My life is riddled with incompleteness and unpreparedness. The amount and complexity of tasks I will attempt over the next few days and months is reality-shifting. (It’s like fingernails scratching on a chalkboard, both horrifying and alerting.) I am blissfully overwhelmed.
But this day I found myself standing next to a French family with their distinctively-European shoes and dialects. I looked down over steel railing into a canyon with spires and arches and hoodoos, like a congress of red people waiting 140 million years for an Asian couple to snap a selfie from the safety of our perch. Each rock was carved with erosion, banded by layers of sediment, rounded by the ages, surely reminiscent of castles in ruins. Bryce Canyon seemed smaller than I had imagined but almost unimaginably beautiful, unbelievably intricate. This place brought me on a sluggishly boring 17-hour drive with my preoccupied mind trailing, dragging, stretching all the way back to Tulsa. As I walked the rim and descended down into the sloping canyon, thoughts turned finally to the 50-mile foot race I was about to begin, and the problems I brought with me to the start line. Thoughts simmered down into murmurs of words, but not actually words themselves; feelings of words, which have a much more weighty connotation and implicate themselves directly into the heart of the matter you’re trying not to confront. The color of worry and the sound of eminent adversity flood my mind.
I’m a persistent fellow. A lion at heart. I push and pursue. I land on an idea or even the idea of an idea, and that’s enough to find my veins coursing with the virus-like plan to succeed - or to start, which is an even more daunting and measurable feat. The virus that crushed me into a billion consumable muscle fibers was a real virus. The kind that lays you sweating under covers in dreams of frozen footfalls, exhausted, afraid, and wondering if this is what death feels like. Though it wasn’t the enemy, but the resistance that turned on me, burning and pillaging, weakening the body until desperation set in and the doctor was called. The weakened state rallied to repair, set back like coffee trees pruned by machete, for production breeds waste.
I remember walking into the strip mall at 18th and Boston in 2003, admiring the old brick wall defining the long, narrow space. Imagining where the counter would be. Where the roaster would be. Where I would be. I had spent the previous two years learning more about coffee and coffee shops, about business and business plans, and trying to raise the money to get the DoubleShot started. Things went sideways and I found myself in dire straights. In a desperate place without the basics, but still chasing down that dream. I had a vision. But I was wholly unprepared for what was about to happen: the most intense endurance event of my life.
My dad started his own business. I remember the day it happened. Night, really. It was an exciting event that catapulted him from employee to independent contractor. The boss. He was always THE BOSS to me, but he stepped into that role in business after growing up disadvantaged. His family moved around a lot in rural Illinois, trying to farm or simply subsist. They lived for 6 years in a garage they built - 3 girls, 2 boys, and my grandma and grandpa. They dug a well with shovels and drank the dirty water that seeped up from it. They used an outhouse, and slept in rooms separated by hanging sheets, gazing up at the stars, visible through gaps between slats in the roof.
While living on a farm, they grew so tired of eating eggs that they finally ate the chickens, and then they had no eggs OR chickens. And it wasn’t until my dad was a junior in high school that they moved into a house with indoor plumbing for the first time in his life. He grew up with the grime and shame of poverty.
I have never lived without indoor plumbing. Because of my dad’s upbringing, he made sure we never showed our desperation when there was any, and he worked like a dog to provide for his family. But I did spend the first three-and-a-half years of the DoubleShot living without gas or electricity, taking cold showers and sleeping in the extreme heat and relative cold of Oklahoma summers and winters. It turns out starting a business is hard and requires a great deal of sacrifice. You start dismantling Maslow’s pyramid and eventually begin to sacrifice your self. Your health. But not your hope.
The traitorous antibodies lived up to their name and began to consume my muscles. Strength waned as the deterioration worsened. I fought back and took counter-measures in the gym and on the road and trail. But it’s easy to forget your body is in a compromised state. I impatiently jumped out of a coffee trailer, and when I landed 8 feet below, my knee twinged. Knee, hamstring, glute. The other knee was already questionable with intense, stabbing pain coming and going. Climbing ladders is a bear these days. The tear in the back side of my leg hadn’t healed over the past 5 months, and it often feels like the butt muscle has torn away from the bone. Every minute of my drive to Utah was a painful reminder that I was unprepared to run the race.
Sometimes you start unprepared. Life throws you curve balls. And you’ll never feel like you’re completely ready, completely competent, fully qualified (if you’re smart). So you just have to pull the trigger. Follow through. Start the race or the business. Just show up. When I showed up in Glendale, Utah two days before the race, it just so happened that an entire jar of pasta sauce fell off the counter and landed squarely on the middle toe of my right foot. It swelled and turned black, certainly broken.
I run when I don’t know what else to do.
I ran the day my cat died.
And the day my dad died.
I was unprepared for both of those events. So what did I plan to do on this race day for which I was so poorly trained and bio-mechanically compromised? Run.
The DoubleShot opened with a sputter on March 5, 2004. I still had dreams of success and rapid growth and hard work, while maintaining the fitness I’d fought so many years to attain. I was invincible. And then my dedication to this craft turned into self-sacrifice and that led to some resentment for those who didn’t share or appreciate my passion. I got the feeling people loved that I was passionate but wished I was a little more moderate about it. Moderately passionate. I’m not.
The 50 mile race at Bryce Canyon began at 5a on June 2, 2018. I’ve done more ultramarathons than I can remember, and each one is difficult in its own way. This one, I knew might not be possible for me. We trotted off the start line in the dark and started uphill. I began trying to manage my gait to avoid sharp pains in my knees, toe, and hamstring.
“You may not be good, but you sure are slow,” my dad would say. I worked for him growing up, and continued to work on school breaks and when I quit my personal training career I worked for him again. I’m no tradesman, not a fine craftsman like my dad was. So he didn’t go too hard on me but gently let me know my strengths did not lie in floor covering installation.
My dad’s words rang through my head during the Bryce 50 as I struggled, fighting pain and lack of training and dehydration and hyperthermia. I decided to quit. Like I’d done so many times in the years running the DoubleShot, I decided to quit. And then I sat down and took a break, had a talk with myself, and summoned the strength to stand up. And move forward. Just keep moving forward.
Unpreparedness is not a death sentence, not a guarantee that you will fail. It is a guarantee that you’re about to encounter a great deal of adversity, of expected and unexpected problems. And you must deal with them as they come. So as unprepared as I was physically for this race, and as unprepared experientially and educationally as I was for opening the DoubleShot, I had been training my mind for many many years to solve problems, push through hard times, and not give up.
You can’t go back and change your birthright. Most of us are not born with the resources and safety net that make success a matter of strategy. But because of that, we develop something that is very difficult to acquire if you’re born into privilege. We learn to earn. We learn to solve problems ourselves. We learn that with enough grit and determination, many tough situations can be endured. While others buy solutions or throw in the towel, or struggle with questions of self-worth and secretly doubt their own competence; we, the scrappers, the unprepared, fight our way through failures and achieve a level of real success that is unavailable to the others.
As I embark on the construction of the Rookery, the most expensive project of my life thus far, I am highly aware of the fact that I am unprepared. I’m learning as I go. Changing plans as we progress. Doing my best to deal with problems, anticipate future needs, and share this journey with the customers, the reason for our toil. I struggle with the amount of work on my desk and on my mind, with the questions I don’t know the answers to, and the skills I wasn’t born with and have not yet learned. But I still have a chest full of hope. An unwillingness to quit. And a desire to see a better future.
I finished that 50 mile race. I found moral support at the aid stations and some ice bags to cool my overheated body. As it turned out, the last few miles were downhill and all I had to do was try not to stub my broken toe on the way to the finish line.
That’s what I inherited.
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Sitting outside at the bar by the pool at the Doubletree Cariari. It’s windy but mostly sunny and the temperature in the shade is excellent. The Costa Rica national soccer team (I assume) is here and they are all going to some event in their uniforms. I’m sure they are popular, like NFL players are in the US, but no one seems to care.
There are four boys in the pool and one on the side and they are playing ball. Brings back happy memories of the weightlessness of being a kid, being wet in the warm wind, the stark contrast between in and out of the water.
Yesterday, I found Ricardo Gurdian waiting for me outside the airport. Ricardo took me to his farm in a pickup that is much too large for Costa Rican driving. “I made a mistake,” he told me. The drive was maybe 45 minutes and upon entering the farm, there was a spring-fed river, called Las Pilas, flowing over rocks into little pools among the verdant grasses and trees common in the tropics. Ricardo uses an old abandoned milling factory and office + house to run the business and for his nursery and covered drying beds called parihuelas. This area is owned by Volcafe, and his relationship with them is tenuous. The place is in ruins. It’s interesting – like walking through an ancient place.
We drove around the farm and Ricardo explained the different methods he has been experimenting with to prune the trees. We saw the trucks bringing the the day’s picking into the receiving station. And then he showed me the large greenhouse he built to dry coffee on his own property. It is large, and half is set up for patio-drying naturals while the other half has African-styled raised beds for drying the honey coffees.
I enjoyed talking to Ricardo and getting to know him a little. He has a good family history and seems like a good, honest guy. I trust him and hope we can do business together.
Ricardo took me to a lodge called El Choyote. It is on what used to be a 2-hectare farm high up on a mountain with a view of San Jose. The cabins are shaped like receiving stations and the inside is nice with a big window and patio overlooking the Central Valley. Much of the decor inside is made of coffee tree stumps and branches. Very cool place. I felt like I had it all to myself.
Ricardo and I ate dinner in the lodge restaurant and I had the typical platter. It was fine – rice and beans, vegetable hash, plantain, salad and thin overcooked beef. I stayed up way too late even though I was falling asleep early. Too nice of a view, and the wind was howling. I was freezing.
This morning I woke up at 7 a.m. and made coffee. I brought La Pastora Natural. It was good. Got cleaned up and went to breakfast. Since the entire lodge was coffee-centric, I decided to try their coffee. That was a mistake. It’s terrible. Sat outside and had pineapple, watermelon and cantaloupe. Then scrambled eggs, gallo pinto and garlic toast and a strip of bacon that tasted more like ham. The local dogs sat nearby and occasionally nosed my hand like a bold beggar in the street wanting a scrap of anything.
Ricardo came to pick me up right on time and remarked later that he hates when people are on Tico time. We drove at least 30 minutes to a farm called Volcan Azul. The owner of the farm, Alejo Castro, showed us around their large wet and dry mill. The farm has huge old cypress trees and they claim to preserve a lot of the forest. The mill was very clean and Alejo says they produce a lot of micro lots for companies in Germany and Japan, Korea, etc. We went there because they have a good relationship with the milling/export company that Ricardo is using and they let us use their office for cupping.
When we arrived, the samples were being roasted. Preparation for cupping was painfully slow. Hot water wasn’t ideal and it took a long time to get all saturated. We cupped two tables of 7. The Marsellesa coffees I didn’t care for, but the locals seemed to love them. I did like three naturals – Sarchimor, H1 and Obata – in that order. I liked the Obata Red Honey also, but I think it is wise to stick with naturals in this case.
We ate lunch in Grecia – fried fish, sweet corn and rice with a mixed juice: pineapple and guanabana. Tasty.
Long, confusing drive through town – with big city traffic in a small town. Ricardo told me the church was built in Germany and shipped in pieces, and it was supposed to go to South America (Brazil?) but it stopped in port and they unloaded it in the wrong place and put it in Grecia.
Ricardo battled traffic in his Land Rover Discovery (we drove around the farm in a Defender 90 and he told me they’ve been using Land Rovers on the farm since his dad was younger). And he dropped me off at the gates of the DoubleTree. The beer is so lackluster, I’m drinking a michelada. Not sure what to do. I have all day tomorrow here to relax and recuperate before I get back on the farm visits.
Breakfast buffet at DoubleTree.
Having gallo pinto, plantains, potatoes, bacon and pineapple, with OJ and my own coffee. Yesterday after breakfast, I ran 8.1 miles. The neighborhood here is nice – grand houses and good views into the mountains. I’m at 3100 feet here.
Had hard chips and guacamole and a couple beers with Jim afterward. He says Minor is doing a lot of tiny experiments now. He said La Minita bought all his coffee last year.
The pineapple here is delicious and sweet. I fell asleep for a few and then went to the gym to lift weights. Discovered I’m down to 180 pounds – have lost weight, a lot in muscle mass.
Then I decided to go back out through the neighborhood to take some photos of houses. I didn’t see things the way I did on my run so the photos are not great.
Soon it was dinner time. I went back to the Happy Cow, Argentinian steakhouse. Had beef and a pork chorizo with the typical sides.
Hurried to the grocery store and got sunscreen (I’m burnt already) and some local IPAs, then went to get a massage.
Massage therapist was strong. She beat my legs up, and at one point was kneeling on my back.
Then I stayed up too late reading and having local beer.
In a few minutes we will go to San Marcos and see Minor. I brought a DoubleShot mug and a pound of his natural coffee for him. Time to go. I’ll be back.
Sitting on the front porch at La Minita. Yesterday Jim and I left the DoubleTree around 930a and drove to La Minita. I had been talking about running to a place called Puente Negro, so Jim decided to go there, which he called “a shortcut.” I tried to memorize the turn off the main road and landmarks along the way so I could try not to get lost along the route. Puente Negro is a bridge spanning the Candelaria River. It was built in 1932, and feels as if it might collapse at any moment. A cable span with old boards that are broken and bent, creeping across, trying to stay on the runner, cables creeping loudly. My stomach was tight as we were crossing.
We arrived at La Minita and ate lunch – steak and french fries. Then we drove to La Pastora. Johnny went with us and sat quietly in the back seat. Minor’s daughter Nitsi greeted us wearing a Costa Rican floppy hat and a bandana draped over her neck. Minor arrived and had his familiar smile. After taking photos of honey coffees on raised beds and lots of photos of the family, we went to see a cupping room he’s building up the hill, overlooking the patios. Next to the future cupping room is an entertaining area, where we all gathered to have some beverages. We started with coffee.
Just had dinner. Pork, salad, baked potato, and some sort of vegetable that was between squash and potato (choyote, or pear squash)
There are three other people here now. Jim picked them up in San Jose today. One works for Daybreak Coffee in Lubbock. I know Scott Gloyna, who owns the business. I really like him. She brought her husband. They are nice people. I can tell they run business differently than I do. The other guy is a barista at a place called Frontside. He is wearing the company hoodie and has a beard. He’s a talker. A vegetarian, and he doesn’t drink. No one is drinking except me and I’m having wine.
After coffee with Minor and his wife and daughter, we had a little tequila. Then we went down to collect the coffee in the truck from the day’s picking. Not sure how big the farm is, but they filled the truck in just a few minutes. After returning to the milling area, I asked about a hand-crank machine that was sitting nearby. As I suspected, it is for squeezing sugarcane. So I asked if we could use it. Off they went with machetes in hand, and three men brought back 12-foot stalks of cane. They washed them and then one guy turned the crank while another fed the cane between the rollers. As it was smashed, the cane juice poured out and filled a small bucket. They call it jugo de caña or caldo de caña. I cranked the next cane, and it got tiring. Halfway through I stopped and ripped off my pearl snap. They seemed to like that. The juice was green, and we poured some in small cups and drank it. Mildly sweet, it tasted a tiny bit green – so maybe it wasn’t quite ripe? Then we proceeded back to the entertaining area, which really is a small kitchen with a table and chairs. We poured cane juice with some rum and drank it. Jim and I were ready to leave but Minor said his other daughter was coming. So we waited. And it turned out to be his wife’s brother’s birthday. So we sang and clapped Feliz Cumpleaños, and ate birthday cake. Then we had a michelada. And we were definitely ready. Minor’s other daughter, China, is beautiful. Big, striking brown eyes.
A few more photos and we were off. It was interesting that everyone in the room was on their phone the whole time. Different than a couple years ago. Times change. We stayed much longer than planned and drove back to La Minita in the dark. Can’t remember what was for dinner.
Today we had breakfast. The eggs here smell like a barnyard or wormy. I had to make an egg-bacon sandwich. Jim and I chatted and I shared some of my Pastora Natural with him. I took a pound of the Pastora to Minor along with a coffee mug. I think they liked it. Jim left for San Jose at 1030a and I went inside to change into running gear. Brought my running vest so I grabbed 3 bottles of water, some peanut butter crackers, and Clif Bloks. Put on sunscreen this time, and I ran off down the dirt road toward the mill. It’s about 2.5 miles to the river. I crossed over the footbridge into the Beneficio and greeted the mill manager, Esteban, before trotting off up the paved road. The climb was long, hard, hot. A man stopped and gave me a mandarina. He tried to give me three, but I only took one. I chewed each lobe and sucked the juice and then spit the fibrous pulp out. I blew a snot rocket from my right nostril and it was blood red.
Which reminds me that Minor said he separates the natural coffee out by color – reds from those “sangre de toro,” the color of bull’s blood, and those are the only ones he uses.
I continued to climb up the paved road, jogging when I could and walking when I had to. I was beginning to think I had missed my turn as I saw it the day before coming from the opposite direction. I took a wrong turn down a hill that brought me to the road again across a switchback. I finally stopped to check the map on my phone and couldn’t really tell. But a few yards ahead was a road that looked promising. I walked up to it and saw a sign I remembered from the day before – round with a recycle symbol in the center. So down I went, past familiar houses and transitioned onto a dirt road. At the bottom, I crossed a river on an old bridge high above the deep-cut channel. Then I climbed again for a bit before descending a short distance to Puente Negro. This means Black Bridge. It’s so old and rickety that it even creaks walking on it. I went down to the river below and looked at rocks and put my hand in the dirty water. After hopping around a bit I went back up and crossed the bridge. Painted on the metal uprights is “Dios mio Puente Negro.”
The steepest climb was yet to come. Up into coffee trees again and past invisible pickers and Toyota Land Cruisers half-loaded with bags of coffee cherries, the road went straight up the side of the mountain. I thought to myself, Costa Ricans say switchbacks are for pussies. Up and up. A dead red-and-black striped coral snake coiled on the road. A blue sign with a white telephone receiver on it, like the ones we used in the 80s. I wonder if kids even recognize that symbol any more. When I first started coming here I remember the girls used to stop and call their friends on a pay phone. Now everyone has a cell phone.
Ricardo Gurdian said to me that Costa Rica has always put a great deal of importance on education. Now people have more money and nicer cars and better jobs. But no one wants to pick coffee. The children of his farm workers want to work in the office or go to school for agronomy. He says this is good for the people but bad for the farmers. Their manual labor comes from Nicaragua and Panama. Indigenous Indians come from Panama to Tarrazu, and Nicaraguans come to the Central Valley to pick. How can the industry survive without willing laborers? And the “problem” with illegal immigration both in the US and here. I thought Ricardo had a very simple and logical solution.
After climbing back into the fringes of Bustamante, I came to dirt again and the entrance to La Minita. I snuck through the walkway and greeted the guard. Trotted downhill past colorful painted eucalyptus trees to the farmhouse at almost three hours and 10.62 miles after I left. It was a good run.
Orange fruit shaped like a boat – Huevo de toro – only good for birds to eat seeds. The white milky substance coming out is poisonous. Smelled a bit like tangerine and I wanted to eat it.
Had eggs and beans on tortillas and fruit for breakfast. I made coffee. Afterward we got in the back of the truck with Belman driving and we toured the farm standing in the back of a utility truck, holding onto the rail as we descended 4WD roads, legs as shock absorbers and balance stabilizers. Jim, my salesman from La Minita, told us about the farm’s history and landscape and agronomy.
Lunch was pork chops and fried yucca. After, we went to pick coffee for an hour. I am amazed at how much Roya is on the farm. Much of the area seems to have been decimated by the leaf rust. Picking was mostly strip-picking because of the defoliation and the fact that so much of the coffee was ripe/overripe. I picked 1.5 cajuelas in an hour and earned 1950 colones ($3.40).
Much coffee will have to be replanted after harvest has ended. The coffee trees are sick and the wood brittle. I’ll be curious to see the effect on the farm. First, quality must be less and production will drastically decrease in the next 2-3 years as new coffee will be growing where older trees would’ve been producing. Also, I guess they probably didn’t anticipate this outbreak and probably don’t have enough coffee in the nursery to replace all that lost. Surely the guy who didn’t spray fungicide has lost his job.
After picking, we rode down in the tractor trailer and got paid for our harvest with the other pickers. Dirty and sticky with coffee juices and covered in roya, we went to the receiving station just down from the house and then walked up the road.
Dinner was at the mill, so we put on warmer clothes and rode in the truck with Belman down the road and across the river. Looked at coffee drying on raised beds. Iit was mostly Gesha yellow honey from Pradera. I’m interested in it. Johnny had the grilled chicken all ready to go. The limes here are orange on the inside and have a more rounded taste than ours. Lime on the chicken. Tortillas with rice, beans, pico de gallo, and avocado. So good. We walked through the mill and saw today’s coffee being processed. I got to see a kid take a hose and spray out the coffee in a fermentation tank to the washing channel. I thought, “This kid is washing the coffee and he doesn’t even know the impact that has on so many people.”
Have had a relaxing afternoon, sitting on the porch. Yesterday I got impatient waiting for the others to climb out of the tractor trailer, so I jumped over the side and landed 10 feet down on the ground, tweaking my right knee. Walking down to the mill today seemed to loosen it up, but I had to be careful about how I stepped. It’s sensitive now but I’m resting it and feel like it should be better in a couple days.
We toured the mill and cupped coffee with Sergio and his assistant Antonio. We did the usual cupping of 1st, 2nd, 3rd and green coffees. The other people in my group had clearly not cupped, so it was a little awkward for them.
We also cupped the trademark coffees – La Minita, El Conquistador, La Magnolia, El Indio, La Pradera, La Lapa, and Rio Negro. La Pradera was the only new one. It smelled like cocoa, but was dry and had a bit of an unpleasant finish.
I lay in the hammock for a while and read my book. Worked a bit. Chatted with Jim about coffee, the coffee industry, and ridiculous people in the coffee industry. Now the girls are making dinner. Lunch was awesome – fried shrimp and french fries.
We are watching a fire on the mountainside across the valley, spreading downhill quickly, it seems.
Just saw a bright shooting star. The cell service and internet have both ceased to work here. I sat out on the steps to enjoy the night, but now I’m in by the fire. The fireplace here is huge and awesome. Jose builds a fire each night as the sun sets and the temperature plummets. He brings seasoned split logs and medium-sized branches in a large basket about 4 feet in diameter.
This Sunday is the presidential election in Costa Rica. There are 16 candidates from all different political persuasions. Sergio said he doesn’t know yet whom he will vote for, but he says each promises everything to everyone and they always deliver nothing.
Jim says they had two containers of El Indio stolen and the coffee was taken and replaced with rocks and dirt, which they didn’t know about until it reached port in the US.
Apparently this Sunday is also the Super Bowl. I forgot who is playing. So serene sitting on this porch. It’s all about to end. The whisking sound of a machete trimming grass and bushes. The breeze rustling taller trees. Whiney buzz of a fly circling around. The metallic clank and gravelly roll of trucks occasionally coasting downhill. Stationary clouds shading the mountainside. And the lone bird swooping down the drafty hill.
Packed my bag and was happy to get the coffee samples in from Miramonte and a commemorative plastic La Minita coffee cherry basket that Sergio gave me. About time to go. I need to tip the staff and I want to get a group photo.
It’s hard to think when I have my phone – still connected, thinking about work, about friends.
I was upgraded to first class on both flights home today. Not sure why. But I like it. The food is good, the drinks are free, the elbow and leg room are ample. I have the screen in front of me on the flight path, and I like to see where we are and look out the window at the land below. I can see cities connected by highways – long white lines on a dark green pallet of trees. It’s comforting to see so many trees, and I can’t imagine trekking hundreds or thousands of miles in such dense forest by foot. We are approaching the coastline of Mexico now and entering the Gulf. The coast is very populated and a long bridge reaches out into the ocean to what appears to be a port. Two large ships are cruising away. On my map, this looks like the city of Progresso. Only water now until we reach Texas.
In the airport I had some ceviche and a couple beers, a local “tropical blonde,” but it smelled like a lager. I was hungry. On the flight I had beef, vegetables, salad, potatoes (which I didn’t eat for fear of milk), and a multigrain roll. I had an IPA when I got on, but have been drinking red wine since. I have a three-hour layover in Houston. I’ll likely go get fried calamari and a beer while I wait.
We were flying at 37,000 feet and over 500 mph, and now we are at 12,000 feet and 340 mph. Descending and slowing. Full cloud cover below. Looking forward to getting home and relaxing in my comfortable environment.
At Sortis Hotel in Panama City. It is very nice. I’m at a steakhouse for dinner. Ordered some sort of white fish. White rice. All the sides had cheese or milk. I hope it’s good. Drinking a Panama Lager. It’s not that good. My waitress speaks no English so I’ve been thrust back into Spanish speaking. On the flight from Houston, the guy sitting in the middle seat got up and moved so it was awesome. The guy sitting on the aisle was clean cut and friendly-looking. Though we didn’t talk until we landed. He lives in San Francisco and works for a nonprofit that builds schools in Nicaragua. It’s called Build On. I thought he said Bill Don. We chatted a bit about coffee and Nicaragua. Then in line at customs talked a little. I caught a cab with a guy named Fitzroy. He wasn’t with a cab company and his English wasn’t that good. So I’m in his private car and he’s blowing all the tolls, and I’m thinking of all the terrible things that could happen. Wondering if he was actually going to take me to the hotel. If his friends were going to meet us and rob me. He was shady. But I asked him a lot of questions. He said he has 3 sons and a daughter. He said his dad lives in Manhattan and works for the Army. He also said he works for a taxi company and showed me a ticket pad in his glove compartment that he probably got from the real cabbies.
Anyway, we ended up at the hotel even though his headlights barely worked and he didn’t stay in his lane very well. $35.
Walked into the lobby and there’s the guy who sat next to me on the plane. Tom Silverman.
Hotel room is very nice. Wish I could take my time, but my flight is at 730a tomorrow morning. That means I need to leave here at least by 6a. I’ve never taken this flight from PTY - it used to be at a smaller airport.
The girls here are very pretty, but maybe a little… well, not into fitness. I’m hungry.
Got an email from Aliss Hartmann asking if I would be there for lunch. I should be, but who knows.
It’s warm here. And I don’t think there’s any such thing as air conditioning. I like it though. Can’t believe it’s already 10p. East coast time.
So what are my goals for this trip?
x To have an adventure
x But not let that adventure get out of hand.
x To reconnect with the Hartmann family and find out what’s new.
x To cup coffees and hopefully taste some delicious and interesting things.
x To buy coffees and arrange shipping in consolidated container
x To see white face monkeys.
Wow, what a day. There’s no way to recap or express in words or pictures the rich experiences I had today. And again, one of the great things for me is that I have flexibility and desire to go on uncertain trips. But it is very nice to share invaluable experiences with someone I care about. I guess I just need to find that someone.
Right now I’m at Ojo de Agua - the original Hartmann farm. It is a few rough miles from the main farm and VERY remote. it is back in the forest and I’m staying in a cabin with no electricity. I’m cooking with an old cast iron propane stove by candle and lantern light. Frogs and all manner of buzzing insects serenade me through the open door.
Light beaming from the rental car windows drew me outside because it looked like a streetlight - but from the porch I saw a nearly full moon floating above the mountains with wisps of airy clouds drifting by its round face. I feel a bit like a monk. Eating rice, ground beef and onion. A large-ish spider stares at me from across the table. And I’m having a Herzog Jan Dubbel in a very monk-like simple glass.
The food is ok. Not up to my usual standards. The rice still has a bit of chew. Before this, as an appetizer with a beer called La Lupulosa by Insurgente brewery, I fried some sort of tuber. Just looked like an 8” root about 1 1/4” diameter. I pared the bark off the outside and the inside was white and sticky. Sliced it diagonally like my dad did carrots and dropped the pieces in olive oil. Not bad. Sort of like fried potatoes. Had to shut the door because mosquitoes are biting me. Gets warm in here with the door closed - and it’s a shame to shut out the muted sounds of the wilderness.
Aliss says the white face monkeys usually come here around 6-630a.
I’ve finished my dinner and turned out the lanterns. Now it is just a candle. I went outside to disconnect the gas and the moon is so bright that it has a halo of light around it about 1 1/2 daylight hours from its center.
My alarm went off at 430a this morning. That didn’t leave a lot of time to sleep. I actually fell back asleep for 30 minutes. Took another shower and got dressed and packed. Made coffee. People always say you should get to the airport 2+ hours early. Sometimes 3. I planned to leave the hotel at 530a and get to the airport at 6a for my 730 flight. I asked for a taxi at the reception and he had to call one - 6 minutes.
He got me there, but his car had no shocks - every bump was felt. And he couldn’t drive too fast. $35. I arrived at the airport about 630a.
Hold up. Something may have just come through a vent. Heard metal and then lots of loud banging. Don’t see anything inside or out. Bird? Bat? Monkey? Possum? Something must’ve been on the roof.
First line I came to for Copa was somewhat short. Priority only. Second line - a little longer - online check-in. Third line long. Then I noticed the 4th line - Domestic flights. That’s me. Only a couple people in front of me. So I breezed through.
I was in group 5. Practically everyone boarded before me. But we boarded a bus. I was almost the first one off the bus, and one of the first on the plane. I slept some. Looked out the window some. Amazing-looking islands off the coast near David. The guy in front of me was Chinese I think. He kept compulsively looking at his phone. Even when it was supposed to be off. He kept slamming back into his seat, which was reclined the whole time. And I’m not sure he ever fastened his seat belt.
There was a Nestle professional chef on board - ready to go to work.
And a curly-haired, grey-headed, older black man who showed up in his pith safari helmet. I felt that he was hoping to round up a half-dozen porters in David and set off to explore the uncharted lands of Panama.
I’m sleepy and tiny winged bugs are biting me. Hurts.
Slow going this morning. I was exhausted. Set my alarm for 630a, but really didn’t get up until 9 or so. Had trouble reconnecting the gas - didn’t realize the release had to be open. Now eating breakfast and having washed Sidamo Bokaso. It’s good. Cooked onion and bell pepper and then cracked a dozen tiny eggs into a bowl. From a quail or something. They’re cream and spotted brown. Codorniz. They are different. I think I like what I’m used to.
There is a plant outside the window with leaves as big as my torso. Bigger even; I may have body dismorphia.
I am going to walk to the farm. One, I’m a little nervous about driving back and forth on these 4WD roads - barely made it here. And I need to wander and take photos. And think and observe.
There are berries growing outside. I can see a boy picking them. That would be a good dessert tonight.
In the cabin. The sun sets early here - maybe at 630p. Again I have shut the door and windows, as the bugs come in toward the lights.
This is the last page of my journal. Somehow that always makes me sad. I carry around with me these memories and reflections until it’s time to put it on the shelf next to many, many others. I started this journal on May 2, 2016 in the square in Concordia. All of my adventures throughout this time span are recorded in these pages. Thinking back about it all makes me feel morose. I hate that time passes so quickly, and I hate that the passage of time means that joyful events and relationships have expired. All these things are in the past - and we cannot go back. So I must forge on into the unknown future with the knowledge that I may look back and lament the passing of today.
Eating beef and potatoes and onion. Drinking Anderson Valley Poleeko Pale Ale. Just finished a Belhaven Twisted Thistle IPA. With all the gringos in Panama I’m surprised there aren’t micro breweries here.
After I got off the airplane in David, I had the terrible experience of renting a car. It’s impossible to not get taken advantage of. My rate went from $50 to 250. But I got full protection - even though it appeared the guy was making me decline protection. I hope not.
The drive to Finca Hartmann was not without diversion. I drove straight through David, which is an experience. Then I turned the wrong way on the Pan-American highway. So I had to turn around. At some point I broke off the turn signal lever - I didn’t figure the car rental company would notice. And by the time I got to La Concepcion, the car in front of me stopped to turn left and my first instinct was to lay on the horn. So I think I adapted well.
Stopped in Volcan for groceries. Bought a bunch of stuff - onions, potatoes, some root, yucca and plantain chips, olive oil, bananas, tiny eggs, ground beef, rice, and a cooler and ice. And some pepperoni sticks. I tried to buy beer but it was 1110a and the cashier told me she couldn't sell it to me until 1130a. So I put the groceries in the car, milled around and got a soda at the panaderia next door. Then went back at 1130 and bought the beers. On the way to Finca Hartmann, I was driving carefully because I don't know the car and the roads are SUPER windey. And I was afraid of dumping over the cooler. I saw a truck on my side of the road that may have been sideswiped - he was off the road into the embankment of the mountain, and one of his back wheels was off the ground.
At Finca Hartmann I was greeted by Aliss, who was just as nice and handsome as ever. We had lunch with her mother. She told me that her father died at 96 this past September. She told me of trying to deal with it and how her mother had struggled, and I know it all too well.
We chatted about other things. She said this year they had near perfect weather and the harvest was going to be very big, but there was a hurricane that did some wind damage. But since the crop was so big, the harvest still ended up larger than last year. Some of the wind damage is evident - trees stripped of leaves, and some big trees down. Including the amazing Strangler Ficus I usually visit. Aliss says it was probably over 400 years old. And how old was the tree it strangled? You could climb inside the tree and look up through the cylinder that once was the prey of the Ficus. The Ficus is an epiphyte. Birds eat the figs and poop the seeds into the branches of a tree. The Ficus grows downward from there to the ground, and then surrounds the tree with its tentacles. Eventually the tree inside dies and rots away leaving an empty shell. This tree was huge. But its roots were shallow. Thus is the lifecycle of a Strangler Ficus.
The candle flickers every time a small flying insect enters its flame - which is often.
After lunch I met Aliss' boyfriend, Luis. He was an organic farmer in California, but grew up in Nicaragua. We walked around the farm a little and he told me things about varieties and nutrients and root systems and the lifecycle of a coffee tree. In one area a tree next to a sprinkler head was in full flower. They smelled so good - so fragrant. The effervescence of the most special flower.
They were worried about my rental car making the drive up to the cabin. And rightfully so. With 2WD, I barely made it, and was on edge the whole time. In one section I just kept my foot on the gas and spun tires, creeping along at high center, but hey, I paid for full coverage. I did notice today the front right tire is low. I hope it's not flat in the morning. And I hope I can make it to the farm and get some air in it - will that hold until I turn the car in?
Today I got a late start. Walked to the other farm and memorized directions on the way.
"Go up the hill, not toward the mill."
"Santa Teresa wants you to go left, not right."
"Go right at the cross beam, where the Texas hat sits on the fencepost."
"The entrance to the farm is at the stone posts."
Took photos and dilly dallied a bit. Ate lunch again - rice and beans, meat balls and juice. Very fresh beans, they told me.
We talked about Colombian food and Aliss told a joke about Fidel Castro getting his countrymen to dance. She said it's funnier in Spanish.
I met Aliss' oldest daughter, Juliana, who is 16. She and Ratibor's wife were roasting coffee and bagging it to sell in Panama City. She was vivacious and happy. Aliss' dog, Fido was sick today. Yesterday he followed us all day. But I guess today he was sick and they were VERY worried. The vets were out of town. And he laid around a lot, sad and limping along. But this afternoon he suddenly perked up and started running. So that is good. There are A LOT of dogs here. All cute and nice. Two followed me on the way back to the cabin. But when we got to the entrance to Finca Palo Verde (the main farm), I said "Van a la casa." They looked at me. And I said Adios. And they seemed to understand.
I cupped coffee after lunch.
One table, 13 coffees. All that is available at this time.
When I got here, a guy named Sebastian from a company called Phil & Sebastian's in Canada was here with an assistant and they were sample roasting and cupping a lot of coffees. Things that aren't available to me. Africans, etc.
The four African coffees were brought here from Ethiopia. No one knows what they are - and there are probably thousands of varieties of heirloom coffees grown in Ethiopia. It's the birthplace. Aliss tells me it's a punishable crime to try and smuggle coffee beans out of Ethiopia.
The cupping was good. Good coffees. It took a lot of notes to narrow down what I was interested in. But there was one particular lot of a Caturra/Catuai natural that was really good. And a second that was pretty good. I bought both of those. When I said so, Ratibor cringed because I basically cleaned them out of naturals.
I also bought 2 different Gesha lots - one was the most complex, excellent example of a natural Gesha I've ever smelled. The other smelled so strongly of coffee flowers. I am very happy with this buy. Now I can begin working on some of my holiday coffee packaging.
These are expensive coffees - not to mention the trip. And freight to the U.S. and then to Tulsa. But the coffees really are extraordinary. So I know my customers will be very happy.
On the walk back up to the cabin I saw the fallen Strangler Ficus. And I heard a large animal in the woods run off - it sounded like a dog, but I know it wasn't. What could it have been? Coatimundi? Jaguar? Pig?
When gusts of wind come I can hear them rustling the treetops for 30 seconds or a minute before they actually reach the cabin. It comes to a crescendo and I expect there to be rain afterward - but the most has been some seeds or debris from the forest falling on the roof.
Tomorrow I should rise early and make coffee and sit on the porch waiting for the monkeys. After breakfast I want to take some pictures of the Ojo de Agua Geshas. And go for a hike in the forest looking for interesting things.
Aliss and Luis bought a farm together - Finca Momoto. They are growing a few varieties and plan to only process them as naturals. This is a shift, but Aliss told me they cannot keep up with the demand for naturals and the industry is all looking for them. What a change from just a couple years ago when the majority of the industry considered them "fermented."
What a day.
I'm at Grace Panama. VERY nice. My kind of place. Checked out the room and then the fitness center and pool. Now I'm sitting outside at the restaurant in the hotel. On a sofa. Smells so good. I actually wanted some things off the bar menu but didn't want to sit at the bar. Just ordered a Stella, which I would never do, but the local beer and all the other choices are not good either. The ambiance is great here and I have it all to myself.
Last night I woke up a few times because the wind was blowing so hard. I got up at 630a to look for the white face monkeys but they hang out in the tree tops and judging by the way they are swaying I figured the monkeys were hunkered down somewhere.
I made coffee and 9 eggs with onion and bell pepper. I cooked them more thoroughly today and they were much better. After breakfast I moved the car so a worker could finish felling a tree. It was not going to hit my car but no chances. Then I went for a hike. Walked up to the 1 hectare Gesha plantings then followed a trail around the coffee to a place where the trail had been hacked in the forest with machetes. The trail went straight uphill. Later found out it was a 1300 foot climb.
It was blowing so hard. I was sheltered from it by lots of big trees but all around me trees were bending and wind howling through branches. I came to an old road bed and continued uphill though much easier. Then I came to a fork in the road. Uphill said to Amistad National Park, so I went. But before I reached La Amistad, I came to Tibor's farm, Guarumo. At the top of that mountain, one side natural forest and the other coffee, I felt the full force of the wind gusts I'd only heard until then. Tibor's poor Gesha trees were taking a beating.
I'm eating fried calamari and a mediterranean bread smeared with tomato and olive, garlic, etc. The calamari is good and has a garlic/wasabi mayo dipping sauce. I have to be careful not to fill up on my appetizer. Haven't eaten much today though and I'm hungry. And this tastes good.
At the end of Finca Guarumo, there was a farm gate - the kind with barbed wire and a post at the end that straps with wire to the fence post.
I just have to stop right here and acknowledge that this is perfect. The music, the ambiance, being outside in the tropics, I can smell the wood fire from the kitchen. The lights are dim, the food is delicious. My soul is very happy right now. I acknowledge that I won't be in as perfect circumstances again any time soon. Maybe ever. I love it.
Over that fence starts La Amistad. It just looked like an unused road. But I'd love to follow it and explore. I was running short on time so I had to turn around and hurry back. The hill was so steep I slipped and fell on the way down. I saw a coffee tree in those woods that was about 18 feet tall but it had been recently knocked down by another tree falling. It had a few ripe cherries at the top and I pulled a few off, just out of sentimentality. The variety I discovered in the forest. Haha. No monkeys.
I have a saying when I'm hiking, that it's hard to look for fossils and bears at the same time. In this tropical forest, I thought: It's hard to watch for vines and monkeys at the same time.
Back at Ojo de Agua I hurried to clean up, shower, and load up. I left a little rum and some olive oil. And a couple of packs of chips.
I paused outside the door to watch that big, old cypress take its final fall to the ground. I hate to see trees cut down. Especially ones that big. Aliss told me her grandfather planted it, but it was starting to lean more and more toward the larger house and they worried the wind would blow it down and hurt someone or the house. So the tree had its lifespan, just like the big old Strangler Ficus.
The 2 front tires on my rental car were low. One very low. So I drove very slow in first gear to Palo Verde. Made it without too many hard rubs with rocks on the undercarriage. There was a cadre of dogs there to meet me. Fido seemed to be feeling all better. I was glad about that - he's a precious dog and Aliss really loves him. I chatted with Aliss and Luis some more. I like Luis a lot. He's very nice and a great resource for info.
Aliss told me that I could take a scenic detour from Volcan to Cerro Punta. So I did. It was maybe 30-40 minute loop. The area is beautiful - vegetable farms and fresas (strawberries). Up near Volcan Baru. Volcanic soil and lots of rain. A couple of beautiful horse farms. Looks like an easy, peaceful place to live.
The Hartmanns lost electricity before I left the farm and Aliss just messaged me and said they still do not have electricity and the storm is expected to last 48 hours. On the way out I saw MANY downed trees - mostly banana and plantain. They told me that these winds usually start late February or early March. Everyone kept saying "this is the first day." Apparently the winds usually last about 4 weeks. They are a little early this year. I guess each year they dread these winds and pray they don't do much damage. They are coming from the Atlantic.
One thing I didn't know was how big the Ngäbe Buglé Comarca is. I saw a map of it and Aliss told me where most of their coffee pickers are from. She said to get home they take a bus to a northern city and maybe a boat after that. And then they paddle canoes up the river to their homes. There are no roads in that province. Pretty interesting. They speak their own language too - not Spanish.
When I reached David I saw 2 signs for airports. I chose the closer one. The route took me through the BUSIEST part of David. It was ridiculous. There are no stoplights anywhere, so cars on cross streets just butt in. But it works somehow.
I had the tires on the rental car aired up at a gas station just outside Finca Hartmann. Filled up with gas by the airport. $14. Turned the car in and checked in to wait. I noticed Air Panama left before us and it was a free-for-all. I like the semi-order of Copa. Even though they don't enforce any of the rules. My bag was between my feet. The woman next to me had hers on her lap. The guy across the aisle had a backpack between his legs. And the flight attendant stopped to tell me to push my little bag under the seat in front of me. The guy in front of me didn't even have his seat belt buckled.
Anyway, the wind was so strong that the takeoff was a tad rough. Cruising was fine - and short. Coming into Panama City the plane was drifting everywhere and I was nervous, but landing was fine.
Trouble ensued at the PTY airport.. What should've been simple turned into a compoundingly bad situation. I was so thirsty when we landed I went to look for water. And didn't find any. But I went down the stairs to the exit at the far end of the terminal instead of the closer one. And I ended up in immigration again. Went back up but the airport person told me I had to do that again. So I waited in a long line. I could tell it was wrong when I talked to the agent but she sent me on. Then I couldn't get out of the airport. Because domestic flights aren't supposed to be there. Finally a guy just let me go through. Thank god. I was frustrated - and 2 hours had passed.
Getting warm out here. I need la cuenta.
At breakfast. Nice buffet. Fruit, fried yucca, smoked salmon, etc. Ordered an omelette. The light shining through my blue water glass makes a rainbow on my table, which is very fitting. I love this hotel. Even the arepa tastes good. Went to the front desk to ask when checkout is and the beautiful girl working at the reception said noon. I asked her if I could check out at 1p and she said no problem.
Just asked about the Panamanian corn tortilla (arepa). So good. They say you boil the corn, then cut it from the cob, then grind it and add salt - a little butter if you want, and grill or pan cook in small rounds - these are 2.5 inches diameter.
The moon is a blazing orb shrouded by the branches of bent, arthritic oak in the eastern sky. What an amazing spectacle it is as it rises over the treetops to illuminate the night. One of those moons I used to wish for throughout the night of an adventure race; one that freed us from the need for headlamps. The kind of moonlight that made me turn off the headlights of my car and drive by the reflection of the snow on a wintry night in Illinois when I was a foolish teenager. The wispy clouds shine white in the inky sky with pinhole stars scattered sparingly between.
I’m in the Wichita Mountains, sitting in front of a small, hot fire with the moderate chill of night and chirp of crickets surrounding me. On the three-hour drive here I was drinking our newest coffee, Sircof Venecia Honey. It’s a seriously good cup, tightly wound with pear, chocolate and honeysuckle, but today I noticed a savory nutmeg finish that lingered sweetly like a good Scotch. It’s Autumn and Thanksgiving is rapidly approaching. The season of dusk with the cold night of Winter on its heels. The past two Wednesdays, after the Wednesday Night Ride, I pedaled my bicycle home in the fading light of day. And at the crest of the bike path in Crosbie Heights, overlooking the mellow Arkansas River, above the railroad tracks with the trestle crossing water and a background of oil refinery towers and tanks, the orange light of dusk stopped me in my tracks. The receding, colorful light reflected around a curve in the river, glinting off the water, the color of the embers in my campfire. It’s really amazing to watch the sun set and the sky turn midnight blue. It feels like a miracle.
This past April I was at Finca Sircof, in the Alajuela region of Costa Rica. As I walked around the farm, visiting with Marco and Maricela Oviedo, it was apparent why this coffee is so good. The farm is small and the milling is primitive, and Marco is a meticulous farmer. His land was clean and organized. The trees were healthy and productive. And he seemed to know each individual coffee tree, having raised them all from seed, nurturing them into fully productive adults. Marco was aware of the fragrances and flowers and fruits throughout his land. He seemed more curator than farmer. But his youthful, weatherbeaten face and calloused hands showed his dedication to the work of farming. The Venecia variety of coffee is a relatively unknown tree, found only in the lands around the Alajuela region. Known for its productivity and uniformity, the variety has a surprisingly tasty profile. Marco grows this coffee, harvests it at the peak of ripeness, and processes it in a way that can be very tricky. He strips away the skins of the coffee cherries and spreads the sticky, mucilage-coated beans on the ground beneath a greenhouse arch. Dried in the sun over the course of twelve days, the coffee develops a sweetness and flavor which enhances the inherent cup of the Venecia coffee. Probably the most technically difficult type of milling, this is a process that’s easy to mess up. But Marco pulls it off spectacularly. And he’s doing it right now. Coffee production, processing, export, and import are time-intensive, so the coffee you are drinking today is the coffee Marco was making a year ago today. It’s a masterful cycle, and I hope you’ll think of his hands in the coffee as you enjoy this cup.
After I visited Marco and Maricela, I took a four hour bus ride to Arenal Volcano to run an 80km race through the rainforest. Running very long distances is one of the things that refreshes my mind and spirit and keeps me sharp and able to do what I do every day. It’s the simplicity of running and the grueling determination required that steels my resolve and enlivens a spirit of new possibilities.
This race was particularly inspirational and as I ran into the approaching night, with a flashlight on it’s last leg, I grasped a sense of ultimate freedom. Like this full moon loosing itself from the thorny grasp of the silhouetted trees to soar into the lightly veiled sky. Autumn holds that freedom. Released from the grip of Oklahoma’s oppressive summertime heat, we bask in the campfire smoke and the fragrances of the season, the chill air, the turning leaves, and the rich flavors, which are perfectly delivered in a cup of Sircof Venecia Honey.
Two things really excite me: An exquisite cup of coffee and a new pair of running shoes.
One celebrates the fruition of so many processes where known and unknown, controlled and uncontrollable variables all fell into a staggered line and somehow, against all odds, something beautiful emerged. The running shoes represent miles and adventures yet to come. That spirit of an active future evokes memories made on the run which shape the idea that these new shoes will bring me happiness. Unlacing a new pair of running shoes is sort of like opening a can of whoop-ass.
But it hasn't always been like that for me. Sure, I've spent the last 30 years of my life on the hop. I've run through places you can only dream of. Through places I dream of. I’ve run day and night. Night and day. I don’t run frequently, but when I do, I make it count.
Last night I went outside in my bare feet, without a shirt, and I walked in the street with my eyes to the heavens. Yes, I was praying that I could have a 6-pack, all the while resisting the almighty's urging to eat healthier and drink less beer; but I was also searching the sky, half-heartedly, for shooting stars. It's the Perseid meteor shower. Light pollution from the city of Tulsa makes it highly unlikely I'll see anything unless I go far, far away from town. And get lucky. (I saw no meteors, but while I was strolling around the streets in our neighborhood uniform, I noticed the bright red and blue scrolling lights from police cruisers, so I walked down to ask them what was up. They don't like that. I don't care what they like.)
Years ago, when I was first learning about coffee and myself, I spent a lot of time backpacking and rock climbing with my friend Brad. We made a lot of memories in the woods, some miserable and some funny. He taught me how to backpack and then I began to learn about ultra-light speed packing, and eventually began racing in 36-hour adventure races. Brad and I also learned to rock climb together with the help of a godly man named John. I had a desire at the time (and still today) to be fit and active and experienced enough that I could do anything at any time. That's a big component of freedom for me. Brad and I packed up our gear one weekend and drove to a place called Sam's Throne in Arkansas. It's a place people go to climb rocks. After pitching our camp, overcoming some hesitation and exhilaration on an overhung rappel, and almost killing ourselves because of our lack of experience, we sat on that overhung cliff in the darkness to talk and enjoy the night sky. A shooting star appeared. And another. And a million shooting stars. Everywhere we looked were streaks of light across the sky. We were in awe. And I went away thinking that's just how it is when you get away from the lights of the city and see what's really going on up there in the heavens. It was a marvelous night. I wish I would've known how rare it was and how lucky we were. (We also carried a badly injured freeclimber out of the woods that weekend, to be emergency air-lifted in a helicopter. And I think it was on the truck ride with a local good-old-boy back to our camp that Brad made the decision to dedicate the rest of his life to emergency medicine. Perhaps he wished upon some stars.)
Today my watch buzzed and I looked down and it said, "MILE 1" and I thought, "99 to go." And that was the first time in a couple years I've let the idea of another 100 mile race enter my head.
I "hated" "running" when I was young. I put those words in quotes because I don't know how a person could ACTUALLY hate running. Running is like life on steroids. Practically everything fun involves running. I love running. And people say it comes naturally to me. I'm "lucky" because I'm in decent condition and can run far.
When I was in junior high school, I joined the track team because I knew I wanted to play football in high school and I wanted to get in shape. All the kids laughed at me and said I run funny. They imitated me. They said I was fat and slow. (When I was in my early 20s I returned to my hometown and won my age group in a half marathon. Where you at now?)
I played high school football. I wanted to be on the swim team, but one of the football coaches was the swim coach and he made fun of me for being chubby and slow and having tan lines. (He was also the manager of the pool at a country club in town and I was a lifeguard at the OTHER country club across town. One day I got a few of the local kids and we spent the day fishing, working on our farmers’ tans, and putting all our crappie, bluegill, and carp in 5-gallon buckets. That night, all of my co-workers met me and we drove across town, jumped the fence, and freed our catch into the swimming pool. My friend Thad had to net them all out the next morning, and I read about it in the newspaper a couple days later. This is my first official confession that I had any involvement in that event.) (That has nothing to do with running, but I thought it was funny.) Make fun of my coffee and see what happens, Mr. Willy!
I played college football at a small NCAA school. One day I realized that the men who got in trouble for one thing or another were punished by running sprints after practice. I decided that there was some danger they would get in better shape than me, so I started staying after practice to run sprints with everyone who got in trouble. I think they thought it was a show of solidarity, but I simply refused to be out-trained.
I relished the days that were so brutal outside that no one would be training. Or holidays when I knew people would take the day off. Every opportunity to get one more day in than my competitors was a day that made it more likely I would succeed on limited talent and small stature. One night I woke up at 1 o'clock in the morning and decided that no one else would be training in the middle of the night. So I went to the high school track. And I ran sprints. I pushed myself hard into the wee hours of the morning. And then something remarkable occurred. I saw a flaming ball of fire streak across the sky. It was huge. I didn't know if it was an airplane on fire or a meteorite or what it was. But I promptly jumped into my car and drove toward where I thought the impact site would be, sure I would find a rural inferno. But I found nothing. And the next day there was nothing in the newspaper.
Meteors are interesting because they are particles from outer space that enter the earth's atmosphere. We don't know when or where they will appear, and it is just dumb luck when you see one. Ptolemy surmised that the gods would part the heavens to peer down at the earth, and occasionally a star would slip through. Thus, making a wish while the gods were paying attention was a practice that should ensure a greater likelihood your wish will come true. (I've wished many things, but haven't found this to be a recipe for success. As I used to tell my dad, “Wish in one hand and sh** in the other and see which one fills up first.”) (Try hard work.)
Running, like most things, is something you get better at because you work hard at it. I've been running as fast and as far as I can for almost my entire life. Does that make me lucky? Sure. Luck is where preparation meets opportunity, right? Am I a great runner? No, I’m a mediocre runner with a lot of determination.
So what's behind success? Truly successful people make it look easy. People say they are gifted or lucky or cheating. (Lance Armstrong was all three.) But it's most likely that they just work hard and you never see that part, only the performance. But what about the shooting star? You can't work hard to see a shooting star. You can wait a long time at an opportune moment in a place without much light pollution. But generally it's luck. A meteor we see streaking across the sky in a fantastic light show can be as small as a grain of sand. And that makes me think about the life of the meteor. That little speck hurtling through space. It becomes a metaphor for our lives. For the life of a coffee. For the life of the DoubleShot. We may be as small as a grain of sand. But we streak across the sky in a marvelous display that lets everyone know the gods are looking upon us.
Luck or hard work? Shooting stars or running shoes?
Great coffee can’t happen without a lot of hard work on every level from the farm all the way through to the barista. But it also can’t happen unless the gods part the heavens and let an exquisite cup slip through to grace the earth.
(When you find a cup of coffee you really love, enjoy the hell out of it before it's gone. Coffees are temporary and fleeting. Drink and savor and enjoy before it fizzles out. Thank the Fates and all who strapped on their proverbial “running shoes” to make it happen. And then look for another.)
Go for a run
I put a kettle of water on the stove and measured out 33 grams of our featured coffee of the week into a V60 filter. I poured the coffee beans into my new Comandante hand grinder. And I started turning the handle in circles as the water temperature coasted toward 200 degrees. The feeling of this experience flooded my mind with thoughts and emotions. This coffee I selected from my cupping table and spent time learning to roast, now being sheared into perfect particles by meticulously manufactured burrs turned by my own hand, is taking its final journey. Its ultimate purpose fulfilled in the most careful and exacting manner. Tipping the scales as the aromas wafted through my olfactory and its most precious liquid extracted, dripping into a very special mug with a moose and “Colorado” imprinted on its curvature.
Driving to work, mug in hand, sipping, smelling, enjoying. Discovering florals and melon aromatics I hadn’t noticed in this coffee. Dazzled by the impossibility that coffee can be like this, I sipped and drove. And I saw a woman walking her dog, carrying a DoubleShot cup with our distinctive black sleeve and copper-toned logo. A white bag pinched between her fingers containing, perhaps, a toad-in-the-hole or a lemon-poppyseed muffin. She walked on the sidewalk in front of some empty, discarded parking lots. Her dog looked happy. She looked happy. And I felt happy.
This is going to be a great day.
I had big goals when I opened the DoubleShot. I saw a void in Tulsa where I could pour everything I love about coffee. When we opened, the coffee options here were depressingly monotoned. I thought I could make an impact, and I made note in my business plan the importance of freshness. Of being unique and innovative. Of continuing to learn about coffee and improve the coffee every day. And I could see in my mind's eye that I wanted the DoubleShot to become a landmark in Tulsa. A place people would seek out daily. My vision looked a lot more like the county courthouse than the strip mall at 18th and Boston.
Life is nothing, if not changing. Many of the changes in my life have come after the death of someone close to me.
Papa Franklin. When I was growing up, my dad worked a lot. I spent a lot of time "piddling around" with his dad, my grandpa, Gale. He was a short, friendly man with a wisp of white hair and a round face. An outdoorsman, he loved to hunt and fish. And he was known around town as the boat motor repair man. His garage was scattered with Evinrudes and Elgins, outboard motors and trolling motors, each one partially disassembled on his work bench. He worked at his own pace, meticulously, it seemed. Whenever something was wrong with my car I would take it to his house and we would always begin by removing the carburetor. We would take a coffee break mid-morning. A lunch break. A break to have a Mountain Dew in the early afternoon. And another coffee break at the traditional coffee drinking hour of 3 o'clock. He would usually come slowly pulling into our driveway in his square, brown, Ford pickup around dinner time. He was quite a guy.
In 2002 I was competing in a 36-hour adventure race in Arkansas. My teammates lagged and the weather turned very cold and very rainy. After the race, we fell fast asleep in our tent until we heard someone hollering at us. The rain had continued and the river was rising right outside the tent. We hurriedly pulled stakes and wearily hit the highway. Once my cell phone signal returned I had a voicemail from my mom saying I should come home right away because my Grandpa was dying. And so I drove back to Tulsa, packed some clothes and drove to Galesburg, Illinois, my hometown. He was on his death bed, but he recognized me and seemed happy to see me. I waited there for a week as he took his last breaths and my life changed.
For 6 years I had my own personal training business here in Tulsa, but when I returned from my Papa's funeral, I told my clients that was my last week. I was leaving.
Fred Bendaña was a client of mine. He worked out with me every weekday at 630a. He had cancer before I met him and he told me he was the only person who ever gained weight on chemotherapy. Fred and I became close friends. I think I earned his respect, and he even offered me a job in his company (which I respectfully turned down). Fred's cancer returned. I was coming back to get my belongings to take to Illinois until I sorted out the next phase of my life, and was looking forward to seeing Fred. But instead I attended his funeral.
I had talked to Fred about opening a coffeehouse and roastery. His advice was not to sell one cup at a time, but to sell an entire shipping container of coffee at a time.
Steve Franklin. What a guy. I'm not going to start telling you what he meant to me or how he influenced the DoubleShot. It would be too much. I just want to say that he instilled in me the attributes that have allowed me to be successful. He taught me the skills and gave me the confidence to build and repair and invent. And when my dad died, I was cut loose from his expertise and had to put everything he taught me into practice. On my own. He did a good job preparing me to be my own man.
General Sterling Price. The cat that saw everything. This is the guy who was behind the scenes picking up the pieces every evening. He suffered with me, he rose and fell with me, he danced and cried with me. He was no ordinary cat. I'm pretty sure behind those eyes and that smile was the understanding of a superior being. And when he died one year ago, I died a little too. I began to think about my own mortality, what I want in life, and what that means for the DoubleShot. This is no simple task. It involved sleepless nights and many very long runs. It happened in the quiet, in the woods, in my dad's green chair, on the saddle of my bike. Alone.
I was listening to This American Life on NPR a couple months ago while roasting, and they were talking about Fermi's Paradox. David Kestenbaum talked to some physicists about his concern that we actually might be the only intelligent life in the universe. That we might be alone. And that we might be finite. And if we are all there is, and we are exterminated for whatever reason... poof. That's it. It feels like if there is no one to appreciate the miracle that is existence, it's all for nothing. Looking out the window right now all I can see are millions of miracles. Trees and plants and man-made lights and wires, butterflies and birds, and the closer you look the more miracles you see.
I don't know why this bothered me so much, but it did. It's sort of the same problem of trying to make extraordinary coffee, only on an infinitely grander scale. If there is no one to appreciate it, then it is all for nothing.
Shortly after I listened to that episode of This American Life, I loaded up my gear and drove to Arizona for a 50 mile run on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. This race was on my 44th birthday. Alone in the car and in a hotel and in my tent and in the woods, it was all more time to think. Thinking about Fermi's Paradox and why I should assume the worst case scenario is true (from my accounting background). As soon as I caught a glimpse of the Grand Canyon at the first overlook in the race, I began to weep. I had to stop because the trail was steep and loose and winding and the tears clouded my vision.
The result of all this contemplation is weird. But I know that it's time to make a decision. My goals still stand. Those far-reaching and unattainable hallmarks that guide my decisions in business. My ultimate personal goal is freedom. I want to be able to make any choice without limitations - monetary, physical, time, etc. This is obviously also impossible, but that's my ultimate desire. Freedom. But I do not want to divorce myself from this business. I love the DoubleShot. Have I thought about selling it? Yes! But then what? I like what I do and I want to keep doing it and to get better and better. And here's the thing: if this is all there is, and if human existence has an endpoint, I want to make life better while it exists. I think the DoubleShot does that. I think it makes life better for people. So maybe I need to start thinking about how to ensure its operation for future generations. Maybe until life is extinguished from the earth.
In 2012 the idea popped into my head that the DoubleShot isn't stuck in this strip mall. But where would it go? Only one place seemed right to me. So with the knowledge that the bank would barely lend me enough money to buy a modest house in a run-down neighborhood, I talked to a realtor about the property and talked to private investors about the money. This deal eventually fell apart suddenly just before a trip to Costa Rica. But I am persistent. And I don't spend money frivolously. So eventually the deal began to come together again. The bank agreed to loan me money. And overcoming a few major hurdles, I found myself at the starting line.
I have a lot of people to thank for helping me get this far. More people than I could list. But posthumously, I want to recognize:
The man who told me how to drink coffee.
The man who told me how to sell coffee.
The man who told me how to work and build.
And the cat who told me that everything was going to be ok.
I don't do anything the way those people told me, but they wouldn't have expected me to. They simply inspired me to explore and learn and find my own path.
So that woman I saw walking her dog, carrying the DoubleShot cup. She was walking in front of what will be the new home of the DoubleShot. The real home of the DoubleShot. It's time we move out of mediocrity and into a building that is suitable for one of Tulsa's landmarks. We are erecting a barn I bought that was originally built in 1850 in Berne, Indiana. We are building on a roastery with brick cast before Oklahoma statehood. It will be built with all the care and attention to detail that made the DoubleShot great. I intend to be hands-on throughout the build, adding all the quirky details. And I know my dad will be there in spirit, foreman of the job.
Like the pourover of coffee I made in my kitchen, I intend to extract all the goodness from the DoubleShot into this new building. The exactness and personality with which we make coffee will finally be on display in every corner of the construction. Like a cross between a pioneer cabin and a cathedral - for coffee - it will at once feel new and old. Fresh. Like the coffee belongs in this place. Seamlessly the DoubleShot will fill the room from wall to wall with its amazing aromas.
There's no stopping change. My college football coach used to say, "Every day you either get better or you get worse." Nothing ever stays the same. And you can expect that the coffee at the DoubleShot in our new home will be even better. Join us as we take our final journey into a building that will forever be the iconic home of the DoubleShot. It's going to be a great day.
We want you to be involved as we move forward through this process. Follow us on social media. Visit us online at DoubleShotCoffee.com for updates. And subscribe to our email newsletter.
This is the actual transcription of my travel journal from my recent trip to Costa Rica.
Sitting at a bar near my gate in the Houston airport. Had a big pretzel and just ordered a Goose Island IPA. I'm on my way to Costa Rica. Tonight I will arrive in San Jose and check in to Holiday Inn Express. This trip is different from most because – like my first trip to Costa Rica – I'm first conducting business, visiting Fincas Cafe con Amor and Sircof, and then going on an adventure. My first trip to CR I took my mountain bike and hit the road, eventually making my way back up to Hacienda La Minita. This time I will take a bus to the town of El Castillo, near Arenal Volcano, and run in an 80K (50 mile) foot race through the rainforest. I'm nervous, but ready for action I guess. I hope all goes well.
I'm at a restaurant called Rosti Pollo. Ordered a chicken sandwich, fries, a chicken empanada, and Imperial. Cerveza. Twice I have gotten food poisoning – once in Colombia, once in Nicaragua. In Costa Rica I'm pretty sure it was salmonella. In Nicaragua I stayed in my hotel room all day and felt like I might perish. Both times were from chicken empanadas. So it feels risky and dumb to order one but I did. I love empanadas.
Staying at Holiday Inn Express. It's nice enough. Rosti Pollo is across the street next to the casino. Tomorrow Jon and Marianela Jost will pick me up at 9a and take me to their farm. I'm interested to see what they have going on. Greg Peterson is friends with Jon and told me Jon was a very successful college strength and conditioning coach for his career.
At passport control, the officer seemed very suspicious of me. He looked everything over and asked lots of questions. I told him I have friends here. Which is true. What the hell does he care? What could I possibly be doing that's so suspicious? Maybe I'm just naive.
At the Costa Rica Beer Factory in Plaza Real in Alajuela. I walked about 1.5 miles from the hotel. Staying at Holiday Inn Express again near the airport. I'm drinking an local pale ale which hasn't been carbonated long enough in the keg. It's underwhelming. Ordered ceviche.
Yesterday Marianella and Jon Jost picked me up at the hotel around 920a. We drove to their farm near Naranjo. It's off a side road, through a nondescript gate. An agronomist named Aaron met us and we talked with him about some problems on the farm. The total area of the farm isn't very big and it's divided into 13 lots. The borders of the farm and individual lots follow contour lines in the land. Ridge lines, creek beds, etc. The whole thing is sort of shaped like an inverted Italy. A few areas had trees that weren't healthy. One section of CR95 variety was dying. Just over a short ridge, a neighbor's farm looked as if it were abandoned. Aaron thinks the unhealthy trees were not quality specimens when planted and maybe were not fertilized properly in the first year. He took soil samples and recommended uprooting the affected trees and replanting new. The Josts want to plant Villa Sarchi variety anyway.
We went to other sections of the farm to collect soil samples anywhere the trees were not so healthy. In total we dug 4 samples. This consisted of digging a small hole straight down about one foot and scraping a small amount of dirt from the bottom – maybe a quart. We did this 3-4 times in each affected section and mixed them in a bucket before putting some dirt in a plastic bag and labeling the lot# and sample#. These will go to a lab for analysis to see what nutrients are lacking and if there are any fungus in the soil. Aaron also cut 3 small sections of trunks from dead coffee trees to take to the lab.
The ceviche came with fried plantain chips. Excellent. Now drinking Toro Sentado IPA. Spicy. Still a little flat.
Marianella talked to their new farm manager-in-training. He was spraying the trees with a foliage nutrient and the hose had been leaking and they lost a lot of expensive chemicals. Jon and I continued collecting soil samples and then went to the casita. They have 10 pickers in the harvest. They live in the casita. It's primitive, but Jon built beds and they rebuilt the facilities. Small outdoor kitchen with running spring water and wood cooking stove. The bathroom had a pot with a drain for the sink and a watering can mounted to the wall where the spring water came out for a shower.
He told me they had been generous to the workers, bringing them food and drink during the days and small parties on weekends. With 10 days left in the harvest, the family left in the night. He thinks it's because they are paying more than normal and they made the amount of money they were planning and left – back to Nicaragua maybe. Other area farmers were also using their labor and all were left without help. The Josts had to scramble to hire more workers and paid double.
Upstairs from the worker housing was a really cool covered deck with a beautiful view. He said they don't spend much time there because they work a lot and they can't keep anything on-site because of theft – they've been broken into twice.
I hope I don't get mugged on the way back to the hotel. Shady walk.
Costa Rican girls are so beautiful.
Walked back to the hotel. Busy streets. Dark sidewalks. A guy was spraying with a hose a car that was parked with 2 wheels on the sidewalk. He stopped spraying so I could walk through. Walking by inhabited and abandoned bus stops, by one unused cement park bench rested a half-dozen shoes. Maybe all left foot shoes. All without a match - a sandal, a contemporary woman's wedge, a boy's tennie, etc. I felt as if these were clues to a serial killer. The bus stop killer. A bit later I crossed the railroad tracks that I thought were not in use and as I was crossing I heard some sharp, loud horn blows. I looked up and saw a passenger train barreling around the curve toward me at 50mph. I hustled down the sidewalk. the train light shined in my eyes. And then the rumble of the sidewalk and the burst of winds as the train railed past 4 feet from my shoulder. Shortly after that a car was on the sidewalk in front of me, letting a woman out. To my right were endless shanties – the kind of concrete block and corrugated metal buildings where you can't tell the beginning of one or the end of another. Windows and curtains, sparsely lit rooms. The car skimmed past me and the woman walked quickly to a door – nervously eyeing me walking toward her, she quickly opened the door, slipped inside, and as I approached she quickly shut and locked the door from inside.
After we left Finca Cafe con Amor, we went into Naranjo for lunch. I had the plato tipico – rice, beans, chicken, salad, ripe plantains, and some slightly vulgar-tasting, cubed vegetable.
At the restaurant was a new coffee bar. It wasn't open yet but they had a nice new espresso machine. The restaurant owners' uncle owns a farm 2 km up the road and they are selling his coffee. Beautiful packaging.
After lunch we went to the wet mill where the Josts take all their coffee. It's called Herbazú and is owned by Manuel Antonio Barrantes. He won Cup of Excellence in 2015 at $41.20 per pound, raking in over $64,000. His milling equipment is really small but very clean. The astounding thing was the size of his patio. It reminded me of the patios in Guatemala. They say the coffee is spread on the concrete patio for a day, then put in his covered patio – which had a dome of plastic and was equally large. At some moisture content, it is moved to raised beds in the sun to finish. In this area, Manuel Antonio's family seems to be building houses. Nice houses.
Marianella and Jon rent a house in Sarchi. It is an amazing house. Gated. Huge yard with horse stables where they store their parchment coffee. The house is immaculate – remodeled and very nice. I was super jealous. We made tacos and ate out on the patio. So nice. I spent the night in their guest bedroom. This morning I got up and made us coffee. Jon made eggs with onion, pepper, etc.
At the Hamburguesería in Plaza Real Alajuela again. Took 25 minutes to walk here. I'm the only person in the restaurant. There must be a school nearby – a lot of kids hanging around. Some of the same teenagers I saw last night. I haven't done anything today except pack up and eat breakfast. I grabbed half a bagel and jelly for breakfast tomorrow.
So yesterday morning we drove to Finca Sircof. I met Marcos Oviedo, whose Sircof Venecia Honey I roasted last November. Marcos seems very nice, laid back, and knowledgeable. We walked around his farm. A lot of early flowering. The farm is very clean, organized, and scenic. He trims the bottom branches from all his trees so there is a 1 foot gap between the lowest branches and the ground. This creates a much cleaner-looking farm. He says it's easier to pick. And when they spray the undersides of the leaves, it's easier also. Marcos says when you look under the trees you should be able to see if anyone is peeing on the other side of the field.
His trees all looked very healthy. He knows what variety they all are. He even stopped at one tree and said this is the most interesting tree in the farm. There are generally two trunks coming up from the plant. They cut all the rest that grow so the two can get all the energy from the root system. This tree had two trunks also, but one is a Villa Sarchi variety and the other half is something else. He says it is a mutation. The Villa Sarchi half produces very well and the other half does not. The leaves are even a different color. He says if the Villa Sarchi half has a very good cup profile, he will collect the seeds and plant them. the farmers are all looking for the next big thing. The next Gesha. The next Cup of Excellence winner.
There is a tree near his wet mill that I pulled leaves from. The tender leaves smell like potpourri and they taste like clove. It is called a Jamaica tree and they sometimes use the leaves in cooking. I'm so jealous of all the plants growing in the tropics that have interesting tastes and smells.
At 230p I'm catching a shuttle at the airport to go to El Castillo. Tomorrow morning at 6a I will begin a 50 mile race in the rainforest near Arenal Volcano. I'm getting nervous.
DoubleTree Cariari, sitting in the restaurant. Ordered an Imperial cerveza and a hamburger. The hostess here, Vivian, is so pretty and friendly. She has such a beautiful smile. My experiences of the past two days seem so surreal. I'm having a hard time even writing about them because I feel lost in thought and a distant feeling of being suspended in a dream state.
I went to the airport to catch my shuttle. The black Mercedes bus was packed and I sat in the front row between a couple guys who seemed impatient but quiet. There was a guy in the back who ran his mouth constantly for 4 hours. He told us how important he is, all the people he knows, all the places he's been – pretty much a million stories about himself. It was exhausting. To enhance the situation, the bus driver turned on 4 hours of The Bee Gees, Michael Bolton, Celine Dion, etc. It was really something.
Always good to see the country through the windows of a car. When we got close to Arenal Volcano, we stopped to take pictures. Really beautiful with clouds gathered over the peak and sunset turning them orange and yellow. Eventually we went through the touristy town of La Fortuna, then turned off the paved road onto dirt. After a bit of skirting Lago Arenal, we reached El Castillo and continued on out of town to a rough dirt track just before a broad river crossing. This was the entrance to our "hotel," Rancho Margot. I wondered how anyone ever found this place. But upon entering I saw that there were a lot of people staying there. It's a big place. With bungalows and bunkhouses. A communal dining room with buffet. I got my key and walked up the dark path to #16. Surrounded by rainforest plants, the front porch had a safari rocker, table and chairs, and a HAMMOCK! The room was nice. Sort of like being on safari, but permanent. What a relaxing place. Quiet but for the endless sounds of birds and bugs. Totally dark, but for very bright stars shining between an invisible roof of clouds. There wasn't much time to eat, sort gear, and sleep. So I went to dinner. Beans, rice, pork, fruit, the usual. I sat with a few guys from the race and we talked about our impending adventure. Basically none of us knew anything about the race. The website was sparse with no real information. No idea about the course.
After dinner I returned to my exotic abode and laid out all my clothes and gear for the race. Finished a beer and went to sleep. I always worry about oversleeping so I probably don't sleep very soundly the night before a race. My alarm finally went off at 345a to Coldplay's “Hymn for the Weekend.”
Sitting in the shade by the pool. I'm thirsty and sleepy.
We arrived at the race site at 5a, one hour before start time. Not a huge crowd. The anticipation leading up to the start is amazing. Like a horse before a horse race, entering the starting gate, nervous energy seems to pour through my body and out my fingertips. It had been raining most of the night and showed no signs of letting up. We all took off our rain jackets and stowed them in our packs and walked out into the shower to line up. The race director counted down in Spanish from 10 to 1 and we were off. It was a combined pack of 80k and 52k racers. 30 in the long race – not sure how many in the shorter, but maybe about the same. It seems we made our way up dirt trail and double-track through Rancho Margot and off into the rainforest preserve. It continued to rain for hours. The trail was mostly sticky, thick, deep mud. We climbed and climbed – slipping and sliding, trying not to fall down. The temperature was nice and the rain was cool, but the humidity was so high I was dripping sweat, completely soaked. I always go out harder than I should. I guess that's my strategy. Build a gap and then fade throughout the race, trying to hold a decent spot. So I was running amongst faster guys. I let 2 pass and suddenly they veered left off the trail. There was a ribbon on the right side of the trail and 2 ribbons on a gate to the left - which normally would indicate that the course goes left through the gate. A group of us went and some were coming back saying it was wrong – no course markings and no footprints. But that didn't make sense. We all convened to decide where to go. Some dawdled. I and another guy kept going – down a long descent. It came to another gate and below us was a farm. And no ribbons. We had taken a chance that the leaders missed the turn and went off course, but in reality we were off course. The rest of our group joined us near the bottom and we all turned around to ascend. Back through the first gate we continued on the original trail into deep mud – and a ribbon. We ascended through something like a slot canyon that probably happened naturally but the sides had been chiseled out with shovels or machetes, as indicated by the flat marks in the wet, packed sides of the narrow gorge. At some point we emerged onto a ridge and a summit, of sorts. the entire area was covered in cloud or fog. The wind blew up the side of the mountain and over the crest, pushing me sideways and pelting the right side of my face with tiny frozen water molecules. Mostly a dirt single- and double-track, the mud persisted, but now just a thinner layer on top.
Back into the thick of the forest I descended in mud so slick it was nearly impossible to stay upright. Mud, mud, more mud. Up and down the mountains. The mud was mixed with rocks, which usually were equally as slippery. It was hard to look anywhere but down, but all around was a diverse, thick forest full of birds and flowers. I was hungry. And because of the rain, I wasn't drinking enough water, though I was sweating profusely. So I got dehydrated.
This rural path eventually dumped out into a small town and the rest of the race was on dirt roads with much less mud. This was half way. The rain had stopped. And the lake was in view all the way back to the finish line. At this point it became easier to look and listen because footing was much better. The vegetation is awesome. Many things are HUGE. Big flowers and leaves and trees. Vines and epiphytes cover many trees. I saw birds of all color and song. Bright red birds with black wings. Oropendula – golden-breasted birds with nests that hang like pendulums. Flocks of squawking parakeets. A type of black and white bird that sits in the road and when I came near would jump up and flop around and land again. And again. Bright blue birds. Birds with beautiful markings. I can't even remember them all. Some had calls that sound like pigs. Some like a motorcycle. One like a sneeze – Uh- Ah- Choo! Endless sounds and sights. I saw a lot of one particular flower that caught my eye. They were small and were falling from trees. They looked just like angels. A purple skirt, orange head, and white wings behind.
Some birds sounded like when you cluck for a horse. Some like a horn honking car alarm. Then the traditional chirping and long, loud calls characteristic of a rainforest.
It's hard to describe.
At times it was like scenes from Jurassic Park – looking across a field or down a valley and seeing enormous swaths of old-growth forest, so dense and tall and mysterious. At times under the canopy it was dim and thick with hanging vines. There are many ranches in the area because among the swaths of forest are clearings of the greenest, grassy, rolling mountainsides. I wondered at one point if the cones in my eyes have become more sensitive to greens, as this is the second time in recent memory (the other in rural OK on the way to Arizona) that I have been astounded by the brightness and saturation of the green grasses.
I thought I heard a howler monkey, and today one of the other racers said he saw some. I also spooked a large animal around dusk. Sounded like it was about the size of a bear and made a barking noise like a deer.
El Novillo Alegre – Argentinian Steakhouse. I ordered chorizo and Lomito Tico – "tenderloin" steak with rice and beans and fried plantains. Delicious.
The sun came out between 25 miles and 36 miles and it got HOT. I began to suffer. The race director drove by to check on me twice. And when I got to the 4th aid station, the race medical director was there with a stethoscope around her neck. She sat me down and talked to me and checked me for fever. She said I didn't look good and she was worried I was going to start cramping and need medical assistance. I was tired and feeling mentally negative. Difficult situation. I hadn't started cramping but I knew it wasn't far off. I sat for a while and talked to the doctor, Adriana. She said that was the point of no return. The next aid station was 7 miles and then 8 to the finish, and there were 3 river crossings. There would be no one to pick me up if I got in trouble. I considered this. I rested for 25 minutes and put tape on a hot spot on my left foot. I had taken off my shoes and socks earlier and there was mud in my socks on the balls of my feet. So I turned my socks inside-out and cleaned them up as good as possible. But too late. After much consideration I felt better and convinced Adriana to let me go on. I told her I would walk the rest, but I knew that wasn't true.
The tape helped a lot and my foot wasn't hurting. I walked up hills and jogged on flats and downhills. Time and miles passed. I refueled at the final aid station. I crossed the rivers. The sun set. The clouds had reconvened across the sky and there was no light. I turned on the mini maglite I hadn't anticipated needing. Running in the night through rainforest. Different sounds. The bugs began their noisemaking, a rhythmic thrum. Trees rattled together in the breeze. Humidity seemed to rise and the wind died down. I was aware.
I didn't put fresh batteries in my flashlight and when the sun set, I still had 1.5 hours to the finish line. I turned it off now and then to see if I could run in the dark. But it was dark. I came to the final river crossing and all I could see was water. Suddenly a car on the other shore turned on its lights. Probably 50 yards of water between me and him. So I slowly picked my way, trying not to get into the deepest currents. With that crossing complete, I knew I wasn't far from town. I ran past a couple houses and lodges and restaurants. And then darkness again. And suddenly my flashlight went out. Pitch black. Nothing to see. I turned it off and on again and it lit and I ran faster. It went out again. It was on its last leg. And every time I turned it off and on, I would get another 5 seconds of light _ enough to memorize the terrain in front of me. And then the lights of the finish area appeared. After some confusion about how to get to the finish line, I crossed it around 13 hours and 30 minutes after I started. 30 minutes before the cutoff. Adriana was there and she seemed very happy for me. She said they had been talking about me, saying that I am a strong guy and even stronger mentally. That made me feel good.
I had no ride to the hotel and so I waited for Adriana to go so I could ride with her. It got colder. I borrowed money and got rice, beans, and chicken at the tienda.
Back at the hotel after 9p.
Shower, beer, sleep.
I need to catch a shuttle at noon.
Had breakfast at the hotel. It's always good. The hostess, Vivian, is so nice and always enunciates very well so I can understand her. She probably speaks English but she never has to me because I always speak to her in Spanish. I'm still basking in the tropical environment. This morning when I woke up I was thinking about the post-race elation I was feeling. The accomplishment, the soreness, the memories of sight and sounds and smells and feelings. I remember when the sun set, smelling an amazing fragrance and turning my flashlight upward to see what flower released its perfume at dusk. I remember being desperate for calories and drinking a soda called Malta and eating a banana. The flavors I burped up on the trail were interesting. I don't know. It's like, here I sit, having experienced a myriad of life's nuances in a very compressed period of time and I'm awash in feelings. I feel cleansed. Maybe this is what it feels like to not feel stress. Maybe this is what it feels like to be high.
I brought exactly the right amount of coffee. Used the last of it this morning and am still sipping on it.
Post-race elation. 50 mile races are fantastic. They hurt like hell and require a lot of mental fortitude to finish. And then I sit down and smile.
Time to go to the airport.
In seat 8F on United flight 1099 from San Jose, Costa Rica to Houston, Texas. I was chosen for a random security check and they wanded me and searched my bags and boots. I think they said the flight is full but right now there are 4 empty seats between me and the girl in the seat on the other window. They are closing the doors now so I guess I got lucky. I'm actually a pretty lucky guy.
Last weekend Andrew and I traveled to Seattle to attend the annual convention for the Specialty Coffee Association. It’s always an interesting experience. There are people from all over the world and every segment of the industry. We attended lectures about coffee botany, chemistry, processing, and costs of farming. We visited with some of our brokers and equipment suppliers. Bumped into a couple of farm owners whose coffee we’ve roasted. And looked for new, interesting products to test out for our cafe and retail store. At these conferences, you have to wade through a lot of shit to find something worth the trip. But it’s interesting to see how the industry changes and progresses year after year.
I was reminded of another trip I took to the SCAA convention a few years ago when it was held in Long Beach. It was during the early days of the DoubleShot and I was still living in primitive conditions, eating ramen noodles every day, and trying to stay afloat while adhering to my principles. A friend put me on a flight with his frequent flyer miles, and I racked my brain trying to figure out where I would sleep for 3 nights. When I arrived in Long Beach, I walked along the shoreline until I found a secluded spot on the ground beneath an evergreen where I thought I could safely spend the night. I got swept up in the international flavors of the opening ceremony then quietly disappeared into the night. But when I got to my sleeping tree, someone was already snoozing amid the pine-needle laden roots. I tried to sleep on a concrete park bench but the ocean breeze chilled me. So I wandered around. And I found myself standing on the sidewalk next to a man who lived there, on the street, and he told me he grew up in Tulsa, on Harvard Avenue near Southern Hills Country Club. He was divorced and unemployable. His children disowned him, and he clearly wanted to be my friend. We were, after all, from the same town and both (at least at the time) Homeless in Long Beach. (Which could’ve been the prequel to Sleepless in Seattle)
I declined my new friend’s offer to have a beer (mostly because he suggested we walk by the bar across the street and just grab a beer off one of the tables and drink it). And I declined his offer to spend the night in his friend’s back yard (partly because he told me his friend could get us any kind of drugs we wanted). A pretty girl walked by. I looked at her, then at him. And I told him I was going with the girl.
I didn’t, of course.
Instead I wandered some more, looking for a nook or cranny where I might hide from the cold and the company of the night. I found a plastic chair under a stairwell that was comfortable enough to sleep sitting up, with my backpack safely between my feet. Hidden from view, the stairs trapped the heat emanating from my breath. I got a little sleep. And this became my Long Beach night home. (But not without incident.)
I spent the afternoons and evenings sitting on park benches, cloaked in a DoubleShot hoodie, reading William Vollmann’s “Poor People,” and noticing that the non-homeless (the homed?) would not make eye contact with me or acknowledge my existence. I sank into that book and became a character on the coast a few miles south of Vollmann’s favorite heroine and hooker hangout, San Francisco.
Whether we get better or just different may be a matter of opinion. My life today is easier than it used to be, and I’m a little fatter, a little healthier, a tad less fit. Most of the people who live and work in the coffee industry did not get there the way I did. But we’re all there, all in the same place. I look around and see the pervasive attitude that we are only successful if our business grows and we open more locations and grow our wholesale. We all strive to be Starbucks. Not the mom-and-pop, the local roaster.
Starbucks has infiltrated the Specialty Coffee Association. Maybe they control it now. Maybe they own it. The CEO and some other Starbucks executive clown appeared on the overhead screen and (at least in my mind) made a mockery out of the whole show. Their green-aproned servers appeared at this year’s opening ceremonies like robots set into motion by the evil empire, handing out uninteresting iced coffee and gas station-quality lemon bars. No one seemed to notice.
I see the industry wanting to be them. I see their emulation of each other and indifferentiation via coherence with the standards. The most rigidly rule-following, robot-like coffee person wins the consistency competition and their blandness is inoffensive enough to impress even the most mealy-mouthed Folgers coffee blender. But me, I want to make great coffee first. First and foremost. Yeah, I want to get rich. I don’t like being poor. It’s not fun. It’s stressful. But the reason I started this, and the reason I continue today, is to make great coffee.
Here and there and everywhere are brilliant botanists and erudite chemists and creative coffee growers. Upright and talented brokers and importers. Amazing graphic artists and product designers. Electrical and mechanical engineers wrenching together devices so complicated I can’t comprehend. People who know something about coffee and tell the truth. Quietly, usually. Amongst those shouting inane, profane, and more importantly, uninteresting alternative truths.
The changes in the Specialty Coffee industry and the changes in my circumstances that allow me to sleep in a hotel bed are important factors in our ability to harvest what’s important in life and in coffee. I walked into the Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room, newly built to try and compete with people like me. It’s interesting, isn’t it? That so many of my peers want to be like Starbucks and it appears Starbucks wants to be like us. Somehow they feel threatened at the way we make coffee.
Instead of continuing down the road of duplication and mass production, customizing your frappuccino so you can be just like everyone else, they have decided to pretend, in this “Reserve Roastery,” that they source small lots and craft roast (via their corporate computer controlled, robotic roastmaster) in a 120-kilo “small-batch roaster.” They appear to have bought all the nicest equipment and implemented practices currently only found at small shops like mine. But great coffee is not dependent on large sums of money or automation or pretty labels. You can’t feign authenticity. Or coffee quality. It all washes out in the cup.
I wandered around this Willy Wonka coffee factory and saw some details I liked. I saw an efficiency and design that puts all of us to shame. A bit too shiny, for sure. All I’m saying is, even in the middle of a corporate store that epitomizes everything I don’t like about the coffee industry, I found some nuggets. I found nuggets in my experiences on the street in Long Beach. And I found a lot of nuggets at the Specialty Coffee convention in 2017.
I plan to steal it all back to my lair in Tulsa, putting it into the beaker of ideas on my desk and converting it into DoubleShot gold.
The Colombian Coffee Federation (FNC) controls all exports of coffee out of their country. From what I understand, they are a rigid, bureaucratic organization. And Colombian. So that’s why I don’t want to say anything bad about them. I’m sure they are a bunch of muchachos buenos. ¡Viva la FNC!
Anyway, until recently it was illegal to airfreight unroasted coffee out of the country. But suddenly the FNC, in all their pro-commerce sensibilities, decided to open that mode of export. The result of this change is that my friend Cristina might taste a very good micro-lot in Medellin and send me a sample. And if I like it, she can FedEx a pallet of coffee to my front door in a week. Instead of waiting to fill a shipping container with 250 bags of coffee, loading it onto a container ship, transporting it on the ocean to a major port, and then trucking it overland from one of the coasts. Now if I like a 2-bag lot, it could go from the farm in rural Antioquia, Colombia to my roaster in urban Tulsa, Oklahoma in just a few days. This is great.
When Cristina told me this good news, she had two small lots she thought I would like. And I did.
Aaron Wing, a parent and a board member of the Lee Elementary School Foundation, asked if I would be interested in branding a small lot of coffee to sell in one-pound bags to support our neighborhood kids at Lee Elementary School. My one caveat was that I wanted to split the fundraising between Lee and the local schools where the coffee was grown. The children of the farmers who tended our crop would be attending these rural, equatorial schools and they need funds every bit as much as our local students. Aaron agreed enthusiastically and I began to think about the coffee.
One of the micro-lots Cristina sold to me is from a farm called Clavellina, which is in the municipality of San Isidro, in the Antioquia region of Colombia. This coffee is grown by a man named Alfredo Zea, who does not own the land, but is farming on property that was lent to him. These coffees are purchased and brought to Medellin by a woman named Marleny Taborda. She sells the coffee to Cristina’s father, Ernesto Garces, who is the largest coffee producer in Colombia. Ernesto’s guys mill the coffee and grade it, then sell and export it around the world. They cup every lot that comes into the mill and when an exceptional lot like this comes in, Cristina has it separated for roasters like me.
The timing of the new FNC rule could not have been better. I just recently received our first FedEx coffee export and began roasting the coffee for our school project. I asked Cristina if we could donate some money to help the schools in San Isidro. She told me that she asked Marleny about it and she was very excited because the schools were in need of help. She said that a storm had damaged the roof at one school, and she sent several pictures of the school rooms and kids.
This project is called "School Grounds Coffee." We will roast and sell the coffee each Wednesday. A portion of the proceeds from each pound sold will go to the Lee Elementary School Foundation and to the schools in San Isidro, Colombia.
This is a great coffee, with notes of caramel, vanilla, and pecan. And it’s for two great causes. We will sell it each Wednesday until the micro-lot runs out. Thank you for supporting the kids.
Wait. I’m not finished.
You know I like to run. I used to hate running, but now I crave it. I love running. And I especially love running very far on dirt trails in difficult terrain. This past Summer I ran a 100-kilometer race just outside of Zion National Park, and I’ve never felt better. It was a really pretty course. I love the desert. So I signed up for a 50-mile race called the Antelope Canyon Ultramarathon in northern Arizona that will likely be one of the most beautiful places I’ve been fortunate enough to run. The race starts and finishes in the town of Page, next to the Glen Canyon Dam at the gateway to Lake Powell. The race course goes through a few slot canyons, including the world famous Antelope Canyon, which is on Navajo land and is one of the most photographed slot canyons in the world. Antelope Canyon is sacred to the Navajo, and native guides will be posted on the course because their presence is required through these areas. The course will also skirt Horseshoe Bend overlooking the Colorado River. I anticipate the beauty of the landscape will overwhelm the pain in my legs. The race is on Saturday, February 25. My goal is not to win the race (because that would be impossible). But I have two other goals for this race. As always, I want to finish; and I would like to finish in the top half of all the racers. Secondly, I registered for this race as a charity runner. That means I am raising money that will be used to assist with projects and groups in and around Page, Arizona. The donations will be used for three things:
On a professional level, I always feel compelled to give whenever possible to coffee-related causes. But on a personal level, I have long felt a connection to the desert and its people and the ancient histories carved in the stone. I have spent many days roaming on foot and mountain bike through canyons and buttes, over plateaus and rivers, through sand and scree. In the stillness of desert pathways I can feel the spirit of the ancestors who roamed these places, knowing they looked at the same sights and felt the same rock and warm breezes. I love those feelings and the connection I have with the land. I can feel the life within the rocks.
I want to do something special for this event. If you know me or you’ve seen me around the DoubleShot, you’ve seen me drinking coffee from interesting cups. These ceramic bowls were made by Navajo potters. They enhance my coffee-drinking experience and remind me of the desert. They connect me with the ancient ones who sipped from similar gourd-shaped ceramics. I would like for you to know this same experience. So if you donate $100 or more to my fundraising for this event, I will pick out one of these Navajo bowls (likely procured from one of the Navajo artisans’ road-side stands in Arizona) and give it to you upon my return from the event. Thereby, we’re supporting the Navajo people in one more way! There’s no way for me to track these things, so make sure when you donate, put your name on the donation (don’t do it anonymously if you want the cup), and send me an email so that I have your contact info.
You can go here to donate: runsignup.com/doubleshot
Email me: Brian@DoubleShotCoffee.com
On a related note, there are a couple of interesting things you should check out if you’re curious about the Native American culture and what’s happening in the Tribal world. One is a podcast about the Navajo People: http://www.eisradio.org/item/021/
The other is a short documentary about the stand-off at Standing Rock that was made by a friend and DoubleShot customer, Kyle Bell: https://vimeo.com/190403297
The podcast mentioned above, “Everything Is Stories,” also did an episode about the protest at Standing Rock: http://www.eisradio.org/item/022/
It’s that time of year again, and we are plugging away at the DoubleShot like Santa’s midwestern workshop. I wanted to stop for a couple minutes and tell you about a few of the special things we have right now that you may not know about. And I want to tell you more about two of our holiday coffees - I featured the third in my last blog entitled “Oklamopia.”
Nicaragua is its own place. It feels different than other places I’ve been; even places that are just over Nicaragua’s borders. I’d wanted to go there for a long time because some of the coffees coming out of there are good, and I really got into Nicaraguan cigars when I was in Guatemala. So in my two trips to Nicaragua I experienced a few different places and saw what things look like from different perspectives. There seems to be a lot of political-based tension and wide-spread social and economic issues.
But I love the historical roads and buildings. I love the fact that there are people who live far from any navigable roads. And that there are nationals and ex-pats rehabilitating neglected coffee farms. It's a diverse population.
One of our special holiday coffees this year is from the Jinotega region of Nicaragua. Not far from Estelí, where I toured cigar factories and walked through a museum chronicling the indigenous people and the European invasion, all the way through the atrocities of the civil war. It’s from a place called Finca Los Altos, near the municipality of Laguna Verde. The farm is owned by the Mierisch family, a team of four, who manage different segments of the farming and milling and marketing of the coffee. But what’s so special about this coffee?
Eleane Mierisch manages the milling of the coffees at the farm, and is partly responsible for the very high quality of this particular micro-lot. Eleane is featured on horseback on the info card with the one-pound package. This is a washed coffee, which means the skins of the coffee cherries were stripped off and the coffee was left to ferment, to bring out the sweetness and complexity of the coffee, and then the pulp of the coffee was washed off. When done properly, washed coffees can be amazing. And this one is. The variety (a Red Catuaí), along with the meticulous picking and processing of the coffee have made for some very distinct and segmented flavors that really pop in the cup. Drinking this with something sweet and soft like my mom’s apple crisp (recipe card included with the coffee), is a wonderful experience.
The other holiday coffee I wanted to tell you about is our Guatemala Finca San José Ocaña. First of all, this is a natural from Guatemala. Which is unusual in itself. We did have two Guatemala naturals last year at this time, so even though they are rare, maybe I’m a fan. The coffee is grown at a high elevation, and is composed of a blend of two excellent varieties of coffee, Bourbon and Catuaí. The particular cultivation and harvesting and processing of these varieties (along with some fancy roasting techniques) resulted in a coffee that just fills my mouth with a feeling that can only be described by wrapping yourself in a blanket and sitting in front of the fireplace on a cold night. When I drink this coffee, here’s what I envision: If you could take a sheet of milk chocolate that is sliced so thin that you can see through it, and you draped it across your tongue, and it instantly liquified and left a soft film on your palate - that’s the sensation I get every time I take a sip. Anyway, these coffees are great. And in very limited supply. I recommend buying the collection of all three of our holiday coffees.
Eleane Mierisch emailed me the other day because I had a question about the coffee. I met the Mierisch family in Atlanta last Spring, where I first tasted the Red Catuaí we are selling. And at that coffee tasting, I picked up a card that noted this coffee was from a farm plot called “Venado.” Eleane emailed me back and let me know there are 10 different plots at Los Altos. Venado is at an elevation of 4300 feet, and is named after the beautiful deer that are preserved on the farm.
I’d like to take a moment to tell you about the packaging for the coffees this year. The main design element of the coffees is the info card affixed to the back of each bag. Every year I dig deep and think about what moves me at the moment. About my interests and my roots and the experiences I’ve had throughout life that have delved deeply into my psyche. And this year my searching took me back to the very old photographs taken of American Indians in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Those sepia-toned black-and-whites, Indian in full regalia, posed in just the right light, usually in an unnatural background. These evidences of our past are intriguing and beautiful. They are the culmination of the history of the people of this continent and the confluence with alien invaders whose idea of technology and civility and wealth perverted the natural world in which our ancestors had learned to participate. These photos strike such a chord in me that I wanted to try and stylize the photographs of each of the farm owners of these three coffees to mimic those of the old Indian photos. I hope these are things that you enjoy and read, and maybe spur you on to look back at those images that inspired me.
Just real quick, I want to tell you about a few other new products we just put on the shelves. We have new diner mugs. They are the same high quality as the ones we’ve been selling (and the ones we use in the store), but these are white with the DoubleShot logo and icon in silver and gold. We have new Old Fashioned glasses with the DoubleShot buffalo logo printed on them in red. Red like Santa Claus. We have new Maduro Bars - super high-end Peruvian chocolate from Glacier Confection over in the Brady District, infused with pulverized Colombian Maduro coffee roasted by me. This is the best. There's also a new Camelbak Forge travel tumbler. It's bronze-colored with the DoubleShot logos laser etched. I think it's the coolest one yet.
Then we also have two new shirts. These are both shirts I bought for myself. I tested out a number of shirts before I pulled the trigger, just to make sure I was getting shirts that I really wanted to wear. And I did. One is a t-shirt. It’s heather grey with a very subtle grey imprint on the front of the DoubleShot icon and on the back of the rest of the logo. It’s super soft. The shirt I want to wear on the weekend. The shirt I put on as soon as I get home in the evening. The other shirt I got for roasting. It’s a polo. Black. Soft, but it’s really breathable. Allows me to stay cool while I’m roasting. I used to roast in a sleeveless black shirt, but I instituted a dress code and figured I should try to comply. So I now roast in the new polo. I think all of these new products are excellent. All are things I use myself, and I wanted to share them with you.
That’s all for now. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah.
ps. I just finished editing an episode of our podcast, AA Café. Mark Brown and I discuss all of these holiday items and ten things that make us feel content. You should listen.