Monday, August 29, 2011

Cycling and art

I view cycling as an extension of my creativity, a kind of art in motion. The whir of hubs, crunch of tires on dirt and rhythm of pedal strokes are music; the trickles of sweat and labored breaths are poetry, the flow of my legs and sway of my upper body a dance. I draw invisible patterns on the world with my movements — broad paint strokes on the strenuous climbs, staccato marks on technical trails and swooping pencil lines for ethereal descents. Every ride is a different kind of work, seen and known only by me, but I find this creative outlet immensely satisfying all the same. I return home and write paragraphs and process photos, but these are only reflections of the beautiful creation that I left outside.

It doesn't surprise me that a lot of creative types find their way to cycling, or maybe it's the other way around. I recently received an e-mail from A. Jeffrey Tomassetti, a 2011 Tour Divide finisher who lives in Florida, offering to send me one of his Tour Divide-inspired original paintings, free of charge. He simply wanted to create something for his Tour Divide "compatriots." Even though Jeff and I have never met, he believed as a fellow finisher, I could understand and appreciate the depth of his work.

This is the painting Jeffrey sent to me, titled "Red Rock Pass." The painting is acrylic and texture layers with a Nanoraptor tire tread "lift" to reveal the darker layer underneath. Here's what Jeffrey wrote about it in his artist statement:

"During the 2011 Tour Divide Race from Banff, Alberta, to Antelope Wells, New Mexico, I studied bike tracks on the trail for hours and was consumed by their beauty. Often the trail was wet, impassable mud, which grabbed hard onto the bike until the wheels would no longer turn."

And then he quoted from my book, "Be Brave, Be Strong:" "Just a few short minutes of downpour had rendered the once-solid road into a chunky sludge the color and consistency of peanut butter. I could only pedal a few strokes into the goop before my rear wheel seized up like the mouth of a greedy kid who had taken too large a bite of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich."

I love that Jeffrey created this peanut-butter-colored painting with a Nanoraptor bike tread slogging down the center. His attention to details add to this painting's meaning, from the clear gloss coat that glistens like water from a recent rainstorm, and the cracks in the paint revealing once-dry and smooth dirt. I can relate to this particular Tour Divide scene a thousand times over; it remains the image that's burned deep into my memory.

Then he named it "Red Rock Pass." This is a picture a local photographer snapped of me on the backside of Red Rock Pass, near Island Park, Idaho, during the 2009 Tour Divide. The Centennial Valley of Montana was my first full and harrowing encounter with the horrors of wheel-sucking, bike-stopping mud, followed by an intense lightning storm. The photographer actually took this photo after I hosed off my bike and myself at an RV park on Red Rock Road. "The Mud" would become a near-daily battle through Wyoming, parts of Colorado and all of New Mexico. When people ask me what the hardest part of the Tour Divide was, I always say "The Mud." The Mud of Tour Divide is a worthy adversary more terrorizing than distance, elevation, and even solitude. And the Nanoraptor tire track signals, to me at least, the ultimate conquering of The Mud.

Thanks for this great painting, Jeff. As you can see, I hung it in the middle of my living room next to all of my bikes. It seems a fitting home for "Red Rock Pass."

Crisis of confidence

I enjoyed my weekend despite the fact I wasn't perched on my bike in Washington state, ripping through a cloud of Capitol Forest dust. We took a trip to the city, met up with friends, went for a couple of runs, ate good food. I spent most of Friday glued to updates about the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, which, in case you haven't heard of that race, is generally considered the most competitive ultrarunning race in the world. I was embarrassingly unproductive for most of the day, then stayed awake much too late on Friday night hitting refresh on my Twitter feed. I did feel the 4.6 earthquake that struck south of San Jose at 12:15 Saturday morning, and was still awake at 1:30 a.m. PDT, about the time Geoff and Scott Jurek dropped out of the race. I admit I went to bed feeling bummed. I was really pulling for Geoff — for obvious reasons — as well as all of the other "local" (American) runners in France.

Since Friday there has been a lot of chatter about why so many Americans didn't finish UTMB. Of course I don't know any of the racers' individual reasons, but to me the answer seems obvious. It's an extremely hard mountain race and many of the Americans who made the effort to travel to Europe intended to compete with the top runners. Anyone racing to win has to stick with or nearby the leaders, and racing near the front always comes with enormous risks, even more so when the race is on unknown terrain. It doesn't surprise me that so many U.S. runners flared out in the process. The after-race chatter has bothered me. I'm not usually one to subscribe to nationalism but I admit even I bristled a bit about the  jabs against "lazy Americans."

Since I started to follow ultrarunning more closely, I've been surprised by the strong anti-DNF sentiment that is so prevalent in this sport. Of course finishing a race is always preferable to not finishing, but the "finish at all costs" sentiment doesn't seem nearly as strong in ultra-cycling. Indeed, a fair amount of respect is doled out to bikers who crash and burn during races because "they left it all on the trail." Finishing with gas left in the tank is seen as a negative in competition. And finishing the race with completely wrecked knees just to say you finished is viewed as actually kind of dumb. (Believe me, I know. This was some of the feedback I received after the 2007 Susitna 100, in which I ignored blatant knee pain in a drive to finish that race, and couldn't ride a bicycle again for three months afterward.) But in ultrarunning, DNFs seem to be strong marks of shame. My ever-kind friends are always quick to point out that I "timed out" of the TRT100, which as far as I can tell is preferable to a "quitting" DNF (but in my mind just emphasizes the fact that I'm ultra-slow.) Other friends have described vast horrors in their drive to finish ultras. One has a particularly cringe-inducing story about her Su100 finish, involving a few moments of literal crawling. I certainly have gone through some challenging times in my efforts to finish ultra races, but I don't think there's shame in quitting if you are truly spent. And only the individual can make this judgement call. Agonizing later about a DNF is only human; I still second-guess a lot of decisions I made in the TRT100. But the acronym to "Did Nothing Fatal" still applies.

It's likely that much of the sensitivity I feel about criticisms surrounding American DNFs is attached to my own current insecurities. On Saturday, my friends and I went for a mellow 11-mile run in the Marin Headlands on the Dipsea Trail. Because of my injured arm, I have been running extremely carefully all week long, especially during descents, where I scrutinize every short, deliberate step. But on Saturday, near the steepest part of the descent, I was distracted by a large group of hikers and hooked my left foot on a root. Suddenly, in extreme slow motion, I felt myself going down, and my injured elbow was headed directly for the hard, painful-looking gravel far below. I had an intense surge of adrenaline and somehow threw my right leg out just in time, landing hard and twisting my knee in the process. But it must have been an impressive save, because one of the hikers said "Nice." I felt shattered. My sense of ability drained from tentative to nothing. I hiked down to catch up with my friends and declared that I would never run again, because I "sucked," and from now on would stick to hiking forever and ever.

I know I sounded like a whining child, but the truth is I haven't experienced a crisis of confidence like this since 2007, when chondromalacia patella (decreased knee mobility) dogged me for the better part of three months. It started with the TRT100 DNF, continued through the slump I was experiencing before the crash, onto the crash, and the longer-than-expected recovery. And recovery is going well. There really isn't any complication in my injury that would prevent me from continuing to run, except for I really shouldn't rub any more gravel into my wound if I can avoid it. The problem is, I'm not sure I can avoid it. My crisis of confidence has extended to the point where I question whether I even have control over my movements, or if I'm doomed to perpetual clumsiness, mistakes, and pain.

In some ways, I place too much faith in my irrational insecurities, but I also view them as my own personal challenge — forget that I wasn't "Born to Run," forget my clumsy legs and awkward arm flailing and over-sensitive feet, I'm going to run anyway. Indeed, I went back out today with Beat. We charged hard through the heat up Black Mountain, until my elbow was soaked in so much salty sweat that it burned with distracting intensity. But I continued running anyway. At the top, I turned around and ran down. I was very careful. I did move more slowly than usual. I did think about how amazingly hard it must be to finish a race like UTMB. But I didn't fall. I did finish my run with a smile on my face. Running up and down Black Mountain felt good, except for the burning wound part.

I'll get through this crisis of confidence, I will.

Friday, August 26, 2011

A time to run

Beat complained that I haven't updated my blog all week. One might think it's because I'm lacking bike inspiration, and that's part of it. But another is that I've recently launched into a new writing project that I actually feel both optimistic and excited about — the first of my many starts this summer that I'm convinced I'll not only finish, but finish relatively fast. Work has been going well but it's been a substantial creative drain. I feel like I don't have anything left for my regular assignments, let alone my blog. I've even lost my focus for picture taking. This week during my evening runs, I saw beautiful sunsets, a rattlesnake, a crazy suicidal rabbit and intriguing light over Steven's Creek Reservoir. Not once did I even attempt a snapshot, until today, when I realized that I hadn't take a photo all week, and probably should make at least one to go with the blog post I promised Beat I'd write.

I still haven't ridden a bike since I crashed two weeks ago. My barometer for readiness is my ability to drive — when I can successfully hold both hands on my steering wheel for the length of a trip, then I will feel ready to take a chance on riding, starting with my fixie on the bike path. Sadly, I haven't been successful yet. Even the suspension in our brand new Subaru causes too much jiggling on my arm, and pain quickly increases from annoying to intolerable. I stubbornly held on over the speed bumps today; that was a terrible idea. Needless to say, if my arm can't handle speed bumps in a Subaru, those nerves are going to need a bit more healing before I can rip mad descents on my mountain bike.

It's hard to determine exactly why there's still so much pain. My wound is still open, shedding dead tissue and bleeding some, but there's no sign of infection. And my running strength has nearly returned to normal. I ditched my sling on Tuesday, and while I still run with my right arm held in place (and my left arm flailing to make up for this minor imbalance), I can run without pain. But every time I place pressure on my arm or grip something, the pain returns. It almost seems like a deeper internal problem, possibly with a muscle or other tissue that was compromised. I believe it will just take more time, and I'm willing to give it all the time it needs. It's been a rough two weeks, and I am so tired of this pain that I'll give up anything to avoid it, even cycling. Yes, it seems the universe has finally found a way to keep me off my bikes while I'm (otherwise) healthy and strong.

That said, if I were training for a 50K right now, I'd be pretty pleased with myself. Although I had a slow start to the week, I've been running stronger since I ditched the sling. A bit of pent-up energy and the fact I still have to short-step the descents has led me to push as hard as I can on the climbs — lung-burning, gut-busting hard. As I crested today's eight-mile, 2,500-feet-of-climbing jaunt, it occurred to me that I've been running six to nine miles daily all week, and starting to feel hungry for a long run. Without my bike in the picture, it's suddenly not difficult to log a 50- or 60-mile week.  This has led me to believe that if I just injured my arm before the Tahoe Rim Trail 100, I might have actually finished the thing. (I kid, I kid.)

I'm still sad I won't be getting on a plane to Seattle tomorrow to race the Capitol Forest 100. But I'm glad I didn't push that pipe dream; it's obvious I'm not ready.
Monday, August 22, 2011

Small victories

I returned from my Thursday run drenched in bliss, and a decent layer of sweat, after successfully executing my three-mile uphill run and three-mile downhill shuffle/hike with only a few encounters with the invisible searing knife of pain. I felt as satisfied as I often do after finishing a 50K, or a day-long bike ride, even though my accomplishment was comparatively small. When one's ability to move pain-free is taken away, even for a short time, and even by a relatively minor injury, every new movement suddenly feels like a gift.

Today I accomplished an even stronger run, covering seven miles with a consistent running stride and only walking a few of the steepest descents. Earlier this week, I struggled with the jarring impact of each step, which sent a stabbing sensation through my elbow that I referred to as "jiggly pain." That impact soreness has mostly abated and I can now run (slowly) without issue, although I'm certainly not out of the water yet. I was reminded of this today when I picked up a half gallon of milk and felt an electric jolt that nearly caused me to drop the carton on the floor. When I grip things with my right hand, I engage an arm muscle that triggers what feels like exposed nerves in my open wound, and it hurts something fierce. I still drive one-handed, and feed myself with my left hand (even with chopsticks during my birthday sushi dinner, a feat I was quite proud of.) It feels like it will be a while yet before I can grip handlebars and steer a bicycle.

Still, I have been genuinely enjoying my short and slow runs (short I guess only by some standards. Five to seven miles is still enough to get my heart pumping.) At first, I was so grateful for my renewed ability to even get out of bed without pain that I convinced myself I could live out my life happily as a five-mile-a-day jogger. But as pain diminishes, so grows my desire to go longer, higher, harder. And even though I feel a sort of post-crash disillusionment about mountain biking, I still salivate when I pass cyclists on the road. I am itching to get back out there in a real and challenging way, to energize my body and fuel my creativity. And yet I have this most annoying injury, this hole in my arm that cuts into the muscle, still open and oozing and shedding bits of gravel after ten days. It's hurt me physically like nothing I've experienced before. And yes I'm grateful it's not worse, and nothing's broken, and I will recover. But I admit this has been a hard lesson, an unsettling reminder of just how quickly and easily health and vitality can be ripped away.

Still, every movement is a gift, and maybe it's good to receive a refresher course on building from the ground up, every once in a while.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Today's my birthday
I can't go for a bike ride
Grateful all the same

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

August lost

On Monday evening, I attempted a four-mile hike. Using an ACE bandage, I created an elastic sling for my arm to aid in stability and suspension against each jarring step. I set off walking, fighting back the initial sharp releases of pain until the impact settled. The sun cast golden light on the hillside and it felt so wonderful to just be outside, focusing on breathing and movement again. For the past four days, my thoughts have largely drifted to stillness and pain. The truth of the matter is my arm hurt a lot, and every time I moved, it hurt even worse. But in stillness I could almost be free, almost.

I held my arm away from my body and pressed my wrist deep into the sling until my shoulder burned from the effort, but by doing so I could almost achieve stillness while moving. The gray pall of pain lifted and I started jogging up hill, drinking in the saturated colors of the evening. I reached the crest of my route and surveyed the sunlit valley below. It was so incredible, so beautiful. I felt a literal, tangible tear of joy roll down my cheek. That's when I remembered that my moods were all jacked up from not having slept more than an hour at a time in four nights. Sleep had just become so difficult, because my arm constantly felt like somebody was holding a hot iron against the joint. I usually drifted fitfully to sleep only to be jolted awake in twenty minutes by sharp pain, probably spurred by movement. On Sunday night, I only slept about an hour, total. On Monday morning, I had to duck into the bathroom to quell some tears after the car dealership employee told me my three-hour wait for an oil change was probably going to extend to four. My humorously overdramatic reaction to that news only confirmed that I really needed to get some sleep, and get out.

On Monday night, I still had hope. Hope for participation in the Capitol Forest 100. Outside hope that I might even heal up enough to run a 50K for my birthday at the end of the week. These hopes were all but extinguished just a few hundred yards after I started downhill into a new barrage of burning pain. It was impossible to brace against so I just had to suck it up and deal with it. It was probably no different or worse than it has been for the past four days, but my reaction to the pain was amplified by the beautiful setting, some mounting frustration, the wild emotional roller coaster of sleep deprivation, and of course, disappointment. This injury isn't going to clear up in time for anything. Not without some sort of incredible turnaround.

I returned home to more stillness, and attempts at acceptance. This probably appears to be a humorously overdramatic reaction to road rash. The injury is actually a bit more complicated. When I hit the ground at 20 mph on Thursday, I landed directly on a sharp, quarter-sized rock that dug deep into my elbow. Then, with a puncture wound several millimeters deep, I slid a meter or so, ensuring that maximum debris was pushed deep into the wound. The plastic surgeon I consulted on Friday used terms like "bullet hole" and "shrapnel." He smiled as he said these things, and I assumed he was using hyperbole for humor's sake. But honestly, after four days of near constant pain even with the aid of Vicodin (which I was at first too proud to ingest, and am now rationing), I've become more convinced that this is what it might feel like to be shot in the elbow by a small caliber gun. I can honestly say that while this may not be the most serious, it is certainly the most painful injury I have ever sustained.

I have another appointment with the surgeon on Friday, and am really hoping for no further complications that might necessitate surgery (and maybe a renewed Vicodin prescription.) But I'm ready to accept that the rest of this month is probably going to be about a slow comeback in the form of easy hikes, jogs, upright spins on a trainer, and possibly several weeks before I have enough arm strength and stability to ride a bicycle again. That's OK, injury is part of life, and for now I'm grateful for simple things, short releases from the stillness, and a renewed appreciation for health and vitality.

Friday, August 12, 2011

I heart rangers — not so much the ER

It almost seems like it should be an exhilarating experience — catapulting through the air before diving into a spinning kaleidoscope of leaves, grass, gravel and sky — but reality always manages to hit me before the ground does.

"This is going to hurt."

I've been here before. More times than I'd be willing to admit in casual company, at least to people who can't see the scars on my legs and arms. I have what I consider an unfortunate combination of genetic traits — my dad's sense of adventure and my mom's sense of balance. Which means, sorry Mom, that I'm incurably clumsy but I don't have the good sense to pursue a more suitable hobby like knitting or reading books.

Instead, I crash. Some are more spectacular than others. And, in the long-time custom of incurably clumsy people, my hardest hits always find me at the most benign moments — like a wide gravel descent on the same trail I've ridden at least a couple dozen times, on a beautiful calm evening, during a simple taper mountain bike ride two days before a hopeful "comeback" race like the Crystal Springs 50K. That's when it always seems to happen. I'm riding down Steven's Creek Canyon, confidently coasting at top speed because, hey, this is easy and I do it all the time. I launch into the steep section and hit the big rut in the same way I always intentionally hit it. But something goes wrong, and my rear wheel skids sideways, and there I am, again, flying through the air.

Yes, that's my brave face
This time, the Steven's Creek Canyon trail and I swapped souvenirs. I left behind a chunk of flesh from my right elbow and took a large helping of gravel embedded in my arm. Several seconds later, Beat found me writhing on the ground. This is another trait I inherited from my mom. We don't take our hits well. We swoon and drool and struggle to hold onto consciousness, even in the absence of a notable head injury. Beat propped me up and spoke loudly in words I wasn't quite in a state of mind to comprehend, but I did gather he probably thought I was about to pass out. "Light headed," I mumbled. "No injury. Impact. Just impact."

But the wooziness wears off fast and leaves behind a frustrating amount of pain. We were still more than four miles from the end of the canyon, where another eight miles on pavement would complete our loop home. Twelve miles. About a half hour of daylight left (we did have lights.) Searing road rash, tender hip and a nearly rigid knee. Blood dripping onto my shorts. I laughed and made jokes and tried to put on my brave face. It wasn't convincing. "Hey, it's OK if you cry," Beat said. "You're a girl." Beat's crash jokes are better than mine.

But I knew I was going to have to walk it off and get back on the bike. I accepted it, and even embraced it. Brave face. Boost onto saddle. One finger on each brake. Let of brake just a bit. Wheels over rocks. Ow ow ow ow. Impact. No injury, just impact. OK, tears. Fine. You win.

It was just after 8 p.m. when we completed the first mile. Eleven to go. And then I saw something I never thought I'd see in the narrow corridor of Steven's Creek Canyon — headlights. I didn't even know trucks could get in there, but sure enough, up rolled a ranger who had spent the evening removing deadfall from the singletrack section. She drove beside us and rolled down her window. She didn't need to ask what happened.

The ranger's name was Liz Wright. She was a former East Bay area police officer who made a hobby of heavy labor construction, then opted to seek "work where I can both build things and help people" in the service of the Midpeninsula Open Space Preserve District. A professional who builds trails and saves clumsy mountain bikers like me from painful walks of shame — I instantly adored Ranger Liz. She took charge and formed a plan to take me the other direction to the Page Mill parking lot while Beat rode the singletrack down the canyon and back home to get the car. I assumed Ranger Liz was just going to take me to the trailhead and leave me to wait for Beat — a service I was already more than grateful for. As the truck lumbered up the canyon, she exchanged code talk on the radio, and then turned to me and said, "You know, the EMTs aren't busy right now. Maybe we should just have them come take a look."

By the time we arrived at the trailhead, two other rangers were waiting in the parking lot. One had set up a flood light and Liz joined them underneath it, talking and laughing. Ten minutes later, two fire department vehicles arrived and five EMTs emerged to join the party. I felt beyond embarrassed that eight public employees had mobilized for my little mishap. Maybe they sensed it because they assured me that work was slow that night in Palo Alto, and they were just wrapping up a leisurely dinner. They cleaned me up and took my vitals. They expressed concern about my blood pressure because it was closing in on too low, but not quite ambulance ride low. "Hey, at least you're not about to upchuck a hamburger," said one EMT as he slapped wires on my skin to take further readings. "Sitting in the back of the truck on that winding road, man. I thought I was going to vomit." I laughed, and my vitals spiked to a satisfactory level. We wrapped up the social gathering and the EMTs and other rangers left. Ranger Liz drove me down to the bottom of Page Mill to meet Beat, pointing out the scenes of grizzly road bike crashes she had responded to along the way.

The EMTs told me I most definitely needed stitches in my elbow, so Beat took me to the emergency room, being that the ER was really the only option for medical attention at 10 p.m. I was hedging on even seeking stitches because I'm me, and really, what's one more scar? But I assumed it would be a quick in-and-out. I was covered in so much dirt that dust clouds literally erupted from my clothing when I sat down in the waiting room chair. I was starving so I wolfed down a vending machine Twix Bar and chips as I waited, covered in dirt and blood. Yes, any remaining fragments of dignity were finally gone.

After several cleansing sessions.
But that wasn't the end of the indignity. An X-ray revealed a somewhat alarming amount of foreign debris inside my arm. A nurse, an EMT and a physicians assistant scrubbed and scraped and worked at it intermittently for several hours in procedures that can only be described as light torture. Honestly, if I had been harboring any government secrets I would have told them anything just to make them stop. As the hours passed, the dirt-coated bloody swabs stacked up and the medical professionals became increasingly less gentle. It was well after 2 a.m. when the doctor announced she couldn't dig any deeper because she risked damaging nerves, but infection was a real concern that close to my joint. "You're going to have to see a plastic surgeon," she said.

Suddenly, I felt light-headed all over again. "Um, surgery, really? For a cut?"

Luckily, the surgeon I visited today is letting me take a wait-and-see approach. I'm on antibiotics and a cleaning regimen and, admittedly, somewhat strong painkillers. I decided after last night's torture session, I deserved a bit of a break from pain (this hurts a surprising lot.) But sadly, the Crystal Springs 50K is definitely a no-go. And I suspect that the crash will significantly rattle both my confidence and fitness ahead of the Aug. 27 Capitol Forest 100. But of course I realize it could have been, and can always be, so much worse. And I am grateful to all of the  rangers, EMTs, nurses and doctors who mobilized to help me last night. Every single one of them was great. And if I never get this gravel out of my arm, well, at least I'll have a little piece of Steven's Creek Canyon to carry with me always. I do like that canyon.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Book roundup

Summer Reading: Photo by Kris Molendyke, shamelessly lifted from Google+

I created a roundup of links of reviews for "Be Brave, Be Strong," mostly because I wanted to have them all in one place and a reference I can link in my sidebar. Sales were good in June and July and dropped off quite a bit in August, which I expected to happen once the "new release" wave leveled off. What's surprised me is that "Ghost Trails" sales have picked up quite a bit and the older book is now selling at nearly the level of the new book, thanks to Kindle sales. That at least has been a affirmation of so many indie authors' mantras that books are worthy projects because books are forever a source of income. The two together are at least keeping me in gas and groceries as I wrap up a few magazine articles and freelance newspaper columns that won't result in payments until months down the road.

Amid the few freelance assignments I've picked up, I have been working on a third book project. Several, actually. And I admit I've hit walls with my nonfiction projects. One needs a lot more research, and the other just isn't quite resonating with me right now. On the encouragement of a couple of online writer groups that I browse, I've very recently started dabbling in fiction. I don't have high ambitions that this will result in anything great. Honestly, fiction isn't really my thing but conceptualizing a narrative that takes place completely in my imagination has been fun. I have an idea for an adventure story set in Southeast Alaska, and visualizing the landscape has been a rewarding escape on these warm August days.

I really enjoy what I've been spending my days trying to do, but it's been challenging. Anyone who believes that freelance writing is a self-indulgent hobby of a lifestyle has never actually tried to convince people to pay them for words. I love words but even I have a hard time believing that words have the kind of worth that can be traded for gas and groceries and bicycles. So I agonize about how to convince others that they are, including you, the readers of this blog, who I am currently trying to talk into buying my books. I promise I won't start "spamming" my own blog on a regular basis, but if my Diet Pepsi fund runs particularly low, I may continue to try.

So for now, the links:

Cycling Utah published an excerpt of "Be Brave, Be Strong" in its August 2011 issue — to my surprise, the entire Great Divide Basin chapter. That's a lot of words. But I'm always happy to contribute to my first-ever freelance writing gig. I've been an occasional contributor to Cycling Utah since they "paid" me to ride the Salt Lake Century way back in 2004. The excerpt begins on page 30.

Reviews from cyclists and friends:
Bill Martin, Montana endurance mountain bike racer
Dave Chenault, 2011 Alaska Wilderness Classic finisher
Kent Peterson, 2005 Great Divide Race singlespeed finisher
Danni Coffman, super awesome chick in Montana
Jim Speakman, cyclist in Scotland

Reviews from book reviewers and readers:
Flying With Red Haircrow
Tara Chevrestt, "Book Babe"
Amazon reviews
Goodreads reviews
Smashwords reviews
Librarything reviews

Where you can buy the paperback book:
Signed copies direct from me for $15
Signed copies of both "Be Brave" and "Ghost Trails" for  $25.95
From Amazon, on sale for $12.20
From Barnes and Noble, also $12.20

Where you can buy the eBook:
For Amazon Kindle, $8.95
For Barnes and Noble Nook, $8.95
For iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch, $8.95
For other e-Readers, $6.71 (files can work for all eReaders; use coupon code XF85Q to get 25% off)
PDF eBook that can be viewed on any computer, $7.16

Finally, if you're interested in previewing the book, Goodreads is offering a free preview of the first 12 chapters. That's about half of the book. My hope is that if you make it that far in, you'll want to read the rest. That preview is located here.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

The virus effect

After several weeks of feeling weaker and less motivated than usual in my workouts, I was finally ready to admit that maybe I was experiencing my annual August slump that hit last year and 2008 and really dramatically in 2009 post-Tour-Divide. Yes, clearly I needed some kind of outside boost to lift me out of the gully, which appeared to happen Sunday when I pounded out one of my fastest Stevens Creek mountain bike loops. That evening, I felt the scratchy beginnings of a sore throat, congestion and a sinus headache. When I told Beat that I thought I was getting a cold, he suggested that my burst of energy could have been spurred by my immune system, putting up one last shock-and-awe bombardment of defense before the virus clamped down.

When I woke up, my throat was still sore and my nose was running, but the symptoms weren't really uncomfortable enough to justify putting off my planned long run, which I felt I needed to complete just to see if I stood any chance of finishing the 50K I entered this coming weekend. I haven't really experienced an even remotely good run since mid-July, so I wasn't expecting much. I took off toward Black Mountain in the heat of the afternoon, tapping a deep well of motivation to at least jog the 7-mile, 3,000-foot climb up a dusty trail lined in spider webs and thorny bushes. I broke near the top and walked a bit until the dizziness abated and the thorny bushes stopped spinning. But as I crested the peak and turned around, I realized that I felt kinda OK. Actually, I felt pretty good. I took off down the trail on an seeming set of wings, pumping fire that was only partly contained by my clumsy legs' fear of running downhill. A few more rollers and I wrapped up a sub-three-hour 15-miler, which for me and 3,500 feet of climbing is probably a PR.

Returned home with legs feeling fresh and new — but, sure enough, the sore throat and congestion is still there.

I wonder if I really have that awesome of an immune system, or maybe just the world's most ineffective cold.

Or maybe it's just the molten Haribo gummy snacks that Beat and I have been consuming during these hot August efforts. Just a few blobs of highly concentrated rocket fuel to feed a summer virus, and suddenly I'm up and running again — at least for now. But really, how else do you explain these sorts of things?

Monday, August 08, 2011

Peeling off labels

The first five miles were so bike friendly that they could have been an attraction at Disneyland — smooth, swooping singletrack that plummeted from an arid grassy ridge into a green abyss of a canyon. At the bottom we discovered the opposite of friendly, a kind of bike purgatory where mountain bikers who overindulged in the sinful descent are forced to shoulder their bikes across a streambed of large jagged rocks for a seeming eternity. By the time Beat and I left the canyon and pushed our bikes up steep horse trails, rode along the searing rollercoaster of a ridge and returned to the car, 15 miles, 4,000 feet of climbing, three liters of water (one liter too few), and four and a half hours later, I had forgotten all about Disneyland. This loop in Henry Coe State Park came fairly well recommended but in my opinion was at least 50 percent unrideable (most of the uphill and flat sections were a bust.) "Singletrack obsession is such a sham," I grumbled to myself. "When am I going to admit that I just don't belong to the cult of mountain biking? I'm a bike tourist who likes dirt."

I've actually been training quite a bit on my mountain bike this past week, in preparation for the upcoming (too soon upcoming) Capitol Forest 100. There's kinda a reason I haven't blogged about it. For whatever reason, I haven't been feeling particularly strong or well-motivated in my riding this week. Or my running for that matter. I've been working my way back into regular trail running as well, but nearly everything I've done since the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 has just felt flat — shriveled to a shape much like my Camelback bladder after I sucked every cubic millimeter of air out of it in my futile search for moisture during our Henry Coe mountain bike adventure. I feel like the same thing has happened to my willpower in running. On Thursday, during a 10-mile trail run in Castle Rock State Park, I lost my mojo at the halfway point and spent 10 minutes photographing rock formations (none of the photos turned out very good at all), trying to work up the motivation just to run back. "When am I going to admit that I'm just not a trail runner?" I thought to myself. "I'm a hiker who likes distance."

I'm frustrated by the way I feel so I slap these labels on myself. "Not a mountain biker ... not a trail runner." Of course, negativity never helps. I know that. I'm just working through my annual August slump. I actually had a pretty good one last year, too. I remember coming home from TransRockies 2010 and feeling inexplicably busted and struggling with even my favorite Missoula mountain bike trails. Thanks to those struggles, and the persistent encouragement of a certain Swiss ultrarunner who I had recently met, I took up trail running as a way to break out my summer slump. It worked in the most beautiful way, and I need of to just keep the faith that a little patience and persistence will re-inflate my mojo back to its overabundant norm, much like my Camelback bladder today after I filled it with way too much water for my short ride. And I actually felt really good today. I chased roadies up a steep paved climb on my mountain bike and finished the 25-mile Steven's Creek Canyon road-to-trail loop in 2:22, nearly twenty minutes faster than my usual time. I'm still intimidated by the Capitol Forest 100, but I'm getting there.
Friday, August 05, 2011

Goodbye to a good car

I called Cars for Breast Cancer at set up a pick-up time, tomorrow at 10, then began preparing for my 10-mile run. I planned to run straight from my apartment, but as I walked past my dust-covered car, I thought better of it. Geo, which has sat idle for nearly a month, at least deserved the dignity of one last ride. For everything Geo's given me, I owe it that much.

As Geo and I sputtered up the narrow switchbacks toward Skyline Drive, I reminisced about the good times. I remember the day we met, which was October 20, 2000. That date ended my long search for my ideal vehicle. As a poor new college grad, I was determined to avoid the clunker route, but I was also loathe to go into debt. I found the newest car I could afford with the cash I had on hand — a 1996 Geo Prism with 29,000 miles. The reason the car was so cheap was because its perks amounted to little more than an engine and wheels. It had a manual transmission, no power steering or really power anything, no air conditioning, and a jittery tape deck for a stereo. And it was a Geo. The budget cars had a reputation for being clunkers, even when nearly new. I remember once listening to "Car Talk" on NPR with my ex-boyfriend, Geoff. It was even before we were dating; actually, it was right around the day he and I first met. The radio show hosts were talking about engine failures and I mentioned that I had to get rid of my last car, a 1989 Toyota Tercel, because the engine burned out.

"That happened to my friend," Geoff said. "His car engine died at only 40,000 miles. It was a total piece of crap."

"What kind of car was it?" I asked.

"A Geo Prism," Geoff said with thick disgust.

"Oh," I replied quietly.

"So what kind of car do you have now?" he queried.

"Um, a Geo Prism. It only has 31,000 miles on it now."

There was a long silence. "Well at least you can get 9,000 more miles out of it," Geoff said.

Five months later, Geoff and I hit the road for a three-month, cross-country road trip that would push Geo's odometer to nearly that number. We left the car parked at a campground in central New Jersey while we spent three nights in Camden, selling hemp jewelry at series of Dave Matthews concerts to fund our travels. When we returned, our campsite was lined in police tape and a tangle of sycamore branches rested in the exact spot where Geo was previously parked. As it turned out, Geo was under those branches. A freak windstorm blasted the campground and dropped a 30-foot tree on top of my car. By the time the state park service removed all of the branches, a fair chunk of the roof was caved in, but surprisingly no glass had shattered. We drove the car across seven more states and three Canadian provinces in its semi-smashed state. Months later, I finally took Geo into a body shop to be fixed. But the frame was permanently bent in a way that let large quantities of cold air and rain stream into the interior, and the radio antennae never worked again.

That car came along on many of my earliest adventures — weekend camping trips to the high mountains and remote deserts of Utah, often venturing far off the beaten path. We once drove Geo down Hole-in-the-Rock Road, a 62-mile dirt track that leads from Escalante, Utah, to pretty much nowhere. We bounced on washboards for 30 miles, and then the road condition really deteriorated. When large boulders started to appear in front of us, I implored Geoff to turn Geo around. "This car wasn't built for this kind of road," I insisted.

"Oh, it's fine. Four-wheel-drive is completely overrated," Geoff said, right about the same time a piercing "crunch" vibrated from the undercarriage. "Uh," he paused. "But clearance is kinda good."

In 2005, Geo, Geoff and I moved to Homer, Alaska, yet another odometer-choking trip of 3,200 miles. We resided in a cabin on a bluff that was 1,200 feet higher than the sea-level town. That winter, our cabin and quarter-mile-long driveway was frequently buried in what turned out to be more than 300 inches of seasonal snowfall. Shoveling that much snow was all but impossible, and my bad habit of sleeping in often forced my hand when it came to car commuting versus "riding" (pushing) my bike to work. Few roads along Diamond Ridge were ever plowed on a timely basis, so I became quite good at riding the clutch and gunning the gas strategically to maneuver out of the tightest, deepest spots. Coincidentally, that was also about the time Geo's clutch started to slip. Nearly five more years would pass before I bothered to replace it, and even then only because putting a new clutch in Geo was still the cheapest way to shuttle all of my belongings from Anchorage to Montana.

I continued to defy Alaska vehicle conventions by taking on all kinds of tasks in all kinds of weather in my two-wheel-drive gutless wonder of a sedan. I used Geo to haul furniture, bikes and tires through driving snow on marginal roads. In 2006, we moved 700 road miles away to Juneau, Alaska, known locally as the place where cars go to die. Despite 90 inches of annual precipitation that turned other cars to rust buckets, slicked the roads throughout the winter and summer and, thanks to the car's bent frame, soaked the interior until I found mold growing in the trunk — Geo just kept motoring along.

The road trips and moves, of course, continued. In 2009, Geo went as far south as San Francisco, east to Salt Lake City, back and forth across Utah and back to Juneau while I prepared for the Tour Divide. In 2010 we moved to Anchorage and traveled all over central Alaska before loading the new clutch and hitting the road south to Montana. The clutch was the only major part I ever had to replace in that car, besides tires, brakes, and a rear window broken twice by thieves.

I know it's just a car, but I admit it's a little disconcerting to think about life without Geo. I've owned this car for 11 years. It's traveled through 29 states and six Canadian provinces. It's been registered in four states, and insured in five. It's been to Alaska and back twice, as far north as Fairbanks, as far south as the Mexican border, as far east as an easternmost tip of Maine. It's been clawed and fur-coated by my manic cat and smeared with the grease of a dozen different bicycles. During its tenure, I've had eight jobs and 11 different homes, not to mention several extended periods of travel where Geo was my home.  It's almost overwhelming to think back on what my life has been since October 2000, and realize that since then, the one thing that endured through all of it has been a car.

And now I'm going to give it away. It is time. The odometer reading of 192,000 miles puts it about 152,000 miles past its life expectancy. The interior, ravaged by years of bicycle hauling and wetness, is starting to fall apart at the seams. The engine struggles with most workloads now, the previously awesome gas mileage has dropped quite a bit and the tires are so bald that even heavy rain is frightening. It's time, but that doesn't make it any less hard. I'm going to miss the old car. Goodbye, Geo.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Climbing the unknown mountain

When I feel a need to reflect and reset, I like to go for long walks in the mountains. There are times when I'm seeking the mind-opening freedom of sweeping vistas, when even bicycles add an unwanted layer of complication, and I want to engage my body in the effort that never fails to ignite strong feelings of peace and well-being, the one thing I almost believe I could do forever — climb. Of course, every mountain has its top.

I admit I've been feeling a bit of unrest since the Tahoe Rim Trail 100. No matter how much I truly believe the journey is everything and the destination is only a very small part; and no matter how non-competitive I claim to be with others, I am actually very competitive with myself. I don't like to be defeated by myself. And my DNF in the TRT100 was most definitely a defeat. It caused me to question my abilities in everything involving trail running, in my capabilities to even engage in my big goals coming up at the end of the year and farther-reaching goals in the future.

This uncertainty extends to my current "career" goals, the writing projects I launched and the ones I'm working on. For whatever reason, the manic activities and sometimes unimaginative ease of summer always seem to sap my creative energy. I've never found summer to be my most creatively productive season, but it's been tough to feel somewhat stymied in not only my passions (such as trail running), but also in what is currently my sole occupation. Some days, I feel so frustrated with my writing efforts that I find myself enviously eyeing the "Help Wanted" signs at Peet's Coffee. "Maybe I should learn how to be a barista," I think with a tinge of ambition, until I remember that I'm a terrible candidate for the customer service industry (not to mention that I'm so impatient that I wouldn't even let Beat teach me how to make a cappuccino on our home machine, preferring instead just to buy them at Peet's Coffee.)

It's not that I'm ungrateful for my opportunities and freedom to pursue creative goals. It's just the opposite — I'm scared that I'm squandering this opportunity. I set specific specific goals, benchmarks for myself. Like the minutes passing in the TRT100, these have mainly served to reveal that I'm falling short. I admit I fear the looming DNF.

My dad and I were driving home from Zion on Friday evening when Beat called me with fantastic news. He had finished Le Defi de l'Oisans — The Challenge of the Oisans — a 180-kilometer mountain run in the French Alps. For 59 hours he battled steep and exposed trails across the loose shale and mud-slicked slopes, often in heavy rain. Mile for mile, Beat said it was the toughest race he had ever encountered — much more rugged and steep than the Hardrock 100 and even the Tor des Geants, and more daunting and dangerous than the Susitna 100 and White Mountains 100. His biggest challenge wasn't fatigue or foot pain or effort. It was fear — fear of falling — and several times it was all he could do not to retreat from the slippery shale that offered no margin for error. Needless to say I had been worried about him, and I was very relieved and proud that he finished. But Beat — who has already completed five 100-plus-mile races this year amid injuries, lots of bike riding and surprisingly little non-race running — has a unique way of making things like this seem like no big deal. And I know now, really understand, that traveling 100 miles on foot in one solid effort is significantly harder than it looks.

My dad and I didn't return from Southern Utah until midnight, having hiked for eight hours and driven for five, including nearly an hour sitting in a Utah County traffic jam. On Saturday morning I was feeling tired from the week's efforts but knew I'd only have one more opportunity to go into the mountains. I only had four or five hours to spare so I decided to put in a hard hike/downhill run on a mountain that promised to be fun — the steep and shapely Pfeifferhorn, still surrounded in snow at the end of July. I packed an ice ax, hiking poles and crampons, and set out from the trailhead at about 1 p.m. I really wanted to be back to my parents' house by five, so I just put my head down and charged. My leg muscles ached after stumbling across rocks and rushing water all day on Thursday, and my breaths were raspy after a week of hard efforts at high elevations. My lungs hurt but I just marched higher and harder, clawing up a snowfield and gaining the first ridge in what seemed like no time.

But as I looked down at the icy water in the basin below, I felt a rush of disappointment.

"Oh, that's not Lower Red Pine Lake."

Somehow, in my red-line rush, I had marched up the wrong drainage. I wasn't even fully sure where I was — either White Pine fork or Maybird Gulch, but it had been too many years since I did any regular hiking in the Wasatch Mountains to even have a good guess. I looked to my left at a towering pile of granite boulders that seemed climbable. If I was in Maybird Gulch, it might even take me to the Pfeifferhorn's summit ridge. It seemed worth a try. As I picked my way up the rocks and thorny tundra, the truth slowly revealed itself. The perfect pyramid of the Pfeifferhorn rose to the west, at least a half day's worth of craggy class-four ridge scrambling away. To the east, I recognized the American Fork Twin Peaks; to the south, the granite spires of Timpanogos; and to the north, the humbling wall of the Broads Fork Twin Peaks. I stood on a rust-colored peak in the center of it all, the unknown mountain.

I dropped down the narrow ridge and started scrambling toward the higher-looking summit when another hiker popped his head over the rocks. When we met, I sheepishly asked him where the heck we were. He opened his backpack and fished out a map. "Let's see; this is Red Baldy," he said. He looked down the ridge. "Gotta be. This is Red Baldy, that's White Baldy and that clear over there is the Pfeifferhorn. That's where we're going."

"You're going to the Pfeifferhorn from here?" I said incredulously. "Where did you start?"

"Early this morning at the Snowbird Tram," he replied.

"Snowbird, huh. How far was that?"

"We figure this is about halfway," he said. "But on the way here we hit a couple sections that were definitely Class Five. Ahead looks like there may be more of the same. So we're debating right now."

"Eek," I said sympathetically. "Well, that's way too much for me. I guess I'll have to be happy with Red Baldy today."

And as I followed the hiker and his partner across the summit ridge, I realized that the quiet vistas of the unknown mountain really were enough. Goals don't always work out as planned, but they usually work out beautifully all the same.

I drove all day Sunday through Nevada heat and California traffic with just an hour to spare to meet Beat at the airport. He shuffled through the gate with a jet-lagged blankness spread across his face, but wrapped his arms around me in a powerful embrace. "Happy Anniversary," he said. It was July 31, exactly one year since the day we met.

Sometimes I need to go to the mountains to reflect on where I've been. But even more than that, I need to come back to California, to Beat, my home, to realize where I'm going. The possibilities are still endless.
Monday, August 01, 2011

Frustration and awe: The Zion Narrows

In my early 20s, I was a connoisseur of Zion National Park. I spent many weekends making the trip from Salt Lake City down to Southwestern Utah to hike in Kolob Canyon, or the Angel's Landing Trail, or the Subway. I once joined a large group of friends on a 55-mile backpacking trip from the northern edge of Kolob Canyon to the East Rim. Afterward, I looked at a map of the park and determined that I had traveled every single established (nontechnical) trail within the boundary of the national park — with the exception of the Narrows. A decade passed and I still had yet to knock that one off the list.

Of course, the Narrows are the most iconic part of Zion National Park, where the amber ribbon of the Virgin River flows through a thin slot between sheer sandstone cliffs. A somewhat difficult-to-acquire permit, not to mention a shuttle, is required to hike from top to bottom, which is the main reason I had never attempted it. When my dad scored one of these permits for Friday, July 29, I jumped at the chance to join him, and crafted an entire hiking binge road trip around the prospect. I was very excited. Just a few days before our scheduled hike, a massive monsoon storm flooded the canyon with runoff. Flows were more than four times what is normal, and well above the maximum allowable flow before the park service closes the canyon. We watched nervously as it dropped, slowly, over the next couple of days, but was still flowing more than twice as high as normal by the time we departed on Friday morning.

Still, I did not consider higher water to be that much of a problem. So we'd have to swim some? Big deal. I admit I was feeling a bit overconfident as we took an early-morning shuttle to the top of the canyon and started strolling down the ranch double-track that leads to the Narrows. The canyon route was 16 miles long, with an overall elevation loss of about 1,400 feet. And we had all day to do it. Easy peasy.

Let me preface this by saying that I have Utah slot canyon hiking experience — several dry wash canyons in the San Rafael Swell including Little Wild Horse, Bell and Quandary, the aforementioned Subway in Zion, Buckskin Gulch and Paria River canyon, the tough and swimming-heavy Upper and Lower Black Box Canyons on the San Rafael River, and one that skirts the edge of technical canyoneering, the Black Hole through White Canyon above Lake Powell. I'm not a complete canyon novice. But it has been a decade, and in my memory these routes are all filled with smooth sandy washes or small cobbles frequently interrupted by deep pools clogged with driftwood, and semi-terrifying scrambles down sandstone walls. The Narrows has none of these features, with the exception of occasional deep pools. What The Narrows does have is swift-flowing water and rocks. Endless rocks. As Beat would say, @#$&%*! rocks.

I actually think I am becoming clumsier in my old age, but I also think the river flowing at 90 cubic feet per second (as opposed to the usual 40 cfs) made the going more technical that usual. We dropped into the canyon and started picking our way across the slippery, cantaloupe-sized boulders as we crossed the river and doubled back, again and again. Whenever we crossed a channel that was flowing higher than knee-deep, it took all my muscle strength just to brace against my wooden walking stick to keep from tipping over into the rushing water. Once, when may dad was a fair distance downstream and I was trying to pick up the pace, I actually did topple over and was flushed several feet down the river, scraping across rocks as I tried to grab my pole. As far as exercise goes, the hike was, admittedly, a little bit frustrating.

But, at the same time, the canyon was incredibly gorgeous. Whenever I took a moment to look up, I was struck with instantaneous awe, a deep-set appreciation for the skyscraper-like walls towering over this narrow alley of smooth boulders and cottonwood trees. Every time I go to the mountains, I'm filled with a sense of smallness. But here, lost in this narrow crack of the Earth cutting through the vast desert, I was nothing more than a speck. There really aren't words to describe the peaceful feeling brought about by these realizations, these moments when I acknowledge that geography has rendered my existence to almost nothing. And yet I move freely through the vast world with an immuteable sense of purpose, all the same.

We came to this waterfall, about 25 feet high, and peered over the edge. "How do we get around it?" I asked nervously. "Oh, it's not real deep," my dad replied nonchalantly. "You just jump into the middle and hope for the best." He said this with his characteristically dry humor that still fools me every time. "Eeep," I squeaked weakly, before he pointed to a narrow crack hidden by a large boulder that allowed us to climb around the waterfall. My dad is so funny.

Early in the hike, I stopped often to snap pictures and soak in the wonder-inspiring views. But when we stopped at a backpacker camp for lunch and looked at a map, we realized we had only traveled about eight miles in four hours, and the walking only stood to become slower as the canyon tightened the water became deeper and swifter. I felt we had been going fairly hard, but here we were, two fit people who thought we'd be out of the canyon well before the afternoon monsoonal storms, now looking at a potential race against darkness if anything went wrong at all. I think we were both a little shocked by this realization.

From there, we just put our heads down and charged. We took no more breaks. The waterproof camera came out of my pocket much less frequently. Our food, stashed away in ziplock bags, was inaccessible while we were on the move, so we stopped eating. I even stopped drinking, and ended up finishing with nearly two quarts of water, meaning I only consumed about a quart and a half during eight hours of hiking in the desert. It was a full-on march. My exertion level was minimal, but I was honestly going as fast as I could manage and still keep my feet on the ground while negotiating the rocks and swift water. All of the balance issues that plague me in my running came to the forefront, and I teetered and tripped as I struggled to match my dad's pace. Spraining an ankle or wrenching a knee would be a small disaster in that narrow, inaccessible canyon, so I purposely stayed on the careful side of my abilities. But I really think if I had an opportunity to hike the Narrows once a week for an entire summer, the workout would substantially improve my balance, footing and confidence, and I would become a much better trail runner.

About 12 miles into the canyon, we encountered three miles of true narrows, where high ground became nearly nonexistent and deep pools stretched from wall-to-wall. Earlier in the hike we went to great efforts to avoid swimming, scrambling up and over huge boulders and even climbing hundreds of feet above the canyon on steep, sandy slopes, just to avoid having to drop into roiling pour-overs. The swimming proved to be quite strenuous — I'm normally a strong swimmer but it's surprisingly difficult to stay afloat wearing heavy shoes, a pack, and toting a big wooden pole. Still, the time off my feet was a welcome relief, and toward the end we swam every channel we could.

Spending the day in the water also made for a completely comfortable July hike in the desert. Just a few hundred feet above the water, the ambient temperature was a scorching 104 degrees. I could feel the hot sun beating down every time we climbed away from the river. But in the river, with a water temperature of about 60 degrees, I was perfectly comfortable. Toward the end I even felt a bit chilled. Late July seems like a great time to hike the Narrows, although the monsoon season does provide a layer of anxiety. Dark clouds started to build over the canyon in the late afternoon, and at 3 p.m., it started to rain. We tried to pick up the pace and looked around nervously for flash-flood indicators. At that point, we just wanted out of there.

We remained in front of the rest of our morning shuttle group, and enjoyed a full day of solitude. So it was more than a little bit of a culture shock when, about two miles from the end of the canyon, we started to encounter hordes of people who had hiked up from the bottom. It's perfectly understandable why this is such a popular part of Zion National Park, but it was unnerving to suddenly have to weave around huge youth groups and families who were strung across the canyon, splashing around and screaming like they were at a neighborhood water park. By the last mile, we were fighting just to squeeze through crowds of literally hundreds of people. It's just not an ideal way to end an experience like the Zion Narrows. I would do this hike again in a heartbeat, but I think I would be more inclined to consider a trip during the off-season, such as February or March, wearing a dry suit and seeking the solitude and reverence that this canyon experience truly deserves.

Still, it was a fantastic day in one of the most beautiful spaces I have ever occupied. Thanks, dad.