Zen On Dirt


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Ouray 100: Questionable Life Choices

It’s sort of interesting writing about a race that happened months ago. There’s been a lot of mental processing that’s happened since then.

If I’d written about the Ouray 100 the day afterwards, I would have said that it was brutally hard but wonderful, and a sore ankle was a fair price to pay for it. I would totally sign up for another 100 miler.

If I’d written about it a week afterwards, I would have said that 100-mile races were dumb. Injuries were dumb. I never wanted to go that deep into energy debt again.

If I’d written about it a month afterwards, I would have said that running was dumb and that it was okay that I was injured because I didn’t want to ever run again anyways.

Now? Three months post-race? It was a questionable decision to race from a training/energy use standpoint. Running is awesome and I apparently have no issues with agreeing to do 50 mile runs now just because I can. I most likely won’t sign up for another 100-mile event, but never say never.

I do find it interesting to see what “highlights” have stuck in my brain. Memory is funny. Which I guess is part of the reason I like to write everything down.


The Start

I remember how everyone seemed to be chill and smart as we jogged off the start line, then as soon as we rounded the corner, got out of sight of the start line and started up the first small hill, people took off like bats out of hell. It reminded me of bikepacking races. (Hey guys! We have 2,700 miles to pedal, must we start off at a sprint?) And I may have gotten a little bit caught up in the hype of it. I can also be dumb like that.

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Trish and Jay on Camp Bird Road. Taking ourselves very seriously.

The first turnaround hole-punch location was a beautiful lake. I wanted to go swimming. I didn’t. We were racing, right? Otherwise I would have totally gone swimming. There were some people already looking pretty rough coming up the first climb as I was going down it.

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What a waste of a swimming opportunity

The climb to the second hole punch was impossibly steep. And the hole punch didn’t want to work. It seemed like I wasted 10 minutes there futzing with it, but I’d bet it was actually less than one.

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Top of climb #2. Climb #3 in the background. I love the San Juans.

Storm clouds were starting to build, so the motivation to get up to Fort Peabody, the highpoint of the course just above Imogene Pass wasn’t hard to find. Plus, there was a trio of boys right behind me and I really didn’t want them to catch me. 15 miles in. Racing boys. (I don’t even race boys!) I know. Stupid. Still, I cleared the peak without any thunder or lightening, and I was happy with that. And the guys didn’t catch me.

The Struggle is Real

I struggled over Richmond Pass. It was climb #4 of 14, and my legs were starting to feel worked. Never a good sign. It was just plain old steep. And when you’re less than a third of the way through the climbs, the entire thing seems impossible. The clouds were building, thunder started booming as I cleared the pass and made quick work of the above treeline descent. I also found a runner who descended slower than I did. This has never happened in the history of ever. He said something about cramps. Bah. I still passed someone. On. A. Downhill.

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This trail is removed by the trail gnomes once it gets dark. That made for an interesting return trip many hours later. 

Then the rain started. I’m made of sugar and spice. I don’t like the rain and came into the Ironton aid station for the first of three times completely soaked, but warm. On a bike it would have been miserable. +1 for running and heat generation.

And Scott was there! It was one of the highlights of my race because I wasn’t expecting him to be there. Meghan and Randy were also there, and the three of them helped me get my ducks in a row for heading out on an 8-mile loop in the rain. I’ve always scoffed at crews, but da-yum, it was nice to not have to dig through my bag of stuff and figure out what I needed. Instead, I focused on eating mac and cheese with bacon. Mmmmm…bacon.

Seeing them boosted my spirits. So did the thought that the next 8-mile loop, and the same loop run in the opposite direction afterwards, would all be road and no trail. Of course, it wasn’t. There was some quality steep trail in there that I just hadn’t picked up on when perusing the route description. Whoops. Standard Eszter procedure. Some may call it being unprepared. I call it being open to surprises.

It finally stopped raining, which was a huge relief. Of course, all the underbrush on the trail was soaked, so dry I definitely wasn’t when I finished the loop and headed back to Ironton for snacks. Still, sun! And mac and cheese.

My lasting memories of of the second loop out there consist of seeing Jill who was out hiking, running into Abbie and Vale having a dance party at the high-point while going the other direction, having my phone turn off because it was too cold (and therefor stuffing it into my sports bra for the rest of the race, which is actually a pretty good place to carry a phone, it turns out!), and wondering why I didn’t think to bring gloves when I knew it was going to get dark and cold on me. (Because dumb. Pure dumb. My hands got so cold.)

Quesadilla and Cookie Transport

Of course, the rain started again 10 minutes from getting back to the aid station. It was just going to be one of those types of nights. Even though the rain had stopped by the time I was ready to leave, I put my rain pants on just because I could, and on the insistence of the aid station volunteers, took half a quesadilla and two home made cookies with me for the road. (Eating while racing isn’t a strong point, but I did drink several thousand calories worth of HEED. Gross.)

I shoved the cookies and quesadilla in my pocket as soon as I was out of sight.

The climb back up Richmond was uneventful until the guy I was with and I completely lost the trail. GAIA on the phone came out and we wandered the tundra, taking an ‘adventurous’ route until we found flagging again. It was good to get back on “trail” again.

The guy I was running with was from Mississippi (?) and asked if the large babyheads that we were stumbling down in the dark were considered scree or talus. I told him, ‘I don’t know, I call it rocky.’

He must not have been pleased with my snark because he promptly dropped my sorry ass. Downhill is hard! And then I descended into the cloud and the rain started again. At least I had my rain pants on. Middle of the night rain is the best kind of rain. Not. Desert girl here. I don’t do rain.

I had this hope that once back on Camp Bird Road, life would start to feel better than it did on steep scree/talus/rock, but it didn’t. It was still running, and it was still downhill. And at that point in time, I was pretty over both concepts. It was hard to imagine that even with everything I’d already done, I still had the full Ouray 50 course in front of me. And last year, just that had killed me. Oi.

Avery Collins, the men’s winner of the 100 last year was manning the Wanaka/Wanakiki/Wenaski/whatever it’s called aid station. He had hot soup, and the camaraderie of several of us being there made me feel better about life. Plus, the rain had stopped. He plied me with snacks for the next leg. ‘Nah, I’ve got a quesadilla and two cookies I brought over from the last aid station.’

I had it in my head that the climb up to the mine, #8 of 14, was somewhat short and easy. I probably thought this because it’s the first climb of the Ouray 50, and last year, I was still feeling pretty good 5 miles into that race. The climb was neither short nor easy. And in the dark, the view from the top sort of a bummer too.

Still, there was hot soup back at the aid station. Plus, I knew that the crux of the whole shebang was the next climb, I just had to get up that. Before leaving the aid station, Avery tried to get me to take some food. ‘It’s a long ways to the next aid station,’ he told me.

‘Nah, I’ve got a quesadilla and two cookies I brought over from the Ironton aid station.’ (I actually still had every intention of eating this now squished up mass of calories)

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Sunrise!

My feet were starting to hurt, something about being wet for most of the past 22 hours, but the climb itself went fairly easily. The descent hurt like hell. I passed another runner who had some choice words about the whole course (but two downhill passes!) and was starting to feel pretty okay about the whole situation.

Plus, the sun came up! I’m a solar powered action figure.

At the aid station, in addition to throwing away the quesadilla and cookies that I’d carred for the past 20 miles, I took some Advil for the feetsies, the first of the race. I was trying to do the 100 miles on no pain killers, but it became abundantly clear that that wasn’t going to happen. The climb was fine, but holy hell, did that descent hurt. Even when I was back on the smooth dirt road with a 4% grade, I couldn’t run. It just hurt to bad.

Going South

But, I was headed back to Fellin Park, the main aid station/start/finish. I’d have new shoes. I’d pick up Kurt as a pacer. And life would be good. Or something.

I limped in just as the 50-milers were starting to get ready to go and pulled off my shoes. My feet hadn’t looked that bad since Colorado Trail Race 2010 when half the field dropped out due to trenchfoot. White. Wrinkled. Gross. Whoops?

I put some lube on, dry socks, and dry shoes, and things felt marginally better. Kurt and I started up Twin Peaks, which is the steepest climb of the whole thing, but my favorite, mostly because you really can’t run any of it. We stopped at the top to admire the view. It was pretty much dark here when I raced the 50, so it was nice to stand there for a second in daylight.

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Top of Twin Peaks. Thanks for the photo Kurt!

On the way down, it rained for three minutes and soaked everything. Including my feet and all of the underbrush that would ensure that my feet would stay soaked for another half an hour. Dammit. Almost immediately, the tootsies started to hurt again, but I still had to do the drop down to Silvershield before coming back up and over. There may have been some grumbling. Potentially some cursing. But there were also dinosaur tracks, so that was cool.

Back at Fellin, I swapped shoes and socks again and picked up Danielle as my second pacer from my crew of Motley Mountain Bikers Pretending to be Ultrarunners. Things sort of went pretty downhill on this second to last leg of the race. I was tired. My feet hurt. My stomach wasn’t feeling excessively stoked. Looking back on my speed, I was crawling. Danielle was amazingly patient and agreed that more caffeine would probably be a good idea.

About half a mile from the finish of the leg, something went haywire in my shin. Phantom pain, I told myself. It’ll work itself out. I wasn’t about to call it quits with only 10 miles left. Maybe if the pain had started earlier in the leg, I would have known that it wasn’t just an imagined pain…but so close to the aid station and the transition to the last 10 miles, I had myself fully convinced that I was okay.

Dignity has been Abandoned

Scott and I headed out. Scott didn’t want to do the Bridge of Heaven leg with me again in the dark because he’d done it with me, in the dark, last year during the 50. But because of my timing coming in for the Twin Peaks section and the start of the 50-mile race which he needed to be around for to help with SPOTs, he was stuck with me for the 5,000 foot trudge.

The hallucinations started pretty early on once it got dark. People on the side of the trail. Faces in the trees. I stopped for a 10 minute nap. I trudged some more. I stopped for a second nap. I dragged my sorry ass to the top of the mountain where the wind was whipping and the cold dug deep into my bones. I’d forgotten both a hat and gloves. It was a quick turnaround.

Melbeejoi was already done with the race. Third place wasn’t going to catch me unless I stopped for a long time. I just needed to get the last stupid five miles done.

My friend Megan once described a race goal as ‘Finishing with dignity.’

There was no dignity in my finish. The descent was a disaster. I went off trail several times. I argued with Scott about the number of switchbacks that were left until the finish. I watched as the people racing the 50-miler fly by me like I was standing still…which I was for much of the last two miles.

It was ugly. I’ve had some ugly finishes to races, and this one may have actually topped them all. I was hallucinating. My feet hurt like hell. And my shin and ankle…that was something that I didn’t want to think about right then. And I was tired. So tired.

The pavement did eventually come, and the last quarter mile of pavement dragged on for eons. It was almost comical. I dragged my poles just to make a statement (to whom? The universe?) that I was tired and over it. I’m not sure Scott knew what to do with me. I didn’t know what to do with me. It was 4am, I’d been awake for nearly 46 hours. Without a pacer, I definitely wouldn’t have gone out on those last 10 miles without a substantial nap. I guess that’s what pacer are for? To keep you safe when thinking (or walking) straight doesn’t really happen without a large amount of effort. Ultraracing is not good for the health.

The finish, being at 4am, was fairly anticlimactic. It did feel good to sit in front of a heater. Jill, who was manning the aid station during the witching hours fed me some food. Charles, the RD, was there. He apparently had spent the entire night either manic and energized or asleep in his chair.

Scott got me back up to the Scamp and in bed just as the first rays of dawn could be seen in the sky. I slept. Many different parts of me hurt when I woke up. But hey, I’d just run/hiked/crawled 100 miles!


Hindsight

So in retrospect, with that whole 20/20 hindsight, would I do it again?

I spent the better part of a month being unable to run or ride because of nasty tendonitis in my ankle and a potential stress fracture in my shin. That sucked pretty bad.

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But in the same way that running the Ouray 50 last year opened by horizons to how far I could actually go on foot, finishing the 100 pushed those mental limitations that I impose on myself even further out. And that’s pretty cool.

And memories. I made a lot of memories. I met new people. I got to spend some quality time with Kurt and Danielle as they kept me pointed in the right direction on the trail, and Scott got to see what happens when I get really tired and sleep deprived.

In the end. It was mostly fun. I still giggle when I think about certain parts of it. I can’t think of a better 100 mile event that I’d have rather done. Grass-roots. A little chaotic. Equal payout to men and women. And beautiful. So beautiful.

And now I know why runners are so freakin’ obsessive about their feet. When the feet go south, everything goes south. Lesson learned, thankyouverymuch.

Big thanks to everyone who played in the mountains with me all summer so that I had a chance in hell of finishing this beast and my pacers, Kurt, Danielle, and Scott.

Poor life choices often make for the best stories. Or something like that.

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Never let a taper get in the way of a good adventure

Well, I guess I went and jacked up my ankle during the Ouray 100. I’m self diagnosing it as anterior ankle impingement and/or a stress fracture in my lower shin.  Either way, I haven’t walked more than a mile for two weeks.

But at least I can ride dirt roads? Yay bikes!

Still, it sucks.

I got a lot of ‘I knew you could do it!’ and ‘I never doubted you could do it!’ after finishing Ouray.

But I always knew I could do it (barring serious injury or accident). If there’s something that requires very little motor skill or coordination, just a whole lot of determination and stubbornness, I got that shit. Finishing Ouray wasn’t really the top goal – finishing it without getting hurt was the top goal. That was the goal that I was uncertain about.

Did I reach my goal? Not really looking promising. I’m sort of kicking myself right now. Stupidstupidstupid.

Running does not reward stupid. The pain started with 11 miles left of the race, about a mile left from the second to last segment. At the time, compared to how bad my feet hurt, it didn’t seem that bad, and I wasn’t about to quit with that little to go. I was hoping that it was just a freak little bit of pain.

It wasn’t.

But on the plus side, the two weeks before the race were pretty awesome.

Scott and I headed out for a loop on the backside of Princeton. It was a weekend day, and weekend days take a little creativity to get away from crowds.

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The idea was to connect two ridges without actually having to go to the summit of the 14er.

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The weather never really looked promising, but while it pounded Antero, we seemed to be in the clear. Still, we stopped to check the radar every once in a while. There was no easy way down from where we were, and we had no intention of getting stormed on.

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We definitely lucked out. No doubt about it.

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For a weather pattern that was dumping heavy rain on the Scamp daily, it had the courtesy to wait until we were down and back home. Then we watched the rain move in over the ridge that we were just on…

Somewhere in there, I got a new bike! A real purdy Salsa Woodsmoke. It (as is standard with most of my bikes) took a little while to get built up and dialed, but when she was ready, I couldn’t wait to take her out on some trails.

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The last time I’d ridden this trail, I’d completely fallen apart. I don’t remember the details of why, but there were tears, there was getting upset with Scott, and there was a lot of bike pushing. Maybe it was the new bike, maybe it was a better state of mind, but this trail is beautiful.

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I definitely cleaned some climbs that I remember pushing, and the only time I missed rear suspension was when we were bombing down the jeep road at the end. But I’m pretty sure that the snacks I can fit in the framebag for that bike more than outweigh the disadvantage of not having a squishy rear end.

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We discovered the Captain Burger foodcart had moved on from its St Elmo location. Scott was crushed. The potato salad and San Pelligrino from the Princeton Hot Springs store did little to make him feel better.

Throughout all this, the Colorado Trail Race was going on. And somewhere in there, the Hansons showed up to camp with us. I’m generally not big on dot stalking, but Chris Plesko, who at the time was leading the race on his single speed, was nearby, so we all opted to go for a little Colorado Trail ride and see if we could run into him.

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He looked…rough. We’d find out later that he hadn’t eaten in 12 hours. Ouch. I’ve done that race twice…don’t think I ever need to do it again.

With the weather looking iffy for the Ark Valley, it was time to move on. Plus, Ouray was in a week and a half, it was time to start making moved in that general direction. We opted for a stopover in Gunnison, because well, we love Gunnison and some of my very favorite people live there.

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We were able to coax Rachel out for a mid-day ride at Hartmans. Just an hour and a half, we all remembered that there can be a lot of mountain bike magic made in 90 minutes.

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And the sunsets there! I love my mountains, and Gunni is sort of in the mountains, but I do miss the big sunsets of the desert.

I set up an ‘I want to do all the things with all of the people’ day for our first full day in the Valley. It started with laundry. #ScamplifeChores

But then we made our way up valley and met Kurt, who happened to be rolling through town, up at Lake Irwin for a little run. Tapering, I called it. I was tapering.

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We went up to Scarps Ridge, stayed on it past the normal mountain bike descent, and cruised up to the high point. I had every intention of coming back down on trail, but Scott was having none of it. And Kurt wasn’t really on my side for a “normal” run. So we went down a different ridge without a trail and looped it around.

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It was pretty rad. Most of Scott’s ideas are. Except when they’re not.

We finished with a jump off of the Lake Irwin rock. All runs should finish at a lake.

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We had a quick turnaround with a PB&J sandwich and met up with the Hansons for a ride on Snodgrass. It’s such a lovely little trail, and the flowers were still amazing.

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I do miss the riding in CB. We would have ridden longer, but I’d set up a camp dinner date back in Gunni, and I was tapering. Right, I was tapering. Uh-huh.

We boogied back down the valley, just making it in time to have Rachel and Jefe come join the Hansons and us for dinner. I made cheesy potatoes, Rach brought a salad from her garden, Jefe brought snacks.

The sky put on an amazing show.

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#Scamplife is great for all the adventures and all, but really, it’s nights like these that make it so worth it.

With Ouray six days away, I knew that it was getting to be high time to start resting. But I was in CB, and I’m a firm believer that you should never let a taper get in the way of a good adventure. And Rachel had all day to ride, and Kurt and his friend Kristen wanted to ride, and Scott always wants to ride, and I wasn’t about to miss out on that!

We opted for a very mellow and relaxing 403/401 loop. Okay, that’s a lie. There’s nothing really mellow or relaxing about a single mile of the route, except for maybe the ride out from Gothic.

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But…advennnnnture!

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It ended up being an adventure. Scott got stung by a bee and started getting sausage fingers. Luckily (?), he had to be back in town for internet and work by 2pm, so he was going to have to bail after 403 anyhow…not just on account of his fat fingers. Kristen also had to work, leaving Kurt, Rach, and I to finish 401.

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CB locals, and a lot of non-locals poo-poo this trail. I know I sure did. But day-um, it’s fun. No other trail has quite the distance of high-speed, skunk-grass, flower fun. Plus, we rode it really fast because the weather was moving in and we didn’t want to get soaked.

We got soaked. What started as a sprinkle at the Snodgrass trailhead turned into a full-on deluge while we bombed down the highway. When we got back into town, I pulled out my phone to see a text from Scott: You might want to wait a bit, raining cats and dogs in town.

Thanks.

Still, it was nothing that a set of dry clothes and a burrito from Teocalli Tamale couldn’t fix. It was over six hours of riding – seemed like an appropriate place to start a taper for a running race from. It had been three amazing days in Gunnison County and I didn’t regret a single energy point that I’d spent.

If I’d known that I’d spend the two weeks following Ouray on the couch, I’d probably ridden and run more leading up to it, and I definitely wouldn’t have felt quite as bad about delaying my taper to the very end.

I guess, in the end, weeks like this is why I don’t place all my focus on racing. If I had, I would have missed out on entirely too much fun. The Fun Meter definitely would not have been pegged at high. And I would have been slightly bummed going into Ouray, and I’d be even more pissed off at my ankle now.

But it’s okay. Injuries happen. This too, will heal. And as soon as that happens, I’ll make sure the Fun Meter gets pegged once again. And hopefully, I have the brains to never sign up for another 100 mile slog through the mountains. As amazing as it was…


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Mountain biking, mountain running, and mountain adventure FOMO

Earlier this year I was hanging out with Justin Simoni, aka The Long Ranger (if you haven’t been following his Highest Hundred attempt here, you should. He’s 36 peaks into his self-powered, self-supported attempt to ride to and climb the highest 100 peaks in Colorado. It’s the most bad-ass thing going on these days, IMHO.), when he mentioned that when he did his Tour de 14ers, he’d spent the majority of the winter running and felt that his bike riding fitness had suffered.

I, in my head, called bullshit. Running makes you fit. Fitness is fitness. Who cares if it’s on a bike or on foot.

And then I went to go ride Canyon Creek with Kimberly, Nate, and Nick, and I understood the Long Rangers’ laments. I suffered real bad like on the massive climb up to 12,000+ feet. Fitness is great and all, but if you don’t have the muscle to turn the pedals over, it doesn’t do you a whole lot of good.

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I’ve seen it in the way my pants fit. My quads have shrunk. My ass has grown. It really is two entirely different muscle sets.

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The good thing was though, it didn’t matter that I was hurting. It was just a big day up in the mountains with friends. And that’s cool no matter how you feel.

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Even Nick breaking his frame clean through couldn’t completely ruin the day. Put a damper on it, sure, but he was able to splint the chainstay with a tire iron and roll very gentle out the final 8 miles. And the moment we got back to the van, the skies unleashed and poured. It was fantastic timing.

But I had learned my lesson. If I wanted to actually continue to ride bikes with any level of grace and joy, I had to actually ride bikes. I know. Duh. I’m a mountain biker dammit!

But Trish and Ryan were back from their workweek in Carbondale, and somehow Trish had gotten infected with Nolan’s fever. So it was pretty easy to convince her to to do a traverse of Princeton, especially since Scott and Ryan agreed to run a shuttle for us. Boys are the best!

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We ran into a brown-capped rosy finch near the ridge who was putting on an impressive display of might. I think we might have been near her nest, so we kept going so that she wouldn’t worry too much.

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The ridge up from Grouse Creek was a little scramblier that I had expected. I had a moment of ‘I’m skeeerd’, but I made it though. It also reminded me that there was a lot more to Nolan’s than a very long, high-elevation slog. How would this ridge feel after having already gone over three peaks, probably late in the afternoon? I think f-ing terrifying is the correct answer.

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I had a variety of tracks to choose from for the descent. One from an unknown human who had completed the Nolan’s line, and one that I had drawn in from various online data. From the top, given that the weather was looking iffy, we opted for the ‘scouted’ line down.

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This was a mistake because I’m pretty sure that the track I had belonged to Ted Mahon’s run, and he got stormed off the peak and exited the ridge sooner than he’d wanted it. The descent was horrendous. Trish christened us #TeamFlawlessNavigation.

Whoops?

I couldn’t have been that bad, because when I proposed a traverse of Yale two days later, with the boys available to run our shuttle again (boys are great!), Trish agreed yet again.

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I think I lured her in with the promise of plane wreckage from a crash in the 60s (?) on the other side. Ryan started behind us and caught us halfway up.

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Scott started ahead of us, but forgot his walking stick in the car, so he went back to get it. We all reconvened at the summit before dropping off our separate directions.

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I managed to take us down the wrong ridge about halfway down, and then I got us stuck in a mass of deadfall near the bottom, but we did find the airplane wreckage PLUS the perfect log to cross the creek at the bottom on. #TeamFlawlessNavigation.

The two outings definitely drove home that you could have the most perfect track for Nolan’s, but it isn’t going to do you any good, at least if you want to move at any appreciable speed, if you haven’t scouted the route. Our deadfall debaucle? We were 50 feet from the track, mucking around in the trees. Track was in an open avy chute. We had no idea that those 50 feet would make a difference.

Then add darkness to the mix. Yeah.

Ryan picked us up at North Cottonwood trailhead, and we all headed to the Viking Burger foodcart in BV for lunch, then group laundry at the laudromat, then ice cream. Trish and Ryan know how to do it right.

And their dog Dexter is super cute too.

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Unfortunately, they had to go back to make their Fun Tokens in Carbondale. So I went back to reminding myself how to be a mountain biker. We opted for Rainbow Trail. Lots of bang for the buck, and we’d be back in time for our lunch date.

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It pretty much kicked my ass. I had to eat all of Scott’s snacks because I’d failed to bring any of my own. Runners might not eat, but mountain bikers definitely do.

Our friend, John Schilling (picture taker) was getting ready to do the Colorado Trail Race and was on his way to drop is car in Denver so that he could go back to Durango for the start. He’d contacted Aaron W for lunch on the way, and we’d gotten ourselves invited to the party.

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Aaron was just back from his massive American Trail Race, where, as far as I can tell, had gotten fairly epic’d while having a huge adventure. This guy retraced our steps on the CDT two years after we did it, did it a full month faster, made it look good, and kept touring afterwards. So it sort of made me giggle to hear his stories of getting crushed by a route.

We sent Schilling off to Denver, also about to partake in a huge adventure, and went to go have beers with Janie and Jimmy. Janie was just off of a insanely fast Trans American Bike Race, one that I had closely blue-dot stalked. She also had had a massive adventure.

I wanted to have a massive adventure! All these people were doing big, cool things, I wanted to do big cool things. And I knew (felt?), rationally, that Nolan’s was still too big of a bite to take. But there had to be something.

Ouray? Should I do Ouray?


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Playing in the Mountains

Well, I guess I went ahead and did the Ouray 100 this past weekend.

And I’m sort of sitting here wondering where the heck the fitness and motivation came from to pull off 44 hours of wandering through the San Juans, because the last time I checked this blog, I was firmly on the ‘I’m not going to race’ side of life.

So I figured that actually going through the photos from the last month might shed some light onto the evolution of bad ideas. And, you know, I like to at least pretend to keep this little corner of the Internet updated.

First up was Mt Hope with Scott. We stare at this mountain from our Twin Peaks camp incessantly, but it hadn’t quite made it to the top of the priority list until now.

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At 70 feet shy of the benchmark of 14,000 feet, the peak doesn’t really get a lot of attention from most people.

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Hope Pass is used by the CDT, the CT Collegiate West route, and the Leadville 100 run, but no one actually goes up the mountain to the side of it. Colorado is only as crowded as you let it be…

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We had the top to ourselves and opted to head down a different ridge in order to make the route a lollipop instead of an out-and-back. If there’s one person who hates out-and-backs more than me, it’s Scott.

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I spent my summit time tracing out the Nolan’s line in my head. ‘You come off of La Plata right there, then up Huron, over to Missouri, Belford, Oxford, I think that’s Harvard over there…’ Sticky ideas. Damn those sticky ideas.

Pretty much as soon as Meghan left the Sawatch, Melissa showed up for the better part of 10 days. She was firmly motivated for a good run at Ouray and was hanging out in the Leadville area for some quality acclimatization and training. We had some fairly crummy weather forecasts to work with, but Melissa is used to getting up early to beat Moab heat, and I guess even I’m willing to set alarm clocks for good adventures.

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We opted for a loop on Mt Massive starting from the Fish Hatchery in Leadville.

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Baby Ptarmigan!

We talked a lot about Ouray and the benefits of racing, supporting events that have awesome race directors who support gender equality, and committing to goals. But I still had zero intention of doing anything other with my summer other than keeping the Fun Meter pegged at high.

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I was finally starting to feel good at altitude, something that I was convinced would never happen again after the rough start to the summer.

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After taking a slightly obscure route to the summit, we headed back down the main trail of Massive. I find the people watching hilarious. Some people get upset with crowded trails (and I do too after a while), but in small doses, I’m endlessly amused by the humanity that chooses to try to scale these peaks.

We were reaching our 14-day limit at our campsite (we have a bad habit of getting stuck in the Twin Peaks area), so we packed up the Scamp and headed down valley. The weather looked better down there anyhow. Monsoons were in full swing. T’was the season for alarm clocks.

And if there’s anyone who will commiserate about alarm clocks with me, it’s Trish, so it was pretty great that the time of week had rolled around for her to have some days off and we found ourselves camped together at Browns Creek.

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Between Trish, Ryan, Scott, and I, we couldn’t seem to settle on a plan for the next day. Trish was tired, Ryan was indifferent, Scott is scared of high mileage, and I’m not too into going into bad weather if I don’t have to. So we pondered our options for the better part of the afternoon until Melissa and Randy showed up, proposed an option, and we all said yes. Mostly because we were done with deliberating and wanted someone to choose for us.

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When we woke up to rain on the Scamp, I may have grumbled some. If I didn’t have people outside waiting on me, I probably would have turned the alarm clock off and gone back to sleep. But that’s why you have running partners, right? Accountability? Or something.

After the appropriate amount of futzing, we were all headed up Browns Creek. The rain had stopped, and the clouds made it look like magic unicorn land.

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We kept movement motivated knowing that we’d have to get up and over a 13,000 foot saddle before starting the fast descent into the trees. And it was pretty much supposed to storm all day long. We were getting lucky with our little bit of sun, and we knew it.

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It became clear that our crew was made up of people who were much more into routes that involved more walking than running, more adventure than established trails. Which is really great for me, because running is really hard!

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How we made it back to the cars without getting rained on is beyond me, but I thought it was pretty rad. Scott was wrecked after 16 miles, I was fairly to mostly tired. These girls are fast!

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My little leggies were starting to get pretty toasted after all of the running, but FOMO runs strong with me, and recovery is for people who can’t think of anything fun to do.

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Birds are great for recovery, because watching them is actually a fun thing to do when the knees ache.

Melissa had to head back for work in Moab soon, so we opted to gamble on yet another questionable weather forecast, one of those that predict rain starting at 9am. One of those forecasts that causes you to be less than deliberate in putting on sunscreen.

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We opted for a Columbia/Harvard traverse. I loved the idea because it was a lollipop with a very small stick at the end, covered a chunk of the Nolan’s route, and was two peaks that I hadn’t been on.

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Of course the sun came out and I could feel myself getting scorched.

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We were warned by multiple groups (of men) coming the other direction that we needed to be very careful because there was a lot of snow to deal with. We thanked them for their beta.

The glissading conditions were great, and I’m pretty sure we made better time on the 1,000 foot drop off of the ridge to avoid the Rabbit Traverse than if there hadn’t been any snow. I need to start skiing again. Snow is fun.

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Spirit animal. Likes lounging in the sun in alpine environments and stealing snacks.

The top of Harvard was hilarious, mostly because we heard it long before we saw it. People are funny. (The best advice I was ever given while working in the service industry.) And there were a lot of them.

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Down was on well-established trail through a beautiful basin. There’s something to be said for not having to think about navigation, just follow the little ribbon of brown dirt and know that it will lead you straight back to your car.

But what’s the fun in that? After spending a good bit of time on the Nolan’s route in the past two weeks, I was getting excited about the idea of it. It still felt far above my pay grade, but I was getting to see more and more of it. Confidence levels that someday I might be able to pull it off were rising from the single digits into the low teens.

Buy day-um, those mountains are big.


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Playing, not training

 

Once I gave up on racing the Ouray 100, my life became much happier.

Gone was the countdown to race day. Gone was the feeling that I had to run a certain number of miles a week, or to do a certain amount of vertical, or try to spend as much time up high as I could so that I could prod my body into building red blood cells, or try to figure out how to run downhill with some semblance of efficiency. Seriously. I feel like a dying moose when going downhill.

It felt like I’d freed myself from some self-imposed prison of training.

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Honey Badger don’t give a shit

Now, you might be thinking that I’m a little bit crazy for getting so worked up over “training” for a race. And you’re probably a little bit right.

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Momma Osprey don’t care either

But I have a complex relationship with training and racing. I raced my bike for a lot of years with absolutely zero structure, and I got pretty darn fast at it. At least fast enough to hold my own in the budding world of 100-mile racing and bikepacking.

But then I wanted to get faster. I wanted to be “pro” (whatever that means for women ultra-endurance racers, who are pretty much the bottom of the barrel as far as sponsorship consideration went at the time). So I worked with a coach, I did all sorts of crazy things with my diet, and I got even faster. I won some cool races. Set some records that I’m pretty proud of.

And after a few years, I got injured, my body gave up and landed me real sick-like, and I lost my desire to train and race and to a point, even to ride bikes.

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Ptarmigan definitely doesn’t care.

When I picked up running, I swore that I wasn’t going to race, because I didn’t want to go down the road of becoming a racer again. Been there, done that. I wanted to keep running as anxiety-free as I could. I never wanted to lose the joy of the activity.

But then racing opportunities arose, so I took them, and had fun, and then found myself heading down the road, mentally, that I didn’t want to.

And with my incredibly high level of maturity, instead of working on self-improvement and repairing my relationship with competition, I just decided that I didn’t want to deal with it at all.

So I made the bold declaration that Ouray 100 was out, stopped thinking about training, and started thinking about playing instead.

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Luckily, I managed to hook up with Meghan for a long run in the high peaks while she worked on building red blood cells for a big line run later this summer. This woman carries more joy for being up high than most, and she’ll hike/run as fast as possible, even if it means that she ends up doubled over her poles gasping for breath at high altitudes.

It was pretty funny to watch. I may have laughed a little bit. Not that I was doing any better.

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We talked a lot about Nolan’s 14, a line through the mountains that has been a niggling obsession of mine for quite a few years now. Meghan finished the 60-hour challenge last summer, so there may have been a bit of fan-girl behavior from me. ‘What was it like? What was the crux? How much faster do you think you could go?’

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I must not have embarrassed myself too badly that day, either with my fan-girl-dom or my downhill running skills (seriously, I am baffled at how people move so fleet-footed-like down hill), because when I suggested an equally long day over La Plata Peak and back to the Twin Lakes valley via Hope Pass, Meghan was in.

Well, she was in on one condition: that we could get ice cream at the Twin Lakes store when we were done.

Deal.

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With a questionable weather forecast and knowing that we had a second high pass to get over before the storms hit, we left early. Early is rough.

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We ended up on a 14’er summit with 17 women! No dudes. I’m all about rad women doing rad things in the mountains, and hanging out up high with all these women made me real happy.

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We dropped off the backside of La Plata, took a few delightful miles of CDT over to Hope Pass, and proceeded to slog our way up it. I still can’t believe that I hauled a bike up that trail during our CDT bike trip. It’s steep!

I was much tougher back then.

Or maybe just more motivated.

Nah. If I had a good reason, I’d do it again.

We finished the day with ice cream sandwiches and stoop sitting at the Twin Lakes store where Hikertrash from both the Colorado Trail and the Continental Divide Trail congregate and get resupplies. A beer offered by a thru-hiker led to a long afternoon of lounging, chatting, and burger eating. Pretty much the perfect way to spend a lovely day in the mountains, if you ask me.

Somewhere in between those two runs, Scott and I went out for a ‘Start high, stay high’ outing starting at Indy Pass. When you get to start 12k+ feet, you don’t have to put a lot of effort into gaining elevation, which is great for lazy people like us.

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Our goal was Independence Mountain, a 12k peak that receives so little attention, there isn’t even a SummitPost.com page for it.

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Probably for good reason. We got turned around by a ridge made up of rock so loose that it felt like it would collapse under our weight.

No worries. Turn back and follow the goats to higher pastures.

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We found a huge herd of them up on a hill side. Lots of babies. Lots of big males.

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They are such amazing animals.

Not wanting to disturb them, we opted our exit via a big snowfield. Scott hates traveling on snow. I think his discomfort is hilarious.

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It’s one of the few surfaces that I can actually move faster that he can. I’m all about the glissade/ski combo. Scott is about the controlled descent. I just sat at the bottom and laughed (to myself).

To add icing to an already delicious cake of a week, Colleen and Montana showed up in the Shark on their way home to PA, Colleen fresh off of finishing Tour Divide on a single speed. We’d been following the adventures of the Shark for a while, it was great to finally get to see it in person.

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Want to talk about bad-ass women? Right there. There’s one.

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Their purchase of the Shark a few years back as their full-time residence was definitely inspiration for the Scamp. The whole ‘you don’t need a lot, and you definitely don’t need a Sprinter van, to be happy and go on adventures’ approach to life.

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Do a lot with a little. Be stoked. Tell good stories. Drink too much whisky. These are my type of people.

There was a lot of joy in the week. Good people. Good runs. Good rides. Good camping neighbors. And absolutely zero worry about racing.

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And then the thought occurred to me: I wouldn’t know any of these people if it wasn’t for racing, on foot or bikepacking or whatever the drunken debauchery that single-speed events are. There’s something to be said for events that bring like-minded people together and give them the opportunity to interact.

And that thought made me pause. I still had no intention of training or thinking about training, but maybe racing itself wasn’t entirely as evil as I had it out to be in my head.


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Scrambling: Owning my amazing

I started writing a blog post about a week ago about scrambling the second Flatiron in Boulder and doing Peaks 1 – 5 on the 10-mile Range Traverse, two scrambly adventures that I was pretty stinkin’ proud of.

But I really didn’t like the post. The general gist of it was along the lines of ‘I want to push my limits and build skills in the mountains, and I got real scared both of these days, but I was also real brave, took deep breaths, and overcame, or at least semi-controlled the fear.

But I felt sort of dumb tooting my own horn about these two adventures.

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I was so proud of myself for doing it, but at the same time, people do laps up the second Flatiron every day. They scramble up far harder routes on the massive blocks overlooking Boulder.

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Inching my way up the 2nd, following the lead of The Long Ranger (check out his Highest Hundred Project that is starting in three days, seriously. Click. Do it!) maybe wasn’t that momentous of an occasion.

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The night before, my little climber brother had told me, ‘The 2nd? Oh, you can walk up that one.’ That, I learned, is a false statement.

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And the Ten-Mile Traverse was really scary to me, but people do it all the time. And they probably do it without having to straddle the kniferidges and scoot along.

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I-70 is waaaaay down there!

I’m not really doing anything that cool, I moped.

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Before the gnar. Lake Dillon in the background.

I seriously did. There was moping around a blog post. Somehow, I’d gotten sucked into the hole of ‘Since people are doing way harder stuff that this, me pushing past my fears really isn’t all that impressive or important’.

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Which is a load of horse shit.

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The Dragon. Hey Trish, what sound does a dragon make?

Every time I talk to someone about bikepacking and they say something along the lines of ‘Oh, my trip wasn’t anything compared to what you’ve done in the past’ I just want to slap them upside the head.

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Of course your trip was amazing. Own that amazingness. Embrace it! And for goodness sake, let’s all stop comparing ourselves to each other. We all get to be amazing in our own special way.

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Peak 4! We’re alive! Scott’s hair gets to be amazing.

And we all get to be beginners and fumble around and be scared and learn new things. In fact, we should all try to be beginners more often, because a beginner’s mind is the best mind.

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Own that summit register.

So anyhow. Scott and I followed Justin Spumoni up the 2nd Flatiron, and two days later, we did Peaks 1 – 5 on the 10-Mile Traverse with Trish, which are the scrambly bits of the traverse. None of us wanted to turn it into a death march to finish the final five peaks, so we went down the Colorado Trail once the exciting bits were over.

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And for someone who historically is terrified of heights and exposure, to the point of paralysis, I’m really proud. And I’m going to own that proud.

And I’m going to go scrambling again. Because it was rad, and I love learning how to do something new. Even if it scares the shit out of me.

And an extra huge thanks to Justin and Trish for putting up with our beginner-ness, showing us the way through and over the rocks, and being part of two incredibly memorable days.


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A Week with a Hound Dog

I was pretty bummed to have to go back to the Front Range for dog sitting after only a week back in the Scamp (after three weeks of house living in Boulder). I grumbled a good bit about it and actually had a piss-poor attitude about it for a while. Given that the week in Salida hadn’t exactly put me in a great mental space didn’t really help my mood.

My parents knew that they were going to travel for another week and had booked an intensive week of dog-training for Sparkles with a local trainer. And I think that, on some level, no one actually expected Huck to still be alive.

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He’s a 14+ year old hound, and when I arrived for the three weeks of dog sitting earlier in the month, he was recovering from a second inner ear infection that left him stumbling around like a drunken sailor with a crooked head and minimal bowel and bladder control. He’d recovered from a similar ear infection a year ago, but at his age…I figured my job was to keep him as comfortable as possible.

But lo and behold, over the three weeks that we were there, he continued to improve. He made motions at wanting to chase deer, still lunged at any cyclist, and would try to do downward dogs with his rickety old joints whenever the leashes came out for walks.

Huckleberry Hound Dog. Back from staring death in the face once again.

But that did leave my parents in a bit of a pickle, in that they needed someone to take care of him while they were traveling.

I guess I should consider myself lucky that I have the flexibility to help. And I do. I was just grumpy at the idea of having to leave the Scamp in Salida and go back to house living after such a short time of being “back home” in the Scamp.

But you want to know something? Hanging out with Huck for a week was actually exactly what I needed in my life. We took him up to Winter Park to avoid the heat and proceeded to enjoy mountain living to the fullest.

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A week of chill where we could go through some of the spare bikes/bike parts that we had up there. I changed out two old t-shirts for new ones. Swapped my light down jacket for my synthetic one. It was like I got a whole new wardrobe!

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A week of enjoying small walks down to the creek so that Huck could drink from flowing water, one of his favorite things in the world.

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Huck much appreciated being let out every few hours, so we didn’t really even think about trying to do anything ‘epic’. Instead, we played around on the backyard trails, keeping rides under two hours and runs at 45 minutes.

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We did a short-ish hike around Berthoud Pass, skirting the large amounts of snow still clinging to the high cirques.

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There was no agenda. No real goals. Just wandering. I thought a lot about backcountry skiing.

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And a little bit of running downhill back to the car to escape the impending storm.

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At the time I didn’t realize how badly I needed a week of chill. I didn’t realize it a week later, and I didn’t realize it a week after that either.

But sitting here, catching up on this blog, two+ weeks tardy, back to being motivated for movement in the mountains (and trying real hard not to be stupid about it), waking up not exhausted, and feeling the stoke of adventure again, I realize how badly I needed to back off from “making the most of summer” for a little bit.

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Pulled pork sandwich from Lewis’ Sweet Shop in Empire for the Ol’ Hound Dog. 

When we gave Huck back to my parent after their trip, he was fatter, more agile, and far more willing to walk on hardwood floors that he was before they left.

With hindsight, I wish I could have been a bit more appreciative of the week of rest that Huck forced. But if we always had hindsight for present situations, then we’d never have those life learning experiences, now would we?

So here’s to continuing to finding the silver lining in any situation, and trying to find it sooner than two weeks after it.