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Preview: Up in Alaska

Jill Outside





Updated: 2017-12-17T10:58:29.077-07:00

 



Here's to my yesterday

2017-12-11T23:28:48.773-07:00

Last weekend, Beat scheduled work meetings in Mountain View, which also coincided with our friend Liehann's birthday. Liehann has a 5-month-old baby, so for a present he requested the "gift of time" — a day-long ride on his favorite route over the Santa Cruz mountains. His wife, Trang, contacted us and proposed we make a trip to the Bay Area to join him, as a surprise. I haven't been back to the Silicon Valley since we moved away 20 months ago, so I was excited about the prospect. I miss this place. It's not that I want to move back. Really, I miss all of the places I've lived, and many I've only briefly visited. Nostalgia runs through my blood like oxygen. Each renewed memory is a breath of fresh air. Trang picked us up at the airport on Thursday night, after telling Liehann she needed to "pick up your present." I'm guessing he thought it was going to be something really cool like a new bike, but he still acted happy to see us when we walked in the door. We immediately launched into the 90-minute task to convert Liehann's somewhat neglected bikes into workable machines. I claimed his Moots, which is just like my bike, only larger, with subtly different features. A poor choice of a cheap saddle notwithstanding, Stranger Moots and I quickly bonded. Within a mile of leaving Liehann's house Friday morning, I felt like I was riding my own beloved mountain bike alongside heavy traffic on De Anza Boulevard, just like old times.My destination was Mount Umunhum, one of the taller summits in the Santa Cruz Mountains at 3,500 feet. It's home to a defunct air force radar surveillance tower known to locals as "The Cube." This peak was closed to the general public for decades because of hazardous material concerns and access disputes. But its distinctive landmark made this mountain particularly enticing. Whenever I rode through Sierra Azul, I would stare up at the looming monolith and ponder the possibility of secret trails. In 2013 I attended a Mid-Peninsula Open Space District meeting to advocate for bike access, and learned that MidPen was developing the area for a planned opening in 2017. "Ugh, we have to wait four years?" I remember thinking. And, "I hope I'm not still here in 2017." (I moved to California with low expectations, and my appreciation and love continued to grow throughout the years.) When Umunhum finally opened in September 2017, I scrolled through California friends' social media posts and felt tinges of jealousy.Friday was a beautiful day for a visit. Temperatures were in the low 70s, and it felt truly strange to ride a bike through a space absolutely devoid of wind. Despite warnings about popularity and crowds, there was almost no one on the road or at the summit. The weirdness of The Cube did not disappoint. I hiked a spiraling trail to the true summit and sat on a rock, eating one of three Nature Valley bars I'd packed for a 55-mile, 6-hour ride. (I'd left the house with the wrong perception of Unumhum's proximity to Sunnyvale.) Then I hopped on MidPen's new trail for the long descent. It's a buffed-out wheelchair ramp ... and I loved it, so much. I do miss the flowing ease of California trails.On Saturday morning we were up at the crack of dawn to squeeze in Liehann's long birthday ride before his friends arrived for dinner. As a new father who also recently took on a tough new project at work, his riding for the past several months has amounted to occasional commutes to the office. So you could say he was fairly undertrained, but enthusiastic. We set out for the route we often used while training for our long bike adventures, the "Big Basin Big Loop" — which Strava tells me I only rode 10 times during my five years in the region, but in my memory it's dozens. Morning temperatures hovered near freezing, and a thick coat of frost clung to grass in the shade. (Geez, there's more snow here than there is in Boulder, I mumbled at one point.) It was interesting to observe the altered shape of Stevens Creek Canyon after last year's flooding — not-subtle reminders that change is constant.We stopped for lun[...]



Pretending it's not December

2017-12-07T18:03:55.892-07:00

'Tis the season — that time of year when everyone (meaning a small sampling of friends and acquaintances) is planning 2018 outdoor adventures and races. I see their posts on social media and admit to feeling a small sting of resentment ... "Oh, look at you with your high confidence in a predictable fitness arc built on training and preparation ..." Beat has been sending me links to enticing events, but I've resisted the temptation to sign up for anything past next March. The sting of 2017's disappointments and failures is still fresh, and my body hasn't given any consistent indication that it's going to cooperate for me next year, either. I feel like I should continue working on acceptance and nurturing other interests rather than beating my head against the same wall. Of course, I'm as bad as the sugar addict who swears off sweets in the morning only to eat a giant cookie for lunch (which, incidentally, is something I would do.) This resolve to not sign up for any more races completely ignores the two huge events I'm supposedly training for right now, which are happening in just over two short months. ("80 days!" someone posted. I prefer this characterization because 80 sounds like a comfortable buffer of days, while two months sounds soon.) What gives me any confidence that I'll have what it takes to survive the Iditarod or White Mountains 100? Nothing, to be honest. Besides, I suppose, the reality that I've done it before. My most recent thyroid numbers have fallen into normal range. In theory I should be feeling better. I am, I suppose, but my breathing is still on the rough side, and there hasn't been much pep in my recent efforts. On the positive side, my weight-lifting has rapidly improved in the past few weeks. I almost feel like a real athlete again every time I hit the gym. This leads me to believe my body isn't consuming muscle right now (which is something hyperthyroidism does.) It also sparks a temptation to just go full gym rat and forget all of the running and biking. Of course, I'd probably last three days before missing the outdoors so terribly that I'd come crawling back, in the literal sense. I am a addict. The rough breathing is probably tied to multiple issues and won't be easily solved. I've had multiple discussions and tests with my endocrinologist and asthma doctor, and they both agree that I have allergic asthma. Asthma has nothing to do with my thyroid, although these numbers affect my heart rate and therefore breathing, and the autoimmune responses may be connected. This autumn has been particularly bad for allergies, with little moisture and lots of wind. I let myself believe that if winter would just come, everything would be all right. I'd be relieved of this dust-filled air. I'd actually be able to drag my sled, and put my recently boosted strength to better use. And if my sluggishness doesn't improve, it won't matter because winter is guilt-free slog season. So I continue to hope for snow, even as the high-pressure ridge lingers. The snowless late autumn even extended to Utah, where I managed a couple of fun outings between the Canyonlands backpacking trip and returning home to dusty Colorado. My dad and I hiked to the ridge above Desolation Lake, with views toward Park City. It was 63 degrees when we left the trailhead, and 37 and snaining when we returned three hours later. Sadly the cold front didn't stick around long enough to bring much precipitation.On my way home I opted to drive I-80, mostly to take a quick jaunt up the west ridge of Grandeur Peak on my way out of town. This is perhaps my favorite hike from the Salt Lake Valley, because it's short enough to wrap up in a couple of hours, and although it gains 3,500 feet in just over two miles, it somehow feels more gentle than other routes of similar steepness. From the peak I could see the beginnings of a smoggy inversion, and felt grateful that I was leaving town. Salt Lake is my hometown and I still think it's an ideal place to reside; however, I suspect that I no longer poss[...]



Walks through time

2017-12-01T11:36:59.427-07:00

I couldn't tell you how many times "back in the day" came up this weekend. Probably enough that Danni and Meghan quietly rolled their eyes while I recounted the Upper Black Box trip where Curt threw his pack down the 100-foot cliff that my college friends and I were carefully down-climbing, and all of his Nalgene bottles exploded. I can't help it. A piquant aroma of sagebrush fills the air, heat radiates from sandstone in November, and in my senses I'm 22 years old again, adrift in memory. It almost doesn't matter that this was a different era, when I was a different conglomeration of cells, "back in the day." Although time is linear, our experience of time is not. Six or seven years ago, Danni and Meghan started what they hoped would be an annual gathering of friends for wanderings in the wilderness. With the tendency of modern women to be self-deprecating about our passions, they called it "Fat Camp," and started inviting other female friends to join. I tagged along for their Wind Rivers trip in 2015, but time has been seemingly in short supply for everyone since. Finally an opening came up for just the three of us over Thanksgiving weekend so we grabbed it, even though it meant inviting Danni to my family dinner and rushing south immediately after pie was served. We had a short three days but we intended to make the most of it, hiking in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.For planning and acquiring permits at the last minute — she texted me Wednesday afternoon, as I was driving from Colorado to Utah, with the question "do you have a high-clearance vehicle?" — Meghan put together a stunning route: a one-way trip down Salt Creek Canyon. With fields of rare grass and a couple of year-round springs, the canyon is a relative oasis in the Utah desert. Our daily required mileage was short and side-canyon possibilities were many, with an abundance of archaeological sites to explore.After a lazy car-camp morning, acquiring permits at the visitor center, chatting with the amicable couple who own the Needles Outpost, and driving the shuttle, our hike didn't begin until a few short hours before sunset on Friday. Luckily we only had four miles to walk to our first camp. When I was 22, four miles seemed like a sufficient day of hiking, and you know what — it still does. At mile three, we passed a cabin built by Rensselaer Lee Kirk, a rancher who ran cattle up Salt Creek in the 1890s. Outside were the remnants of a wagon that may be the one he used to haul supplies from Moab, and that had to be broken down and ferried up an eroded pour-over called Big Jump. We circled through the interior of the cabin, admiring its solid construction with hand-planed logs. It was easy to imagine what Kirk's home life might have been like, on a warm summer night with the desert wind rustling cottonwood leaves outside. I pictured an iron pot of beans cooking in the sandstone fireplace. The howling of coyotes might be the only sound to break a silence that stretched for hundreds of miles.Despite the late start, 90 minutes of hiking put us into camp with daylight to spare, so we ventured up a side canyon in search of ruins. We bashed through the sage and followed erratic deer trails, skipping around fragile patches of cryptobiotic soil as though they were molten lava. We also dodged petrified cow pies, perfectly preserved even though cattle haven't trampled this canyon in more than 40 years.Besides a myriad of deer tracks, we began to see distinct kitty tracks. We guessed a larger mountain lion followed closely by a juvenile, climbing out of the wash and circling back. They were well-defined compared to most of the deer tracks we saw, which meant they were fresh. Collectively we acknowledged that instinctual chill running down our spines. A setting sun but also nervousness prompted us to turn around. Not ten minutes later, Meghan called out, "Mountain lion! Over there!" We stopped and looked toward the hillside, where a large animal was sprinting parallel to our path. The a[...]



People find some reason to believe

2017-11-20T22:58:28.819-07:00

Photo by Beat JegerlehnerAbout once a week, I carve out an opportunity for a moderate-length ride with no set direction and no real training purpose. Beat teases me for refusing to call six hours "long," but it's still a far cry from the way I used to ride my bike — seven days a week, several hours in the morning before work, and up to twelve hours on weekends. Still, I relish these "semi-long" rides, alone on seemingly abandoned county roads, grinding up a steep hill or into the wind or both for large majority of my time in the saddle, utterly zoned out — or, rather, "in the zone."Riding my bike over the relentless terrain of the Front Range foothills is never easy, but it becomes significantly more difficult for me during physical downswings. Conversely, this is when I come to love riding the most. Engaging my muscles for steep climbs demands so much oxygen that there's little left for my brain. I fall into a meditative trance. Long minutes pass with no emotional engagement, observation, or recollection of what went by. I believe I'm aware on the sensory level where it counts, but nothing records to memory. I "come to" at points and feel refreshed, even though I'm still grinding up a hill. As a journalist and archivist at heart, I usually become annoyed at myself when I realize I haven't been paying attention. But for six hours, once a week, this vacation from my brain is a welcome respite. Photo by Beat Jegerlehner. Colorado is currently experiencing a typical November weather pattern, where "unseasonably" warm temperatures pull air over the Continental Divide like a power vacuum, causing frequently strong and occasionally hurricane-force downslope winds. If it's 70 degrees in Denver, there's a good chance of 70mph winds in the mountains. I know this, but there's still that lingering summer mentality/optimism that says "it's a beautiful day! Let's go for a hike!" I said this after I cut a run short on Saturday because my breathing was rough and I became dizzy enough to stumble over too many steps. Why would I pit this poor fitness against the insurmountable west wind? Well, earlier in the week, I had a brief burst of confidence when my name turned up on the roster for the 2018 White Mountains 100. This means I have two amazing races to look forward to in March. If I can somehow start in good physical condition, I believe I have the endurance, experience, and fortitude to do well. Plus, I am just itching to take on a tough challenge and break out of my slump. Because how long has it been since I had a good race? And then I realize ... how long has it been? What makes me believe I'll be strong enough to finish a race, ever again? Certainly not when I can't even stumble my way through a nine-mile run, that's for sure. It was in this state of mind that I joined Beat and Jorge on the Arapahoe Glacier Trail on Sunday — nervous, actually a bit terrified, but determined to figure out how well I deal with difficult and potentially dangerous weather conditions when I'm not at my best. Oxygen-sucking gusts greeted us at the trailhead, but the hike through the forest went well enough. Friday's storm left about six inches of powder — less snow depth than when I snowshoed the trail in early October, but honestly more than I expected to see. Beat took photos of dramatic lenticular clouds and we nearly strapped on our snowshoes, but I requested waiting until we rose above tree line, "to see how scoured it is."Emerging from the last scraggly strands of spruce, we stepped into the gut of a wind funnel more intense than any I've felt in years. I say this often, but I believe when the Niwot Saddle data is finally updated, the numbers will bear this out. Although the ambient temperature was just barely below 32 degrees, the flash-freezing of skin happened in seconds. We huddled next to rocks and pulled on all of our gear, except for the snowshoes and ice axes and spikes that were completely useless on a slope stripped of even a ba[...]



Wind is a difficult thing to capture

2017-11-13T22:59:27.411-07:00

Since I began hyperthyroid treatment in February, my year has been a continuance of peaks of valleys. Fluctuations are far preferable to an ever-deepening valley. Still, this truth provides little comfort when I dip into another low. Suppressed by opaque shadows, I spend far too much time trying to see over the next rise. I type vague inquiries into Google. "Why is my coordination even worse than normal? Why can't I concentrate? What is the deal with this moody weirdness?" Answers are just flecks of snow tumbled by the wind, unable to attach to anything.My creativity suffers when I'm in one of these valleys. My thoughts are muddled; my emotions seem flat — that is, until some teenage-like bout of angst tears through the fragile veneer, and I anxiously ruminate on realities that I can't control. How much of this can I blame on hormones? How much of this is rooted in mental health? Aging? How much is just my personality ... and what even is the difference? Between me and my hormones? Between me and the pills I take to purportedly correct the imbalance? Although I like to believe I control "who I am," this precarious biological symmetry reveals the vulnerability of self.I'm not trying to make excuses or create a crisis where none exists. These are the ebbs of life, the necessary counterbalances to joy and exhilaration. I count on this equity when I look toward the next as-yet-unseen peak, and promise myself that soon, very soon, I'll bust out of these shadows and bask in the sunlight. The weather on that day won't really matter. What I'm doing on that day won't really matter. The balance will shift, and I'll be a new person, yet again.In the meantime, just keep living life. Beat and I wanted to spend some time in the mountains this weekend, and invited our friend Jorge for a Sunday hike on Niwot Ridge. We expected a warm, marginally windy outing, but shouldn't have been surprised when the Continental Divide wind funnel delivered storm-force gales. Not all that far away in Boulder, it was a placid afternoon with temperatures in the 50s. But the mountains have their own systems. Chunks of ice clogged my hydration hose; the temperature was below freezing before windchill. And the windchill was fierce. The moment we cleared tree line, we were scrambling to throw on layers before our fingers froze.Miles before we cleared tree line, I was already pressed against a wall. Trailing far behind Beat and Jorge, I focused on the rhythm of breathing. Inhale, long exhale, inhale, etc. I was trying to keep my breathing from becoming too shallow, trying to will it to pull more oxygen into my bloodstream, toward my muscles, which felt terribly underworked, but they needed more fuel to move any faster. It just wasn't there. I felt mildly dizzy. My breathing became more desperate. I slowed my steps, consciously calming everything down.Beat and Jorge frequently stopped to wait for me. As soon as I caught up, they pulled away as though I was standing still. I watched them march breezily up the trail and fought a surge of resentment. How can this be so easy for them? But, really, it was just as easy for me, not even two months ago. Weird how much fitness I can lose, just like that. Like creativity, my physical fitness operates well at the peaks, less well in the valleys. It still works, though. I can still write a page or post here and there (under much strong-arming from my ego.) And I can still go for long hikes (slow but steady.) If and when I crawl out of this valley, I know I'll be strong again. The thought brings little comfort, though, when I realize how much of a mockery this illness has made of my training. In this regard, my efforts don't matter. Did they ever?Beat heard me gasping and urged me to relax. We were at high altitude, he reasoned, and he was breathing hard, too. It's difficult to describe why these struggles are different. Then again, maybe they're not. I tried to remember how it used to feel, hunched in a 30-mph w[...]



Moab

2017-11-08T15:10:09.754-07:00

Over the weekend I had an opportunity to join a few friends on a camping trip in Moab. Car camping in the Utah desert always brings a flush of happy nostalgia for a segment of my life when I lived on almost nothing with nine other 20-somethings in Salt Lake City's Avenues, commuted to the hinterlands of Tooele to work 50-some hours a week, and when Friday night rolled around, we escaped to the redrocks. Every weekend. Even if it was January and the San Rafael Swell was coated in a half foot of snow, for backpacking trips that required crossing waist-deep rivers choked with chunks of ice, and my $40 Coleman sleeping bag didn't quite cut the chill, and expired Power Bars from Market Square turned out to be a bad idea, and all of my Nalgene bottles froze solid. Most of those trips ventured to quieter corners of the Colorado Plateau, so my experiences in and around Moab feel more limited. There was a time when I thought myself too desert-sophisticated for the tourists and mountain bike bros and sand-dyed T-shirts. Still, there's an air around this former uranium-mining town that feels like coming home. The occasion was an engagement of two members of my local running group, the Boulder Banditos. Since the gathering was a whole bunch of trail runners, I assumed the activities would involve running, and packed accordingly. As it turned out, nearly everybody had a bike and riding plans. However, even if I had known, I likely still wouldn't have brought my bike. In the same way I used to wrongly think of myself as a desert-wilderness-sophisticate, I also used identify as a mountain biker. Now I realize that I am a balance-challenged and adrenaline-averse bike tourist who prefers long, open tracks regardless of width, and actually doesn't enjoy jackhammering over miles of rocks. Of course, I still jackhammer over miles of rocks, as long as the ride is long and meandering and goes to interesting places. Which Moab trails do ... although really, it's nearly as efficient and much more relaxing to go on foot.Had I known the group had no running plans, I would have put together my own, better routes. Instead, Wendy, Jorge and I found ourselves agreeing to run the shuttle for Porcupine Rim on Saturday — we'd park a truck at the river and plod 15 miles uphill while others in the group rode bikes downhill. I've never run or ridden Porcupine Rim before, and didn't quite conceptualize the barrage of oncoming bikes we'd be dealing with. I now believe this is not an appropriate route for a run, at least during an autumn weekend. However, moving against traffic is ideal in this setting, and I think we managed it well — we always veered out of the way so no one had to slow or stop for us. All of the bikers were polite.The weather was warm and very windy — we shuffled and hiked into a 30mph sand blast for most of the climb. Wendy and I weren't in great shape — I'm currently in a down phase of the infuriating physical rollercoaster I'm riding these days, and Wendy was ill from what was later diagnosed as a kidney infection. So we plodded along with Scout the Border Collie on a leash while Jorge ran back and forth like a loose puppy. Despite gray skies, the scenery was beautiful and I was happy to be hiking, which is peaceful, undemanding and affords lots of time to look around. Despite giving them more than an hour head start and hiking uphill versus riding downhill, we were nearly halfway through the route when we crossed paths with our group. They're not regular mountain bikers, and seemed stressed by the technical nature of the trail. Later, Steve crashed over a 10-foot ledge, smashed his helmet, dented his bike frame, bruised his hip and broke several ribs. Mountain biking ... eh.We camped close to the Slickrock Trail, so on Sunday I suggested a plod around the iconic loop. Sure, it's another popular spot, but the terrain is open enough to easily avoid cyclists. I also figured it would be [...]



Maui

2017-10-30T12:45:14.166-06:00

Last weekend, Google hosted a retreat for Beat's work team on Ka'anapali Beach in Maui. It was a quick trip — less than 72 hours on the island. A mechanical in Denver caused us to miss our connection in Seattle, and we missed all of the festivities on Wednesday while we languished at SeaTac, an airport where I have wasted *many* hours thanks to long layovers to and from Alaska. This led to some grumpiness about traveling to a place as far away as Hawaii for just a weekend, but one can't complain about any opportunity to visit such a beautiful and unique spot in the world.  On Thursday we set out for a quick run on Waihe'e Ridge. The trail is only two miles long, and took us nearly two hours to reach when our scenic drive along the coast hit a dead end (it was a scenic spot to end up, though.) Most of this outing was driving, but it was fun to spend an hour in one of the more lush spots on Mauna Kahalawai, running through the kukui and fern forest, and listening to a cacophony of bird calls. Recently I've slipped back into a physical slump, marked by many of the same symptoms I complained about in June and July. In the past two weeks I've had similar trouble breathing at 12,000 feet in cold winds on the Indian Peaks, at 5,000 feet in dry 80-degree air in Boulder, and here at sea level in Maui. The humidity made me feel like I was breathing through a wet dishrag, and I sputtered my way through this short effort.Even though I didn't feel great, I was sad when the trail ended so soon. The sign warns to stay off the "Unsafe Natural Terrain."That night we joined Beat's friends for a round of delicious nigiri, the best I've had since I moved away from California. This photo is the view from our hotel room, looking toward the island of Molokai at sunset. Our time on the island was short, so we never actually ventured out to the beach — I didn't put on my swim suit once — but there was enough proximity to feel like a typical Hawaii vacation while doing what we enjoy most, which is playing in the mountains.On Friday we made our way over to Haleakalā, the 10,000-foot volcano that fills the eastern side of the island. Haleakalā is legendary among road cyclists because a well-maintained paved road winds from sea to summit, one of the longest sustained road climbs in the world. On the other side of the mountain is a foot trail with the same vertical gain, which we hoped to hike one-way. However, our shuttle fell through, and we didn't have time or adequate planning for the round trip, which would have taken 16 hours or more with limited water resupply. It's just as well, as my stamina is low right now, and I undoubtedly would have sputtered badly, even on the one-way climb. Instead we planned a 20-mile out-and-back from the summit.Descending into the crater. I had stomach distress in the morning and was not the happiest of runners for the first couple of hours.The otherworldly landscape more than made up for my poor physical state. The kaleidoscope of mineral colors and rare plants was stunning.Along the route were a couple of backcountry cabins where Beat befriended habituated nēnē (Hawaiian geese.) They have adorable voices that sound like nasally humans grumbling under their breath. The nēnē is exclusive to the Hawaiian islands, believed to have evolved from Canadian geese who drifted off their migration course hundreds of thousands of years ago. They can both fly and swim but don't do much of either, instead opting to scramble along the rocky surfaces of volcanoes.We descended into the marine cloud layer along a series of lava fields. I'm grateful the National Park built a crushed-gravel trail down here, as running shoes and shin skin would not last long on these rocks.We reached our turn-around in a valley at 6,000 feet, where we met a group of backpackers at a cabin. They offered us coffee and suggestions for a number of routes and hitchhike[...]



Frittering away weekdays

2017-10-19T23:19:35.074-06:00

After my forest road meltdown last Friday, I was hopeful I'd cleared my head enough to muscle through some projects this week. I'd felt unmoored. Last weekend was supposed to be my annual trip to hike the Grand Canyon with my dad. This is a tradition we've kept, with a few hiccups, nearly every year since 2004. Due to poor calendar-keeping, other travel plans overlapped those plans, and I had to cancel. Then the second trip fell through. So I ended up at home, feeling wistful about the passing of time, the unsettled world, and missed opportunities. Perhaps I should pour some of this angst into my work. Or, you know, do what I usually do, which is burn it off amid hard physical efforts.  First came Sunday, when Beat and I wanted to put in a solid six-hour "run." We like to pepper our "long runs" with 5,000 feet of climbing and a little ridiculousness, like this descent into Eldo Canyon. Remnants of autumn were hanging on in the meadows below Shadow Canyon. Beat secretly chased another dude up Shadow Canyon, then bonked. It was pretty cute. Our late-afternoon descent was accompanied by stunning light — a white glow on branches in the burn, and glistening snow on mountains in the distance. It must have been more subtle than my memories, because none of it showed up in this photograph. Long runs really are mood and sense enhancers. On Monday I was going to buckle down and write, really, but then my friend Wendy inquired about a hike on Niwot Ridge. Wendy recently "retired," by which I mean she left a many-hours-a-week position to pursue her own creative and entrepreneurial projects. I'm an avid supporter of such endeavors when they're feasible, so how could I say no to weekday fun? It was a beautiful and warm afternoon although quite windy. I'm becoming more of a connoisseur of wind thanks to living within a funnel of near-constant winter gales and a weather station to measure them. I'd guess Niwot's wind was steadily in the 30mph range — enough to knock you around and seemingly pull the air from your lungs. Wendy and I babbled away for miles through the woods, but above tree line, all of our strength was needed for breathing. We couldn't hear anything but wind, anyway. Wendy's dog, Scout, seemed unfazed although I have to feel for a ~40-pound animal fighting these gusts. The sastrugi was so wind-hardened that we didn't even leave footprints, except in the rotten places where we punched through to our shins. It was a great outing, although I was knackered from fighting that wind. This was a humbling reminder of what it means to fight wind all day, possibly for many days, in Alaska. Niwot Ridge is a great spot for winter training because of its position in a wind funnel and relatively low avalanche danger. I hope to return frequently.Tuesday and Wednesday brought my normal weekday deadlines and many errands. On Wednesday the temperature hit 80 degrees and I stupidly went out right after lunch to run hard on Mount Sanitas. Unsurprisingly I crapped out early yet still fought for it, stumbling over rocks and wondering if I was going to rip open a knee on Sanitas' easy descent, yet again. After that I went to the gym and refilled my water bottle at least five times while grunting through a hard lifting session, because I felt guilty for missing my Monday routine. Anyway, after efforts that were unimpressive on paper, I was surprisingly shattered for my next slacker day, riding fat bikes up Rollins Pass with Cheryl.I love riding by this old schoolhouse in Tolland. I always imagine I'm a miner's kid in the 1880s, sprinting across a meadow in my prairie dress with an armful of books. The interior has polished wooden desks and a stern teacher at a chalkboard, and then the illusion is shattered as I pass the building and see the boarded-up windows and flaking yellow paint. Cheryl and I weren't sure we'd[...]



Forest Road 509 made me cry

2017-10-14T23:58:06.546-06:00

Those first groggy minutes of morning have never been my best, but lately they've become more difficult to face. I know I'm not the only one — waking up to a vague sense of dread, brewing a pot of artificially flavored vanilla coffee without shame because it's comfort food, and scrolling through the news. This has more or less been my morning ritual since I had to pay slightly less than my weekly food budget to have the New York Times delivered to my duplex doorstep in Utah during college. But now I can hardly stomach it, this ritual of sitting in a room and sipping comfort coffee as long-held convictions crumble. Is it because I'm nearing 40? The much-hyped middle-age crisis? Or is the world really so much worse than it used to seem?The general advice is to step away from the Internet. Although I definitely need to limit my time on social media, I don't really benefit emotionally from sticking my head in the sand. Everything is still happening, and I'm just depriving myself of the means to try to understand. Sending in a few bucks to relief efforts or the ACLU feels like doing something, but not really. It's like seeing that boulder from "Indiana Jones" rolling toward you, stepping in front of it, and holding out your hands.I'm a generally happy person with mostly sound mental and physical health, living in a beautiful and safe place that I love, and I enjoy lot of privilege. I understand this. But we all have our demons to battle. My most persistent is a nihilist who sits on my shoulder, shouting that nothing matters.My hormones feel out of whack again. So I fear another thyroid "flare." Feel inexplicably anxious. Stare at blank documents on the screen for far too long. California is burning. It's the disaster du jour, but the ones that hit close to our experiences, hit close to our hearts. Life is alarmingly delicate, and fleeting. Why risk ... anything? Why bother ... with anything? Shut up, little nihilist. Just shut up.Recently I read a blog post about mindful perception and downloaded the book it cited, "A Life of One's Own," published in 1926, about a seven-year period in which British psychoanalyst Marion Milner sought to discover a path to genuine happiness. Declaring that the things we pursue the most frantically are those least likely to bring lasting joy, Milner trained herself to focus on the quieter, more ethereal aspects of existence. I've only started to read her book, but the blog writer cited some compelling observations:"So I had finally come to the conclusion that my task was to become more and more aware, more and more understanding with an understanding that was not at all the same thing as intellectual comprehension…. Without understanding, I was at the mercy of blind habit; with understanding, I could develop my own rules for living and find out which of the conflicting exhortations of a changing civilization was appropriate to my needs."On Friday morning I set out on my bike, feeling hormonal and unmotivated and vaguely anguished about world affairs. But I was armed with a few of these observations from Marion Milner to eschew my comforting habits and likely futile efforts to feign productivity, and instead do one thing that never fails to bring joy ... moving through the world.Within my home range — meaning the places I can ride to in a few hours — there are still so many spots I haven't begun to explore. Before I headed into tranquil 60-degree weather — the early-week snow already a faint memory — I mapped out a route to trails surrounding Gold Lake. I chatted with my neighbor for a few minutes, then mashed pedals up the muddy road. With every hard crank, motivation surged and anxiety faded. It's just that easy. It was true when I was a nervous 23-year-old novice, and it's true now. We can yearn for many complicated things in life, with a sense of purpose or mea[...]



Nice summer-winter days

2017-10-09T23:13:44.578-06:00

It was the perfect Colorado weekend, which is to say it was 70 degrees and sunny over the Front Range on Sunday, then dropped to 30 and snowing by Monday morning. Beat is still trying to ease back into training after hip and shin issues pestered him for most of the summer, so he didn't want try anything too ambitious. It seemed like a good opportunity for the High Lonesome Loop, which is a 16-mile, relatively mellow climb over the Continental Divide. I hoped we'd have a chance to do some running, but packed gaiters and spikes. Although it had been warm for most of the week since last Monday's storm, I didn't hold out hope that all of the snow had melted.Beat at King Lake. Note the bare calves and rolled-up sleeves. We were both overheated. It felt downright summery in the forest below the lake, although I later learned the high in Nederland was 51 degrees. It was probably just 35 to 40 degrees at 12,000 feet.Post-holing our way to the Divide.Looking toward James Peak, feeling satisfied about deciding against this more ambitious mountain as the day's destination. It's a steep climb with the switchbacking trail, which was obviously buried.An icy wind swept down the Divide. I'm used to the prevailing west wind, but this gale came from the north — the direction of the approaching storm. Upon cresting the ridge, the ambience quite suddenly shifted from summer to winter. I put on a shell and pulled a buff over my face. It seemed Beat only had his two-ounce wind jacket and no gloves.Travel was slow and treacherous up here, with a breakable crust disguising sugary drifts of unknown depth (ranging from ankle- to knee-deep.) While slogging into the icy wind, my breathing became labored and I panicked a little about it. I really think I'm mostly healthy right now, but it's still difficult to gauge my breathing or trust a higher heart rate. I'm not sure how or if I'm going to rebuild that trust. Yes, when working hard, it's normal to feel winded. I know this. And yet even whispers of hard breathing or oxygen deficit set off internal alarms. I don't want to push too hard, yet winter conditions often leave no choice. It will be an ongoing battle, I think, this transition from "sucking wind and crawling" to "tranquil respiration while moving and happy about that" to "breathing fire and scorching ground." If I ever again reach the third step. I remain stoked about the second.The view near Devil's Thumb Lake. On the slope you can see my and Beat's tracks where we scorched a deep-snow descent. Beat didn't have pants and his poor shins where torn and bleeding from the icy crust. But that was really the worst of the experience. It was a beautiful outing, not easy by any means, and took exactly the six hours that I estimated even though there was a fair amount more snow than I even expected. This may be our last Divide trip for the season, although this would be a decent place to snowshoe when regional avalanche conditions are well in the green.On Monday morning, as forecast, we were hit with eight inches of heavy, wet snow. In the afternoon the temperature climbed a few degrees above freezing and there were blasts of sunlight through patchy breaks in the clouds. I headed out for a "run" that many times actually did involve a strained shuffling motion through slush. It still feels weird to call 20-minute-miles "running," although I tend to qualify most of my on-foot efforts as runs. Whether I'm pounding out the rare downhill 7-minute-mile or scrambling a rocky uphill 60-minute-mile, my effort level remains fairly consistent. It's the level where my breathing doesn't yet scare me.Heading into Walker Ranch. Sure, it was Monday afternoon, but I was still surprised no one had been out yet. The leaves only recently began to change in this area. I enjoyed catching brief glimpses of color.Snow makes [...]



Fog, leaves and thundersnow

2017-10-04T23:52:38.273-06:00

I was laboring up a knoll near 10,500 feet when I heard an all-too-familiar crack of thunder directly overhead. Familiar, and yet so out of context that I stopped pedaling and did a double take toward the dark clouds billowing over a nearby mountain ridge. The temperature was just a notch north of freezing, and the rocky road was coated in ice-tinged puddles and patches of snow. "Aren't thunderstorms a summer thing? Maybe it was a fighter jet." Then I heard another boom, unmistakable. A flash above the clouds that happened seconds earlier was probably lightning. Although still below treeline, the 4WD road traversed a bald ridge, so I was completely exposed. "Babyhead" rocks littered the surface, and my riding had been so pathetically slow that I instinctively stepped off the bike so I could run faster. Near the top of the knoll, the clouds unleashed a barrage of icy precipitation, first in sheets of sleet, then sharp flakes of snow. "Thundersnow!" I'd heard of such a thing. I'd never experienced it. Really, I never wanted to experience it. I hate thunder and lightning even when the ensuing precipitation doesn't sting my face and blind me in a whiteout. The road surface angled downhill so I jumped back on my bike. This movement was instantly followed by another deafening boom. My hands were too numb to finesse the brakes and I could barely squint into the blizzard, so I just let the bike go and hoped for the best. There had to be tree cover somewhere close by. The bike bucked and lurched over unseen rocks. I held on for life, all but certain I was going to crash, but I was too frightened to weigh the odds of cracking my skull on a babyhead versus actually being struck by lightning. The swirling snow put a nice touch on those few chaotic seconds. I rolled beneath a thick canopy of pine and opened my eyes. At some point I must have bounced through a big puddle, because my entire lower body was coated in mud. Globs of ice clung to my tights. The snowfall was losing intensity and rumbling thunder already sounded far away. It was short-lived excitement, but intense. I'd say my brush with thundersnow was cool, but no, it was just frightening. And I was already bonked from battling babyheads to the top of a mountain. And now I was soaked and freezing precipitation was still falling from the sky. And I had a 5,000-foot descent in front of me.  Before that thundery Sunday ride, I had a couple of days that were completely different. I'd planned to do my long ride on Friday, but the day's thick fog and rain were wholly uninspiring. That was, until I coaxed myself out for a tough run over the home mountains, where the deep canyons and burns were nicely accentuated by spooky haze. Even though biking is killing me and regular running still hurts, I'm in fantastic shape for steep climbing right now. I went ahead and had fun with this run by smashing my PR on two tough segments, even though I was in the midst of a four-hour effort. My parents were driving home from a vacation in the Black Hills, and dropped into Boulder for just over a day. We did the obligatory leaf-viewing tour on Saturday. The aspens were a bit past peak on the Peak to Peak Highway — although they probably never had much of a chance given how wet the latter half of September had been. This is the best I could get for my Colorado leaf views this year. Oh well. No one can say I didn't try. Dad and I were going to hike on Sunday, but they decided to leave early after hearing Monday's weather forecast — calling for up to 18 inches of snow in the mountains and guaranteed road closures and chaos on I-70 (all of which came to pass.) So I set out in the late morning for the long ride I'd been avoiding all week. The day started out beautiful — sunny, wa[...]



Launching into the season

2017-09-28T22:55:28.355-06:00

This has been a dreary week. Just a few days after we returned from Europe and I complained about 90-degree heat and red-flag fire conditions, a whole bunch of clouds moved in. It's been 40 degrees and drizzling/fog-raining/heavily raining ever since. I don't really mind. The clearer and cooler the air, the healthier and faster I become. Thanks to bone-chilling weather, my transition from living at 1,000-3,000 feet back to 7,200 feet happened almost flawlessly.My Achilles stopped hurting much faster than expected (not really tendonitis; I suppose I should be grateful.) As soon as the weather moved in, I was off my bike and back on foot. Although I've missed bikes, there's really nothing worse than cycling when it's 40 degrees and raining. I endured this almost continuously for five years in Juneau. Now I'm over it for life.Running has been going so well. A couple of tentative jogs helped loosen creaky over-hiked joints, and then I was loping along faster and more relaxed than the weeks before we left for Europe. After one or two hours I'd come home so drenched that I'd have to remove all of my clothing in the entryway to avoid dripping on the floor. This would come as a slight surprise; I hadn't even noticed the wet and cold because I felt so strong. It was liberating.By Wednesday, the fog had been hanging low for five days, and my motivation was beginning to wane. Staring into thick gray soup gets old. I bribed myself into running by downloading new mp3s, which always boosts my mood. (If I wasn't one of those runners loping through the woods with an iPod, I'd be one of those adults sprawled on a couch and listening to vinyl on a turntable. I enjoy music for its own sake, but the experience is enhanced by outdoor scenery and motion. I never feel unaware of my surroundings. I'm not surprised by others on the trail. It is possible to keep volume low enough to also hear what's going on around you.)Anyway, I was a half mile into this run when I realized I forgot trekking poles, which shook my confidence. I was heading into a favorite run-hike route, involving a rocky descent into Bear Canyon and a grunt up Fern Canyon, which gains 1,800 feet in 0.8 miles on a veritable staircase of rocks — steep enough that the women's course record (in Boulder, "the fittest city in the U.S.") amounts to a 29-minute-mile. So it's a tough route and I've become fiercely dependent on my crutches, which help improve balance and shift some of the workload off of my wobbly left leg. (Should I explain why I believe my left leg is wobbly? Well, when I was 19, I most likely broke my ankle after falling down a flight of concrete stairs and dropping a (rather large 1990s) television. I never had it checked, but it's more or less permanently swollen, unstable and susceptible to rolling. In 2014 I tore the lateral collateral ligament in my left knee, and the resulting scar tissue also affects stability. Okay, no more long asides.)Along the trail were hints of autumn color, dripping with a wintry gray. I was listening to Tori Amos's new album, which is beautifully ethereal, when I commenced crawling up Fern Canyon. The fog was so thick that even the nearest rocks and trees were a soft blur. Behind the quiet purr of music was an encompassing silence. Without my trusty crutches I felt like I was oozing up the canyon, cold fingers gripped on rocks and roots, whatever they could find for support. I was in a tranquil mood and my breathing reflected this, so everything about this effort felt slow. And yet I later learned I'd set on new PR, by two minutes, on a route where I've pushed the pace on at least two dozen times. The effortless PRs always signal bouts of renewed fitness. How long will it last? I don't know, but I can hold out hope for permanence.My next bi[...]



So long, Courmayeur

2017-09-23T08:35:40.165-06:00

I recently learned that the Indonesian man rescued from Col Chavannes last week has died. Given the severity of his condition, the news did not come as a surprise. Still, I searched the Web every day for updates, hoping for a better outcome. Through these searches, I learned a little about his life. He recently earned his master's degree in chemical research from the University of Leicester in the U.K. He had a daughter. At one time he kept a blog with the title "give up on shelter." He was a self-proclaimed "jobless traveler" who wrote research papers on thermal degradation. He was 25 years old. Just another tragedy. I'm still torn up about it, ruminating on the clues he left behind, reconstructing scenarios in my imagination, acknowledging that in a slightly different set of circumstances, the person falling down switchbacks and freezing to near-death could have easily been me. Just another tragedy. Like Puerto Rico and Mexico City, there are degrees of separation, large enough to look away. If we ruminated on all of the world's tragedies all of the time, we would be clinically insane. But we do what we can. I e-mailed the Islamic Society at his university to inquire about donating to his funeral fund. But I didn't want to end my Alps posts on such a downer. There were so many great moments, and some of the best came at the very end, hours before we had to rush back to Geneva and a 6 a.m. flight. Beat returned to Courmayeur for our final day in Europe. Despite his still-swollen and squeaky shin, he'd been talking all week about climbing Mont Chetif. In turn, I had been dreading the prospect all week. Mont Chetif is regarded an easy "ferrata" route, but it still features stunningly exposed sections that are protected with a few cables and bars (and some of the cables are broken!) Its difficulty rating is "EE," which is defined as "a marked path over treacherous ground ... with open stretches that call for sure footing and no dizziness." Sure footing and no dizziness. Two qualities I do not possess. But I've been up Mont Chetif before, in 2016, as part of an ongoing campaign to overcome my mountain fearfulness. Still, with each passing year I only gain more reasons to distrust myself, not fewer, and in many ways experience makes me more fearful, not less. After spending much of Friday steeped in uncertainty followed by the horror of Col Chavannes, I was in no mood for pushing my limits. And that was before I woke up on Saturday morning with a rigid Achilles tendon. Before Saturday, my Achilles gave no indication that it was about to blow up. Still, I suppose these things happen when you've got the thing stretched to maximum capacity for most of a week ... 45,000 feet of climbing and 123 miles in just seven days ... when you haven't really trained for 40 hours of straining on your toes (unless you count that equally big climbing week in Chamonix two weeks earlier, and then running up the Thousand Stägli (actually closer to 1,150 stairs) every chance you got in Switzerland, driving your PR from 12 minutes down to 11 minutes and being quite proud of that.)In a way I was sort of tickled at the prospect of a real overuse injury. Do you know how long it's been? For years now I've either been wracked with breathing problems that slowed me down enough to avoid straining anything ... or I've just hit the deck and torn something. Achilles tendonitis? That's something real athletes get! Then again, you do kind of need your Achilles for many activities. Climbing Mont Chetif is near the top of that list.In addition to being a route that requires sure footing and no dizziness, Mont Chetif gains 4,200 feet in 2.5 miles ... and not in a nice, even way, but in a sort of staircase comprised of flat tr[...]



Trying to find these perfect places

2017-09-21T14:05:08.479-06:00

Thursday's weather promised to be awful — steady rain progressing to heavy rain in the afternoon, temperatures in the 40s, and wind. I'd already racked up 26,000 feet of climbing in the four hikes since Sunday, plus 65 miles on my feet. It seemed prudent to take an easy day, but why would it matter? I only had a week in Italy, with no transportation to visit friends at TDG life bases, so covering as much ground as possible (and eating a pizza or two) were the only things I wanted to do. I consulted Wunderground, which is a Web-based weather service that my European friends told me not to trust over local sources. But Wunderground isn't afraid to be specific, and I like that. The hourly forecast showed light rain, heavy rain, and finally sleet every hour through 4 p.m. But after 4 p.m., sudden clearing. Full sunshine, as indicated by a bright yellow circle graphic. It seemed so unlikely, but maybe? If I slogged through rain for enough hours, I could be rewarded with sweeping views in a spectacular, far-away spot. I set out genuinely believing in the possibility. For my far-away spot I picked Grand Col Ferret, a 2,500-meter pass on the Swiss border. I'd hiked from Courmayuer to France on Monday, so rounding out the week with a trek to Switzerland seemed apt. I knew it would be at least 15 miles one way. Usually I average 30-minute miles on the steep and rocky routes of the Aosta Valley. But I planned to follow the Tour du Mont Blanc trail, the "easy" route, so I ambitiously guessed 20-minute miles, with some leeway for the occasional 1,800-foot rise in one mile. If I left at 11:30 a.m., I could be standing on the pass when the weather cleared! Cold rain pelted me in the face all the way up to Rifugio Bertone, where I stopped to cheer for a few Thursday Tor des Geants finishers who were making their way into Courmayeur. I took this one photo just before fog dropped into the valley. The rain picked up intensity. Having picked the TMB for its friendliness, I'd forgotten that this makes it the most trafficked route in the region, and there are a lot of cows as well. The mud was gruesome. Slimy, sticky, ankle-deep, and shoe-swallowing, the mud forced foot-skiing down the short descents (and some of the climbs, unintentionally.) To top it off, a herder was directing his cattle uphill, so there were cows and dung and puddles of piss everywhere. I passed a group of Japanese backpackers slipping down a hill where cows were climbing up. One backpacker fell on his butt, and this set off an impressive chorus of yelling and ranting from the whole group, possibly directed at the herder. I couldn't understand what they were saying, but you can bet I felt it.By the time I passed Rifugio Bonatti, I was coated in cow-piss mud and soaked to the skin in both my rain pants and shell, shivering as the rain turned to thick sheets of sleet. The descent into Arnuva is one I'd rather not recall. Since I was already soaked and covered in mud, I did some of it on my butt. I dipped wet mittens into a creek just to clean them off, then slipped the clammy things back over numb fingers. In my pack I still had one pair of dry mittens, a dry hat and a down coat, which I frequently thought about with fierce longing. But it seemed purposeless to put them on when precipitation was still coming down hard.I finally reached the tiny village of Arnuva, ready to head directly down the road through Val Ferret and forget any part of this hike ever occurred. And then the strangest, yet most expected thing happened. The sleet stopped. Seconds later, almost an instant, beams of sunlight cut through the fog. I looked at my watch. It was 4:30 p.m.It was late in the day. I'd definitely get back after dark i[...]



The final Tor?

2017-09-19T22:43:59.580-06:00

One day before the eighth edition of the Tor des Geants, it had become obvious that Beat wouldn't be able to run this year. While we visited his mom in Switzerland, Beat spent a week off his feet, and his shin was still swollen. A tendon squeaked when he flexed his foot; I held my fingers on his leg and could feel the crunching as it moved. Walking down a single flight of stairs caused him pain. It was the kind of tendonitis one might be able to grit through to finish out a day hike, but 200 miles in the Alps? It couldn't happen.Beat still decided to start the race, although we both knew it was mostly ceremonial at this point. This was Beat's eighth start under the pink banner in the center square of Courmayeur. Since the Tor des Geants began in 2010, Beat had finished all of them, earning an increasingly rare status as a "Senatore" of the Tor. I would joke that Beat valued his Senatore status more than he valued his PhD. It wasn't true, of course, but there's a chance I valued Beat's Senatore status more than he did. As he raced the first Tor in 2010, our relationship was just beginning. I was glued to the online updates although I could scarcely understand them. For our first date, he brought me a few uniquely colored pieces of shale that he collected on a high pass and packed for more than a hundred miles. I first joined him in Italy in 2011, and found a special affection for Courmayeur, the people, and the mountains of the Aosta Valley. I attempted TDG myself in 2014. In hindsight I was in the best shape I likely could possibly be for such an endeavor. It went wonderfully until it didn't. About 200 kilometers in, I fell down a wet boulder and wrenched my knee, resulting in a torn lateral collateral ligament, a painful crawl over 14 kilometers of rocks and mud that took me almost ten hours, and a DNF with months of recovery. Although my confidence in my mountain-running abilities and fitness have only continued to decline since then, I still dream of racing the Tor once more.But will I? I don't know. My fitness is still up and down and I now know without a doubt that I'll never be a graceful mountain runner. Even if stars aligned, my health normalized and training went well, there's still a lottery to contend with. As racers sprinted down the narrow street, I suspected that this may be our last Tor, at least for a while. Beat would know early whether his shin could support him for 200 difficult miles. Neither of us was optimistic.I figured it would take Beat about four hours to reach the first aid station in La Thuile, so I made a quick run up to a ridge 3,500 feet above town and sat on the grass in the cold wind, enjoying a lunch of crushed cheese crackers and chocolate chip cookies that both made the trip from Colorado and had been rejected as trail snacks thus far. An older Italian gentleman hiked by and spoke several sentences to me, after which I made my standard head-shaking gesture and said, "Mi dispiace. Parlo solo English." He stood there for another minute until a woman caught up. They spoke for a few seconds, and then she turned to me and said, "He wants to wish you a bon appétit." I laughed. "Grazie. Thank you," I replied, and waved. It seemed a lot of effort for niceties, but then again I don't make nearly enough effort to improve my communication skills in Europe. I wander the streets despising my illiteracy and avoid speaking to others because of self-consciousness about my limited language and tendency to mispronounce everything. And yet I haven't done anything about it.Beat did end up calling me from La Thuile, once as he wavered on leaving town with the amount of pain he was experiencing, and again after he had limped [...]



Winter is coming

2017-09-09T08:43:22.443-06:00

On Friday I woke up to steady rain and a cloud ceiling so low that it enveloped the ski lift chalet. "It's a good day to sleep another six hours," I thought. Although I hadn't planned on meeting Beat at the final PTL life base in Petit St. Bernard, I worried that he wouldn't have enough dry clothing for the weather, which was forecast to feature this and worse for three days. Also, they'd been so happy about the sandwiches I made yesterday that it seemed crucial to bring more. So I packed up every piece of warm clothing in the house and headed through the tunnel once more. Courmayeur markets itself as the "sunny side" of Mont Blanc. As someone who only visits in September, I've been a skeptic, but incredibly I emerged from the 11-kilometer tunnel to blazingly bright skies and temperatures that were 10 to 15 degrees warmer than Chamonix. In all of my visits to this region, I've never been to Petit St. Bernard, which sits on the French-Italian border. Driving up from Courmayeur brought back a little PTL PTSD, as I wound through all of the dark, narrow, and long tunnels that I sprinted through when I was lost and severely addled during 2013's PTL. It's a long story. I haven't been back up here since, but it continues to be an unsettling reminder of my capacity for bad decisions. Col du Petit St. Bernard is an incredible place, though, worth climbing through the bad memories. Topping out at 2,200 meters, the pass features a six-story stone hospice, or hostel, looming directly over the road. According to Internet sources, this hospice was founded in 1049 (!) and was built on top of ruins from Roman temple to Jupiter. The hospice became famous for its use of St. Bernard dogs in rescue operations. (And I always believed the caricature of a St. Bernard with a little barrel of brandy strapped to its neck was a Swiss thing.) The original building was destroyed during World War II, and rebuilt only recently.Beat and Pieter were fairly close according to the tracker, and based on a difficult-to-decipher map on my phone, I wandered up a route where I'd believed they'd come in. Of course I was completely wrong. But it was a happy mistake, taking me back over the border into sunny Italy, while thick clouds billowed along the ridge in France.I climbed to a point at 2,700 meters that was directly on the border. At first I wondered if I could loop back to the hostel, but the French side was a mean place of cliffs and talus and no direct line that I could discern. So I turned around.Ah well. Things are just better in Italy, you know?Although I was a bit late getting back, I did catch up with Beat and Pieter. I wanted to post this photo because its a typical scene in the race — fumbling with first aid supplies in the drop bag room. It smells terribly of wet shoes because it's right next to the room with the shoe dryer, and the contents of bags have been disgorged everywhere until it's almost certain you'll leave something important behind. Good fun, you know?The guys told me they wanted to sleep for three hours, which gave me exactly enough time to buy them sandwiches at the bar up the road and climb another mountain, if I hurried. Lancebranlette is just shy of 3,000 meters high, also standing right on the border. It's an intimidatingly sheer cliff when viewed from the Italian side, but the French side offers a friendly grassy slope that only demands you climb 2,500 feet in two miles. Easy peasy. I decided to hike before visiting the bar, which closed at 6 p.m., so I only had two hours to do it. Since descending is the slow part for me, I had to make it to the top in an hour or less. Could I do it? I could try!My main obstacle[...]



Getting my steps in

2017-09-07T03:16:22.085-06:00

On Tuesday morning I checked the race tracker and saw that Beat's team was just about to the top of a narrow pass called Fenêtre d'Arpette. After that, I remembered, was a long technical section requiring helmets and crampons — obviously featuring a whole lot of nope. But if you avoid the scary route and instead turn left toward the bucolic Swiss village of Champex Lac, you can make a nice loop following the super-easy UTMB course over a 2,500-foot bump called Bovine mountain. It was one of the few segments of UTMB I haven't seen, and Fenêtre d'Arpette looked spectacular. I thought the loop would take me eight hours, which is all I can afford on a Tuesday before 12 hours of working through the night on Alaska time.It was already becoming hot when I left Trient around 9 a.m. — 27C according to the car thermometer. I'd only packed two liters of water, and was feeling severe drag in my legs as I trudged up a lovely trail along a turquoise glacier stream. This would be day four of steep hiking, logging at least a vertical mile of climbing every day. "I should do this every day I'm in Chamonix," I thought. "Vertical mile." The 5,280 feet of a mile sounded hard, so I rounded the number down to 5,000 feet. Like people who get their 10,000 steps in every day, I would strive for 5,000 vertical feet, every day for nine days. The challenge was on. Trient Glacier and its impressive moraine. Sunlight was glaring in the late morning, and I had to squint through my sunglasses. Even with washed-out light, the scenery was spectacular. The final 2,000 feet to the pass jut upward on on a talus and boulder slope with a faint trail that sometimes approached 50-percent grades. My legs finally began to perk up and I relished the grind. This is exactly my kind of thing ... steep, only mildly technical, not dangerous. I passed a few PTL teams who appeared surprisingly cheerful given the circumstances — after all, they'd been working hard, really hard, for more than 24 hours. The most bubbly were three Japanese women who I was thrilled to see. Mixed teams are becoming more common in PTL, but all-women teams are still exceedingly rare.Looking down the other side of "the window of Arpette." It had taken me four hours to cover six miles, and I had to decide whether I could manage 12 more miles that included an equally difficult descent and another robust climb in the same amount of time. I decided to go for it.Unfortunately I lost the route and burned up many minutes crab-walking and crawling through a large boulder field. I've learned that I have poor ankle stability ... yes, I realize that I can work on strengthening my ankles. But even then, I'll never be a graceful gazelle dancing through the boulder fields. No, I imagine that my skewed proprioception will always require three- and four- and five-point contact until I resemble a slug oozing over the rocks.Looking toward Aiguille d'Arpette. This was the scary route PTL was supposed to take, somewhere up in those cliffs. I later learned that the whole field had been rerouted around the high glacier traverse, apparently because the PTL organization had a change of heart and decided it was genuinely too dangerous for 250-plus sleep-deprived participants with widely varying skill levels. I was shocked.Predictably, I ran out of water while making my way down the valley. There were cows everywhere, and I felt uneasy about collecting water from a stream and putting chlorine tablets in it. "I'll be able to get water in Champex," I thought. But then the route skirted through the forest above town, and I didn't come across any fountains or even streams until I[...]



PTL, again

2017-09-05T00:52:11.843-06:00

Well, I managed to distract myself sufficiently for a week-plus in Chamonix to avoid writing a blog post. I have so many photos I want to archive, so I suppose I'll start. We returned to the European Capital of Extreme Sports for Beat's sixth and what he promised would be his last Petite Trotte à Léon.The PTL is a lot of things, but I think it's best described as "290 kilometers of nonsense." It's a high-mountain loop around Mont Blanc on a route that changes every year, following paths that are always steep, routinely rough, and not infrequently nonexistent. The route includes a rather boggling 27 kilometers of vertical gain (so 87,000 feet in 180 miles), but I'm of the opinion the numbers don't mean much. Climbing can be relaxingly easy on a steep dirt path gaining 1,500 feet per mile (which I enjoyed many times during the week.) In PTL, technical features, exposure and route-finding dominate the challenge, and often necessitate a pace amounting to less than two kilometers an hour. So 152 hours to finish this race is actually not a lot of time (and the cutoff was 136 hours in 2013 when I attempted it and timed out, which I emphasize because damn it, those 16 extra hours really would have helped.)In short, PTL is treacherous and often dangerous terrain combined with sleep deprivation and relentless forward motion regardless of weather or conditions. It's utter nonsense, but some people thrive on nonsense. I can certainly relate.For years after 2013 I begged Beat not to return to PTL, but by 2016 my defenses had worn down, and by this year I felt the hint, just the tiniest little hint, of FOMO. It's misplaced. Beat's proven himself capable while I continue to fall on my face and roll my ankle on relatively buffed out Colorado trails (which of course are still rocky and steep.) It's difficult to discern why I prioritize my wanderings in places where I so frequently falter. I'm like that kid at the piano recital, the one who's been practicing for years and still stabs at the keys while out-of-sync staccato notes echo through the room. "Shame, she just doesn't have an ear for music," people say about that kid. I'm that kid, with mountain running. I think about this often and wish I'd stuck with piano.Anyway, Beat was preparing for another PTL and I was both jealous and relieved that it wasn't me. My plan as usual was to loosely follow the race, offer the minimal support where allowed, work occasionally, maybe see a friend or two during the always hugely well-attended UTMB week, and fill the rest of the time with overwhelmingly beautiful hiking. Eating and sleeping, bah ... there's always time for that later.For our first full day in Chamonix, Beat and one of his PTL partners, Pieter, insisted on joining me for a climb to the junction of two glaciers, Bossons and Taconnaz. We rented a small chalet that was literally underneath the top of a ski jump platform, and the trailhead began 0.10 miles from the front door. It shoots immediately upward and gains 6,000 feet in five miles, which is not a small feat less than two days before a race like PTL. Clearly I am not the only one suffering from ridiculous FOMO. But it is almost impossible to pass up these views:Looking toward Aiguille du Midi over Bossons glacier.The Taconnaz glacier. At the tip you can see the remnants of a massive calving event that we witnessed. It sounded like a loud thunder clap, and recently arriving from Colorado, I immediately looked up at the sky. Far below the fluffy clouds, a building-sized chunk of ice peeled off the tongue of the glacier and tumbled down the rocks like an avalanche."You're not[...]



38

2017-08-24T10:35:49.652-06:00

 Sunday was my birthday. Even though the number puts me unequivocally well into my late 30s, I looked forward to the turnover. 37 was not my best year. Autumn and winter brought a descent into increasingly poor health and fitness as I desperately tried to train for the most daunting adventure I had ever planned to attempt, the Iditarod Trial Southern Route to Nome. The harder I pushed, the worse I felt ... but the sensation was something more insidious than fatigue or burnout. It felt as though I was being smothered from the inside out. Desperation kept me (relatively) quiet about my deteriorating stoke, but I genuinely hated how I felt during some of these training efforts, and hated that I was starting to hate adventure.In February, I was diagnosed with an incurable autoimmune thyroid disease that forced me to withdraw from the race, which I considered walking away from a potentially once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. In March, while snowshoeing in Juneau, I was caught in an avalanche (which I gratefully walked away from.) Spring brought the physical rollercoaster and an understanding that, no matter what, things are never going to be quite the same. In June, feeling wildly optimistic, I DNF'd the only ultra I attempted this year, the Bryce 100. Such failures always hit the ego hard, and I spent most of July believing I'd always be (relatively) enfeebled.In August, my outlook noticeably improved — independent of anything happening in my life and despite the timing. August is usually my least favorite month. This one was cool and green and full of wildflowers. I felt jazzed about the tiniest moments, like viewing the soft morning light over Eldorado Mountain when I had to take out the trash on Thursday morning. As I told my sister, it feels as though this dreary fog had slowly enveloped me over the past two years, and now it's beginning to fade. The gray pall cast over my thoughts and emotions is brightening. If I could stay on this mental upswing, I'd embrace whatever physical limitations had to follow. Happily, my physical health is back on the right track as well. If I could choose anything in the world to do on my birthday, high on that list would be "climb Lone Peak with my dad." Lone Peak is a 11,253-foot summit in the Wasatch Mountains. I consider it my "home" mountain. I grew up in its morning shadow; the peak is less than five miles due east from my childhood home — and 7,000 feet higher. As a hike, it's considered by many to be the most difficult standard route to a summit in the Wasatch, rising 6,000 feet in six miles along a chunder-filled gully of a trail called Jacob's Ladder, followed by boulder-hopping in a granite cirque, and finally a class-3 to low-4 scramble up a narrow ridge of vertically-stacked monzonite slabs.I don't quite remember the first time my dad guided me to this peak. I believe it was the summer after I graduated from high school, 20 years ago. My early memories of Lone Peak's difficulty all surround the steep slog of Jacob's Ladder. There are fewer memories of the slabs that bother me today ... probably because I have 20 years of physical conditioning behind me now, and also two decades of risk and personal ability assessment, which have made me much more wary of exposed scrambling. Much sharper than memories of difficulty are memories of amazement and joy — the quiet Alpine forest mere miles from my crowded suburban neighborhood, the sheer granite walls above the cirque, and standing on top of a peak barely as wide as I am tall, overlooking the entire Salt Lake Valley.My unplanned trip to U[...]



Upward over the mountain

2017-08-19T22:53:37.849-06:00

Last week, my aunt Jill died at age 53. She had multiple myeloma, a blood cancer caused by malignant plasma cells. Her cancer was incurable and aggressive. She battled for three years, trying every treatment and several clinical trials. From afar, the treatments seemed painful and isolating. She must have felt hopeless at times, but she was brave. When faced with the prospect of a painful stem cell transplant that had only a small chance of success, she said, "this might not extend my life, but it will help doctors learn more about these treatments for the future." We shared the same name, Jill Homer. When I was a child, she impressed on me the value of finding joy in everything. My grandmother had given me some kind of chore after Thanksgiving dinner. I don't remember the chore, only that I was unhappy because I wanted to play with my cousins. My aunt said, "Don't look at it as punishment. It's just another type of adventure." I'm paraphrasing. The word adventure is probably something my memory inserted years later. But that was my aunt. Life is a great adventure, whether you're zip-lining down from dizzying heights (a thing she decided to do shortly after being diagnosed with cancer) or doing the dishes. I decided to drive out to Utah for the funeral this weekend. It was a beautiful service, attended by all of my aunts and uncles and a large number of my many cousins. As the years pass, I realize more how much I value my big Mormon family with our often messy and loud gatherings, the jello salads and funeral potatoes. It was nice to spend an afternoon with them and learn more about Jill's final weeks. Death inevitably leads to reflection about the fleeting nature of life, and its sources of joy. Jill never stopped embracing beauty, even when she was in pain.In her spirit — or really, in my spirit, but I think we shared a lot of the same values as well as a name — I took advantage of the road trip to squeeze in a little adventure on two 14ers near the Interstate, Torreys and Grays peaks. Looking at a map, it seemed there was a more interesting route than the standard trail, starting from Loveland Pass. This route included a lot of climbing and descending and two smaller (13er) peaks in the way, but bonus: You start above treeline, just below 12,000 feet. Views the whole way. And ridge walking! Right out of the car I felt a bit rough — nauseated, mostly. My breathing was actually fine, despite the altitude. I slogged along and tried to eat some fruit snacks, but despite the stomach grumblings I felt pretty good. Sunny day, perfect weather forecast, and a trail to two 14ers with nobody on it. What more could you ask for? Looking toward Torreys and Grays from Grizzly Peak. Right off this ridge was a steep descent on loose talus, and I took a fall. It wasn't that bad. I have what I consider a "bad ankle," my left ankle, which I broke when I was 19. It's been the weak one ever since. I've been rolling it a lot lately, and I rolled it on top of a loose boulder and crumpled onto a thankfully smaller pile of rocks with my head downhill. I rose with no injures (save the tailbone I bruised when I fell down the stairs last week, which still hurts.) But I was dizzy and disoriented and really, really spooked. Why was I so spooked? It's difficult to justify now. I wasn't hurt and this wasn't terribly difficult terrain. Despite this reality, I was remorseful. "Why do I always go to the mountains? I'm not good in the mountains at all, and they scare me. Why, oh why, oh why?"I inched my way down G[...]



Thundersummer

2017-08-14T11:45:12.592-06:00

Claps of thunder were closing in as I raced down chunky gravel on Rainbow Lakes Road, spun out in my highest gear. Lightning hadn't yet made an appearance, but the thunder sounded close, and I was hurrying to reach an outhouse at the Sourdough Trailhead, about a mile downhill. I rounded a corner at high speed and saw the cow moose and her calf almost too late, screeching the wet brakes to a stop about 100 feet away. The moose stood on the right side of the road facing me, looking unperturbed but also unwilling to move. There was nowhere to backtrack for miles. So it would be a standoff."Hey moose," I called out, as though she didn't already know she was dealing with an annoying human. Lightning sliced through the sky directly in front of us. A shattering thunder boom followed within one second. The moose didn't budge. Still straddling my bike, I backed up a few feet and glanced into the woods, scouting for the darkest spot to hide from lightning with the kind of tree I could possibly climb should the moose decide to charge. Within seconds the indigo sky unleashed a shower of hail. Finally the moose and her calf took off down the road. I waited some more, wincing at the sting of marble-sized ice balls on my shoulders and hands ... but it was better than being stomped by a moose. Finally it felt safe to continue coasting down the road. Moose tracks pressed into the wet gravel for a quarter mile before they veered into the forest.Hail was still pouring down when I reached the trailhead and ducked into outhouse, a relatively spacious and clean toilet that was as welcome as any shelter could be. I took the opportunity to pour a cascade of rocks and mud out of my shoes, and pulled on all of the same layers that I typically carry in my backpack in January — fleece pullover, waterproof shell, fleece hat, fleece mittens. As I waited out the storm for the next ten minutes, I continued to shiver. Every convulsion sent a shock of pain through my bruised back. Just three hours earlier, I'd also fallen down the stairs.At home we have just a single set of stairs, but they're steep, uncarpeted, and about 15 feet high. I've had a few near-misses before and know better to watch my footing and hold the railing, but I was descending in socks while holding sunglasses in one hand and a GPS device in the other. Halfway down, a sock-foot slipped and I went down hard on my butt and back, bouncing down eight or nine steps before crumpling in a heap at the bottom. My backpack full of water and winter gear had twisted around and the strap was tight against my neck, almost choking me, and I was nauseated and hyperventilating. I thought I might faint. I fought to hold onto consciousness, both because I didn't want the backpack strap to suffocate me after I passed out, and because fainting after falling down the stairs at home was embarrassing enough even if I wasn't found dead in this position.After several minutes of concentrating on breathing, I regained enough composure to stand. My butt was throbbing and my left calf had a strange knot that felt like a fist clenched against the muscle. My sunglasses and GPS had both exploded into pieces, but these luckily are "Jill-proof" items that I was able to put back together. I paced for several more minutes and concluded that I wasn't injured, just in pain. "It's not worse than crashing my bike. And I still ride after crashing my bike. So I guess I should ride."My plan for the day wasn't a small one — 50 miles, almost 6,000 feet of climbing, and exploration on what [...]



Mountain benders ... good for what ails you

2017-08-11T14:13:31.132-06:00

My alarm buzzed at 6 a.m. Saturday morning, but I languished in bed until 6:30. Finally slumped onto the floor, made instant coffee and oatmeal in the microwave, threw on a still-wet daypack with soggy bars in the side pocket, and walked out the door. Directly across the street was the Horsethief trailhead. I signed my name in the trail register, destination "Bridge of Heaven. Maybe Bear Creek, if weather okay." The trail shot skyward at sustained 18- to 25-percent grades. No room to even warm up the legs. The Bridge of Heaven was 5,000 feet overhead.A misty rain swirled through the forest. The narrow trail pushed through shoulder-high brush that was saturated in droplets, leaving me as wet as if I'd jumped in a lake. The air had warmth to it, though, even though my hands were still slightly numb from yesterday's hailstorm. Groggily I plodded skyward, holding my tingling fingers against my neck to gauge my heart rate. It seemed good — low 140s. I know fatigue lowers heart rate, but that's effectively my goal. I'm never in the mood for morning activity, but this morning definitely felt better than most. Anyway, I live for a good, old-fashioned sustained climb, where I can knock off a vertical mile right out of bed. This climb would be the last for runners in the Ouray 100 — miles 90 to 100. Brutal, to say the least. Twenty-four hours hadn't yet passed in the race, and I doubted a runner had been through here yet. "They should be glad I'm knocking all the water off the brush," I thought. The effects of trying to shoot a photo of wildflowers with a wet camera in the rain. As I crossed over the Bridge of Heaven, I was met with a brisk wind. Drizzling rain continued to slap my face as I pulled more layers over my saturated clothing: rain jacket — still a bit damp from yesterday — my last dry cap, mittens. "It's cold at 12,000 feet," I thought. The day promised to be gray, flatly lit, wet, and cool. "But morning rain probably means there won't be afternoon thunderstorms," I reasoned. Below the Bridge was a narrow cirque, carpeted with flowers and surrounded by a cathedral of jagged ridges. Where does it even go? I was going to find out.Scott had given be a GPS track of a route he completed the previous week. The route dropped into the cirque, climbed to another saddle, and skirted along a ridge before descending into a broad valley. Fog cover was thick and visibility was limited, and I lost sight of the trail. For a half mile I followed Scott's track along a creek, blind to anything else but that thin purple line, completely confused about why it was veering so far away from the ridge. Where am I?I found the trail again along the aptly-named Difficulty Creek, just as hints of sunlight were breaking up the fog. I climbed to another saddle at 12,600 feet and sat on the wet grass, eating a snack and scrolling through the map on my GPS. There was still little I could see through the clouds, but so many possibilities on the screen. The map showed the trail continuing east toward the other side of Engineer Pass, which was far away — like adding 10 or 15 miles to my day far away. Scott's track swung southwest over the tundra. Again I was blindly following the purple line, stumbling over rocks and tussocks, and marveling at the vibrantly green tundra across this misty mountainscape — so close to Ouray, and somehow rising to a different dimension. Having seen no one on the way to Bridge of Heaven, I could safely assume I was the only human wandering throug[...]



Mountain benders ... always the best plan

2017-08-09T16:09:59.285-06:00

Less than one week before the Ouray 100, Beat conceded that his hip pain wasn't improving, and he couldn't start this monstrous mountain race without jeopardizing his "A" races in Europe later this month. I sympathized with his decision but selfishly felt bummed for myself. Even though I'd already decided pacing wasn't in the cards (shallow breathing = no higher gears = too slow), I was looking forward to visiting Ouray, hanging out with punch-drunk hilarious runners and volunteers at aid stations, and hiking in the San Juans. Beat pointed out that the hotel room he'd already paid for was nonrefundable, and there was no reason I couldn't still do all of those things. I contacted the race director to volunteer for an aid station shift and made a plan — leave Boulder at 8 a.m. Thursday, return at 8 p.m. Sunday. That was 84 hours minus 16 hours of driving and 8 hours of volunteering, leaving 60 hours for hiking. Of course the dull necessities of sleeping and eating would have to cut into that limit.The route between my house and Ouray is a solid seven hours without stops or traffic. Between the two points are steep and winding highways that traverse a swath of big mountains. I thought I could carve enough time out of Thursday to climb one of them. A quick glance at a map told me the trailhead to Mount Shavano was one of the closest en route. I made the calculations that I call "failure math" (the numbers one uses to justify backing out of big adventures, i.e. when's the latest I can leave? What's the slowest possible speed? What's my absolute cutoff?) I needed to arrive in Ouray before 9 p.m., or the hotel's front desk would close and I'd be locked out for the night. Stupidly, I did not bring any camping gear as a contingency plan.Arriving at the trailhead around 12:15 p.m., failure math concluded that I had four hours to spare, with five hours as the absolute cutoff — but that would leave no leeway for traffic or slowdowns, no time to stop for dinner, and I'd still probably end up sleeping in the car. Dark clouds were already gathering over the valley. Could I tag Shavano in four hours? Nine miles round trip with 4,500 feet of climbing, at an altitude between 9,700 and 14,200 feet, weather iffy, trail technicality unknown? It seemed unlikely, and didn't really matter, but I hadn't yet visited a single fourteener since moving to Colorado. I was going to be at least a little disappointed if I didn't make it.From the start I pegged my current maximum ability — heart pounding and wooziness building despite my best efforts not to breathe like a panicked child. I was unwilling to ease the lung-searing pace, but did bank on those dark clouds chasing me off the mountain and relieving me of this misery.Although dark clouds continued to swirl in nearly every direction, the sky overhead was stunningly clear. My maximum pace is not impressive, but it is demanding. After two hours of marching into a narrowing tunnel, I arrived at a saddle. The summit was right there — although GPS informed me it was still a thousand feet over my head. "Well, I'll be faster on the descent," I reasoned (all of my history with steep mountains has revealed that this is almost never true.) "It's only about a half mile away" (and 1,000 feet of climbing.) "Ah, who cares if I have to sleep in the car." Summit fever had taken hold.Have you ever attempted to rush yourself at 14,000 feet, when your body already operates at oxygen debt in the best of situations?[...]



Going up, just 'cause

2017-08-02T14:21:22.100-06:00

I think the thing I would miss most about big scary goal races is the training, and by "training" I mean "long solo efforts in somewhat arduous to very arduous conditions." See, as a mostly rational adult person, it is not practical to seek out these situations — not quite enjoyable, not quite purposeful — "just 'cause." When I discovered endurance racing by accident, what I really discovered was justification — "You're going to head outside after sunset to push a bike through deep snow during a December storm in Alaska? What's wrong with you? Do we need to stage an intervention? Oh, I see, you're training for the Susitna 100. This makes so much sense! Carry on!" Oh sure, I wanted to finish a difficult race ... it seemed like a good accomplishment to add to the life story. But what I really wanted to do was go out after work and wrestle with my bike in a snowstorm for a few hours. Why did it need to have a purpose? I still don't know — I suppose our search for meaning is the base of most human behavior. Right now, when I'm not physically fit enough for training or healthy enough to plan for big race goals, can I still justify spending a whole day alone, moving aimlessly through the world? I dragged my feet all weekend, doing little chores and working on writing projects. My health has actually been on an upswing for the past two weeks, which has improved both my creative efforts and outlook. Still, without justification I do lose motivation, and I've been beleaguered by inertia. Finally on Sunday night, I told Beat I wanted to go hiking on Monday. Originally I wanted to head out for a long hike to see if I could muster the capabilities to potentially pace Beat at the Ouray 100. When he decided he wouldn't start that race due to a minor hip injury and prioritization of his European races at the end of the month, even my pacing dreams no longer had purpose. However, I'd already figured that even a short section of the Ouray 100 at Beat's pace wouldn't be realistic. My problem is that I am laboriously slow right now. I genuinely can't change this. When I'm walking my 20- and 25-minute miles in the mountains, my heart is pounding and my breathing is taxed as though I'm running a brisk tempo pace. It seems most of my body believes I'm running. But my legs know better. They're convinced they are the most bored legs in the wide world of legs. The legs — along with my brain and the emotional personification of my heart — yearn for hard efforts despite the cardiovascular limitations. "What do you think about a 26-mile walk over a couple of mountains?" I asked my legs. "Would that make you feel better?"I set out not-so-early on Monday morning. Despite the reasonable hour, my car was the only vehicle in an expansive Sourdough Trailhead parking lot. I actually chose this trailhead to avoid crowds — it generally sees fewer people because the region is filled with prettier options that don't begin on loose, rocky jeep roads that steeply climb to a fence-lined research area. But Niwot Ridge has become a winter favorite of ours, and I looked forward to heading up there when 60-mph winds and ground blizzards weren't ripping down the Continental Divide. The day's forecast did call for a high chance of afternoon rain, which is something we saw at home every day this week. So I figured rain was inevitable, and packed nearly enough clothing and safety gear for a winter trip, in case I needed to h[...]



Taking my medicine

2017-07-24T13:42:08.892-06:00

Last week I dove far too deep down the rabbit hole of Internet health content — synopses of scientific studies, anecdotal evidence, dubious recommendations and subsequent debunking. Combine all of this with a hearty dose of world news, and I emerged feeling hopeless — which is nearly always my reaction to the (non-adventure-focused) Internet. I don't even know why I spend any time in that place. Despite this disheartening spiral that ultimately re-enforced skepticism, and despite Beat's well-reasoned argument that trying too many things at once will only yield inconclusive results, I still ended up at Rite Aid with $100 of the most anecdotally recommended nutritional supplements. I contemplated the tedious realities of adopting a restrictive diet (I dislike food prep so much. If they made a Soylent-type product for the autoimmune protocol, I would be all over it.) Finally, my endocrinologist sent the okay to up my medication dose in a way that requires cutting pills in half. Do you know how much I hate that I've become a 37-year-old who contemplates special diets, needs a pill cutter, uses multiple daily prescriptions, and has a cabinet full of dubious supplements? I'm turning into Collette Reardon from the classic Saturday Night Live skits. That part of me thinks I should just chuck it all and feel the way I feel. But in this physical state, life loses some of its shine. My mind becomes a dull, unfocused place, overrun with unjustified anxiety. My body becomes strangely detached — both over-tired and over-stimulated, in a way that I believe I've previously compared to an underpowered car, my old 1996 Geo Prism. I imagine that car when I am sputtering up a hill, gas pedal pressed all the way to the floor. That thing would groan and rumble, but it did make it all the way to Alaska and back. And despite hard use, the motor was still running well when I finally let it go with 200,000 miles, expecting it to be sold for parts, and then catching a glimpse of it on the Interstate over a year later. Can I really glean hope from the performance of an old car? No, probably not. But performance is secondary. Right now, I'd rather rebalance my mind. If I thought I could do that by laying in bed all day, I probably would. But after a two-hour nap on Saturday, I felt more detached than ever. Beat is wrapping up his training for the Ouray 100, and wanted one more long day in the mountains. I was admittedly dreading this outing, because I don't feel so great in the high country. I feel underpowered, dizzy, and a little bit desperate, in a way I've described as oxygen-deprivation, although chemically it's probably more complicated than that. It's sad to spend a Colorado summer fearful of mountains, so I'm trying to overcome the aversion.Beat planned to push hard to the top of James Peak while I meandered part-way up the mountain. He completed the seven miles with 4,000 feet of climbing in just over two hours, which is impressive. I was surprised to see him at the saddle — even moving as slowly as I had been, I expected to make it a little farther up the mountain before we met. But it all worked out well; I didn't exhaust my circulatory system trying to keep up, and thus felt a lot better than I would have expected to feel at 12,000 feet.A nasty-looking storm followed Beat off James Peak. We both made efforts to pick up speed as we climbed onto an off-trail segment al[...]