Thursday, April 12, 2007


Do you ever wonder how seemingly normal, otherwise-well-rounded people find their way into endurance sports? Of course there will always be genetic anomalies out there who can burn endless miles without even trying. But where does the rest of the field come from? How does a person look at something like a 24-hour bicycle race - the stomach-turning loops, the joint-throttling repetition, the creeping night fatigue and the 20-hours-per-week training it takes to get there - how do they look at something like that and say, “hey, that might be something I’d be good at”? Or even scarier - “hey, that might be fun.”

I’ve ask myself this question before. I feel like I can trace it all back to a single moonlit morning, when my friends Monika, Curt and I decided we wanted to see what the top of Mount Timpanogos looked like at sunrise.

The Timpanogos trail is in itself a fairly mellow hike. At 18 miles, it’s long but mellow. Of course there’s a fair amount of elevation gain, but since Boy Scouts and BYU students make up the bulk the trail’s regulars, it can’t exactly be listed under Xtreme. But throw in three recent college grads, a long night of partying, a sleepless 2 a.m. launch time, two frozen water bottles, six Jolly Ranchers and a single can of Red Bull, and you suddenly have something that skirts the gaping chasm of “Epic.”

I remember struggling up the ridge line at mile 7, about 5 a.m., when our silent suffering started to slip into audible abuse. After several long minutes of groans and grumbles and my comments about the brilliance of freezing water for a hike in the 35-degree chill of a September morning at 10,000 feet, we all just stopped. Cut to silence. And looked at each other. I could see in my friends’ eyes the dead-end fatigue I felt in myself. It was suggested that we turn around. I glanced up trail. The ridge was no more than a half mile away - and beyond that I imagined the wind-blasted ridge line, the strenuous scramble to the peak, and the inevitable sunrise over the Heber Valley.

And so I said, "Well, the hard part's over now. It's all mental from here." Somehow, I talked myself into believing that. And Monika and Curt, as though too tired to argue, nodded. So we marched.

At the peak, Monika - the only one smart enough to bring any sort of breakfast - shared her strange little soft cheese wedges with us before she and Curt passed out on their own respective rock ledges. I sat beside a weather tower and watched wisps of pink clouds burn away as the Wasatch Range stretched deeper into the morning. In the new clarity of daylight, I had a bewildering view of what seemed to be thousands of peaks. I wanted to climb them all. And even stranger, I thought as desperately lapped at wet ice through the narrow neck of my water bottle, is that I wanted to start that second, from that peak. I wanted to walk to the next peak, and then the next. As exhausted as I knew I was, I craved some sort of journey into the eternity I could suddenly see.

I think that's when I knew.

What's your story?


  1. i have never been a person carved from the rock of endurance sports competition, but I do enjoy the brutality of extended (up to 36hrs) motion and exertion. it hit me when I was in panama with the us army in the early 90s. we were patrolling north of the chagris river and our point misread a leg (or two or three) on his map. we ended up having to scrub the patrol and just move as quickly as possible back to our AO and then set up for a series of patrols and movement to contacts. the "lost patrol" was to familiarize our newer squad members to jungle terrain and map-reading/movement in said environment. we were out for a total of 29 hours for all three events, and the whole we were moving. i think i gave up complaining quietly to myself after hour 5 and realized i would be seeing things never seen by me before in the hours to come. how true that was. every now and again, i find myself in similar situations - do i take a 5-10 minute catnap and push through to the next task, or do i roll over and go to sleep completely? the former always brings the most interesting of times.
    i think that is why i am occasionally compelled to avoid sleep and embrace endurance - although i have never approached the competitive "24 hour" styled races.
    I just want to see what i can still do on my own.

  2. I really don't know maybe its the notches in the belt. The joy of seeing something most never do. Knowing my limits and pushing just a little farther...

    Or maybe its the chicks =P

    And eat as much as I want =)

  3. For an overweight and asthmatic woman, the Chicago marathon was that thing that blocked traffic. But one year (2003), for some reason...that personality formed in my head...The Chicago Marathon, now that would be fun. Yes, it became that "fun" thing you wrote about. I did the Marathon - not with any speed or time to brag about, but I was proud and started looking for my next thing. I understand your drive! That's why I continue to read your blog and hope that your knee heals enough that you find something to make you happy!
    Best wishes-Kendra

  4. It's b/c sports are always there for me. Things can be going to hell (graduating college, people moving away, fighting with roommates, breaking up with boyfriends, fighting with parents, student orgs giving me stress) and I could lose myself in my runs. No matter what else was going, sports were there for me every day. I could count on them.

    Cute blog :)

  5. For me it is holistic experience. Starting out sore and coming up with hundreds of reasons I should be at home, wishing I was still in bed. The ride then progresses into the "this is a lot of fun" and " I think I will do RAAM next year". After this "fun" stops and reality sets back in, I wish I was back at home again or riding something with a motor. My butt begins to hurt, I can not get comfortable on the bike no matter what I do (stopping riding would make the pain end, right?) which then transforms into " how many more f'ing miles until I am done? and "This sucks, I will never do this again". I start asking others around me if they want to buy my bike. The last few miles are hell, every part of your body hurts, even your brain. Your brakes are always rubbing at this point and I realize that I am way to old and overweight to be doing something like this. I then turn the final corner and see the finish, I get of the bike with a huge sense of accomplishment realizing that I am too fat but not too old. I immediately start talking to others when we will be doing this again. I love riding long miles.

  6. I think the moment when I really started to think that I could be a long distance cyclist was when I did the River to River Challenge at the end of July last year. The temps and humidity were in the nineties giving a heat index of around 115 degrees. I kept chugging my water and Endurance Gatorade until my jersey and shorts were crusted with salt. After mile fifty and a way too heavy lunch, I settled into a 13 or 14 mph slog (this was a road bike ride) as the heat pounded down on me. The last 40 miles had that odd sensation of seeming like an eternity but going by in the blink of an eye at the same time. I just kept turning the cranks and watched for the directional arrows. I somehow managed to pass some people who were doing only the second fifty and came in only a few minutes after the deadline. I thought to myself, "You know with just a little training, I could kick butt next year." Some of the support crew that were still hanging around cleaning up were kind enough to give me some lukewarm water. It somehow made it all seem worthwhile.

  7. Good Post today, thought provoking.

    I know how it started, I am just not sure why yet. Maybe I will know when I am not what I a am today.


  8. I don't compete but I take solo, self-supported bike camping trips. And by self supported I mean that I consider it cheating if I have to buy food in one of the towns I'm passing through.

    I did it the first time because I'd been commuting by bike for a decade and it suddenly occured to me that there was no reason I couldn't go camping without a car.

    I remember very clearly the moment when my mental chant stopped being "This is hard, wow, I hurt, when can I stop?" to, well, an internal peace and silence.

    My first trip was in my home province of Alberta, Canada, prairie country but not totally flat. On my third day I'd crested a ridge and was greated with a view of straight uninterrupted dirt road stretching off to the vanishing point. The sun was peeking out from the clouds, lighting the fields and farms in a way that, had you painted it, people would have called it kitsch.

    I had paused to admire the view and was taken by just how far that road went. I was at least 50km from my destination and it felt like I could see half that distance. As my heart rate slowed so did my thoughts. Something changed. I knew that I was going to have to ride all the way to that vanishing point and beyond and for the first time I believed that I could. Despite the heat, despite the too long stem that made my wrists and back ache, despite the saddle sore, despite the gravel pools at the bottom of every little hill, I was going to ride there.

    There's a clarity that comes with hard physical effort. I crave the point where I'm no longer thinking, where I'm simply doing. I'm riding to the vanishing point and it doesn't matter if it hurts because that ride, pain included, is all I am.


  10. What's my story? Adventure racing, Baby! 24 hour long ones minimum. If I could find locals with the same twisted mind set as me I'd be expedition length ones.

  11. Hey Jill, your beautiful descriptions make me want to visit Alaska SOOOOO much!! We have two Alaskan Malamutes here at home and they remind me of the trip I want to make every day. One of these days, perhaps. Great pictures, too!!


  12. that is some beautiful scenery :) I'd love to visit Alaska one day!

  13. You live a very beautiful place and take great pictures of it. Nice blog.


    Broken Samurai X

  14. Since the mountain's law of physics is "what goes up must go down" you fail to mention after reaching the summit of "Timp". Did you know that it wasn't "half the battle?" Going up that mountain is one-third, descending it feels more like two-third...

  15. This comment has been removed by the author.

  16. Excellent photography! Your blog is really cool!

    Check out Renegade's BS

  17. very nice blog...tebrikler!!!(in turkish:)

  18. Jill- Get it all in while you're young. Why? Because stuff stops working like it was originally designed. I'm 61 and am relegated to riding my bike - can't run anymore (will get a whole new knee soon!) I remember when I did the Berlin Marathon, when there were still Soviet/East German machine gun towers overlooking the course. Lots of 5Ks, 10Ks, half marathons, bike centuries, etc., over the years - LOVED IT. It sucks to go skiing and have to stay on the Greens and Blues. The good news? They invented Aleve and Advil and I won't stop til' I drop! Great Blog!

  19. This comment has been removed by the author.

  20. Hi Jill ~ just saw your blog on "blogs of note" & wanted to say hello from another fellow Juneauite (is that how we spell it??)! Love your blog ~ you're an awesome writer!

  21. I read over your blog, and i found it inquisitive, you may find My Blog interesting. So please Click Here To Read My Blog

  22. Well for what it's worth I could up and down any mountain!!!

  23. Although the view was great, it did in fact greet me. Sigh.

  24. good one jill!

    i agree with frank, aleve and advil keep us old farts going....

    peace out, yo!

  25. My story?, must be somewhere between the Superstition Ridgeline hike, and here, but I am not too sure how to describe it here.

    Congrats on the "Blogs of Note," btw.

  26. Great images, great content, great work!


  27. This comment has been removed by the author.

  28. Hey, I've been to Alaska. Was on a trip with the fam. I got mad at my mom becuase she would't let me bring shorts! It was 80 degrees when we went! And it was summer!!!

  29. Hiya i loved your blog someday i hope to travel to alaska

  30. My sister likes to run a lot. I don't excercise at all if I can help it. :) One time she made us go 7 miles. Never got talked into going with her again.

  31. Hi Jill, I aspire to Kent Peterson's
    "road mode", where you feel like you
    could just keep going, even at the
    end of your ride. I like the idea
    of the competence and capability.
    It is more like adventure travel
    than racing. Kent travels with
    more grace or elegance than I
    imagine can be combined with

    It is the style of the journey, not
    the journey itself. What do you

  32. nice blog and beautiful pictures! look forward to reading more!


  33. to answer "where does it all come from?" well testosterone ofcourse.

    living in alaska must rule.

  34. Great blog. I think you would be very interesting in reading my blog.

  35. My epiphany happened near yours, I grew up in Murray and could always see the Wasatch. After moving away, I went back for a visit and headed back up into the mountains for a day hike. It was in those moments of both curiosity about what was around the bend, but also feeling like I'd come home that I realized my need for exploration. It's led to a ton of road trips, backpacking trips, and currently a stint working for an orphanage in Nicaragua. For me it's not just about the physical challenge, but the all consuming challenge of exploration.

  36. Beautiful pic and beautifully written piece. We do all have our journeys and our stories, don't we? The best part is that they are always changing and evolving with us as we go along. Yours will be different tomorrow that it is today and so will mine. The trick is not to believe in any story too much for too long.

  37. nice blog...i like the pictures very much..ur entries are very interesting

  38. I don't know... I don't race, I just like doing things that push me a little. I like having memories that are worth looking back on and I can't get them if I don't find interesting things to do.

    Maybe it was sitting next to my fire 5000 ft above Tok trying to figure out if the sun was setting or rising...

    Maybe it was stepping of a rock on a solo hike and watching it roll down the mountain for more than a minute and realizing that it felt good to be alive...

    Then again, maybe I am not really a normal well-rounded person. :)

  39. I just found your blog through blogs of note. I too have made the midnight trek to the top of Timp. One of my favorite memories of my college experience.
    I don't know that I've reached the point you describe yet. I recently ran a half marathon (which messed up my knee too), and I'm still trying to convince myself that twice the distance is something I want to do. Maybe someday.


Feedback is always appreciated!