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Preview: Up in Alaska

Jill Outside





Updated: 2017-08-18T10:42:36.592-06:00

 



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 turned out to be a swampy mess of rocky doubletrack, Forest Service Road 505. I didn't regret my decision to ride until 505, when stepping off the bike to push it around knee-deep mud puddles clenched the invisible fist around my calf muscle, and bouncing on rocks aggravated pain underneath my ribs on the left side of my back. Then the hailstorm moved in, not unexpected but still stunningly swift in its consumption of the warm, sunny afternoon. Every bruised part of my body stiffened as I shivered in an outhouse, and I still had to propel my[...]



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 through the mist for many miles.Ouray carries the tagline "The Switzerland of America," a slogan that Beat vehemently disagrees with. However, there are definitely hints of the European Alps in these mountains, with limestone cliffs and rolling Alpine meadows. Even on this gray day with poor lighting and no chance of a good photo, the landscape was stunning. This hillside evoked fond images of a candy from my childhood, Fruit Stripe Gum. So random, the memories that stay close to your heart.Just as I started into a steep off-trail descent, an env[...]



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? I was borderline euphoric, head spiraling into the clouds as an invisible weight pressed into my chest and legs. The rapture of the deep ... or high. Delirium set in. I slumped down to use my knuckles for balance. I do remember leaving the boulder stair-step trail and crawling directly up larger rocks because that seemed easier. Somehow I managed to stagger to the summit register box without incurring a head injury. I acknowledged the official top with 2:40 on my watch. I took five seconds to look north toward the ripple of Sawatch fourtee[...]



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 hunker down beside a boulder. I've been on the Divide in a storm; it becomes amazingly cold, even at the end of July.From Niwot, I stumbled along overland for a while and found a trail that dropped down to the Brainard Lakes area, where I began to encounter crowds. Really it was just a dozen or so people, mostly older folks in canvas pants and leather boots, ambling around Long Lake on a Monday morning. One guy with tiny terrier on a leash pointed out a bull moose in the brush. We stood and watched for a few minutes as his dog nibbled lightly[...]



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 along the Continental Divide. I expected the storm to catch up to us, but it never did.Moving toward sunny skies. The wooden posts signify the Continental Divide Trail.This is a wonderful ridge walk, skimming the lip of dramatic cliffs above turquoise lakes.I just can't feel bad in this place. When I'm back at my computer, like right now, I remember the sputtering and desperation. Yet all of that can so effortlessly fade in the moment. Maybe the excess hormones finally burn off, and I'm freed of my weird anxieties even as thunderstorms bear d[...]



Thyroid update 3

2017-07-19T12:35:31.514-06:00

Note: I write these update posts for my own records. I don't expect anyone else to find them interesting. So here's the TL;DR: I'm back to feeling not super great, and I want to spend a few paragraphs venting about it. The past five months of Graves Disease treatment have felt like a rollercoaster of good weeks and bad, but there's been an overall arc that seems to be heading in the wrong direction again. My lab numbers would bear this out — the emoticons on these graphs illustrate my general state at the time:T3 is the metabolically active thyroid hormone, and thus the one with the most influence on body functions. Symptoms of high T3 ("thyrotoxicosis") that I seem to experience are heat intolerance (always fun in the summertime), tremors, irritability, brain fog, elevated heart rate, muscle weakness, shortness of breath, and exercise intolerance. Currently my treatment includes a drug that blocks thyroid hormone production, along with some admittedly half-hearted efforts to avoid stressors and foods that are high in iodine or possibly inflammatory.T4 is produced in the thyroid gland in much larger amounts than T3, then converted to T3 in the body. T4 tests are generally used to determine whether a patient has hyperthyoridism, and T3 tests determine the severity. My Free T4 has been been in normal range since April, but my general sense of well-being correlates better with the T3 chart. Still, these numbers would convince a doctor that I'm doing well. And I am ... only I've definitely been feeling that upswing. What felt pretty good in April doesn't feel as good in July — my perspective has shifted to yearn for those "good weeks," back when I could run the 25-mile Quadrock with ease and feel like I was breathing fire, not fumes.My doctor reduced my anti-thyroid medication dose from 30mg to 20mg after May 12. I've requested re-upping that dose twice, and my doctor doesn't agree. Personally I would like to go back to where I was on May 12, and fear I will continue to head in the wrong direction.Thyroid Stimulating Hormone is the test most often used to measure thyroid function, because it's easy to obtain. However, TSH doesn't affect any other organ besides the thyroid. This pituitary hormone has been likened to a thermostat — if your thyroid hormones are low, TSH tells your thyroid to turn up the heat. It will continue cranking up if your thyroid doesn't respond, which is why hypothyroid patients have high TSH. If the thyroid is already overproducing, TSH shuts off. In Grave's Disease, autoimmune disease antibodies inhibit TSH response, so unless I go into remission (this is the goal), my TSH will remain low. The fact that my body produced any TSH at all was a great sign — it meant I was responding well to treatment and my antibodies were diminishing. I'm also frustrated that this already tiny number is on its way back down.Yes, it's possible that the physical and emotional stress of participating in the Bryce 100 on June 16 contributed to this downswing in health. However, my numbers were already changing before then. Summer contains other stressors — my allergy season, although thanks to ongoing allergy shots, I believe I'm feeling less impact from pollen this year. Sunshine, to which I'm also mildly allergic, and even ample amounts of SPF 50 or covering most of my skin doesn't always prevent breakouts of small blisters on my arms and legs. Heat, to which I'm particularly sensitive these days. Undue malaise, which has dogged me for mostly inexplicable reasons during summer since I was a small child, with the exception of the years I was in Alaska.My experiences of "brain fog" also cause stress. This is usually noticed when I try to read something on a screen and continually lose my place, or attempt to write something and zone out, then catch myself staring blankly and feeling confused after unknown seconds or minutes. Once I dip into this foggy-headed zone-out pattern,[...]



And I don't care if I sing off key

2017-07-14T21:24:31.067-06:00

 On Monday I freaked myself out when I went to the gym and failed to lift the weights I'd managed the week prior. It wasn't a small slip. Last week I was doing three sets of 12 reps each, and this week I strained to eke out a single rep. A person secure in their health would probably just think, "Oh, I'm probably just tired from the backpacking trip." But my brain sent out all the alarm signals. "You finally ruined yourself with that backpacking trip! Your muscles are atrophied! You are dying, for real this time!"I know I'm not dying. I mean, on the grand scale, yes I am dying. Even on the daily scale, there is a small chance I will die. But it's likely quite small. It's just that I haven't been feeling all that great since early June, and the insecurities build. My hair is falling out again. It probably won't all fall out, but it might. What will life be like as a bald woman? Do I care about my hair more than I care about breathing well, having a sharp mind and decent physical fitness? Well, no. But I do care. But it probably won't happen. But what if?I try to keep this jittery negative feedback loop to myself, because if I complain, I will probably be laughed at. It's fair. I am blowing all of this out of proportion. There's a process and it takes time. Even my endocrinologist balked when I requested a blood test this month — she thinks I'm well enough to start having them every two months, and soon four. But I managed to schedule one on Wednesday. I find out the results next week. They're probably benign ... but what if?So I avoided the urge toward gloom by recommitting to the gym — three times a week! Maybe four! — and not feeling bad about not going outside when it's hot and thunderstormy and polleny and buggy and grumble grumble summer. My winter. The "off season." Still, an opportunity presented itself to go for a longer ride on Thursday. I looked at a map, which always sparks curiosity — "oh, I haven't explored that road. Or that one. Or that one." A newfound excitement took over and soon I'd drawn a route topping 100 miles. Scratched a few things off. Brought it down to 70. "Seems doable." Early in the ride my front tire sprung a leak and spewed out most of the sealant and air. It eventually sealed, but I only bothered to pump a little bit of air back in, and spent miles feeling anxious about springing another leak (and having to put in a tube! The horror!) I traced a largely abandoned forest road around Gross Reservoir and pondered how much of the forest would be leveled by a proposed expansion project. This led to unnecessary anger about the expansion project. From there I plodded west toward billowing cumulonimbus clouds that darkened and started dumping rain before noon. I was sheltered by forest and most of the electricity sounded far away, so I was grateful for the cooling deluge. My silly anxieties began to wash away. The roads grew more rutted, steeper, and rockier. I began to struggle. And when I say struggle, I really mean struggle. I do not mean that my quads started to burn as I powered up the climbs. I mean that I pushed my bike for a dozen or so steps before stopping to catch a quick breath. Then I took a few more steps. My lungs felt ragged and I was dizzy. It took me nearly two hours to travel five miles. It was all quite silly. Why was I doing this? I plodded to a clearing at 11,000 feet and looked east. The storms had started to clear and the foothills were shrouded in haze — likely smoke from all the fires burning to the west. A grin spread across my face. I didn't even know why I was so giddy. It wasn't the most beautiful view, or the most unique. It was trees and hills and the world doesn't change all that much in the span of what, 25 miles? Is that all I'd ridden so far? Twenty-five miles? It felt as though I'd bashed my way through great hardship and emerged victorious at the top of a mountain. I think t[...]



My weekend on the CDT

2017-07-11T09:10:43.121-06:00

My friend Leslie is spending the summer hiking the Continental Divide Trail — 3,100 miles of rugged and remote high country from Mexico to Canada. She started May 22 at the Mexican border and hiked across New Mexico to Chama, where she encountered a wall of snowy peaks in Colorado's San Juan Mountains. Her husband, Keith, is loosely following her in his camper-truck while road-tripping around the West, so he drove her up to the base of the Wind Rivers in Wyoming so she could start hiking south across the Great Divide Basin and Colorado. When she reaches Chama, she'll flip north again in hopes of completing the thru-hike in one summer. Keith dropped by to visit Beat and me in Boulder last week, and offered to provide a shuttle so I could join Leslie on my "local" segment of the CDT — 60 miles between Grand Lake and Berthoud Pass. Leslie generally walks between 25 and 35 miles a day, although her average had dropped a bit since she started into Colorado. I understood that she'd budgeted two and a half days for this segment, and I also understood how difficult it could be from the pieces I'd walked. After all, it took me seven hours to day-hike 14 miles to James Peak just two weeks ago. Would I be able to manage my exertion and breathing enough to keep up with Leslie's demanding thru-hiker pace? I was genuinely more nervous about the prospect of this weekend backpacking trip than I was about starting the Bryce 100 last month. On Thursday afternoon I met Keith at Berthoud Pass and we drove to Grand Lake, where Keith had booked three beds at the hostel. After scouring my memories, I believe this was my first hostel dorm room stay, ever. I've always been a bit averse to communal sleeping, and I'd generally rather curl up in a bivy sack in the woods than share a bunk bed in a hot room full of strangers. But it was a welcome respite for Leslie after days in the dusty mountains. And the Grand Lake hostel is quite nice — stunning location on cliffs above a rushing creek, and rather upscale amenities for $25 a night. Keith and I were even treated to a ranger chat about Rocky Mountain National Park while we waited for Leslie to arrive.Leslie slept in until the "hiker noon" hour of 7 a.m., and then cooked breakfast for Keith and me. She forgot to charge her phone, which was our main navigation device with the official route, water locations, and notes. (She also had maps, and I had a GPS, but we still managed to get lost several times.) While we waited for it to charge, Leslie packed and repacked her backpack while I paced and nervously pretended to read the history lessons that had been framed and hung on the walls. Finally we set out after 10 a.m., strolling along the shoreline of Shadow Mountain Lake and waving at weekend boaters.This trip was also my first real exposure to thru-hiking, which isn't unlike multi-day endurance racing. 3,100 miles is a lot of distance to cover in the short weather window between snowmelt and snowfall, and time pressure is always there. Thru-hiking is either mostly or entirely self-supported, so self-care, navigating, and resupplying can demand as much energy as walking. Leslie typically hikes from sunrise to sunset, only stopping briefly to take in a view or filter water from a stream. She eats on the go. She doesn't cook — stale bagels and tortillas with sweaty cheese slices are her "real" food. She drinks cold instant coffee from an empty peanut butter jar, also as she's walking. Since she started six weeks ago, she's only taken two "zero days," or days off. My longest endurance racing effort was 24 days; Leslie is aiming for four months of this lifestyle. I tried to wrap my head around this as we crawled over endless deadfall tangles, muddy bogs, and sagebrush-covered hills along Lake Granby.Storms moved in during the afternoon, and wind and rain pummeled us on the sagebrush slopes. Leslie t[...]



Parents in Colorado

2017-07-03T14:28:21.825-06:00

This weekend, my parents came to Boulder for a quick visit. Between babysitting their grandkids, a steady stream of summer travel, and a part-time job shuttling visitors in Salt Lake City, three days was all they could manage. I wanted the trip to be worth their while, so I made plans to drag them all over a wide swath of semi-local mountains. They didn't seem to mind; I pretty much inherited my manic FOMO personality trait from them. On Friday we drove a couple of hours through thick fog on the "scenic" route to Rocky Mountain National Park. I worried that the whole day would be shrouded in gray, but luckily our late start allowed time for the clouds to clear while we toured around the park in the afternoon.  Alberta Falls. Mom was willing to get closer to the edge than I was. Dad enjoys the view at Emerald Lake. Family portrait at Dream Lake. Views from Trail Ridge Road. Despite the approaching sunset and fact that we had brought neither lunch or dinner on this excursion, we spent a couple more hours dawdling around at 12,000 feet. An elk herd lounging near the ridge. So this is where they go in the summer, after visiting our neck of the woods in April and May.On Saturday, Mom drove into town to explore Boulder, and Dad, Beat and I headed up to Eldora to hike. It's difficult to find anywhere to go on a holiday weekend that isn't overrun by crowds, and the Fourth of July trailhead was not an exception. I know, visiting Fourth of July canyon during the Fourth of July weekend — what did I expect? Still, I held out hope that this trailhead would be less crowded, as it sits at the end of a rough road. But this just meant that we had to sit behind Honda Civics crawling along at 5mph. Our late arrival — 12:45 p.m. — just barely afforded us parking spot. The weather forecast looked good so I planned an afternoon start, reasoning that there would be more space once the morning people left. This was partly true, but we did spend the first half mile practically running away from hoards of people before finding relative solitude. Alas, it's summer in Colorado. Not my favorite season, but I can sort of see the appeal. The plan was to climb to South Arapahoe Peak, and traverse the class-three ridge to the north peak if we were feeling saucy. Ultimately we didn't try the scramble. Actually, I was the one not feeling it. I was experiencing particularly poor fitness on this day, with my heart beating in the 180s while I crawled up the summit ridge. I've been told the elevated exercise heart rate isn't necessarily dangerous for me as long as I back off, but as it was I was maxed out and barely moving. I nearly asked Beat and Dad continue to the south peak without me, but it's difficult to reconcile my FOMO with physical inadequacy.Despite the struggle I was stoked to reach the summit at 13,400 feet. Dad gave the hike "five stars."  Looking east toward home — the skyline in the distance is Green, Bear, South Boulder and Eldorado mountains. The water bodies are Gross Dam and Barker reservoirs. Beyond all that, of course, is the urban Front Range corridor. It's always fun to view many of the pieces of my world from 13,000 feet.Arapahoe "Glacier." Apparently this is the largest glacier in Colorado. Looking back at South Arapahoe Peak from the meadow. We drifted off the peak too early and had to scramble our way through an interesting and somewhat sketchy traverse over those sheer gullies. From the top it almost looks like there's a way to drop directly down. But looking up from 2,000 feet below — definitely not. One nice aspect of starting a five-hour hike in the afternoon — nice light toward the end. Almost finished and still enjoying the five-star views.On Sunday, I felt much better. Closer to my "normal," whatever that is anymore. I suppose I can [...]



Adjusting to the rollercoaster

2017-06-29T14:52:12.576-06:00

 I'm back to feeling pessimistic about my health and the prospect of ever regaining my former level of fitness. Perhaps I've been spending too much time on thyroid forums. I found one devoted to Graves Disease and the community has been helpful — I post my labs and others legitimize my complaints. "Your T3 is too high; that often causes shortness of breath." I read through their experiences, identify with their symptoms and take heart in their successes. I feel gratified, like I've found my people. And then I realize this is a forum for sick people. I miss the days of spending my time on the MTBR forums, asking questions about wheel size.One woman has pushed the idea of looking for "environmental triggers" that increase autoimmune response — allergens, smoke, chemicals, certain foods. It haven't found studies on this, and it's difficult to convince myself this is a real problem. She's adverse to cleaning products and can only use the most gentle natural substances without triggering thyroid symptoms. I definitely thought "that can't be a thing" ... until yesterday, when I was using a bleach-based spray to scrub the pinkish mineral deposits from shower tiles. I made the mistake of spraying down a large area, then kneeling right down into it. After a minute my eyes began to burn and I erupted into a violent coughing fit. By the time I rushed into the next room for fresh air, my airways were tightening. I pounded up the stairs, wracked with painfully suppressed coughs, eyes clamped shut, snot streaming from my nose, gasping for air. I came close to calling 911 — the phone was in my hand — but gradually the coughs subsided and I could breathe again. It was awful. I've never had a reaction like that to anything.After everything calmed down, I figured I was overreacting. Still, my eyes and throat burned, and I felt somewhat sick to my stomach for the rest of the day. Interestingly, I also seemed to experience a spike in "hyper" symptoms. My heart rate shot up to 105 and stayed there. I had hand tremors and jitteriness hours later. It seemed likely this was just leftover stress from my morning scare, so I still opted to head out on my bike to meet Beat as planned. That was a mistake. I felt short of breath during the long descent, and somewhat dizzy by the time I arrived in town. By then I was committed and had no choice but to ride the long climb home. Beat offered to ride ahead, get the car, and pick me up at a trailhead halfway up the hill. It took me nearly that long to muddle through half of the miles that Beat covered. As I sat on a rock waiting for him, I ruminated about what a feeble person I'm becoming. A few whiffs of bleach and my day is ruined.Ugh. I've actually felt hyperthyroid for most of the month, and my June 12 labs confirmed that my T3 was (is?) too high. Starting the Bryce 100 was probably a mistake, but I can't take it back. The main reason I've been haunting online forums for tips and reassurance is because my endocrinologist wants me to stick with the status quo for now. The forum people tell me the rollercoaster is common. Treatment is specific to the individual, and it takes time to find the right balance. But after four months of treatment, my optimism is beginning to wear off. I know four months isn't a long period of time. It's still long enough to imagine what life will be like if things are always this way. It's going to have to be different. I won't be able to run an ultramarathon on a whim anymore. Possibly I won't be able to run an ultramarathon at all. So the reluctant struggle toward acceptance begins anew.As long as I can keep hiking, I'll be okay. Beat and I went to James Peak on Sunday. My breathing was bad, and worsened as we climbed to 13,000 feet. Because of that, I felt rundown and frustrated. Mostly I felt frustrated. Frustration i[...]



Love these adventures in roadtripping

2017-06-22T23:24:40.319-06:00

Our trip to Utah was a brief one. I drove from Colorado on Wednesday and returned on Monday. Beat flew in and out of St. George — both to save vacation hours, and because I suspect he finds road trips as tedious as I find them exhilarating. I love long drives. Every time I'm out on the road, pausing in front of an immense soda fountain or flipping through garbled variations of NPR, I imagine my life in another universe as a trucker. There's not quite enough stimulation in driving (in my ideal alternate universe, I'm somehow a professional bike tourist.) But road-tripping is moving through the world, rather effortlessly, and thus is one of my favorite activities. We spent Saturday night in a hotel near the entrance to Bryce Canyon, but were too tired to venture into the national park. By evening I was quite grumpy, having spent most of the day marinating in my DNF misery. Okay, it wasn't that bad. After spending four hours under harsh sun at the Blubber Creek aid station, I crowded into a pickup truck with four other runners who dropped out of the 50-miler, and three volunteers (two sat in the bed on a mound of stuff as the truck rumbled down the bumpy dirt road.) It was a good 45-minute drive to the finish, where more than 50 people were lined up — under direct sunlight — to board the shuttle van to the hotel, seven miles down the road. No shuttle showed up the entire time I was there.I stood in line for about ten minutes until I felt woozy — I had yet to acquire any food or water since I dropped out of the race five hours earlier — and walked away to a thin sliver of shade to text Beat, who had finished the race a couple hours before. I wanted him to pick me up in our car, but a misunderstanding led me to believe that he wasn't coming, he just wanted me to collect all of our drop bags and bring them back to the hotel. This led to several seconds of stomping around in a silent rage before texting him that I couldn't take it any longer, I was going to buy a pita bread pizza and eat it as I walked the seven miles back to some form of indoor sanctuary. I'd had it with the sun and the desert and I never wanted to do this to myself again.Luckily, in my sleep-deprived haze it took me a while to garner one of the personal pizzas being sold by a youth group at the finish line, and a can of generic ginger ale, which was lukewarm and somehow still tasted like the elixir of life. I felt markedly better after eating, and then Beat showed up in the air-conditioned car with a icy fountain soda. I thought I might cry for happiness. All was right in the world.The sunset that night was beautiful, in part because of a wildfire burning near Brian Head. (The fire was started by an idiot using a torch to kill weeds. As of this post it had grown to 11,000 acres, and the town of Brian Head remains evacuated.)On Sunday morning, we made the two-hour trip to St. George to drop Beat off at the airport. We had about an hour to kill, so we stopped at a park on the outskirts of town to scramble on rocks. The temperature was 98 degrees. It felt downright cool compared to my experience in the canyons at the Bryce 100, but I know it's all a matter of circumstance.On our way to St. George, we stopped for coffee in Cedar City. Next to Starbucks was a place called "Sushi Burrito." It was closed until noon. But I knew I'd have to make my way back through Cedar after dropping Beat at the airport, and I was so excited about the prospect of a sushi burrito that I held off snacking until I returned. Sushi Burrito was open, not crowded (yes it was Sunday in Utah), and I was stunned that my purchase only cost $8.99, including a free fountain soda. The "burrito" was really just a giant maki roll, but it was amazing, so amazing. Words don't describe it, I mean, for $8.99 — the seafood[...]



Keep the earth below my feet, still

2017-06-21T23:27:48.098-06:00

These were the care-free days of last autumn, back when — although it was grasping at straws — I could still let myself believe anything was possible. Beat said, "Hey, do you want to sign up for the Bryce 100?" I still had the 1,000-mile Iditarod on my schedule — anything else seemed like a brisk jaunt in comparison. "Sure. Why not?" It's melodramatic to say that everything changed when I was diagnosed with Graves Disease in February, but it was the smack of reality that toppled the last bricks on my wall of fortitude. Suddenly my body was a stranger to me. It wasn't something I controlled. It controlled me. All of the gasping and straining wasn't just debilitating; it was dangerous. Those handful of times that I was sitting at home or in my car and my heart rate spiked and I thought I might be having a heart attack — those were actually happening. Connecting my lived experiences with a generic list of symptoms made it easy to concede. I was sick. Unwell. No longer capable of the things I used to do, possibly from now on. Was this the end of the world? No, of course not. I just needed to adjust my attitude. Shift my expectations. The key to getting through any change in life.  In truth I hadn't thought about the Bryce 100 in those ensuing months, until Beat brought it up again in April. By then I had sorted through mountains of materials and had several blood tests, and better understood what my illness meant. I dabbled with training — there's a reason I showed up for the Quadrock 25-miler, and initiated long weekend run-hikes through the foothills. The training just confirmed that I was not in shape to run a 100-miler — I still had wild swings in my physical condition. On "good weeks" I could run reasonably fast and far without distress. On "bad weeks" I'd start gasping after a plodding mile. There was no real pattern to any of it. But the training did reveal how to best temper my heart rate on a bad day. How to manage my breathing and slow my pace as necessary. A week before the race, I had an appointment with my endocrinologist. Sheepishly, I told her about the Bryce 100, qualifying it for my abilities — "It's two days and 100 miles. Difficult terrain, but mostly hiking."My most recent bloodwork had been very good, enough so that I'd been taking a lower dose of medication for a month. "With these numbers, you will probably be okay," she said. "But I wouldn't expect you to feel very good."I wouldn't feel good because I am still a long way from recovery, under-trained, and dealing with these wild hormone fluctuations that my doctor confirmed are really happening — not just in my head. By saying I would be okay, she was simply telling me I probably wouldn't die, which, when you think about it, is a reasonably encouraging expectation. The final week before the Bryce 100 was a "bad week." Even though I was "tapering," I could scarcely handle my meager efforts. My breathing was rough. I felt strung out. Indeed, I had new blood work on Monday that would reveal I'd swung back into hyperthyroid territory after my excellent May results, but I wouldn't find out about this until the following Monday, after the race was over. My body is already relatively inefficient at processing oxygen, but being hyperthyroid makes it much worse. There are layers of physiological effects, but the result is the equivalent of lost fitness ... being out of shape ... having a couch-sitter's circulatory system in an extremely difficult ultramarathon. But I do love my moon shots ... and there was no real danger. Heat stroke was far more likely than a thyroid storm. So I packed up my gear and made a plan — I'd keep my heart rate below 150 at all times, if I could. I knew from recent training that this would ne[...]



Ask me anything

2017-06-08T21:34:39.130-06:00

In my last post I requested that readers "Ask me anything." I lifted the idea from an acquaintance, Mike Place, whose shared his own honest and introspective answers. It seemed like a great way to spur self-reflection — an indulgent but useful exercise. Thank you to everyone who posed a question. A few were quite difficult. I'm posting them in the order I received them. Along with the answers are photos from a "run commute" with Eszter, Scott, and Beat on Wednesday evening. We took the most direct route that would travel over three peaks to our home. It was just a little over eight miles and took four hours — tracing old trails, all-too-briefly running new trails, scrambling on boulders, crawling down loose rocks and chunky scree, and bushwhacking through a burn area. A fun outing!  1. Is there something you hope to accomplish during the course of your life? Some theme that you hope people will mention in your obituary or otherwise after you die? Or maybe a better question is "How do you hope to be remembered after you die?" It’s interesting that we view accomplishment as a path to immortality. I suppose that’s why writing a book that millions read is a great accomplishment, while writing a book that means a lot to you, but is only read by friends and family, is often viewed as a failure. I’ve given this thought and I’m largely okay with being forgotten soon after I die. Perhaps my great-nieces and nephews will be told about my ride across Alaska, but if they meet me, they’ll probably remember me as a quiet old lady in a weird-smelling house (the way I remember most of my elderly relatives.) At that point, I might not value adventure the way I do now. I might feel like I've become someone else entirely. The self is such a fluid notion; it’s hard to choose just one defining theme.If I hope to accomplish anything, it’s to live a full life. That sounds like a cop-out, but I truly am grateful for every birthday. I want to continue to skirt the edge of possibility and explore everything I can, including the ever-shifting landscape of my mind. I want to continue to learn and better understand the structure of the world, far-away cultures and the people around me. I want to love and grieve and experience the depths of human emotion. And if one day I write a book that millions read, I certainly wouldn’t complain. Beat guided us up Green on a saddle behind the First Flatiorn. The route gains 2,300 feet in 1.5 miles.2. I think the question I want to ask is this — with everything in your life, how do you know when to ask for help? The simplest answer is that I do not know when to ask for help. There are so many wonderful people in my life, and too often I fail to reach out to anyone. I struggle with face-to-face conversation. I insulate and internalize difficulties. I can be uncomfortably personal in my writing, because the degree of separation in written words makes it easier for me to express my feelings. Running or biking alone is often the way I process thoughts and emotions, and writing is my cathartic release. Without these outlets, I fear I’d lose myself to bottled-up anxiety, sadness, and fear. I’m working on improving openness in my relationships, in no small part to find the strength to ask for help when I need it.3. Obviously, dealing with illness will be the topic of your next book. What's the target date of publication? Chronic illness will NOT be the topic of my next book. I keep a hobby blog almost solely about personal outdoor activities, which my health directly affects. Of course I’m going to write about illness here, and I don’t really care if that’s not interesting to you. My books actually do aim for a somewhat wider market ap[...]



Sequestered somewhere safe

2017-06-05T08:17:44.824-06:00

This week was a fitness test of sorts for me — I wanted to put in a string of hard efforts to see whether my breathing and heart rate remained consistent throughout. One goal was to top 20,000 feet of climbing — I did that with 21,507 — with around 20 hours on the move, and I did that too. It was a good week — long and meandering, given to beauty and reflection.Wednesday was Beat's birthday. While I'd be thinking about it all week, the fact embarrassingly slipped my mind that morning. We were standing at the back door, watching the hummingbirds and talking about the day, when he said, "so my computer just reminded me it's my birthday." He'd forgotten too. I asked him what he wanted to do, and surprisingly he decided on a long bike commute from work, via the steep Betasso Link Trail, Magnolia Road — four miles of pavement with a 12 percent average grade — then onto rolling gravel and the flooded county road that would take us home. It was an interesting choice for a birthday but ultimately a beautiful ride. Churning up Magnolia Road, there was plenty of time to ponder birthdays and summer and the relentless march of life.Riding the Betasso Link Trail, climbing 800 feet of difficult singletrack mostly to avoid a road tunnel.One of my Facebook friends recently posted a thread of comments that I've been thinking about this week. Mike lives in Salt Lake City, and he's someone who I met only briefly, after the 2013 Bryce 100 race near Bryce Canyon. Our initial interaction is one I don't remember well. If it weren't for the strange universe of social media, both of us likely would have soon forgotten the other. But for the past four years, I've frequently nodded in agreement with the words he writes. Our viewpoints match on many levels. Now Facebook's algorithms assume he's one of my close friends and prioritize his updates. I find this both amusing and unsettling — and I imagine this happens similarly with online dating sites — that software can know us better than we know ourselves.His most recent update was a simple one — "AMA" or ask me anything. One person asked him, "why do you run so much?" His reply: "I don't know the answer, really. The closest I can get to an answer to that is that I have a lot of passion and having a well like long-distance running assures that it's sequestered somewhere safe. There are a lot of ways in which I regret it."Beat at an overlook on Magnolia. It was a beautiful evening.This is something I can't help but mull over as I spent another large chunk of a week in pursuit of movement, dreaming of larger and longer pursuits. And of course there aren't simple answers, which is why I have a 12-year-old blog that effectively churns through this question, again and again. But Mike's answer is a good one. We may be (relatively) intelligent creatures, but we're also creatures with eons' worth of primordial energy coursing through our veins. There was a time when all of this energy was paramount to survival, but now there's too much to spare. It's all too common to succumb to neuroses, anxiety, boredom, and illness as our lives become more comfortable. It's an overly simplistic description of a complicated issue, but the development is illustrated in societies that only recently adopted modern lifestyles. Technology improved quality of life in some ways, and lessened it in many others. (New Yorker article here.)Approaching Twin Sisters Peak on a soon-to-be-flooded county road.The problems of the world are large, and they appear as though they're becoming larger. As individuals in a world of seven billion people, confronting these problems feels logically and emotionally like hanging off a railing of the Titanic with a bailing bucket in on[...]



(Not) born to run

2017-05-30T10:11:44.878-06:00

This weekend, for the first time since January and my thyroid diagnosis and dropping out of the Iditarod, I returned to a training mentality. Three runs over the weekend were less "gently test the waters" and more "visualize those far-reaching places where my body is laid bare and my mind soars, and assess whether I can thrive — let alone survive — on the journey to those places." There is still plenty of gentle experimenting in everything I do — I've conditioned myself to fear a fast heart rate and any form of stress, so I don't see myself charging up or down mountains anytime soon. But when I can lope along at a steady 150-160 beats per minute with strong legs and lungs, nothing feels better. I just want to do that forever. Eszter and Scott are in town for a couple of weeks amid their nomadic wanderings, and joined Beat and me on our long run in Golden Gate Park on Sunday. Golden Gate is a ripple of foothills — 7,000 to 9,000 feet — with endlessly steep and rocky trails, loose chunder gullies, and spring runoff surging through the creeks (luckily all spanned by some form of bridge, as my shaky phobia rears its ugly face amid rapids of any size.) Negotiating semi-technical terrain during a "run" is not a strength of mine by any stretch of the imagination, and I always feel a little intimidated when traveling with folks who are more athletic than I am, even if they're professed non-runners. This is especially true in my current state of fitness, when I never really know whether I'm going to have a "good day" or a "bad day" — the bad days being those when I might start gasping while walking 20-minute-miles. Happily, Eszter and Scott are easy-going and fun. The outing passed quickly amid good conversation about everything from religion to the ethics of cell phone use.From Windy Peak, this is one of Eszter's classic photo genres: "people pointing at things in the distance." The four of us stopped at our looping route's "aid station" (a semi-frozen gallon jug of water in our Subaru) at mile 17, and then Beat and I continued for seven more miles into a more mysterious and quiet segment of the park. The granite crags and ponderosa pine forests reminded me of the northern Sierras, sparking happy memories of novice runs in the Tahoe area in 2011. Back then, my personal limits were still deeply obscured and anything felt possible.Earlier in the day, while we hiked up Windy Peak, the four of us talked about how we got our start with active lifestyles. One of several writing projects I'm dabbling with right now deals with my running journey. A piece of the narrative puzzle came back recently when I read Mary's blog post about being a young runner. Why was I never a young runner? There was the time I followed a cute boy to cross-country tryouts during my sophomore year in high school, but only made it as far as waiting in the bleachers and watching girls race around the track for several minutes before slinking away unnoticed. For the most part I was fiercely anti-sport, writing articles for my high school newspaper about the insignificance of exercise, and forging a teenage identity around being part of a "punk" group at odds with the "jocks."It went back to seventh grade, when students had their athletic aptitude assessed by the Presidential Fitness Test. One of these tests was the mile run, for which 12-year-old girls were given an arbitrary standard of 11 minutes and 5 seconds. For healthy, normal-weight girls — of which I was — an 11-minute-mile was supposed to be the bare minimum of what we could achieve with our basic training from gym class. I'd already experienced humiliating failures in pull-ups, tumbling, rope climbing, and o[...]



Back to summer

2017-05-25T11:32:58.034-06:00

 The seasons change constantly in the Rocky Mountains. For all those days of summer we had in February, we enjoyed our fair share of wintry days in May. I mostly dread summer and didn't want it to end, but last week's three feet of snow disappeared as rapidly as it came. There were three days over the weekend when everything was a mess. Luckily we plowed the road on Friday, so by Saturday at least that was available for running — albeit through many puddles and shoe-sucking mud. Beat wanted to venture onto the trails, but shin deep slush was too strong a demotivater. We only made it about 200 yards, and I was the one who cried uncle. Trail conditions were significantly better on Sunday, so we ran the Walker Ranch loop. There was still plenty of slushy, splashy fun to soak the shoes. I was in the midst of what I've come to think of as a "bad week," experiencing similar symptoms to my winter struggles — labored breathing, feeling tapped out at a low heart rate (140s), and also feeling more off balance than normal. There were also a few other symptoms unrelated to exercise — a rash across both shins reappeared for the first time in months, I woke up several times in the night, and my thoughts became fuzzier.I know many of these symptoms could be "poor recovery," but it felt like I might be hyperthyroid again. When I asked a physician friend how likely it was to swing between too much and too little thyroid hormone on a weekly basis, she theorized that my body was just adjusting to new normals after being hyperthyroid for so long. It still feels as though I fluctuate between the symptoms of two extremes — one week I feel sleepy and cold and my hair falls out, and the next I'm having trouble breathing again. Always between the two are increasingly longer strings of "good days," where I feel much closer to my "old normal." I'm certainly not the only one on this kind of rollercoaster — I've found many such discussions online. Most of those people talk about fine-tuning medications, nailing down "triggers" — mostly food- and allergy-related — and removing stressors to avoid the downswings. Avoiding stressors — I recognize that I can and possibly should dial back my efforts during "bad weeks." In a way, I already do, since my breathing prevents me from pushing myself, and motivation tends to decrease as well. I still carry the "so be it" mindset that I forged during the winter, when I didn't quite know what was wrong with my body. Whatever it was affected the activities that bring me joy, but these activities didn't seem to make it any worse. I decided I was going to live my life through it, rather than around it. This still holds if "it" is thyroid disease. All of the medical evidence shows that my hormone levels have been consistently dropping and I'm in a healthy place right now. If the rest of my body takes more time to catch up, or even if it there's always these types of fluctuations, so be it. By Monday, as though by magic, I was already feeling better. This came after a night of poor sleep (also increasingly more rare), when I woke up at sunrise. (Which happens at 5:30 a.m. this time of year. Too early. Bah, summer.) There was a lovely skiff of new snow on the hillsides. It looked like snowline dropped to 8,000 feet overnight. I set out for a run toward Bear Peak, and it was a little too soon for that trail. Through the burn, a few more trees had fallen down, and I lost the trail amid slushy drifts that were occasionally thigh deep. On the way down, I wrenched my left ankle in the melted space underneath a concrete snow drift. It wasn't injured in any way, just sore, wh[...]



Thyroid update 2

2017-05-19T23:46:03.369-06:00

Although not the most compelling subject to write about, I've decided to post regular updates about my dealings with Graves Disease, both for my own reference for others who lead active lifestyles and struggle with thyroid issues. I've found similar accounts to be helpful. Since being diagnosed in mid-February, I've taken a daily dose of 30mg methimazole — a drug that suppresses thyroid function. For about two weeks in April, I experienced what seemed like symptoms of an underactive thyroid — I'd become sleepy by noon and stay that way, even if I took a nap. I lost more hair than usual; knotted clumps would come out when I brushed my hair after a shower. My fingernails flaked off, down to nubbins. They've only now started to grow back. None of these symptoms were alarming enough to warrant a trip to the doctor, so I decided to wait for my May 12 blood test to see what was happening.May came around and I hit another upswing. By May 12, I was feeling downright perky — that was the day before Quadrock. I even had an allergy shot in the afternoon — something that usually leaves me feeling more downtrodden — and it didn't make a dent. But the labs ultimately revealed that I had dipped into the hypothyroid range. My thyroxine levels were below normal, even though TSH was just about normal (last month, my endocrinologist told me it takes "many months" to bring TSH up. But it's been fewer than three.) So my dose has been lowered with expectation that it will be reduced further next month. Interestingly, this week I've felt what I've come to recognize as "hyper" symptoms again — some jitteriness, the weird itching on my shins. These symptoms are very mild if they're anything at all (beyond psychosomatic.) I now have several new questions to ask my doctor when I see her in June, including whether the rollercoaster is real — do I really swing between hyper and hypo in a given day or week? And if so, how do I manage this? Lifestyle and diet may play a role, but in this short time period, I haven't yet found a pattern or correlation in my personal experiences. I'm just as likely to feel fantastic after a long run as I am to succumb to "extreme sleepiness" at 9 p.m. on a rest day. As a side note, the sleepiness is an interesting experience. I expect it isn't extreme at all; this is just how normal 37-year-olds feel. But for the past six-plus years I've become increasingly more restless at night, with periods of true insomnia. Even during what I considered good sleeps, it wasn't abnormal to get up four or five times in the night to use the restroom. My father has sleep issues, so I figured this was just my lot in life. Then I went on thyroid meds, and now I have slept through the entirety of nearly every night since April. And I wake up just after sunrise, on my own. It's all so strange.So I'm a sleepy morning person now. But this doesn't seem to affect my active energy levels. Because my breathing is so much better and my heart is stronger, *all* of my workouts feel significantly better than they did during the months prior to March. Regardless of how many miles I have on my legs that week, or how sleepy I was at home, it always feels like I can run and not be weary. Of course I know this isn't the case. Contrary to what my blog posts might portray, I am making efforts to tread lightly. However, as the recent blood tests show, I am now a person with normal thyroid levels — actually mildly hypothyroid levels. Thus, I am not in the immediate danger that I was always in, without knowing it, when I was hyperthyroid. The goal is to never go back there again, obviously. Since [...]



Snowmageddon 2017

2017-05-18T22:54:29.777-06:00

The date was May 17, 11 a.m., and the temperature was a pleasant 58 degrees as I packed for a ride. Looking out the window at a hillside bursting with vibrant green foliage, it was more than a little difficult to believe the upcoming weather forecast — "a cold storm system is expected to track slowly eastward across the region into Friday night. Total snow accumulations of one to three feet possible." One to three ... feet? Of snow?On May 18? When it was nearly 90 degrees just five days ago? Yeah, right.  However, I am one to be prepared, so I threw a rain jacket, fleece hat, and mittens into my pack, and wore tights — for sun protection more than anything. It was a beautiful afternoon and I wanted to put in five or six good hours, just in case Snowmageddon did happen to shut us down for the weekend. Looking toward the plains beyond Fourmile Canyon, there was hardly a cloud in the sky.Bluebird day on Sugarloaf Mountain. I explored singletrack trails that didn't go anywhere, so I reluctantly drifted over to pavement. I had forgotten the ridiculous steepness of Sugarloaf Road, and plodded upward with steely displeasure. I suspected I was somewhat overdoing the "string of long rides" version of Quadrock recovery, and wasn't in the mood to push myself. Still, some places don't give you much of a choice.A fierce headwind tossed sand in my face as I watched the weather approach from the west on the Switzerland Trail and Gold Hill Road. I'd ascended to nearly 9,000 feet, where the air was still warm. My extra layers stayed in my pack; I had long regretted the choice to wear tights. Snow? Bah. But there were rain clouds over Boulder. I somehow missed the sprinkles altogether as I descended nearly 4,000 feet into town to meet Beat at work. He was planning to run home from the office, where patters of rain were starting to hit the sidewalk. "Are you sure you want to run tonight?" I cautioned. "The weather's supposed to get bad." There was still a giant sucker hole — abundant blue sky — hanging out over the Flatirons."I'm scared," he said, mockingly. Then it was the morning of May 18, 6:30 a.m. Nearly a foot of snow had accumulated on our once-green yard. And the power was out. Thursday is trash day and the nearest collection point is a mile down the road, so we had to dig out the truck first thing. Then we went home to Starbucks Vias, mixed with water that Beat heated on a camp stove. Hummingbirds were battling the wind for breakfast, and Beat scrambled to make them more sugar water before he'd even had coffee. The power was out all morning and into the afternoon. Beat decided to work from home but needs to Internet to work, so he rigged a car battery to power the modem. This worked, but our laptop batteries were dwindling, and we were well aware of other inconveniences — we have electric heating, an electric stove, and a well with an electric pump, so without power we effectively have neither heat nor water. We do have wood stoves, though, and happily huddled around the small one in the bedroom. I vowed to be better prepared for the next Snowmageddon ... you know, that one that's likely to hit in June.In the afternoon we set out for a short hike, but not before making an effort to plow the road, just in case a window opened to escape to town on Friday. I was amazed how much snow had accumulated since we took the truck out in the morning. Presumably the cars are under there somewhere.Then we climbed our neighbor's driveway to borrow his plow. The driveway itself is a half-mile long and took us 20 minutes to ascend, [...]



The marvel of feeling normal

2017-05-16T10:08:51.225-06:00

Beat's knee injury didn't improve in time to run the Quadrock trail race, so I woke up at 4:45 a.m. and headed north alone. Saturday morning was intensely beautiful, with a pomegranate-seed sunrise sprinkled across the periwinkle sky. Streets were eerily empty and farm fields shimmered with green and gold glitter. The hillsides were saturated with this exuberant light. "This race could be a disaster and getting up early for this drive would still be worth it," I thought. "Still, I hope it's not a disaster."I used to run trail races on the regular in California, but I hadn't put a foot across a starting line since January 2016. At the time, these 50-kilometer trail races were my fitness gauge to see whether I'd recovered enough from the Tour Divide Plague to reliably breathe my way through the Iditarod. Seventeen months later, I was no longer curious about whether dizziness and desperation would hit. I'd mostly accepted this as my default for any remotely hard effort; the curiosity lied in more distant memories of "normal." The sun was already high and bright, the temperature topping 70 degrees as I rounded Horsetooth Reservoir at 7 a.m. Pre-race chatter centered on the hot, hot day in front of us. The forecast was for mid- to high-80s — warmer than most northern Coloradoans had seen yet this season. My freshest memories of spring trail races were all scorchers in California — Quicksilver 50-miler, Ohlone 50K — and running beautiful but shadeless singletrack beneath an unforgiving sun. My strategy for scorchers is to freeze a two-liter bladder full of water to a solid block of ice, which I gladly carry because it can propel me through up to three hours of intense sweating, if I sip.The impressively fit pack of 250 runners shot off the starting line, while I loped at 10-minute-miles amid the sparsely populated rear. Geez these Coloradoans don't mess around. I had no idea what might happen, and I didn't want to burn all of my matches before we even hit the first steep and seemingly endless climb. Quadrock has three such climbs, countless punchy rollers, and so many rocks that I was lusting for my trekking poles before the first mile of singletrack was done. My proprioception becomes scrambled on chunky terrain, causing disorientation and increasingly more frequent, eventually injurious mistakes. I've become too reliant on "running crutches" to manage my balance and stability, but mechanical aids were not allowed in this race. By mile 10, the trekking poles were mostly forgotten as I settled into a comfortable rhythm. My heart was beating strong at 160, 165 even 170 beats per minute — a rate that long ago felt comfortable, but punched far into gasping territory after I became sick. I stopped at the aid station manned by my hometown running group, the Boulder Banditos, who were cheerfully attending to a crowd of salt-streaked runners."My watch says it's 93 degrees," one guy complained."It's probably the direct sunlight," I replied. It was easily in the mid-80s, though. My friend Wendy filled up my neck bandana with chunks of ice."That feels amazing," I thanked her, and started at a loping 10-minute-mile up the second endless climb. My heart and head told me I could run fast, but my quad muscles were already quivering. A winter full of dizziness and desperation didn't leave any top-end fitness to work with. But a more comfortable pace? I could do this all day.There was a long, rocky traverse that caused a few stumbles, along with an unwelcome bout of frustration."Feet up, drink water," I reminded myself constantly. M[...]



From snow to 85 to severe thunderstorms

2017-05-08T16:20:48.653-06:00

 It's spring in Colorado, and the weather is all over the place. "If you don't like the weather, wait 15 minutes" is an observation that's been flogged to death again and again, but the schizophrenic skies are still a source of entertainment. On May 3 we had a lovely snowstorm, illuminated by flecks of sunlight. I stood on the porch in my bare feet for at least ten minutes, mesmerized by the dance of sparkling snowflakes.These poor daffodils. They were completely buried by 14" of snow just four days prior. They emerged on Monday only to be pummeled again on Wednesday. I'd feel guilty for not protecting them from the storms, but they seem to bounce back just fine. May greenery and fresh snow — one of my favorite color combinations. By Saturday — three days later — temperatures spiked well into the 80s. Beat and I lathered up in sunscreen and headed out for a mountain bike ride. We stopped to admire the elk grazing in the elk pastures ... except these aren't domesticated animals. During the five-hour ride, we spent upwards of two and a half hours stumbling along ten or so miles of trails in the Blue Dot trail system. Beat was actually the one coaxing me away from the bail-outs as we both mused about how great these trails would be for running. There's certainly some beautiful segments for cycling, too — ribbon singletrack, tight switchbacks, roller-coaster descents. But like most Boulder trails, the beautiful segments are frequently interrupted by crumbling chunder gullies, root steps, unrideable rock outcroppings, and occasional severe erosion. There's little flow for a cyclist like me, who really prefers flow to being not-so-gently flogged by choppy terrain. I've joked with Beat that I'd happily turn in my mountain biker card if it meant I could ride ribbon singletrack and fire roads all of the time. However, I live in Boulder, so I'll likely continue to chip away at my flaccid technical skills. At least Blue Dot has hike-a-bikes with views. And the technical puzzles do distract from the heat. I'll have to remember this come July.On Sunday we hoped to complete a long run, but lounged around for far too long and set out just as dark clouds were gathering overhead. It's getting to be that time of year where afternoons are not the best time to play, but it always takes a few hard lessons to adjust winter habits. As we climbed toward Bear Peak, an opaque gray wall obscured everything to the south. The cloud was approaching us at alarming speed."We're going to get pummeled," I said to Beat. Not really taking my own definition of pummeled seriously, we continued to climb. Within five minutes, sharp hail was raining down on us. We scrambled to cover up with our meager spring layers — I had a fleece beanie, but a woefully thin three-ounce wind jacket. Beat had a better jacket and gloves, but no hat. We still didn't think it was so bad, so we continued to climb into the deluge. When switchbacks turned into the wind, I couldn't even breathe through the gales. A chill rapidly deteriorated into vigorous shivering. My core was very cold, and my calves hurt from the hail stings. Then Beat saw lightning. We abandoned the "long run" plan and made a hasty retreat.More severe thunderstorms were in the forecast today, so I rallied out the door before 9 a.m., hoping to complete one last medium-length run before Quadrock on Saturday. Quadrock is a trail race in Fort Collins that I signed up for months ago, back when I still thought I'd be riding the Idiatrod, so I put my name down for the "half" (2[...]



In spite of the scars

2017-05-05T22:20:09.317-06:00

Like many people, I tend to carry scars from my life's more intense experiences, both good and bad. The physical scars accumulate on my arms and legs — pink, sensitive spots that hurt every time I whack them, and take longer and longer to heal every time another crash opens them anew (my poor right elbow is such a mess.)The emotional scars are similar; I can trace an my ongoing fear of water all the way back to visceral memories of a misguided wander into "Amazing Mumford's Water Maze" at Sesame Place in Texas, at the age of 3. My latest addition to the irrational fear basket is snow slides. Last weekend, when Beat and I went hiking through the rapidly melting snow around Walker Ranch, I became startled by snow sloughing of the rocks and had a real panic reaction — heart racing, nervous shivering, eyes darting around. It's annoying enough that I can't deal with putting my face under water or riding in small boats; now I'm afraid of the most benign instances of falling snow?Then there are the scars that aren't really fears, just unpleasant associations. Near the top of this list are memories of the 2015 Tour Divide. Whether the association is rational or not, on an emotional level, I blame my health issues on this specific experience. The short of it is that I came down with bronchitis during the race, and pushed through it anyway for two weeks as I became increasingly more ill. After that, it was as though a switch flipped. My body was different. Even before I understood that I have an autoimmune disorder — which are thought to be sometimes triggered by assaults on the immune system — I felt the Tour Divide was a sharp line between the changes in my health. Of course many things about my lifestyle and genetics could have made the difference, and it isn't rational to pin everything that's happened since on a single event. Regardless, the anger is here to stay.Now I imagine grinding along those mountain roads, and viscerally feel as though I'm choking on dust, and my head weighs a thousand pounds, and I stare blankly toward beautiful horizons, only see a bleak kind of vacuousness. I recently realized that these poor associations with the Tour Divide have made me less inclined toward what is objectively one of my favorite things in the world — riding my bicycle through scenic landscapes.I thought about this strange association as I suited up to go for a ride on Thursday, my first in nearly two weeks. Earlier in the week, my excuse for bike avoidance was my left knee, which was still stiff from the previous week's crash. It had taken about this long to achieve full range of motion without pain. Of course I ran 16 miles through mud and slush and a lot of downhill on Monday, and my knee was fine then. But still I didn't want to ride my bike. Weird.However, I made a commitment to meet Beat after work, and mapped out an intriguing new route on forest roads above Nederland. The forest roads were still too covered in snow to do much more than stumble along at 0.5 mph as my shins were cut by icy slush (and I only bothered to do this for ten minutes, mainly out of desire to cool my feet and sunburned legs.) For the rest of the ride, I felt strong. Really strong. I mashed the pedals up Caribou Road with sweat pouring down my back and lungs full of fire. I'm still afraid to push truly hard — bad associations with asthma attacks that may take a while to diminish yet. But wow, I felt incredible.Perhaps I don't have to be scarred for life by the 2015 Tour Divide. Perhaps I can even go[...]



This really is post 2,000

2017-04-30T21:31:10.961-06:00

If this blog were a child it would be in middle school right now, so it's probably not surprising that it has managed to amass 2,000 posts. But it seems like a milestone worth noting. Every once in a while I start typing in this space and ponder what it is, after all these years, I'm still trying to accomplish. The reasons I started the blog — to post photos, to connect with people online, to keep in touch with family and friends — all fall into the realm of social media now. I still enjoy writing long-winded (we journalists like to use the phrase "long-form") adventure reports, so I'm unlikely to dump the blog anytime soon (at least not before its high school graduation.) And I do need a place to post photos, because I will never join Instragram, never never, don't ask me again. Interesting, I've recently received a steady stream of requests from random PR people for gear reviews, sponsored posts, even a junket or two. I'm at a loss for why these started now, when this blog  has never been a gear blog, is far less popular than it was eight years ago, and the medium in general is about five years dead. "Jill Outside" must have ended up on some type of marketing list. Although I have to say no, I find it amusing nonetheless. This just isn't a commercial blog.(Also, buy my books.)  This weekend, most of the Front Range was slammed by a frigid storm that raged for much of Friday and Saturday. Because it's so late in April, everyone treated the snow like an anomaly, but I have Facebook's "On This Day" feature to remind me otherwise. This storm was reminiscent of our first week in Boulder, except for we now have actual furniture to snuggle into, and a huge stack of firewood in the garage (last April we scrambled to chop downfall in the yard.) Yes, it's just Colorado's boring-old, annual, "Nearly May Blizzard."My fatigue rollercoaster, thyroid or whatever it maybe, has been on the upswing. I felt much more perky than I had earlier in the week. The only annoyance was my left knee, which I had so graciously slammed into a rock on Wednesday. After the crash, an odd goose egg rose out of the top of my kneecap, which had also been scrubbed of its skin. The whole joint was painful and didn't want to bend much, so I didn't bother bending it for a couple of days. I limped into my allergy clinic, and when the nurse saw my right arm — which also lost a fair amount of skin — she asked, "What happened to you?""I fell," I said with the upmost derision. "I tripped over a rock, and I went down." Then, to emphasize how disgusted I was with myself, added, "I don't take my falls so well. I'm not 20 anymore" ... forgetting, conveniently, that I earned the nickname "Gimpy McStiff" in my early 20s precisely because I couldn't take a fall then, either. I also remembered advice from my mom, which she repeated the many times I bashed my knee as a clumsy little kid — "If you don't bend it now, it's never going to bend.""But it hurts.""Well, it's going to keep hurting until you bend it. Now try."On Saturday, as temperatures plunged into the low 20s, fierce wind and snow raged through thick fog, and more than a foot of snow covered the ground, I decided it was as good of a time as any to try. It was 23 degrees when Beat and I set out in the late afternoon for the usual route to Bear Peak. This is the most snow I've seen up there yet — despite climbing Bear well over a dozen times during the winter — and it's always fun to view the familiar in such[...]



Another crash

2017-04-27T12:30:30.053-06:00

My physical self has become a stranger to me recently; I don't really "know" my body anymore. I've mentioned the energy rollercoaster, the good days and bad, not quite knowing how much of this is adjusting to thyroid medications, how much is fluctuations of hormones, how much is psychosomatic, how much is just "me."On one hand, I've struggled with real fatigue — feeling more sluggish in my daily routine, blinking against sleepiness at 3 p.m., sneaking off to take actual naps, and setting an alarm so I don't pass out for hours. This happens despite full nights of sleep and better morning alertness. I've learned that if I want to accomplish something mentally taxing, I'm better off attempting it before lunch. Jill one year ago would give a side-eye to this zonked-out person I'm becoming.There have been other symptoms that one might ascribe to an underactive thyroid — I'm often cold in the afternoon and have to wrap up in my down comforter, as the thin couch blankets just don't cut it anymore. My fingernails are effectively falling apart, my skin is even drier than usual, and I've started noticing a bit more hair loss than before (not significant enough to worry yet.) Still, the numbers from April 11 wouldn't indicate hypothyroidism, so I have to assume this is just part of the adjustment.On the other hand, I'm becoming stronger. Three weeks ago, I started back at square one with twice-weekly weightlifting, and I'm already ahead of where I was after four months of focused training over the winter. And I'm much more energetic when I'm in "active" mode. If I want to battle the afternoon sleepiness (and I've managed to resist the temptation to take a nap), all I need to do is go outside and start running or riding. On Monday I enjoyed a relaxing yet strenuous five-hour, nearly-50-mile mountain bike ride through the foothills. On Tuesday I stole an hour-long window between hail and snowstorms to jaunt up and down a 10K dirt road run with 1,100 feet of climbing. Running downhill through shoe-sucking mud, I managed to kick it up to that low-seven-minute-mile pace that feels so exhilarating. I could not run like that two months ago. No way. I would have been a gasping, dizzy, mucousy mess.On Wednesday, overnight snow gave way to blazing sunshine. I had things to do in town, so I set out for a quick morning jaunt up Sanitas. My new thing with the steep ascent of Sanitas is to vie for new PRs in "all-hiking" mode, and see if I can keep up with runners in the process. (I've come close.) A friend had just sent me a nearly new pair of Altra Olympus shoes in the mail, and I was trying them out. After the breezy ascent (new PR! 26 minutes), I started down the winding, runnable descent feeling particularly light on my feet. Seven-minute-miles were fresh in my memory, and I picked up the pace to something just fast enough to necessitate total focus.What happened next might seem inevitable to those who know me, but it all happened in such a strange fashion. I put my left foot down and something didn't feel right, causing me to lurch forward with my right foot and catch my toes on a rock. The terrain was a rock garden on a nearly level section of trail, so there was nowhere to roll, although I'm sure more graceful folks would have managed this. Of course I went down like a dead fish, slapping the rocks hard, really hard, and tearing up my right elbow and left knee in the process. Blood was gushing down my arm and leg as I crawled several meters off[...]



One year in Colorado

2017-04-23T12:47:19.978-06:00

On Earth Day 2016, Beat and I loaded up our Subaru Outback with our most prized bicycles (and not much else), then rumbled onto I-880 eastbound out of San Jose. We passed through heavy snow over Donner Pass, the verdant hills of central Nevada, 75-mph crosswinds across Utah's salt desert, then heavy rain and snow across Wyoming. The terrible weather ended almost the moment we crossed the Colorado border. The famous 300-days-a-year sunshine was out, hillsides were green and the trees were bursting with tiny green buds and blossoms. I remember smiling at Longs Peak and thinking, "I will climb you first."I still haven't climbed Longs Peak. But we have enjoyed one year in Colorado, living in the forested hills behind the Flatirons — a home between the cliffy edge of the Great Plains and the towering Continental Divide. We love it here. Our "Ugh, Front Range" friends crinkle their noses, but really, anything that's not to love here, the Bay Area had times ten. With the exception of "people who are better than you at everything," of course. Boulder's sheer concentration of smart, fit, successful people is staggering. Still, the crowds are smaller, and traffic is negligible (of course it's still annoying.) Yuppies are prominent, but still greatly outnumbered by genuine, interesting people that you want to get to know. There are a lot of white people here. I rank among them so I certainly can't criticize. I do miss the cultural diversity of San Francisco.Of course there are other things I miss about California. Sometimes I think back to my favorite places — the Marin Headlands, Black Mountain, Old Tree — and feel heartsick for all the days gone by. But I lived in California for five years, and I can't say I ever felt truly at home there. Our apartment always felt like the place were we slept between travels. The Santa Clara Valley was a place where I went to the dentist and the doctor, where I bided time until we could move back to Alaska. Now that I'm in Colorado, I'll probably still bide that time ... but I feel more authentic when I call this place "home." It does help to live in a beautiful house in the ponderosa forest, a place where I can both act like the hermit writer that I am at heart, and jet to town anytime to have dinner with friends, visit my cozy, locally-owned gym, shop at Trader Joes, steal a few hours of work at The Cup, eat a salad at Mad Greens (I love that place.)It also helps that Beat is much happier in his work in Boulder. At home he has so much more space for his engineering, sewing, and gear-making projects. I feel like I should make more efforts in the gardening department (meaning, more than none.) But allergies are still a concern (I had a serious reaction last year while pulling cheat grass and never tried it again, although I can wear a mask and cover all of my skin.) Still, I can't let go of the conviction that any time spent outdoors is best spent on the move. Luckily, the daffodils returned again this spring, the columbines and humming birds are on their way, and the natural landscaping is beautiful.Boulder has been good for my medical needs, which have become surprisingly many in the past year. I appreciate the medical professionals I've worked with here.And of course there are the adventure opportunities. I haven't climbed Longs Peak, and sometimes I feel almost guilty for my relative neglect of the nearby mountains. There's just a lot to enjoy right outside the fro[...]



So this is spring

2017-04-17T11:42:38.242-06:00

Beat and I are nearing one year in Boulder, so we've experienced all of the seasons in high country. Of all transitions, spring is usually the most difficult for me. The quiet darkness of winter dissolves into a kind of uncomfortable mania; previously empty trails begin to feel crowded; new smells and sounds barrage the senses. My typical allergy season creates new weights, and the crushing heat, dust, and fire of summer feel too close for comfort. And yet I do enjoy the ease of mild weather, watching green return to the hillsides, anticipating the return of the hummingbirds, laughing at the antics of wild turkeys and watching a herd of elk graze in the back yard. Wildflowers and daffodils emerge from clumps and brown grass. That uncomfortable mania also breeds excitement. "Something is going to happen! I don't know what, but good things are coming." Even as I say this out loud, a larger part of me remembers that the state of the world looks dire, and it's difficult to veer away from this urge toward despair. I'm still haunted by my experience with the avalanche last month; I see blocks of snow tumbling toward me in wisps of dreams, before I awaken to early morning light, golden and rich in the springtime. It's all so fleeting, all of it, and it's infinitely better to appreciate the present than fear the future. My physical state still stymies me. Now that my thyroid levels have dropped, I'm sleepy much of the time. I catch myself dozing off while waiting in the dentist's chair. I steal the occasional nap during work sessions. I'm tired at bedtime, and usually sleep soundly through the night, which is strange. Perhaps this is just the way 37-year-old me is supposed to be, a trait that hyperthyroidism shielded.Still, when I venture outside, I often feel more strong and alive than I did during my best season, winter. If I want to beat the fatigue and sleepiness, all I need to do is get out in the warm spring air for a ride or a run. Tree pollen has been bad lately — something for which I only have a "mild" allergy, so I haven't been treated for it — and I can feel pollen clogging up my sinuses and irritating my eyes. And yet, I can breathe. Sometimes I wish I could immediately recapture all of my former strength, but I'll settle for breathing. And the elk are here. Beautiful animals to watch from the comfort of the living room.This one seemed enamored with the goldfish pond. Probably because of the water or his reflection, but I like to think he too appreciates the hardy little fish. On Sunday, Beat and I went for a long adventure "run." I call it an adventure and "run" in quotes because much of the route, for me, was a series of stumbles and careful footing over the rocky trails of the Flatirons. If I harbor any ambitions for summer, they lie in the realm of hiking and running. I wonder what I can still do with this sleepy, perhaps over-medicated body of mine. So I've been running, perhaps too much, and not as fast as I'd like. But every step feels freeing. We hit up South Boulder Peak, Bear Peak, and Green Mountain. It was hotter than we expected, and we both had to ration water even after stashing some below Green. That caused a bit more struggling than necessary up the rock staircase known as Shadow Canyon. Still, despite believing I'd just completed one of the sloggiest slogs in my long history, I still set a "PR" for that climb. After 18 mi[...]