Monday, May 30, 2016

Blame it on the Tetons

 Beat and I are often accused of failing to take "real" vacations. Every time we leave home, they say, it seems to be for some kind of difficult endeavor, steeped in suffering. Of course this isn't true, but any such argument requires dredging up philosophical musings about the subjective nature of enjoyment, and reasons why one woman's day at the beach is another woman's slow-roasting torture of sunburn and boredom.

Memorial Day brought an opportunity for a classically enjoyable vacation in the form of a Google employee retreat in Teton Village, Wyoming. There would be relaxing in a spacious suite, big breakfasts, nice dinners, a wine tasting, a rodeo, and access to any number of luxuries that come with a resort destination. Attendees were encouraged to enjoy scenic floats on the Snake River or bus tours to Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks, but warned that late May is still the pre-season and outdoor opportunities would be limited.

On Wednesday Beat and I drove from Boulder to Jackson, and the scenery and wildlife viewing was great right along the highway (Over the course of the weekend we saw elk, deer, bison, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, osprey, and a grizzly bear, all from the comfort of the car.) We enjoyed a few nice meals with Beat's colleagues. Somewhere in there I developed a crushing headache, which I can't even blame on the altitude as Teton Village is a thousand feet lower than our home in Boulder, but I'll go ahead and blame the altitude anyway.

I was feeling quite lousy, and sulked through Thursday's long breakfast followed by an afternoon wine tasting, where I drank bottles of water and struggled to hold down a light lunch of barley soup and salad. (If you're wondering how there's a winery in Jackson Hole — because I certainly was — it works because they grow their grapes in Sonoma County, California, and truck them into Wyoming for fermentation. Reportedly the high altitude and cool summers aid in this process.) Anyway, by mid-afternoon I was all relaxed out, so I angled for some fresh air and a short hike before dinner. Nothing too difficult — we could just walk up the ski hill, look out over the valley, and jog down.

 Our friend Liehann, who is racing the Freedom Challenge again in two weeks and has been exclusively bike training for the past six months, made the arguably poor choice to join us. Up we marched in a biting wind and intermittent sleet squalls. I wasn't anticipating an epic and was wearing a T-shirt and hiking pants, with only a 2-ounce Mountain Hardwear shell, a knit hat, and a fleece buff as extra layers. When I started to feel chilled, I put on the hat and buff but opted to leave my arms bare, relishing the sensation as the feeling left my extremities. See, ever since I developed carpal tunnel syndrome in late February, I've lived with a low-level pain in my hand that can partially be described as a mild case of the screaming barfies. Now that three months have passed, I've grown more accustomed to living with this constant tingling, but I do notice when it goes away. It feels wonderful. And the only thing that makes the pain go away is reduced circulation or actual numbness in my hand.

As we continued gaining elevation and the wind grew more fierce, I debated where to draw the line between my enjoyment of pain-free fingers and the increasing discomfort of the cold. It was about then that I took a sip from my Camelbak and drew a mouthful of slush — meaning the ambient temperature was below freezing.

"Windchill has got to be near single digits," I thought, and decided it was time to put on my jacket. The paper-thin material whipped wildly in the wind, and the fingers on my good hand were too stiff to open it up. Basically I'd become too chilled to put on my own coat, which was not a great coat to begin with. It's quite a dumb thing to do, and of course I knew this. At the same time, I knew enough to understand my body was uncomfortable but not dangerously cold, and that warming up would be quick the moment I turned around and sprinted down to sheltered elevations. So I stuffed the jacket in a pants pocket and continued marching up the hill in a T-shirt.

 It was all quite exhilarating, fighting those primal fears that spark at the edges of survivability. I wasn't yet shivering and actually my body was doing a great job of circulating warm blood through my core and legs — only my arms were icy cold. The frigid wind roared and sleet squalls hung like curtains from surrounding clouds, but overhead there was a patch of almost-sunlight, and I relished it all.

At Rendezvous Mountain, Beat and Liehann had ducked behind a closed tram station. Beat helped me put on my jacket, which was definitely better than a T-shirt but not great, and then we all pressed into the brunt of the wind for one more view of the snow-capped skyline beyond the summit. Running downhill, I managed to warm up quickly. After a half mile Beat graciously leant me his mittens to expedite the real screaming barfies feeling in my fingers (which is a lot worse than what I feel all the time. Lesson learned.)

We returned from what turned out to be a 14-mile, 4,200-feet-of-climbing outing just in time for dinner. My headache had finally abated, so I used up all of my bar tickets on glass after glass of Diet Pepsi.

 On Friday we cast a hopeful eye on a canyon loop in Grand Teton National Park, but we weren't well-equipped for spring conditions. (I did have a better jacket, which I carried on every other outing this weekend.) After parking on the wrong side of Jenny Lake, we'd already hiked nearly eight miles by the time we arrived at the mouth of Paintbrush Canyon. Slush line started at 7,500 feet, and by 8,000 feet we were post-holing to our knees. Over scree fields this kind of post-holing can be dangerous, because you don't know where your foot will land. It could be a deep crevice between two rocks, which could easily end in a sprained or broken ankle.

 The weather was volatile as well. It went from raining to sleeting to blue-sky sunshine in the span of about thirty minutes.

 We found a nice basin to have some lunch and called it good.

 Heading back down to String Lake, where we hitched a ride with Liehann and Trang. We could have trekked all the way back around Jenny Lake, but we were committed to our lazy resort weekend. This hike ended at 13.2 miles. Later that evening went out on the town with a large group of Googlers. There may or may not have been overconsumption of a massive funnel cake and the purchase of a fur-lined jock strap. (Beat was not the one who made this purchase, and wanted me to clarify this, although he did go on about how well a fur jock strap would work in Alaska.)

 Saturday morning, we weren't willing to brave the crowds in the national park, so we traveled to the other side of the valley to scope out a route to Jackson Peak. The best views came on the road walk to the trailhead, where clear skies revealed the entire Tetons skyline.

 Snowline consumed the trail at 8,500 feet and then it was a slog. We should have brought snowshoes to Wyoming. Wide backcountry skis would have been the way to go of course, but even snowshoes would have greatly improved our chances of getting to the places we wanted to see.

 Beat inadvertently volunteered to be the trail-breaker, and carefully tested every step. At this point were were all frequently collapsing into hip-deep crevasses.

We decided to turn around when we found ourselves on rotten snow atop table-sized boulders, where falling through might end in a head injury. This was also a nice lunch stop — Goodwin Lake.

 Beat's colleague Ben in one of the many leg-swallowing holes.

 Ben penguin-ing downhill. This helps solve the postholing issue, but it also results in a face full of snow.

All in all, it was a pleasant holiday weekend with lots of relaxation and hardly any exercise. I don't know why people assume we don't like to have fun.
Monday, May 23, 2016

Broken, not broken

Beat with our Iditarod-inspired tripod. He collected the markers from downed trees off the trail in March.
This week I've been less enthused about my runs, dragging around a sore leg and the knowledge that my hand is not going to get better on its own. Last Wednesday, a doctor performed a nerve conduction study and concluded I have "very severe" carpal tunnel syndrome. The numbers point to grade five, which is as advanced as this injury becomes before the nerve stops firing altogether, and the damage can be permanent. There's already muscle atrophy. My distal motor latency has actually deteriorated since I had a similar test done in March, even though I gave up the activity that prompted my symptoms (cycling), wore a wrist brace, performed PT exercises, and took anti-inflammatories. At this point, the cause is impossible to determine — my case is definitely not typical, and there's no way to say whether it's overuse from the race to Nome, acute injury from a crash, genetics, a combination, or something else entirely. All I know is it's bad, and getting worse. Both the doctor who conducted the test and the surgeon I originally consulted were adamant that I not mess around with this.

The results must have been concerning enough to fast-track through an overbooked schedule, because the surgeon offered an appointment next week. The next available dates weren't until July. I booked it, because the odds of full recovery after transverse carpal ligament release are high. Without surgery, the odds that I'd have to manage this for the rest of my life also are high. That's nerve injury. I learned a similar lesson in 2009 — "Frostbite is forever."

I did not expect busy Boulder doctors to expedite this process, so I'd already registered for what I hoped would be my first trail race in Colorado, the Golden Gate Dirty 30. The race is June 4, so clearly I won't be able to participate. Disappointment about this is among the many emotions the prospect of surgery has ignited.

Of course there's anticipation. (No more invisible spiders crawling all over my fingers, no more electric shock pain!)

And there's fear. (Unless you count wisdom teeth extraction when I was 15, I've never had surgery. I might die. That possibility is noted in the manual.)

There's disbelief. (Given my risky and high-impact sporting activities, I would have never guessed my first surgery would target a stereotypical typing injury.)

And hope. (I might be able to hand-write like an adult, draw, eat with a fork and knife, and ride bikes again by July!)

 I was bummed out after Wednesday's nerve conduction test. Beyond the bad numbers, the phrase "it's getting worse" is especially discouraging after you've spent two months avoiding something you loved because you believed abstinence would make your injury better. Adding to this helpless feeling was the full limp I was sporting after slipping in mud and bashing my leg on rocks during a run on Tuesday. A bruise the size and shape of a softball ballooned out from my shin, and hurt quite a bit. But it was "just a bruise," and I was feeling defiant about this pathetic array of limb injuries, so I took a couple of lunchtime hours to march up Fern Canyon.

Fern Canyon has become a personal nemesis, because it is perhaps the meanest of the mean (standard hiking) routes in the Flatirons. I maintain concerns that I will always be a flailing, stumbling, inadequate mountain runner/hiker. This is particularly sad if I continue as a non-cyclist, and my only running options are mountains. I love mountains. But they do not love me. At least, I believe they might be conspiring with gravity to knock me around a bit. I was thinking about this the other day as I crept down Gregory Canyon — no matter how much I practice this, I may not improve because the issue isn't limited skills or strength, it's balance perception. If I descend Gregory Canyon enough, eventually I'll have a stronger core and ankles, but I'll likely still feel the pull of vertigo with every step. How much training does it take to realign proprioception?

But yes, Fern Canyon. My leg hurt, but I tagged Bear Peak, and this weirdly made me feel a lot better.

 The rest of the week involved some running around with a painful bruised leg, because I was in training for the Dirty 30 and wanted to make sure my proprioception was dialed. Beat guided me on a tour of a couple of the semi-secret routes on Green Mountain, which were steep and fun but shattered any confidence I may have tenuously gained.

At least my writing projects are going well this week. I am really enjoying working on my Iditarod book, although a few hours of submersing myself in it often leaves me more exhausted than a long run. I'm also negotiating a contract to have "Be Brave, Be Strong" produced as an audio book. No, I won't be the narrator — therefore, it might actually be okay. The adventure genre is a challenging market for books, because a fair percentage of the audience are not regular readers. Audio books are great for busy folks who perhaps want a diversion while they're commuting or out for a long run. I've resisted offers to work on audio books in the past, because — full disclosure — I don't enjoy and don't listen to audio books (for me, something is lost when I'm being talked at, rather than reading. Perhaps I'm too attached to having full control of my reading experience. Or have too short an attention span.) But this is a good opportunity. I'm excited!

After my consultation with the surgeon on Monday, I was again bummed out, because there was admittedly a sliver of hope that she would look at my results and say "hey, I think a cortisone shot could fix this." (A cortisone shot probably wouldn't even mitigate the pain of grade 5 CTS.) It was again lunchtime, so I again went to the Cragmoor trailhead for another go at Fern Canyon. My leg was finally feeling less sore after I took a day off Sunday and the swelling had gone down, so I marched happily up to Bear Peak through intermittent rainstorms. My goal was to do the descent a bit better, so I furrowed my brow in concentration and employed my trekking pole for a little more stability as I hopped down rock steps. Near the bottom of Fern Canyon, when the 1,900 feet-in-0.8-mile-descent veers onto a nicely runnable doubletrack, I stepped up on a boulder and clumsily bashed my sore shin on the rock.

!!!! There were loud swear words.

I may have lost my temper and stabbed my trekking pole violently into the rock, multiple times, with enough force to make deep gouges in the surface. It's amazing the pole didn't snap. +1 Black Diamond carbon Z-Pole.

The bruise is swollen again, and larger than before.

Well. Clearly it's my turn to feel broken right now. I'll find another way around it.
Tuesday, May 17, 2016

More fog (actual fog)

 When Beat and I were preparing to move away from California, several of our friends there expressed disbelief that we'd deign to leave the perfect weather of the Bay Area.

"Colorado has 300 days of sun!" Beat would exclaim.

"I get pretty tired of perfect weather," I'd say truthfully, omitting the detail that I've lived through the other extreme and I didn't always tolerate that well, either.

Now I'm experiencing spring in the Colorado Rockies, and so far I've seen a delightful pendulum of snowing - 80 degrees - raining - 80 degrees - fog - snain.

 For the past four days, it's been fog. At 7,000 feet, the haze is thick. This seems to make me more productive, probably because I spend less time staring out the window. Over the weekend Beat and I completed the organization of our gear room, of which I'm quite proud. Beat even built sturdy wooden racks for our bikes and trekking poles. We still spend our time sitting on camp chairs and eating off a camp table next to the wood stove — but we have a gear room! It feels like growing up.

Beat volunteered at a 50-mile trail race, Quadrock, on Saturday. His duties required waking up at 1:30 a.m., so I lazily declined to join. Instead I set out to explore the two major canyons of the Flatirons that I hadn't yet seen, Eldorado and Shadow canyons. The fog was a veritable cream-based soup that descended all the way to the valley floor, so I didn't take many photos. In fact it was a beautiful route, even shrouded in gray. But this didn't stop me from indulging in a pout session during the climb up Shadow Canyon, because I was moving at snail's pace and still having difficulty breathing, and why do all of the trails here have to be rock staircases that gain 1,800 feet per mile?

I think my acclimation is improving. The sleepy/headachy phase is over, and I do feel more clear-headed during the day. I know full acclimation can take months, but I do become frustrated over the fact I'm nearly always out of breath whenever I'm exercising. My legs are basically bored, but my lung capacity is stretched so thin that I'm sucking wind probably 80 percent of the time. This fuels my lung angst — an idea that my lungs were permanently scarred in 2015, and my oxygen-processing capabilities will always be less than they once were (and they were never great to begin with.) This (hopefully unfounded) fear is compounded by the fact that I am no longer taking maintenance asthma medication, so I'm always nervous that an attack is around the corner. So far I've been managing well without the inhaler, but the angst remains.

The problem, I believe, may stem from pushing myself too hard, especially when I don't think what I'm doing should be so hard. What I need to do is accept the fact that here, for now at least, my runs are going to closely resemble hikes, and that's okay. For me, running has always been about finding the most efficient way to travel long distances across variable terrain on foot, rather than push the pace as hard as I possibly can. Sometimes pushing as hard as I possibly can is a 45-minute mile, and that's okay too.

 Anyway, I was still grumpy about my bored legs and frazzled lungs when I tagged South Boulder Peak and sat down in the fog for a snack. Just as soon as I settled onto a rock, an incredibly strong gust of wind tore across the ridge. The sonic blast nearly knocked me off my perch, and I was sitting down. After the gust moved past, I turned to see a sudden break in the fog, revealing the crest of the Continental Divide, and nothing else.

 Looking east, I could see the thick inversion below. Within two minutes, another massive gust ripped past, and everything was shrouded again. This was the only clear view I received over the course of a 4.5-hour, 12.5-mile "run." It was worth it.

 The fog stuck close to home all weekend, as did these deer, reminding me that if I ever get around to planting a vegetable garden, it's going to be an all-out war. I embarked on shorter runs in a mixed bag of rain drizzle, snain, and what I'm pretty sure were ice pellets. My lungs seemed more amenable to working harder and my hand hurts less when it's cold, so this is basically my perfect weather for running.

 On Tuesday morning, we woke up to a dusting of snow. Ah, so pretty.

 What? It's May 17?

 And it's 90 degrees in Los Altos? Yeah, I don't miss it.

During my Tuesday morning run, wearing a pair of Hokas with 500 hard miles and the tread rubbed smooth, I slipped on a particularly slimy patch of mud, skied a good five feet before I finally got my left foot down, promptly rolled the ankle and tumbled into some rocks. Now my right shin has ballooned up nicely. It hurts to put weight on it. It was just a bruise, so I finished up the run, although I'm not sure why. I really hope I can start biking again soon — it's considerably less hazardous for me. I will hopefully know more after my nerve test tomorrow.
Thursday, May 12, 2016

Out of the fog

A near-home view of Denver, the city where I was born
I think I've finally emerged from the strange fog I slipped into over the weekend — the fog of becoming dizzy whenever I stood up, feeling fuzzy-headed and tired, and falling asleep unintentionally during the day. In hindsight, a cold virus may have contributed to this condition, but I blamed altitude and the possibility that I pushed my body just a little too hard during our first week in Colorado. I'm not as strong here as I was in California. I may actually acclimate to the elevation before I finally accept that reality.

I was annoyed about dozing off on the floor while working on projects, so I decided to go for a run on Monday evening. Usually when I'm feeling low on power, an outdoor excursion boosts my spirits and my energy levels. Beat was running home from work, so I planned to meet him on the saddle of Green Mountain, about 3.5 miles away. Just getting there proved to be more than I manage — my legs were weak, I became dizzy, and had to sit down on the trail twice to clear my head, even though I was hiking at a relatively low-exertion pace. It was going to be a long hike back, so Beat agreed to run ahead and meet me at the trail junction with the car. While continuing to attempt a jogging pace, I must have looked fairly pathetic, because a fast-moving runner stopped and asked me if I needed company. No, I replied, my boyfriend was coming to rescue me. It was a most horrible run — the kind where you wonder if you're permanently broken.

Tuesday was my appointment with the hand specialist, who basically performed the same examinations that my doctor friends conducted in Nome, then referred me to a physical therapist for a nerve conduction test — just like the one I had in Nome seven weeks ago — one week from now. Any further appointments will likely sprawl out for weeks or even months.

Effectively, I'm in the same position I was in mid-March. I haven't made that many gains in the healing process since then. I do have better dexterity and strength in my hand, but a lot of that is just becoming more adept at working around my limitations — using my ring and pinkie fingers to carry the bulk of the workload, and strongly favoring my left hand, which has led to muscle atrophy in the right. I can't put pressure on my hand without pain, and every so often it sends out sharp electric shocks that cause me to fumble dishes or drop my camera.

To be honest, I'm really frustrated with this injury right now. I acknowledge that it's minor in the scheme of things, but the near-constant low-level pain, its impact on nearly everything I do, and the fact I can't ride bikes, are all beginning to grate on my mood. Beat and I had dinner with Joe Grant Thursday night, and he joined the chorus of long-distance bikepackers who assured me that nerve damage is normal, and one day, suddenly, it's going to feel a lot better. It may take months, but it will happen. Don't get surgery, he urged. I remain a skeptic. To be honest, if I could find a doctor willing to cut into my wrist tomorrow, I'd probably sign on. I also considered deciding that since this injury is never going to heal on it's own, I'm just going to ignore it so I can ride bikes again. But I doubt I could ignore it. I'm too much of a sissy when it comes to pain.

Beat running at Walker Ranch. Can you find him?
I realize this is a whiny blog post. Sometimes it feels good to get these things out, because it's easy to feel guilty about feeling bad when everything is otherwise fantastic. Beat and I love it here in Boulder so far. We are settling into new routines and relishing the novelty of gazing at stars from our bedroom window and having deer, red fox, and elk for neighbors. There are so many beautiful trails right out the door that I could be a full-time runner here and never miss biking, except for I do.

Today the head fog seemed sufficiently lifted so I ventured out, relishing the warm sun even though my skin was coated in a thick paste of sunscreen — because that's another thing it's going to take to survive at 7,000 feet. But somehow, the miles came effortlessly today. For the first time in Colorado, I didn't feel like there were lead weights strapped to my ankles or a sling tied around my neck. For the first time in Colorado, I almost felt like a runner. Of course, after looping around the trail, I failed the find the turnoff to my own street, and had to take the long way around. All the better.
Saturday, May 07, 2016

Altitude crash

Just when I'd started to believe I might slip through this acclimatization period without detection, the altitude monster got its jaws around me. This happened near the summit of Bear Peak on Wednesday evening, halfway through the crux of the climb. The crux segment gains 620 feet in 0.3 miles, and I decided to go at this wall as hard as I possibly could, because damn it, if I can't ride bikes this summer, then I'm going to train myself into real mountain running shape once and for all. (I'm still hopeful I'll be able to ride bikes sooner than later. I'm going to see a hand specialist on Tuesday, and I'm expecting the doctor to recommend carpal tunnel surgery. This could require six to eight weeks of recovery, which would mean canceling hopeful plans to go bike touring with my friend Leah before her wedding in Oregon in June, which brings me sadness because CTS is such a stupid injury, but it's so persistent that I can't yet hold two trekking poles without pain, and single-poling makes me an even worse mountain "runner," so I vowed to improve on something I can at least partially control.)

So there I was, "running" up a slush-covered boulder staircase with the peak in sight, when I suddenly became very dizzy and nauseated. I don't often push myself through intense efforts, so I brushed off this episode and finished up the run more slowly, but I continued to feel out of sorts for the rest of the evening.

It was easy to blame unpacking, which in itself is a surprisingly strenuous effort, especially when it involves balancing weighty boxes up and down stairs with one bad hand. Beat and I were up late on Wednesday exploding stuff all over the house, and I decided I should lay off the mountain running on Thursday. But that was before Beat burst into the house just after 9 a.m., about two hours after he left for his run commute to work. He dropped his phone somewhere on the trail, and ran all the way home while looking for it. It remained missing, but he needed to get to work, so would I mind heading out to continue the search?

Thursday was a gorgeous morning, warm and bright, so of course I didn't mind an excuse to skip out on unpleasant chores and frolic in the mountains. Beat used the phone's GPS locator to figure out where it fell — just a few hundred yards from the point where he realized it was missing and turned around, which was nearly in town along the popular Mesa Trail. I thought I should hustle as best as I could manage since someone was likely to pick it up before I got there, so I threw on my pack and hurried out the door. Luckily, the person who did find it first was a good Samaritan and dropped it off at the ranger station, making for an easy retrieval (it also meant that Beat could have picked it up. But, you know — any excuse to climb a mountain!)

Since it snowed on Sunday, I didn't bank on the 80 degrees it was going to be by the time I circled back to climb Green, nor did I anticipate just how long the round-trip run was going to take (3.5 hours, because my downhill technical/rock running also remains poor so I move slowly and carefully.) Somewhere along the crux of the mountain — which is really all crux because it gains 2,400 feet in 1.9 miles — I again became dizzy and nauseated. Sweat was streaming down my face and I took long gulps from my water bladder, only to suck the thing dry. Oh, of course I ran out of water.

So there I was, sinking into the bonkiest of bonks, kneeling in a pile of wet pine needles a hundred feet off the trail and stuffing handfuls of snow into my mouth. The temperature suddenly felt like it was a 110 degrees; thank goodness there was still relatively fresh snow on the ground. Only eating snow made my face and good hand go quickly numb, and I already had a headache, plus a little bit of spinning vision/vertigo to go along with the dizziness.

This was physically the worst I've felt during any outdoor effort in a long time, and I can probably include the Iditarod in that assessment. Altitude is insidious like that. It doesn't steal my breath and leave me gasping the way illness and asthma do, aware of my compromised state — instead, it just slowly sucks life-giving oxygen from my blood, until my vitality has just drained away and I don't fully understand why. Am I suddenly horribly out of shape because I haven't ridden a bike in two months? Am I getting sick? Is this my lazy subconscious trying to masquerade as weakness? Either way, it was all I could do to dizzily stagger down the mountain and jog home.

As I walked toward the door, my legs buckled. They actually buckled. It brought to mind images of people who cross the finish line of a marathon and immediately collapse. I was completely spent. By a 12-mile run that was basically a hike! This was just embarrassing.

I intended to never speak of the phone run again, but I felt a need to explain (to myself more than anybody) why I've been so exhausted for the past two days. I took Friday and Saturday off from running. I continued to unpack, but at a much slower pace, with sit-down breaks. I fell asleep while writing, twice, in the middle of the day — and I am not a napper. My friend Danni was in town for one day and had exactly one free hour between 8 and 9 a.m. Saturday morning. I intended to drive down to town to see her and set my alarm, then slept through it. I actually managed to turn off an alarm in my sleep, the way I sometimes do during long endurance races. This brought me sadness, because it's such a stupid reason to miss out.

Beat at least had a productive Saturday, completing the build of his electronics work bench. Now he's hammering out a homemade bike rack. (He's building this stuff using 2x4s and a counter top he purchased at Home Depot. My book "Become Frozen" describes moving to a mountain-like location in Homer, Alaska, in 2006, and it's amazing how many parallels I can draw from that move to the present. It's downright eerie. I should write a blog post about the cyclical nature of life. The more things change ...)

Instead I wrote a rambling post to justify the fact that I'm a zombie walking up here at 7,200 feet. The altitude monster got me, and there's no going back. 
Monday, May 02, 2016

Winter drops by to say welcome

Winter is my favorite season. There are those who don't believe me, or who point out that I can only love winter because I spent the past five years living in a warm climate and visiting winter at my leisure, for fun, without the day-to-day cold-weather drudgery. Point taken, but I stand by my statement. I am a hopeless winter enthusiast.

When I moved to Colorado in late April, I assumed I wouldn't see winter for another six months. And that was okay, because I had a pretty good dose of winter this past season in visits to Nevada, Utah, Idaho, and two fantastic trips to Alaska. Surprisingly, except for a cold snap following a November snowstorm, I all but missed winter in Colorado during our two weekend visits in December and January. The week we closed on the house, it was 60 degrees in Boulder, and the backyard looked like this:

January 30

May 1!

Yes, winter returned for a spring fling, the way she often does in her turbulent on again, off again affair with the Rockies — a blast of snow and cold before slipping out the back door, and suddenly it's 65 degrees again. Beat and I wanted to make the most of this brief reverie, but he unfortunately hurt his back while chopping wood on Thursday (or perhaps the sore back was from sleeping on an air mattress. We are still without real furniture at home.) Beat was hobbled but still got out for a short hike into Walker Ranch. These were our first views of the Boulder Creek Gorge. "This is the new Rancho!" I proclaimed, referring to an open space preserve near our apartment in California, where I did most of my running over the past five years. Rancho is not bad, but it doesn't look like this.

Beat turned around but I continued making my way around the loop, mostly hiking because of the new snow, and also because the altitude is really clamping down right now. When dragging my sea-level-acclimated body to elevations above 5,000 feet, I tend to have a honeymoon period of two to three days where I can feel the altitude, but it doesn't necessarily drag me down. By day four, the accumulating oxygen deficit seems to reach a breaking point, and I start waking up with headaches and struggling noticeably more in physical efforts. One week out seems to be the worst. At least I hope this is the worst. It gets better, right? 

Anyway, a bit of headache and rasping is no reason to let this brief winter pass me by. I set out Sunday to meet a local runner who I've been in touch with for a couple of years now. She invited me on a morning run to Green Mountain, but it snowed enough overnight that I didn't feel comfortable taking the Subaru with its summer tires and California-conditioned driver down the steep, icy roads. We re-worked the plan so I could run from home and meet her on top of Green Mountain, then continue together down to town.

First tracks on the road.

The day's first ascent of Green. It was blowing snow and the temperature was about 28 degrees. Windchill and sweaty clothing made it feel brrrrr. I waited for Wendy for twelve minutes, until I was very cold. I'd already forgotten how difficult it is to re-stoke body heat after you've let yourself become that chilled.

I made exaggerated jumping motions on my way down Green, to stimulate blood flow. Wendy approached and I followed her back up the mountain at a pace that left me gasping for air, but at least I warmed up again.

At the top we bumped into semi-famous ultrarunning ladies Darcy Piceu and Gina Lucrezi. Just a typical day in Boulder.

Descending Bear Canyon in a winter wonderland. Everything was so quiet and tranquil. When I'm wading through powder at a 15-minute-mile downhill "running" pace, I feel only bliss. (When I'm on skis I feel only terror, which is the main reason I am not a skier.)

The Flatirons from town. Wow! Thanks for coaxing me down here, Wendy.

Back at home, I was completely exhausted by 15 miles of "running." I don't think I've been that tired since I finished the Iditarod. Perhaps I can blame the effects of the altitude rather than declining fitness. Beat was not too sympathetic and tried to coax me out on the exploration route he tracked out that morning, but I resisted.

Monday brought bluebird skies and rapidly warming temperatures. I made attempts to work through the morning, but spent more time than I care to admit staring out the window, watching the resident turkey peck bare patches of ground as clumps of snow rained from the trees.

 In the afternoon I planned to run into Boulder to meet Beat. Although I should have, I didn't bank on the six inches of slush now covering the trails, and just how slippery and difficult it can be to wade through this. The ten-mile run that I hoped would take 1:45 ate up three hours, and my feet were cold. They were so cold.

By the time I reached Boulder, it was spring! I suppose it had to come back eventually. Thanks for dropping by, winter! See you in October (or maybe next week.)