Monday, April 25, 2016

Eastward home

 I warned Beat that Los Altos to Boulder is a really long drive. I explained that I genuinely enjoy sitting in a vehicle for hours on end, sipping gas station coffee and watching empty landscapes roll by, but I don't expect many people share my ability to do this and not become painfully bored. I also reiterated the high potential for weather-related drama along the mountainous route, although by late April I thought the worst would be over. Google would have covered Beat's flight, but he insisted he wanted to join me on the land route. We planned a two-day blitz of I-80 with a layover day in Salt Lake to visit my folks.

Beat decided to document the driving journey. Friday morning, we said goodbye to our last Bay Area traffic jam(s.)

A large storm front was barreling east on top of us, and the morning deluges became snow at Donner Pass. Chain controls and more traffic. So much for minimal weather drama in late April.

 It kept getting worse. Secretly I wanted to pull off the highway at Castle Peak trailhead and go play in the wet powder. I didn't voice this desire to Beat, but I wondered ... if I was alone, would I have given in?

The hills outside Reno. I've never seen them this color — usually they're a dull shade of sienna.

Outside Wendover, Nevada, a road sign warned of crosswinds gusting to 75 mph. Weather drama was high as we dropped onto the wide-open Bonneville Salt Flats, where gusts rocked the car violently, tumbleweeds shot toward us like cannons, and visibility dropped to less than a single car length at times. It looked like a white-out, but we could hear something gritty pummeling the car. Was this a sand storm in the fog? When visibility improved a bit, we could see a ground blizzard of sorts streaming across the pavement. Beat asked, "is that snow?" The temperature outside was 74 degrees. "No, I think that's salt," I said. "I think that's all salt."

At least I wasn't riding a bike. A 75-mph crosswind salt storm would probably be even worse than Alaska's sea ice in a 30 mph headwind with 40 below windchills (maybe.)

The visit to Salt Lake was fairly noneventful. We had lunch with my sister and then went for a short, soggy run in Corner Canyon. We were hoping to hike Mount Olympus, but the weather discouraged anything ambitious — heavy rain in the hills, wind, and a snow line that dropped below 7,000 feet. We were effectively following this storm east.

So of course we continued to tail the storm on Sunday. We chose to follow it along I-80, which turned out to be the wrong decision. While I-70 enjoyed a relatively nice, dry day, we got slammed with heavy rain and sleet outside Rawlins, Wyoming. The highway had only just opened after being closed all morning, and there were trucks jack-knifed along the road as 50-mph crosswinds pummeled us. Beat was annoyed with me because I advocated heavily against I-70. I maintain that he wasn't there with me in November when a not-so-large storm resulted in being stuck in traffic for eight hours between Vail and Boulder.

We were relieved to finally reach Boulder on Sunday evening. The weather was calm, dry and pleasant when we arrived at our empty house in the hills. I imagine many people moving 1,300 miles away would pack a car with clothing, dishes and other essentials, but Beat and I crammed the Subaru with our five most favorite bicycles (The three titanium fat bikes, my beloved Mooto-X mountain bike, and Sworxy the Specialized Roubaix.) The moving van with a small apartment's worth of stuff doesn't arrive until next week, so we are camping out at home with an air mattress and REI camp chairs.

Today I went about the tasks of switching accounts over and picking up necessities (draining my checking account for a cart full of cleaning supplies was not the most fun shopping spree.) I had a couple of hours to venture outdoors on a jaunt from home to the summit of Green Mountain, which is only eight miles round trip. The altitude is a challenge — as usual, it feels like there is an invisible bag of bricks hanging off my shoulders and pressing into my chest as I attempt to run. My experience with moderate altitude (6,000+ feet) is that it continues to get worse for a while, and I haven't spent enough time at these altitudes to know when it gets better. One must assume it eventually will.

The permanence of this move also hasn't sunk in yet. It's strange to walk around a building and ponder what I might do with a space, as though it's my space. Today I stood on the rear balcony and watched animals play out a veritable musical of activity — chipmunks chirping as they chased each other, rabbits hopping through the grass, some kind of raptor swooping low, and birds collecting twigs near the backyard ponds that I just discovered contain koi fish. Just as I was thinking, "This is a nice place to visit," it occurred to me that I'm not visiting. It hasn't sunk in, though.

Still, there is much excitement. The things I look forward to most are exploring the local trails on foot, scheming big bike routes when I can finally ride again, starting on some art projects, and dragging these camp chairs out onto the balcony to write. I imagine somewhere in there we'll buy some furniture and start settling in. But first things first.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

I guess it's not surprising, but it's spring and I should leave

Packing, cleaning, doctor visits, one last run up Black Mountain. I wasn't really in the mood for any of it. Transitions inevitably build stress, and stress is bad for stoke. Temperatures were in the mid-80s, recent frolics through the grass left my face oozing with tears and snot, and my lung capacity was on the low side again. The parking lot was full at Rhus Ridge trailhead, which evoked a sigh of relief. "Guess it's not to be." Just as I moved to turn my car around, another car starting backing out.

Shuffling up the hot gravel fireroad, snot streaming everywhere, sunscreen leaking into my eyes. My stomach was irked after eating two apples, a quart of strawberries, an orange, some grape tomatoes, a bell pepper, and some ice cream for lunch (trying to clear out the fridge.) "It seems dumb to force this." Still, this strange sense of duty to my own nostalgia pulled me upward.

At the singletrack junction, gnarled oak trees and chaparral provided patches of shade. There was a stick in the trail that was actually a small rattlesnake, but by the time I realized this it was already too late to do anything but leap over it. My heart raced. I remembered reading somewhere that babies are the most volatile and most venomous rattlesnakes.

I was cooked at the summit, where I plopped down on a jagged rock outcropping that overlooks the redwood ridges and cloudy coast. Memories cycled back through orange sunsets, frosty evenings, the golden grass of summer, coastal fog pouring over these soft ridge lines, autumn skies in a bright cerulean hue that seems truly unique to California. Everyone needs a place like this — close to home, simple but not easy to reach, a place to visit frequently, to look out over familiar landscapes and see all the ways the world is simultaneously a big and small place, and time is both linear and cyclical.

Flying downhill, where the old fireroad drops off the ridge. Glittering buildings of the Silicon Valley sprawl out below, and grade is so steep that it looks like you're falling into it, arms outstretched and plunging toward the city.

My spirit was buoyed as I turned back onto the singletrack and leaned into switchbacks, kicking my feet to pick up speed, eyes scouting for poison oak and rattlesnakes. It was all going so well until my right foot came down at an inexplicably bad angle, rolling the ankle and tossing my body onto the gravel-strewn trail. Skiiiiiiid. Ow ow ow ow.

I popped up quickly, hunched over, then plopped back down on the trail so I could sit and moan until the initial impact wore off. It's been a bad week for running crashes. I've noticed recently that while the clumsy is always there, it becomes noticeably worse when I'm at a certain point in my hormonal cycle. I've heard other women call this the "dropsies," because they drop things like coffee mugs and plates. I drop my body.

Limping down the trail, blood oozing from my elbow and shin, and pain throbbing beneath new tears in my favorite tights. Still three miles to go. At least I tucked and didn't land on my bad hand, but this may possibly be my worst run to Black Mountain yet, after five years of running and biking to Black Mountain. I suppose it's fitting, for a break-up run. You know I'll always love you, Black Mountain.

Friday is the day we load up the Subaru with our favorite bicycles and head east on I-80 toward Boulder. We expect to arrive on Sunday night, and after that I'll have new backyard mountains to explore and fresh scars to remember Black Mountain.

So long, and thanks for all the views.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

These long goodbyes

 I'm a nostalgic person. I value memories exponentially more than possessions. So when it comes time to pack up and move on to a new chapter of life, I tend to neglect the necessary chores in favor of revisiting people and places, shoring up batches of fresh memories. Friday marked the beginning of our last week in California. Although there is a lot to do, there's even more urgency to do all the things.

 My friend Jan thought it a travesty that in five years of exploring wide swaths of the Bay Area, I'd never managed to ride the trails in Water Dog Lake park. It's one of those smaller islands of open space in the suburbs. There are only about a dozen miles of trails, but they're refreshingly technical and scenic. Due to carpal tunnel syndrome keeping me off the bike (four weeks and counting, sniff sniff) I still can't say I've ridden Water Dog. But Jan did guide me on a fun six-mile trail run on Friday evening.

 Along the singletrack, an old road sign is slowly being swallowed by a tree. We darted around hairpin turns, skirted steep side slopes, and hopscotched ruts, roots and rock gardens. Jan pointed out several spots where he had crashed his bike into juicy patches of poison oak. I felt a little relieved that Jan never talked me into riding Water Dog.

 On Saturday morning we embarked on a 22-mile run with our friend Chris, whose family is visiting from Switzerland. The destination was a visit to the elder statesman of the Santa Cruz Mountains and Beat's "friend," a 1,200-year-old, 300-foot-tall coast redwood named "Old Tree." Although Old Tree lives within a half mile of the Portola Redwoods State Park parking lot, we like to give this ancient being the respect it deserves with a properly lengthy approach.

 Slate Creek Trail never disappoints.

 Beat mapped out an extra loop through the somewhat neglected but astonishingly empty trails of Pescadero Creek park. We climbed up a ridge with beautiful views, descended into grassy meadows, explored an abandoned cabin, and frolicked through redwood groves without seeing a single other person. People who know me and my small-town sensibilities have asked how I managed to cope in an overcrowded and sprawling metropolitan area with more than 7 million people. In two sentences: I didn't need to commute and thus only rarely had to deal with traffic. And one doesn't need to venture all that far into the outdoors here to really feel "out there." In the Bay Area, open space reaches through the sprawl like arteries, flowing with life.

 Beat with Old Tree. I can be sentimental about strange things, but touching the trunk of this giant always gives me a warm, hopeful feeling. If a living being can survive everything that Old Tree has survived and continues to endure ... perhaps there's always hope.

 I had a small scare during the flattest, easiest section of the return climb, when I managed to trip and fall directly onto my bad hand. A rigid wrist brace prevented the typical hand-extension, and all of the impact seemed to hit a small spot on my lower palm, which sent a powerful electric-shock pain into my fingers and up my arm. For the next several hours the tingling in my fingers intensified — to the point that I kept looking at my hand to make sure there weren't spiders crawling all over it, because that's exactly what it felt like. I was upset because I thought this was going to be a big setback to already slow healing, but the tingling subsided and the hand doesn't seem worse right now. It's been steadily improving — I have far more dexterity and strength, and less pain than four weeks ago. But it still hurts to grip anything, so cycling remains unappealing.

Today my hip was bruised but my hand was much better, so I renewed my request to Beat to make one last trip up Montebello Road ... on foot. Beat was understandably reluctant, because temperatures were close to 90 in the afternoon, he's still easing back into training after the Iditarod, and because Montebello is a boring paved road. But I insisted this goodbye visit was important. In five years of living in Los Altos, I've climbed and descended Montebello well over 200 times. Strava records alone confirmed 185 trips, and before 2013 I frequently worked out without ever telling Strava about it, so I would guess there are at least 50 more. It's been my go-to road climb; my memory reels contain hundreds of intricate details along the way. Occasionally I ride Montebello in my dreams. But I've never run here because ... well ... why would you?

 Beat relented to the goodbye run, but he kept veering off the road and looking over the embankments, no doubt searching for an escape route.

 Montebello, which gains 2,000 feet in five miles, actually is a nice grade for running. Runners call this "douche grade" — or more nicely, goldilocks grade — because it's not too steep and not too flat, it's just right. Beat was charging up the road but I was having a tougher time of it, with the heat bearing down and an upset stomach. Still, toward the top we actually passed a cyclist and nearly caught two others who passed us much earlier. I was surprised to look at my watch and realize it took just over an hour to make the climb — which is about the same amount of time it often takes me to ride the ascent on Snoots the fat bike.

Of course, we then had to descend the pavement on foot which was just ... ugh. Beat must have been enjoying himself at least a little, because he started talking about "50 miles of Montebello" as a running challenge. "We could probably break ten hours!" he exclaimed. The spark for this conversation was our friend Liehann, who as part of his training plan was attempting a deca-Montebello. I rode the ten-times-climb last November as part of Fat Cyclist's 100 Miles of Nowhere event, and I still talk about it because it was a fantastic and brutal challenge. I even had pipe-dream designs on "Everesting" Montebello, which life and the move to Colorado ultimately thwarted. (Everesting is what cyclists call 29,000 feet of climbing in a single day-ride. The 100 Miles of Montebello already has 20,000 feet of climbing, but five more laps is extremely daunting.) There will be plenty of opportunities for Everesting in Colorado, I know. But I would do it tomorrow if a magic genie granted total healing of my hand in return.

Liehann decided to call it a day after his eighth lap. I don't really blame him. It was hot and he'd completed a long ride on Saturday, and well, eight Montebellos are pretty brutal. But I certainly enjoyed my goodbye run, stealing long gazes out across the valley, and noticing many intricate details that I never caught in 200+ spins on a bike. Thank you, Montebello, for all the rides.