1. I’m not an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs focus on profits.
2. People used to always asked me if I “skimmed” the cash drawer. Haha. They thought we made enough money that I could actually skim the cash drawer! Looks can be deceiving.
3. Most people don’t like coffee. And most coffee tastes terrible, so I can’t say I blame them. But even people who drink “good” coffee often “doctor it up” with things that dampen the actual taste of coffee. I think that’s a mistake.
4. When a car goes through your window and the landlord fixes it and then someone throws a brick through the other window, and the landlord refuses to fix it, the prior is called “setting a precedent,” and the latter is called “breaching the lease agreement.”
5. Eighty-five percent of decaf coffee drinkers are only convenience decaf drinkers. If you tell them you don’t have any decaf, they’ll usually go with regular, caffeinated coffee. Furthermore, if your doctor tells you to limit your caffeine intake to one cup of coffee per day, instead of drinking a “half-caf” latte, drink half of a normal latte. Also, find a new doctor; that’s ridiculous.
6. You don’t have to be Catholic to be friends with a priest; you just have to be a critical thinker, live according to a set of ideals, and admit to your shortcomings. And drink whisky.
7. A beautiful environment positively influences your culinary experience, but a beautiful empty building is empty in more than one way. When we finally finished The Rookery, we moved from 18th & Boston overnight, all night. And with only a couple hours to go before we opened for the day on March 5, 2019, all my staff left and I found myself alone, looking around at what I’d spent the past two-and-a-half years of my life building. And it felt like a huge mistake. This big, empty, soul-less building. And it wasn’t until all of our customers showed up that the place felt alive and I knew everything would be OK.
8. You have to stand up for what you think is right. I said it at the end of The Perfect Cappuccino. But sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, regardless of whether you’re right or not. And losing can cost you tens of thousands of dollars. And then you have to figure out how to make a lot of money really fast. Just so you know that from the outset.
9. It’s hard to make good coffee in micro-gravity. But the DoubleShot Space Program is working on it.
10. When someone acts inappropriately, there’s no reason to get emotional or lose your temper. It’s much more effective to be matter-of-fact and let them know that they can’t act like that. It also helps to do what you would do when encountering a black bear: make yourself look as big as possible, stay calm, never turn your back. If the bear comes toward you, yell and throw things at it.
11. If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. If you want to do more than a couple things a day and not work all by yourself every day for months on end and fall asleep on the rubber mat on the floor beside the triple sink because you just needed to rest for a second, and then you wake up and realize it’s time to open again, you have to be OK with having a minimum standard and hoping your staff takes it as seriously as you do.
12. My grandpa was right: Camping is fun for a little while, but not if you have to live like that all the time. Sleeping in your car makes sense when you don’t want to pay more for sleeping than eating, but there’s something magical about a luxury hotel room where they line up all the shampoo bottles with the logo facing you, and the shower mat is folded into a swan, and when you ask the girl at the front desk if you can take a cocktail from the lounge back to your room and she says, “You can do ALMOST anything you want.” Now that’s living.
13. No one knows how many jelly beans are in that jar where people pay to write down their guess and then someone wins a prize because they guessed the exact right number of jelly beans. Give me a break.
14. The Rules are only useful when it requires people to stop what they’re doing and focus on coffee. As soon as The Rules become the focus, The Rules gotta go. I blame it on Portlandia.
15. Those little round stickers that cover the drinking hole on your lid so your coffee doesn’t slosh all over your console have really sticky glue on the back, so it’s a good thing they have our logo on them.
16. There’s no crying at the DoubleShot. (There actually seems to be a lot of crying at the DoubleShot for some reason, but I like to walk around proclaiming that there’s no crying at the DoubleShot.)
17. When you have an idea, people always say, “You can’t do that,” or “That will never work,” but if you don’t believe them and find solutions, they’ll start saying, “I was going to do this same thing…”
18. A LOT of stuff can happen over the course of a career. Mark Brown and I recapped some of the highlights in what seemed like a really long podcast episode, but actually it’s only three-and-a-half minutes per year. Listen in at aacafe.org.
Thanks for the memories, y’all. To share some of yours, go to DoubleShotCoffee.com/memories.
Endurance: 1 the ability to withstand hardship or adversity
especially: the ability to sustain a prolonged stressful effort or activity
2 the act or instance of enduring or suffering
Endurance has many connotations. Endurance athletes take on great challenges in races that require training to build up stamina through long, repetitive workouts. It’s the ability to endure mental hardships through disease and injury, poverty and distress. Resilience in the face of adversity. Strength in the midst of suffering. I think of the adventurers and explorers of centuries past who developed physical endurance through a life of toil and honed their mental fortitude as they pressed on into the unknown. Some are born with the genetics to endure. Others are bred for it. And some just make a decision to keep going despite the circumstances.
I started camping and hiking when I was in college. One weekend I was preparing to go out in the woods with a friend, gathering my old hand-me-down canvas tent and Coleman sleeping bag, my kerosene lantern and cooking gear. My grandpa was at the house and he was puzzled as to what I was doing. He even seemed a little irritated. And I remember him telling me, “You wouldn’t like it so much if you had to live like that all the time.” And in my youthful ignorance, I shrugged off his comment as irrelevant and obvious.
When I decided to start the DoubleShot, I let go of the comfort and cash that came with my gig as a personal trainer. I left the town that had provided for me because I was restless, bored of the routine, sick of the safety of everyday life. I was enamored with what I knew coffee could be, even though I’d only tasted the tip of the iceberg and would only know the true depth of this industry a decade later. Enamored with coffee and Colorado, I packed my things and began a journey to combine my infatuations. Before long, I was living in my car, sleeping in a tent or on the side of the road somewhere, in a church parking lot, a truck stop alongside eighteen wheelers, someone’s sofa, wherever the sunset chased me down. And that sort of lifestyle set in until it was uncomfortable. All my savings dwindled and work was hard to come by. I remember going to the grocery store, counting the money in my wallet and deciding how many dollars I would save for gas in my car and how much I could spend on fuel for my body. (Ramen noodles, a loaf of white bread, peanut butter and jelly, a couple minutes staring at the meat section, and a quick sniff at the pastry counter, and my $5.00 bill was spent.)
My grandpa lived a hard life, scrambling, clawing, doing what it took to survive. He passed on that lifestyle to my dad, who agreed wholeheartedly that unnecessary discomfort is a luxury. They moved from renthouse to shanty, attempting to farm until the grains that fed the chickens dried up and the monotony of eggs ceased with a chicken dinner. They lived in a partially-finished garage with sheets hung across wires for makeshift rooms separating parents, three girls and two boys. For drinking water they dug a well with shovels, and they put up an outhouse in the back yard. Holes in the roof of the garage allowed my dad, at 10 years old, to star-gaze at night and dream of the endless possibilities outside that life of pauperdom.
Fidel Castro took power in Cuba, the first U.S. astronauts were hired by NASA, Alaska and Hawaii were admitted as our 49th and 50th states, and my dad’s family moved into a house with indoor plumbing for the first time as he began his junior year in high school. It was a pivotal time for the world and for the family. As I would find out over the course of my upbringing, my dad hated hunting and fishing because growing up that’s what he had to do to eat. (Interestingly, my grandpa still enjoyed hunting and fishing; he just didn’t like little kids along for the sport, so I never acquired the skills.)
My dad started his own business when I was 10. He spent his 20s perfecting his trade, adding knowledge and skills to his repertoire, and observing the business behind the office doors. And then he made his big break, taking his career into his own hands. Throughout my upbringing, whether we were broke or not, he never wanted us to go without, to suffer the depredations of poverty, or to appear that we had less than anyone else. He worked his life away making sure he could provide.These were the formative years of my youth.
Fate and foundations found me back in Tulsa at the end of a couple years hardscrabble life on the road. Trial and failure repeated again and again. As you might know, starting a business from nothing is nearly impossible. And then the struggle really begins. I knew at that point I had gone all-in. I had cashed in my chips, dedicated my life, and like the explorers of old, my only option was to carry on. There was no giving up, no going back. I moved into an apartment without gas or electricity, malnourished and tired, just recovered from a near-death experience from carbon monoxide poisoning. Alternatively taking cold showers in winter and sleeping under a blanket of summertime humidity, I persisted for three-and-a-half years like this. Because I knew there must be a way out. Because I knew suffering was a part of it. Because my grandpa and my dad did it before me. This was my heritage.
I started racing when I was just out of college. I was sort of fast and moderately successful. But over time, it became apparent that the longer the race lasted, the better I would do. And so I started doing 24-hour mountain bike races and 36-hour adventure races. And eventually my runs went from 5K to 10K to 26.2 miles and onto 50K, 50 miles, and ultimately 100 miles. Am I a talented runner? No, not by any means. Am I a fast ultra-endurance athlete? Absolutely not. But you see, I quit competing with the field several years ago when I realized the fight was inside me. Today I live in a house with running water, comfortable furniture, and all the normal utilities (I even have WiFi!). I eat meat every day. I’m wealthy by the standards of most people. That daily physical and emotional struggle to survive is gone. And I’m back to some extreme version of my college days; of self-inflicted discomfort.
Four days ago, I completed Ironman Tulsa. And I finished without training for it. It has been my M.O. for the past few years to compete in races without properly training for them. When I was in my 20s, I established goals for my life that hinged around the idea of ultimate freedom: 1) To be in good enough physical condition that I could do anything at the drop of a hat without needing to train, and 2) To be wealthy enough that I could do anything I wanted without regard for cost. I basically accomplished the former in my youth, but had to sacrifice that in order to strive whole-heartedly for the latter. But to me, it’s still important to prove to myself that I can endure. I still want that physical freedom, and though that doesn’t come from a high level of fitness any more, I have built the mental fortitude to carry on, to suffer willingly.
So as not to drown, I started swimming two weeks before the race, and put in 6 solid efforts. I’m a decent cyclist. And I know how to run. So, once I got over the panic that set in for the first five minutes or so in what felt like icy cold water, I felt confident that I would complete the swim. And I did, in a decent time even. Rain pelted us for a lot of the cycling course, but those Osage Hills are my home and I loved every climb. Cramps began to set in toward the end of the bike (calf cramps also set in during the swim, but they went away after I got out of the water and regained my vertical equilibrium). By the time I got off my bike, I couldn’t even pedal in the saddle any more because the muscles in my legs would seize up. This was from poor hydration and lack of training. But with only 26.2 miles to go on foot, I was basically home free. Then my stomach started to hurt, again from poor hydration. I got into my ultra-shuffle and jogged one mile at a time, stopping at every aid station for Gatorade and water. But I wasn’t there yet.
There comes a time during these hard efforts when you’ve gone as hard as you can for as long as you could. And that’s when it gets juicy. It’s hard to get to that point; it takes a long time, and once you get there, you would normally call it a day. So it’s a really remarkable time when you get to commune with suffering and carry on. When you find it in yourself to keep moving despite the road ahead. For me, it could’ve been 8 more miles or 20 more miles because I found that place in my soul where pain and difficulty are signals that I am succeeding. And I wallowed in it, moving forward step by step, forcing my mind to control my body and not vice versa.
A woman on the course said to me, “I just want this to be over,” and my first instinct was to tell her NO, this is why you are here. We worked all day to get to a place where discomfort and exhaustion would make most people quit. This is a special occasion when you are pressing toward a goal and you come to this place not many people know and fewer people go beyond, and you just keep going.
And I get it; I’m pretending to suffer the depredations of exploration and poverty. But you want to know why the DoubleShot is successful? In part, it’s because we’re still going. Never giving up. No matter what.
Today is my 48th birthday. More than twenty years older than when I set off toward this goal. I want to know that my lifestyle today still supports the ability to do what I want physically whenever I please. And I guess that’s why I didn’t train. I just wanted to see if I could.
But as my grandpa said, I wouldn’t like it so much if I had to live like that all the time. And thank God I don’t.
I lay on the mattress with arms outstretched and feet apart, completely naked, like Michelangelo’s Vitruvian Man. As the 55˚ water from my shower evaporated from my body, sweat began to replace it, and the mattress was soaked, swimming in the dewy Oklahoma summer heat. My apartment, unfurnished, but for the 20-or-so brown cardboard boxes stuck to the worn-wood living room floor, served only as the roof under which I slept and showered. An old brick apartment facing the Arkansas River owned by one of Tulsa’s many slumlords, the window by my bed was painted open and the door was ajar, for outside and inside were the same. No money, no utilities, always with 55˚ water. Three and a half years of ramen noodles and work. So many hours at work that sometimes I would fall asleep on the rubber mat in front of the stainless triple sink. Just rest a minute, and then I’ll finish the dishes and I can get ready to go home. And then waking suddenly, realizing it was time to open again. Life plunked along like a phantom, a waking dream. Like the nightmares I had as a kid, where I was semi-lucid and walking, searching for a way out, a way to wake up and end the drama. Friends buoyed me. Friends I made at the DoubleShot, who pitied me or admired my dedication, or fell in love with the person they hoped I was beneath the filth of exhaustion and primitive living.
Three-quarters of the packet is all you need if you add 3 sausage links from the freezer, stolen from tomorrow’s toad-in-the-hole. And then add water to my collapsible backpacking pot, one I borrowed ten years before from my adventure-mate, Brad; the water should be hot when you put the ramen brick in and replace the lid. Not too much water, just enough to cover, and never boil it. I prefer to strain because I don’t like broth that much.
And I distracted myself for several years. Some people knew how I lived, and they asked me questions, and I lied. I lied to them and to myself about wanting to live like that. And I thought some people pitied me, but maybe they liked me like that.
Because over time, things change. Here I sit, undeservedly some would say, in an $83,000 house with a $14,000 HVAC that senses the temperature and adjusts based on the time of day and season of the year, keeping me comfortable and weak. It’s now dark outside, but light inside as the fixture hanging over my dining table, a round antique table my dad lovingly restored, casts soft yellowish light on my paper and across the seamless, popcorn ceiling. I ate meat three times today - pork sausage, smoked turkey slices, and ground beef. Three times in one day, just like the three times I ate “meat” in the five or six years of struggles in The Beginning. But change happens slowly.
Moab was my home in 2002. I didn’t “live there” per se, but I was a “local” for all intents and purposes.
I once met a girl at the Moab Brewery. She was sporty and blonde and flirty. And I was reading or writing, more immersed in my books than the TVs or the patrons near by. And people find that interesting for some reason. “What are you reading?” As if it must be the book of the century to keep me rapt, because no one reads, right? Yeah, I’ve read Desert Solitaire. Three times. It’s not about Moab, it’s about whores in San Francisco, I think. I’m not sure what it’s about, but I like it. And this cute girl took an interest in me. She asked me if I’d come back later and hang out with her after the restaurant closed. But I was on my bike. I was a cyclist. A mountain biker, really. My bike had a name that evoked Muhammad Ali, floating like a butterfly, stinging like a bee. My bike and I were inseparable. We just knew each other. I was the kind of rider who could and would ride the two hours uphill to the trailhead to meet my friends for a 5-hour ride. They called me “the adventure racer” because I lacked the patience of my compatriots who would try to ride a technical section over and over again until they succeeded. “Three tries and I’m out” was my motto. But I was fearless and talented and strong. When everyone switched over to full suspension bikes, I stayed solid on my hardtail, and almost no one rode what I could ride on a hardtail.
I wanted to meet the girl, but it was a 30-minute ride back to my camp along the Colorado River between towering red rock walls. And then the return trip to town in the dark, and I was tired, already thinking about the epic day of riding tomorrow. So I came up with an alternate plan. She worked at a plant nursery during the day, which was an hour ride from my camp, but happened to be at the trail tail of the Moab Rim Trail. So I’d meet her at her other job the next day and we could visit some more. But when I got back to camp that night I realized that I owned a car. I’d been so immersed in the lifestyle I enjoyed in Moab that I’d forgotten how I got to Moab. Needless to say, this didn’t impress the girl. “Why didn’t you ask me if I had a car?”
The first time I went to Moab I expected to see sand dunes, like the way I envision the Sahara Desert. And I wondered how it could be the Mecca for mountain biking with a desert full of sand. And there is sand. But not like I thought. I happened to meet a guy named Malcolm - “Rider Mel” - who was one of the only mountain bikers in Moab on August 1st and he took me under his wing.
We rode together twice a day, morning and evening, and sometimes I would go for a hike or run midday in extreme heat while Malcolm rested in his swamp-cooled apartment, drawing maps of the trails we rode that morning. He taught me the ways and encouraged me as I crashed repeatedly in this new terrain. “You have really good control of your handle bars.” And soon I was off on my own. Deftly riding the hardest trails without fear, skirting close calls, reveling in the excitement of empowerment and independence.
I could ride almost anything, mastering new skills each time I rode, confidence gathering like a storm. I found peace and communion amongst the ancient rocks of Moab, where perhaps my ancestors roamed, watching now as I pleased them with skill and boldness. Or maybe it was the rock that liked me, that knew me. Its life force in rhythm with mine, allowing me to do as I pleased.
Moab felt like home. It made me happy, if happy is a feeling I allow myself to feel. In fact, I promised myself that if I ever actually decided to kill myself, I was only allowed to do it by riding my bike off a cliff in Moab. A fitting death, but I knew I would never do it because all my cares were gone in Moab.
I was there at an unusual time, during the rains, during the jeeps. Riding to reconnect. And I decided to ride a trail I’d never ridden. One known to be wearisome in summer because of the deep, dry sand. But I was good at riding through deep sand, and up for a challenge. Poison Spider Mesa, just above the dinosaur footprints, was a typical Moab ride starting out, though I wasn’t used to being with so many jeeps. Rock crawlers, modified to look like spiders climbing over seemingly-insurmountable obstacles, leaving black burn-out marks on the grippy sandstone. Like a rollercoaster, I rode over and down the slopey rock. I knew my bike and I knew my tires intimately. I knew when they would grip and I knew when they would release. And I used both to jump and drop - it’s bad form to skid and leave a mark when mountain biking (only jeeps and amateurs do this).
I stopped to wait for a line of jeeps to come up out of a puddle and spin out climbing a very steep 12-foot climb, opposing my path. I scouted the drop and decided I could roll off, and pull very hard on my bars a few feet from the bottom and land hard on both wheels in a 6-inch water bowl. But as I descended, the tires I had such a close relationship with failed me. The water on the rock created a slippery surface like nothing I’d ever experienced in Moab, and at once I knew why it is called “slickrock.” The bike I knew so well went completely out of my (and its) control. We careened down this near-vertical rock face, free-falling, panicking, with no chance to correct or right the bike, and we landed fast on the front wheel, handlebar wrenched sideways, nuts on aluminum, face-down in dirty water. It was only a 12-foot drop and I was uninjured. Just scraped up. But that moment was the first time I lost control. True, hard-core mountain biking is done at the edge of control. (Really out of control, but where you know you can reel it back in quickly as needed.) But this was fast, unexpected loss of everything. And in a different circumstance, it would’ve been my demise.
I got up and wiped the mud from my face, restored my blurry vision, set my bars straight, and tried to soldier on. But it was over. I lost my confidence in one moment. And my years of riding Moab ended instantly. It happened so suddenly, the trauma, that I never recovered, and I lost my happy place. I’d probably even be too afraid to ride my bike off a cliff to kill myself. But change happens suddenly.
You die. Or you grow old. You move or you migrate. You climb the economic ladder or you win the lottery. Change happens slowly, or suddenly.
Climate scientists have been telling us for a decade that if we don’t change our behavior there will be dire consequences for mankind, for species of animal, insect and plant. It will happen in 100 years or in 500 years or in some amount of time that equates to touching a hot pan and feeling the burn two weeks later. They beg us to alter our consumption and our travel, our use and our waste. To be conservative and conservation-minded. To act sustainably.
And now, here we find ourselves in the midst of a pandemic, and the response has been one determined to sustain human life, though not as we know it. It’s an environmentalist’s nirvana. Air travel has virtually come to a halt. Spring break might as well have been cancelled. National parks are empty. Events drawing hundreds or thousands of people are no more. We have become stagnant and our economy will feel this crushing decline.
It’s the difference between consequences now and later. We’ll all die in 500 years if we don’t limit air travel? So what. You might die if you fly. Now, that’s a big deal.
So environmentally, one might applaud this pandemic as a wake-up call, and the first step toward true positive climate impact. But when it all blows over and our stockpile of toilet paper begins to dwindle, the landscape will be different. In the midst of the panic, let’s not forget to practice real environmental change, and begin to support more local business. More local resources. Think about the supply chain for the products you consume on a regular basis. How can you change your buying habits to support local products? Because for these people, change normally happens slowly. But in these days of societal reaction, change can happen suddenly, and your choices will be different (and worse) in the aftermath. Buy local. Be smart.
The winds have shifted from south to north and the temperature has gone from unbearably hot to unpredictably mild. The leaves on my October Glory maple got stuck in that half-red, half-green phase that is so brief, streaked with the colors of Christmas I remember from my childhood, remarkable in its natural vividness. In Spanish-speaking coffee lands, this is called “pintón,” when the coffee cherries are ripening on the thin, resilient limbs of their mother tree, reddening from the woody attachment but still green at the tip; coffee that tastes less sweet than the fully ripe, “maduro” coffee we’ve grown to love, the coffee that has completed its chrysalis.
Life is always in flux, and fragile. Our best laid plans shift slowly, and suddenly. Ideas become stubborn and then break like a green stick, or they evolve as our cells rearrange and turn our hair an elderly grey. I think back about the big changes in my life, and none of them happened like I thought they would. The idea that my dad would die and my cat would die seemed as unrealistic as the idea that I could die. I think about my temptation to change the name of the DoubleShot, when the pervasive lawyers for Starbucks threatened, compromised with the demand that I put a space between Double(and)Shot, and I resisted. I refused. And in that case it’s the space that doesn’t exist that indicates that the DoubleShot name inherently stands for justice and right and standing up for what we believe in. But we change. It has always been our mission to source and serve the best coffee that we know how, to as many people as we can. And that means amending our methods, altering the product, shifting our mindset about what excellent coffee means (but not deviating from our purpose). After all, it’s change that takes coffee from a seed planted in the tropical mountain soil, transformed through the flames of my roaster, and extracted by the worlds wealthiest solvent.
The biggest change for the DoubleShot that happened over the course of the last few years culminated with the completion of The Rookery. We moved overnight in March from our strip on Boston, leaving the cold cinder block walls that were only warmed by the people within. The intimacy and life felt over our evolutionary first fifteen years was not contained in that concrete space, the big glass windows that crashed so quickly one day, the black stenciled animal heads spray painted on white, nor the old brick of the original strip where so many memories were made and lost. Our home changed dramatically one day, this Hite barn rebuilt between city towers, redesigned with clean lines and warm wood that reflects our commitment to structure, strictness, and hospitality. Any move is risky, and this project is no exception. With the calculation ingrained in my accounting-filled brain, we risked moving a couple blocks west from Boston to Boulder, from 18th to 17th, from strip mall to this iconic stand-alone structure designed practically and purposefully to enhance your coffee and community.
I had whisky with my friend, a priest in the Catholic Church, and we talked about the transubstantiation that he believes occurs in the wine and the wafer upon being blessed in the cathedral. In my skepticism we debated what that substantive transformation really is, and he explained to me that they believe the spirit of God becomes entwined within the molecular structure of the blessed sacrament, in essence making the communion a consumption of the Holy Ghost. And I believe the same has occurred at The Rookery; the spirit of so many souls have blessed this structure, transforming it from the barn that once held dairy cows and lofts of hay into The DoubleShot, a loving, loved, foundational home for our community. I know this because the night before we opened, on March 4, after a couple years of construction, of cranes and welds, of hammering and sawing, painting, and installation, I stood in this building and looked around, all alone, and my heart sank. My heart sank because all I saw was an empty building as cold as the one we’d just left. A church without a congregation. A wafer without the Spirit. And it wasn’t until the morning of March 5, on the DoubleShot’s fifteenth birthday, when people filled The Rookery and the structure was baptized with the ethos that sprouted from a coffee seed and grew into the tribe of outstanding individuals who really are the DNA of the DoubleShot. And my soul was renewed.
So at this time of Thanksgiving, I want to send this special sentiment of gratitude to you. Thank you for embracing the change. Thank you for trusting us to make healthy, quality decisions that we believe will improve our product, your experience, and the lives of so many people. The changes of the past several months have been huge, but we continue to find new ways to do better, and we will always steer in that direction. Thank you for supporting us as we all take this amazing journey through life together.
Have a safe and enjoyable Thanksgiving.
I’ve been a lot of places, seen a lot of things, lived a lot of life. My stories are so numerous that I’ve forgotten most of them, only remembered in the 21 journals that line my bookshelf. Stories of the past 21 years of my adult life. (I read an issue of Outside Magazine and on the last page was a photo of one of Peter Beard’s journals, which they said were filled with clippings and photos, blood, hair and writings from his travels in Africa, and worth $10,000.) So I wrote every day. Or during travels. In the midst of momentous events. My life on paper. I could read it and remember. But mostly my thoughts are resurrected through scent. It’s one of the most powerful of our five senses at jogging our memories.
Riding my bike just the other day through the Osage Hills, a particular invisible wood smoke filled the air and I left this place, transported to a fuzzy recollection of Latin America. It felt like Nicaragua. And slowly the vision became clear: the rudimentary houses where the coffee growers live and cook their beans and rice over the flaming end of a long branch protruding from an earthen stove, their room smoky and my eyes burning with the log.
Scents bring to life memories that are so vivid and moving. It’s the tea rose perfume my mom wore and my dad adored, which I smell at every funeral of family and friend. The waxy smell of my niece’s crayolas on coarse coloring pages that take me to my brother’s room, lying on the floor Christmas Eve, trying to occupy the hours coloring inside the lines so that we could stay up all night and listen for Santa bringing us presents. The sterile paper smell of books, wandering down rows and rows of very tall public library shelves, knowing I was supposed to be in the children’s section but aware of the millions of adventures and biographies and complicated affairs that must be printed between the hard covers of volumes over my head, just out of reach. And the sterile oppressive smell of doctor’s offices. Like the one my mom worked at when the very kind and monotone physician diagnosed me with a stomach ulcer in the 6th grade, doomed to eat a foul, bitter pill, much too large for me to swallow - and thus my disdain for the Andes mints my mom gave me to chew up with each daily dose: chalk and chocolate and mint. The pollen blowing off the cornfield across the brick road of my childhood home, which I find in any bourbon with a high percent of corn mash: the moonshine fragrance of East Fremont Street. Just down the road from the distinctly aromatic pig farm where I sat in the child seat on the back of my mom’s bike as we rode past the armory to see the baby piglets and circled around the parking lot of the Mormon church, just shy of the equally smelly cattle sale barn. Petrichor - that dirt-and-mineral scent as a rainstorm approaches, thinking I could out-ride the weather, but finding myself stranded on my mountain bike at 11,000 feet without a rain jacket, temperature plummeting, taking shelter in a small stand of pines, scaring off the cattle who had the same idea. Deep knee bends, fighting hypothermia until the storm subsided.
One of my earliest memories involves falling asleep in the car. We arrived home and my dad (big, strong, and hard working) lifted me out of the back seat of our Pontiac sedan. He carried me to the house, his stubbly whiskers scratching my face and the scent of his coffee breath filling my nostrils. Perhaps that is why I fell in love with coffee.
I dance through the woods among a cacophony of smells, an olfactory forest, my feet moving along the singletrack trail in rhythm, back-and-forth like the silky strong movement of a bow across the strings of a violin, and pine takes me to Colorado. Leaving a voicemail for my friend Brad, 800 miles away, telling him I was planning to bushwhack up the side of Mount Massive through pine and aspen over three false summits (the third over 14,000 feet) before topping the Rockies’ second tallest peak, high above the trees at 14,429 feet. If he didn’t hear from me in 3 days, something was wrong. The earthy, musty smell of rotting wood brings me to 1983, kicking around the cow ponds and dry creek beds of rural Oklahoma. Plunging unexpectedly into the hollow trunk of a fallen tree where hundreds of yellow jackets swarmed around my body and over 100 stung my 10-year old flesh. The fatty, pungent smell of bacon cooking reminds me of the nights my cousin and I spent in the woods near his house. Bacon we stealthily burgled from his mom’s refrigerator after spending a night listening to coyotes (that’s pronounced ky-oats out here) howl, fire keeping them at bay in the near woods. Our contraband bacon broiled over the coyote fire, draped over a long stick, ends burnt, middle raw, good nonetheless.
I remember the unmistakable smell of the football locker room: musty, mildew and grass-stained pants and the sweaty ferment of pads in an oppressive, un- air conditioned concrete block building. (Thank god that’s not something you ever have to smell in regular life.) That locker room where Coach Stiles earnestly pleaded with each and every player to “do the right thing,” and told each of us through tears at half time, after not playing up to our ability, “You’re a great athlete. You’re a great athlete. You’re a great athlete…” I’m a great athlete? I am a great athlete. And when we walked out of that locker room beneath the rows of stadium seats full of fans, benches we’d run up and down many times throughout the week before, the scent of cigarette smoke hung on the air. The same smoke that sometimes filled the high school restrooms at lunch time. Where the unintelligent school bully and his even-less-intelligent bully sidekick cornered me and threatened to beat me up. (I offered to meet him behind Walmart after school to have it out, but he didn’t show and I walked the two-and-a-half miles home across town, relieved and angry.)
Tobacco smoke is evocative and nuanced, like coffee. There is cigarette smoke, in the breeze or in the bar, one thought-provoking, the other oppressive. And the smoke of a cigar. I used to smoke cigars when I was younger. The taste, strong and pungent, excellent with sweet Italian sausage and port wine. Now it’s smoke draws me into those early years of the DoubleShot, waiting for the coffee roaster to cool, a dozen people without heavy responsibility drinking whiskey, laughing and chatting at midnight, whatever the weather: friends, staunch supporters. Pipe smoke is more sophisticated. Akin to leather. It’s scent is royal. It evokes fireplaces and furs and British ancestry, Jason Westenburg reading The Economist. It’s the nuance of tobacco smoke that probably most parallels the aromatics in coffee. From the diner to the DoubleShot, coffee can run the gamut of smelly to sensual.
Why is the Gesha coffee so special?
It’s the clarity of fragrances (the smell of the ground coffee beans) and aromatics (the smell of the brewed coffee). The sophistication of complementary aromatics intermingling and changing throughout the brewing and drinking experience. It’s the citrus of a mountaintop in Panama where I picked the most succulent orange that turned out to have a very lemony sourness which drove me to eat more and more as my mouth watered and chills ran down my spine. It’s the honeysuckle growing on the fence in the back yard, where my mom taught me to pull the style out by the calyx and drip the sweet nectar onto my tongue. That honeysuckle, growing beside a patch of resident strawberries that we didn’t plant, but we did eat - their tart-ness quelled with a generous dunk into the sugar bowl. It’s the rooibos tea, red tea from Africa, my dear friend Marcus brewed for me one adventurous day after I’d accidentally scaled one of Boulder’s flatirons in running shoes, hot rooibos to cool and calm me down, butternut squash soup to nourish my soul and our friendship. It’s all these memories emanating from one delicious cup, woven so skillfully like the tales of life.
You must smell to remember. Scent is such a driving force, an evocative friend. Close your eyes. And let your nose remind you of the juiciness of life.
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