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Preview: Up in Alaska

Jill Outside

Updated: 2018-03-20T06:00:14.039-06:00


Photos from the Iditarod Trail


I hiked into McGrath after 1 a.m. Tuesday, which I think puts my finish around 8.5 days — more than a day slower than my first foot effort in 2014, nearly five days longer than my ride into McGrath in 2016. But I made it! I spent much of the time between mile 35 and 100 believing there was no way I was going to finish, as I waded through snow drifts into a 30mph headwind and struggled to keep my breathing under control. Labored breathing on the second evening required frequent breaks where I threw on my big parka and sat on my sled with my back to the raging wind, took puffs from my inhaler, and waited until my breathing normalized. Each time, this took long enough that my feet became alarmingly cold. The whole process was frightening, because I didn't feel I had much control. I found a better rhythm on day three, but again struggled mightily when the wind picked up before sunset. I barely made it across Shell Lake, where Zoe of Shell Lake Lodge graciously offered to let me sleep in one of her unheated cabins, even though she was closed for the night. Although I hadn't planned to stop so early, I took advantage of this kind offer. As I removed shoes and socks to crawl into my sleeping bag, I noticed that my feet were very swollen, and a number of blisters ringed both of my lower legs. It was just as bad as the "Susitna feet" I sustained during the 2012 Susitna 100, when I could barely walk for a number of days afterward. My leg muscles ached from hard effort, and I couldn't fall asleep because of the pain. Instead I had a good, long cry, convinced I was falling apart. I doubted whether I'd make it to the next checkpoint at Finger Lake. Things did get better ... a lot better ... even as trail conditions became more difficult. Ultimately I had an incredible experience, and absorbed so much beauty and awe as I trudged across frozen swamps, lakes and valleys at 2.5mph. I'm not sure when I'll write about my experience. My goal for the next two weeks is to engage in a solo writing retreat of sorts, with more focused writing efforts and less time on social media and my blog. But I did want to post some photos from my trip.Beat and I at the start on Knik Lake. I did not see him again after this.Multi-year champion Dave Johnston moving up the trail.Swamps of the Susitna Valley, with the sleeping lady — Mount Susitna — in the background.Halo around the sun.Hiking in freezing rain up the Yentna River on the morning of day two. I camped on the banks of the Susitna River after taking an alternate route to avoid Flathorn Lake, which I loathe crossing ever since I dunked my right leg into deep overflow and got frostbite in 2009.Freezing rain and snow persisted until evening. Then winds picked up and stirred all of the new snow around. The trail became difficult to follow in spots, and I occasionally wandered into thigh-deep unbroken snow. Carole Holley became lost as well; I encountered her walking toward me, backward up the trail. We teamed up to bust through some waist-deep drifts, and spent the night at Cindy's cabin — Cindy is a 30-year resident on the Yentna River who has become a trail angel of the ITI — inviting us into her private home, baking cookies and serving homemade soup, and giving up her own bed. When I startled awake after 1.5 hours and made motions to pack up, Cindy — still holding 4 a.m. vigil over the cabin — told me to go back to sleep. This was welcome advice.Swamps beyond Skwentna. The trail had drifted in.The nearly full moon sets on the morning of day three, a few hours after I left the unheated cabin at Shell Lake Lodge.Approaching the Alaska Range at sunrise.Bernadette doing her thing. I'm glad I took her along. I spent a lot of time solo on this journey, and Bernadette became a welcome companion, always willing to listen to my complaints. I made up a long backstory for her. The gist of it is that Bernadette dreamed of running the Iditarod with famed musher Aliy Zirkle's team. Everyone told her, "You can't run the Iditarod. You're a Siberian. You're too slow." But Bernadette was d[...]

Following the 2018 Iditarod Trail Invitational


 On Tuesday morning, less than 40 hours after Beat and I rode bikes in 61-degree sunshine, the temperature at home plummeted 72 degrees to 11 below zero. Six inches of new snow blanketed the forest, and wisps of fog skimmed the hills to the south. Pink hints of sunrise were just beginning to show when I stepped onto the balcony. Wearing only socks and a T-shirt, I stood still for as long as I could muster — three minutes maybe — and breathed. The air had a sharp, crystallized feel, a sweet aroma, and a raw taste, so visceral that I could almost believe those wingnuts who claim to derive caloric energy from air. It's difficult to describe why cold air evokes such strong sensations — perhaps it's the shot of adrenaline one experiences while swiftly freezing exposed body parts. But it felt wonderful to me. "This is a good omen," I thought.The rest of the week in Boulder continued to be just perfect — crisp and cold, but with brilliant sunshine that made 15 degrees feel almost summery, in the weird way that only high-altitude sunshine can. I didn't get outside nearly as much as I would have liked — save for a mellow two-hour hike with my friend Wendy, it was an indoor week filled with final preparations and work catch-up. But I felt content, both with my surroundings, and in my own skin, finally ... for now at least.The sensation of transitioning from "less comfortable" to "a little more comfortable" in my own skin is clearly impossible for me to explain. No matter how much I complain to Beat about my physical slumps, even he responds to questions about how I'm doing with "she's great!" But I've found some success in comparing my body to an unreliable car. Sometimes you can drive this car across the country without issue, and sometimes it breaks down in your driveway. Your mechanic has outlined a number of problems, but none of them quite add up to an easy fix. Since you can't get rid of the car, and you can't predict what it will do, you make up superstitions. "Well, it's sunny, and I'm wearing my lucky driving socks, so we'll make it today."During the last full week in February, winter finally arrived in Boulder. Then I hopped on a plane to Anchorage, Alaska, where it looked more like winter in that city than I've seen in a number of years. And I felt at home ... lucky ...I am lucky. I can hardly believe it's been ten years since the first time I walked these snowy streets on the final Saturday in February, anticipating the 350-mile journey to McGrath. I swear I am no less frightened now than I was then — perhaps more so. I've traded the naivety and youth of a 20-something for the wisdom and experience of a somewhat-more-broken woman in her late 30s. It doesn't feel like a fair trade. But has anything changed, that really matters? I wonder at the strange cycles of a linear life. I wonder why I keep rotating back. I am ready to try new things, so much so that I am asking friends to hold me to a promise to bike tour somewhere warm next March, rather than return to Alaska. And yet I crave these experiences with a zeal that I'll never adequately explain. I'm so excited that my heart is buzzing (hopefully that's excitement, and not life-threatening palpitations.) I'm so anxious that I want to curl up in a corner and hug a pillow.I didn't actually come here to write a rambling blog post. (Well, I did want to archive pretty photos from "that one week of winter in Boulder.") Really, I just wanted to post the tracking links that I promised Mom I would post. On Sunday, Feb. 25, at 2 p.m. Alaska time, I'm heading out on the Iditarod Trail again. My intention is to walk the 350 miles to McGrath, at as efficient of a pace as I can reasonably maintain. "Reasonably" meaning I have no intention of being lax about the race, but I do intend to maintain control at all times, if at all possible. This means higher focus on self-care. This means stopping for longer breaks if my breathing becomes shallow, even if it's not the most convenient spot, and being prepared to safely do so. And it a[...]

What's in your sled?


 It's the last week prep before the Iditarod, traditionally our week of Gloom n' Doom. However, I'm feeling decidedly less gloomy than the past few weeks. Though pre-race trail and weather reports look good, my mood has nothing to do with this; I know far better than to trust pre-race chatter. No,  I'm perkier because my leg rash cleared up, my sleep has improved, my morning blood pressure seems to be going down, and I'm breathing more naturally — perhaps I've hit the low point of this slump and am back on the upswing. Who knows? I certainly don't, but I choose the path of naive optimism. Perhaps another reason I'm happy is because I finally got back on my bike for the first time in a month, following a long bloc of focused Iditarod training. My only agenda for this ride was four hours of "killing time" on the hills surrounding Sugarloaf Mountain. The weather wasn't nearly as nice as it looks in this photo — temperatures in the low 40s and incredibly windy, with gusts that forced me to throw a foot down at regular intervals. Dirt road conditions featured blinding blasts of dust and occasional but not insignificant patches of suicide ice. Despite the relatively poor riding conditions, I was stoked — moving at now-incomprehensible speeds on descents and marveling at how little effort it takes to propel a bicycle up a hill. Now in focused taper mode, I took a couple of days off, and by Saturday felt a little gloomy again as endorphins faded. On Sunday, the temperature rose to 60 degrees, and the wind all but died. (There were still occasional blasting gusts interspersed with a gentle breeze, which is akin to calm around here.) Beat and I threw on shorts and short-sleeved jerseys, and headed out for a mellow spin along nearby back roads. It was a gorgeous afternoon. We've had other 60-degree days this winter, but this was the first day that really felt like spring — the air had a freshness to it, and mud and ice glistened beneath high-angle sunlight. Then, on Monday, the temperature plummeted nearly 60 degrees. We awoke to low single digits and a dusting of snow. The forecast predicted 5 inches, but the actual storm wasn't set to arrive until after dark. We spent the morning finalizing most of our gear and loading up our sleds. Just minutes before we set out, Beat and I switched duffels — he decided his was too long, and mine was too wide. The trade was a revelation. Beat's duffel perfectly fits my sled, with no empty space to collect snow. I can loosely stuff all of my gear inside, including my snowshoes, with ease. (Abundant space to accommodate fast, sloppy packing is a priority for both of us.)Although I may never have faith in my own fitness again, I am pleased with my gear prep this year. I feel more comfortable and competent with my gear than I ever have. And yes, it does help that this gear doesn't include a bicycle. I'm at ease with the idea of using my stove in deep subzero temperatures and moderate wind. I've finally arrived on a combination of head gear that I'm comfortable with. I'm better practiced at using gloves for finer dexterity, in case I need to set up camp in difficult conditions (typically I go bare handed, and this will still probably be my default, but at least I'm better with gloves than I used to be.) I feel reasonably versed in my plan for the event of an asthma attack in a storm, the steps I'll take to get my breathing under control in high winds, and the type of rest my well-tested sleeping gear can afford. I'm confident my layers will keep me comfortable at 40 below and winds up to 50 mph. Although I have very little experience with anything lower (or a combination of deep subzero temperatures and high winds), I also have a safety buffer. I know which items I tend to lose or wet out, and brought spares. I'm happy with my decision to bring a spare base layer, in case I fall into open water (not unthinkable.) I'm happy with my decision to bring lots of extra socks and lube, as well as reinforced waders [...]

I'll be something better yet


Well, the anxiety dreams have returned. In my latest, I'm pulling my winter sled up a steep dune in an endless red-sand desert. The drag is incredible; I can barely move my legs. When I look down, my skin is beet red, bubbling with beads of sweat. I'm following a parallel ski track, a very faint one, and I have to squint because the glare is so bad. It's hot; I feel dizzy. The sun becomes brighter. I'm blinded by white glare, sinking in the sand, gasping for breath, and then I jerk awake. Real sunlight is pouring through my bedroom window (because I slept in until 8:15 a.m., because I haven't been sleeping well at night), and I'm drenched in real sweat. It's 57 degrees inside the house, 20 outside.Is this what I fear right now? Heat and sweat? Well, yes. What happens beyond my skin begins to feel more manageable than what happens within. I find comfort in the world around me. Saturday morning greeted us with a few inches of snow, and refreshing cold — around 10 degrees.Beat and I set out for a hike up Bear Peak, with light packs and an easy "taper" pace. I couldn't regulate my temperature well — one minute I was overheated with my jacket unzipped and hat removed, the next chilled and bundled again. My breathing seemed far too labored. Later Beat saw my tracks in the snow and called me out for lazily dragging my feet. "I'm slipping," I thought.It was a beautiful afternoon, though, with the city shrouded in fog and delicate rime clinging to the charred branches of skeleton trees. It's always worth the effort to spend time outside on a day like this, always. But I wasn't thrilled with whatever was happening beneath my skin. I did not feel exuberant. I did not feel strong. I felt beaten — far, far too soon.When I come out in the open to admit my fears, people will reassure me. They'll tell me I'm just having pre-race jitters, that I'm tapering, that I'll be fine. And I'll smile politely and nod, because I want to believe it, too. But this is what it feels like to me — like my fitness is so much sand in my fist, slipping through my fingers, scattered by the wind.On Sunday I took my sled up Niwot Ridge. Beat had a lot to do at home, so I went alone. A surprising amount of snow had accumulated since the last time I trekked up Niwot. The spacious and typically empty trailhead parking lot was bustling with skiers and snowshoers. I didn't want to maneuver my sled in crowds, so I veered toward the less-popular forest road. Surprisingly, only one or two skiers had broken a skin track on this route. At first I snowshoed outside of it, out of respect for skiers, but conditions were incredibly difficult for trail-breaking — a thin layer of fragile wind crust over shin-swallowing sugar snow.Shamefully I drifted over to the skin track, and realized that my sled so perfectly planed my snowshoe tracks, that it left the trail smoother than before. Indeed, a couple miles later, a skier passed me and complimented my trail. "Ten points for the pulk track," he said. As I looked back at him, I saw that my sled was full of snow — I could barely see the duffel behind a foot-high pile of clumped powder. Because my sled was wider than the skin track, it scooped up snow from both sides, not unlike a plastic shovel. Damn. No wonder this climb was becoming harder and harder. "It's not just me," I thought. Even at this higher altitude, in much tougher conditions, I was feeling better than the previous day."Beautiful day," the skier commented."Yeah, but windy," I replied. "It's gonna be fierce above treeline.""We'll deal with that when we get there."Despite my heavy sled and stupid snowshoes, I more or less kept pace with the skier for more than a mile, shadowing a few hundred meters behind him. He had just left my line of sight for good when I saw him again, scooting toward me at a surprisingly slow rate of speed, for a descending skier."You're not going to the ridge?" I asked. He'd already surpassed most of the boring forest road skinning — the only terrain [...]

Jump into the fog


 I've felt melancholy this week. It's not the same as the jittery dread one might expect to feel when anticipating an upcoming challenge. This feeling is more like resignation. Dull, gray resignation. But when I step outside of myself for brief intervals, I can see that thin veneer of fog clouding a dynamic landscape of emotions. "This is not mine," I think about the melancholy. But denying its validity doesn't make the fog any less turbid. There was a moment on Wednesday, about an hour into a five-hour run. Maybe I should be done with long runs now. I don't know. My legs feel good. My shoulders and arms are strong. Most everything about my body seems dialed. But right now, there's a subtle sputtering. I'd like to blame this on overtraining. That would make it easy. But I can't convince myself. It's difficult to explain the difference between fatigue, and this ... feeling like the engine is running well, but the fuel lines are partially blocked. This feeling is nothing major. I can convince myself of this. The dizziness and breathing desperation haven't returned ... yet. But my fuse has definitely shortened.Wednesday's trails were ruled by hard, practically blue ice, and rocks of course. Unlike my fancy-footwork success the previous week, I could barely stay upright while wearing microspikes. I slipped and slammed my knee into a nearby tree. "Good, I hope I'm injured," was the only coherent thought that broke through the initial flood of white-hot adrenaline rage. Then, after rage subsided and I realized I was fine, humor made a brief appearance ... "Ha! Where did that come from?" This faded to a highly disproportionate despair, and I had a good cry ... which is, yes, the second time I've cried on a trail for no real reason this month."This is October all over again," I thought. Later, I looked up the date of a similarly emotionally-charged bike ride that I titled "Forest Road 509 made me cry." October 13. By the end of October, I was kind of a mess. My breathing was rough enough that I barely pulled myself out of that crater in Maui. But no, there's no such thing as this four-month hormone cycle. You made that up, I told myself. You put this terrible idea in your own head. But the rash and the sleep interruptions and the night sweats and the heart rate spikes ... those are convincingly tangible.I was a bit dazed as I wheeled down the aisles of Trader Joes on Thursday, picking up the remaining food for my Iditarod drop bags. We're allowed only five pounds for two different pick-up spots along the 350-mile route. Five pounds is really only about two days' worth of food, for sections that could take me as long as four. Yes, there will be a handful of meals along the way to supplement. And of course I can start the race with extra calories, and intend to. But it was important to keep all food as efficient as possible — meaning reasonably nutritious, shelf-stable, non-freezing, and calorie dense. A kind fan of my books, Linda from Iowa, mailed me a delicious trail mix filled with nuts, seeds, and locally sourced chocolate. I supplemented with my own trail mix — nuts, fruit and mini peanut-butter cups as "quick carb" fuel, and then bars, tuna, jerky, meat sticks, and freeze-dried meals.So I went through the aisles, filling a cart with junk food for both me and Beat, and hesitated at the mini peanut butter cups. "Maybe I won't send in my boxes," I thought. "Maybe it's just that easy."Then, just as I had the day prior after whacking my knee and hoping I was injured, I wondered where this childish defiance had come from. Even if I'm not the best version of myself, I still want to be out there — a tiny speck amid a white expanse, pressing deeper into the wilderness. There's truth and peace in such an endeavor, and I crave the intensity of emotion and depth of satisfaction that I find in cold, harsh, and beautiful places. But here, in the fog, I run into hesitation. I suppose this is natural. On Friday[...]

Mood swings


Winter is a volatile season in Boulder. Snow, then heat, then wind, then WIND, then sun. Even if you watch weather forecasts and travel outside nearly every day, it comes to a point where you walk out the door and really have no idea what you're going to get. Such was the case on Thursday, when it was 21 degrees and lightly snowing at 12:30 p.m. I'd failed to check online before I left, but the latest assessment from Boulder County Trail Conditions was somewhat dire:"Rough conditions on Green today. The warm conditions from a few days ago created some pretty frequent holes where people had punched through in the melting snow. Now those holes are rock hard ankle destroyers. And there is a light coating of snow on top of all the ice so you can't really see it."And from my friends, who ran part of my planned route in the morning:"Note: Sunshine is best ascended. It's basically dust on luge. We had spikes, Kahtoolas, new and old, screws, and Yaktrax represented and everyone slipped. No major wipeouts."Such conditions would have been endlessly frustrating for me, had I anticipated them, and had I been out for a short, focused excursion. But this was a "long" run, my second of four this week, near the end of a three-week "peak" before I head into a taper. I hoped to cover around 20 miles, ascending Green Mountain and Sanitas before making my way down Sunshine Canyon into town. For the first hour, I felt bad. My legs were leaden and the previous day's sled-drag lingered in my tight hamstrings. I noted glare ice under the snow as I plodded up the Green-Bear trail. "Better put on the spikes for the descent," I thought. But then I forgot.My mood picked up as I shuffled down the northern ridge of Green in summer shoes with soles worn thin. I slipped a few times on the bumpy ice, but these near-misses were sort of exhilarating. "These shoes are good for ice because the lugs are worn down," I told myself. I didn't want to put on the spikes, because I knew I'd hit Chapman and the bike path for a long stretch of bare ground.But then these places were even worse — bumpier ice, slicker snow, not even a hint of bare gravel or pavement. Stubbornly I left the spikes off, although this decision was never the right one. I was three hours into the run when head fuzziness began to kick in, and I floated up Sanitas in a pleasant reverie that numbed some of the effort.By the time I hit the descent through Sunshine — the same trail where my friends had slipped while wearing spikes in the morning — I was riding a thrilling wave of invincibility. My legs were as light as snow, dancing along a narrow ledge that cuts across a precariously steep side-slope over Sunshine Creek. Running this trail makes me nervous in the summertime. But here, with the worst conditions winter has to offer, I felt blissfully care-free. When a foot slipped, I'd throw down a trekking pole and pivot my body back into place. With each tricky maneuver, my rhythm didn't break for a second  — a kind of Riverdance that in my imagination was more fluid than any movement my body has ever managed. The consequences of a misstep — not even a misstep, but a typical reaction to rubber hitting ice — were high. And yet, for a blissful 20 minutes, I did not care. More than speed, more than success, this sensation is more intoxicating to me than any other — the illusion of grace.It wasn't until ten or so minutes after leaving the trail, while trotting down a wet sidewalk along Mapleton Street, that I thought, "Well that was really dumb." A huge smile spread across my face.One day earlier, I was dragging my 40-pound sled along Fourth of July Creek in a gusty snowstorm. It was warm, so the snow hitting my skin felt like sharp pellets of ice, but I was sweating bullets and had to vent heat where I could. This had been a real grind for five full hours, and my head never entered the care-free reverie that I enjoyed the following day. I ma[...]

Working the stabilizers


 This week was all about the type of running/hiking that I am inherently bad at ... and a lot of of it ... and not on purpose. Fourteen inches of snow is wonderful for a day or two, but after high winds blow it around and the sun comes out and snow thaws and freezes, thaws and freezes — you have a recipe for challenging surface conditions. I did get my 18 hours of motion this week, and none of those hours were cycling (Boo. But the road/trail conditions were quite awful this week.) In those 18 hours, I managed only 58 miles (16,000 feet of climbing.)Still, I'm stoked about the outcome of this training week — if nothing else, that I somehow came out of it uninjured. My body is not to be trusted on technical terrain, and after seven-plus years of being knocked around on trails with little improvement, I'm nearing acceptance about this. (Although hope springs eternal.)When I set out to run to town on Wednesday, I knew the snow conditions would be weird, and picked what I believed would be the easiest descent, Bear Canyon. However, it had been tracked by just one set of footprints since the storm (at least, people were just walking in that one set), and the postholes were surrounded by shin- to knee-deep wind-crusted Styrofoam. Even walking slowly, it remained a mystery whether a footfall would anchor my leg in place, or skid on a hidden layer of ice and send me sliding down the steep slope. I was so grateful when that flailing mess was over and I could climb Green Mountain for a while. But this necessitated another long descent.Early in this second descent, I rolled my bad ankle (my left ankle) and toppled over. This launched a series of four ankle rolls that became progressively worse — shooting pain and loss of balance. Although the pain subsided each time, joint wobbliness persisted until I wondered whether I'd torn a ligament. But I still had to get down the mountain. I'd been moving so slowly that I wasn't going to make it to Google in time. I texted Beat. He said he'd meet me at Gregory Canyon. I'd already veered away from this trailhead, so I turned around.Then, while hiking uphill, I placed my foot atop a shin-high boulder and somehow rolled my ankle as I lifted myself up. How? I couldn't begin to understand. I crumpled to the ground amid a shrill crescendo of pain. "I'm not getting up from this one," I thought. For a few seconds, I was convinced of this. A memory flashed into my mind, of an injured woman I once encountered in the Grand Canyon, with her foot turned 90 degrees in the wrong direction. Was my ankle broken? I couldn't bear to look.Then, once again, the pain subsided. I leaned against the nemesis boulder to pull myself up, then hovered for several seconds, working up the courage to put weight on my left leg. When I finally did, there was no problem. So strange! There was never any swelling or reduced motion, but my ankle continued to vaguely hurt for the rest of the week. Normal people, especially people with races on the line, would probably just opt to play it safe for a few days. I did rest my lower body by engaging in my usual weight-lifting routine on Thursday, and then on Friday I headed out the road for a six-mile cart pull. I'd gotten into a rare writing grove during the morning and afternoon, and didn't look up from my laptop until 4 p.m. The temperature had already dropped to 24 degrees with a stiff wind, and my layers — a decent softshell but thin tights — weren't quite up to the task of keeping me warm. So I was mildly chilled and plodding up a dirt road at two miles per hour with a 60-pound anchor bobbing behind me. By all accounts this should have been misery, but I was in a great mood. Here was the absolute most mundane thing I could be doing — leaving all of my mental space open for unrelated ruminations. I continued to make good progress on the afternoon's writing as I shambled along. On Saturday, Be[...]

Between the snows


Just five more weeks until Beat and I cross (a hopefully frozen) Knik Lake and venture into Alaska wilderness again. Similar to past years, I vacillate between a sled-dog-like "yip yip yip so excited" to "why am I so hopelessly fixated on this endeavor?" to "there's no way I'm actually healthy enough for any of this" to "so, so scared." Besides excitement and dread, another thing these late-January and February weeks have in common is single-minded focus on race preparations. So I fall behind in daily tasks. I log onto my blog less frequently. There's a lot on my mind, but not much to talk about besides the week's training adventures. December and January have been dismal in regard to precipitation ... it's been bad enough that during the high winds last weekend, Rocky Mountain Fire District issued a no-open-burn advisory for the area — meaning a concerning level of fire danger, in January. On Monday, we finally received a dusting of snow. It was actually close to two inches, enough to support a sled-drag down to South Boulder Creek.That night, an alert went out that there was a structure fire in our neighborhood. We hiked out to a spot just beyond our driveway and watched flames climb dozens of feet into the night sky. The blaze started when — according to a vague report from the Sheriff's Office — a wood stove caught fire and spread to the ceiling. The woman and her five dogs were able to escape safely, but the home was a total loss. The fire department reported that surrounding trees had caught fire as well, but thanks to snow cover and a calm night of single-digit temperatures, forest damage was minimal. It was eerie to watch this blaze, burning just a half mile due west of us, and wonder what might have been if this happened one day earlier, and the ground was still bare, and 40mph west winds were ripping through winter-dry grass.All was calm on Tuesday morning. I did my usual hour-long run on the unplowed road and still became bummed out when I was quite a bit slower than I'd managed during my December "peak" of effortless fitness. The uneasiness deepened when I faltered during my weight-lifting routine on Wednesday. But then again, I've been slacking on my trips to the gym. And doing more sled-and cart-dragging. So I'm tired. And that's why I'm losing strength. This isn't the start of a slump; don't jinx it.Wednesday dawned sunny and warm and I had a great run — 17 miles on fleet feet with my sleeves rolled up and gentle breathing as I made my way along the rocky trails into town. The miles went quickly enough that I had extra time to jaunt up Mount Sanitas before meeting Beat. See, you're fine. Calm down.On Friday, temperatures were forecast to hit 70 degrees. Of course Monday's snow had long since melted, and dirt roads were dry again. "This might be my last chance for a nice-weather ride," I thought — which, of course, is an excuse I've been using since September. It was a gorgeous afternoon, but I chose a familiar route and fell into preoccupied autopilot mode. Because of this, I wasn't present in the way I prefer. I'm annoyed about the Internet hot takes and current events that I spent most of the ride ruminating on, so I won't expand on it further. But I did get 56 miles with 6,400 feet of climbing. Sometimes superficial satisfaction with numbers has to suffice.After a four-hour run on Thursday and six-hour ride on Friday, my legs felt nicely worked for the weekend. Beat and I decided to return to Niwot Ridge — a reliable spot for a variety of sled-dragging conditions, offering a decent chance of wild weather for gear testing purposes, and low avalanche risk. The weather forecast is not all that useful for predicting what conditions will be like up on Niwot Ridge, but the research station does record detailed weather data that helps us quantify past trips. When we were here on January 13, winds were gus[...]

Winter training — sometimes ridiculous, never boring


The past couple of weeks since we returned from Alaska have been ... well ... they've been interesting. Similar to last winter, I've felt dubious about intentions to return to the Iditarod Trail yet again, but our trip to Fairbanks renewed my zeal for the endeavor. I'm actually sort of strong! I want to train well while I still can, before my next slump settles in. (Believe me, I am trying to talk myself out of magical thinking about a cycle of good health and bad health, but fear of an unavoidable pattern persists.) Since Colorado's Front Range (and most of the Intermountain West) still lacks snow, I talked Beat into putting our California cart back together. Beat originally designed this cart as a training tool to mimic sled-dragging on snowless trails in the Bay Area. Better than dragging a tire, the cart has some real weight to it, along with two disc brakes that can be partly clamped to add snow-like resistance to the wheels (the brakes also have levers attached to the pole, which are useful when you're about to be mowed down on a steep descent.) Officially, I despise this thing. I was surprised to learn it survived our move to Colorado, and has been languishing in the wood shed all this time. With six gallons of water plus the weight of the cart, the load is between 55 and 60 pounds. Once I engaged the brakes just a smidgeon, I could barely coax the cart (whose name is "Allen") to inch forward up our driveway. Perfect.  Since we only have one cart, Beat set up one of his old-and-busted sleds with 40 pounds of dumbbells. We made it out for four miles a week ago Saturday. I was feeling the initial symptoms of what turned into a crushing head cold. It was my first viral illness in two years (maybe this is a sign that my autoimmune disease is weakening, because my immune system is no longer so over-engaged that it torches everything in its path, including organs? I'll take hopeful magical thinking where I can find it.) The cold really put me on the floor for a few days. I usual disregard these types of illnesses (beyond being careful not to infect others), but the sore throat and head-clamping sinus headache were not to be ignored. Sunday passed in a congested daze; in training terms, I was "resting." On Monday the weather was irresistible, sunny and 65 degrees at 3 p.m. Warmer outdoors than in. What I should have done was take my laptop outside and sit in the sun. Instead, I thought, "I'll go for a bike ride!" My mountain bike still has pogies attached to the handlebars. Out of habit, I loaded my pack with mittens, a fleece cap, a thin shell, and a puffy jacket. Then I set out in bike shorts and a short-sleeved jersey, bemused about wearing such an outfit in January. By the time I reached the top of the road a half hour later, my head was pounding and I was shivering profusely. I stopped to put on all of the layers and continued around my planned route. The shivering worsened, and I realized that I was probably running a fever — either that, or feeling cold while wearing a puffy jacket and fleece hat in 65-degree sunshine is totally normal. I cut the route short and battled a throbbing headache all the way home.Tuesday I again spent the day mostly sprawled on the floor, but by Wednesday, I really did feel better. Or so I told myself. Beat and I planned to meet at his office for a car swap. Usually when we do this I bike into town, but I felt guilty about doing relatively little running since we returned from Alaska. I didn't have a route planned when I left the house on foot, and surprised myself when I turned left rather than the usual right. "I bet it's not too much farther if I descend Eldorado Canyon," I thought.It was farther. Ten miles for the usual route, nearly 20 veering all the way around the Flatirons. Well. At about mile 14 I was making my way up and down the steep[...]

... from living out in the snow


Day 3. It was Friday, I think. December 29, closing in on the end of 2017. Another year. Midnight-like darkness shrouded the window as Beat restocked the wood stove at 7 a.m. I sat up and blinked away a half-memory, half-dream about New Year's Eve 2008. I was training for my first Iditarod, so I loaded up newly acquired gear in a backpack and snowshoed up the Mount Jumbo trail in Juneau. The temperature at the time was -5F with a fierce, needling wind. Even though I planned to camp just two miles from the safety of my warm apartment, I was deeply frightened. But that emotion is not what I remember. What lingers, a decade later, still burned into sharp memories of snow-shrouded "ghost trees" and city lights twinkling through an icy fog, is slack-jawed astonishment. Astonishment at the beauty, at the savagery, and at the unlikely series of events that led me to that moment — not just surviving, but thriving on the world's hard edge. The sensation was intoxicating. "I haven't changed," I thought. "I haven't changed at all. How healthy is that?" At first light, Beat and I set out from Caribou Bluff. The temperature dipped to -30F. Until you've experienced colder temperatures, they're difficult to qualify, because cold is cold, right? But you feel the sharp difference between 30F and -30F, every bit as much as you would distinguish 30F from 90F. I've compared deep subzero cold to wolves lurking in the shadows, because as the early-20th-century Alaskan adventurer Hudson Stuck famously said, "everything is okay just as long as it's okay." But your body's natural defenses are meager at best. One mistake can spiral out of control with astonishing quickness. You know this instinctually, so you're always on alert. With experience, you learn the importance of managing everything within your control. Relinquishing vigilance to sleepiness, exhaustion or hunger is a dangerous game. It is amazing how you can slap a few layers of synthetic material on your hairless tropical animal body, then move comfortably through stratospheric cold. I enjoy shuffling through my cozy biosphere, feeling warm-blooded heat radiate into the atmosphere and relishing the freedom of — to dredge up a religious quote from my childhood — "being in this world, not of this world." The universe gifted humans with remarkable freedom. That we've used this freedom to lock ourselves into increasingly rigid standards of comfort, success and beliefs is an interesting dynamic of human nature. Despite this resistance, our ability to adapt and thrive remains, so far, limitless.I'm reminded of the famous quote from your favorite existentialist and mine, Albert Camus:"In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer."Our souls free us to explore the limits of time and space, but our bodies remain those of fragile tropical animals who long for the sun. Beat and I were three days into this trip before we saw our first (and only) rays of direct sunlight, creeping over the hillside above Beaver Creek.Beat celebrated the occasion. The temperature rose as high as -27F, and for a time I felt so comfortable that I'd unzip my fleece jacket and push the pole pogies down to vent a bit of heat through my bare hands. But then a stiff gust of wind would rush up the valley, searing naked skin like a flash of flame. These sudden shifts were breathtaking reminders about the razor-thin margins we skimmed.At least I finally got the positioning of my balaclava right — ice-lash free! When the wind picked up, all I needed to do was duck my head, pull up my jacket zipper and pogies, and relief returned. If it had been consistently windy, I would have pulled on goggles.Ten miles passed relatively quickly, and we arrived at Borealis cabin, our home for night three. We planned to continue out the s[...]

Then our skin gets thicker ...


With nine days in Alaska, we managed to spend eight in the backcountry. Yet we still returned from Tolovana in time for Corrine and Eric's Christmas Day feast with their family and friends, and I crammed in 15 hours of work between Monday night and Tuesday. Yes, it was a good week. And I've come a long way since we started planning these holiday "training trips" to Alaska in 2011. Back then, I would still shiver at the thought of spending more than one winter night many miles away from a working heater or humans with snowmobiles. Now I realize that five days alone in the Alaska wilderness is not enough. Not nearly enough. (But no, Beat, I'm still not ready to walk to Nome this year.) Fairbanks was about to wrap up its warmest December on record. One week before our planned four-night cabin trip in the White Mountains, the forecast was so bland that Corrine questioned whether we'd even see temps below zero. Of course the forecast changed, so abruptly that I'm not sure Beat and I were fully prepared, mentally, when we arrived in the pitch darkness of 9 a.m. at the Wickersham Dome. The temperature was 0F. "Brrr!" I exclaimed as I rigged up my sled. It was the warmest temperature we'd see for four days.Languid daylight slowly revealed a low cloud ceiling and hazy fog. We futzed with adding and removing layers as we made our way along Wickersham Dome. The anemic spruce forest was colorless and soft around the edges. Our sleds were bloated with five overly generous days of food and fuel (each of us ended up carrying about a third of our supply out at the end of the trip) and all of the gear we thought we'd need to walk long hours in subzero weather, cross open creeks, or camp outside at 40 below, should that become necessary. Even with everything we theoretically needed to survive, the first miles were intimidating — walking into a silent fog at 0 degrees, feeling the cold air needling at the sweat on my shoulders as I grunted up a hill, and wondering if I really had what it takes. Though I'd been through this before, and had confidence in my experience, the margin for error is undeniably thin. Uncertainty persists.Beat's home-made digital thermometer was borked. As we climbed and descended the undulating spine of the Dome, it read 66 degrees. By the time we dropped into the valley under clearing skies, the reading spiked to 80 degrees, and then 82. "I can say with some confidence that it is not 80 degrees," I said. Only a couple of days later did Beat realize what was happening — when he programmed the code, a mis-entered digit skewed the reading. To determine the correct temperature, we needed to subtract 64 from the reading, and then subtract that number from zero. So 80 degrees meant it was -16F. If we saw 90, it was -26F. The dreaded 100 degrees, oh, we'd see that too. Extreme heat became a cruel joke from Beat's thermometer.So it was 18 below and dropping. I'd subtracted too many layers, so I stopped and added my fleece jacket, a balaclava, and my custom (sewed by Beat) double-walled knee warmers (I may be the only person in the world who can have toasty hands and feet, and cold knees.) Each year, my gear just becomes more eclectic. Half of it is homemade. The rest is stuff you don't typically see in any mainstream outdoor gear catalogue: A cheap off-brand (but windproof!) balaclava, primaloft shorts, a wind-shield furry fleece jacket that Mountain Hardwear took off the market years ago (sob), primaloft mittens with an opening in the palm so I never have to wear liner gloves (I so dislike having to eat with gloved fingers.) Time passes and we become more set in our ways — our heavily-individualized-and-not-recommended-for-anyone-else ways.Cozied up in extra layers with the thermometer slowly ticking upward, we marched up and down the rolling[...]

Still my perfect holiday


Our timing was impeccable. We stepped off a plane at 10:45 p.m., rented a car, grabbed a stack of frozen pizzas and trail snacks at Safeway, and even snuck in a long winter's nap at Corrine and Eric's house. Fewer than ten hours after arriving in Fairbanks, we hit the icy road north to the place where Christmas dreams come true: The Magical Land of Tolovana Hot Springs. How much do I love Tolovana Hot Springs? Let me count the ways. There's the frequent promise of an epic approach. The trailhead sits at one of the windiest, coldest spots south of the Yukon River. The 10.5-mile trail takes the most direct line to the springs, descending into a frigid valley before ascending 1,500 feet straight up the wind-blasted Tolovana Hot Springs Dome. Spindly spruce fade to open tundra. Spindrift buries the trail, often forcing 1mph post-holing into windchills of 60 below. Tolovana Hot Springs Dome is one of the most intense places I've experienced, second only to the sea ice across Norton Sound. It's surreally brutal. Except when it's not. Sometimes, you show up at the trailhead just a couple days after winter solstice, and it's 15 degrees above zero and eerily calm. You know the weather on the Dome will be similar, so you remove the many layers you nervously applied during the drive north, and step into the sunshine. It's a subtle sunshine, just barely peeking over the southern horizon at noon, which might be considered late morning here, about one hour into a 3.5-hour day. Tolovana carries the promise of a relaxing soak in thermal hot springs, a delicious feast of pizza and ice cream hauled in by sled, and a long winter's snooze in a wood-heated cabin. For these reasons, it's easy to convince friends to join in the fun. For the first night, we were joined by Corrine on skis, Eric with his kicksled, and fat-biker Steve, an Iowan in Fairbanks for an extended stay. We all left the trailhead within 20 minutes of each other. Bracing for what is usually a 4- to 5-hour strenuous slog, I was determined to be the slowest by only a small increment. (3:24 for the hike in. Woo!)The miles passed with surprisingly little effort as the barely-risen sun began to sink behind Denali. From Tolovana Hot Springs Dome, in every direction, we viewed hundreds of miles of wilderness — swamps and rivers and domes and far-away mountains, almost unbroken by human interface.Sunrise to sunset may only span three and a half hours, but lingering nautical twilight nearly doubles the length of a winter day at 65 degrees north. All seven hours are filled with pastel and golden light that renders the landscape in striking hues. For a beauty seeker, the fleeting daylight of the far-northern winter offers uninterrupted awe.Our home for the next two nights was a two-room log cabin, one of three small structures at this privately-owned destination. The luxurious accommodations include a nearby cold spring for drinking water, a wood stove and stocked firewood, solar-powered electric lights, and a propane oven. I received complements for my masterful frozen-pizza-baking skills (I didn't drop the pizzas on the floor! Which did happen the first time we were here.) Then we were off to the tubs for a midnight soak, by which I mean it was about 8:30 p.m. Alaska time, six hours after sunset. Corrine teased us for donning our expedition down coats, which led us to coin the term "down shaming." It was our turn to smirk as we crawled out of the water into single-digit air and slipped on instantly warming outfits.Several times during the night, I got up to walk outside in my underwear and booties and look at the sky. The first three times yielded no discoveries, but a chance 6 a.m. bathroom break elicited a gasp when I finally looked up. I thought 6 a.m. was too late fo[...]

2017 in photos


Just about every blogger and journalist I read and respect ended the year with more or less the same message: 2017 can go right in the trash can, where it belongs. Of course, just one year ago, we were ranting about the awfulness of 2016 and hoping that somehow the advancement of a single digit would turn things around. But then the daily news cycle became even more surreal, the weather increasingly weird, the lines between fact and rhetoric more blurry, and the outlook just a little more bleak. Beat and I recently talked about the ways current events have affected our day-to-day actions in ways we didn't expect. Personally, I struggle most with my worst impulse, which is nihilism ... or the resigned belief that "nothing matters." Even with daily affirmations that this isn't true, I still question why I should bother with anything. It was, well ... it was a year.And now it's 2018! I procrastinated on getting around to my annual tradition of posting favorite photos from each month of the year. So I didn't spend as much time combing through the images as I would have liked. For a while I tried the challenge of choosing my best "frosty photo" for every month, but by any stretch of imagination, I couldn't find frosty in June and July. So these are the photos are more or less the best representation of each month of this garbage year. (Okay, 2017 was not garbage. I continued to stay alive and have amazing experiences, so I'm grateful.) January: Niwot RidgeLess than 12 months on, January 2017 has already, for the most part, faded from memory. Although I didn't yet know the cause, I was the most sick with symptoms of Grave's Disease as I had been before or since. I was often simultaneously agitated and exhausted, jumpy but lacking strength, mentally muddled and emotionally depressed. In the midst of this, I continued to believe I'd ride my bike across Alaska in a few short weeks, and forced my training far beyond the extent of reason. When I attempted the Fat Pursuit 200-mile fat bike race in Idaho, my breathing became so bad that I was convinced I was having momentary blackouts ... moments where I found myself wrestling for awareness like a drowning swimmer reaching for the surface ... and it was 40 below. It was a grasping, desperate time for me. But some experiences were still good, like this hike I did on Niwot Ridge with my sled-dragging friends, who were training for foot races. The afternoon was misty, warm, gorgeous.February: Walker RanchThanks to a training trip to Alaska and a casual observation from my physician friend Corrine, I went on the fast-track to the Grave's Disease diagnosis — a hyperthyroid condition that wasn't even on my radar prior to February. In less than a week I transitioned from holding the last strands of optimism to withdrawing from the Iditarod and beginning the rollercoaster ride of treatment. My motivation for most things withered. If I'm being very honest, I have to admit that February is about the last time I was making reasonable progress on book projects, rather than writing and discarding pages or formulating fragmented notes for numerous projects that may never become anything else. Yes, sigh. At least I didn't have to thrash through futile training efforts anymore. Still, if I don't get outside to soothe the monkey mind, my worst impulses all too quickly take over. Without training pressure, my rides and runs did become more enjoyable. This misty romp through an ice-coated Walker Ranch was dreamy, until I slipped on the ice and bashed my knee so badly that I barely limped out. Still better than gasping for air.March: Thunder MountainAdmittedly, the darkness followed me into March, even as I wandered through my favorite places. An illness forced Beat to drop [...]

Halcyon days


Beat and I are returning to Alaska for the holidays, a yearly tradition that we skipped last year because we moved to Colorado, "which already has winter" ... until we realized it doesn't. Actually, although I miss seeing my family, I love going "home" for Christmas. Alaska at solstice is uniquely magical. I'm really looking forward to this trip. Because we planned some ambitious overnights near Fairbanks, I had planned to take it easy this week — a bit of a "rest week" to shore up strength that will be sorely needed for the difficulties ahead. On Monday I wiled away the afternoon with work. When I finally looked up from the computer, it was too late to drive to town and go to the gym. With an hour until sunset, I opted for a short run on my regular route. I walked out the door feeling sleepy and sluggish, but as soon as my feet hit the dirt, my legs felt refreshingly light. A mile buzzed on my watch, and when I looked down, I was surprised to be moving so fast* (a relative term) when this pace was so easy* (also relative.)I tend to have a lot of fun with exercise when I'm experiencing an "upswing" in my health. I don't push myself hard — because during downswings I have to push hard just to move forward, so I'm not inclined to continue the practice when it's not necessary. Instead I relax, and relish the exhilaration of a temporary but joyful ability "to run and not be weary." I passed the trailhead and made a last-minute decision to head up to Green Mountain. Glances at my watch revealed more pleasant surprises ... so easy! So fast! (all relative.) Ice packed the trail and I took careful steps, but still stayed well ahead of my usual paces. The final pitch to the peak was a patchwork of ice and rocks. I scrambled upward, using my knuckles when needed. Just as I hit the peak, the sky lit up with an incredible crimson sunset. So beautiful! So late! I donned the headlamp that I stuffed in my pocket before I left the house. I had nothing else on me — no water, no camera, no phone. I was angry about my inability to take a photo, and then reminded myself that it's more important to experience the fullness of a moment, rather than get caught up in the futility of documenting beauty.I picked my way downhill, crab-walking a few spots, as the sky became brighter and redder, and dammit, that spot right there would be perfect framing for a photograph. Why do I care so much? About taking photos of another (yawn) sunset? I smirked at this annoying aspect of my personality, and continued to lope down the trail, alternating brief glances between the sketchy ice and the stunning sky, yet never missing a step or slowing my pace. One of my best runs in months. After another great run on Tuesday, I noticed 60-degree temperatures in the forecast for Wednesday. Oh well, so much for taking a rest week. The last day of autumn brought my last long ride of 2017 — sunny, warm, and although not quite calm, the cooling wind was not unwelcome. I aimed for one of my many Colorado nemeses, Caribou Road. It's steep and coated in ball-bearing gravel, but then again everything around here is steep and coated in loose gravel, even pavement, so I'm not sure what makes Caribou Road so hard. But it gets me every time. By the time I grind past the stone facade of a long-abandoned mining town, I want to die. Having "upswing" fitness doesn't change this, sadly. With searing lungs and lactic-acid-filled legs, I finally topped out at 10,200 feet. Temperatures were still in the high-40s, warm enough that I didn't need to put on a hat or gloves as I sat on the dry tundra and made a picnic out of two almond bars. "This is almost nicer than any day in summer up here," I thoug[...]

Finally launched some training


Here I am on another Monday morning, face scrunched like child called upon to answer a math problem as I try to conjure article ideas for a proposal. When nothing comes, I migrate over to this blog, which is better than Twitter, right? "Your problem," I tell myself, "is that you don't think like a normal person. You have only a vague concept of what other people find interesting. I mean, you're still blissed out about dragging a sled over bare gravel. Who does that?"  On Sunday, Beat and I finally got out for our first sled-drag of the season after giving up on snow. Sure, it's been snowing in and around Boulder since September, but subsequent days of 60 degrees means it never sticks around long enough to plan an excursion. I'm still riding my regular mountain bike without studded tires because snow and ice is absent nearly all the way to the Continental Divide.Below is a photo I took last Wednesday in Golden Gate State Park at 9,500 feet, when I was coasting along on my bike. I felt so strong that I became mildly suspicious about Beat installing an electric motor when I wasn't looking, to help me feel better about myself. (Several months ago, he made a similar move with a power meter. It's a fun data-collecting tool, I admit, but usually it makes me feel worse about myself.)For this ride, though, I recorded my highest long-ride power reading yet, without applying even close to the usual perceived effort. Yes! Back on the upswing! Just like that, the daunting world takes on a notably brighter hue for no reason besides a better balance of hormones. This is another reason I believe my writing efforts have suffered in 2017, because I no longer trust what I feel or perceive. Whereas I used to ruminate on observations in nature and reach for connections to the wider human experience, now I just think, "Bah. Thyroid anxiety again."Last Friday, out of curiosity more than anything, I paid for a blood test from one of those private online lab services. I'm nearing a point in treatment where my doctor will only request labs every two to three months, and I'll see her once a year. But, like a person who uses a power meter, I'm interested in the week-to-week fluctuations. I doubt I'll have these tests done often, as they're still $60 (as opposed to the $400(!) that my insurance company is billed and the $2.75 that I pay out of pocket.) But I may treat myself to an occasional blood test when I'm feeling particularly good or bad, or just different, to eventually piece together possible correlations.Right now my numbers are quite good ... staying steady in the near-normal range despite having my medication dose cut in half. And I feel better, although I'm starting to have more of the symptoms that I tend to have when my T3 is on the low side — daytime sleepiness and feeling cold when I'm not moving, even when the wood stove is cranking and it's nearly 80 degrees in the house. But the other scary symptoms that I associated with times of fluctuation, such as hair loss and brain fog, are subsiding.The lows definitely feel less intense and more infrequent, and I tell myself that my body is still undulating toward balance. Still, I can't help but draw patterns. Since I started treatment last February, there seems to be general two-month curves in my health:February and March 2017: Bad.April and May: Good!June and July: Bad.August and September: Good! Even better!October and November: Bad. But perhaps not so bad.December and ... January? Good! Perhaps this will be the best yet!February and March 2018 ... Doh! An ongoing dream has reflected the nervousness I feel about February and March. In my dream, I'm about to set out on the Iditarod Trail. [...]

Here's to my yesterday


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

Pretending it's not December


'Tis the season — that time of year when everyone (meaning a small sampling of friends and acquaintances) is planning 2018 outdoor adventures and races. I see their posts on social media and admit to feeling a small sting of resentment ... "Oh, look at you with your high confidence in a predictable fitness arc built on training and preparation ..." Beat has been sending me links to enticing events, but I've resisted the temptation to sign up for anything past next March. The sting of 2017's disappointments and failures is still fresh, and my body hasn't given any consistent indication that it's going to cooperate for me next year, either. I feel like I should continue working on acceptance and nurturing other interests rather than beating my head against the same wall. Of course, I'm as bad as the sugar addict who swears off sweets in the morning only to eat a giant cookie for lunch (which, incidentally, is something I would do.) This resolve to not sign up for any more races completely ignores the two huge events I'm supposedly training for right now, which are happening in just over two short months. ("80 days!" someone posted. I prefer this characterization because 80 sounds like a comfortable buffer of days, while two months sounds soon.) What gives me any confidence that I'll have what it takes to survive the Iditarod or White Mountains 100? Nothing, to be honest. Besides, I suppose, the reality that I've done it before. My most recent thyroid numbers have fallen into normal range. In theory I should be feeling better. I am, I suppose, but my breathing is still on the rough side, and there hasn't been much pep in my recent efforts. On the positive side, my weight-lifting has rapidly improved in the past few weeks. I almost feel like a real athlete again every time I hit the gym. This leads me to believe my body isn't consuming muscle right now (which is something hyperthyroidism does.) It also sparks a temptation to just go full gym rat and forget all of the running and biking. Of course, I'd probably last three days before missing the outdoors so terribly that I'd come crawling back, in the literal sense. I am a addict. The rough breathing is probably tied to multiple issues and won't be easily solved. I've had multiple discussions and tests with my endocrinologist and asthma doctor, and they both agree that I have allergic asthma. Asthma has nothing to do with my thyroid, although these numbers affect my heart rate and therefore breathing, and the autoimmune responses may be connected. This autumn has been particularly bad for allergies, with little moisture and lots of wind. I let myself believe that if winter would just come, everything would be all right. I'd be relieved of this dust-filled air. I'd actually be able to drag my sled, and put my recently boosted strength to better use. And if my sluggishness doesn't improve, it won't matter because winter is guilt-free slog season. So I continue to hope for snow, even as the high-pressure ridge lingers. The snowless late autumn even extended to Utah, where I managed a couple of fun outings between the Canyonlands backpacking trip and returning home to dusty Colorado. My dad and I hiked to the ridge above Desolation Lake, with views toward Park City. It was 63 degrees when we left the trailhead, and 37 and snaining when we returned three hours later. Sadly the cold front didn't stick around long enough to bring much precipitation.On my way home I opted to drive I-80, mostly to take a quick jaunt up the west ridge of Grandeur Peak on my way out of town. This is perhaps my favorite hike from the Salt Lake Valle[...]

Walks through time


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

People find some reason to believe


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

Wind is a difficult thing to capture


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



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



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

Frittering away weekdays


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

Forest Road 509 made me cry


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

Nice summer-winter days


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