Survival Guide for OTS & Injury

I was thinking about the phases I’ve gone through of OTS, it’s a lot like having a long injury. If we can talk about what we go through, it won’t be so scary, and I have tons of tips to help you get through it, because none of us are alone. Here are the five stages of grief:

  1. shock/denial
  2. anger
  3. depression/detachment
  4. bargaining
  5. acceptance

The five stages of OTS/injury are:

  1. bingewatching Netflix
  2. obsessive attachment to every new/funny/interesting thing. see: Strange Planet or that time I got obsessed with seamounts and polar cyclones
  3. the furor: I was reading a book during this time about developing a healthy psychology around your sport, and they said it’s natural to feel angry when you’re injured, and one idea for coping is to assign yourself an amount of time that you can be as angry as you want, then after the time is over you must let go. They suggested 2-14 DAYS, depending on severity. I had been angry at that point for about THREE MONTHS. Needless to say, I never picked up that dumb book again.
  4. watching sports movies/reading about others rad pursuits etc and weeping [in related news, Kilian Jornet has a new book, and Nolan’s 14 has seen at least eight finishes already this year, including new men’s and women’s FKTs][less than 24hrs after I published this, Megan Hicks set yet another women’s FKT, amazing]
  5. the epic search for a new identity: experts and most regular folks agree, if your identity is intertwined with one endeavor, and it’s taken away from you, you will probably have a breakdown. Which is why you should suddenly start applying yourself to OTHER endeavors. Perhaps you’ll spend days making a new resume and applying for a job, sign up for college courses online in grant writing or physiology, write a novel, blog endlessly, or start your own nonprofit.
  6. the final stage is obviously just when you’re better again. This isn’t the Great Riddle Gate in the Neverending Story, where I expect that we’ll all have supreme confidence in ourselves and can walk through unscathed. Maybe you will have a healthy relationship with the thing that’s holding you back by now and you can call it acceptance, but maybe not, and that’s okay. btw, I recommend a lot of stuff in this post and NONE of it is sponsored in any way.
From Mt. Abrams this year, a day I made it up something but felt particularly bad physically

So how to survive? The most helpful thing to me was understanding specialization, and how that was never going to make me happy. When Steve House says, “Avoid this at all costs, because you will lose everything,” I at first was like “F***! THAT IS THE TRUEST THING EVER.” But upon months of reflection I’ve realized, what’s so f***ed about it is that if you can lose everything so easily, you didn’t have enough to lose. And THAT is the key to it all, my friends. Here’s a couple thoughts on specialization that I’ve gleaned from all this reading and thinking:

If you spend all your time trying to be the best at something, you will probably fail, and that won’t make you happy. If you succeed, which if your sights are set that high, you probably won’t, the fulfillment you feel will be fleeting. And one more really important thing, by nature it is almost impossible to specialize in something and not let it become your identity. If you sacrificed everything else for running, and then you’ve lost it, WTF do you have? Nothing. I’ve been working on building an identity outside of running basically every day and it is not easy but it is WORTH it. So here are my thoughts on making it through this shitty time.

It is completely okay to veg for a while. You probably need to, and you definitely deserve to, and right now I’m absolving you of any guilt. Bingeing Netflix seems to be America’s pasttime of choice, but you could also spend this time playing Candy Crush, sleeping, reading, daydreaming, or staring at the wall. Actually that reminds me that sleeping is the best way to spend your time now, as it is the absolute best way to heal whatever is wrong with your body and if you have OTS, you’ll be sleeping excessively for a while anyway.

Once you’ve distracted yourself for a suitably long time, you might start feeling more energetic and be ready to focus on other things. You might start devoting yourself to other pursuits, or your might need to spend some time in a gray area of slightly more stimulation than rewatching Avatar but less than starting a college course. Here’s an list of ideas to cover the spectrum of not completely mindnumbing to pretty interesting and involved:

  • Google Science: I’m not going to recommend staying up on the actual news because you’re probably already too depressed/stressed/fragile but the latest in science and technology is generally pretty exciting and mostly positive.
  • Take a deep dive into the Semi-Rad archives. Friday inspiration will give you all sorts of things to do, plus it’s somewhat outdoorsy without drowning you in FOMO. usually.
  • Learn a new language. This might not have fit in the fun/not overwhelming category before they made all this game-based app languages stuff. Now with sites like Duolingo, it’s free and easy and fun. I’ve been working on Spanish because as soon as I’m better (and the world isn’t on lockdown) I’m buying those plane tickets to Mendoza for Aconcagua! In a similar category, I also was hooked on Lumosity, which is like brain games that are also fun, so you can at least imagine you’re bettering yourself while playing free, addictive games.
  • Watch documentaries that aren’t about sports. Even if it’s not your sport, I promise it will make you feel tragic, so hold off until you’re really ready for that phase. I was going to recommend some but the internet does a good enough job of that on its own.

I also want to tell you that during the other phases, I reverted back to the veg phase a few times, and I think that’s okay because it was apparently what I needed at the time. Once I got hard into this app game Animal Restaurant? It was weirdly fulfilling (until it wasn’t) and I have no shame about it, and you shouldn’t either.

Nourishment: It’s not exactly a distraction, but I think it’s the right time to mention that you should also take really good care of yourself, that can only help you. Remember when Kilian posted that his broken leg healed miraculously fast and he was back to racing in like two months or something and it was all because of spirulina? For folks with OTS, adrenal supplements to help your body regulate especially cortisol production is super helpful. Mushrooms like cordyceps are great for healing. I went to an acupuncturist in the winter and she was like, “You BADLY need nourishment!” And prescribed me this Chinese medicine just to help my body get back to homeostasis. While it’s on my mind, acupuncture helped a lot. There’s no one size fits all recommendation here, just a jumping off point for you to look into how best to take care of yourself when your body is maybe undernourished and could use some extra support. And it’s not just what you consume, it’s a good time to do things that make you feel nourished, like spend time with friends and family, have rituals that make you feel taken care of, maybe think of some affirmations that make you feel good, sleep tons and tons.

I had one of the best runs of my life this day, but it unfortunately caused a minor relapse that I’m still dealing with weeks later.

The furor phase. Two things: I don’t think everyone will go through this. My friend was recently hit by a car while biking and broke both of his femurs, and I don’t think he ever felt any anger about it, because that’s just not his way. He also recovered in record time, blowing everyone’s minds, because science tells us that hope and optimism, after sleep, are the best things for healing. The other thing is, I do think if you enter the furor phase, it’s only fair to let yourself be furious, at least for a certain amount of time. I let mine go on for WAY too long. I actually think I agree in retrospect with that book I mentioned earlier, but I wasn’t ready to hear that yet. Assign yourself a certain amount of time and just let yourself be pissed. Yell and scream about it, be super obnoxious, get it all out, burn it all up. Then move. the fuck. on. I saw another friend go through a long term injury who got stuck in self pity for too long, and that’s not going to help you either. Pity and Anger will prolong your recovery, that is proven, it’s science. No shame about going through these phases, but you MUST move on at some point. That’s coming from someone who really knows, you can sabotage your recovery this way. I tried a variety of types of meditation to help me with stress and attachment, but ultimately I think you just need to soldier on to the next phase.

Feeling the tragedy. You can definitely skip over this one, but I included it because I feel like it’s inevitable that you will do it, even if you’re not trying to. [And it can happen at any time. Currently, the morning after I posted this, I’m mid-tragedy spiral after deep diving Ryan Hall’s IG. There’s more hope now than sadness, but I’m still crying my eyes out]. Like one day you’ll be three hours into a loop of those mini docus that Salomon and North Face and everybody make, and you’ll be soaked and all hoarse from the sobbing and you’ll be like, “Dammit! Why am I doing this to myself?!?” The real worst part of this is isn’t even wallowing, it’s that you’ll get to the end of the Barkley: The Race that Eats its Young or Running for Good or Made to Be Broken or whatever and you’ll get all stoked and inspired and be all, “I’m going to start training for the Barkley!” Then you’ll remember that you can’t, and that will be the worst. THE WORST. [if you can’t help yourself, watch Emelie be the happiest most adorable mtn runner in the world here]

The best side effect of OTS is spending way more time with other people since I wasn’t buried in serious training. This was two days ago, when we rode our bikes Ouray to Purgatory (supported), PC Dan Chehayl

Now this is finally the fun part, when you start looking for other things to work on and use your energy for self betterment and good in ways that hasn’t occurred to you yet. Another thing I did wrong that resulted in tons of suffering and probably prolonged my recovery is, I vehemently believed for at least six months that I was like, almost better and on the verge of being able to start training again and would be back to my normal self any second now. Then I would feel slightly better and be like OMG I CAN HAZ TRAINING! And then I’d feel terrible and realize that was a dumb mistake. Then I’d do it again. This is a difference between injury and OTS, if you have OTS your training will never be the same again, and the sooner you realize that the better. And it doesn’t have to be bad, I’ve come to terms with that I might be healthy enough to train and run hard again some day, but when I get there, it’s going to have to look a lot different. And that’s okay!

So maybe not everyone had their entire identity wrapped up in their running and can use their newfound time to devote it to all their other existing endeavors, work or hobbies or whatever. But I’m guessing that a big part of how you got here is that you were specializing, like I was, and with all my research into specialization psychology and just plain seeing it in my friends, I definitely think finding a healthier connection to your identity and sense of self, and building a life for yourself that’s rich in lots of different things, is going to be how you not only feel better NOW, but prevent this in the future.

I used to be heavy into yoga, and my old teacher would always say, “You are not your body, you are so much more than that.” And it helped me build a healthy identity. Then all sorts of other things happened in my life and I lost that. Say this with me, I am not my running, I am so much more than that. I am not my running, I AM SO MUCH MORE THAN THAT. [here’s a fun and related read if you want to get scientific about it that I found by accident] That said, this is the perfect time to find other things you care about and devote some of your energy to getting good at other things. Remember, being the best at something was never going to make you happy anyway, it’s the endeavor that gives you a sense of fulfillment. So what else can you get up to that’s meaningful to you and will help you feel fulfilled?

  • Play and practice an instrument. This IS the right time to finally learn how to play ukelele or violin or harmonica, and music is a very satisfying hobby that you can see progress in quickly.
  • Take courses online in basically anything. There’s websites that are totally free, like Khan Academy, and ones that charge you to hop in on actual college courses in exchange for certification like Coursera (you can still audit on Coursera for free), there’s job sector sites like Nonprofit Ready with tons of free courses in fundraising and management and grant writing. I had a multi-month injury a few years back and I wrote a book about Pet Sitting that still sells decently on Kindle, and took a bunch of graphic design courses, and both of those things still serve me regularly.
  • Start writing your novel, or children’s books, or YA fiction, or blog, or journal, or memoirs, or nonfiction about some obscure snake in the Amazon, or lists of streaming movie or TV recommendations (the world NEEDS more of those) or whatever.
  • Explore new ways to get involved in your community by volunteering or starting a book club or just spending more time with your friends (safely, OBV). This is a great idea for so many reasons I couldn’t possibly list them all. I’ve been thinking about putting together ski lessons for kids this winter, and maybe some kind of girl-focused outdoorsy nonprofit since we don’t have any of the big name ones here in Ouray, and I’m only just starting to investigate those things but it feels great to be investing my time in something more meaningful than *myself*.

Was this stuff useful? What helped you get through? Calling for comments, let’s get through this together. XO

finishing off with Pips being massively stoked, running alongside the bike

Winter Vanlife: Buildout & Heat

Tis the season for making winter preparations, for those of us choosing to live alternatively (ooh good euphemism). I woke up to snow on the mountains this morning!! One year ago, after two years in the camper, I sold it and bought a van, and I did my buildout (with an extreme amount of help from my dad) last September with the intention of spending the winter mobile in the mountains and after a year in Sisu the Skimobile at high altitude, here’s part one: insulation, heat, and other winter buildout considerations.

early winter ’19/’20

Insulation

I did the buildout with winter in the mountains CLEARLY in mind. There’s 2″ of foam board insulation on the floor and ceiling, foam board in the windows, there’s spray foam and fiberglass insulation stuffed into every nook and cranny and hole in the frame, there’s a layer of Kilmat (I got that for free, it’s sound deadener that’s already sticky on the back, awesome) and Reflectix (used a lot of spray adhesive for that) on every bit of metal, and some of the panels I used to cover the camper’s windows stuffed in there too (those were made of cardboard, Reflectix, and quilt insulation).

There’s paneling on the walls, the ceiling is made of paintable wallpaper spray adhesived to the foam board, so that doesn’t have really any extra insulative effect (and it was a pain to put up but turned out REALLY cute). There’s 1/2″ plywood on top of the foam insulation floor, then a friend gave me some leftover laminate flooring, then I put rugs on top of all of it because regular floor is TOO COLD in the winter. When I went to Ikea with a friend, he did not believe me that I expected to get a floor rug to cut up for $12 (but that’s just true!). I did not want permanent carpeting because I knew it would get trashed with snow and mud and boots, and I wanted to be able to pull it out and clean it, dry it, or replace it, easily.

Here you can see the closet full of jackets and Gore-tex pants, the rugs, the bins, and just barely my skis hanging above my bed.

Heat

I’ve mentioned before, and I’ll do it again, I was not trying to do an expensive buildout and made a lot of decisions with the mindset of, if I spend too much on the heater, I won’t actually be saving anything by not paying rent. You can pay A LOT for a heater. The forced air propane furnaces that are reviewed so well by vanlifers start around $745 (for a Propex, which are dope heaters, they don’t create moisture, but they do have to be externally vented which is a complicated job and a permanent change to the vehicle’s frame)

Alternative ways to spend $745:

  • Lou Harvey flew to 4 continents in two weeks and only spent $745 on airfare. Coincidence? I doubt it. That’s maybe not the best example of what you could buy for $745 but it’s an excellent point.
  • Almost 75 Pizza Hut dinner boxes, but only if you live near a Pizza Hut.
  • Rent in lots of places, two months rent if you have a roommate.
  • This donkey https://westslope.craigslist.org/grd/d/loma-paint-mini-donk/7188386466.html

I did a lot of research and read a lot of reviews, as usual, looking for a combination of most affordable and effective/safest. I settled on a catalytic heater, which are very efficient and very safe, as compared to the standard (and cheap) Mr. Buddy. The Camco Olympian was consistently well reviewed both on Amazon and by copious vanlife youtubers. I went with a Wave 3 because it was cheaper basically. It’s the smallest version, thus lowest output. It would be fine for the limited space, except that I was going to be up high all the time and altitude affects their functioning. I read a variety of complaints about altitude and decided to do it anyway, and the reality was, it doesn’t have as much output at altitude but it still works fine. It was a lot better in Ouray (7,900ft or so) than in Leadville (10,150) or the pass (11,018), but in all of those places it kept us warm, possibly (probably) thanks to all the insulation.

Not a great pic, you get the gist though. The heater is put away for the summer so I had to use this old one, it’s actually pre-laminated floor.

A lot of people worry about the carbon monoxide possibility, my understanding was that with a catalytic, it’s unlikely, but I can tell you all the time I ran it, the carbon monoxide detector never went off and I did test the detector once by putting it next to the Biolite so I know it worked. The moisture thing that people talk about also wasn’t a problem, there was more moisture buildup (frozen) on the windshield when I was running the heater than when I wasn’t, but it wasn’t significant and I never had any problems with dampness (I’m going to do another post with winter essentials that will cover the windshield probs). In fact, after a day’s work at the ice park or a day of backcountry skiing, Pip and I would both be soaked from the snow and running the heater dried everything up. I used approximately one propane tank/month in the coldest months, December and January.

The heater is mounted on wood that’s installed behind the passenger seat, I wanted it off the floor for better circulation. It’s connected to a propane tank that sits in the passenger seat foot well but is movable if I’ve got a passenger besides Pip (or what actually happened is, passengers sat side saddle with a Pip on their lap).

a surprise snowstorm caught me unaware and I didn’t get the cover on my bikes 😦

Other Winter Buildout Considerations

Roof Vent: I did not want to do this, after all the problems I had with the camper’s roof in the winter. Snow is EXTREMELY PERVASIVE, I was constantly re-waterproofing the roof of the camper and no matter what I did to the screw holes that held the solar panels on, I could never get them not to leak during snow melt. The van’s panel is held on by the roof racks, the ONLY structural change I made to the body of the van was the two holes that the panel’s wiring runs through to the controller inside. This was a calculated risk, and I take a lot of care removing snow around there and there’s piles of caulk and waterproofing around it.

Water: I also chose not to do a sink or pump and only have portable water storage. I don’t heat the van when Pippa and I are not in it, so there’s too many times water can freeze. I used gallons and Nalgenes and Hydroflasks, and got water at the coffee shop, the gym, the hot springs, the public bathroom, or the grocery store. If a gallon freezes, you can melt it out pretty quickly either in front of the heater or on the dashboard in the sun.

Organization: I have two pairs of skis (an AT setup for backcountry and skate skis, I actually sold my Nordic classics because three seemed to be TOO MANY in the van. Nordic skis are very light and good for hanging, so they hang over my bed. The AT skis, being so heavy, go under the bed behind my gear/clothes/boots bins. Unfortunately, I bought a ski box from some guy for cheap and it didn’t occur to me that it might not be long enough for either pair of skis (d’oh!). Ski and climbing boots (and crampons) go in a big Rubbermaid bin underneath the bed during winter, while they’re in use, and in the roof boxes in the summer.

I badly wanted a closet because my various jackets (down puffy, down midlayer, soft shell, hard shell, etc) and pants (insulated hard shell, work bibs) wouldn’t sit in a box very well and I thought they’d store better hanging (they do, and the other upside is when they’re wet, I can put them away and they’ll dry there). My axes hang on a hook, then are secured by a velcro strap that I screwed into the side of the closet. Gloves of all kinds pretty much always live on the dashboard. You can definitely pick out a winter vanlifer by all the many things drying on their dashboard.

Okay, that’s enough for now. I’ll do another post with Winter Vanlife Essentials for like, windshield stuff, bedding, miscellaneous comfort things, etc.

Overtraining: The first few months

I was climbing Hope Pass from Clear Creek. I had wanted to put up a hard effort in Missouri Gulch, but while riding my bike from camp to the TH, a Subaru stopped me to ask if I had happened to see their bikes anywhere, or anything related to them getting stolen off their rack in the parking lot while they were hiking. I hadn’t seen anything, and it put a sour taste in my mouth for MO Gulch so I kept riding on to the Sheep TH and hid my bike in the woods there instead.

I could see the top of the pass, I was on that last long switchback, and I was feeling like I really might’ve pushed it so hard that I might actually explode this time when I looked at my watch for my heart rate. I had put on a heart rate monitor today finally, in an effort to find more data that might explain why I felt so bad. I had felt bad for over a month. It read 201. I finished the final steps and collapsed. I had put up a solid time, but at a price. Later that night, I was relaxing and watching TV. My heart rate monitor read 110. Something was really wrong, and I had the evidence now but no actual understanding. This was one year ago.

I actually had a photo from that very night on Hope Pass

Once again, I’ve done a poor job of lightening up this experience and this post is not very funny, but I think it’s important to get more information about OTS out there for anyone who needs it. Check your heart rate, people! It’s preventable.

My first clue was when I arrived in Provo, Utah the day before the Speedgoat. I walked Pippa around the campground and went for a short swim. I was exhausted. After a three week progressive taper. I knew something was wrong then, but it was easy to explain it away. It’s just that heavy feeling after taper, I told myself. I didn’t keep it sharp enough this week. It’s from the drive. I’ll be fine. Once I get started, I’ll be fine. The first steps off the start line, I was exhausted. The first mile ticked by, I was exhausted. I descended and was exhausted. By the time I got to the second big climb, I wanted to give up. I wrote about it after. I said I wasn’t strong enough, that I didn’t train hard enough, that I didn’t want it badly enough and I mentally gave up. I told myself every disparaging thing I could rather than getting curious enough to look into that something was really wrong with my body.

Pip modeling how I felt

This is a common problem with OTS and it’s how it goes so far so fast, that you start underperforming, you start feeling bad, and instead of backing off and looking into what might be wrong, you push harder. You blame yourself. You train harder, you try to dig deeper. Is that cultural? Dig deeper, dig deeper. Show your soul. What are you really made of? I am made of blood and bone and skin and muscles controlled by a failing nervous system, but I don’t bother to look into it, because the only reason I could fail is that I didn’t try hard enough.

Random picture from this year actually

I arrived in Jackson and I didn’t want to run. I was depressed. I assumed it was because I failed at Speedgoat, coming in 10th. It is not a natural state for me. Actually, depression is a symptom. I slept 12 hours every night, also a symptom. [bingeing Netflix and Lofthouse cookies is not a symptom though, it’s an American pastime] I half heartedly tried to train, but I felt so bad. I raced Rendezvous and slipped back to 8th, running five minutes slower than the previous year. I felt like I was losing my gears, like I couldn’t push. Like an ’89 trying to drive up Teton Pass. I had run 1,400 miles in 2019 by the end of July, and I thought I still must be undertrained.

Shadow Mountain, I did some running in the Tetons in ’19 but a lot of biking to get Pips out

I went back to Leadville and tried to run twice a week. I was aware that I wasn’t recovering between runs, and I guess I thought that would be enough time to make it up. It wasn’t. I felt worse every day, whether I ran or not. One day, I slept all day and woke up in the afternoon at like 3pm, I saw my sister had texted and I started tapping out a response, but I couldn’t hold my phone up with my arm long enough. I collapsed back onto the couch and slept through till the next morning. I hadn’t learned the difference yet between like, tired from running versus full body fatigue. Fatigue makes your fingernails and your ears feel tingley and brutally exhausted, along with every other piece of your body. I put a heart rate monitor on.

When I got back that night from my Hope Pass run, I pulled out Training for the New Alpinism. There was something in there, I knew it, I had read it, about heart rates and if your heart rate won’t go down between runs. What was it? “Avoid this at all costs, you will lose everything.” It said. I would eventually get confirmation, but I knew it the moment I read it and reread it and reread it. The parasympathetic nervous system symptoms, the heart rate, the sleeping, the depression, the underperforming. He said overtrained runners would try to compensate for their underperformance by training harder and pushing more. He ain’t kidding.

Nez Perce and the South Teton group from the lower saddle

Later I would learn about the hormone production imbalances, particularly that I would have no cortisol in my body, then suddenly my adrenal system would just dump it and my heart would rush like it was really going to explode and I would suddenly feel this whole body tightness. And what a relief to find out what was happening because it happened for about the first three months and it was TERRIFYING! I would be watching a rom com and suddenly my heart rate is 185, and it comes on like a wave in your whole body. Like something is definitively happening, but wtf is it?

Hope Pass was my last run until November, I think it was. Steve House said the only cure is complete rest until your nervous system sort of resets itself and everyone and everything else I could find agreed. It was hard to believe I might ever feel better. I would wake up every morning and my resting heart rate was in the 90s, then the 80s for a while, then eventually got stuck in the 70s. After a few months, it got back down to the low 60s, and that was around the same time the other symptoms started going away. I could feel the depression leave like an evil spirit peeling out of my body.

Looking for pictures for this, I realized before I was fully better I tried to go ice climbing bc Lincoln Falls was in on Oct 15th. The 500ft hike up just about killed me, but the morale boost was probably worth it (photo by Chris Jewell)

I progressively slept and ate less, [inflated appetite was also a symptom, and since I was filling in at the coffee shop during that time, I had no shortage of quiche and scones available]. After a couple months, I was basically eating and sleeping like a regular person, even dipping below eight hours naturally sometimes. The full body fatigue went from being constant and pervasive to in and out, and that would continue for another six months or so, fatigue being a definite signal that I had overdone it either physically or stress-wise.

I say I was on complete rest, but I was walking and biking w/ Pip still to get her out, just taking it EXTREMELY easy and only a couple miles here and there.

I had read things that had hinted that you would wake up one day and feel better. I had been tracking my symptoms and noting such significant improvement, then one day in November I did wake up and feel better. They say to stay on complete rest until you suddenly have the strong desire to go out and do something, and I did suddenly have the desire. I went for a short, easy skate ski. It was amazing to move again. A song came on by Tokyo Police Club that I’d never heard before, “And I’m still amazed you made it out alive, after what you did / It’s good to be back, it’s good to be back, it’s good to be back.”

It’s good to be back, says Pippa

Thinking About Luxuries/Alpicool Fridge Vanlife Review

I’ve been without refrigeration for three years, unless you count the ability to put a can of Coke out in a snowbank. I had the opportunity though, right? In the camper, I had a small fridge that worked initially but used SO MUCH PROPANE, I just couldn’t stand the waste then later when I tried starting it up again, it had stopped working. I could’ve purchased a Yeti cooler or a small fridge at any time but I had a dangerous combination of misconceptions and aversion to luxuries that kept me even from doing the research.

And looking back on it, I’m like, WHY? I think the ultimate answer is, along with being a dirtbag comes the spartan philosophy of, I’m sacrificing a variety of luxuries and comforts in order to fully pursue my passions. Like this existential pride of frugality, minimalism, living off the land, simplicity. I remember when I hit the road in May of ’18, I was unplugged and now fully reliant on solar power, solar showers, and cooking on the Biolite.

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Last week we used the Biolite’s grill attachment for the first time to make tin foil dinners!

 

Many times, on bike tours or backpacking trips, or just backcountry running trips, I’ve thought about things like indoor plumbing and it just stopped making sense. Like how absurd that someone had to build all of this infrastructure and it cost SO much money in order to run underground pipes and have water treatment plants and sewage treatment plants, then there’s the folks who manage an individual’s accounts so they can pay for someone to manage their plumbing in and outputs. And then there’s whoever invented the toilet and now whoever designs and markets all the different toilets and sinks and there’s specialty stores and websites for all of this STUFF and it’s expensive and it feels like the absolute opposite of simplicity.  If that wasn’t bad enough, how about all the accessories you need for your bathrooms and kitchens, and all the cleaning supplies.

Meanwhile, I’m drinking creek water that’s been gravity filtered. My newfound simplicity blew my mind, and I was full of pride. Plus, without all that energy wasted on such trivial matters, and the expense, of course, I could focus on what really matters: mountains. And training. I also had transitioned to a new ideal of working, where I would work enough to cover whatever particular expenses. I’d been gearing up for this for a while, starting to think about consumption not in the way of like, can I afford this? But in sort of an inverse, is it worth working more upfront in order to be able to buy this thing? And what about the opportunity cost of that work?

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Just including recent photos, here’s my sister on Hayden trail last friday

So here’s the practical reasons of why I didn’t buy a fridge sooner:

  1. I believed I would need a larger solar setup, both in terms of panels and battery storage, and possibly a bigger inverter, in order to run a fridge. OR, I have friends who have added a second deep cycle marine battery to their setup that they’ve set up somehow to be charged by their car’s alternator while they’re driving. This sounds cool, and I imagine I’m capable to have figured it out, but it sounded outside of the realm of me wanting to deal with it. Plus, another panel would cost about $100 and another battery something like $160 if I remember right.
  2. I believed the type of fridges that you might be able to run off solar in a van, without knowing ANYTHING about the type of fridges (except possibly one reference in a vanlife buildout video that his fridge cost like $900?)  would far exceed what I’m willing to spend. I was very frugal with both the camper setup and the van buildout, because if I overspent on either, I wouldn’t ultimately be saving on rent, and of course, I would’ve had to work more to make the money to spend in the first place, and that would take away from something more important.

So there’s my practical misconceptions, then when you combined that with what I realize now was this stubborn need to resist luxuries because I’m some kind of dirtbagging martyr, all you have is three years of wishing I had cold Coke to drink, and a lot of complications related to buying groceries that aren’t going to keep long and unfortunately watching too much stuff go bad, especially now that it’s in the 90’s, even at 8,000ft. I had lots of workarounds, including the many times I’ve brought empty hydroflasks way up high so I could transport snow back down to camp so I could have “alpine Cokes”. Obviously in winter it’s as simple as keeping your refrigerated stuff in the snow, but I’m not going to say that system is without complications either.

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random picture of Sisu the van

Here’s something I hadn’t realized until writing this, I had a lot of pride specifically around resisting climate controls. You know when you live in a house and it’s cold and instead of turning up the thermostat you put on a sweater or a blanket and you pat yourself on the back because you’re so environmentally conscious? I have that times 1,000. Maybe I should be embarrassed by this realization of how righteous I’ve been?

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The idea that I could be free from the waste of using fuels to change the temperatures of things delighted me. Have you ever used a solar shower? I actually am in love with solar showering just in general, but how fabulous that you need no hot water heater, but only the sun? (disclaimer, let me also admit that how much I loved staying at my parent’s house or housesitting for friends because I also delight in using a hot water heater and a fridge, I may be righteous but I’m not crazy).

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Solar shower hanging from a crack in the rocks in the Alabama Hills, CA

But those things are luxuries, right? And of course I enjoy a good luxury here and there, but I don’t want to make it my life. Anyway, the point of this whole post is, I BOUGHT A FRIDGE AND I LOVE IT. Like I already mentioned, it’s 4,000 degrees in Ouray and I was tired of limiting what I buy and strategically planning groceries in order to use up whatever perishables I bought before they went bad, then failing at it and watching stuff go bad. Which, of all of my pet peeves, food waste might be the biggest. I just vaguely thought I’d do some research about fridges and what I learned was that small compressor fridges use an incredibly minimal amount of energy, so minimal, in fact, that one could run them entirely off of their solar setup, even a solar setup that was not that big.

[Just a quick note you guys, I’m trying Amazon affiliate links. Nothing in this post is sponsored in any way, I researched and bought this fridge myself, but if you were interested in fridges or if you bought anything on Amazon after clicking through the links in the next 24 hours, I would get a small commission and would love your help to support this blog]

I found a study in England, I think, where a company who makes a compressor fridge put it into a rental campervan then ran it continually for two months, all day every day, that only had one 55 watt panel and one 35amp hour battery, and even with cloudy days mixed in, the fridge never exceeded the capacity of that rather small solar setup. I watched video reviews where other van lifers of just enthusiastic folks ran the same fridge that I bought, the Alpicool 15 liter, off their Goal Zero setups or plugged them into those things that measure draw, then they tested the temps inside. And I found that there is a category of these compressor fridges that are reasonably priced! And a category of them (looking at you Dometic) that is so expensive I would never consider putting it in a van because then you would be failing at saving money by not paying rent. I was definitely on a mission to find the cheapest compressor fridge with tons of great reviews.

Does anyone else remember in Free Solo when Alex Honnold is fridge shopping and Sanni’s looking at all these big, fancy fridges, and he finds the cheapest, smallest one, the little white one, and he says something like, “This is so adequate!” Like, that’s what I was looking for. Not the fanciest, I definitely would be okay with giving up some features, just wanted a compressor fridge, so it would have a low draw, that had a lot of great reviews so I would know it generally did the job of refrigeration.

Day one, I picked up the fridge from my personal mailbox in Montrose, unboxed it and plugged it in in the Walmart parking lot, set it to 40, and went in to buy frozen and refrigerated things (with glee, you guys). I came out like a half hour later and it was already at 40, despite that it was probably 96 degrees outside. And I’ve been living in the lap of luxury ever since. Drinking cold brew and almond milk, eating bagged salad, making smoothies with frozen blueberries.

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New fridge in action! Actually quite a bit of stuff in there.

I also want to point out that for someone who thought she was being so above simple luxuries, I bought a lot of luxury items then had to find out they went bad the hard way. All the many times I had to test almond milk in the mornings, by smell and intrepid taste testing, should have been good enough reasons to buy a fucking fridge. Now I definitely feel like, I don’t know why I took so long.

There’s already a ton of information on compressor fridges in general, and the specific one that I bought, the Alpicool, on what their draw is on different setups and with different settings so I’m not going to dive into that. I can tell you that day one with the fridge, I was parked in the shade, it was almost 100 degrees, and I was running my laptop and the fridge off of the inverter at the same time and it wasn’t even noticeable until about two hours later, when I could start to see the battery fullness decreasing on the solar controller, which isn’t super surprising because my laptop by itself has a noticeable draw. I also had the fridge set on like 34 which is pretty cold (BUT was the tradeoff of higher draw worth it to get a can of Coke that was slightly slushy? I think it was)

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Stock picture of my new fridge

 

I know that theoretically, I could program the fridge to adjust its energy draw on whatever battery it’s pulling off of, but I haven’t tried to do that, I’ve only been manually adjusting the temperature which is super easy. The digital screen gives a readout for the current temperature, which tends to vary from whatever temp I set it to about 1-3 degrees in either direction. I thought it was unclear in the listing and reviews what kind of plug it came with, turns out it came with a cigarette lighter plug and a regular outlet plug, both of which are super long. I can put the fridge in the back under my bed if I wanted to and it would reach the cigarette lighter up front.

So how do I feel about this newfound luxury? Have I made peace with the part of myself that delights in frugality and non-wastefulness? Well, I love it so much. I see it as a lifestyle gamechanger, that hasn’t compromised my values to that big of an extent. I got it on an Amazon Warehouse deal, and I had an Amazon gift card from Bing rewards, so I feel good about the expenditure. Plus, if you factor in the $$ value of food that was wasted and the fountain Cokes I buy at gas stations to feed my habit, the price of less than $200 I think will ultimately pay for itself.  So far it lives up to its reviews, that it only sips energy and runs silently.

 

Cass, Hope, & Tetons

There was a fox running alongside the road. Trotting, really. The perfect combination of spry and delighted, wiry and self satisfied. He was incredibly glossy, his fur rippling against the sunlight like a shampoo commercial. He carried a dead vole. His eyes twinkled. I swear he smirked when he caught us checking him out. At that moment, he caught wind of another prey. He discarded the vole and dove into the forest in pursuit, limitless.

I am not strong anymore. I think about it all the time: what it felt like, to feel powerful. To know you could go anywhere, and fast. To believe I was limitless. I wrote down affirmations after I read Deena Kastor’s book, and Kara Goucher’s. I am powerful. I am fast. I still don’t believe them. I keep telling myself that every time OTS pushes me back down and I fight to stand up again, to run again, that it’s making me in stronger in a different way. That when I am recovered, I’ll be stronger than ever. I do believe that.

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me on Teewinot

The other day I really overdid it. We went for a run up to Alaska Basin, hoping to see the west side of the Tetons and Ice Lake. It was inspiring to be on new terrain, a new trail. It was beautiful. Mostly, I’m grateful that I can do things again. That I can dig in, blow past people, climb. I splash water on my face and arms to cool off, I watch Pippa cavort. Pip is full of delight, even when she’s tired. I started feeling really bad at the end of the climb. I’ve noticed that it’s right around 2,500 feet of climbing that the fatigue begins to be overwhelming. I didn’t realize how bad it was until I started heading down. Usually, I can go down okay, but that day the fatigue was pervasive. I shuffled back and laid down, barely able to lift my arms.

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Middle Teton

Two days earlier, we climbed the Middle Teton. I was uncharacteristically spry after a week of Grand Teton recovery. Some days when I’m fully recovered, I get a hint of what it used to feel like to blaze up a trail. To push, to even have another gear. It never lasts past 2,500 feet. But after that, I can feel the fatigue in my whole body but I can keep going, slowly. When it takes us three and a half hours to reach the saddle between Middle and South, I’m still disappointed in myself. Even though I understood that of course I’m not strong like I used to be, I haven’t been able to train properly. And I’m so grateful that I’ve come this far, to even be able to climb 6,000 feet, to do a 16 mile day. That I can stand on top of something. I downclimbed quickly and gracefully. When I reached the trail, I nearly sprinted the last four miles. I felt fast. I cavorted. I was full of delight. Then I paid for it.

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Exum Ridge

The last time I climbed the Grand Teton was two years ago. I remember it being just hard enough sometimes to keep it interesting. I remember the exposure being extreme, the climbing beautiful, the downclimb long and exhausting. In 24 hours I climbed the Middle Teton and the Grand, then two days later I raced Rendezvous and got fourth, then attempted the Grand the next morning. It feels amazing to think I could do that. This year, it took a week for me to recover from the Grand. I also really struggled on the Exum Ridge. I was scared of everything. It’s embarrassing, but it’s not something people tell you about OTS, that you can’t process fear very well. It’s because it’s all tied into your nervous and adrenal systems. With the slightest bit of stress on my system, it floods with cortisol. It was surreal, to do something I’ve done before, something I found easy the first time, but this time to feel scared. It’s illogical.

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Top of the World

I suppose the silver lining is that I still was able to do it. I do believe that the positive that comes out of this is mental strength, resiliency. Forgiveness. Nourishment. Priorities. So much more knowledge about my body. This year in the Tetons, I haven’t been able to do as much as I wanted but I still got to do a lot. I made great strides in downclimbing, in skill and comfort level. That was obvious even on our first summit of this trip, Teewinot. I got a lot better at mountain biking, and particularly at taking risks. I’ve learned that single minded devotion isn’t always a good thing, and that if you can lose everything so easily, you should’ve had a lot more to lose. And I think I do now.

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Tim coming down Middle

I was really worried feeling so bad on Saturday after Alaska Basin, but my heart rate variability returned the next morning, and my heart rate’s been going down steadily each day since. It was under 60 this morning. Taking a deep dive into understanding the science of recovery and owning all these tools to evaluate it in myself will be infinitely valuable when I can actually train again. For now, I check my heart rate, I drink more water, I take supplements prescribed by my acupuncturist, and I binge on OTS success stories, people who recovered and came back stronger than ever. We named that fox in Teton Canyon Cass, after Quentin Cassidy. As disappointing as it can be sometimes, in equal measure I am full of hope.

 

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Middle

Overtraining Syndrome: I lost everything, but I gained more

“The winner is never determined by better muscle tone or better shoes. No, the winner is determined by what’s in the heart and what’s in the soul.” BULL SHIT. I’m doing this file for work and this random guy says that about when Usain Bolt won the 100 meter in the London Olympics in 2012 and typing that out just pushed me right over the edge.

You win races by being perfectly trained, I don’t know much but I know that. Leading with your heart is how you end up overtrained and 10 months out, here I am, lying around because I rode my bike twice this week and I’m too tired to do anything else. And honestly, as far as I’ve come mentally being more positive and accepting the situation and my body and trying to take better care of my self and the hundreds of hours I’ve spent trying to better understand physiology (because I have come SUCH A LONG WAY), some days it still feels like garbage because the only thing I want to do is train.

 

It is not work ethic that’s keeping me in bed. It’s not heart. When my legs are still fatigued and my heart rate is still elevated, like it is right now, if I try to go for an easy jog I’ll start to feel dizzy and get these weird heart rate rushes that I don’t totally understand but I’m fairly sure it has something to do with my adrenal system failing to regulate cortisol. And the only thing I can do is fully rest until the fatigue passes and my heart rate goes back down. I don’t recommend using this time to find out exactly how bad the Atlas Shrugged movies are. They are so bad.

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Mostly pictures from July & August ’19, when I had OTS and didn’t know it yet. Tetons! I didn’t climb a lot of mountains on this Tetons trip because I was so tired

Don’t fucking tell me that what a great athlete has is heart. What they actually have is a coach that organized and scheduled their training and recovery carefully to maximize gains without pushing their muscles and cardiovascular system and eventually their nervous system too hard and thus causing it to unravel. And there’s my rant. Don’t worry, I am angry sometimes still but I’ve done so much to learn about why this happened and find good things that have come out of this, too.

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Did a lot of biking to get Pips out

One of my big complaints during this process is that nobody talks about it. It’s so hard to find useful information. (It is so validating when you do though, like when I found this old article https://www.outsideonline.com/1986361/running-empty), or when I was listening to that recovery book Good to Go on audiobook and they talked very briefly about Ryan Hall and his coach and the stages of recovery. I had previously found the most info about the complete rest stage, and that you’ll know when you’re ready to come back. But six months into recovery, I was still really struggling as I tried to ramp up my mileage because I didn’t yet know that for the next six months or so I could train but I’d have to restrict volume by a lot. That was also the first time I heard that the one year mark is the typical time frame for a full parasympathetic OTS recovery.

 

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Me and Pips on Missouri in August last year

Anyway, but then, as numerous people have pointed out to me, I haven’t written about it either. And I’ve really tried. I’ve written about it in multiple stages then not shared them with anyone. I actually think it was a big step when I started alluding to the fact I had OTS on Strava. I guess I kept thinking that one day, I would have this big turnaround. One of the posts I wrote and never published, I re-read it and realized that it’s so overwhelmingly negative still, and I thought, I have to wait until it’s all positive. But it’s not all positive and it probably never will be! It’s good and bad, like everything else. But I just had this thought today, if I write about it, even when it’s not pretty or funny or inspiring yet, I’m doing my part to change the lack of information and stigma about OTS. I think about what a relief it was when I was able to dig up each small piece of information I’ve even been able to find. More information is better.

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Elbert

July 4th was the one year anniversary of when I’m sure I had OTS (although I wouldn’t figure it out until September). I can remember feeling good after Broken Arrow in late June, I ran a good time (6:28) but wished I could’ve placed better (14), and thinking all I had to do was work my ass off for a couple weeks until I tapered for Speedgoat. I drove straight through to Leadville and jumped back into big days of mountain runs immediately, pushing hard. I was doing 4,300-8,000 feet in 9 to 20 miles every day that first week and feeling worse and worse by the moment, until I could barely stagger into the coffee shop and complain “I am so exhausted. The altitude is killing me.”

Because just like every other runner who’s had OTS, I was already in the spiral and every day I didn’t perform the way I wanted, I had to push harder the next day. And I had no concept of OTS. My friend responded to my plight, “Don’t you think you’re overdoing it?” Gosh I think my dad said it, too, and he didn’t even see me. But I couldn’t have understood what overdoing it meant at that point. Because people who have a lot of heart believe that whoever works the hardest is the best.

So I kept pushing and pushing. I do think the high altitude was a factor, it’s a big physical stressor on your body and on your nervous system, I understand how all that works much better now. Steve House says in Training for the New Alpinism to rate your workouts A-D to prevent OTS (he also says to prevent it at all costs, because OTS will make you lose everything, which was how I felt for a long time). A if you felt great, B if you felt good but not great, C for you felt bad, and D if you had to stop the workout early because you couldn’t physically complete it. Every workout was a D. With the combination of all the things, I was literally running myself into the ground.

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Got tired of cycling photos back a year, this is recently on our way to Hayden

To top it off, on July 4th, despite feeling constantly exhausted and just having done an 85 mile week with 30,000’ of climbing, I got up in the morning and left for the Hope Epic Zombie Loop (the one thing that wasn’t highly physically and mentally stressful about that was the Cranberries song). I can’t say for sure that it wasn’t too late before the Zombie loop, that maybe I could’ve recovered if I had caught it then, but looking back, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back (or the heinous 50 mile high altitude loop that broke my nervous system). From then on, I would feel exhausted every day until at least mid November and often after that, no matter how much I rested, and I did start complete rest in September.

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The map before my watch died of the Zombie loop

 

I raced two more times and kept running despite feeing bad and having 0 motivation (depression and loss of motivation are also symptoms), but even taking more and more recovery, I was feeling worse and worse and worse and I knew something was wrong. In September I finally thought to start monitoring my heart rate. I put a hard effort on Hope Pass and my HR went over 200. I left the chest strap on and monitored my heart rate 24 hours a day for the next few days and realized that my HR rarely went below 90, even first thing in the morning. This is the key to catching OTS that I figured out too late, if you monitor your heart rate even fairly regularly, you will see that it’s not going down and know that you need to rest. I can’t emphasize that enough, check your heart rate!!! You can take 30 seconds to check your heart rate.

One of the best things I’ve learned from all this is how integral your nervous system is to literally everything you do. On our bike ride yesterday, Ang was telling me about how your brain uses sensory cues to start the digestion process. And I added some stuff I’ve learned about the Central Governor theory, about how your brain decides how much anaerobic capacity you can use and how many muscle fibers you can recruit based on all sorts of factors, like how much longer you have to go and how important it is to you. Totally fascinating stuff. Actually, just in typing this I’m realizing that I was not ever going to write one perfect post that sums up my whole OTS experience, because it’s so much bigger than that. I needed to jump, and now I can begin the process of sorting through all the amazing things that have happened and that I’ve learned since then.

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Me on Engineer taken by my sister 

Here’s a few more things I did find to read that helped me a lot:

Geoff Roes’ perspective: https://www.irunfar.com/2013/04/one-story-of-overtraining.html

Scientific Info from studies done by NIH:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3435910/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5019445/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23667795/

An easier to follow scientific breakdown of OTS:

The overtraining syndrome

 

Hope Epic Zombie Loop pt 2

“It was too wonderful for words…

‘Do you think I’m a fool, Uncle Mike?’ asked Ernest suddenly.

‘If you think it the right thing to do, you are right to do it.’ replied Uncle Mike quietly. ‘I believe the experience will be valuable.’ (both of the book quotes were from the Mrs. Buncle series)

 

I picked up the CDT to Hope Pass and realized I could feel hot spots in my feet. I’ve had trench foot before, so I know the warning signs, and once you get hot spots you need to dry out your feet. I took off my shoes and socks, and rubbed my feet until the wrinkles dried out a bit. I gave Pippa some of the dinner I’d thankfully packed for her. I took out my headlamp, and realized I had no idea how much the batteries had in them, and had no spare batteries. I was really playing roulette here when I planned this loop. Or craps. I guess they call it Russian Roulette because of the alliteration? Because pretty much all the casino games are purely luck-based, that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? I realize now, yes, that is the point. Because there’s no fun in doing something when you know how it’ll turn out. It’s the risk. You don’t have to risk your life to know that we want to be surprised. I suppose not literally everyone wants to be surprised, or they’d be out gambling or climbing mountains or squirrel suiting instead of going to work every day and having a glass of wine on the couch at night with their safe, loyal friends or spouses or whoever they hang out with.

 

When I was in California, I had been dying to go back to Leadville because California sucked for all the reasons I’ve already discussed and I just thought of all the possibilities of running in the Colorado mountains again. But since I’d been back, I had only done things that I knew I could do. There’s no doubt or fear or excitement anymore about running Mt. Elbert or Mt. Massive, even if you make a really interesting loop of it. Obviously, even when exhausted, I can complete those runs and there’s no mystery at all. The mystery of this loop is what was exciting, I guess subconsciously I planned it poorly on purpose. Who knows how many miles! Who cares! Will I even be able to complete the loop with the snow conditions? If not, what the fuck will I do? I DON’T KNOW! It might be miserable or amazing and certainly no one, including myself, will be able to predict how I will handle whatever obstacles might come my way.

 

I put my wet socks and wetter shoes back on and continue up. Once the CDT meets the CT, they both rise immediately, incredibly steeply, to climb to Hope Pass. I don’t remember the last time I ran, I’m so tired, I’ve been hiking ever since I got out of the Basin of Eternal Sadness. Zombie, zombie, zombie-e-e-e. I pass a campsite and keep climbing, but then I realize, the higher I climb, the colder it will get because that’s how both altitude and night work. My feet are soaked, and I’m well on my way to trench foot. I return to the campsite and put Pippa’s puffy coat on her. I take my shoes off and stuff my socks into my arm pits, leaving my feet bare to dry. I spoon Pip and wrap the emergency blanket around us. I’ve just been telling it like it is, and how it is sounds pretty grim. I stopped because I thought I’d feel better after a nap, and I knew stopping wouldn’t be possible if I went higher or later in the night, and I knew my feet had to dry out anyway. But it was fine. In your head, in your head, they are fighting.

 

Pip slept and I didn’t. I would say I “tossed and turned” all night, but that wouldn’t be accurate because emergency blankets don’t allow for any tossing or turning or they’ll rip and leave you uncovered. So, I had laid still but fitful for … not all night but however long we were there. I looked at my watch, and it was dead. I turned my phone on, it sprang to life, I think it was 2 or 2:30am. My socks were nearly dry, dry adjacent. Good enough. My shoes were cold and crispy, like if I tap danced in them, they might shatter. I didn’t try to tap dance in them. I just climbed slowly, slowly towards the pass. I had actually never done this side of the pass before, so in addition to the mysteries of mileage and snow conditions, there was the extra fun of being on a new trail. New to me. I reached a talus field covered in so much avalanche debris it takes a long time to cross, I can’t figure out where the trail has gone, my halo of light is too small, and my mind is too tired to find a way. I get above treeline and feel like I’ve been wrapped in the stars, like those gray wool blankets firefighters wrap around survivors. It’s in your head, in your head, zombie.

 

At the top of the pass, two extraordinary things happened (and I’m using extraordinary here in the literal sense as opposed to the cultural definition, extra ordinary as opposed to extremely good). I got cell service, for one. A couple texts came through and I hurriedly sent off messages to my parents, advising them of the adventure I was currently on, because I realized somewhere along the line that I hadn’t let anyone know where I was going (yet another symptom of biting-off-more-than-you-can-chew in an adventure that’s much bigger than you expected). I wanted some comfort, some familiarity. Though I had been doing all these miles this year, they were almost entirely on trail except for a couple small bushwacks. I hadn’t realized that my mental fortitude had waned so much, but of course it had. I hadn’t been training it and bodies and minds are very efficient. They get rid of whatever they don’t use regularly, like when your phone is all, “Critically low storage! Archive items that haven’t been used recently???!?” And you’re like, yeah, sure, if I haven’t used it recently I probably don’t need it. Your brain makes those decisions without giving you an “Okay” message to click on. And now, your Nolan’s-level resilience has been archived, and nobody told you. And that is exactly how computers are different from human bodies. Man, I should go back to school just so I can write a thesis about AI.

 

I stood at the edge of the snow, it reflected vividly in the little moonlight there was, as snow does, because snow reflects 80% of any light shined upon it. Whereas the ground reflects, I don’t know, none? My headlamp was off, and I just stood there, taking it in, too tired to really formulate, wtf am I going to do? Oh right, the other extra ordinary thing. The ridge is lined with a brutally steep snowfield that is actually, at 3:30am or whatever time it might be, pure ice. And I have socks and La Sportiva Akashas with which to cross it. [look up more Zombie lyrics, because when you sing them, they’re undoubtedly wrong]. I traverse as far as I can towards whatever mountain is east of Hope Pass, and find a place to descend the steepest part of the ice. A couple hundred feet down, the ice softens to shitty snow and I’m back on it, descending and post holing into icy water yet again. The snow ends just before treeline and I realize, I have no idea where the trail is. I traverse left and right, hoping to cross it. The ground is a swamp, though, a snowmelt-cold swamp, which is just as bad as an ice-cold swamp, and looking back I realize that I probably was crossing it but wouldn’t have been able to see any trail under the water and mud and plants and slush. I descend a labyrinth of felled trees, to find a dead end and waterfalls and cliffs. I ascend and traverse and descend again only to find the same cliffy dead ends over and over again. I find a high point in the swamp and sit down, wrap the space blanket around Pip and I, hoping to wait it out until sunrise. In five minutes, I feel numb.

 

I get up and ascend and descend over and over again, but getting a little further down each time like a chameleon, unsure of its next step and trying to be calculated but ultimately all the moving backwards and forward will finally inch it to its destination. I stumble upon the trail and cry out with relief and gratitude. I am too tired, or dehydrated, or tired, or zombie, to cry. Now that I’m on the trail, the dense, jungley forest of Willis Gulch feels infested with something terrifying. I’m not really that scared of lions and bears, but when you’re tired your eyes or your brain play tricks on you. I felt paranoid. I began to sing, devotional songs in Sanskrit and Play it Right by Sylvan Esso, the songs I can think of at this moment. “Oh I feel like an animal in the night [because we are] play it right.” The dirt trail is plagued by tree roots but it is refreshingly soft on my knees. I feel the hot spots, but know it’s too cold to stop. The animals I’m hallucinating aren’t mountain lions or bears, they’re prehistoric. They’re saber-tooth tigers, their enormous presence so heavy and taking up so much space, I can feel them there. I’m sure they are there. “And I will be more than a small human with her head pressed against your mouth in motion.” The miles add up. My watch isn’t adding them anymore, but I know how many more miles it is to get home now. With their tanks and their bombs, and their bombs, and their guns, in your head, in your head, they are crying.

 

At the base of the Willis Gulch trail, there is a hint of light over the Mosquito Range. I turn right, towards “Interlaken”, not yet realizing my mistake. Two and a half miles later, I arrive at Interlaken, and it is no place at all. The CT continues directly to the east, and I realize I have to go all the way back to Willis Gulch and west to the Willis Gulch trailhead, where the bridge is to cross Lake Creek. My feet burn and sting and rage, I know it’s too late now and I have trench foot. You know when your feet get all wrinkly in the bath? The skin is swollen and stretched and sensitive from the water it’s soaked up. If you let your feet be swollen and sensitive for long enough, and in fact bear your weight on them step after step while they’re in that condition, those wrinkles will begin to blister. That is trench foot, hundreds of blisters, and raw, swollen skin.

 

I wake up, my face feels rough and my neck is stiff, but I am bathed in sunlight, and warm. Pip is standing a few feet away, looking at me. My arms are wrapped around a large, rather flat rock that I’m cradling like a teddy bear (or if I’m being honest, a Popples, or a Figment) and the rest of my body is splayed out, completely blocking the trail. Apparently, I found this nice cozy rock and laid down to snuggle it, and fell asleep in the sun. It is 8am, and my phone has something like 9% battery left (do you remember when there was mystery to gas tanks and phone batteries? Now you always know how many miles left and how many seconds left and what is the fun in that? I used to never have any idea when my phone would die. Although, since I still drive an ‘89, and the gas gauge has never worked properly as long as I’ve had it, so I guess I still have some mystery there. And what’s the fun in driving, really, if you always know exactly when you’re going to run out of gas?). Is my life a little *too* exciting?

 

I’m hiking again, and I’m quite miserable and stiff but in slightly better spirits. Once I reach Twin Lakes, I know I only have 8 miles left. Each step is blindingly painful, but hey, 8 miles is better than 13! It’s more than the five I wasted this morning taking a wrong turn to Interlaken (WTF IS INTERLAKEN? And WHERE does the trail ever cross 82!? I still don’t know). I wander around Twin Lakes looking for the Jeep road that links back to the CT. I had done this before, but I stopped before I reached Twin Lakes itself. Now, I realize I don’t know just exactly where it comes out. I meet a group of old folks, who in the typical old folks/small town way, give me these directions “Follow this street, see, to the pitch. Climb the pitch, cross through a gully then a ditch, then take a right. But don’t be too eager with that right or you’ll end up trespassing. Be patient about that right turn, you hear?” And they stride off, clearly in better shape than me.

 

I climb the pitch, cross through a gully, then a ditch, arrive at a road, and turn right. It dead ends at someone’s garage and I realize I’ve not been patient enough, I backtrack. I patiently wait for another right, and as it materializes I see a through hiker, who confirms I’ve found the right, less eager, right turn. I shuffle up the climb from 82. Zombie, zombie, zombie. After all, there’s nothing to do but walk the eight miles back to my bike stashed at the Elbert TH. Nothing, nothing, nothing else to do. I start to see through hikers who are, relative to me, bright-eyed and chipper on a sunny, blue-skied morning. We great each other warmly. They don’t ask me what I’m up to, struggling like I’m dragging my hapless body through honey and wincing as if a dozen miniature miners are hacking into my feet, looking for valuable ore that they might sell to fancy bike manufacturers. And I don’t volunteer it.

 

A few miles later, I’m taking a break on the side of the trail with my shoes off, knowing it’s too late but looking at the ruins of my feet and hoping I might prevent it from continuing to get worse with each step. A woman approaches, another through hiker. She asks, “What are you doing?” so sincerely that I tell her exactly what I’m doing, or what I’ve just done. The short version, which is something like: I climbed Mt. Elbert by the standard route, then descended southwest over Bull Hill to Echo Canyon. I crossed 82 and climbed La Plata in the evening, and descended to Winfield. I took the CDT to Hope Pass, crossed through Twin Lakes, and now I’m here, trying to make my way back to camp, to close the loop. I was out all night. I have trench foot (of course, I left in these important details, and I am exhausted.

 

“Wow! What an accomplishment!” She says. I’m so tired. Zombie, zombie, zombie. For miles and hours, or hours of miles, the trial of miles, miles and miles of trials, I though about what had gone wrong. About how lousy I felt. About how poor of shape I was in and how un-resilient my mind was. About how I had accidentally come to run and walk and stagger for 50 miles. I say, “Thank you.” She goes on her way and I put my shoes on with no wet socks anymore, I get up and shuffle. I know she’s right. I think about how my GPS track laid over a satellite map on Strava will tell so little of this story. I laugh out loud.

Hope Epic Zombie Loop & Wild-Cat Ideas pt 1

“’I suppose you have got one of your wild-cat ideas.’
‘Yes, I have,’ Earnest owned, smiling a little, ‘at least you will probably think it’s a wild-cat idea.’”

I was camping at Half Moon, two miles from where the Colorado Trail crosses it and heads up towards Mt. Massive in one direction and Mt. Elbert in the other. I had already done a series of small loops by utilizing the CT, loops I’ve done before and loops that I hadn’t yet thought of. I’m not sure where the loop thing came from, but suddenly I’m obsessed with loops. I guess, I hate the inefficiency of a one-way, which necessitates getting rides and stashing cars. But an out-and-back is even less appealing, especially when you’re doing parts of the Nolan’s route. It’s all the Grand Canyon’s fault, really. Those damn well-organized and maintained bike paths and extremely convenient shuttles would ruin the thing for anyone.

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From La Plata, looking SW at the ridge I would take to the basin

So that’s how I suddenly came to think, what if I left from my campsite and did Elbert and La Plata on the Nolan’s course, then used the CDT and the CT to loop it back (I’m still relatively new to Strava, you guys, and just imagine what a loop like that would look like overlayed on a satellite map! Damn Strava, it’s your fault, too). You know how you get an idea and it’s obviously the best and most brilliant idea you’ve ever had? I mean, I was planning a run. A rather grand run, but still. It played up in my mind. I must run this wonderful loop! And in the way of all the best and brightest ideas, I planned extremely poorly and set out as soon as I could.

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From Massive, a couple days before I did the Loop

The first week I had been back in Leadville, I did 25,000 feet of elevation, which wasn’t unusual for my training, and I was so exhausted that I was cutting every run short and existing in the world like a zombie. I took two days off, because I could hardly imagine how I could get out to run at all (I’ll talk more about this in the next post, which will be called something like over training: How to Lose Everything). Then I made a hard effort on Elbert, and the next day I planned to do my loop. Without doing the math or looking anything up, I had loosely added up miles in my head and determined vaguely that the loop was probably somewhere in the 30’s. As I had just done the Broken Arrow in 6:28, I imagined that such a loop should take me 8 to 12 hours, making allowances for what I expected to be rather poor snow conditions (and poor, they were). I packed my headlamp, some bars, and an emergency blanket in addition to the stuff I normally carry on mountain runs (shell jacket, life straw, sunglasses) and rode my bike to the north Elbert trailhead. At, like, 10:30am. Alpine starts are for organized, responsible people who want to get back at a reasonable time and avoid afternoon storms. “And you, button, are none of those things.”

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from Elbert summit

It was a beautiful day and the Elbert ascent went fast and easy. I cruised over the summit to the confusion of startled summit-sitters and passed a large group of annoyed teenagers that had probably come from the Black Cloud trailhead on the talus, before I dropped out of sight, off trail, toward Bull Hill. I got a view of the ridge. “I’m worried that the snow conditions in the basin off La Plata will be so bad I’ll get stuck.” I said days ago, to a friend who knows the route. He said, “No, Hope Pass is going to be the snow crux.” We were both wrong, I thought, as I looked over the steep slopes covered in heavy, sun-wet snow just begging to slide off the ridge to Bull Hill. As I traversed I also descended, aiming for lower angle snow at least to cross in, knowing how steep it was above me. I kept thinking, I should turn back, I should turn back, but I thought, no it’ll get better, it’ll get better as it got worse and worse. Because I couldn’t find a place to safely ascend Bull Hill itself, I went further south and tried to ascend its south ridge. As I climbed the snow towards it, I could finally see the cornices at the top, and the cracks in the snow beneath them. At this point, Pippa had already crossed over and I knew that was the fastest way out of this situation. So I did, too.

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Bull Hill

As I predicted, on the other side of the corniced snow was bare tundra and rocks and the Bull Hill descent was no trouble at all. As I crossed 82, I looked at my mileage so far and realized that I had under calculated. But, that’s ok. Even if it adds up and I end up at 40, it’ll still be okay. But, if I don’t want to go on, I should really decide that now because this is probably the point of no return. Once I cross over La Plata, I’ll be committed to this loop. Committed, I was. Because of my late morning start, I hit the La Plata trailhead late enough that I only saw one group still making their way down on the 100 switchbacks. We stopped to chat about dogs and weather and things, and one of the guys said, “I bet you could still make it to the summit if you pushed it.” Hahahahaha. It was 5:45pm. I said, “Well, I sure hope so because I’m going over to the other side.” I hoped, at that point, that I’d make it to 390A on the other side of the SW La Plata TH before dark, as I was still worried about the unknown snow conditions and also about route finding in the basin.

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the ridge to Bull Hill

“What’s on the other side?” He asked, incredulous. I thought for a moment, the probably snow-filled basin? 390A? Winfield? Salvation? A cold, honest night alone in the mountains? “Nothing at all.” I said, and went on climbing, my thighs were burning and progress slowing. My first yoga teacher was always saying when a pose was hard and your legs were burning, it’s “Burning Enthusiasm.” Because you can choose it to be burning enthusiasm instead of burning misery. And the burning, besides, is what burns up all the garbage, all the thoughts and worries and fears and past you’re gripping, tapas, the physical struggle, can burn them out and leave you alone with yourself. Each slow step burns and I try to think, “Burning Enthusiasm.”

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from La Plata, looking west at the setting sun

I had started thinking about what I’d call the loop. I love naming routes. And the longer and more strenuous they are, the more you suffer and the more the mountains abuse you, the easier it is to just know suddenly what they should be called. Something always pops into mind, or makes itself apparent. At this point, after the carefree, sunny Bull Hill descent and the casual, if slow, La Plata ascent, I had in my mind that song that’s by Fallout Boy or Panic at the Disco that the chorus is like, “Always had high, high hopes …” [we’ll see if I remember to look up the lyrics to this song, because you know how you can get a catchy song stuck in your head just from hearing it on the radio or in a store or something even if you don’t know exactly the words?] And of course, it seemed obvious to use a play on Hope Pass, as that was the hinge that made the loop possible. I trudged upward as the sun got lower in the sky, oblivious to the miles adding up freely and much more quickly than my harried math had allowed for. “I’ll call this the High High Hopes loop.” It’s a lot easier to be positive and delighted when the sun is still up.

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This is my GPS track, up until the point my watch died partway up Hope Pass

The ascent took so long that I rushed down the talus towards the basin, just blindly hoping to get off that heinous trail and onto the road before dark at this point, thinking that once I was, any potential troubles would probably be over and I’d be easily navigating clean trail in the dark. My knees were really bothering me, and I was exhausted. Still exhausted from last week or the altitude or whatever it was that had been hindering my performance. Like everyone that’s crossed the threshold and is suffering from over training (but do not know it yet, because they do not wear a heart rate monitor regularly as God and Steve House agree everyone should), I believed I must be unfit and continued to push harder to make up for it. I arrived at the steep gully I had to descend into the basin, the place I was worried about the snow being the most dangerous. But, I was in luck, because though full of snow, I could skirt it and come down on undesirable but not particularly dangerous very steep mud instead. I switched to snow as the angle lessened at the bottom and skated a little into the flat part of the basin. It was completely full of snow, like the end of a bowl of Cheerios when you had piled on white sugar at the start, and now it had soaked in milk for the 10 minutes or so it took to eat the cereal.

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I know I already posted a similar picture from La Plata looking SW but I’m out of pictures, these were the last I took

Unlike milky sugar, however, the approximately two feet of snow was just a front to disguise a foot, and in some places 2.5 feet, of standing water and willows. And the snow, being what, July? Was not weight bearing at all. So with every step, I broke through the wet, granular snow and into the standing water and tangled willows and the sun continued to set. “Don’t give in to the sadness, Artex!” I yelled at Pippa, but Pippa is Pippa and she frolicked and rolled and thrashed about in the Basin of Eternal Sadness as happy as a Pippa could be, as that’s how Pippas do. Just when I was accepting my fate, that I would live here forever, until I died here, I came to the edge of the snow and happened upon the trail. The trail that would weave down between the cliffs and the river and carry me to 390A, the dry Winfield promised land. It was when I set foot on this beautiful road that I looked at my watch and realized, while I had also under accounted for the miles on both the Elbert and La Plata traverses by a few, I had not included a single mile of 390A or the CDT that would take me to Hope Pass in my mileage number. I tiredly tried to add in my head, guessing mostly but knowing that from the top of Hope Pass, I knew for sure I’d have 13 still to go. …And miles to go before I sleep.

The sun was setting, I was soaked to my thighs, I had a half a bar left, and I was getting painfully near the 12 hour mark (upon which my Garmin watch would give up and die, as anyone would after working constantly for 12 hours, even a tiny computer), with an end that wasn’t nearly in sight. Suddenly I could hear something, which was crazy because I hadn’t seen anyone since those folks on the other side of La Plata which felt like days and many conditions and mental states ago. There was a large group, with maybe five or six tents, camped near the road. A bunch of 30-something front-rangers were talking and laughing and playing that bean bag game and drinking beer and playing music. The music was Zombie by the Cranberries. (To be continued…)

Turn to the Sky/Losing a Whole Year/F*** You, Heather

I’m reading Steve House’s book about the mountains. Not about training for alpinism, but the one about his adventures. And I notice that all those tempestuous storm clouds have turned pink. The sun is setting and I go outside and walk up to the top of the hill and I’m basking in the glow, then suddenly I sink down to my knees. My tears are so hot it feels like I have a sunburn. It’s cold outside. It almost feels like winter. I forget that leadville is like this. I’m not done thinking about this year but the weather feels like it’s wrapping up too fast. Im not sure I know yet exactly who I am.

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So why did I choose running? This wasn’t the first time I learned this lesson and I was all set to choose climbing, I had gone down that road so far I was about to make a career in it, and the certifications I worked so hard to get were certainly not cheap. Then I threw it all away at the last minute, for running? For that smug bitch Heather!? [You’ll meet Heather later. This is called foreshadowing, and it’s making you more likely to read on, apparently. Maybe.] The reasons that I’m not a better climber pile up: they are the Himalayas of excuses. My chest feels tight. Love is physical. So is fear.

 

My first trip to the Tetons was with my friend Chris. I remember we went up one night to the lower saddle of the Grand, or almost up there. On the way down, we sat on the talus and looked at Irene’s Arete. It was and maybe still is the most aesthetic line I’ve ever seen. I had never felt that way about a rock climb before, it doesn’t even lead to the summit of anything! [However, it is one of the many aretes of everyone’s favorite Teton, Disappointment Peak!] That thing is the dramatic, smooth prow of the coolest, most badass pirate ship that you want to be on. It was the first time I had ever looked at just a rock climb, not a mountain, and thought, “I want to climb that.”

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DCIM100GOPRO

I haven’t. I’ve been back to the Tetons three times after that and I have not climbed Irene’s Arete. Why? I don’t know. Rock climbing scares me. You know what happens when something scares you and you neither do it nor face your fear? It gets fucking worse. You know what else scares me? People. Trusting new people, getting to know them. I looked through Mtn Proj a bit when I was in the Tetons this year for partners, and just said, “Nope.”

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DCIM100GOPROGOPR0830.

So I was reading this trendy self help book, because they’re like Pringles, and the girl said to think about your hero, then imagine what they would do when faced with the same decisions. Once you start, the fun don’t stop. So I thought about my heroes. Mike Libecki is the first name that comes to mind, don’t even need to think about that. Brette Harrington is the second. Of course I thought about Kilian, also Jessie Diggs, Andy Anderson, and Nick Elson, sometimes Steve House. So the thing about this list of people is, and I don’t know them personally, but I don’t think a single one of them would say they’re primarily a runner. Some of them are runners. But I don’t think even Kilian would say, “I’m a runner.” if you asked him what he does. I think for a moment, what if I had made all of my decisions thinking, WWMLD, What Would Mike Libecki Do? Put on an animal mask and said, “Why ration passion?” And I laugh, why indeed?

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I pulled this photo off the internet so you could see what I mean, pc Mike Libecki 

I can remember the first time I felt like I knew I was risking my life. It was physical. I don’t have a very good memory. Actually, I don’t have anything to compare it to, but I can tell from other people’s reactions over the course of my life that they think my memory leaves a lot to be desired. I can’t remember what we’re fighting about if it goes on for more than one day. I forget dates, like birthdays. I forget if ive told a particular person a particular story (although, you can tell me your stories over and over because I probably won’t remember them after a certain amount of time). I forget what happens in books and movies so I can watch the same ones over and over and not even realize it sometimes. Anyway, I have a physical memories that are so visceral that I will never forget them [who can forget being charged by a bear? Really.].

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summit of South Teton

I remember the first time I climbed a mountain and I thought, “I would die for this.” it was South Teton, and I was alone. You’re always unproportionately scared when you’re alone. But as I scrambled up this loose and snow filled gully, it wasn’t the first time I assumed risk and did something dangerous. It was the moment I realized the level of risk I was assuming and I said, yes. I will. It was a great relief, like a low pressure system moved in and the sky itself put less pressure on my body.

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I remember what it felt like the first time Chris and I climbed Middle Teton, gained the ridge to the north and suddenly stood face to face with the Grand Teton, it was like I could open my ribs up like Hanuman and anyone could see my heart beating for it. I remember standing on the summit of Harvard, and being able to see the entire Nolan’s line in both directions and finally understanding the aesthetic of that line, each summit lighting up like the Plinko board and it was as if I could feel the routes and the summits and all the miles I’d spend on them cumulatively, it was like my heart grew outside of my body and wrapped itself around this mountain range like a bubble. I remember falling into a crevasse on Rainier (like it was yesterday!) I could feel the blackness yawning beneath me, and of course the melting relief of getting down safely, every cell in my body vibrating with joy, nearly exploding like tiny fireworks when we got back to the parking lot and sang “We didn’t die! We didn’t die!”

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DCIM100GOPRO

I’ve had some good ones running, too. This isn’t anything against just running in general, it’s against Heather. Don’t forget. I remember the first time I ran up something so hard that when I summited and stopped moving, it felt like my whole body evaporated into the air, and I swear I could feel wind pass through me, gravity clearly not being strong enough to hold my cells together. I remember coming down Elbert so fast, my toes barely brushing the ground and I felt like I was flying. I can only vaguely remember any of the races I’ve done, the most memorable things being, of course, the vomiting and the pain.

me on elbert

I’ve stood up, walked back to the truck, and laid down in the back, on my belly, on top of the sleeping bag. I have Steve House’s book open before me [actually, it’s on a Kindle, if you’re really trying to picture this, and I’ve got a forkful of eclair that’s hanging precariously in the air] and I’ve just read “Now that I’ve finished it, I am afraid I may have failed. Failed to answer questions such as why I take deadly risks, why I leave home for months at a time, and why I routinely spend my savings on air tickets to remote lands. But I see success in degrees, and failure provides valuable lessons. The depth of any story is proportionate to the protagonist’s commitment to their goal, the complexity of the problem, and the grace of the solution. Success must never be assured.”

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My chest gets tight, which, not being something I feel very often at all, is immediately uncomfortable. It feels like my ribs are closing in on my heart and lungs. I read on, “When I stood on the greatest summit I’ve ever achieved, success vaporized. The moment we think we have atained the goal, we lose it. Success is empty. The sum of all our luck, judgments, lessons learned and heeded, elevation gained and lost, our fitness and skill is zero.” the forkful of eclair continues to be suspended in midair, so near my dumbfounded mouth, but so far.

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The universe puts things in your way when you need them. I would’ve read this book ages ago but I didn’t know he’d written such a thing. I’m cried out, I guess, probably too dehydrated for more tears as the altitude is ravaging my body once again. I’m always thirsty. It’s clear now in that one word, success. My mind is waging a war of ideals, and this year, success won. It buried what I wanted to do, it asked me to bleed for it. But mountain running is an honest sport. I’ve given the same advice to several people regarding their first ultra, “You need to know what you’re fighting for, because when you really start to suffer, your mind will do anything to make you stop, and if you have nothing to fight for, you will.” the values or ideals I had around success asked me to lay my body down for it. And I didn’t.

sunset elbert

 

I mean, I didn’t stop, I finished the damn thing. I’ve thought a lot about what the most important value is to me, and I know it’s Never Give Up. That’s the thing I aspire to be, and when I am that, it’s what I’m the most proud of. I’ve now spent a lot of time thinking about what happened in that race. Didn’t I give up? I described it afterwards as, “I blew it, and I knew I was blowing it, and I didn’t care.” It took some suffering to really polish up my underlying motives and see what I was up against. There I was, asking my body for something that I wanted, SUCCESS, but that I also knew I didn’t really want at all. Gosh it’s hard to explain, and certainly I’m writing all of this because it’s helping me work through it more than you care to know this much about the inner workings of my warped, forgetful, prideful, obsessive, but at least devoted brain. I finally eat the eclair.

 

[Let’s give the-values-or-ideals-I-had-around-success-and-pride a name, and that smug bitch shall be called Heather, not because of anyone I know personally named Heather, but because I recently watched Heathers.]

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When Heather asked me to destroy my body for her, I didn’t. My mind struggled with this a bit, and mind you, at this point I was what? 6,000ft of climbing and somewhere around 17 miles in? I thought, if I don’t pull it together now, I’m going to be a failure, I’m going to be humiliated. Like I’m suddenly the center of the universe and anyone cares about the nonsense I get up to! Heather asked me, “But what about your dreams!?” and I thought, THIS? Heather, is this my dreams? I have a big long list of dreams and “climb a long Jeep road to nowhere as fast as you can because if you’re better at it than other people, you’ll get some kind of recognition for being strong.” is nowhere on the fucking list. Actually, when I think of the list, I’m ashamed, because I didn’t do a single fucking thing on it this year and instead I wasted all my time on …. Ugh, we’re back here again. No, I don’t regret it, because I had to know. Now I know. [Fuck you, Heather!]

 

I hope I go back through and edit this before I post it and somehow make it funnier. I’m not sure how, but I aspire to do that. Although, Steve House is basically never funny, so if I thought right now, WWSHD? It wouldn’t be, go back through and make your writing funnier. Ugh but if I thought, WWMLD? It totally WOULD be, lighten this up a little. Why my heroes got to be conflicting me like that? I’m not sure how, but this is all Heather’s fault.

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No, actually, you know what? Heather, that asshole, wanted me to fight for something that is not in line with my values, but is moreso culturally ingrained in me. But I stood up to her, despite that it meant I’d have to walk away with nothing, whether anyone else cared about it or not. And muddled in there with the moping and failure and waste and feelings of nothingness, also the identity crisis and the crushing lack of confidence, I actually am proud of that.

harvard summit photo

I went climbing a couple times this week. It was hard. Some of the time I felt strong, some of the time I felt weak, some of the time I felt frustrated, some of the time I felt inspired. It’s just like anything else that’s worth doing, I suppose. Heather showed up on one pitch, and I wondered if I’d always be fighting her, trying to trick her or slap her or pull her hair and hoping she’ll leave me alone to pursue what I actually want. This was certainly not our first fight, but at least I know her style better now. I’m starting to learn her weaknesses. I climbed a new mountain the other day, during a linkup of other mountains I’d climbed before. It was like, 13,9-something which means that it has no trail and never gets climbed, despite being less than 100 feet off of being a coveted 14er. I looked out at the inifinite mountains, over the Sawatch, towards the Elks. I closed my eyes and I could feel the pull of the space between earth and sky; the groundedness in my feet on the summit’s talus, the lift of my heart to the sun. I get this feeling a lot, but it’s still my favorite. I think, “This. I will do anything for this.”G0031035.JPG

[And there’s no sign of Heather anywhere]

you guys, don’t forget to check out my Threadless store for graphics for mtn fohttps://stokedalpine.threadless.com/designs/ks

1,400 Miles

Funny thing is, I wrote a similar post last year, and the real truth is I didn’t fully learn my lesson and spent 1,400 miles learning it all over again this year. Last year by August, I was sick of running, I had just come off a lousy performance at the Speedgoat (in every possible way, really), I went to the Tetons and had the best time climbing, and I realized I loved the running/climbing combo, I needed to get better at climbing, and I would focus on that. Somewhere in the next couple of months I decided I wanted to apply to RMI to guide Rainier for summer 2019 (the one we’re currently in) they enthusiastically responded immediately that I’m an excellent candidate and scheduled me for my test date in person in March. I scheduled the prereqs I didn’t yet have (WFR and avalanche) and set up in Ouray for the winter to climb ice and ski.

ouray in the snow

winter in Ouray

Then suddenly, in January or February, I had this thought, am I sure I want to guide? Like, this seemed like an obvious career path if I was done racing and ready to climb more and bigger mountains. I’ve never been able to find a consistent partner to go to big mountains and definitely not for the bigger projects of my dreams, nor could I afford many of these trips in my current lifestyle, and guiding was the obvious answer. But my favorite thing in the world is to camp in remote places and run new and old big mountain routes alone! So now I’m confused, I’m sitting here thinking about the actual day to day of guiding and what I would be giving up should I go that route. I make a pro/con list with three categories:

  1. Finally committing full time to training and racing
  2. Personal projects
  3. Guiding

 

So I’ve always wondered what would happen if I actually trained. I’ve posted several times about that this year already, so I suppose the cat is out of the bag. But the clincher on the pro/con list was, under training/racing, I will always regret it if I don’t give it a shot and see what I’m capable of. I told RMI I’m not coming and started training immediately. I left Colorado early and went to AZ to train on the actual ground. I lived in the Grand Canyon for a month, doing the 5,000 foot south rim climb from the river 3 or 4 times a week. I put in 90 mile weeks with 20,000ft of climbing. I ran laps at Mt. Whitney and at the Druid Stones in Bishop. I ran boring roads and awkward trails just to get the miles in. I skipped over climbing in the Sierras because I needed to be running and didn’t have the time for daily snow climbs and scrambles and definitely not roped climbing in favor of these lesser, boring runs.

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This post has a disturbing lack of its own pictures, this is from the Mt. Whitney Portal, where I ran 180 miles

Then I drove to Truckee, California, for a race. As the Blazer climbed out of Reno and into the mountains, my heart was raging around like a barefoot contemporary dancer inside my rib cage from the excitement of going all the way to California for a big race. It really lends a sense of gravity. I worried that all that ice climbing over the winter, and lack of winter training, would be the thing that made me fail. I wondered if I would be good enough. I wondered wtf to eat because I am always getting sick in races, although I can’t say that I’ve done that terribly many. I tried to strategize and visualize and plan the perfect three week gradual taper. I watched half of the 15th season of Gray’s Anatomy trying to distract myself the day before. I showed up to the Broken Arrow Skyrace and had an amazing run. The course was beautiful, I met lots of amazing people, and although the last major climb and the last four miles of blasting downhill hurt a little, I barely suffered at all. I ran 6:28, which I considered to be a very respectable time for a 50k with 10,000ft of climbing and placed 14th, which was the harsh reality of a stacked elite field. But I looked back on it and thought, I know I did not suffer enough to say I gave it my best. But that’s okay, because the Speedgoat is coming and that is why I ran the 1,400 miles. At the Speedgoat, I will do my best.

 

And besides, the Speedgoat is more my kind of race anyway. The brutal climbs and the horrific descents are things that I’m stronger in, and the miles and miles of soft, easy, rolling trails at Broken Arrow were a great advantage for everyone else. The kind of training I’ve been doing and the type of running I like to do are all aimed at the Speedgoat. I have done an incredible amount of research entailing last year’s splits, my competitor’s training and their last year’s splits, and I think, if I go out and work harder than I’ve ever worked, I could get a really great time. Then I immediately begin to dread it. You know on old rollercoasters, the first hill the train is dragged up slowly, click, click, click, and there’s that pause as you’re going over the top as the weight of the cars transitions to the downhill and it feels like your stomach is reaching for the sky and your whole body is wild with the anxiety and excitement and anticipation? That fucking hill was 1,400 miles long, and now, as I’m driving to SLC, arriving at the campground, packing up my vest, setting the alarm, I’m in the last car of the train and we’re just hanging there, waiting to go over.

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I don’t have photos from SLC, I took this yesterday

The first almost 4,000 climb goes well. There’s more flat miles mixed into it than I remember, but I’m on a good pace and I’m feeling strong and great. I come through the first aid station and carefully don’t eat or drink much before the upcoming almost 4,000ft descent. It is a nightmare that never ends. It’s hard to explain how bad it is, it’s an old creek bed that is basically a trough of loose baseball and volleyball sized rocks, and there is a jeep road next to it that we are not allowed to run on, because at every opportunity when building this course he said, “How could I make this worse?”. And it goes on for almost 4,000ft. By the time I reach Pacific Mine, my whole body is battered (although I thankfully did not fall) and my mental status is already in a garbage disposal. I grab snacks and water and gel and start the next climb, 3,700 feet of entirely unscenic jeep road to nowhere in particular and I immediately realize, my gas tank is empty.

 

During the Broken Arrow, I consumed four gels, copious amounts of water, sips of coke and gingerale, and almost nothing else (I think maybe a cookie, a chip, and a strawberry but regular food makes me sick and that day I learned that GU doesn’t). I am 1/3 of the way into the Speedgoat and I’ve already eaten all of my gels and am now relying fully on the aid stations and I have somehow underconsumed both calories and water to the extent that in addition to feeling mentally void, I’m starving and my well trained legs have nothing to give. That’s ok, I tell myself, because it’s 99% mental anyway, and there’s time to fix this. Then maybe 1,500 miserable feet into this climb I realize, I don’t want it.

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I don’t have any photos from Broken Arrow or Speedgoat. This is just me running in my Speedgoat shirt in Jackson, photo by Mark

““You’ve gotta want it!” Yelled Sten Fjeldheim, and there was the whole truth. In the first five syllables, in the first few seconds of the first day of school, Sten told us all we really had to know about cross-country ski racing or likely anything else. “And if you want it bad enough you can train on the moon. But if you don’t want it bad enough you may as well head for the dorms … If you don’t want it bad enough to show up on time, you don’t need me.”” From Momentum, Pete Vordenberg’s memoirs of Olympic ski racing. I read those words this morning before I went out to run. Although I’ve read that book a dozen times, it both stings and feels liberating now. Nothing is more true than that, the whole truth.

 

I didn’t want it. With perfect clarity, I looked around myself at the completely uninspiring landscape, I looked at my feet as they shuffled up this dirt road and the sweat from my forehead dripped onto the dust, and I looked in myself as my morale spiralled lower and lower and I realized that I would never be a great race runner because competition wasn’t what inspired me. I knew going into it that I would have to work harder than I’ve ever worked, and it terrified me because I knew I didn’t love racing or the Speedgoat or this course enough to max myself out, to work as hard as I could. I knew this already. I know I did, I had to have. I can only run hard because I love something, because I want to stand on top of it, because it’s a route so aesthetic that it inspires me, because it’s so beautiful I can’t even stand it and the only response I could possibly have is to give my body over to it at whatever the cost.

 

Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I found myself telling someone out loud that boy was my morale spiraling down the toilet (clockwise or counterclockwise, US or Australia style, it doesn’t matter), that I felt a profound sense of deja vu. All of this had happened last year, and I had blocked it all out in my mind. I had walked away saying it was the worst day of my life, and all I remembered about why was because I was undertrained and the course is heinous. And now here I was again, trudging up the same boring, Godforsaken climb, feeling beaten and ready to give up running forever, exactly like last year. Blowing it, unwilling to give it my best, exactly like last year.

 

I learned the price of a podium finish, and I neither could nor would pay it. I hiked the rest of the climbs and jogged the downs with lackluster and finished faster than last year in a time I don’t remember and don’t care enough about to look up, and it turned out I was 10th but that doesn’t matter either. I spent the last descent thinking, just please let it be over. Let it be over, let it be over. And then it was, and I was so relieved to cross that finish line but I didn’t feel proud, just elated to sit the fuck down and drink my recovery drink and eat my pizza and chat with my new friends. That is one thing, I’ve met really good folks at every race I’ve done. And the Speedgoat especially, for all its misery and the cruelty and brutally that Karl put into the course, it brings us together, because at least we’re traveling through that ring of hell together.

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From just below the saddle of the Grand, taken this year

I drive straight to the Tetons, and just like last year I spend about a week playing the guitar and reading and eating pastries at the Jackson Lake Lodge and pizza from Jackson Whole Grocer and mountain biking with Pippa, and of course I still run, but I only ran 40 miles that week and only one of those runs was in the park. I don’t climb a Teton until the day before I’m set to leave. I go up Disappointment Peak with my friend Mark. I suppose I should tell you, in case you aren’t familiar, Disappointment is a peak so directly in front of the Grand that it’s very difficult to see its summit within the Grand’s big, beautiful face. It’s so named because the first ascent attempt of the Grand ended when they summitted Disappointment Peak and realized that there is a cavernous and impossible gap between their bodies and the Grand Teton. Disappointment is certainly one of my favorites, there’s no long miserable talus hopping and you get straight to the good stuff, very exposed but easy scrambling. I’ve done this route enough times now that I know all the parts of it, and I know that because we’ve been climbing the east side, and the Grand is on the west side, when we finally crest the ridge that we’ll take to the summit, suddenly we’ll be face to face, eye to eye with the Grand.

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needs no caption

I reach it first and I just stand there for a moment, staring, then step aside and usher Mark into my spot so he can experience that bigness, that sense of fullness and awe for his first time, that I still get every time but of course I remember the first especially keenly. And I begin to weep. Because it’s just all come down on me like the roof of an old, closed down bowling alley in a heavy snow year. I’ve wasted this whole year, for nothing. I should’ve been doing this, this thing that I love so much. Climbing mountains, bigger mountains, harder mountains. Climbing at all. Playing around in and doing alpine things. And instead, there were all those 12, 14, 16 mile runs. There was day after day of the trial of miles, just filling in the boxes of my training log. And all of those 1,400 miles (and something like 350,000 feet, mind you, which was no small thing either) led up to this miserable day on which I proved that I am mediocre at running [racing] and I always will be.

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looking SW from Disappointment Peak

I say the short version of this to Mark. And he reminds me, but I had to do it. I needed to know, I would’ve always regretted it if I didn’t give it my best shot and see what I could accomplish. Then I realize, I hadn’t thought I might fail. Of course, when you set out to do something big, you could succeed or you could fail. I’m still struggling to put my finger on this, because it’s not yet clear if all of that work, all that 1,400 miles, is built up in my body just waiting to do something useful. Because on neither race day did I push myself to my limit and come up short. I blew it at the Speedgoat on the second climb and I knew I was blowing it and I just couldn’t make myself care. Which is still failing at my objective, but I think it’s more of a principles thing and now that the race season is over, I’m free to do with my fitness what I want and work on these personal projects that were and are so much more important to me. When I summit Disappointment, I stand there on the edge, over that huge, sheer gap that’s so deep and vertical that it gives you vertigo. I close my eyes and feel the wind and the bigness of the Grand and I’m so full of delight, it’s like my body can’t hold itself together and might just evaporate. And although my heart is beating so hard I can feel my pulse in every part of my body, it slows, because now I am perfectly calm.

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I’m sitting on the couch in the camper as I write this, we’re in the middle of nowhere at Clear Creek now, and both so relieved to be out of Jackson because now Pip can run in any mountains she wants again and we don’t have neighbors and there’s water and it’s not so hot. I’m drinking coke over snow I carried down from the mountains earlier today and eating a big hunk of Tillamook cheese and trying not to think about all that time I could’ve been doing fun shit. Today we did a linkup in a big loop, not as big as the Epic Zombie Loop and not nearly as disastrous [why haven’t I written about the Epic Zombie Loop!? It’s like I blocked that 24 hours out of my brain completely. God I have been thinking I should write about something and not being able to think of ANYTHING interesting I’ve done lately, and there’s that juicy topic, just sitting there]. I could feel the altitude even though we were at 7k for three weeks, I guess I only went up really high twice in that time. I jogged descents, I stopped for snacks and water filtering, I filmed Pip rolling around in the snow, I cavorted, I looked for a new route and failed to find it, I sprinted the last mile, and I burned one of the ascents nearly as hard as I could, we got rained on when the sky opened up just as we got below treeline. I’m crying into my snow-cold coke right now in relief, because when you’re free to do whatever you want in the world again, you look back and see that when you couldn’t, it was all in your own mind to begin with.