ridge.

november 29th 2010. clarkesville georgia. chattahoochee forest national park, panther creek trail.  lung distance logs ii. Knee is healthy and the mountains are in my window.

I barely had time to find the beastie boys cd and drink a half-cup of coffee on the nine minute drive to the trailhead of panther creek trail. the route was well-marked, making a trailhead in the middle of nat’l forest georgia easy to find. Three dollars for a parking permit, a stop at the rustic but private facilities, and across the highway, i began the run and pushed into the depth of forest which is the chattahoochee forest. just wonderful.

Panther creek trail is a ~7 mile out-and-back run on mostly packed red clay with plenty of ankle-grappling, foot-contorting rocks knotted with gnarled roots and varying x-slope, grinding the legs at every click. The trail follows the panther creek, making harsh cuts through the woods, climbing juts of stone and jaggedrock cliffs, crossing the water four times (twice on rock and twice on foot bridges) and then pushing up burley root-steps and limestone slopes to eventually bomb into a flat area at the base of the panther creek falls. The trail has some fast sections, but mostly it is technical and makes for a pleasurable pace to absorb the many smells, images, and the interesting landscapes.

across seven miles, my footfalls were flat a total of one mile, maybe, and the rest was rock-kicks, root-juts, contortionist ankles and leg tweaks. iron and wine was in my head (from great heights, the slow release) when I relaxed from focusing on the ten feet of trail before me. thick with autumn smells, the morning was a cool 41 degrees with spritely air in the nose. . . . occasional animal smells provoked a higher attentiveness, but never a visual on any animal, neither bear nor bobcat nor panther nor dogs. . . a few birds flitted along, and I remember thinking they seemed very small. The trail was entirely void of human beings, adding another dimension of appreciation for this trail. . .

December 2nd. Tallulah falls state park, ga. I quickly filed my paperwork for a backcountry permit at the state park offices, paid a five dollar parking fee, (parking is free at ga state parks on wednesdays, the one day I didn’t run) mixed a watery g2 mixture and started the stoneplace trail. The trail is a 10 mile out-and-back route that cuts through the mountains surrounding tallulah gorge & falls, emptying out into a lake at the bottom of a strange mountain cradle. The trail is entirely primitive, with softball-sized and larger rocks ALL across the trail. I mostly followed the narrow path in the middle of the trail, cut by the torrential rains of Wednesday, a single-track rough the heavy layers of leaves and exposing the rocks and roots.

At about mile two, I’d found a gravel road (via a wrong turn-- blaze markings are sparse on stoneplace trail), venturing into a strange community of stacked multiplexes. Sliding down the valley’s slopes like archaic condominiums were six or seven “residences” composed of trailers and wooden structures, a hunting cabin with a cooking shelter ten feet to the left, and one smoking chimney of an unknown structure– maybe a still. Truck campers were roughly balanced on wheel barrow boxes, and two old pop-top campers butted against rustic wooden shacks. Rebel flags hung high beside rusted drums, and one unseen dog barked. An old chevrolet, a 70's sedan, was stuffed with fake flowers across the front seat and the back seat, probably in the trunk too. I knew hunting lands bordered the trail, and while I was wearing orange and yellow attire, I didn’t want to risk totally losing the trail. So I backtracked and found a blaze and kicked it back up the red clay. (While I don’t want to sound like a stereotyping asshole, the film Deliverance was filmed here, and I was totally alone and a touch nervous for a minute. That is confessional and non-PC, so take it as you will.)
The beauty of stoneplace trail is well-preserved, is ungroomed and natural, but it is not postcard vistas. The smells are of red clay, decaying leaves (molasses and distant smoke), wisps of pine, wet stone, and fermenting cedar. It is rough mountain growth with massive trees decaying in the spot where they fell years ago. Steep descents allow a creek to babble up here and there, but there are few water features except at the turn-around point. There, a lake sleeps, tranquil and dark, fed by a few small creeks webbing in. An unpaved road snakes in from the west, blue-n-gray gravel, steep, gouged by sliding car tires. The lake is a recreational center I suppose, unremarkable but for the juxtapose of a lake cradled by mountains. The run back was acrobatic and fun, with fairly visible blazes on trees, and one open-face wooden shelter for camping. The trail strikes me as a very masculine energy, a powerful space to force one's self through.  Moments of joyful work accompanied me, and this was another wholly solo run.

December 3rd. Panther creek trail remix. Wednesday's massive rains eroded and resculpted much of the trail, also causing slippery crossings on limestone faces. But I was confident in my feet and legs, loose, if a bit tired initially, and had a a tight run. One terrifying image haunted the first mile, a strange tyler-durden-splice of a figure in wet black trenchcoat, an older male face, deep dark eyes, classic horror face staring down the trail as I ascended the ledge. I swallowed my heart, stopped (entirely baffled), breathed again and resumed the run through the apparition’s vapor. Strange. 

The bulk of the run, the middle section, was the same as before, but with a more heightened sense of terrain variations.  Nuanced dips where water pushed around rock and root brought concave spoons of mud, loose ropes of hemlock root grabbed for toeboxes, and at least two more fallen trees crossed the trail.  The smells were primal. The water was rushing and loud as water can be.  It was a wholesome experience. 

Towards the finish, I found some deep (but not huge) paw tracks, with claws, directly under the 441 bridge at around ½ mile point. I smelled nothing, but six miles into the run and nearly done, my pace was certainly boosted.

this trail is cleansing and focusing. pay the three dollar parking fee and run yr fucking heart out. The good work puts you in a state of glowing ecstacy. And its unpopulated status (on my two trips) makes a superior experience. It is not a long run, but it is aerobic and quick-footed as well as quick-minded, and leaves you energized and lucid, the reason for it all.

December 5th. mud and muck and miles. A cold wind seemed to face-off against me every step of a ten mile run, home again, Sunday, and thick in the post-vacation decompression. Weaving through the traffic of three major wilmington/ wb churches as they let out, I craved the mud and smells of the georgia foothills. Someone honked and yelled from a while tahoe. Mayfaire mobs collected at intersections like alligators waiting for a parade of chickens. I was back home. I bowed my head and kept running.