Saturday, December 21, 2013

2013 in photos

It's become a tradition each December to post my favorite photos from the past year, one for each month, with a top favorite photo of the year. Favorite photos often become so because they capture a particularly memorable moment or event during the month, which is why I consider myself more of a "photo documentarian" than a "photographer." My favorite photos always evoke strong emotions, and this one is, from a personal standpoint, one of the most powerful snapshots I've ever taken. I look at it and feel a flood of emotions, questions, longing, and uncertainty, every time. It's a photo of Mont Blanc at sunrise, on the fourth and final morning I spent in the Petite Trotte a Leon, with my race teammates Giorgio (wearing the silly cape) and Ana descending a pass shortly after crossing into Italy. I was so blissed out in this moment; it's one of the few times during that experience that I was able to step outside of my fear and malaise and be purely happy. I'm still trying to parse out what that whole experience meant, but every time I look at this photo, I get a little closer to understanding.

January: Yosemite Falls

During January, we took a couple of trips to Yosemite National Park so Beat and Steve could get some overnight training for the Iditarod. We opted to camp on top of the 8,000-foot Sentinel Dome to ensure as much cold and wind exposure as possible. Those were actually some long nights, but the upside was waking up at dawn to watch the light show that happens when light from the rising sun hits the freezing mist of Yosemite Falls — a spectacular, dynamic rainbow.

February: The Great One 

My awesome Alaskan pilot friend Dan Bailey took me on another flyover of the first 90 miles of the Iditarod Trail on the second day of the Iditarod Trail Invitational. This photo is two cyclists pedaling up the Yentna River with Denali and the Alaska Range looming on the horizon. It was a beautiful, clear day, and we were able to spot Beat and other friends several times on the river, and even landed at Skwentna Roadhouse to chat with a friend who was leading the foot race, Dave Johnston, and a few cyclists. The thing I'm going to miss the most about actually racing the ITI this year: My flyover with Dan.

 March: The Invisible Highway

Three friends and I embarked on an amazing and grueling three-day bike tour of the Denali Highway in early March. I chose this picture of the road sign Maclaren Summit at dawn on the third day because I relish in the idea that we were four women riding a "highway" that in actuality was a barely-there handful of snowmachine tracks at 10 below with the whole sweeping wilderness of the Alaska Range all around us. Wow, I loved that trip. I really loved everything about my month in Alaska. I was so happy there.

April: Back to California

And then, in April, we returned to California. I acknowledge I have a fortunate existence and there are many things I love about my life here, but I have to be honest. I was bummed out for a while. I did not make the transition well, and felt run-down and burnt out, even though Beat — who actually walked a thousand miles across Alaska — had no issues rolling back into the routine. The week after we returned, my friend Leah and I planned a weekend trip to the Santa Lucia Mountains. Temperatures were in the 80s, the roads and trails were dusty, the riding was tough, and Leah and I were hungry and thirsty ... and it was everything I needed. Great trip, and a reminder of why California is pretty amazing, too.

May: Beat's Birthday Run

Ah, the Bryce 100. A bout of what I can only assume was altitude sickness caught up to me at mile ten, and I was pretty miserable without relief for the next ninety miles of slog. As a result, the photos I took during the race were rather uninspired, but it wasn't for lack of trying on the landscape's part. For a hundred-mile ultramarathon, the Bryce 100 has to be one of the most inspired routes in the United States, except for of course those grueling final twenty miles on jeep road (which I heard have been removed for next year's race.) This photo brings back all of the magic — feeling like death in a beautiful place.

June: Tangled

The Laurel Highlands 70-miler. Not my worst idea of the summer ... not quite. But Beat was headed out to Pennsylvania on business and the timing coincided with a race that a friend of ours directs, and that I ran last year and loved. The bad part about the timing was that it was one week after the Bryce 100, which gutted my health. I wasn't nearly recovered by the time we had to get on a plane, fly to the East Coast, and wake up at what amounted to 12:30 a.m. Pacific Time to run a tough, rocky, hilly, rocky, 70-mile trail run. I thought it would be good training for the PTL — relentless forward motion when I wasn't feeling well. I suppose it was realistic training, but I lost enough time to squatting in the woods that I missed a cut-off at mile 46. I like this photo because it depicts the a bit of the misty, ethereal feel that the forest began to take on once I really became depleted. The Laurel Highlands were the leaping point into a summer of injury and disappointment.

July: Bench With a View

Okay, okay, summer was pretty awesome. I certainly can't complain. But a knee injury incurred during a fall in mid-June lingered for weeks and led to much angst and frustration, not to mention limited training at a time when I felt I really needed to be putting in the miles ahead of PTL. At the end of July, Beat and I traveled to Switzerland to celebrate his brother's wedding anniversary. Since we were en route to Iceland, Beat opted to spend the layover week working at the Google office in Zurich, and I had some free time to go exploring. My knee was just starting to come around, so I packed my hiking gear and hopped on a train headed toward the Alps, picking a destination at random. I arrived at a beautiful town on a cerulean lake, Lungern, and started hiking up a mountain right from the train station. After 4,500 vertical feet I arrived at the crest of a ridge to find a rugged jeep road, this bench, and a well-dressed older couple quietly enjoying a sweeping view of the Bernese Alps, which I was seeing for the first time because the clouds had just then started to clear.

August: Iceland

I loved Iceland. It is truly a unique place — a volcanic outcropping on the cusp of the Arctic Circle, stark and colorful, with a culture that is at once modern and lost in time. I loved the moonscapes and the lush valleys, the mineral-rich mountains and the black sand coast. And although I joke about my year of bad races, Racing the Planet Iceleand was one that went quite well for me — almost flawlessly, all things considered. Before this 250-kilometer stage race started, I joked that I hadn't run since May, because I was so sick at Bryce and Laurel Highlands, and then became injured shortly after that. But hoisting a thirty-pound pack and trekking over rough terrain is my kind of thing; I took it conservatively and finished each day feeling strong, relishing in every mile of scenery. The weather was overall horrible, but that was expected; ultimately the 50-mph winds and frigid rain added to the memorability of the experience. Someday, hopefully soon, I will return to Iceland, in the winter, with Snoots in tow.

September: Down the Col, Down the Col

Beat has now raced the Tor des Geants in Italy, with its 80,000 feet of climbing over 200 miles, four times. The route climbs 25 passes — or "cols" — and it's become an expression of ours, when faced with a difficult task, to whimper in a defeated tone, "Up the Col, Up the Col." Beat started this year's race one week after he finished PTL, and I helped crew for him and hauled my own ragged body up and down several of the cols, because regardless of how tired you are, that's really what you should do when you're in the Italian Alps. This is a photo of Beat descending the highest pass on the route, Col Loson, which is where he really started to hit his stride and become stronger after a predictably rough start. I was so amazed at his resilience when I was still reeling through the emotional turmoil of my own experience at PTL — coming down, as they say.

October: Foiled Again

I had a lot of photos from October that I liked, and it was difficult to pick one. I settled on this photo of my dad descending Mount Timpanogos shortly after unpredictable snow and ice conditions turned us around before the saddle. This was the second year in a row that Dad and I attempted a late-season ascent of what can be the most benign of hikes during the summer, but seems to become a real mountaineering challenge when you throw a little snow in the mix — well, enough snow to bury the summer trail. This photo has a formidable look to it that matches my own impression of Mount Timpanogos.

November: A Beautiful Sort of Monotony 

After four years, I think I've finally ridden enough laps around Frog Town. As years go by, I've found myself feeling less and less interested in racing for the sake of racing — such as using turtle strategy to knock out a respectable finish at a 25-hour mountain bike race. Those competitive spirit days are probably gone now if they were ever really there, but in Utah this November I realized that all-day-all-night lap racing no longer has the same fun appeal that it once did. Even though my heart wasn't really in it, the 25 Hours of Frog Hollow was a fun and beautiful diversion, and a chance to visit with friends who I haven't seen in a long while. Crashing out after ten laps wasn't the way I intended to finish, of course, but it's probably a fitting way for someone like me to exit mountain bike racing (at least of the non-winter and non-multiday-bikepacking variety), maybe forever.

December: Golden Hour

I'm pulling out a December photo early this year because Beat and I are headed to Alaska for the holidays, and I'm not sure how much time I'll have for blogging between now and January 1. This is a photo of Marshall Beach near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, were I went for a quick training run. One of the best aspects of setting big, possibly unattainable goals is that they force me out of complacency and provide a defensible reason to go out and have little adventures, whenever I can. With only about an hour and a half to burn before a meeting in the city, I set out on an unknown beach, crawling over rocks, skirting foamy waves, discovering hidden coves and scaling old military structures, all in the name of "training." I admit that I'm an adult who simply wants to go out and play, because that's how I view life — a passage of an infinitesimally small allotment of time on a swiftly changing planet, meaningful only as far as you believe it to be. I find moving through the world to be endlessly purposeful, even as I struggle to define that meaning in the absence of tangible products. I spent hours of 2013 taking photos, and probably days of time writing in this blog, if only to make a record. But the meaning is still out there, written in simple footprints in the sand for a moment before the ocean sweeps them away.

Photo posts from years past:
2010 part one, part two


  1. Wonderful views - and when I think of the experiences that accompany each shot, it's really a wealth of riches. I feel for you, for the difficulties and pain that is sometimes represented. But WOW you have had some fantastic adventures!

    Overall, your tone is one of thankfulness. And I'm thankful right along with you - especially since you take us, your readers - along for the ride, so to speak.

    If I had to pick a favorite, it would have to be the Swiss Alps. I guess I'm a bit prejudice, since I have the pleasure and good fortune of living in Switzerland. :-)

  2. I always enjoy these posts. Happy New Year, have a wonderful time in Alaska!

  3. Wow, what a year. I could be satisfied with half those adventures within a twelve month period. Simply beautiful. Thanks.

  4. Thank you for the wonderful stories and photo's. I am always amazed how much you both put your bodies through to complete your runs/ rides. I'll look forward to reading more of your adventures in 2014. Merry Christmas.

  5. Thank you for another year of sharing your adventures. This is a wonderful summation of all your activities. My favourite pic is December. Best wishes for a special Christmas season and an injury free 2014.

  6. Awesome photography! I know it was hard to pick one per month because you had so many to choose from. Of all the "Best of" lists that are out there, your annual year in photos are the best of.

  7. Awesome photos, Jill! So what kind of camera are you using nowadays? I was disappointed with mine this year so I'm in the market for a new point & shoot to take on my adventures.

  8. As always a sterling recap of the year.

    Looking forward to your 2014 challenges and the honest emotions running along side them.

  9. Great photos from a great year! Thank you for your blog...I read it faithfully! From Alaska...

  10. On a separate note a very Happy New Year to you, yours, snd your readers.

    Ride (and run, hike, etc) Long And Prosper

  11. Great pics! As a long time reader but never commenting I finally have a question. Do u ever think of old age and your lack of family to share your talent and skill set with? Passing on to the next generation all jill? I'm an older fan and I find such joy in my children and grand children and seeing them grow from my experience in life.


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