Nolan’s 14 (can you ever be ready?)

All this week I’ve been having trouble sleeping. I know it’s because I’m so scared of what’s coming. I’ve spent the last 8 months or so fully dedicated to training for Nolan’s. I don’t know that there’s anything that can fully prepare you for real adventure.

Here’s two words that I think are constantly misused:

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You know I just read that feeling AWE strengthens your immune system? I’ll never get sick again!

Fear is a big part of this game. I’m starting to understand what a big role it plays. My boss said it sounds like Nolan’s is “type 3 fun”- it’s not fun to talk about before, it’s not fun to do, but maybe’s it’s fun to talk about after” but I don’t think that is true to what it means to me either. It is the hardest, scariest, most brutal, riskiest thing I have ever tried to do. When I finish, it will be my moment- not because it’s fun, but because overcoming all of that will be the highest of highs. Rising above fear-that’s the triumph of the human spirit. The ladder to the stars.

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This weekend is my first ultra distance race. I didn’t think I was going to race this year, but I suddenly wanted to get one in before the season’s over. I’m worried about it, I’ve never raced more than 8 miles. I am hoping that it will be a kind of fun. Then Sunday I’m heading out for my practice run of the Nolan’s route. Doing it backwards because it makes the most sense ride-wise to get dropped off by Salida so I’m closer to home when I finish. Last week’s bushwacking was just a little peek at how wild it’s going to be. I’ve got 4.5 days to do it, cross your fingers for me. If I’m strong enough and brave enough, I’ll touch the sky.

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BUSHWACKING (if you feel lost, get lost)

Off trail is great for getting sticks in your hair, falling in rivers, discovering knee deep bogs, generally being terrified of fauna and the potential for never getting home, and adventuring in new ways that requires so much of your faculties that you can’t think about your other problems.

I’ve been having a lot of problems lately; feeling isolated, being incredibly stressed out by and generally hating my job, trying to manage my training schedule and upcoming trips, and a variety of smaller things. I’m finally doing the Nolan’s 14 un-official run through the first week of August and I have just realized how terrified I am to face such a big adventure when I really haven’t done much big and scary stuff all year. The two things that scare me the most about Nolan’s are navigating off trail and running through the night. I decided to tackle bushwacking today.

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In the winter, I did tons of backcountry snowshoeing and skiing with no apparent trails, but with 5 feet of snow everything is different. I discovered today that I have a totally unfounded fear of stepping on a rattlesnake. Plus, I apparently have decided that I’m relatively safe from bears and mountain lions only on trails (because why would bears and mountain lions hang out near trails? I don’t know, but thats when I’ve seen the most bears so nobody knows where the illusion of safety came from!)

The biggest thing I noticed about bushwacking back from Mt Massive was my heightened senses and focus. There was no time of effort left over worrying or stressing or thinking. Adventuring should always be like this, and was for me last year but now most of my day trips are kind of same old and I’m not so focused.

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Other perks included: finding all sorts of wildflowers I’ve never seen before, crossing the same river 5 times (only falling in it once!), climbing a veritable jungle gym of fallen trees, and seeing the unexpected. At one point we were wading through a bog in the willows and I stumbled upon what looked almost like a trail. There were many fresh footprints in the mud- none of them human. Game trail! Also, piles of poop EVERYWHERE. Clearly the animals of the wilderness poop a lot and they’re not doing it near trails.

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Finally, there’s the distinct fear of not knowing where you are. Yeah, you can get lost on trails. But it is a world of difference being lost in the wild. Because at least the trail goes somewhere. And that, I’m pretty sure, is that magical feeling of exploration. Once you’ve mastered it, you can go anywhere.

We stumbled across the Colorado trail quite suddenly and by accident, and at first I was relieved. 30 seconds later, I was almost disappointed, and I bet Luna that we could find a more interesting way home. (And we did)

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PUNISHMENT VS DISCIPLINE (how do you really feel about running?)

Someone told me the other day that I’m trashing my body. It bothered me because I know exactly what it means to trash your body, and I’m most definitely not doing that anymore. Then I spent 35 miles thinking about the difference between destroying your body and making it stronger.

35 miles is a good long time to think through serious issues...and fucking gorgeous also

35 miles is a good long time to think through serious issues…and fucking gorgeous also

I started running competitively in 8th grade. The only thing I remember from my first year on the cross country team is that throwing up during practice or a meet is a badge of honor. During subsequent years I discovered that so is running through an injury, and also if you’re still standing after you crossed the finish line then you didn’t go hard enough. Our coach used to say “pain is temporary, pride is forever” and I thought about that constantly then and for many years after. The summer before 10th grade I was running twice a day every day. The greatest running buddy I ever had was during that time; we were perfect together because we were evenly matched and we hated each other. Nobody has ever made me train harder.

I took a break during my first year of college, then started running again the summer after my freshman year. I honestly thought it was good for me. I ran around campus by myself and trained intervals on the track. I still believed more pain more gain; I’d run sprints until I’d collapse on the finish line, and if I threw up then I knew I’d worked hard enough. I started racing again, short distances, always obsessively hoping to break my personal best times from high school. Have you ever read Once a Runner? Let loose your demons and wail on.

I was destroying my body and I knew it and I glorified it. I think in a lot of ways our culture supports that mentality. I stopped running when I started practicing yoga seriously and I finally realized how valuable my body is and how important it is to take care of it (and how very much I wasn’t taking care of it). I believed then that it was the running that was the culprit and I demonized it.

Years later, I realized that as good of shape that I thought I was in from a daily yoga practice, I could barely make it up to my third floor walk up without getting out of breath. I decided I would start running again, but barely. Feeling the way I did about running, I considered it a punishment and I forced myself out the door every day. I made a deal with myself that I would run one whole mile every day, but that was all I had to do. One mile on the trail around Cheesman Park. I had a friend that was just starting to get into running and we’d hike together sometimes. Somewhere along the way we started running together, and at some point we started running trails. I was tentative to get back into what I considered to be such a cruel sport, my mind was resistant to change. But something miraculous happened, and it was that nothing bad happened. I got stronger but my knees weren’t hurting and I wasn’t getting stress fractures. Where I’m from, a cross country race might include one “hill” that takes a couple of a minutes to get up. Here in Colorado, you can spend hours ascending and I fell madly in love with that challenge. On my first fourteener hike, I remember barely dragging my ass up it when a woman ran right past me. I thought about that woman a lot, and it was why the first fourteener I ran up was Gray’s. I especially could not believe that people RUN DOWN mountains, but after I started it just takes a little bit of practice and you start to feel this amazing flow-picking your route, placing your feet, feeling the rocks.

This was one of those days I didn't feel like going out...but once I did I felt so good.  Getting out there that day was discipline, NOT punishment.

This was one of those days I didn’t feel like going out…but once I did I felt so good. Getting out there that day was discipline, NOT punishment.

My view of running has fundamentally changed. It’s an incredible challenge, but it doesn’t hurt me anymore. I won’t let it. Anything can be punishment if that’s the way you see it. Just like anything can be an opportunity for freedom. Anyone can run themselves into the ground, it’s much harder to take good care of yourself. I don’t always want to run; sometimes it’s really hard to drag myself out there. I used to tell my students to go deeper, to stay longer, not because I told them to, and not because they think they should. But because they want to, because it feels good. And let me tell you, it always feels good. Even when it’s hard or I’m sore or the weather isn’t good. Several of the best moments of my life happened running in the mountains. Some of the worst, too, but I will not let those break me. This world that we live in gives us few opportunities to feel the full spectrum of human emotion. I feel bad for those that aren’t willing to suffer, to feel the lowest of lows, because there is nothing like the highest of highs. I run mountains because it makes me feel strong, powerful, and free.

BONKED (hitting the wall)

Hiking 30 miles and running 30 miles are incredibly different endeavors.

I’m used to very long distance hikes, and in those cases I carry food and eat along the way. When running, though, I adopted the philosophy over the winter that if I’m going out for less than 20 miles I don’t need to carry food or water. When it’s cold I lose less water and it’s available to me periodically in the form of snow and snowmelt [yeah yeah, it’s dangerous to drink wild water, I don’t care]. In the case of a big ascent, I might bring a little snack but I definitely haven’t spent much time considering my “refueling plans”..until now.

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I suppose it’s about right that I set 20 miles as the magic number, because now that I’m regularly exceeding it I’ve noticed that something terrible happens right around 21. I’m feeling great, then suddenly I’m barely dragging myself along; in pain and miserable. I don’t hang out with other long distance runners, so I’m figuring it out as I go and during my first 30 mile run, I learned about THE WALL.

First, let’s talk about how our muscles get energy [WARNING: shit’s about to get science-y. If that sounds boring, skip the next 5 paragraphs]

Digestion breaks down energy containing nutrients and sends them to your cells via blood. Once they’re in your cells, the nutrients are either built up into proteins, lipids, and glycogen OR converted [to pyruvic acid or Acetyl CoA] for energy production. If you’re wondering why people say B vitamins are important for energy, it’s because they’re very important in conversions to Acetyl CoA. There’s more detail here that we just won’t go into.

So now we head to the mitochondria. There’s basically two ways your body creates energy (and by energy I mean ATP- the official energy currency of your body). Glycolysis is quick and dirty- it gets results fast but isn’t very efficient, and there’s a lactic acid problem. Kreb’s Cycle is the tortoise- slow and steady, and much more efficient. This stuff is cool because it explains exactly why lactic acid (what makes muscles stiff and sore) happens. Glycolysis is anaerobic, it can happen without oxygen (like during strenuous activity when you just can’t breathe enough in) BUT it creates extra hydrogen, and that hydrogen needs to be pawned off somewhere. If oxygen is available, hydrogen will go home with him (creating water-nbd) but otherwise hydrogen gets dumped on pyruvic acid, and that’s how we end up with sad little lactic acid, gumming up the works.

Basically, when you start running your body is going to use ATP it’s already made to make your muscles work. It’s constantly working to produce more, but you’ll use it faster than you can make it. Desperately, glycolysis will bust ass for you (most of us are at this point when we exercise). But what happens if you keep going? Incidentally, your body stores enough glycogen to keep producing ATP for 20 miles of running. (I fucking knew it)

Once you’ve used your ATP stores, your cells raid the glycogen stores to make more. But WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOUR GLYCOGEN STORES ARE GONE!?

That’s when you “hit the wall”. Your liver will start converting fat and protein to use in the energy making process but it’s not terribly efficient and takes up energy. Now refueling makes a whole lot of sense: GET MORE GLUCOSE INTO YOUR BLOODSTREAM!

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So I did a lot of research about refueling and I have to say, most of it sounds gross. Eating while you’re running sucks. Period. The big problem I guess is getting food down without puking it back up. Yuck. So you need things that are palatable and go down easily. You’ll also want a good mix of simple carbs that get into your bloodstream asap (in minutes) and complex carbs that break down slowly and release small amounts of glucose into your blood over a long time. You don’t want to refuel with protein or fat; those two are the professional ebay sellers at the post office-holding everybody else up.

Here’s a knowledge bomb for you: compared to the type of machines we can build, our body is EPICALLY efficient. Through these processes we capture a whopping 38% of the energy available from what we consume (and the rest is RELEASED AS HEAT-boom. Why do you get hot when you work out? That’s why. You’re welcome.)

There’s a psychological aspect to hitting the wall for sure. I read somewhere that your discomfort when you’re dehydrated or under-fueled has a bigger effect on your performance than the physiological problems themselves. I’ll say firsthand that hitting the wall HURTS EVERYWHERE. I’ve noticed that I’m basically never sore anymore, muscle-wise, but when I’m on really long runs everything starts to ache. I get dizzy and woozy. My legs don’t feel like jelly, it’s more that I become the tin man. Yeah, it’s so uncomfortable it’s hard to continue. To cope, I’ve started counting. At first I count up to high numbers, and the deal is that when I get to 780 or something I can stop, but when I get to 780 I tell myself okay, now you just have to get to 780 again. Then when it gets really, REALLY bad I’m counting to 20. Interestingly, the promise of a fuel down is not an incentive anymore when I’ve made it past the wall; the idea of eating anything is gross and horrible and the only thing I can stomach the idea of is bananas or plain romaine lettuce.

Yeah, I know this post sounds terrible to those of you who haven’t experienced it. It’s so very hard to explain why we do what we do, especially when there’s a fair amount of suffering. I like to think of my training program as RELENTLESS. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love doing it. That first 30 mile run that I mentioned earlier; yeah it was painful and terrible and taught me lessons I’ll never forget. It was also when I realized that I can do Nolan’s. As far as I can tell, there are two barriers to cross: long distance and elevation gain. But you only need to cross them each once, after that you’re just building. Long distance mountain running is the highest of epic, joyous highs. And it’s the lowest of soul crushing, wish-you-were-dead lows. I can’t think of a better way to spend my time.
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TRAINING ALL THE TIME (and now I’m also addicted to exercise videos)

I’ve gone through brief periods in my life where I got REALLY SERIOUS about a particular sport [climbing, cycling, roller derby]. And in the first weeks of excitement, I over did training so hard and so much that I’ve had to adjust my diet to procure proper fuel, I’ve been obsessive about my sleep schedule, and I’ve had to take constant epsom salt baths and self massage like crazy to rehabilitate between training sessions.

For the first time, this is happening in a long term and sustainable way. I’ve been training long distance mountain running for quite some time now and while there are blips (like January when I accidentally lost 10 lbs which is a ton on my small frame, or May when I did absolutely nothing for a week and a half) this commitment is rounding out nicely. I’ve adjusted diet-wise, I have routines outside of training to take good care of myself, and I’m keeping it all balanced to prevent injury. I recently re-committed to my goals this year and have been steadily increasing mileage, general time on my feet, and time in the saddle. I’m never sore, because I’ve been progressing steadily and consistently and not in bursts.

Until now. So my recent schedule is this: I wake up around 8a, drink coffee, make breakfast, and watch TV until 10. Then I finally get out for 3-6 hours of running or cycling, and round it off with yoga. The reason I don’t go out first thing in the morning is two-fold- I rarely want to jump in first thing, and it’s still winter here overnight and in the morning until the sun warms it up. I’m not going to lie though, it feels like a big chunk of wasted time; even worse, if there’s bad weather during the day then I never get out (like those gnarly thunderstorms last weekend).

Suddenly, I had a totally brilliant plan. No more TV in the mornings, instead I can do a workout video or yoga. Workout videos aren’t the best or most relevant training…obviously. But currently, it’s time that’s wasted in my day that will now be replaced by time on my feet.

The madness started on Thursday I think. I did all the workouts on the Jackie Warner DVD twice before my run. On Friday, I ran in the morning because I knew a storm was coming, then after did a Jillian Michaels DVD twice, then just kept on doing squats and mountain climbers all night. By Saturday I had totally lost it, and did four discs of P90x (it was raining again) and when it cleared up I finally got to run. I did yoga for like two hours trying to restore my body to normal working order. I’ll randomly finding myself stopping, dropping, and doing bicycles or super planks.

What I’m saying is by Sunday I could barely walk, despite how much yoga I did. At this point, I had done like 800 wide leg squats, thousands of lunges, and countless timed plyometric intervals. My core was so tight I could barely do upward facing dog. My muscles felt like metal. After my Sunday morning run, all I could do was some yoga then to the tub.

It’s like a test of how addictive my personality is.

But let me tell you. I wasn’t mainly looking for SUPER CHALLENGING workouts when I started with the DVDs, I just wanted a fun way to spend my down time on my feet. But now I’m obsessed with super hard HIIT and plyo workouts at home, and there is a shortage of such (I suppose people who work out at home aren’t the type to get REALLY SERIOUS about workouts but there aren’t any gyms here). I know plenty if I wanted to come up with my own high intensity at-home workouts, but I like the variety and support of working out with a DVD. In the entire P90x collection there’s only one that’s actually hard (60 minutes of plyometrics) and that’s only if you take all of the advanced variations and continue the last exercise through the breaks.

Does anyone know of any crazy hard workout dvds? Now that I’m in, I’m in. And now that I’ve been in for a few days, I’m not sore anymore! Get your protein shakes ready, it’s MAX HIIT INTERVAL TABATA TIME!!! Whooo!!!

*not* training (what is your definition of laziness?)

When I first read East of Eden (Steinbeck) I was obsessed with the part about Timshel. Without dragging it out forever [because it is a huge topic], they say that these scholars have been studying Hebrew to better understand the bible and they’ve realized that the word Timshel has been mistranslated to English as ‘do thou’ and ‘thou shalt’ but really it means more like ‘thou mayest’, then it goes on to explain the significance:

“The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in ‘thou shalt’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel-‘thou mayest’-that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘thou mayest not’…It is easy out of laziness, out of weakness, to throw oneself into the lap of a deity, saying ‘I couldn’t help it, the way was set.’ But think of the glory of choice! That makes a man a man…This is a ladder to climb to the stars. You can never lose that. It cuts the feet from under weakness and cowardliness and laziness.”

It’s a long excerpt but I tried to cut out the non-essential parts and backstory. I posted some version of this on my bedroom door so it would be the first thing I saw every day for years. When I didn’t feel like doing something, I’d think of it. If thou mayest, it is also true that thou mayest not. It cuts the feet from under weakness and cowardliness and laziness. It has certainly been inspirational, but I’m starting to think it has contributed to lots of disappointment in myself.

do I run a lot?  Well if by "running" you mean drag my soaked and freezing legs through the snow then yeah, I do it all day every day.

do I run a lot? Well if by “running” you mean drag my soaked and freezing legs through the snow then yeah, I do it all day every day.

I’ve been struggling this week to get out and train. Mainly because of our god-awful weather up here. It’s stormed every single day multiple times, and there’s nowhere that you can go more than a couple miles on a trail before you hit the inevitable snow. [what I’m missing right now is why the fuck isn’t the rain melting the snow?!]

the rivers in Denver are flooded from all of our mountain storms

the rivers in Denver are flooded from all of our mountain storms

Every day I have good intentions, I wait for it to warm up a little [if you’ve forgotten, the climate up here in the high rockies is called “high desert” and it means that there’s so little humidity and the air is so thin that we warm up quick with the sun but as soon as it sets the temperature drops 30 degrees at least]. I go out to run, and 3 miles in I’m wading through snow [at this point in most places the snow is ankle-knee deep now, but some places like Mt. Massive it’s still hip-waist] and it’s suddenly thunderstorming again. So I turn back, go home, and hope that I can wait it out and go back out after it clears up. It then clears up for a half hour and as soon as I get out again it’s snowing and 20 degrees suddenly.

This was the story of my whole fucking week. I never got more than a few miles in, and I didn’t get out on the bike at all because the storms made the path slippery and I also don’t like my gorgeous new bike to be ruined like all of my previous commuting bikes.

In other news, I got a library card. And I re-read the entire Millenium Series [it’s the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, if you don’t know, and that’s a total of about 1,500 pages]. That’s basically what I accomplished in this entire week. So I’ve weeble wobbled back and forth about how I feel about it. Because when I don’t get out and do epic shit every day, I feel like I’m wasting my life and I’m wholly disappointed in myself because TIMSHEL. I have the choice and that word cuts the feet from under my laziness and I still chose to sit around anyway. Then I’d think-I don’t fucking feel like running in 30 degrees and pouring rain. I don’t feel like wading through the snow it is NOT FUN ANYMORE. And isn’t that the point? It’s starting to feel like a job that I hate. Usually, days where it storms are occasional and those lousy training days are balanced out by all the amazing gorgeous mountain-climbing sweeping vista views days. But suddenly storms are every single day.

it wasn't the worst day on La Plata Peak

it wasn’t the worst day on La Plata Peak

I finally went out yesterday to La Plata (particularly because the weather was forecasted to be decent for once) and although it looked like serious storm clouds I headed out on the trail, hoping the clouds would pass. It rained lightly but not bad and started clearing up. However, as per usual, only 1 or 2 miles in the snow drifts started and not only do you have to wade through them which is bad enough but they often camouflage the location of the trail. There’s usually tracks where other people who know the route have passed, so it’s generally okay. But after the river crossing, the snow suddenly gets knee-deep (plus) and the tracks disperse in 3 complete different directions then stop entirely. It’s sort of a field that heads uphill and goes back into the forest, and you could see the bushes sticking up out of the snow so I couldn’t see anywhere that there was a break in the bushes. I’ve done this trail in the summer [and attempted once this winter but didn’t make it much further, even with the route instructions in hand] but nothing looked particularly familiar. I’d like to take this opportunity to mention that should the Forest Service or whoever’s in charge like a free helper to mark these fucking trails so we can all stop wandering around like helpless idiots, I’m volunteering.

water stops for no one and nothing (on La Plata)

water stops for no one and nothing (on La Plata)

I wallowed for a while yesterday, because I thought I was finally going to get on track with the la plata ascent and it turned out all wrong, just like everything else in the past week or two. And I’m really struggling with this idea-am I just lazy or do I have the right to say I don’t want to do this right now? Is that okay? I’m so far behind in my Nolan’s training because the snow and the weather are 1,000x worse than I could have imagined and even on good days I can’t physically move fast enough through the snow to get the mileage and gain in that I should be at this point. As a longtime practitioner and teacher of yoga, I feel like I’m listening to myself and choosing to do what I need, even when it means staying home and reading instead. But on the other hand, if I’m going to achieve my dream of Nolan’s then when I need is to be out there all the time, despite all obstacles. What is the difference between laziness and choosing to do what I want?

The second the rain let up yesterday I was out on my bike. I rode hard and fast for 24 miles, until it was raining so hard I couldn’t see the path in front of me and my face was burning from being slapped by the raindrops(/hail, we rarely get away with rain that’s *just* rain). I wondered if it was punishment for my laziness or that the fire I’ve been smothering staying inside just needed to blaze.

storms...so dark you can barely see the picture even after I lightened it as much as possible

storms…so dark you can barely see the picture even after I lightened it as much as possible

I know I’m supposed to learn something from this terrible clash with mama nature, but every time I think I understand it gets so much worse. It stormed all the rest of the day yesterday, and instead of letting up last night it turned to snow and dumped 6”. It’s still snowing right now as I write this. [update: I wrote this on Tuesday and now that I’m posting this it is snowing AGAIN and I’m thinking I’ll go home and watch Cool Runnings which I picked up with my handy library card]

“This is a ladder to climb to the stars.” But where are the stars?

MOTHER NATURE (and how I learned about expectations

Mother Nature exposed and made light of my weaknesses by dumping foot after foot after foot of fresh snow on my mountains; they that were so near to being clear.

When it started snowing on Wednesday I was annoyed. When it continued snowing on Thursday I was already pissed. I thought after work I would run all day. I adjusted said plan to spend the afternoon swimming laps instead, but when I arrived at the pool the sun was coming out and I cut my swim short to run Ptarmigan…only to find the sun immediately replaced by another snowstorm. And how it stormed. Friday I woke up to a full foot of new snow, and to put this in perspective that’s enough snow that I couldn’t open the back door to let Lu out in the morning. I shoveled the foot of snow off of my car and went to work, only to return to another FOOT OF SNOW in the afternoon; so much snow you couldn’t even see the dent in the driveway from the foot of snow I took with me in the morning (I totally got stuck in my street). Saturday it snowed, and Sunday it was occasionally sunny but it also snowed.

You may remember that I was recently thrilled about the amount of exposed trail up here, and the impending spring and summer when I would get to run on the ground again. I can’t even dredge up hope for that dream anymore, and here’s why:

So yesterday I looked at conditions reports on the southern Sawatch, and as recently as 8 days ago someone was on Mt Yale reporting that the first couple MILES were dirt, and there wasn’t enough snow anywhere to ski. The weather was reporting 50’s and sunny in Buena Vista, so I thought good enough, let’s go. Lu and I drove to BV in the mid-morning, coffee-in-hand, and arrived at the Denny Creek TH parking lot that had been thoroughly plowed and sunned and was perfectly empty at 10am. It was sunny and relatively warm. I did Yale towards the end of last summer but I was racking my brain trying to remember where the TH actually was from the parking lot, and boy I wish I had taken a picture because it was comical when I realized that it was so thoroughly buried with snow that you couldn’t see the sign, and there were no tracks to speak of.

I’ve gotten used to this common mountain scenario since I’ve moved here: there’s a baselayer of snow, someone makes tracks on it, when it snows again you still have the packed snow beneath it. Well. This was much different. There was no baselayer and no previous tracks, just the dirt trail. Like this was the first snow there ever was. And it was three. fucking. feet.

I dug out my snowshoes and sighed.

Luna doesn't care if she's buried or not

Luna doesn’t care if she’s buried or not

An hour later, we had lost the trail and the sun and it had begun to snow. We arrived at a river crossing and I nearly fell in. Each sluggish step in the wet snow dragging each snowshoe miserably. Yeah, I was totally angry. I know it’s not right, but I’m just done with winter and I’m so mad it snowed again [and hey, guess what! This is the usual for the high Rockies. Silver Lake, Colorado holds TWO U.S. records for snowfall-the most snow in 24hours (76”) and the biggest continuous snowfall (100” in 85hours) and it was a late April storm]. The reality is, our snowfall was really light this year and we NEEDED this huge storm so we have water this summer; okay, I totally get it! But it doesn’t make me feel better about the current state of dragging ass in the cold woods [especially when I tasted summer in that glorious weekend I spent running the front range]

this water.  was delicious.  and the coldest water that exists in the world.

this water. was delicious. and the coldest water that exists in the world.

It gave me a lot to think about. When I was still teaching yoga full time I did a 5-week series about expectations. How and why we have them and their effects on our lives and well being. Others expectations of us. What it boils down to is something we all already know-expectations set us up for disappointment. I’ve been dreaming so hard of summer and the weather was good so I expected it to stay that way and get better. It took moving up here to realize that you can never rely on anything when it comes to weather. I know, I know, in your part of the country the weather is CRAZY and unpredictable and you can have all four seasons in the same day (are you realizing for the first time that you’ve totally said that, because EVERYBODY thinks that about where they live? Is your mind blown!?)

But here’s the thing about the high country. It goes from 50 and sunny to 0 and storming in less than five minutes, and I’m not exaggerating for effect. I counted (for the first time) and it went from sunny/clear/warm to FULL ON SNOWSTORM and back 7 times today. SEVEN. It might be 60 degrees and sunny for two weeks, then it drops the biggest storm of the year on you and pummels you for days with January temperatures. It’s also not unusual for this to happen once summer is in full swing; in fact, it’s likely to happen several times this summer that we get sudden snowstorms. Plus, at high altitude (I’m at 10,200) the sun feels hotter and it warms us (people, land, air, whatever) up faster, and the thin air doesn’t hold heat very well, so the temperature swings can be truly incredible.

My weakness this past week has been my expectations. But I’m not going to get anywhere training for Nolan’s holding a grudge or staying inside to avoid snow because I was ready for summer. I could let every step be wretched, feeding the anger and frustration. Or every step fuels the fire that burns out my weaknesses. Self discipline through austerity-and once that garbage is burned off I won’t even notice the snow, excepting the lightness of burdens being lifted.

fresh tracks

fresh tracks

Winter Blues (over it.)

So I had a solid, pretty fun run today on S. Elbert despite the impending storm (and let me be clear-we’re on day SEVEN of constant snowstorms). At first I was frustrated for a bunch of reasons. I thought the weather looked better finally, but when I got to the TH it was already snowing and I somehow drove all the way to Twin Lakes without emergency gear.

this is Twin Lakes, but clearly not on the day I'm describing.  On that day there was no view, just cloudy crap.

this is Twin Lakes, but clearly not on the day I’m describing. On that day there was no view, just cloudy crap.

I resigned myself not to go further than 4 miles out from my car for safety reasons and set out. The first section had good pack from crosscountry skiers and I optimistically put on microspikes. A half mile in, there was not another sign of human existence and things went from optimism to bummertown.

Luna looks out on the ridge by Mt. Elbert

Luna looks out on the ridge by Mt. Elbert

On we went, though. Determined to get 8 miles in, at least. And something shifted. Is it possible I hadn’t realized how much I considered the snow to be a barrier. To my speed. To my training in general. To my well being. I started to flow in a slidey, crazy kind of way. Along with the snow. Finally free to be with the snow, and I hadn’t realized how hard I had been fighting it until that moment. All of the extra work dragging myself through fresh powder and wet, heavy slush. The frantic sliding and painful postholing. And all of the falls.

storms.

storms.

It all suddenly felt like all of those things were silly extra parts of winter running. No longer obstacles, it was even exciting. Did that magical feeling last forever? Oh god no. It wasn’t even half of my mileage that I was working with the snow, by the end of my run I was furious with the snow again (as per usual) but it was the first time I felt even a momentary freedom from the snow-devil-burden. That little bit of relief was more than enough to give me hope.

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SNOW (and so I’ve had my mountains all to myself)

I’ve basically spent the entire winter dreaming of winter being over. Do I like winter sports? Yeah, of course I do. But whoa mg all of this snow is cold and wet and it gets in the way.

You know what I’m so tired of?? Post holing. It was so bad one time and my shins were so swollen and bruised that I felt like I had stress fractures all over again (you road runners know what this feels like).

if you cannot tell, this is up to my waist.  MY WAIST.  I call this snowwimming

if you cannot tell, this is up to my waist. MY WAIST. I call this snowwimming

Anyway, the point is that there was a two-part happening that’s made me realized why the snow is secretly good (it’s a theme this winter-something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about). I went down to the Front Range to visit a friend and had two days of most excellent summer trail running. It was more than magnificent. It was fast and wild and rolling and hard and FINALLY I was tired from fast elevation gain and not from dragging in the snow. We burned up Bear Peak, stood in the river and drank from waterfalls, raced mountain bikers. We also dodged all sorts of people, answered questions, listened to their small talk, and actually ran into some friends.

from Bear Peak

from Bear Peak

So then I came home to the mountains, where it was actually snowing (of course) but it didn’t stick. So we went up to Half Moon Creek. And get this-they’ve opened the road! It’s not passable yet but MORE THAN HALF was clear of snow.

LOOK!  It's the ground!

LOOK! It’s the ground!

I had to carry my microspikes for the 4 miles in to the TH because there wasn’t enough snow to wear them! But, here’s what I realized is the problem with such magic. When the snow is all melted off of Half Moon Creek road, you’ll be able to drive right up to the TH (imagine that!) and even camp along it! When the trails are clear of snow, it will be downright easy to summit my mountains…which is fantastic, until I think about the piles upon piles of fair weather Coloradans that will come out when it’s easy again. The snow: it makes me cold and wet, it exhausts me and causes me to carry all kinds of different equipment, it bruises my shins and knees and other things when I fall dramatically on my face. And the snow: it’s the exact reason why I’ve spent an entire winter almost completely alone in my beautiful mountains in perfect quite and solitude.

Just me and Luna, enjoying the summit of Quandary ALONE for the 7th time this winter or so

Just me and Luna, enjoying the summit of Quandary ALONE for the 7th time this winter or so

Someone told me after I moved here that the other long distance runners in town do road miles and skate ski on the groomed paths around town, but they most certainly don’t run trails in the winter. Like it’s dirty and wrong! Which is why I’m probably the only one filling out those Mt.Massive Wilderness use permits.

welcome to mt. massive wilderness

welcome to mt. massive wilderness

As much as I’ve enjoyed running with my feet on the ground, I’m going to continue loving my peace and alone time while I have it.

on the way back in n. 10 mile trail north of Frisco

on the way back in n. 10 mile trail north of Frisco

...and me looking awkward, just for good measure.  By the river on the way up Mt. Yale

…and me looking awkward, just for good measure. By the river on the way up Mt. Yale

Leadville (or, how I moved to the middle of nowhere)

I haven’t posted in a while and it’s because this all happened last December in the two weeks after my last post. Let’s catch up.

So I’m not really sure when it started. The 28 was kind of a catalyst and a game changer that infiltrated my life in a whole bunch of ways, but very slowly so I barely noticed. I had been thinking a fair amount about how frustrating it was to pay this high rent and you’re always broke anyway. The American Dream Cycle: work more to pay more. When it occurred to me that my exorbitant-rent lease was going to be up in January I thought, where do I want to move? I looked at all the areas in Denver. Something centrally located but safe but still reasonably affordable and also decently sized that happens to allow pets…classic city problems. Somehow, my craiglist search suddenly arrived on High Rockies instead of Denver Area. At first, it was just a little light browsing on apartments/housing. Then I was looking at jobs. Then I was scouring rooms/shares and temporary/sublets and all the other housing categories. Then I applied for jobs. Suddenly I was taking my training up to Leadville and incidentally checking out houses. I interviewed for jobs.

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The whole thing felt very surreal-like it wasn't actually happening and I wasn't committing to anything and it wasn't crazy at all. [side note: this was exactly how I felt when I got my cats…I have experience with this magical process]

I told my dad on the phone that I was thinking about moving to the mountains on a Friday…and on Monday I accepted a job. A job that I started on Tuesday. That is exactly how fast it went from casually browsing craiglist to REALLY fucking moving to the mountains. All said and done, the whole thing was less than two weeks.

I also thought I'd be going back and forth for a while. Taking my time moving, seeing friends, teaching my classes. But once I started moving to Leadville, I didn't want to leave.

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I’m blocks-BLOCKS!-away from miles of wilderness. Not to mention the two tallest mountains in Colorado.

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Sometimes, on casual dog walks in the woods near the house, you come across large dead animal carcasses.

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Then your roommate goes out to find them and hang them on your shed.

Here in Leadville, we go to bed when it’s too cold (or sometimes just when it’s dark). I was a little worried that when I lost the internet and Netflix, I’d fall back on dvds and spend evenings bingeing on Sex and the City. I didn’t. I do yoga and read Sherlock Holmes. And I spend nearly all the daylight hours snowboarding, running, and snowshoeing.

Here’s what amazed me the most: so now I spend hours upon hours every day wandering around in the wilderness. And the backcountry in winter is especially lovely because with all that snow people see a barrier and leave it alone. There is nowhere more quiet than miles into the national forest when they’re sunk in more than 5ft of snow. So it seems like everywhere you go you’re blazing the trail (and I totally think PIONEERS O PIONEERS even when it’s an established trail that’s covered in snow). But here’s the sweetest thing, when you’re blazing trail, there’s not really a destination. Piles and piles of things go wrong, they slow you down, and eventually you stop expecting to get anywhere at all. You don’t need to. The longer you’re just out there you become an integrated piece of the stillness. It’s perfect freedom. Paradise.

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