Wednesday, November 28, 2012

I've missed these mountain benders

Even after I nearly crumpled while inching out of bed on Sunday morning, it was difficult to accept how wrecked I felt. Despite appearances otherwise, it's actually rare that I so completely thrash my body. As an athlete, I'm conservative to a fault. I'm always holding back on the throttle for fear I'll burn out my engine, saving gas for the next mile while never quite knowing how hard I can go. That's one of the things I love about a mountain bender, when the sheer difficulty of the terrain forces me to engage those uncomfortable high gears. Timpanogos ran my quads through a cheese grater, tenderized my calves and crushed my glutes between a vice. The result was that oh-so-sore, oh-so-smug satisfaction that I gave that mountain my best effort. 

My dad, with the exception of his minor knee injury, seemed to be in a lot better shape than me on Sunday. He read my last blog post and mentioned something about "whining" so I wanted to add a postscript in case there was any confusion — my dad does not whine. He'll be sixty in January and he's strong, possibly as strong as he's ever been. He's also smart and knows when to say when, but he's open-minded and willing to try new adventure possibilities. Beat also had a spring in his step Sunday morning. I think I was the only one who was roughed up by the effort alone, proving that I do in fact need to work smarter with my training. 

Still, Sunday was our last day in Salt Lake, and we didn't want to waste it. Beat and I set our sights on Red Pine Lake, a relatively "mellow" climb up a gulch above Little Cottonwood Canyon. Yes, only eight miles with 3,000 feet of climbing in snowshoes. Easy peasy. A weak cold front moved in, and it was a bit of a blah day — gray, colder, with flurries in the mountains and a hazy inversion starting to spread over the valley. As we started up the trail, I struggled to keep up with Beat. My quads were throbbing, and I could no longer reach my high gears. Still, any day in the mountains is not a bad day. I would probably go into the mountains every day if I could. At least until my body gave out, which, at this rate, would only take a couple of weeks.

Lower Red Pine Lake. The wind picked up as we ascended out of the forest, and I had to put on my coat. The ambient temperature was a few degrees below freezing; the windchill was likely in the teens, and Beat was still in his short sleeves and no hat. I'm a bit of a cold wimp (it's true) but that shows how much heat we were generating during the climb. Hard work.

Upper Red Pine Lake. We walked along the edge, taking great care not to step into the hollow crevices between car-sized boulders. At the far edge of the lake, we watched two skiers and a snowboarder make their way down the ridge. Their position looked precarious. There were exposed rocks everywhere, and they would make one or two tiny turns before stopping for a long while, scooting laterally, then making two more tiny turns.

I can't say I envied them. A friend of mine asked why, since we obviously enjoy playing in the snow, didn't we just go skiing while we were in Utah? My quick answer is that I don't know how to ski, but that's not entirely true. Once upon a time I was a decent snowboarder, and I'd be more than willing to carry a board up a mountain. But as I've grown older, I've reached a level of acceptance about who I am and what I truly love, and gravity sports haven't fallen into that scheme. Descending a mountain is the price of going up, which is the part I enjoy, whether I'm running, hiking, snowshoeing, or yes, even mountain biking to some extent. Another benefit of growing older is that I no longer care if this makes me strange.

Sure, I can still have a good time on a snowboard, but I'd prefer to keep it to open, powdery, purely "fun" terrain. I understand that skis are more efficient than snowshoes, but I'd honestly rather be bogged down by gravity than constantly fighting against it. Fill me up with adrenaline, and I'm an anxious mess. But give me a good, endorphine-soaked slog, and I'm happy. In that regard, our weekend Wasatch mountain-bender was wonderful.