Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Gorging on the scenery

This is a long winded and winding post. If you don't make it through the whole thing I would ask you just to scroll down to the last paragraph where I have a question for any runner reading. If you have a thought, please leave it in the comments. Grazie!

My last two long runs have been spectacular thanks to my new friend M whom I met through my less new friend K (also K). M takes joy, fortunately for me, in showing Trieste newbies around this gorgeous part of the world that he calls home. Yesterday I was fortunate to see some gorgeous sights on the carso (the uplifted area above Trieste) on a near perfect day that, dare I say, made me realize autumn is just around the corner. It's still hiding to be sure but it occasionally peeks its shy head out and breathes a puff of air before scurrying back.

So we started out along the gravel road that connect Baso Vizza, Italy to Sezana, Slovenia. This road, for me, is quintessential carso with stone lined fences and rolling terrain. It is not in-your-face gorgeous like the Alps but there is a subtlety to its beauty that speaks to the Canadian in me.

As we ran along I learned that M has a blog about energy conservation and peak oil related issues. I learned that it currently costs one barrel of oil to extract 70. M defines peak oil as the time when it costs one barrel of oil to extract one barrel of oil. Perhaps I misunderstood (moving, as I was, at about 13 kph), to me 1 barrel per 1 barrel  would have to be well beyond the point of peak oil. Peak oil, as I understand it, is the moment at which we are extracting the greatest rate of extraction and beyond this point the price irrevocably rises. I also learned during this stretch of the run that when insulating one's home, it is best when the option is available, to insulate the outside rather than the inside otherwise there can be problems with mold and heating/cooling cycles.

This road crosses the Italian/Slovenian border without any ceremony whatsoever. There are very few souvenirs of the time when Slovenia was not part of the EU let alone the time when Slovenia was part of Yugoslavia and I did not actually realize when we had crossed the border.

Then we turned left onto a paved road into the Slovenian town of Orlek which is a tiny, picturesque place where I believe I managed to take the least flattering picture possible in the history of picture-taking in Orlek but I include it anyway as proof of having passed through.
I believe it was somewhere around here that M applied the second law of thermodynamics to strategies for efficient energy use. As I understand it, it is most efficient to use primary sources of energy i.e. use the energy source directly do not first transform it into something else. So, for example, one should heat one's home or power one's oven with gas. Heating via electricity is inherently inefficient because to do so one must transform a higher quality energy, electricity, into a lower quality energy, heat. I guess this scenario is even worse if one's source of electricity is coal based as then one burns coal to produce electricity to produce heat and with each transformation, particularly from a low quality energy like heat to a high quality energy like electricity there is great loss. Or something like that.

This makes me wonder about Quebec though. In my home province we have an abundance of hydroelectric to the point that electricity is so cheap it is the most method of heating homes (not a trivial thing in Quebec) and cooking. In this case is it still best to heat using a primary energy source? And I guess the answer depends on one's goal. If one desires to save money, probably yes. However if one is thinking in energy conservation terms, then no. This also makes me wonder, on a more abstract level, if one of the consequences of peak oil and the energy crisis will be to bring individual goals more in line with what is best for society and the environment? As a side note, by environment I mean the environment for use by humans... b/c let's face it when people talk about "protecting to the environment" what they typically mean is "protecting the environment for human use".

After passing through Orlek, we headed back towards the Slovenian/Italijian border; in the above picture I am running towards the border on an asphalt path that felt surprisingly cushioned. Below is all that remains of the border. To appreciate the picture below you have to realize that Trieste was formerly right on the edge of Iron Curtain, or as Churchill put it: "From Stettin in the north to Trieste in the south, an iron curtain has descended over Europe." The "border" seen below was part of THE border during the cold war.

Back in Italija, or I guess Italia, we crossed the highway and commenced what, on paper should have been a gruesome climb up to Opicina but in reality felt awesome. I have noticed throughout my training program that I tend to feel best after about 75-80 minutes of running. I believe this bodes well for Sept. 5th. Below is a shot of me disappearing into the woods to start the climb:
In Opicina we climbed some more in order to reach a ridge which afforded amazing views over the Gulf of Trieste. I used my steep hill running over mountain bike advantage to take this shot of Marko working the hill:

Why can't I justify these photos properly? Hmmm... I'm not going to stress about it and just keep going otherwise I will never get this posted. Below is a shot over the Gulf of Trieste:

And one of the hilliness of the ridge trail we were on though much like the camera adds 10 pounds (though in my case it seems to also re-arrange the pounds :) ) the camera also seems to flatten hills, this looked far more imposing in real life:

We also got very slightly lost:

Which allowed me to take this picture - talk about a home with a view:

Finally we did the last 7 km along a rocky road with a precipitous drop on one side which M's grandmother used to use to transport milk to her family. She would carry 5 liters in each hand and 5 liters on her head. Not bad for a photo taken WHILE running:

This made me think, as almost everything does these days, about what a cooshy lifestyle I lead (as do most people in many parts of the world). My life is so cooshy that I actually have to invent artifical forms of exercise. I ran 31.5 km on this run but I wound up exactly where I started, I transported nothing, there was no practical purpose to this run and think of all the greenhouse gases I exhaled and all the extra food I ate to fuel the run. Total inefficiency!! Far worse I DROVE to the starting point (something I rarely do because it makes me feel too guilty). I am somewhat joking about the inefficiency of my run. I do think though that the lifestyle changes that inevitably occur over the next decade as the price of oil irrevocably rises will include the rebirth of functional exercise i.e. exercise that serves a purpose over and above burning fat, training VO2 etc. etc.

Finally, a question for any runner reading, you don't have to have read the post to answer. Say you were on vacation in a new town and had no idea where to run. How much would you pay for a guide who would plan a running route to your EXACT specifications (length, climb, surface, scenery), would accompany you on a bike giving you your splits, altitude, any data you wanted, carry your water & food, take pictures of you and provide you with interesting historical and contemporary information about the area? How much, per hour, would that be worth to you? Granted it is not something most of us could afford on a regular basis but imagine you are on vacation and want to treat yourself - what do you think that service would be worth?


  1. Some quick notes, I'll come back later:

    1) Of course peak oil is according to your definition. I just wanted to underscore the fact that any kind of energy needs energy to be created or extracted, be it the energy involved in the production of solar panels or in the drilling and transportation of oil. So, along with the problems connected to the offer and demand of oil, there will be also an inherent increase of oil price due to the constantly lowering EROEI of oil, which should favor renewable sources.

    2)About electrical heating, remember the heat pumps.

  2. How much would I pay for that service? Nada. Zilch. Zippo. Well, a cicerone explaining the history and a botanist explaining the flora would be priceless.

  3. Lots of wows here.

    First, I'm impressed with Marko's English.

    Second, it's amazing: Steve Q and I agree! I would pay nothing because I would hate to think the person giving the tour did it because they were being paid. It's the job of a friend and the best payment, of course, is to be a friend in return. How's that for sappy.

    Third, I had looked up where Trieste was before, but forgot you were SO close to Slovenia and certainly did't know Slovenia and Slovakia used to be the same country.

  4. SLG - I wasn't asking about payment to pay Marko - I am paying him with a training program (that I am late with). I was asking more in terms of a business model - I was thinking this could be another tourist service. When you are in a city as a tourist, you pay for certain services like tours and museums etc. Why not pay for a guided running tour offered by a skilled local i.e. not a friend? Just another tourist service.
    SteveQ - why so adamantly opposed?
    Also I hope after being here for a year I am not screwing this up but Slovenia and Slovakia were never part of the same country. Slovenia was part of Yugoslavia (and before that part of the Austro-Hungarian empire and before that under Venetian control) whereas Slovakia was part of Czechoslovakia though I know that Czechoslovakia was also under Hapsburg (Austro-Hungarian) control for awhile so in that sense both Slovenia & Slovakia were part of, at least, the same empire for awhile.

  5. p.s. yes, Marko's english is amazing. I was going to say that it is way better than my Italian but I think it might actually be better than my English!