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Preview: Up in Alaska

Jill Outside





Updated: 2017-10-16T15:09:14.342-06:00

 



Forest Road 509 made me cry

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

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



Nice summer-winter days

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

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



Fog, leaves and thundersnow

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

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



Launching into the season

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

This has been a dreary week. Just a few days after we returned from Europe and I complained about 90-degree heat and red-flag fire conditions, a whole bunch of clouds moved in. It's been 40 degrees and drizzling/fog-raining/heavily raining ever since. I don't really mind. The clearer and cooler the air, the healthier and faster I become. Thanks to bone-chilling weather, my transition from living at 1,000-3,000 feet back to 7,200 feet happened almost flawlessly.My Achilles stopped hurting much faster than expected (not really tendonitis; I suppose I should be grateful.) As soon as the weather moved in, I was off my bike and back on foot. Although I've missed bikes, there's really nothing worse than cycling when it's 40 degrees and raining. I endured this almost continuously for five years in Juneau. Now I'm over it for life.Running has been going so well. A couple of tentative jogs helped loosen creaky over-hiked joints, and then I was loping along faster and more relaxed than the weeks before we left for Europe. After one or two hours I'd come home so drenched that I'd have to remove all of my clothing in the entryway to avoid dripping on the floor. This would come as a slight surprise; I hadn't even noticed the wet and cold because I felt so strong. It was liberating.By Wednesday, the fog had been hanging low for five days, and my motivation was beginning to wane. Staring into thick gray soup gets old. I bribed myself into running by downloading new mp3s, which always boosts my mood. (If I wasn't one of those runners loping through the woods with an iPod, I'd be one of those adults sprawled on a couch and listening to vinyl on a turntable. I enjoy music for its own sake, but the experience is enhanced by outdoor scenery and motion. I never feel unaware of my surroundings. I'm not surprised by others on the trail. It is possible to keep volume low enough to also hear what's going on around you.)Anyway, I was a half mile into this run when I realized I forgot trekking poles, which shook my confidence. I was heading into a favorite run-hike route, involving a rocky descent into Bear Canyon and a grunt up Fern Canyon, which gains 1,800 feet in 0.8 miles on a veritable staircase of rocks — steep enough that the women's course record (in Boulder, "the fittest city in the U.S.") amounts to a 29-minute-mile. So it's a tough route and I've become fiercely dependent on my crutches, which help improve balance and shift some of the workload off of my wobbly left leg. (Should I explain why I believe my left leg is wobbly? Well, when I was 19, I most likely broke my ankle after falling down a flight of concrete stairs and dropping a (rather large 1990s) television. I never had it checked, but it's more or less permanently swollen, unstable and susceptible to rolling. In 2014 I tore the lateral collateral ligament in my left knee, and the resulting scar tissue also affects stability. Okay, no more long asides.)Along the trail were hints of autumn color, dripping with a wintry gray. I was listening to Tori Amos's new album, which is beautifully ethereal, when I commenced crawling up Fern Canyon. The fog was so thick that even the nearest rocks and trees were a soft blur. Behind the quiet purr of music was an encompassing silence. Without my trusty crutches I felt like I was oozing up the canyon, cold fingers gripped on rocks and roots, whatever they could find for support. I was in a tranquil mood and my breathing reflected this, so everything about this effort felt slow. And yet I later learned I'd set on new PR, by two minutes, on a route where I've pushed the pace on at least two dozen times. The effortless PRs always signal bouts of renewed fitness. How long will it last? I don't know, but I can hold out hope for permanence.My next big goal is the 350-mile version of the Iditarod Trail Invitational, which I want to do on foot. The last time I put in a big on-foot effort was this same course in 2014. In four years I've only been able to finish one 10[...]



So long, Courmayeur

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

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



Trying to find these perfect places

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

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



The final Tor?

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

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



Winter is coming

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

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



Getting my steps in

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

On Tuesday morning I checked the race tracker and saw that Beat's team was just about to the top of a narrow pass called Fenêtre d'Arpette. After that, I remembered, was a long technical section requiring helmets and crampons — obviously featuring a whole lot of nope. But if you avoid the scary route and instead turn left toward the bucolic Swiss village of Champex Lac, you can make a nice loop following the super-easy UTMB course over a 2,500-foot bump called Bovine mountain. It was one of the few segments of UTMB I haven't seen, and Fenêtre d'Arpette looked spectacular. I thought the loop would take me eight hours, which is all I can afford on a Tuesday before 12 hours of working through the night on Alaska time.It was already becoming hot when I left Trient around 9 a.m. — 27C according to the car thermometer. I'd only packed two liters of water, and was feeling severe drag in my legs as I trudged up a lovely trail along a turquoise glacier stream. This would be day four of steep hiking, logging at least a vertical mile of climbing every day. "I should do this every day I'm in Chamonix," I thought. "Vertical mile." The 5,280 feet of a mile sounded hard, so I rounded the number down to 5,000 feet. Like people who get their 10,000 steps in every day, I would strive for 5,000 vertical feet, every day for nine days. The challenge was on. Trient Glacier and its impressive moraine. Sunlight was glaring in the late morning, and I had to squint through my sunglasses. Even with washed-out light, the scenery was spectacular. The final 2,000 feet to the pass jut upward on on a talus and boulder slope with a faint trail that sometimes approached 50-percent grades. My legs finally began to perk up and I relished the grind. This is exactly my kind of thing ... steep, only mildly technical, not dangerous. I passed a few PTL teams who appeared surprisingly cheerful given the circumstances — after all, they'd been working hard, really hard, for more than 24 hours. The most bubbly were three Japanese women who I was thrilled to see. Mixed teams are becoming more common in PTL, but all-women teams are still exceedingly rare.Looking down the other side of "the window of Arpette." It had taken me four hours to cover six miles, and I had to decide whether I could manage 12 more miles that included an equally difficult descent and another robust climb in the same amount of time. I decided to go for it.Unfortunately I lost the route and burned up many minutes crab-walking and crawling through a large boulder field. I've learned that I have poor ankle stability ... yes, I realize that I can work on strengthening my ankles. But even then, I'll never be a graceful gazelle dancing through the boulder fields. No, I imagine that my skewed proprioception will always require three- and four- and five-point contact until I resemble a slug oozing over the rocks.Looking toward Aiguille d'Arpette. This was the scary route PTL was supposed to take, somewhere up in those cliffs. I later learned that the whole field had been rerouted around the high glacier traverse, apparently because the PTL organization had a change of heart and decided it was genuinely too dangerous for 250-plus sleep-deprived participants with widely varying skill levels. I was shocked.Predictably, I ran out of water while making my way down the valley. There were cows everywhere, and I felt uneasy about collecting water from a stream and putting chlorine tablets in it. "I'll be able to get water in Champex," I thought. But then the route skirted through the forest above town, and I didn't come across any fountains or even streams until I reached a small restaurant at the base of Bovine. There was an outdoor bar, where I pointed to a cold case with 1.5-liter bottles of water inside. "Can I buy one of those water bottles?" I asked. Although the bartende[...]



PTL, again

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

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



38

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

 Sunday was my birthday. Even though the number puts me unequivocally well into my late 30s, I looked forward to the turnover. 37 was not my best year. Autumn and winter brought a descent into increasingly poor health and fitness as I desperately tried to train for the most daunting adventure I had ever planned to attempt, the Iditarod Trial Southern Route to Nome. The harder I pushed, the worse I felt ... but the sensation was something more insidious than fatigue or burnout. It felt as though I was being smothered from the inside out. Desperation kept me (relatively) quiet about my deteriorating stoke, but I genuinely hated how I felt during some of these training efforts, and hated that I was starting to hate adventure.In February, I was diagnosed with an incurable autoimmune thyroid disease that forced me to withdraw from the race, which I considered walking away from a potentially once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. In March, while snowshoeing in Juneau, I was caught in an avalanche (which I gratefully walked away from.) Spring brought the physical rollercoaster and an understanding that, no matter what, things are never going to be quite the same. In June, feeling wildly optimistic, I DNF'd the only ultra I attempted this year, the Bryce 100. Such failures always hit the ego hard, and I spent most of July believing I'd always be (relatively) enfeebled.In August, my outlook noticeably improved — independent of anything happening in my life and despite the timing. August is usually my least favorite month. This one was cool and green and full of wildflowers. I felt jazzed about the tiniest moments, like viewing the soft morning light over Eldorado Mountain when I had to take out the trash on Thursday morning. As I told my sister, it feels as though this dreary fog had slowly enveloped me over the past two years, and now it's beginning to fade. The gray pall cast over my thoughts and emotions is brightening. If I could stay on this mental upswing, I'd embrace whatever physical limitations had to follow. Happily, my physical health is back on the right track as well. If I could choose anything in the world to do on my birthday, high on that list would be "climb Lone Peak with my dad." Lone Peak is a 11,253-foot summit in the Wasatch Mountains. I consider it my "home" mountain. I grew up in its morning shadow; the peak is less than five miles due east from my childhood home — and 7,000 feet higher. As a hike, it's considered by many to be the most difficult standard route to a summit in the Wasatch, rising 6,000 feet in six miles along a chunder-filled gully of a trail called Jacob's Ladder, followed by boulder-hopping in a granite cirque, and finally a class-3 to low-4 scramble up a narrow ridge of vertically-stacked monzonite slabs.I don't quite remember the first time my dad guided me to this peak. I believe it was the summer after I graduated from high school, 20 years ago. My early memories of Lone Peak's difficulty all surround the steep slog of Jacob's Ladder. There are fewer memories of the slabs that bother me today ... probably because I have 20 years of physical conditioning behind me now, and also two decades of risk and personal ability assessment, which have made me much more wary of exposed scrambling. Much sharper than memories of difficulty are memories of amazement and joy — the quiet Alpine forest mere miles from my crowded suburban neighborhood, the sheer granite walls above the cirque, and standing on top of a peak barely as wide as I am tall, overlooking the entire Salt Lake Valley.My unplanned trip to Utah for my aunt's funeral just happened to put me in position for a 20th anniversary/38th birthday visit to what is still my favorite mountain. Dad was available, and we also were joined by his friend Tom. Dad had Sund[...]



Upward over the mountain

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

Last week, my aunt Jill died at age 53. She had multiple myeloma, a blood cancer caused by malignant plasma cells. Her cancer was incurable and aggressive. She battled for three years, trying every treatment and several clinical trials. From afar, the treatments seemed painful and isolating. She must have felt hopeless at times, but she was brave. When faced with the prospect of a painful stem cell transplant that had only a small chance of success, she said, "this might not extend my life, but it will help doctors learn more about these treatments for the future." We shared the same name, Jill Homer. When I was a child, she impressed on me the value of finding joy in everything. My grandmother had given me some kind of chore after Thanksgiving dinner. I don't remember the chore, only that I was unhappy because I wanted to play with my cousins. My aunt said, "Don't look at it as punishment. It's just another type of adventure." I'm paraphrasing. The word adventure is probably something my memory inserted years later. But that was my aunt. Life is a great adventure, whether you're zip-lining down from dizzying heights (a thing she decided to do shortly after being diagnosed with cancer) or doing the dishes. I decided to drive out to Utah for the funeral this weekend. It was a beautiful service, attended by all of my aunts and uncles and a large number of my many cousins. As the years pass, I realize more how much I value my big Mormon family with our often messy and loud gatherings, the jello salads and funeral potatoes. It was nice to spend an afternoon with them and learn more about Jill's final weeks. Death inevitably leads to reflection about the fleeting nature of life, and its sources of joy. Jill never stopped embracing beauty, even when she was in pain.In her spirit — or really, in my spirit, but I think we shared a lot of the same values as well as a name — I took advantage of the road trip to squeeze in a little adventure on two 14ers near the Interstate, Torreys and Grays peaks. Looking at a map, it seemed there was a more interesting route than the standard trail, starting from Loveland Pass. This route included a lot of climbing and descending and two smaller (13er) peaks in the way, but bonus: You start above treeline, just below 12,000 feet. Views the whole way. And ridge walking! Right out of the car I felt a bit rough — nauseated, mostly. My breathing was actually fine, despite the altitude. I slogged along and tried to eat some fruit snacks, but despite the stomach grumblings I felt pretty good. Sunny day, perfect weather forecast, and a trail to two 14ers with nobody on it. What more could you ask for? Looking toward Torreys and Grays from Grizzly Peak. Right off this ridge was a steep descent on loose talus, and I took a fall. It wasn't that bad. I have what I consider a "bad ankle," my left ankle, which I broke when I was 19. It's been the weak one ever since. I've been rolling it a lot lately, and I rolled it on top of a loose boulder and crumpled onto a thankfully smaller pile of rocks with my head downhill. I rose with no injures (save the tailbone I bruised when I fell down the stairs last week, which still hurts.) But I was dizzy and disoriented and really, really spooked. Why was I so spooked? It's difficult to justify now. I wasn't hurt and this wasn't terribly difficult terrain. Despite this reality, I was remorseful. "Why do I always go to the mountains? I'm not good in the mountains at all, and they scare me. Why, oh why, oh why?"I inched my way down Grizzly's talus field and started up a new one to summit Torreys. This route that gains 1,700 feet in less than a mile, topping out at 14,275 feet. I tried to shake how spooked I felt, unsuccessfully, and struggled migh[...]



Thundersummer

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

Claps of thunder were closing in as I raced down chunky gravel on Rainbow Lakes Road, spun out in my highest gear. Lightning hadn't yet made an appearance, but the thunder sounded close, and I was hurrying to reach an outhouse at the Sourdough Trailhead, about a mile downhill. I rounded a corner at high speed and saw the cow moose and her calf almost too late, screeching the wet brakes to a stop about 100 feet away. The moose stood on the right side of the road facing me, looking unperturbed but also unwilling to move. There was nowhere to backtrack for miles. So it would be a standoff."Hey moose," I called out, as though she didn't already know she was dealing with an annoying human. Lightning sliced through the sky directly in front of us. A shattering thunder boom followed within one second. The moose didn't budge. Still straddling my bike, I backed up a few feet and glanced into the woods, scouting for the darkest spot to hide from lightning with the kind of tree I could possibly climb should the moose decide to charge. Within seconds the indigo sky unleashed a shower of hail. Finally the moose and her calf took off down the road. I waited some more, wincing at the sting of marble-sized ice balls on my shoulders and hands ... but it was better than being stomped by a moose. Finally it felt safe to continue coasting down the road. Moose tracks pressed into the wet gravel for a quarter mile before they veered into the forest.Hail was still pouring down when I reached the trailhead and ducked into outhouse, a relatively spacious and clean toilet that was as welcome as any shelter could be. I took the opportunity to pour a cascade of rocks and mud out of my shoes, and pulled on all of the same layers that I typically carry in my backpack in January — fleece pullover, waterproof shell, fleece hat, fleece mittens. As I waited out the storm for the next ten minutes, I continued to shiver. Every convulsion sent a shock of pain through my bruised back. Just three hours earlier, I'd also fallen down the stairs.At home we have just a single set of stairs, but they're steep, uncarpeted, and about 15 feet high. I've had a few near-misses before and know better to watch my footing and hold the railing, but I was descending in socks while holding sunglasses in one hand and a GPS device in the other. Halfway down, a sock-foot slipped and I went down hard on my butt and back, bouncing down eight or nine steps before crumpling in a heap at the bottom. My backpack full of water and winter gear had twisted around and the strap was tight against my neck, almost choking me, and I was nauseated and hyperventilating. I thought I might faint. I fought to hold onto consciousness, both because I didn't want the backpack strap to suffocate me after I passed out, and because fainting after falling down the stairs at home was embarrassing enough even if I wasn't found dead in this position.After several minutes of concentrating on breathing, I regained enough composure to stand. My butt was throbbing and my left calf had a strange knot that felt like a fist clenched against the muscle. My sunglasses and GPS had both exploded into pieces, but these luckily are "Jill-proof" items that I was able to put back together. I paced for several more minutes and concluded that I wasn't injured, just in pain. "It's not worse than crashing my bike. And I still ride after crashing my bike. So I guess I should ride."My plan for the day wasn't a small one — 50 miles, almost 6,000 feet of climbing, and exploration on what turned out to be a swampy mess of rocky doubletrack, Forest Service Road 505. I didn't regret my decision to ride until 505, when stepping off the bike to push it around knee-deep mud puddles clenched the invisible fist[...]



Mountain benders ... good for what ails you

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

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



Mountain benders ... always the best plan

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

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



Going up, just 'cause

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

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



Taking my medicine

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

Last week I dove far too deep down the rabbit hole of Internet health content — synopses of scientific studies, anecdotal evidence, dubious recommendations and subsequent debunking. Combine all of this with a hearty dose of world news, and I emerged feeling hopeless — which is nearly always my reaction to the (non-adventure-focused) Internet. I don't even know why I spend any time in that place. Despite this disheartening spiral that ultimately re-enforced skepticism, and despite Beat's well-reasoned argument that trying too many things at once will only yield inconclusive results, I still ended up at Rite Aid with $100 of the most anecdotally recommended nutritional supplements. I contemplated the tedious realities of adopting a restrictive diet (I dislike food prep so much. If they made a Soylent-type product for the autoimmune protocol, I would be all over it.) Finally, my endocrinologist sent the okay to up my medication dose in a way that requires cutting pills in half. Do you know how much I hate that I've become a 37-year-old who contemplates special diets, needs a pill cutter, uses multiple daily prescriptions, and has a cabinet full of dubious supplements? I'm turning into Collette Reardon from the classic Saturday Night Live skits. That part of me thinks I should just chuck it all and feel the way I feel. But in this physical state, life loses some of its shine. My mind becomes a dull, unfocused place, overrun with unjustified anxiety. My body becomes strangely detached — both over-tired and over-stimulated, in a way that I believe I've previously compared to an underpowered car, my old 1996 Geo Prism. I imagine that car when I am sputtering up a hill, gas pedal pressed all the way to the floor. That thing would groan and rumble, but it did make it all the way to Alaska and back. And despite hard use, the motor was still running well when I finally let it go with 200,000 miles, expecting it to be sold for parts, and then catching a glimpse of it on the Interstate over a year later. Can I really glean hope from the performance of an old car? No, probably not. But performance is secondary. Right now, I'd rather rebalance my mind. If I thought I could do that by laying in bed all day, I probably would. But after a two-hour nap on Saturday, I felt more detached than ever. Beat is wrapping up his training for the Ouray 100, and wanted one more long day in the mountains. I was admittedly dreading this outing, because I don't feel so great in the high country. I feel underpowered, dizzy, and a little bit desperate, in a way I've described as oxygen-deprivation, although chemically it's probably more complicated than that. It's sad to spend a Colorado summer fearful of mountains, so I'm trying to overcome the aversion.Beat planned to push hard to the top of James Peak while I meandered part-way up the mountain. He completed the seven miles with 4,000 feet of climbing in just over two hours, which is impressive. I was surprised to see him at the saddle — even moving as slowly as I had been, I expected to make it a little farther up the mountain before we met. But it all worked out well; I didn't exhaust my circulatory system trying to keep up, and thus felt a lot better than I would have expected to feel at 12,000 feet.A nasty-looking storm followed Beat off James Peak. We both made efforts to pick up speed as we climbed onto an off-trail segment along the Continental Divide. I expected the storm to catch up to us, but it never did.Moving toward sunny skies. The wooden posts signify the Continental Divide Trail.This is a wonderful ridge walk, skimming the lip of d[...]



Thyroid update 3

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

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



And I don't care if I sing off key

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

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



My weekend on the CDT

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

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



Parents in Colorado

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

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



Adjusting to the rollercoaster

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

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



Love these adventures in roadtripping

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

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



Keep the earth below my feet, still

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

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



Ask me anything

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

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