Raw Cactus Wraps by Dragon Man, a Tasmanian Vegan Giant, and Meatless Airport Chow

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Yesterday I got on a plane headed to Southern California, where on Saturday I'll run a ridiculously hard endurance race called the Tough Mudder: 12 miles, 25 military obstacles.

I've trained hard over the past three months, and of course I've trained vegan -- buckets of organic spinach and smoothies stuffed with frozen organic blackberries, bananas, soy milk, and superfood powders. I've run about 35 miles per week and done my fair share of pushups, weight lifting, squats, and treadmill-style ladder climbing at the gym. I'm ready as I'll ever be to crawl through icy mud pits and run through a trough of live electrical wire.

First, though, was a flight from Miami to Washington-Dulles and then another from there to Los Angeles. I took the last slurp of my home-spun smoothie and hit the road.

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A cafe at the Washington Dulles airport - not a veggie wrap in the lot 
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Stacks of oily pastries - not what I would call food, even when on the go.
I slept through the whole flight to Washington. Once I got to the airport, I decided to use my hour-plus layover more power-walking than for eating. Which was good, because as I cruised around the different eateries, all I saw were turkey, beef, and ham sandwiches and wraps, a Wendy's, an Annie's Pretzel stand advertising pretzel pizzas, and shelves full of oil-soaked white-flour, white-sugar pastries.

But 20 minutes before my flight's slated departure, I began to feel hungry. In the nick of time, I noticed this place called California Tortilla (I've learned that any restaurant with the word "California" in it has a good chance of offering a vegan option) and spotted the vegan "No Meat-o Burrito" on its menu board.

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Found a vegan burrito at the Washington Dulles airport - score!
I ordered it on the spot, and it was actually pretty good. Yes, the rice and the wrap were both white, but the thing was loaded with black beans, peppers, dark-green spinach, avocado, and a spicy sauce. I was good to go.

On the second leg of my flight, I noticed the woman to my left was reading something. The paper was white with lots of green on it and the words "broccoli rabe" stood out on the page. Since I'm an obsessive green-nutrition fiend, that was about the end of my snoozing; my curiosity was piqued. Now I was pretending to sleep and peeping other headlines on the page, which included "Put 'Clean Eating' on Your Wellness Radar Today" and "The Lowdown on Sodium in Your Diet." I saw the name of the publication in her hands was Environmental Nutrition.

"I couldn't help but notice what you're reading," I said. "Are you a vegetarian?"

"No, I eat some meat. But my daughter is a vegan," said the woman. Her name, I found out, is Pat Hass. She's from Washington, D.C., and she's 84, but you would never know it. She may not be a vegetarian, but she eats a lot of vegetables and dines on beef only about once every ten days. She doesn't like chicken.

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I sat next to 84-year-young veggie enthusiast Pat Hass on the plane to LAX
She's also been physically active all her life. She started running for exercise when she was a girl, in a time when people didn't do that. "People would come to my house and knock on the door to see if I was OK," Hass said of her early running days. "They'd see me running around the neighborhood and think I was trying to escape from a rapist or something." She ran her last half-marathon at the age of 74 but had to switch to walking when she had some joints replaced.

She was en route to visit her daughter, who lives in Tasmania and is a holistic nutritionist and yoga instructor. She and her husband grow artichokes, tomatoes, bok choy, and a long list of other vegetables on their property. Hass says the Australian soil is rich and the vegetables there are more flavorful than any she's tasted in the States in recent years.

The "down under" vegan couple also bore Hass a vegan grandson, my new friend told me. He's now 14 years old and towers six feet two inches tall. "And he's one of the best runners in Tasmania," Hass smiled.

She was ripping out the piece about broccoli rabe from the Environmental Nutrition newsletter when I started asking her all these questions. "It says it's better for you than broccoli," Hass said. "Is it any good?" I told her I like it. "I'll have to try it. I don't like broccoli. I eat it because you have to, but I don't like it. But I love kale." I told her broccoli rabe would probably be right up her alley then.

Although she doesn't eat much meat, she's not interested in giving it up at her age, she said. But her daughter would certainly like it if she did.

"Last time I was there, I started to feel weak and I couldn't exercise. I realized my body was telling me I needed some meat. [My daughter and her husband] were annoyed that I made them stop and let me pick up some meat. They said they didn't like the smell," Hass said.

"That's pretty extreme," I said.

After a long day of traveling, I arrived at my dear friend Gia's house. She whipped me up some white beans and spinach before we headed out to a Fourth of July party in the Hollywood Hills.

It was a good time. Yes, there was lots of heavy drinking and taking of illicit drugs to be observed. Despite that, I got a sense of how committed Southern Californians are to plant-based foods when the owner of the house emerged wearing a dragon head made of felt and whipped up some raw vegan cactus wraps, which he proceeded to shove into the open mouths of his hungry guests.

Now that's the kind of nightcap I can get down with.

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This festive raw vegan chef made us some midnight raw cactus wraps at his house party
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