THE DARKNESS (watching TV and changing my life)

Every once in a while, I have a week that differs significantly from my normal life and I don’t know where it comes from but I’ve finally figured out why it needs to happen. Near the end of last winter (read: late May, because it seems as though our weather is worse than Alaska), I wrote about this week. I re-read the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo books, it stormed and raged every single day, and nothing would make me leave my apartment. I struggled so hard with my psyche that week, feeling pathetic and abysmally lazy; furious that I couldn’t turn it around.

Tonight, I finished re-watching season 3 of True Blood and hopped on my bike for a few intervals before bed when I realized that I’ve just had another one of those weeks (…slightly longer, like 9 days). It didn’t look much like May of last year (exception being that I submerged myself in dark distraction). I still trained, and I got back on the Nolan’s course:

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But the energy I was wielding was frantic and wild. Every day I’ve felt desperate to take risks, to make big changes, and feeling like you’re on the brink of something great or terrible 24/7 is exhausting. I’ve started calling it a rolling life crisis; it peaks, but it doesn’t resolve, and builds again like a wave. As it consumed me I scrambled about either putting a huge effort towards completely changing my life (and applying for grown up jobs and looking at houses in other parts of the country) or dulling my mind completely. There are two common factors to these weeks: whatever I’m doing, I can’t change the course, no matter how unhealthy it is and how angry I get at myself. And I will face the darkness that I’ve finally come to love (as of tonight, while doing sprints to Die Antwoord).

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There was a good, long, blissful time when I lived in Denver while I was teaching yoga, and more importantly living yoga, that I was calmer and more content maybe than any other time in my life. I didn’t watch TV or look at Facebook, or read the news, or listen to hard music. But while I was going around studying and chanting and existing out of love for my students, I saw the darkness in other people (other TEACHERS) and was honestly shocked by it. And hurt by it. It burst my bubble and I would spend another year or so doing my best to take care of my students but feeling increasingly worn down and beaten. Light without darkness is not the real world. I didn’t understand it then.

I didn’t understand it when I was injured last fall, or this past week of extremes. Or any of the very many times in my life that I’ve panicked, starved, and beaten myself until I was raw and ragged, made myself sick, wept, or looked upon the world with horror.

It’s no secret that I believe that you do not value your life until you’ve risked it. And you don’t understand risk unless you’ve both lost and won. I didn’t know how to feel free or full of joy until I had been trapped and full of pain. I’m not a victim of anything, and I’m not broken, I just feel with great intensity, and I believe that is the greatest gift of being alive. Someone asked me once what my biggest fear was, and I told her my biggest fear is that I’m fucking crazy. I don’t know what my biggest fear is anymore, but it’s not that. All those dark bits of myself are a very important part of me, and blocking them out doesn’t evaporate them. I can’t burn or starve them out. I have to love them. Without darkness there is no light; and you have to love both just as much. I’m always going to be imperfect. I’m capable of deceit, impatience, hate, jealousy, laziness, and destroying myself and everything around me. And so are you. It’s what makes us human. Sometimes I’ll have days (or weeks) when I eat crap and drink Coke and watch TV. Some days or weeks I’m going to feel panicky and desperate and angry and question all of my decisions; but without that why would anyone be motivated to strive for better? We’re also capable of great kindness, of trust, compassion, incredible strength and endurance, and love without expectation or exception. I have to love all of it, all the good and all the darkness.

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ICE MOUNTAIN (what doesn’t break both your legs makes you stronger)

I realized today what it means to find comfort in discomfort (and it only took me 29 years to understand). I was climbing Mt. Elbert from the south, and after 2 hours of mind- and foot-numbing post holing, I was above treeline where intense wind and below 0 temps made a usually mellow mountain into a harrowing summit bid, which is the best time to think about my life. And I remembered the miserable day I spent on Ice Mountain probably two months ago.

It was one of those days where I was ready to give up mountaining and get a real job, but it started out lovely; clear, sunny skies, even decently warm. First you drive nearly to the middle of nowhere on a Jeep road, then you park in an empty TH parking lot and run a handful of miles. You scramble up this very long and unstable talus field (and hope nothing worse happens than a few rolled ankles and smashed fingers and toes as the rocks you’re putting your weight on slip and slide and rock disturbingly beneath you) then begin ascending a gully.

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Ice Mountain is one of the three Apostles (in the middle above). Three beautiful, jagged, sheer, and rocky peaks all rated class 3 and with only one logical route to ascend any of them. I’ve never been told this by someone who’s done it, but I had thought for quite some time that it sounded like a fun day of scrambling and I finally managed a day to do it before the weather turned [into winter]. I began the ascent to the gully, which was supposedly the crux of the route, and thought it was iffy at best. I actually felt a little silly for being annoyed with the instability of the talus field before it, because this gully defied logic. Had I not been sure I was on the route (there is no alternative, just sheer rock faces and this one gully) I would have been sure that there just was no safe route up this mountain. It was extremely steep, and mostly comprised of loose, slippery clay topped with smatterings of pebbles and frequently featuring loose boulders that threatened to dislodge themselves at any moment.

Ascending terrain like this sucks, but more importantly on anything so unstable is HOW THE FUCK WILL I GET DOWN? About halfway up I was suddenly pissed, because I felt insecure about my situation, and I wanted to blame it on everyone who’s ever climbed this mountain (which is the kind of excellent logic of a girl who knows she’s about to get injured, deep in the middle of nowhere). Meanwhile, the weather took a sudden turn and the dark sky looked like it might break all hell loose upon the Apostles any moment.

So why did I keep going? I was thinking about that a lot today. What makes anybody keep going when they want to turn around? I’ve finally realized the things that make me miserable (for example: snowshoe running, unstable gullies, climbing at night) aren’t inherently bad. To be home in the mountains, you have to be supremely comfortable, up, down and sideways. I’m just not that comfortable with all of it yet. It doesn’t seem mindblowing, but it blew my mind.

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Today, on Elbert, I discovered that there’s horrible, excruciating pain on the other side of numbness (and I wondered if it was the early stages of frostbite). It was so bad that I thought all the bones in my feet were simultaneously breaking. But I kept going. The wind became so harsh above the first false that I sometimes had to bear down so it didn’t push me back down the mountain, and meanwhile my eyes were starting to freeze shut (is it a thing to wear goggles when it’s this cold? I feel like I should, but I’d feel silly kind of). But I kept going. It only barely occurred to me that I maybe should turn around and come back when the weather was better.

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I kept going because I don’t want to be comfortable all the time. People who never face fear (in all of its manifestations-especially pain, misery, doubt) are so afraid that it controls their lives. I don’t want to climb unstable gullies because I’m afraid of [the very real possibility of] rock slides. If I had turned around that day, then I wouldn’t have made it safely up and down, thereby gaining a new [small] shred of comfort. There’s more than just our big fears to face, there’s dozens of smaller discomforts that we can’t keep avoiding. Discomfort is not the reason to turn around (or to stay home, as Dan’s mom famously said on our snowy Capitol attempt last year). That’s what it means to find comfort in discomfort: you experience discomfort, you own it, you accept it…it would be easy to turn away or avoid it but you don’t. You spend time is discomfort. You face all of its sides and angles. You sit in it (and climb and run and go about your business in it). Once you surpass fear, then you’re at home in the mountains.

Night Ascents (are you afraid of the dark?)

If you type “why are humans” into Google, the third option that comes up is “why are humans afraid of the dark?” Mostly, the internet says that fear of the dark is an evolutionary response-built into us over 100’s of years of big cats prowling the Savannah at night much like our fear reactions to snakes, spiders, and fires. This supposedly also explains why most of us are afraid of the dark and not of cars or saturated fat (mountain lions kill less than one person/year on average in the US and Canada, spiders average 2/year (from allergic reactions), while 610,000 die of heart disease in the US per year and 32,000 die in car accidents in the US).

I’ve said before that I’m most afraid of navigating in the dark on Nolan’s. The last time I was in the mountains in the dark was towards the end of last summer when I had that big 5 summit day and came down Harvard in the dark in a storm. I was so afraid of what lie past the edges of “safety” ie the light of my headlamp that I sang Sanskrit devotional songs at the top of my lungs, comforting myself and hoping to stave off the hungry, evil predators that were sure to be waiting just on the edge of the dark. I didn’t know then that mountain lions don’t even kill one person every year, but I don’t think that makes it seem less scary when your headlamp is reflecting on felled trees and you’re sure you’re seeing things that go bump in the night.

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Things that go bump in the night here in Colorado:
Rattlesnakes (there are 7-8,000 venomous snakebites in the US/year, and 5-6 fatalities)
Black Bears (2-3 fatalities in the US/year)
Mountain Lions (2 attacks in the US/year and .8 fatalities)
Lynx (I could not find statistics, I assume that speaks to how common deaths are)
Grizzly Bears (are not believed to exist in Colorado, which means there have been no attacks or fatalities in a loooong time here)
Wolves (there’s proof this year that they’re back in CO, but no attacks or fatalities in years either)

So all of this means I’m 610,000 times more likely to die from Mozzarella sticks than a mountain lion, and 6,400 times more likely to die in the car on the way to the trailhead than from a rattlesnake bite. WHAT ARE WE SO AFRAID OF!?

This whole time I’ve been in Leadville, I haven’t run with a buddy one single time. Incidentally, I finally met another female mountain runner here and she asks me if I’d be interested in a night ascent. How serendipitous, since Nolan’s is coming up fast and that’s the one thing I haven’t been willing to face (the other night on the phone I said “No I’m sure not going to practice running at night, I’m only willing to take that risk ONCE and it’ll be during Nolan’s and never again”). The very next night, at 11pm after work I find myself driving Half Moon Rd to the TH.

And let me tell you, not only was I not scared at any moment during our run, but it was incredible and fun. Even living up here, at high altitude and in a small town in the middle of nowhere, I’ve never seen the stars glowing quite like they did above treeline. There was a lightning storm maybe 30 miles in the distance. We couldn’t figure out what was causing so much lightning but it was so incredibly beautiful-and just for us, because who else was up high enough to see it in the middle of a Sunday night? The felled trees reflected in our headlamps weren’t mountain lions at all, they were felled trees. And I only fell a couple times which isn’t really even above average for me…(and I expected closer to 50).

Now that I know how not-scary-at-all it is with a friend, I wonder if I’ll go right back to terrified next time I’m alone…or if I’ve faced the things that go bump in the night and overcome my fear of the dark.

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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new business & rock climbing (or: how to risk your life without risking your life)

I haven’t posted in FOREVER. Why? I was starting a new business.

I’ve been teaching yoga full time for a while and one of the studios I teach at doesn’t match up at all with my values, but I’ve stayed there because my teaching income elsewhere has been too unstable to leave, and also they give me benefits. Which is a long way of saying: FEAR. I’ve definitely (obviously) been thinking a lot these past few months about fear. The short story is-fear is never an acceptable excuse for anything. But we use it all the time.

I had lunch with a teacher friend a couple weeks ago and he told me: “You need to shut that toxic door if you want other, better ones to open.” And he’s right, and I know it. So, I thought hard about how to jump off the cliff and my then I thought-maybe I’ll pet sit again? Back in Michigan I did very successfully for years. So, the past few weeks I’ve been working on this:

http://www.epicdogandcat.com lmk what you think! Or lmk if you find errors!

I’ve also had a bunch of adventures in the past couple weeks (oh there is a backlog of posts and pictures, just you wait!)

Including this one:

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I went rock climbing! A lovely student friend and another teacher showed me what’s up in Boulder Canyon.

Dan & Mark-looking hella badass.

Dan & Mark-looking hella badass.

So here’s what I learned about rock climbing: even though you have a good idea that you’re safe, you have a friend on the other end of the rope that’s going to catch you if you fall (and honestly, it was rock climbing for beginners-not that f*ing far!), still when you make a move that you don’t feel 100% certain about it feels like that uncertainty is risking your life, and you have to choose whether you’re going to go for it or not in a relatively short amount of time. So rad.

As is my pattern, internet friends, I’m hooked and I’ve been all over the internet watching videos. And all over my doorframe trying to do doorframe pull ups (WHOSE FINGERS ARE THAT STRONG! I can’t even believe it’s possible! That is, suffice to say I can do this many: 0. In fact, I’ve asked several friends about this and so far I still haven’t seen anyone do it in person…)

Here’s my favorite videos:

Steph Davis fearlessly free climbs the Diamond

Adorable and brilliant Hazel Lindsay climbs what appears to be totally flat rock-first female British E9 ascent

Galina Parfenov breaks down her training routine-this is when I discovered what ELITE abs looks like

Coming up:

New mountain goal for now-October

24 hours of elevation gain

Training. Training? Training.

Fear. (how it’s always creeping in and trying to ruin things)

MAN for someone who thinks and talks so much about not letting fear get in the way, I get scared too often.

So I allowed every excuse I could think of to get in the way of biking to Mt. Evans tomorrow. I mean, some of them were legit:
-probably can’t afford to get my Tuesday classes subbed right now
-have not gotten a new hitch for Lu’s trailer because the Croozer people are assholes
-skipped my training test ride on Friday to go with friends to Evergreen and let the dogs run around, so unsure if I’m ready for the mileage

BUT. I know better. And ultimately, I was letting those things get in the way of something I really want to do because I’m fucking afraid. The ride itself is almost 50 miles. That is FAR from home. Plus what like 5000ft elevation gain? Towing Luna’s trailer. Jesus Christ Lizard. I have a pretty high baseline, folks, and that is a lot (when you’re considering another 15-20 mile hike and 1-2 fourteeners in the same day-I was considering some different routes).

So then, once I called off the ride idea I decided to hike Evans and Bierstadt together tomorrow (and drive there with Lu, instead of biking). At least I’m getting out right? Taking the Sawtooth between Bierstadt and Evans makes it my first class 3 climb. I was familiarizing myself with the route, map, and pictures today when I FREAKED THE FUCK OUT about the gendarme that makes it class 3. Really? Yes. I really considered calling the whole thing off. Which is crazy, because this is just the beginning and if I’m going to continue with this mountaineering business I’ll be hitting much worse by the end of the summer. You’ve got to start somewhere, Sarah! You have to want it more than you’re afraid to fall. The risk increases with the awesomeness, that’s something I’ve already thought a lot about and accepted.

Thar she blows, that beautiful jagged monster

Thar she blows, that beautiful jagged monster

I know better than to let fear get the best of me. I talk about it all the time. And, coincidentally, I’ve been talking about it ALL WEEK in class. It keeps appearing in different places. Like that Jim Carrey video that’s all over the internets right now. And other teachers whose classes I’ve gone to this week are talking about it. It’s like the universe was building me up to let go and be ready and I failed. Which isn’t a healthy way to look at it, is it.

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Of course I’m going ahead with the hike tomorrow. I’ve got rope to secure Lu’s harness to me. I’m still unsure if that’s more unsafe than letting her handle herself. Yet another thing to be afraid of, right? We’re going to tackle that Sawtooth, and we’re going to be fine. The technical part is NOT EVEN VERY LONG. Sigh. Fear is a hard one. It creeps itself in everywhere and sometimes you don’t even see it. Courage comes from faith. I cannot let the doubt in, and the fear take over. THIS IS MY LIFE. I will not waste it.