Zen On Dirt


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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.