This site is the home of works by Michael Kai Louie, journalist, editor, fisherman, skateboarder, amateur photogapher.


new works for a new year

I covered the World's Toughest Mudder race on December 17-18. It is a 24-hour obstacle course race based on the Tough Mudder series of races and comprises 38-40 obstacles, run in a loop. It was held at Englishtown Raceway in Englishtown, NJ—the same place were I competed in a standard Tough Mudder Challenge in November. The night of December 17 was one of the coldest of the year with temperatures dropping to about 25 degrees overnight. Participants began the day to sunny skies and air temperatures of about 50 degrees. Nearly two-thirds of the 800 or so runners did not finish the first lap due to hypothermia or other injuries, and the "official count" of finishers was about 10 (referring to runners who finished the same number of laps the male and female winners completed within 24 hours). I'm currently working on an article on the culture of obstacle course races like Tough Mudder and related adventure racing.

I took this photo a little after 6AM, December 18 with the Nikon F4. The running theme of Tough Mudder races was always "I put camaraderie over my course time," meaning one helps other runners complete obstacles on their way to the finish. During the World's, however, TM turned its own notion on its ear, making finishing less important than completing the most laps within 24 hours in search of the $10,000 prize. Most runners kept more true to TM's own ethics than TM did itself, but after the first several laps, the race had become a pure endurance challenge. Runners were so spread out over the 12-mile course that even if they adhered to the teamwork aspect rather than the competitive angle TM proposed, it was likely there would be spare help on the other side. It became very much an individual act. Runners opting for Under Armor (the "official clothing supplier" of Tough Mudder events) gear were lucky to make it two laps. By then, hypothermia had taken 80 percent of participants, and the ones who were left were running in 5-6mm wetsuits or dry suits.  

This particular obstacle is called Everest, and is not much more than a 12-foot tall skateboard ramp. It doesn't go to vert, but can be challenging for people who haven't learned how to run up skate ramps. During the World's, there was the added challenge of being soaking wet (due to the obstacle directly prior: soldier crawling through muddy water under electrified wires), which made sliding back to the base much more of a possibility. Even during the first lap when there was quite a bit of assistance, I watched some runners try 10, 12, and even 15 times to get to the top to no avail. This was one of the most backbreaking terrestrial obstacles. Still, at 6AM in below freezing temperatures, this runner goes for it alone. Made it first try.


August Again

So there actually is a song from my youth that lacks a Youtube video, the song in the above title. I used to (secretly) listen to this indie band called Ida, who played what I can really only accurately describe as adult-oriented light FM, perhaps for the often-pensive. I'd play it here but, like I said, there's no video and I don't know how to embed a music player.

FISH BUM has recently taken a backseat due to some unforeseen logistical problems, but I retain several half-finished essays and outlines for the next issue. I "met" some gruff characters crabbing in Newtown Creek at the end of Manhattan Avenue, but haven't yet worked my way into their graces. They didn't seem to be catching anything out of there, probably beneficial for them. I would like to do a comprehensive history of the use/misuse of Newtown Creek in the future, maybe issue three or four, of course that will require fishing the water as well. Ben Sargent claims he was fishing it once and had a fish chasing a popper he was using, but I'm not sure I believe him. There's no shortage of hidden entrances along the waterway, but access to the actual inlet, where it empties to the East River, seems to be closely guarded—at least from the Brooklyn side. There actually seems to be a number of boats moored on the Long Island City side, their legal status is however questionable, but that just makes it more interesting.

The snakehead story is still in the works, although it was practically stolen by the New York Times, who suspiciously wrote the nearly the exact same piece a few weeks ago, although they were unable to actually catch a snakehead from the same pond I'd been plotting to fish. Other than that small detail, it was exactly the same: the pond, the characters, the idea to cook the fish afterward. I wonder how that happened...

Planning for this year's Brooklyn fishing derby is underway so I've been busy coordinating volunteers and responsibilities, rule changes and adjustments. This will happen in October-November.

I've started training for a race... well, physical challenge is more accurate. It's the Tough Mudder challenge, a 12-mile obstacle course designed basically to break your will and spirit in the name of camraderie and fun. I have not run a mile for any purpose since high school, 16 years ago. I also have a piece in the works loosely based on the Tough Mudder I'm doing in November, but I will keep the details to myself for now.

Finally, I am no longer working for Fanzine and have instead opted to return to the big, bad world of freelance writing.


June update


FISH BUM number 2 is still in the works, though it has been delayed because I'm still figuring the logistics of obtaining a snakehead fish. Access to them is limited to a pond in Queens, but access to that spot is tricky. But I have some other stories coming up in the near future that I'm working on, including a travel piece on surf fishing in Mexico, as well as an expedition to an abandoned island on the East River. That piece will probably be a bit tricky, as we're going to have to travel there by boat, and I'm not sure I quite trust the captain's abilities (listen above). There's also rumors of homeless inhabitants living there, so it will be interesting for sure. I'm definitely wearing my PFD for this one...


FISH BUM #2 in the works

I've finally begun to shake off the last of the winter lethargy and start work on the next issue of FISH BUM. This one will be mostly freshwater, seeking the elusive and voracious snakehead fish in the ponds around New York City. My friend has a spot he knows about and is talking a serious fishing adventure to catch these things, which sounds right up FISH BUM alley (haha, "bum alley").

In case one is unfamiliar, these fish are an invasive species, usually found indigenously in Asia and, not surprisingly, usually found for sale in Asian fish markets and pet stores. These fish are some of the most destructive feeders found in freshwater and are a serious danger to all native populations of fish. It's been said, when young, these fish can crawl along land to find other bodies of water, and when the population grows, they will normally take a seat at the top of the food chain. Even as adults these fish can breathe out of water for a good amount of time. They end up in ponds, creeks, and rivers essentially for the same reasons the alligator ended up in the sewer: People who kept them as pets either got bored of them, tired of always feeding them live prey, or thought it would be funny. This is the only fish the DEC recommends killing on sight. There is no protocol for returning them to the water.

You may have seen that guy Jeremy Wade try to catch these things on the TV show River Monsters. I've started research on the fish and found a lot of videos of people with snakeheads as pets. Some of them are almost two feet long and most are vicious predators. I'm beginning to wonder if the guys who own these fish have them because dog fighting is illegal. Some serious sadists out there, although if I were 8 years old I'd probably think it was pretty cool. My uncles always had piranhas when I was growing up and I always wanted one. But feeding one a live mouse? At least it went pretty quick. (Below video is NOT of the mouse, by the way.)

The issue will focus mostly on the snakehead and its impact on the city's waterways, the DECs measures of control and concern, how the fish got to these waters, hopefully I can find some shops who sell them. I also want to do a piece on crabbing in the Harlem River, but it might be a little too early in the season for that. More to come.

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