So.Much.Garbage

This morning I went to pick up trash.

A few years ago, when I began running, I was always appalled at the garbage along the Bronx River Parkway in Westchester County, New York.  Piles and piles of post-consumer trash, as well as some bigger things – a tire, a shopping cart in the middle of the river, etc.  For some time now I’ve regretted not trying to do something there.  Now I live in Celebration, Florida, and the trash still drives me bonkers.  I pick up litter when I can, and make it a point to be as careful as possible with my own.  But a few weeks ago I was finally driven over the edge and into action.

Two things did it – one longer term, and one short term.  After the election of 2016, I was so disappointed and frustrated with the general tenor of the conversation in America that I checked myself out of politics, which has been one of my passions since I stayed up in the 5th grade to watch the 1988 election returns.  I said at the time that if progressive voices made some noise in the 2018 mid-terms, I would get interested again … and might get active.  That happened, and I’ve been trying to figure out how I want to put my money where my mouth is.

And then I was training for a half marathon a few weeks ago and ran past a stretch of road that had so much garbage on it that I was blown away.  Just a disgusting amount of trash.  A McDonald’s location had recently opened up just up the street, and I felt like I could see yellow “M”s everywhere I looked.  But that wasn’t all – while I didn’t get down and look closely, you could tell this area just loaded with garbage.

Well – I have found my issue, I think.  I don’t have to be part of a presidential election in order to make a difference.  In fact, I will probably be able to make a much bigger difference right here in my own community.  I also don’t need to attend enormous river- or shore- clean ups.  I can do my part in a much more micro way.  Instead of getting mad about the garbage, I’m going to pick it up.  And I’m going to try and shine a spotlight on it so people can see and a difference can be made.  Who knows.

Enough preamble – this morning I went to pick up trash.

My goal this morning was that area I saw when I was running – about a 1.5 mile walk.  I brought a new extended picker-upper and my kids’ Radio Flyer wagon and headed out.  I expected nearly all of the garbage to be in that area, about 0.1 mile, what I have highlighted in red below.  And while I certainly got a lot of garbage there, my wagon was filling up pretty well before I ever got there.

And then I got there.  My mind boggles.  All told, including the walk to the area, I spent 2.5 – 3 hours working, and could have worked all day – my wagon got full.

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Back home, I sorted the trash into some big categories.  As expected, McDonalds played a big part in the overall volume.

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There were also plenty of cans / bottles for drinks – Gatorade bottles, energy drinks, Arizona Iced Tea cans, Monster Energy AND Red Bull cans, and tons of water bottles.

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Lots of crazy miscellaneous stuff, too.  Two Mylar balloons.  An aerosol spray paint can.  An empty fertilizer bag.  A nearly full pack of cigarettes.  Plastic bags of all kinds – supermarket bags, Ziploc bags, garbage bags, etc.

But there was one item of litter that really stood out to me – dog waste bags.  Celebration has dog waste stations all over town that dispense little plastic bags for picking up your dog’s poop when out on a walk and then feature a garbage receptacle to take the used bags.  I probably walked past a dozen.

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The bags were EVERYWHERE.  Many of them had even been used – the dog’s owner had gone to the trouble of picking up the poop, and then was either careless enough with the bag that it wound up on the ground, or else they just deliberately threw it into the trees.  This makes no sense at all to me – at that point, you’re better off just letting the dog poop in the woods. This pile of poop bags was just the surface, too – I walked past many more that I just didn’t have room for.

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The insidious thing about all of this garbage, and those poop bags in particular, is that once they have been in the environment for a short period of time they hide.  The poop bags are green and black, and often you have to be right on top of one in order to see it.  The plastic bottles and especially the cup lids and straws from McDonalds get covered with leaves and discolored so that they are very difficult to find.  And much of the litter is just small and clear, and so hard to see.

I have some research to do, but just based on this morning’s outing, I’m going to start calling on the waste bag manufacturers to all either make their bags out of material that biodegrades quickly, and/or make those bags bright orange or fluorescent yellow.  If they are easy to see people may be less likely to throw them in the trees, not to mention how much easier they are to see when you are picking up garbage.

I don’t know why all of this is OK, and I don’t know why we, as residents of Celebration, should look past it.  If we want to live in a beautiful, welcoming place, we shouldn’t be OK with all of this garbage.  The environmental arguments are compelling, and I’ll be making them, but I don’t need environmental arguments here – even if you hate the “tree-hugging libtards” or whatever we’re known as these days, you can’t help but see that this kind of garbage means YOU ARE LIVING IN A TRASH CAN.

I don’t want to live in a trash can.

Three different people thanked me this morning when they realized what I was doing.  That probably shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did.  People care about this issue.  But the comment that has stuck with me was from a gentleman that said “You could spend the rest of your life doing that.”  My first reaction was to think to myself “I just might!”  But on reflection, his remark has made me sad, and makes me want to put these pictures on the sides of buildings.  Because what he said is a lament of our modern reality, which is that we collectively care so little about the community and world we live in that we are willing to trash it to an extent that may not be able to be fully offset, ever.  That makes me sad.

But it doesn’t make me despair.  Every piece of garbage matters.  It matters to the aesthetic, it matters to the environment, it matters to our mindset.  Every bag I can pull out is one more bag of garbage that won’t ever make it into the ocean.  And every bottle I grab and recycle is one more bottle that won’t make it to a river or a shore to be cleaned up by one of those big clean-up events.

Every piece matters.

So I’ll be out there picking up garbage when I can, and I will post those pictures and those stories here.  If you see me with my red wagon, say hi – I’ll enjoy the break if you want to chat.  And if this seems bad to you, one of the ways it might change is that we change the culture, and we change the expectation.  If we hold ourselves accountable for this garbage, maybe some of it will start to go away.  So share the pictures, and share the story.

And, for goodness sake, don’t throw your bagged dog poop into the woods!

My walk wasn’t all garbage – I made some friends, too.  Hopefully I’ll do one of these walks soon-ish and it’ll be no garbage.

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Hopkin’s Prairie in the Ocala National Forest

I almost let camping season in Florida get away from me.

Last year, I took my oldest for his first overnight in a tent, which turned into a smashing success. He’s been talking about going back ever since, and I did a poor job of making a new trip happen. I can make a lot of excuses – among others, Payne’s Prairie, where we went last year, got jacked up by Hurricane Irma – but those are all excuses.  The probability of us going on a trip this year went down with each passing weekend.

But my boy, he is tenacious.  At one point he and my wife played a wishing game – I think throwing coins into a fountain – and he told her he wished for more adventures.

My heart went *bloop* because, well, I also wish for more adventures, and when my boy is wants to head down the path I want to take him down … I want to be a follow-through kind of Dad.  This pushed me to start researching dates, places, and weather. Payne’s Prairie was an option again, but the recent hurricane flooded the area and caused limited site availability. Other somewhat local state parks and designations did not have any campsite availability, either. So after poking around, I settled on a primitive, un-reservable campsite in the Ocala National Forest called Hopkin’s Prairie.

The word “prairie” deserves some discussion here – the word has been used twice now. When I hear the word “prairie,” I conjure up a mental image of the Great Plains of the American Mid-West – miles of grassland almost never punctured by trees or, for that matter, features of any kind.  In Florida, “prairie” still means grassland, but the scale is different. Here, the grasslands in question are formed by low-lying seasonal marshes that flood in the rainy season and can’t support stands of trees. The major ones, like Payne’s Prairie, can look like they go on forever when you stand in them, but for most of them you can see the forest pick up on the other side.

Hopkin’s Prairie is one of these low-lying areas in the Ocala National Forest, set in a sea of Florida scrub interspersed by islands of longleaf pine. The campsite is seasonal, only open from early November through June 1.  The primary reason for the seasonality is as much about bugs as heat, too. Any time you hear the phrase “low-lying marsh,” feel free to substitute the words “mosquito factory.”  The area is all-the-way primitive – no running water, only a moldering toilet, and the 22 campsites are not electrified – so the end of April is starting to risk yucky weather. Read more

RR #30: Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

This is part two of my report of the 2018 Dark Side Half Marathon weekend – I again did the First Order Challenge, which means I ran the 10k on Saturday and the half marathon on Sunday.  I talked about the expo and the 10k here.  This is the race report for the half marathon.

 So – a recap of where we are:  I had just hit a massive PR on the 10k, in a crowded runDisney race.  I was feeling really good about life in general, really.  Saturday after the 10k I was able to legitimately rest.  I took a nap with my three-year-old, and my wife made a spaghetti dinner.  Because I’m still working on that last stubborn 20 pounds to lose, I hadn’t had spaghetti in a while and it was nice to be able to enjoy it guilt-free … including the seconds.

My goal for this whole weekend was to PR the 10k (check!) and then just get out there and have fun on the half marathon.  I ran past some photo ops when I ran the half last year, and so I intended to make sure and get those this year during the run.  The ice cave on Hoth, in particular, was a picture I regretted missing out on in 2017.  So I wasn’t too worried about preparation or anything for this race – mostly I was just planning to survive it.

The weather wound up being a pre-race story.  I’d intended to go to bed around 8pm, but I was pretty wound up for whatever reason, and the forecast wasn’t looking so good.  All week they’d been calling for a good chance of rain on Sunday morning around race time, but by 8pm the night before they were saying a 70% chance of thunderstorms between 6:30am and 7:30am – right at the time when they would have nearly every runner on the course.  If there was going to be lightning they were going to have to call this off, or at least delay it – and then, of course, there was the question of whether I wanted to go run in the rain at all given that I wasn’t taking the race all that seriously.  In particular, I didn’t know (still don’t, really) how they would handle the character photos if it was raining.  So I stayed up too late researching how and when we would know if they called the race off and finally went to sleep sometime around 9:30pm.

So the 2am alarm sucked, as you can imagine.  I immediately pulled up the weather … and they had pushed the rain forecast all the way out to 10am at the earliest – some services had it pushed out until the afternoon.  The race was on!  I had some coffee, fixed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and toasted a bagel, and headed out to Epcot.  Same deal for parking as we had on the 10k – park at the finish line at Epcot, long walk over to some busses, bus over to the start line in the Magic Kingdom parking lot.

Image taken at 3:19am …

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RR #29 – 2018 Star Wars Dark Side 10k

In the afterglow of Ragnar Washington DC, my friend and van-mate Dave had me convinced to run my first full marathon this spring. We tentatively chose a race, we made tentative plans, we tentatively started looking at training schedules, the whole nine. And then, back in January, he realized that a nagging injury and the time suck involved was going to make it all but impossible to get trained up, and he backed out. It took me about two seconds to make the obvious choice about what to do next.

The space on my calendar meant I got to do the Star Wars First Order Challenge at Walt Disney World again!

I ran the Dark Side Challenge last year and loved it, even if it was quite warm and humid, and even if I didn’t even sniff PRs. You don’t try to PR runDisney races, you know? And I’m such a Star Wars nerd that I was feeling bad about NOT doing it even as I was planning (tentatively!) my first full marathon. I’ll likely get that full marathon under my belt one day, but that day was not to be in 2018.

Star Wars!

I will again split this up into two parts – here I’ll talk about the expo and the 10k, and in the next part I’ll talk about the half marathon. Because I described things in some detail last year, I’ll probably skip over some of it this time – if it feels like something is missing, you can always read last year’s report here.

So I took Friday off of work to handle the expo again this year. I just prefer to not have to worry about being rushed or feel the pressure of timing at all. The expo is held at the ESPN Wild World of Sports complex, and just like last year, by the time they opened things up the line was quite long and I’m glad I got there early enough to be second in line. If there is a chance I’m going to be waiting in an extended line anyway, I’d rather do it that way.

Imagine WWoS, with John Williams’ genius music in the background…

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RR #28 – 2018 Celebration Half Marathon

I wasn’t planning on running the Celebration Half Marathon again this year.  For the last several months now, running has felt like a slog – I enjoy having run, but I do not enjoy running.  I’ve struggled to drag myself out of the house to run in the morning in a way that I don’t struggle to do my other workouts.  After a while, it begins to dawn that it might be time for a break, and so you stop signing up for races and you prepare for a break.

And then plans change.

Race afterglow is dangerous.  After September’s Ragnar, the whole team was feeling that afterglow.  We had just run 200-ish miles, and I guess we weren’t thinking clearly.  We just spent a night in a proper bed (as opposed to a van seat), and had eaten barbecue and drunk beer the night before.  Now, at breakfast, we were feeling good, and the conversation naturally turned to upcoming races.  One of the teammates (I think it was Dottie – I blame Dottie) mentioned that the Celebration Half Marathon was a good race, and she planned to make it her “A” race this year and try for a PR.  Then I mentioned that I had run the race last year and really liked it – good organization, good after-party, flat course (which was particularly appealing after the hills everybody had just hated).  And then somebody said, “Hey, why don’t we all plan to come down and run that race?” And Dottie and I said our houses would be available to stay at and it is all a bit hazy but we left with an agreement (I thought) to get signed up for that race if at all possible and run it in January based probably out of my house.

Dottie was already signed up, and I came home and signed up immediately.  I laid out my race plan and I started to run.  Because I’m so familiar with the course, and because I can walk to the start line, much of the race stress that I feel before big races just doesn’t exist – I can relax into this one.  But as we got closer to race day, it became clearer and clearer that I was the only one that had signed up after the Ragnar.  Everybody bailed when the race afterglow faded.  But the good news was that we were still going to get a visit from our friends – they were going to be here to cheer, even if they didn’t run.

I’ll take it.

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I should have been sleeping by now…

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Take a look, it’s in a book…

One of the best parts about being a parent and a full-blown adult is getting to be Santa Claus during Christmas. I get into the role – while my wife and I do the big Santa presents together, I am in charge of all of the stockings, including mine. This is serious business, and I take it seriously. While there are some throwaways in the group, I try hard to make the stocking gifts thoughtful and meaningful for all of us. We have some traditions – everybody gets an ornament every year, etc. But my favorite tradition is that each of us receives books from Santa every year.

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On Top of the World – A Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

The mountains are calling and I must go.

– John Muir

We like living in Florida.  While the weather during the summer is atrocious – hot and humid and rainy – the weather from October through April is glorious.  And, besides, summer in Florida is no worse than winter in New York.  We have found the people to be open and friendly where we live.  There is so much to do, especially with kids, that we are constantly on the go.  Overall, moving here has been a very positive experience.

I miss the mountains, though.  I grew up in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas.  While the Ozarks don’t have the lofty elevations of the Rocky Mountains, or even the Appalachian Mountains, they are quite rugged and beautiful.  My childhood was an outdoor childhood, and those mountains are a place I understand.  They are home, in a real way.  The mountains in New York are similar.  We never lived far from a good, rugged, up-and-down hike, with waterfalls and bluffs and incredible views merely a short drive away. Read more

RR #27: Celebration Rotary Club Pancake Run 5k

I thought that Ragnar DC was going to be my last run for a while.  My plan had been to run that event, enjoy myself, and then take some time off from running to focus on some CrossFit goals.  I like how running makes me feel, but sometimes the actual doing of the thing is not my favorite.  And then, I ran Ragnar DC, and the curious thing that happens when you get around other runners having a good time … happened.  We started talking about the next events we want to run, the next races.  We started making plans.  And the next thing I know, I’m signing up for races.

I ran the Celebration Rotary Club Pancake Run 5k last year.  That was my first real attempt at getting back into running shape and running a race.  That 2016 Pancake Run represented my first “serious” race in over two years.  And I had a good run – I missed a PR by a minute or so, which was still a good outcome for me.  The race was pretty well run, though small, which wasn’t helped by the fact that it was raining and not a generally nice day.

My sign-up for the Pancake Run this year was prompted by two things.  First, I thought I was capable of finally breaking through the 30 minute barrier in a 5k.  The fat guy holy grail of a sub-30 minute 5k had eluded me now for several races, and this looked like an opportunity to get it done.  For whatever reason, 5k races don’t make my calendar much anymore.  Since that Pancake Run last year, I have run three 10ks, two half marathons, and a Ragnar … but no more 5ks.  This was a chance to see what I had. Read more

RR# 26, continued: Ragnar Washington DC – Part 2

This is part two of my Ragnar Washington DC race report – if you haven’t read part one, you should click on this right now to head over there and read that first.

When we left off, we were pulling into Exchange #12 for our first break of the event.  The exchange was at a high school, and I have never seen so many white vans in one place in my life.  People everywhere.  The school had a spaghetti dinner they were selling as a fundraiser, and access to showers, as well, so there were some nice amenities.  There was also a big shady area back behind their tennis courts where everybody was taking sleeping bags to go lie down … a sea of runners, in repose. Read more

RR #26: Ragnar Washington DC – Part 1

OK – it is time.

Let’s talk about Ragnar.

So … last Thanksgiving I ran a 10k (still stands as my 10k PR, ahem) with my sister-in-law and very good friends who’s house we were crashing in the DC area.  Great morning, great race, really had a good time.  During the drive, somebody mentioned a Ragnar, and it turned out that none of the runners in the van had ever run a Ragnar … except me.  A sister had, but other than that no direct experience.  And everybody just casually said what a great idea it would be to do one of those things one day, and wouldn’t that be fun?

Yeah – I tend to be the type that actively tries to move things from talking to doing.  Especially at that time, I was reading a book that really had me thinking hard about the choices I was making and what I wanted to do with my time and energy.  So the week after Thanksgiving, after stewing on the idea for a few days, I realized that it wasn’t going to happen if somebody didn’t take the ball and run with it … so I sent an email out and volunteered to be captain.  By the second week of December, we were signed up for Ragnar Washington DC, to be run in late September, from Cumberland, Maryland, to Washington, DC. Read more