Sunday, July 02, 2006

In your head

Date: July 2
Mileage: 50.4
July mileage: 66.7
Temperature upon departure: 55
A reporter asked Geoff an interesting question the other day that I had never thought much about before - when you're out running or biking solo for four or eight or 24 hours, what do you think about? A lot of people would like to believe that the act of engaging in intense physical activity will lead them to life affirmations or ponderings on the human condition. But really, as Geoff answered, it's no different that driving or sitting alone in a coffee shop. What does a person think about when forced to spend four hours by themselves? Mostly, the random and the mundane.

People who know me know that I like to mark random and mundane anniversaries, and sometimes I spend the solo time on my bike dreaming them up. Today I did a three-hour ride that was intermittently chilled with headwinds and sweaty while tailwinds held the air stagnant as I climbed a couple of long hills. But I also realized today that July 2, 2006, marks nine years since the incident that remains my closest brush with death by outdoor adventure.

I coaxed my boyfriend at the time to hike with me up the Pfeiferhorn, an Alps-like pinnacle that towers above the Salt Lake valley. He was, for the most part, terrified of mountaineering in general but wasn't about to let his 17-year-old girlfriend out-man him, so he followed me tentatively as we traversed a knife ridge and scrambled up the scree-lined face of a mountain so steep that from a half-mile away it looks like a sheer cliff. Everything was going textbook well, and he was pretty buzzed by the time we began to work our way down. I thought for sure that I had him converted.

We were crab-walking down a boulder outcropping when he made a joke about skiing on the snowfield that plunges down the length of the bowl - about 1,000 feet elevation - into Lower Red Pine Lake. Not understanding that he was entirely kidding, I said "That's a great idea!" Why labor down a mountain when you don't have to? So, equipped with only an old book bag and a plastic zip-lock baggie that had formerly held my lunch, I stepped out onto the snowfield and motioned for Eric to come join me. He stood almost frozen in place as I turned to make what may be the stupidest single motion I have ever made - I placed that zippy neatly on the crusted snow and sat down.

The fraction of a second that my butt had contact with that plastic zippy was the closest I came to any semblance of control. Within another fraction of a second, my body was careening, zippy-free, in a downward spiral toward the lake. The boulder outcropping where Eric stood was mere feet from my path; he swore for months afterward that he saw my head hit a rock. But all I felt was the burn of ice shards against my bare skin. All I saw was a whirpool of blue sky. And all I could think about was a trick I had learned the previous winter - that if I wanted to stop my snowboard, all I had to do was turn sideways. Problem is, I had no idea which direction sideways was.

After several of those eternal seconds, by some miracle clearning all of the thousands of boulders scattered over the snowfield, I planted my feet in a large depression and managed to make them stick. My body still swung around until I was lying sideways, facing up the mountain, squinting at the tiny stick figure of Eric waving from a rock many hundreds of feet above my current position. It took him a full 15 minutes to get down to me, and by that time I had crawled back to the boulder outcropping, stood up, and erupted into fits of laughter. I never saw my book bag - or the zippy - again. I also never convinced Eric to go "peak bagging" with me again. And I have never since, even with an ice ax, tried glissading. Good life lessons - those are the random things I think about while I'm grinding at the pedals.