Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Upward over the mountain

It was a warm Sunday afternoon, the first without thunderstorms in several days. I'd ridden my mountain bike to the top of Meyers Gulch, and was sitting on the "JDW" memorial bench feeling disappointed about my effort when my phone buzzed. It was my Dad, who only communicates by text when something upsetting has happened. It was the news we'd all been expecting for a while now. My last living grandparent, Grandma Homer, had taken her last breath. She was 88 years old. She died at home, surrounded by all six of her children, which was everything she wanted at the end. So this was good news. But it was sad news. A knot seized my throat as I directed a tearful gaze toward the Boulder Canyon Overlook, a sweeping vista of the snow-capped Continental Divide, accompanied by the quiet roar of construction traffic deep in the canyon.

This photo shows my grandma and me in 2001, celebrating my 22nd birthday. I gave her one of the "hippy necklaces" I braided from hemp and beads to sell to tailgaters at Dave Matthews shows in order to fund a cross-country road trip with friends, not long after I decided to forgo law school to do what I wanted instead. No doubt my grandmother strongly disapproved of all of these things, but she never said so. She wrapped the necklace around her neck and wore it proudly. Grandma, like everyone, was a complex human. She could be rigid in her thinking and stern, but she was unconditionally loving and compassionate. She was the hardest worker I ever knew. I was born a hopeless free spirit with little regard for convention, but possessing just a fraction of my grandmother's work ethic allowed me to achieve a few successes in life. I will miss her.

On Monday I was preparing to head out to Utah for the funeral, but I had what was more or less a free afternoon, and a surprisingly good weather window. For the past decade-plus, whenever I've experienced a personal loss, I've found catharsis in climbing to the top of a mountain. I climbed my heart mountain — Lone Peak in Utah's Wasatch Mountains — when my Grandpa Homer died. A month later, when my Grandpa Johnson died, I braved a swirling snowstorm and verglas-coated boulders to reach the top of Lima Peak in Montana. I climbed Grays and Torrey's — fourteeners in Colorado — when my Aunt Jill died in 2017. But on June 10, the day after my grandmother died, my right leg was still stubbornly recovering from an MCL/adductor strain, and I wasn't in good physical condition to climb mountains. I could ride a bike, but in Colorado there are few mountains where one can reach an actual summit while cycling nontechnical terrain. But there was one nearby — the soaring 14,100-foot summit of Mount Evans. The road has just opened three days earlier.

I set out from Idaho Springs in the late morning, hoping the persistent afternoon thunderstorms would relent enough to allow time to ride the 28-mile relentless climb, 7,000 feet of gain to the edge of the sky. The condition of the road was unknown so I took Beat's gravel bike, but spent most of those miles of frost-heaves, loose sand and lung-crushing grades wishing I was on my mountain bike. In all honesty, I felt lousy from the start. Maybe it was the high grass pollen count, or a hormone slump. Maybe it was poor sleep, or a weight of sadness. My legs were heavy, my knee stiff, my lungs weak. About five miles from the start, not even a thousand feet into the climb, I put a foot down and reconsidered. It wasn't my day. I couldn't imagine finding the oomph for another vertical mile-plus, climbing above 14,000 feet. But this ride wasn't for me. It was for my grandma. I mean, it was for me, to process the loss of my grandma. But she would have done the work. Even at the end of her life, gripped with the pain of terminal liver cancer, she continued to do everything for herself — upkeep in her large yard, housework, cooking. She couldn't bear the thought of depending on others. And she died knowing she never had to.

Grandma was an August baby like me, born on a sweltering summer day in 1930. She was the oldest of seven children, from a long lineage of Mormon pioneers. Her family lived on a farm in Hyrum, Utah, where she raised her younger siblings while her parents worked long hours in the fields. It was an impoverished existence during the Great Depression, all work and no luxury. When Grandma made peanut butter sandwiches with the generic stuff we didn't like as much, she reminded us that this was as good as "spreading gold on bread" to her. I grew to love this about her — all the little reminders that everything in our life was good, and worthy of appreciation. She married my grandfather in 1948, and my dad is her eldest child of six. I'm his eldest, and I wonder sometimes if this garnered favor from my grandmother that I didn't necessarily earn. She rarely criticized me, even when I made a number of unconventional life decisions. She always treated me as though I was someone really special. I think she regarded all of her 19 grandchildren this way, and had a way of showing particular appreciation for us as individuals.

Grandma was a no-nonsense woman who valued frugality and austerity. Wastefulness and frivolousness were not tolerated, which was always difficult for me — the grandchild who wanted to do what she wanted to do. One of my favorite memories is the tale of one of my grandparents' cows, Clarabelle. Every year, they raised and slaughtered a cow to distribute to the family. I was 7 or 8 years old and probably even knew this at the time; I disliked meat, and dreaded the white packages that showed up in the freezer after Christmas. But I developed a special affinity for Clarabelle, spending time picking and gathering weeds from the garden so I could feed her, pet her snout, and scratch her ears. One evening, while staying with my grandparents while my parents were on vacation, Grandma served a bowl of "calf stew" for dinner. I did not like stew, and was probably stalling at finishing my meal when Grandma decided to up the motivation by asking me if I remembered Clarabelle. Of course, I replied. Grandma's signature toothy grin spread across her face, and she pointed to my bowl. And I understood. At that moment, I finally understood everything. I recoiled away from the table and commenced bawling, which resulted in a heated standoff. I was not allowed to walk away from the table, but I couldn't bear the decree to eat more Clarabelle. I don't remember how this ended. I was fairly traumatized. My grandmother, having grown up on a farm, did not understand why I was so upset. This became one of those experiences that I think of as "a freeing moment of truth through hard reality," which I've come to respect and seek out as an adult.

My grandmother was hearing impaired, a complication of Meniere's disease. She experienced her traumatic hearing loss all at once, during an earth-shattering moment while sitting in a pew at church in her 40s. An extroverted and social woman, this became the hardest challenge of her life, causing her to feel isolated and alone. Instead of becoming bitter, she channeled her despair into community activism, and played a role in a number of laws benefiting the disabled in the 1980s and 1990s. She was also an avid walker, and was instrumental in the development of a pedestrian path through her hometown in Roy, Utah. But for all of her accomplishments, she was never one to brag. I grew up understanding that Grandma simply lived to serve. She rarely if ever did anything for herself.

The moment that had the largest influence on my life came on my eighth birthday, when Grandma gave me my first journal. It was a fancy book, hardbound leather with lined pages that smelled like a library, blank but brimming with importance. On the inside cover she wrote one of her favorite quotes: "Life not recorded or remembered becomes as ripples when they reach the edge of the pond, unseen and forgotten." I knew Grandma to be an avid recorder of life. She kept scrapbooks for all of her grandchildren, even as they grew into 19 enormous binders. She had stacks of photo albums, as well as a number of her own private journals. At the age of 8, I took grandma's words to heart and used a ballpoint pen to make my first record of life. For the most part, I've continued this practice ever since. The fancy Deseret Book journals of childhood became the three-ring binders of my teenage years, which became text files still stored on floppy discs (those may be lost forever), which became, of course, my blog and books. I'm not sure that I care whether I'm "forgotten" — I believe that's inevitable for even the most famous and loved among humanity, eventually. But it's valuable to connect with others in the present, which I strive to achieve through written stories.

Happy and funny memories about my grandmother distracted me through a number of miles, but as I rose into the thin air above treeline, I could no longer mentally meander away from my discomfort. Both legs were cramping and in pain, as I'd overworked the hamstrings amid a too-fast increase in cycling mileage. My right leg with its limited strength and stiff joint felt particularly desperate. At this point I realized I couldn't risk throwing a foot down, because then I probably would turn around. I didn't really want this summit, yet I understood that I needed it. The road shot skyward, skimming windswept talus and ten-foot-high snowdrifts. Every frost heave rattled my bones. Every hairpin curve sapped the last strands of strength from my legs. Or so I thought. I felt desperate to stop, just rest for a minute, but I couldn't do it. Pride, work ethic, stubbornness — all of the best and worst qualities I inherited from my grandmother — propelled me forward. 

The final thousand feet were impossible; I was dizzy, gasping, my breathing as bad as it had been when I was sick, my inhaler stashed deep in my pack because I hardly use it anymore. But I couldn't stop. There was a parking lot and a summit sign marking 14,130 feet, but I didn't stop there. I threw my bike against a boulder and stomped toward the true summit, another 200 feet higher and buried in drifts of rotten snow that threatened to swallow my bad leg. I felt so dizzy that I was seeing spots, and knew this was a somewhat bad idea, but superstition gave me enough confidence to tell myself that grandma would protect me. After all, she gave me this amazing day, not a dark cloud in the sky and a brisk but relatively mild breeze all the way up at 14,000 feet. The temperature was just a few notches above freezing, so the windchill cut deep, but I found it all exhilarating and satisfying. I crawled to the final high point and stood tall, buffeted by a suddenly strong wind. I stood tall, and sang the song that brings me comfort. "Upward Over The Mountain" by Iron and Wine. The lyrics are about mothers and sons and don't fit perfectly, but they mean something to me. 

Mother I made it up from the bruise on the floor of this prison.
Mother I lost it, all of the fear of the Lord I was given.  
Mother forget me now that the creek drank the cradle you sang to.  
Mother forgive me, I sold your car for the shoes that I gave you.  

So may the sunrise bring hope where it once was forgotten. 
Sons could be birds, flying upward over the mountain.
Thursday, June 06, 2019

Adventures in injury

Despite having one of those "barely injured" injuries, I've hit the three-week lull — that drawn-out part of recovery when the pain has diminished but the stiffness and instability persists, and it feels like I'll never be whole again. Like my leg will never work quite right again. Like I'll always feel this wistful as I watch June hikers carry snowshoes into mountains, because I will always be confined to the mobility aid of a bicycle. Yes, unjustified angst is creeping to the surface. I suspect an anticipated June "hormone slump" may be setting in as well.

In actuality, everything is going quite well so far. I've been working with a physical therapist on my MCL strain and adductor issues. She tells me she's observed significant progress. "You're a fast healer," she said, which led me to tell an awkward story about that time I had frostbite and within weeks grew new skin where the medical professionals didn't expect to see healing. Working with the physical therapist has the added bonus of providing new insight into my balance issues. Her prescribed exercises aim to realign my center of gravity and improve my core strength. All good things.

I've been mostly well-behaved — dutifully doing my physical therapy exercises, icing the knee every day, and wearing a fancy brace everywhere I go. But after the PT and doctor gave me a free pass to ride my bike as much as I want, I may have pushed some limits. The first came last Wednesday, after a great PT session, which gave me more confidence to try riding a hill. It had only been 12 days since injury, and thus far I had only ridden a bike a couple of times on flat concrete and gravel bike paths. But it was May 29, and the forecast called for 29 degrees and snow in Rollinsville. "I bet the crust riding on Rollins Pass Road will be good! Last chance for a snow ride this season!"

 The weather was uncomfortable — snaining rather than snowing, with high winds, and 31 degrees. I felt like I was back in Nome. There was also more dirt on Rollins Pass Road than I'd hoped for — I don't know what I was expecting, really, since it was almost June, and at least some of the days this spring have been warm enough to prompt snowmelt. But this meant dodging babyheads, deep puddles, and mud. It was more technical maneuvering than I knew I should be risking. Higher up, the snowfields became deeper and less consolidated. Eventually, my front wheel punched through the rotten surface and I threw my dab leg — my tender right leg — into a drift that swallowed the entire limb. The rigid brace likely saved my knee from a more damaging twist, but the impact was wrenching enough to send a shock of pain through my body. I felt terrifically stupid, and sat for some time in the swirling snain to express my contriteness to the universe. "I'm sorry. Please let me not be more injured." The pain cleared and I turned around to creep back down the road. By the time I hit bottom, my knee was feeling a lot better. I was grateful, but acknowledged that poor choices were made in my lust for a late spring snow adventure. I vowed to do better.

 Of course I was back out on Thursday, engaged in a long and steep — really, I'd forgotten how steep — climb up Sunshine Canyon. This was my first strenuous effort since the Bryce 100, and although my knee felt alright, every other body part was maxed out in a way that felt strangely unfamiliar. How quickly we grow accustomed to sedentary life. I nearly gave into my burning lungs a half dozen times, but my knee didn't hurt, so I couldn't justify turning around early. My destination was Gold Hill, site of the first major discovery of gold in Colorado in 1859, now another one of those quirky mountain towns above Boulder. Here is another place that sort of makes me feel like I'm back in Nome, Alaska.

 Gold Hill is also home to one of my favorite road names in the state, Lickskillet Road. It's right up there with High Lonesome Drive. Lickskillet Road may have a great name but it's a nasty little piece of gravel — reportedly one of the steepest county roads in the United States with a grade of 18 percent, covered in loose gravel and dusty even in the spring. This makes for a precarious descent on a gravel bike with a bad knee. Yes, the poor choices continued, but this ride also was mercifully uneventful.

On Saturday, Beat was gone for the entire day, volunteering for the Dirty 30 trail race in Golden Gate State Park. I had caught a small hit of endorphins on Thursday and wanted more, so I decided it would be a good day for a longer ride. I set out on the gravel bike at 11 a.m. under ominous clouds with frequent flashes of lightning. Mercifully, the storm moved east before I passed underneath, and I enjoyed Flordia-like humidity and hot sun on wet gravel.

I never had a solid plan for this outing. Feeling surprisingly strong and pain-free, I continued to justify a longer and longer ride. After riding Gross Dam and Gap Road all the way to Peak to Peak, I descended all of Magnolia and got myself stuck in a terrifically bike-unfriendly Boulder Canyon. So I scooted over to Chapman trail for a paltry little 2,000-foot climb toward home. Having not exactly planned on a 45-mile ride with 7,000 feet of climbing, I hadn't had much to eat or drink, and this final climb utterly leveled me. The lowest gear on the gravel bike was several notches too high, and my vision began to blur as I cranked up the Wall of Pain on Flagstaff. My wobbly right leg lost all power, and the left leg strained to pick up the slack. By the time I got home I could hardly function — stumbling around the house, confused, staring out the window and wondering what year it was. I was just really, really bonked. A yogurt and a couple of apples helped me gain back some coherence before Beat came home.

On Sunday, I managed to time a 1.5-hour mountain bike ride perfectly to be pummeled with rain and hail almost the entire way, after which the sun came out for the remainder of the afternoon. It was time for a rest day, but Monday was Beat's B-Cycle challenge, and I hoped to take photos. Every June, Google employees hold an unofficial "Flagstaff Challenge" where cyclists and runners playfully compete to be the first to the Amphitheater at Flagstaff Summit. Cyclists ride the road, which is about 3.5 miles with 1,500 feet of climbing, and runners take the trail, which is a little less than two miles with similar climbing. Beat had an excellent idea to take on this challenge with a B-Cycle — the commuter bicycles of Boulder's bike-share program, which have three speeds, terrible drum brakes, and weigh at least 60 pounds. At one point he convinced four of his colleagues to join him, but in the end it was just Beat and a younger fast guy, Josh, propelling these clunkers up the steep road.

 I did not think they'd be able to do it without pushing the bikes. I know I couldn't, not at that weight with that gearing, let alone all of the other awkward mechanisms on these bikes. So I rode my mountain bike down to Panorama Point and followed them up the hill. It was more difficult to keep up with their pace than I'd hoped.

 Here they are passing one of the final runners at a road crossing for the trail. She still beat them to the top, so they were proudly DFL in the casual wave. Google employees held a more competitive wave on Thursday, where Beat was the timer, and Josh was one of the trail runners. He smashed the course in 15:55, beating all of the fast cyclists as well. An impressive effort — no doubt riding B-Cycles makes you strong.

 The Flagstaff Challenge started at 8 a.m. and it was a 45-minute ride to my waiting spot — an early enough start that I hadn't had my coffee. I carried some in a thermos to drink while spectating, and ended up descending Chapman after the race so I could enjoy a lovely morning respite in the shade next to Boulder Creek. The Boulder Canyon construction created a lot of congestion, so there was a steady stream of traffic just overhead as I sat next to the raging spring runoff and sipped my coffee. It was still a nice way to spend the morning, though. The ensuing "SuperChap" climb was a lot easier with a bloodstream full of caffeine and mountain bike gearing.

After the slightly aggressive weekend adventures, my knee was sore enough to be concerning. I took the next two days off cycling, although my physical therapy exercises are quite strenuous on their own. By Thursday I was again chomping at the bit, and the weather forecast was encouraging for a road ride: 85 degrees with only a 10 percent chance of afternoon thunderstorms. Hard to believe that just a week ago, it was still actively snowing. Just like that, summer arrived.

The are few workouts I enjoy more than cycling climbs that last longer than two hours. My aim for the afternoon was Brainard Lake, climbing from 5,300 feet to 10,500 feet over 25 gorgeous miles. About halfway up Lefthand Canyon, I was pummeled by what must have been the only dark cloud in the county, with 10 minutes of intense rain and hail. The reward for this soaking was a break from the heat, and I celebrated by not drinking any of the water in my two bottles, for the entire ascent (dumb, dumb, dumb.)

I made it to Brainard Lake, walked the snow fields for a short time, sat on a rock to enjoy the mountain scenery, ate a bar and drank the water in one of the bottles. As soon as I climbed back on the bike and made one pedal stroke, a clenching pain gripped my left hamstring with such intensity that I thought I pulled a muscle. The pain continued to reverberate as I stepped off the bike, limped a few steps, tried to squat and stretch, and took all the weight off the leg. Nothing worked. I climbed back on the bike, coasted down the hill, and tried to make a pedal stroke. The leg balked and shot back with more sharp pain. This was my good leg. Oh no.

With much straining and grimacing, I managed to coast and occasionally pedal back to the gate and lower parking lot, where a half dozen people were milling about. I limped into the outhouse, then limped around some more, fretting about how I was going to get myself down the mountain. It was still more than 20 miles and while almost entirely downhill, there would have to be some pedaling in there. My leg hurt so much, just standing in place. I contemplated asking around for a lift down the canyon. Finally I got back on the bike, figuring I'd coast at five miles an hour if I had to, and call Beat when I reached the bottom of the hill if my leg still wouldn't work.

With much grimacing and straining, I managed to get some rotations going. As time passed, the pain diminished. I theorized that what happened wasn't a new injury, but rather a terrible muscle cramp, likely brought on by poor hydration and the fact that I've been working my left leg so much harder to pick up the slack for my injured right leg. Even after I regained mobility, my hamstrings continue to burn and throb, and I couldn't muster much power. My weakling right leg revealed its uselessness during this time, when I had no strength for anything more than a light spin. Certainly there was no more hill climbing left in these legs. I'd ruined them both.

After the ride, more time passed, and my hamstring continued to improve. I'm convinced it was just a cramp, but I have to say, that was the most intense muscle cramp I have ever experienced. I suppose my body is sending clear messages that I am overdoing it, which is frustrating, because I feel like I've hardly done anything this week. Just a little bit of bike riding. 
Friday, May 31, 2019

Beat turns 50!

I met him at the end of July 2010 in Columbia Falls, Montana. I was the sleep-deprived volunteer checking in finishers of a brutal mountain race called the Swan Crest 100. He was the mud-splattered ultrarunner galloping toward the arch. That was the first thing I noticed about him — he was actually running. Even at a distance, I could see his smile — the widest, brightest grin you can imagine. I'd already watched enough bedraggled runners limp across the finish line with shellshocked expressions to conclude that ultrarunning had to be the most unfun sport of them all. Who was this smiley anomaly?

Our first date has to be one of the greatest ever, in my humble opinion. It was so convoluted yet worked out so perfectly that even the most skeptical nonbeliever might begin to wonder if fate intervened. I was stuck in Las Vegas, finishing up a work week at Interbike, when Beat assured me over the phone that he was, in fact, sitting at a hotel room in Logan, Utah, preparing to race the Bear 100 the following morning. We'd chatted about this online for weeks, but I simply didn't believe him, because he had just finished his first Tor des Geants, an insane 200-mile mountain race in Italy, and the turnover between returning from Europe and flying to Utah was three days. I put a crowdsourcing sort of post on Facebook and managed to land a most unlikely ride with a friend traveling early in the morning from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City, picking me up in Vegas at the necessary time of 5 a.m.

My friend was running late for his own appointment and had to drop me off at the pullout of an I-15 exit, where I hoisted my duffel full of casual business attire and Interbike freebies to walk two miles to my parents' house. They were in Germany at the time, so I broke into their house and cobbled together a running outfit — yoga pants and bedazzled sunglasses that once belonged to my baby sister, a jacket that was my Dad's, cotton gym socks and the cheap road-running shoes I brought to Vegas just in case the hotel had an elliptical trainer. Then I stole (er, borrowed) their truck and drove two hours north to Logan, arriving mere minutes before Beat strode into the mile-50 aid station. I was still wearing jeans and a T-shirt when I walked toward him. He greeted me with his wide smile and a terse question: "So, are you running?"

We hadn't yet talked about exactly how far I'd pace him. I'd only just started "practicing" my running, and my longest run at the time was eight miles. I figured I'd find him at the soonest possible aid station and form a plan. Instead, I rushed back to the truck, changed into my junk-show running outfit, and shouldered an Interbike freebie backpack filled with disposable water bottles and gas station snacks. Off Beat and I went together, into the night.

It was the most magical night. The moon was out, mountains jutted into a star-swept sky, and our feet carried us through astonishing swaths of space. We talked about anything and everything. We became sleep-deprived and shared our hopes and dreams. He stopped at a summit near his mile 75 and handed me a rock that he'd collected in Italy, then asked if I "wanted to go out." Awkwardly I replied, "Aren't we already out?" Awkward silence predictably followed, and I continued, "The Montana-California thing is complicated." "We'll figure it out," he replied.

The night wore on. Temperatures dropped to 21 degrees, and both legs went numb. Unfortunately I could still feel my feet. Every step felt like pummeling deep bruises with a two-by-four. I couldn't withstand the pain any longer, and started walking the descents backward. I was supposed to be Beat's "pacer" and begged him to run ahead. But he wouldn't leave me. He finished his own race at my slow pace, as I wrapped up 50 miles of my longest, by far, foot effort. And that's how I simultaneously became an ultrarunner and gained an awesome boyfriend.

Beat turns 50 today. In celebration, I wanted to share some of my favorite portraits from our years together:

Beat with his Austrian friend Norbert at the Headlands 100 in August 2010. He finished this race just one week after finishing the Swan Crest 100. How can you not develop a crush on a guy when photos like this are showing up online? Rawr. We struck a Gmail chat friendship following my comments on these early Facebook posts. Our Bear 100 "date" happened six weeks later.

Beat in Yosemite National Park during a backpacking trip in October 2010. This was probably only our second or third official "date," and Beat had relatively little camping experience at the time. We were slammed with heavy rain and then sleet the entire weekend. We camped in heavy fog just below Clouds Rest, huddled in a combination of my -40F winter sleeping bag and his 40F lightweight stage-racing bag to stay warm, cooked but did not consume ancient freeze-dried meals that had somehow actually gone bad, and sipped my special secret hot drink that involves melting a Snickers bar in boiling water. It was such a magical weekend.

Beat on top of Lolo Peak outside Missoula, Montana, in October 2010. This was one of our first big day outings, riding bikes from my apartment in town at 3,000 feet, wending up a long fire road, then stashing the bikes to hike the wilderness trail and final scramble to a 9,100-foot summit some 40+ miles from home. No big deal for this guy, who didn't even ride bikes at the time. I was so enamored.

Meanwhile, I continued to practice my running. One frigid evening, while jogging on a wide, flat fire road along Rattlesnake Creek, I rolled and sprained my ankle badly. Several weeks later, I could hike uphill without issue, but descents were still too painful. Beat wanted to go for a run, and we worked out a route where I could hike up with him while pushing my bike, then ride it on trails as he ran down. The uphill part was the steep face of Mount Sentinel, which gains 2,000 feet in two miles. I'd hiked it before, but forgotten just how steep it was. I faltered early, and Beat offered to carry my bike the rest of the way to the summit. That is when I *knew* it was love.

We committed to running the 2011 Susitna 100, a big leap outside comfort zones for both of us. My running experience was still in its infancy. Beat had never raced a winter ultra, and had limited cold-weather experience in general. This made a great excuse for him to continue visiting me in Montana for winter training weekends, where I'd usually come up with excuses to ride fat bikes.

Beat is an ideas guy. It's one of the most endearing aspects of his personality. He'll tinker in the basement for an hour or two, and emerge with incredible new inventions. Some of his early cold-weather innovations were quite hilarious, though.

We formed a duo team for the 25 Hours of Frog Hollow in Hurricane, Utah, in November 2010: "Swiss Miss." Still a mountain biking beginner and uneasy on the rocky desert singletrack, he completed seven laps — more than 100 miles — to match my ten, and we finished second in our category. The merging of our combined craziness was nearly complete.

Meanwhile, Beat continue to run a bunch of 100-mile foot races. I crewed for him at the HURT 100 in Honolulu, Hawaii, in January 2011. This "limp noodle" portrait captures that event well.

Then, in February, we raced the Sustina 100 together. What an intense experience. Temperatures dropped to 20 below with high winds on the Yentna River. I froze my hands while digging through my sled bag, rendering them unusable and requiring Beat to zip up my coat — a harrowing and humbling setback for me, who was supposed to be a relative expert in the cold. I was jittery and frightened for the rest of the hike up the Yentna, where the windchill was so extreme that it felt like walking into a fiery furnace. Selfishly I pushed ahead because I was terrified of stopping again. I could see Beat's headlamp moving behind me, and thought he was fine, but he wasn't — he had become sick and weakened.

He forgave me for this selfish move, and we continued side-by-side as I became sick and weakened over the next 30 miles. I had a huge meltdown — of course — near mile 70, sitting down in the snow and effectively refusing to move because "I had no idea running was going to hurt this much." (Really. Foot racing hurts so much more than ultra-cycling. This probably shouldn't have been a surprise to me, but it was.) Beat pressed ahead and left me alone. After my transgression on the Yentna and temper tantrum, I figured he was gone for good. Instead, about two miles later, I found him sitting on a bank of the Susitna River, a spot affectionately known as the "The Wall of Death." He had spread out his sleeping pad with a picnic of assorted candy and snacks, and invited me to pick a treat and sit down until I could put my head back together. *That's* when I knew it was love.

We finished the race together in 41 hours, after temperatures had again plummeted to 25 below. This is how I got Beat hooked on endurance racing in Alaska. It's all my fault.

The combined craziness was complete. I moved to California, and we continued our pursuit of intense experiences together. Here we are at my first trail-hundred attempt, the Tahoe 100 in July 2011, showing off our matching knee scrapes. I DNF'd — timed out amid excruciating foot pain at mile 80. Beat finished of course. He is one of the most prolific ultrarunners out there. I'd guess he doesn't even know how many races he's finished, but he has 163 results on Ultrasignup alone (a list that is missing most of his toughest events.)

In November 2011, we participated in a stage race in Nepal, where we both caught a death plague. I was deathly ill before the race even started, and the plague continued to completely empty my system for most of the week. Managing 250 tough kilometers in the mountains of Nepal on negative calories remains one of the hardest challenges of my life. Beat helped drag me through it, sometimes literally using my trekking pole as a tow bar, even though he was sick himself.

Beat with our now-departed cat, Cady. Another endearing aspect of his personality is how much he loves animals. Beat would be the type to live with a dozen cats if he believed he could provide a proper home for them. With our lifestyle and travel, we can't offer this to a pet right now. Instead, Beat adopted the hummingbirds that travel through our neighborhood each summer. It's gotten to the point where he goes through as much as 10 pounds of sugar a week, feeding hundreds of hummingbirds. He's currently developing an elaborate automated feeder to provide fresh daily nectar to all of these birds while we're out of town.

Beat with friend Anne Ver Hoef at the finish of his first Iditarod Trail Invitational in 2012. He traveled to McGrath under the most difficult conditions ever present in the 350-mile race, after finishing one of the coldest-ever Susitna 100s a year earlier. I wonder, sometimes, if he'd had an easier time in his early winter races, if he would have become so hooked. Beat thrives on adversity.

At the start of the 2012 White Mountains 100 in Fairbanks — which, yes, he completed on foot just a few weeks later.

Then, in 2013, he completed this first 1,000-mile trek to Nome. On the Southern Route, he battled intensely cold and windy conditions along the Yukon River and the Norton Sound. In this photo he's rounding Cape Nome with Marco Berni, an Italian runner with whom he traveled much of the second half of the race. This was the first I'd seen of him in a month, and he'd just been through a particularly trying final morning in the deep subzero cold. That smile ...

A few months later, Beat turned 44 during the 2013 Bryce 100.

In July 2013 we traveled to Iceland for another stage race. I had a great race here — cold, windy, barren. Iceland is my kind of heaven. Here Beat stands at the top of a wind-blasted escarpment that we climbed one evening after dinner, just for fun.

In 2014, we walked the Iditarod Trail to McGrath together. This remains my favorite experience with him — the intimacy and exhilaration of sharing this trail for which we both have so much history and passion. I admit I don't have a strong desire to attempt a walk to Nome with Beat, though — his pace would kill me.

The proud Senatori collecting his finishers' jacket after the Tor des Geants in 2014 (wearing a 2013 finisher's jacket.) A finish in this 200-mile, 80,000-feet-of-climbing mountain race in the Italian Alps is nearly impossible for most (including myself.) Beat finished every running from 2010 to 2016 before an injury took him out in 2017. I used to joke that Beat valued his Senatori status in the TDG more than he valued his PhD in physics. Of course this isn't true — he seems a little relieved that he doesn't have to run this race every year, anymore.

Finishing the Race Across South Africa with our friend Liehann in 2015. Beat proved he can ride a mountain bike thousands of kilometers, as long as "riding" also involves a hefty amount of hike-a-bike. With its tricky map-and-compass navigation and long stretches of off-trail bundu-bashing, RASA was the perfect bike adventure for Beat.

Beat on top of Flattop Mountain in Anchorage in March 2015. A friend's personal tragedy resulted in his leaving the Iditarod Trail at mile 600, after an intensely challenging 10-day march through deep snow and temperatures near -50F in the Interior. We reconnected while I prepared to run the White Mountains 100, which he ended up running with me for much of the distance. These experiences renewed our perspective on the incredible gift of partnership in both adventure and in life.

Beat during the Petite Trotte à Léon in 2015. I've made it clear how I feel about this race, and at this point would rather pretend he didn't participate. This 300-kilometer route around Mont Blanc is so much more difficult than most can understand, closer to mountaineering than running, and set on an extremely limited timeline that forces one's hand in precarious conditions. Yet he's managed to finish seven in a row, from 2012 to 2018, often just a week before participating in the Tor des Geants. He's probably going back this year, because he thrives on adversity. Le sigh.

Skipping ahead to the 2019 Iditarod because this post is becoming long, and also because the portraits begin to become redundant. Beat is a creature of habit in his own adventurous way. Although I often think I should boost myself out of my comfort zone to explore new places and modes of travel, I do love this about him, too. He knows what he loves. He sticks with what he loves. He doesn't waste a bunch of time chasing shiny but fleeting objects in the distance. And in the nine years I've known him, his smile hasn't faded. Happy 50th birthday, Love. Here's to many more adventures.