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Author: Nate

I’m a blue-collar, no-frills, vegan cable guy trying to show the world
how health is not just relegated to those that can afford it, or for the
typical health nut. My cholesterol was once at dangerous levels, life
defying levels, and I made the change to a plant based diet. I started
running, quit smoking cigarettes and now, in my 40’s, I am in the
best shape of my life. The bonus is, it doesn’t cost what you think it
is, all it takes is commitment to a new lifestyle. Ⓥ #vegan #deathracer #ultrarunner #nespahtens #shvp

Meme Monday 7.23.2017

This excuse gets me all the time, “Veganism is just too extreme for me!”

If you seriously think eating plants and foods that are just as similar as your every day foods, than you are just making excuses to live an unhealthy, and an non-compassionate life.

Don’t get me wrong, you can be a vegan and be unhealthy too. There’s tons of stuff you can eat like Oreo’s, ice cream, chips and all sorts of garbage if that’s what you are worried about missing. It’s not extreme to give a fuck about your health.

If it’s meat you are missing than I ask this; why? Is it taste? Because if that is the reason you can simply use those same spices to flavor up your meat on a piece of seitan or tempeh. It’s not extreme to give a shit about animals.

What is extreme is to know that what you are eating is killing you and continuing to do it, knowing full well at some point in your life you will have a health disaster. Cholesterol kills. It’s not anything your body needs extra of, it produces plenty of it’s own. Saturated fats? Yea that chicken breast has plenty, so much so that all that sugar you eat can’t be absorbed and now you get diagnosed with diabetes.

According to the CDC 1 in 4 deaths in the United States is due to heart disease. The same one that, if diagnosed early, can be treated by opening up your chest cavity and having a vein from your leg transplanted into your heart; as the meme states. EXTREME DUDE!

Normally I write more about the memes in this series of articles, but this one really speaks for itself.

Review: Sam’s Naturals Campn Stick

Just a few short weeks ago, my boys and I went on a camping journey to Lake George (in upstate NY) with some of my friends/ teammates from Strong Hearts Vegan Power. We spent the weekend eating glorious vegan food on the campfire. We swam in Lake George. Some of the group ran, while others hiked Mt Algonquin. My boys and I spent some time at Fort Ticonderoga and Ausable Chasm. And, in our “downtime”, we tossed some games of washer toss with Andy. It was an amazing weekend for sure.

I could create a long post about the timeline and exact details of the weekend but that’s not why I’m writing this. I had brought just about everything I could think of on this trip; except bug spray. Luckily, one of my friends/ teammates is Jess Ryle from Vegan Outdoor Adventures.  If you don’t know Jess, check out this chat I had with her a while back and get to know her. Anyway, she had brought some bug stuff and offered me a container of Sam’s Naturals Campn Stick.

My boys and I were getting eaten alive as darkness settled in and I applied some of the stick to us all. It’s reminiscent of a deodorant stick, which is pretty appropriate since they have a whole line of deodorants I guess (I have yet to try those). It went on smoothly, a little tacky at first but as it warmed up on the skin it was more fluid and spread very evenly & easily. The smell was nice as it’s DEET free and doesn’t have that nasty chemical scent to it. Being vegan and all natural, it of course had ingredients like citronella which are known deterrents, especially for mosquitoes. The smell of citronella and eucalyptus was certainly pervasive, but subtle enough that it wasn’t bothersome.

It seemed to work really well as the bugs started staying away as soon as it was on. I certainly felt good about using it not only for ethical reasons, but I hate putting chemicals and other protectants on my kids that does more harm to them then good. Sure, those other products work but the negatives surely outweigh the positives when it comes to DEET and chemicals like that.

It is surely satisfying knowing that a product that can be effective and still not cause harm to animals in any way yet do what it’s asked to do. I’m going to start looking around locally and see if I can’t find some more products by Sam’s Naturals. I even saw on their site that this offer this in a lotion now, that would be amazing!

I recommend this for you and your family!

 

Precious Metal; Republished and Repurposed

This past weekend, my two boys and I went camping with some of the Strong Hearts Vegan Power crew. One night, I was talking with Sam Hartman (SHVP team member and keyboardist for Anagnorisis) about music and stuff and it reminded me of an old article I had written showing the parallels of heavy/ death metal and Buddhism. I’m not sure how many of you knew this, but from 2000-2008-ish I was one of the founders and vocalist for a death metal band called Leukorrhea. The last recorded album I was involved with was titled “Breeding Salvation.” we had done a full length previous to that as well as a split CD that was released in Japan and one that was released in Italy. We also did had songs on a variety of compilation cd’s including one in rememberance of Chuck Schuldiner of the band Death.

Anyway, I dug for the article and with the help of my old friend Rod Meade Sperry (editor of Lion’s Roar Magazine) and I wanted to share it with you as I feel myself being pulled back to a life filled with mindful behavior and intention. Of course, being vegan you would think that it would come naturally. Of course it does when making food choices, but in making other decisions I find myself just existing to co-exist. I hope this article gives you some enjoyment, it is long so please bare with it; I promise it’s a fun story.

© Precious Metal (not to be used without permission)
© Precious Metal

WHAT COULD BUDDHISM HAVE TO DO WITH HEAVY METAL? If you’re not into metal, I guess the answer would be “nothing.” But if you’re me, the answer would have to be “everything.”

In 1983, at the age of 9, I went into a local department store. This was way before CDs, iPods, MP3 players, etc. (Now that I’ve completely dated myself.) I was perusing the music section and a cassette jumped out at me: it was Ozzy Osbourne’s Bark At The Moon. I took it home and was hooked. I knew right away that someday, somehow, I had to be involved with this music.

As things went on I was exposed to more bands. In 1985 I got Metallica’s Master Of Puppets and the metal bar had been raised. Next was Slayer’s Reign in Blood and it was all over: I had to have metal at all costs. I know the Buddha taught about attachment and how we should try to rid ourselves of it, but I had no idea about that then, and was immersed so deep I never wanted to come out. I still haven’t.

Over the years friends showed me stuff from bands like Megadeth, Death Angel, Death, Napalm Death, Rigor Mortis, Sanctuary, Morbid Angel, and on and on. We’d go into music stores, allowance in hand, and try to find the nastiest, grossest album-cover art we could find. One of us found Carcass’s Reek of Putrefaction, and we were in disbelief; what was this stuff, and how could anyone listen to it? But after hearing it over and over it grew on us — like a gangrenous infection. We would stay up late and watch Headbangers Ball on MTV (this was back when it was good), and soon we all picked up instruments and started learning Metallica songs and anything else we could get tablature for.

Ever since that first day I heard Ozzy, I knew I had to be in a band, and in my 20’s I did just that. We cranked out some songs, put out a demo and almost immediately a small label wanted to finance our first disc. How awesome was this, right? Our first CD got some decent reviews and people started writing letters and e-mails to us. (Yes, the internet had been invented by then). We were offered the opportunity to tour, and it was in Detroit, Michigan, that I realized my goal had been achieved: we were playing the I-Rock Cafe and on the wall was a picture of Ozzy standing in the same damn club, playing with Black Sabbath. I knew then and there that I could never give this up.
And while this was all well and good, it still felt like something was missing. I was entering my 30’s and reality had hit.

WHAT WAS IT I WAS LOOKING FOR, THOUGH? I have a wonderful wife and two great kids. I had a hobby that made me happy, a job that was going well. Still, we were just barely able to make ends meet, so we moved from Massachusetts (where I’d lived all my life) to Knoxville, Tennessee, where the cost of living was relatively low. We got settled in, found jobs and decent day-care, and really enjoyed Knoxville.

I worked during the day and my wife worked at night. I hadn’t met many people in Knoxville, so after my son was in bed for the night, I’d spend a lot of time on the internet. I honestly don’t know how it happened, but I got onto a Buddhist web-forum and started reading posts and checking out websites. One thing that kept coming up was karma: I knew that if you acted like a jerk you would get negativity back, and the same went for good deeds coming back as positivity. My interest was peaked and I started reading a lot more. It all felt right to me, like the part that was missing was filling up.

I started buying up books, reading them almost as quickly as it took me to pay for them and bring them home. One of the members of the forum mentioned a book by Thubten Chodron called Buddhism for Beginners. I went out and got it, and it helped me out so much. Rather than just being a book of plain text, it was in a Q&A format, and a lot of the questions were the same ones I’d started asking myself.

The big question was, What is the basic idea behind this thing called Buddhism? I learned that the answer was found in things that were easy to do: be a good person, don’t harm others, and be a help whenever possible. This was one of the simplest things I could hear, but also one of the most profound. There was no dogma, no over-zealous hypocrisy; just plain and simple guidelines on how to live a better life for myself and for everyone else around me. I read some more books and started getting into meditation. Almost immediately I started noticing changes. One of the biggest was that I could stay calm now when something major was affecting my life.

Eventually, the wife and I started to miss being with our family and friends. The hardest thing for me was that my daughter was still living in MA and we were in Tennessee. She had stayed when we moved because her mother (my first wife), understandably, didn’t want her to switch schools. We had worked out that I would get her on vacations and stuff, but that was harder than anticipated. It was difficult coming up with airfare, especially while still paying for food, rent, car payments, etc. We spoke often, and I sent her gifts via FedEx (that’s where I was working) but it just wasn’t the same. I was beginning to get discouraged about the whole move-thing. After my wife’s mother visited, bringing my daughter with her, we all decided that we had to do what we could and go back to MA so we could all be together.

All this time I was still learning as much as I could about Buddhism, reading books like a madman and absorbing the teachings as best I could. But I was running into issues here and there, and there seemed to be no one else into Buddhism where I was. Hell, I was in the Bible Belt of the US — where was I going to find another Buddhist? I started seeking out temples and centers but they were all over two hours away. So I kept seeking my answers online. The people on the forum I mentioned were helping me out more than they know.

One day as I was leaving work, I pulled out of my parking spot. By the time I had put it in gear to go forward, another car was already coming at me in reverse. I slammed on the horn hoping they would hear me, but they were either occupied with something else or not hearing me because their music was way too loud. (The bass was slamming me in the chest, it was so loud). I heard a crunch. We had an accident on our hands.

Normally I would have gone berserk, cursing and yelling (maybe even frothing at the mouth a little), but not this time. I took a deep breath, got out of the car and assessed the damage: the other car was more hurt than mine, which had just a couple scratches. I asked the woman who was driving if she was ok. She was, but she seemed astounded at my reaction, as if she was expecting the reaction of an insane person. I was aware, though, that acting that way would probably just elevate the situation to one neither of us would want to deal with. I attribute this to nothing else but the things I was learning about Buddhism and mindfulness. There were of course plenty of other events that “tested” what I was learning. But my ability to change seemed real.

THE FUNNY THING ABOUT BUDDHISM AND METAL is how, in my life, one’s taught me about the other. Being a metalhead I’ve heard more than my share of songs about death, pain, misery, etc. How can I draw a parallel with Buddhism, you ask? I can do it in one word: impermanence! Buddhism teaches how to cope with things like death by reminding us that everything in life is impermanent — including life itself. Death is always around the corner. And we don’t have to be scared about it. We can embrace it by realizing that all beings, no matter who they are, will eventually expire. In this way, metal helped prime me for my path.

You might ask, though, how can I still be a metalhead, writing lyrics that maybe talk of harming another person, or consist of morbid horror stories, and also practice Buddhism. Some might even say I can’t do both at the same time, but I very strongly disagree. Just because I want to be a good person doesn’t mean I can’t listen to “Hammer Smashed Face” by Cannibal Corpse. Yeah, the lyrics are WAY over the top, but they’re just lyrics. It’s just a song, and if you can come to terms with reality and non-reality, I don’t think it’s an issue at all. Some might even pose a similar question to Richard Gere or other well-known celebrity-Buddhists: How can they, in a material world like Hollywood, overcome the very obstacles that Buddhism teaches about? And, look at Gere’s movie, “Pretty Woman.” It was about a rich and powerful real-estate guy and his “relationship” with a hooker. Yeah, there was more to it than that, and it actually was a good movie, but you would think a Buddhist couldn’t do a movie like that and still have some sort of clout, right? But look at what he does off-screen. He has taken teachings from many prominent lamas, including the Dalai Lama. He donates money to various causes, he’s a chairman on the International Campaign for Tibet, and that’s just some of the good things that he does. So why would being involved in metal music, if it doesn’t compromise one’s contributions, be any different?

My answer: it isn’t. If you’ve got the right mindset about it, nothing has to be a “bad” thing. I’ve written most of the lyrics to my band’s songs, and every now and again have strayed from just gore lyrics: I’ve written songs about the Iraq War and about the Catholic Church Scandal in Boston and the rest of the US. I’m concerned about real issues, big and small.

Still, people have this idea that metalheads couldn’t possibly do any good. I think differently about that. Even before starting my practice I liked to think of myself as a compassionate person, and thought the same of quite a number of metalheads around me. I’ve been to many shows that either donated the proceeds to a good cause like the Hurricane Katrina Fund, Autism Now, or other charities. I’ve seen many shows that were dedicated to people that had something to do with the metal scene over the years but who had passed on. We don’t take life and death nearly as lightly as some seem to think.

PERSONALLY, with Buddhism, I notice positive change, especially to the areas that need it, every day. Even in the seemingly-most mundane ways. Like, nowadays, I won’t be so quick to give you the finger; I’ll say hello back and smile without judging or thinking you’re a freak. Hell, I may be a freak to you, right? And I’m more apt now to pick up the sponge and just wash the dishes. My wife used to hate that about me — I was a lazy prick. But after reading a book by Thich Nhat Hanh, I realized that doing the dishes was a great time to just be with myself, and just do the dishes. To be able to slow down and just take time to be with my mind.

See, being a metalhead doesn’t make me a primitive thug with a one-track mindset. And it doesn’t mean I want to rip your head off cause I wrote that in my lyrics, or that I want to see your guts exposed on the sidewalk. It’s an art! Writing a song is very similar to writing a horror-movie script, just a lot shorter. And just because some may not understand it, it doesn’t mean it’s sick, or demented. One song idea I am working on has some potentially very gruesome overtones, and could easily be misunderstood — but I’ve been trying to steer clear of typical gore lyrics, and instead relate actual events. Example: in Tibet there is a form of burial called sky burial, or jhator (bya-gtor) in Tibetan. It’s actually not officially considered a “burial,” more a gift of alms to the vultures. Of course, Buddhists know that when we die the body is pretty much useless from then on out. So the Tibetans offer the corpse to the birds. A man comes in after the body is laid down and works to cut it up into several pieces. This sends the vultures into a feeding frenzy and, very quickly, the body disappears. And while this may seem somewhat normal to Buddhists who understand it, someone unfamiliar with this practice would probably be horrified by the whole process of sky burial.

Likewise, I hope people won’t jump to the conclusion that I’m a bad person (or a “bad Buddhist”!) for writing horror-inspired lyrics. Can I not practice compassion and kindness because I wrote a song that was based on Ted Bundy? Reality is scary sometimes — people die, people get killed by other people. The news reports it. Movies are made about it. Books are written about it. Lessons are learned from it sometimes, too. Just because my music is loud and my lyrics are over the top, does it mean I can’t feel love for all sentient beings?
I say, no; there doesn’t have to be a conflict of interest. It’s not hard being a good person and still living a subversive lifestyle. We can all be good people, no matter who we are. We can all have hobbies, or things that make us feel good without compromising the other important things in life.

I contend that being a metalhead helped me become a Buddhist. It took lots and lots of practice to achieve the things that our band did. And to achieve the things I want now, like a better life for all sentient beings — whether they are metalheads, punks, hip hoppers, goths, ravers (do they even exist anymore?), or just regular Joe Schmoes — that’s going to take practice, too.

That basically sums up Buddhism for me, it’s practice.

And as I get better at it, those around me will be better off as well.

ps. The image attached to this post is copy-written, I had it commissioned for my old blog and permission is needed to use anywhere other than here or on my old blog, Precious Metal.

Day in the Life; What I eat

I share recipes as often as I can. I even post what I pack for lunches during the work week. But what do I eat from the time I wake to the time I hit the hay? It can vary greatly but some things are staples.

Let’s go through a typical day…

BREAKFAST

I’m up anywhere between 5:30-6:30 each day, depends on how many times I hit the snooze button. Habitually I brew a pot of coffee and down a cup before it’s the other morning habit; oatmeal. It doesn’t matter what’s in it, I eat oatmeal every day! EVERY DAY! Depending on what the day has ahead I will up the calories with either hemp seeds, nuts or both! I try my best to make sure there is at least one fruit in it, whether that’s a banana, strawberries, blueberries or even raisins. Again, depending on the day ahead, my oatmeal can vary from 250-600 calories.

SNACKS

Before lunch I snack on at least two pieces of fruit, that’s usually a banana or whatever melon is in season. Right now I’m crushing cantaloupe like it’s going out of style! I may have some seeds too, all depends on whether I’m at work or not. Carrying around a ladder, and the weight of a tool-belt, I can burn calories and feel famished quickly. Maybe I will swap a fruit for some pistachios if I need the extra energy. If I’m home it’s just the two pieces of fruit.

After lunch I try to eat more fruit, or even some raw broccoli or carrots. Maybe I will dip the carrots in some hummus but I try not to add to much to them, they are perfect the way they are. I really enjoy Nature’s Bakery bars and will maybe devour a package of those. There are a couple in each package, the package says 1 bar is a serving but who the heck eats just one? Not this guy. I try not to do this to much but, when the sweet tooth is too strong, I love me some Breyers non-dairy Oreo Ice Cream. They’ve done great things with non-dairy ice cream and although I love it, the Ben And Jerry’s is nowhere as cost efficient.

LUNCH

Lunch is by and large pretty easy. If I’m working it’s usually one of my Mason Jar Creations which have three components: protein, clean carb and greens. That can be tempeh with rice and spinach. Maybe it’s chickpeas with quinoa and collard greens. Or even some jambalaya with chorizo and okra. You get the idea. At home my creativity is somewhat lacking if I’m just bumming around. I will usually eat something that is left over from the night before. That can be taco crumbles sprinkled on some greens, maybe some mashed potatoes (which I will add some butter and nooch) and make a meal out of that. I try to balance the best I can, leftovers are great though as I hate to toss out food. Sometimes if I’m feeling a little sluggish I will make a big salad and load it up with a variety of greens and keep it super simple.

DINNER

Being vegan is easy folks, as you can see so far, we don’t just eat nuts and berries. Yeah it sounds like it, but there is so much good food out there. I make my own seitan so sometimes I will make a homemade mac and cheese with seitan “ham” or “bacon” and asparagus. We eat tacos nearly every tuesday and we usually use Trader Joe’s beefless crumbles; they are hands down one of the best. Being from the northeast we love the flavors of Thanksgiving so we frequently have Gardein Turk’y Cutlets. My kids love breakfast for dinner so we will make pancakes and homefries. Other days we might just decided to take things easy and slap a Beyond Burger on the grill w/ some zucchini and summer squash.

You get the idea, right?

As the saying goes “anything you can eat I can eat vegan!”

Mason Jar Creations: Curried Chickpeas w/ quinoa and lentils

Like many of the “regular” post series I start here, they fizzle quick. I’m going to try my best to revamp this one because I post a pic of them each week on Instagram, so why make the effort there and not share here? Here we go and here’s hoping for consistency!

I changed up my normal formula with this weeks set of jars. Normally I like to add at least one green to the recipe. This week I intend to bring a salad each day to eat with my lunch. So, I figured I could get away with skipping it and adding something with more protein. I’m wrapping up the second week of a new workout routine and could use some help with muscle recovery.

I curried some chickpeas (1 can) in a spice mixture that I came up with that is similar to garam masala spice mix; but more heavy on the cumin and curry powder. I sauteed it in a bit of soy-milk as well. I prepared some tri-color quinoa (1 dry cup to 2 cups of water) and finally, I cooked up a bit of green lentils (1 dry cup to 1 1/4 cups water with 1 cup of veg broth).

Once it all cooled down I jarred it up, put lids on em and they are waiting to be eaten.

I can’t wait to go to work!

Okja; Animal Rights goes CGI

I watched this last night on Netflix and was amazed at how well the message of animal rights, and the film-makers antipathy toward factory farming, was portrayed. The story-line was extremely well written and as a viewer, you felt every emotion along with the main character, Mija.

The film starts with a kick-off party scene of a major corporate company (Mirando Corporation) launching a new “product”. They’ve chosen 26 farmers across the world to raise a new super pig over a span of ten years, the “winner” will be flown back to the US to celebrate the “best pig”. One of the super pigs, Okja, is sent to South Korea to be raised by a farmer and his grand-daughter, Mija.

Okja, a hippo sized pig hybrid, is a kind and compassionate animal; as most are. The viewer is treated to beautiful interactions between Okja and Mija as they climb the mountainside together and even curl up at night to sleep. Bong Joon Ho, the films mastermind, does a phenomenal job creating the relationship not only with the characters, but with the viewer and the characters.

Soon after being introduced to the Okja and Mija, Mirando Corp shows up to claim their “property” as Okja has been chosen as the best pig. What plays out next is a roller coaster of emotion. We are introduced to a small group of ALF (Animal Liberation Front) activists who, astonishingly, are not depicted as eco-terrorists but as rescuers/ guardians for Okja and Mija.

Without ruining a ton more of the film, there is one scene I’d love to point out and that’s where Okja has to be saved from a farm. We know about the 26 super pigs that were sent out across the globe but what we weren’t told is that others were also being raised to be part of the food system. Okja had been brought to a gigantic processing plant and you can hear the screams and cries of other super pigs as Mija and the ALF crew try to find Okja and save her.

The CGI and cinematography are top rate. Okja is a masterpiece, truly. The imagery is beautiful, whimsical and as visually appealing as you can get. The production is absolutely amazing and the locations for filming were absolutely stunning.

You will cry, this movie is sad. That is no reason to not watch it though, it’s necessary and I think, better yet hope, that you will view it with friends. Is it kid friendly? Minus some language it is completely kid friendly, I’d let my boys watch it and they are 9 and 13 years old.

Check out the trailer below or just fire up your Netflix account and watch this tonight!

 

Race Recap: Ragnar Pennsylvania 2017

WARNING: A copious amount of reading ahead! Turn back now or if you so desire, enjoy the copious amount of rambling verbiage that lay before you…

It’s hard to really sum up a weekend like the previous one. It’s an emotional weekend. It’s a physically draining weekend. It’s a constant comedy of ramblings and silliness type of weekend. It can even be a stinky weekend. It’s an “eat all the vegan snacks” type of weekend. And for certain it’s a weekend that goes by way to flippin’ fast!

This was my fourth Ragnar; third as a member of Strong Hearts Vegan Power and they’ve become a second family for me. I’ve raced on a few different teams, and there really is no comparison because they all had people who meant a lot to me but if I HAD to compare them one thing would separate SHVP from the rest and that’s equality. No matter who you meet on this team there is a connection that goes beyond primal, it’s a fundamental understanding you are both on the same level and the thing that you are about to do is so important to each and every one of you. While we may have an A, B, C, D and even an E team we are all one Strong Hearts Vegan Power family.

We had members converge upon PA from all over the country, this time we even had a married couple (Corey and Channon who were in my van) who came from Chattanooga, TN. A good portion of the team is from New York, Boston and Philly but we’ve got folks from the West Coast as well. For most,  the trip started on Thursday. I left my house at about 7:30am to make it to Worcester (Marie’s house) by 10am.

At about 8:15am a series of events played out in front of me and I wasn’t as quick to react, I crashed my truck into the guy in front of me that stopped short. Thankfully this was not some sort of calamitous foreshadowing of the weekend, just a blip in the road; literally. After assessing the damage and realizing it was just a glancing blow, we traded info and were on our way.

I got to where I needed to be, albeit earlier than I thought I had to. Shortly after I showed, the rest of the Boston contingent arrived. We arranged all our stuff in two vans and off to Tamerlaine Farm Animal Sanctuary we went. The plan was to drop our camping gear there as we would be camping out Saturday night after the race. Some of us thought it’d be smart to set up our tents before hand so we got that done and got back into the vans to head to Philly to meet more teammates and look for food.

One of our sponsors was Blackbird Pizzeria, an all vegan pizza joint in Philly. Not only do they do pizza but they do vegan cheese steak subs and the most glorious seitan wings. We got in kind of late and I think they were overwhelmed. I did reach out when we were about 30 minutes away, but they were busy and 10-15 more bodies on top of their rush was formidable at best. Since we had nowhere else to be, we were patient. Most of us had not been to Blackbird before so between the table, we ordered just about everything they offered. I chose the habanero seitan wings and cheese fries. I sincerely regret not getting the cheese steak, but my stomach can only hold so much and with all those miles coming up, I didn’t want to have to deal with gastric stuff mid run; that would NOT have been good. The wings were great, some of the pieces were quite thick and weren’t as cooked as they could have been, but again; they were overwhelmed so I will give them a pass because the flavor was off the charts. The cheese fries were amazing. I’d give them a solid 4.5 stars!

After sleeping the night away (thanks for the hospitality Erin), 4am came really quick and we were out the door by 4:30am. We hit a Wawa for coffee and off to the start line we went for pre-race meeting, team photo and to see our first team off. We had three teams taking off at 830am including my team for the weekend; team C. Even though we officially started at 8:30am, we were van 2 and that meant we weren’t on the clock until runner six hit the first major exchange at Salisbury Township Community Park, which is where we headed off to.

We checked in, watched our safety video and relaxed a bit. While walking around we had to come to terms with a few things. We were in farm country and we surely would see some stuff that bothered us. Looking around at some of the farms close by not only did you see animals grazing but there were some of those small white containers (veal crates) all grouped together. You know, the one’s where young male cows are hidden away from their moms to live a short life and become veal? Yeah, those things were all over and the realization was horrifying as there was not much anyone could do. The best thing we could continue to do though was to stay visible, it was hard not to notice a bunch of (mostly) tattooed vegans dressed in black with “Strong Hearts Vegan Power” emblazoned on the front in white lettering. And that’s a big part of the reason we are at these things, to represent the animals and be a voice for them.

I’m not sure the exact time but Michael Harren was coming in and the hand-off to Corey was imminent. There were a couple other teams hanging out waiting for their runners so we all crowded the exchange and Michael rounded the corner, came up to the line and… WHAT? Yup, Ragnar moment for sure and the slap-bracelet bent a weird way and it hit the deck. Corey recovered and Team C van 2 was on the clock!

It wasn’t until a little before 4pm that my first run started. The sun had peaked and it was beating down. In my first 2-3 miles my water bottle was empty and I could have used an aid station, but I didn’t see one anywhere. This would become a running theme for the weekend. There were either no aid stations on my run or the one’s that were there didn’t have anyone at them or water in the jugs they so blatantly left unattended.

The hills were rolling and there was not as much elevation as my next two runs were going to have. As I mentioned, this was farm country and most of them are run by the Amish. You could see them everywhere. If they weren’t flying by trying to run you off the road in a horse-drawn buggy, they were zipping along on push scooters. Yeah one Amish  guy did try to run me off the road all the while staring me down, it felt very Amish mafia so I just kept running)Even in the hottest heat of the day, the younger kids were outside playing basketball in button down shirts, suspenders and jeans. I started to get into a zone thank to Pandora and the amazing playlist I had going. Nothing like a Black Tongue beat-down as you run through Amish country. The total run was 6.3 miles in 1:08:04 with an elevation change of only a couple hundred feet. Not the best time or pace but I was trying to save something for later, it was about to get real.

At this point, once your van is done you do one of two things, get food or sleep. I say either or because sometimes that is all you can do. We basically lived at Giant Food grocery stores on our time off. Our first stop I grabbed some fresh strawberries, watermelon and a couple of green juices. Everything I bought had a coupon on it and the juices were buy one get on free. This seemed to confuse the person behind the counter and they had to call over some back up. I got over $10 worth of fresh fruits for $3 though; I’m a cheap vegan and look for a bargain everywhere and anywhere I am!! After scarfing our grub we did head to the next exchange and waited for van 1.

I didn’t start my next leg until almost 2am. I was prepared for the hand off and headed up the mountain for some nasty elevation. I was about to see 800+ feet of elevation gain in a 2.5 mile climb. Good thing is there was also a 2.5 mile downhill. Getting up was a challenge as my legs we already a tad tired but I slogged on and actually got some kills headed up the mountain. Not being the fastest runner, I am not one to notch too many kills, so it was nice to get some under my belt. I did this run without music. I’m not a huge fan of running in the mountains late at night without being able to hear what is possibly coming out of the woods to eat me. Luckily the bears didn’t see me so I was off the menu; Aaron didn’t see me either so I was doing a good job at not being noticed (just kidding Aaron). The backside of the mountain was great and I gave it all I had. Again, I’m not a fast runner but using momentum was able to log 7:20 for a good amount of the run down. 6.8 miles after starting this leg of the race I handed off the slap-bracelet to Britt. After our van was done we went to the next exchange and I think we actually got some sleep; I’m sure I did because I woke up not knowing where the heck we were, haha!

At 2pm I finally started my last leg and it was going to be brutal to say the least. I was getting out of the port-a-potty just as Brian was hitting the exchange and I wasn’t ready. I grabbed the slap-bracelet though and started the 800+ feet of elevation gain in two miles span; it was a soul crusher for sure. 3/4 of the way up the top the van had pulled over to give me my handheld, again I was unprepared to start this leg. I started pounding the water right away and probably should have tried to save it. I was losing steam fast and for the first time I slow to a thru-hike like pace. As I hit the top I felt a wave of nausea overcome me and I ran for the woods. I lost whatever I had in my stomach and was out of water.

I have never had this happen before but I’m sure a combo of the heat and the abuse my legs were taking from all the elevation changes had a bit to do with it. I got myself back together and put one foot in front of the other and got a run going again. I felt something in my handheld shaking, yet I knew there was no water. Luckily, Johnny had squirreled away some GU Chews for me and they came in really f*cking handy at that point.I ate them with sincere ferocity and got into a zone to finish this leg. 5.8 miles later and 900+ elevation gain, I did!

The rest of the van crushed it and the final 4 runners got a great pace going as we headed toward the finish line. Channon brought it home for us and as she came toward the finish we followed behind her, along with van A, and finished together. There was an overwhelming sense of elation for the team, more so for myself. I’ve done races with elevation before, but PA really taxed my ability to sustain forward momentum. I’m so proud of my teammates, not just C team but ALL of the teams. Everyone truly shined in what was probably the toughest Ragnar course we’ve run to date.

We headed toward Tamerlaine after the race for a pizza party and to crash. I seriously don’t know how long it took me to fall asleep but it was quick I know that. The next morning we awoke to the sounds of farm animals starting their day. There were roosters crowing, goats bleating and in the distance (not at Tamerlaine) a peacock was screaming at the top of its lungs. Well, that’s what it sounded like to me. Gabby and Peter (co-owners of Tamerlaine) as well as other volunteers were getting things settled and were also working on an amazing breakfast for SHVP. There was coffee, bagels from a local shop and just about anything you could want on them. I simply had a untoasted sesame seed bagel with almond butter, I was more looking forward to the view out of the back of the veranda more than anything. There was this stunning sense of peace that came over me just sitting there enjoying my breakfast. With all of the hubbub of the race, it was wondrous to slow down and just be present. It’s been a while since I’ve felt that calm and it was beautiful.

Members of the team that had camped on site were waking up and starting to make their way to the veranda for rations and coffee as others who had stayed at local hotels showed up as well. Everyone enjoyed a fantastic breakfast filled with joy and friendship. There was talk of the race, obviously, but it seems that Tamerlaine kind of took over for people and the animals were calling. We all had to go see them.

We first went to hang with the turkeys and the newest resident, Pecan the pig. Things started getting a little hairy when the male turkeys started getting competitive with one of the woman from the team, we had to leave the pen so they could calm down. We made our way over to the goats and they were all so amazing. They were not shy at all and wanted nothing more than to cuddle and to be scratched.

We toured the farm some more and met other residents such as all the roosters and chickens. Some of those chickens were saved from the Kaporos ritual  (the link is horrifying, watch with caution) that is held in Brooklyn. All of the animals here were saved in one way or another. Whether it was from a slaughterhouse or some crap backyard farm where the owners got over the head. Tamerlaine is doing some amazing work. It was mind-blowing to know that the fundraiser we had for them that ran concurrent to Ragnar raised over $10,000 for those animals. Some of the donations were from readers here and I thank you as do the folks at Tamerlaine.

Later on in the afternoon it was time to head back to the real world so we got the MA contingent together and off we went. Minus getting caught in some major traffic in CT, the drive was far less eventful than my ride to meet them on Thrusday. Here’s where I finally wrap this up and thank you for sticking with me and reading, but I also want to thank the folks in SHVP. When I say this I truly mean it, I love you guys! It’s hard to put into words what you have done for me just by being here and showing me kindness. I am humbled that you have accepted me as one of your own and cannot wait to see you all next!!!

Lastly, thank you to our sponsors The Herbivorous Butcher, Dandies, Blackbird Pizzeria, Grindcore House, GU Energy, Little Secrets and Newzill! Your support not only helps us do what we do but shows the integrity that stands behind your business, thank you!