Sunday, November 27, 2016

Thanksgiving, again

I was particularly eager to travel home for Thanksgiving this year. Something about uncertain times spurs a strong desire to reconnect with family, visit familar places, and engage in comforting traditions. Beat wasn't able to join this time around, so I drove solo to Salt Lake City on Wednesday. Northern Utah was slammed with a snowstorm that reduced visibility to black-and-white mayhem. Near Park City, dozens of trucks and cars had careened into precarious positions on the interstate, and traffic snaked around them in a meandering single file. With the blizzard swirling chaotically, people walking zombie-like amid the wreckage, and hazard lights flashing into the darkness, the whole scene had a post-apocalyptic feel. Of course, I thought of the memes going around the Internet — "This is fine." 

Thanksgiving morning, my mother woke up at 6 a.m. to bake pies, and I ventured outdoors for a sputtering shuffle. I had my round of allergy shots on Wednesday morning, and while I'm not sure I can fully blame the shots, I always feel pretty downtrodden the day after. Still, it was a beautiful, clear morning, the trails were dusted with fresh snow, and I was thrilled to be out.

 I saw a half dozen hunters and a similar number of cyclists on fat bikes during my jaunt, but surprisingly no other runners.

My legs finally started to perk up after an hour, just as the sun warmed the frosty trails. Sadly, my time was just about up. For Thanksgiving dinner, my aunt and uncle host a large family gathering that includes my 86-year-old grandmother, aunts, uncles and several cousins with an increasing number of small children. We load up paper plates with all the traditional stuff, and I usually eat at least three pieces of my mothers' pie. This year I sat next to the cousin closest to my age, and his family. When I asked him how he was enjoying life in Wyoming, he informed me that he hadn't lived in Wyoming for more than a decade. Embarassing. Time really does slip away, doesn't it?

 Black Friday brings another favorite tradition: hiking Gobbler's Knob with my dad. Nothing like celebrating capitalism by slogging up a 10,000-foot-high mountain in the unpredictable conditions of late November. This year the trail was soft with new snow, but temperatures were in the 40s and the wind on the ridge was only moderately fierce.

We were joined by my dad's hiking buddy, Raj. The views from the peak never disappoint.

 On Saturday the three of us set out to bag another peak, Mount Olympus. This is a tough route at any time of year, gaining 4,200 feet in just over three miles. Temperatures were downright hot by late morning, but the trail was still icy. The summit ridge was a challenging scramble with a thin layer of snow draped across huge boulders and hidden gaps. Glare ice clung to many of the rocks. It was nervewracking, if I'm honest. But I always feel safer doing this kind of thing with my dad. It's always been that way. He even helped pull me up some of the larger boulders when I struggled to reach a foothold. Despite this help, my quads were still terribly sore the next day, thanks to frantic lunges when I suspected my spikes weren't going to hold.

 Raj on the peak, the Oquirrh Mountains in the distance, and the Salt Lake Valley 4,500 feet below.

 Me and my dad on Mount Olympus. We ate our traditional post-Thanksgiving feast, which is pita bread slathered in peanut butter and Nutella.

 They say you can't go home again. I'm thankful we still have each other, and mountains to climb.

Week 6:
Monday: Mountain bike, 5:05, 48 miles, 4,670 feet climbing.
Tuesday morning: Treadmill intervals, 0:30, 3 miles, 0:40 weightlifting
Tuesday evening: Run, 1:17, 5 miles, 1,211 feet climbing
Wednesday: Rest
Thursday: Run, 1:37, 6.6 miles, 1,030 feet climbing
Friday: Snow hike, 4:30, 7.8 miles, 3,198 feet climbing
Saturday: Snow hike, 4:30, 6.3 miles, 4,158 feet climbing
Sunday: Snow hike, 1:44, 4.8 miles, 2,182 feet climbing

Total: 19:53, 48 miles ride, 46.5 miles run, 16,449 feet climbing

Also, Monday is the annual Cyber Monday sale. For November 28 only, all of my eBooks will be 99 cents on Amazon Kindle.
Monday, November 21, 2016

Week 5

Monday: Treadmill intervals, 3 miles, 0:30, weightlifting, 0:40. I was able to squeeze in a workout before allergy shots, which always leave me with that "I think I'm coming down with something" feeling. Allergy shots are like a weekly dose of the pre-flu. And now that I'm down to high-concentration single doses, it's every five days. Ugh.

Tuesday: Run, 1:12, 6.3 miles, 1,161 feet climbing. Languished in my "pre-flu" all morning, but feel surprisingly upbeat for this quick afternoon run.

Wednesday: Mountain bike, 6:58, 49.2 miles, 5,922 feet climbing. This ride thoroughly beat me up, in the form of several new bruises, cuts and deep gouge wounds from my pedals. (Technical rocky singletrack comprises about 5% of my riding on average, and yes, it's the only time I wish I had clipless pedals.) I also struggled with the "heat," and it was very windy — gusts that almost knock you off your bike windy. The ride took longer than I expected, and I had to ride 15 miles of Highway 93 in the dark amid rush hour traffic. All in all, it was a moderately brutal ride. In those seething moments after I crashed or got caught up in unconscionably steep rollers, I would comfort myself with the thought: "This is the kind of training that means something."

Thursday: Run, 1:45, 6 miles, 1,654 feet climbing. We finally received our second snowfall, more than five weeks after the first snowfall. Beat worked from home and we carved out a couple of hours for a jaunt to Bear Peak, "running" through about five inches of fresh snow. The west ridge was very slippery, and we had to creep down it amid frigid gusts of wind. This also falls under the "actually useful training" category.

Friday: Weightlifting, 0:40. More allergy shots. I had to get them in the morning, so no cardio on this day. Weightlifting continues to progress in encouraging increments.

Saturday: Run, 1:55, 8 miles, 1,803 feet climbing. Warm temps melted most of the snow, but there was still plenty of slush on the Walker Ranch loop. I started with Beat but didn't actually run with him. We used to be a little more compatible while running together in California, but he's much faster than me here in Colorado. Although my breathing has improved, my running speed is limited by general skittishness on rocky terrain. It's a consequence of proprioception, and I harbor doubts that I'll ever improve. I'm okay with that. The fact that I can cover ground while feeling strong, even if not fast, is amazing progress.

Sunday: Rest I became a bit ill on Saturday night and it persisted far enough into Sunday that I didn't get out.

Total: 13:40, 49.2 miles ride, 23.3 miles run, 10,540 feet climbing. This week was bookended by physical malaise and flagging motivation. The decrease in motivation comes from a question no doubt many folks are asking themselves right now — "What even matters?" This uncertainty extends to my writing, which is just, well, ugh. Of course the time and freedom to go outside and write freely are wonderful privileges. I hope I can do more of both next week.
Thursday, November 17, 2016

Just like autumn leaves, we're in for change

 Is there anything better than spending most of a day on a bike, traveling from your doorstep to places you haven't yet seen? Rolling across the countryside, feeling the contours under the wheels as your legs strain to meet the wildly undulating landscape? Of course there are better things, but they rarely occur to me as I wheel my bike up the driveway with an entire late autumn day in front of me, and only a vague idea of where this ride will take me, and a hot November sun warming my skin beneath short sleeves and shorts.

 As I've slipped back into the rhythm of longer bike rides, I've realized how much I value this simple motion. To be fully engaged in moments, focused on roots and rocks and flickers of memories, and somehow, even if temporarily, able to leave everything else behind. But sometimes, maybe most times, I set out with this ideal in mind, and instead everything is hard from the beginning. I crash on the rocks and add new bruises to the patchwork on my legs. The November sun is unbelievably hot, and I sip on a meager supply of water while I berate myself for carrying a puffy jacket and not more liquid. The steep dirt road is rippled with washboard and I spin out repeatedly. My legs feel weak, my throat dry, my head foggy. Sometimes, maybe most times, are like that.

 After two hours I had covered a mere twelve miles, and I was out of water. Luckily, the spot where I crossed Highway 72 had a small convenience store. I made the strange decision to buy two liters of purple Gatorade. Sometimes, maybe most times, when I visit a convenience store during a bike ride, I'm addled and thirsty and make choices that I later regret. I stumbled out the door and spun pedals up a narrow road that was long and steep and appeared to be going nowhere. It was 80 degrees, and the west wind blasted my sweat-soaked arms like a blow dryer. This is what the Boulder folks call a "downslope wind" — fierce, warm, and a harbinger of rapid change.

Somewhere above 9,000 feet, I crossed into Golden Gate State Park. This place reminds me of Henry Coe State Park in California, in that it's out of the way, mysterious, and features a large network of trails that offer nothing but discouragement and pain. Okay, so I only rode the Mountain Lion Trail. But it was very hard, and after I crashed for the second time that day, I lost all my confidence. I was moving at the pace of an injured turtle and quietly wishing that a mountain lion would put me out of my misery. This is the funny, and also freeing thing about cycling — you can get so caught up in individual moments that every difficulty feels like the end of the world. Never mind that all the ways that the world might actually be ending beyond this single-track perspective.

 The trail spit me out in an unknown place that was still the middle of nowhere. I rolled along an empty road and tried to visualize the first time I went snowboarding — a fateful day now almost exactly twenty years ago. It was disheartening to realize that I could only piece the memories together in fragments — the nervous jitters of riding the lift, the dread when I realized it was going a lot farther up the mountain than I expected, the bewilderment when my friend ditched me at the top of a long, "moderately difficult" run that she promised was "easy." Falling and falling and falling, and then meeting two college-age men who were actually very nice to me. They held my hands, showed me how to ride my back edge, and ensured I made it down safely. They were so pivotal, those moments. Why couldn't I recall more of the details? This is one of my difficulties with middle age — the realization that I am outliving some of my favorite memories.

 Climbing and climbing on climbing on the nowhere road. Eventually I descended down a "no outlet" road and arrived at another park, White Ranch. I descended another rocky trail toward clear views of Denver, the city where I was born. I sometimes cite this fact to snooty locals who tease me about being another cliche Californian who moved to Colorado. But sometimes, maybe most times, I wish I could remember what it was like — living in Denver when I was an infant. Memories that distant were never anything but lost — but it's an idyllic daydream all the same.

 The following day, change arrived. Temperatures plummeted 50 degrees, and the November sun was obscured by fog and snow. Beat and I went for a run to Bear Peak. A fierce wind intensified the chill. Swirling snow covered our tracks within minutes.

 Another issue I have with middle age is this: Even as I continue to lose valued pieces of my past, my confidence about the future also erodes. Life is long in its own way, and changes so rapidly that sometimes, maybe most times, all we can do is hold on. Eighty degrees one day and snowing the next. Sometimes I think it would be best if we could always live in the moment, with no thoughts of before or after. But if we have no memories of our past, we're doomed to walk blindly into a bewildering future.

Still, as long as you can stand on a mountain in blowing snow and smile, life is pretty good. Beat and I slipped and slid downhill, racing the rapidly approaching dusk as I listened to music in which I never fail to find comfort. Today it was TV on the Radio, "Province:"

Hold your heart courageously 
As we walk into this dark place
Stand steadfast erect and see
That love is the province of the brave.
Monday, November 14, 2016

Week 4

It's been some week, hasn't it? This is a boring workout post.

Monday: Treadmill intervals, 3 miles, 0:30; weightlifting, 0:40. 

Tuesday: Run, 0:55, 4.2 miles, 796 feet climbing. I had a half-round of allergy shots on Monday afternoon, cut short again because I'm having mild reactions to these higher concentrations. This one hit me especially hard the next day, when I felt like I was coming down with the flu. Election day was stressful enough, so it was nice to get out for a slow afternoon shuffle, even though I felt like crap.

Wednesday: Mountain bike, 5:23, 43.4 miles, 6,384 feet climbing. This is the strongest I've felt on a bike since my CTS surgery. Interesting juxtaposition to Tuesday's run, especially since I was feeling more emotionally distraught on this day. I crashed hard about 12 miles into the ride and bruised both legs, with pain that didn't subside for the duration of the ride. Despite all this, I was on fire. It was cathartic.

Thursday: Mountain bike, 1:35, 13 miles, 2,201 feet climbing. Another strong ride. I had no breathing issues this week. My moving times are only slightly faster, but my breathing has become much deeper and quieter, as opposed to the shallow gasping that I usually employ to boost myself up a hill. It's difficult to describe, but noticeable.

Friday: Weightlifting, 0:40.

Saturday: Run, 2:22, 8.4 miles, 2,813 feet climbing. Bear Canyon to Bear Peak loop with Beat. I aimed to hike faster up the steep climb and didn't succeed. My breathing was fine, I just didn't have the oomph from my leg muscles.

Sunday: Mountain bike, 5:31, 42.8 miles, 6,409 feet climbing. Beat and I haven't ridden bikes together once since we moved to Colorado, so I offered to show him the scenic loop that I rode on Wednesday. The weather continues to be remarkably warm — many days even warmer than it's been in my former home in California, which has also had a lot more rain. Sigh. But I suppose I shouldn't complain about all this short-sleeves November weather. I think Beat really enjoyed my go-to route, even though it involved being slightly lost and descending too slowly in the Blue Dot maze, excessive washboard, and a lot more Peak to Peak Highway pavement than he expected.

Total: 16:56, 99.2 miles ride, 15.6 miles run, 18,604 feet climbing. Well, it's been a week. Like many I've been distracted, determined, sometimes despondent. My workouts are not important, but they do provided moments of clarity and perspective, every time. The thought of returning to Alaska and riding or pushing a bike deep into a wilderness where only the most basic tenets of survival matter – this keeps me going. I'm considering putting my fractured book projects and ideas aside, and spending more time making contributions to something I believe is incredibly important — the free press. But one thing this world does not need more of, is blathering content. (Ha!) I'll have to mull it over. Outdoor activities are good for that.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

A second reckoning of sorts

On Wednesday I woke up to bright November sunshine and unsettling dread. I don't venture very far into my personal life or politics on this blog for good reason, but I know that many people felt this way — as though we'd suddenly become strangers in our own country, poised on the precipice of a bleak future where the things we love and need will only continue to lose value: Public lands, open space, wildlife, water, friends and family who are sick or struggling, people who don't fit into the majority. And on and on. 

I don't need to rehash what's already all over the Web. Many have posted much better missives than I could write. But I was among those bewildered and distraught after Tuesday's election, much more so than I even expected. So I retreated to one thing that will, I hope, always bring comfort — moving through the outdoors. Bicycles still exist, so there's that.

 I spent much of the first two hours crying. It's true. All of these pessimistic thoughts about the future flooded in, and I did everything I could to shut them out. It's interesting what thoughts and memories took their place. In the young woods outside Nederland, I imagined approaching a stranger and asking them if they wanted to share a hug. Strangely, when I rode through town, I didn't see a soul on the streets. As though everyone just up and left.

 There was the trail where I relived the moment when I found out my grandmother died. I was 16 years old and working a day shift at Wendy's, cleaning tables when my dad came in. I remember so vividly the afternoon shadows across the carpet, so stark against the winter sunlight, and the sour smell of my rag as lukewarm water dripped through my fingers. It felt like acid. That's what I thought then. I still clench my hands when I think about it.

 There was this trail where I finally crashed on an easy surface after churning through a couple miles of chunder — loose rocks on top of loose dirt. Crashing has become such a familiar feeling — the sudden jolt, the throbbing pain, the warm blood trickling down my skin. I swore loudly until I heard a dog barking, which surprised me because I thought I was in a more remote area. I wasn't really swearing about my bloody knee, anyway.

 On the Switzerland Trail I thought about all the luck I've had, and how I reside in a place with so much beauty and opportunity, how I'm surrounded by so many smart and compassionate people. My health has continued to improve. On this day I felt almost "normal," riding easy again without any hint of hard breathing. I felt grateful for this simple ability to move freely, without anxiety and without pain. I try not to take this for granted. Just like every privlege I have in life. I try not to take it for granted, but I still do.

 There was Longs Peak, a 14,000-foot mountain mostly devoid of snow in November. I wondered if people in the future will miss winter.

 There was thick smog over the valley, and I wondered if the people in the city could taste it, if people felt acid in their breaths, like I sometimes do.

Recently I found an old iPod that I must have loaded up with music back in 2012, and relived memories from a year that seemed so wonderful. Hindsight often works that way. I climbed up Flagstaff for the first time since I had an asthma attack here a month ago, and marveled at this relative strength. Metric's "Speed the Collapse" came on, and I repeated the song a few times as I leapfrogged with another mountain biker. 

The wind presents a change of course 
A second reckoning of sorts 
We were wasted waiting for 
A comedown of revolving doors
Monday, November 07, 2016

Week 3

Monday: Weight lifting, 0:40. I received six allergy shots first thing in the morning. I didn't have a reaction like last week, but I felt down for the rest of the day. The weight lifting was more than I could manage, and stopped after two sessions of 12 lifts, 12 reps at the same weights as last week.

Tuesday: Run, 1:18,  6.2 miles, 1,171 feet climbing. Moderate pace.

Wednesday: Mountain bike, 4:48, 41.2 miles, 5,412 feet climbing. This was a pleasant afternoon ride where I traced a scenic, mostly dirt route from home to Gold Hill. There were plenty of steep climbs, but for the most part I rode about as easy as possible for myself on this type of terrain. I've been aiming to track my heart rate more closely, since my resting heart rate has remained noticeably higher since I moved to Colorado in April. When my breathing issues were at their worst — July and August — my exercise heart rates were lower than usual. But now that I'm feeling better, I'm also exercising with a higher heart rate. This ride earned Strava's "Epic Suffer Score" of 312 with a heart rate above 166 for 47% of the ride. It's perplexing, because this ride didn't feel hard, nor was I fatigued afterward. Still, I've decided to make an effort to go even easier on my long rides, although I'm not sure that's possible (at some point you're just not going to get up a hill.)

Thursday: Weight lifting, 0:40; Treadmill intervals, 3 miles, 0:30. Since I was feeling better for this gym session, I went through a series of treadmill intervals of 2 minutes slow, 2 minutes fast up to 6-minute-mile pace. The results were similar to last week — my highest heart rate was 191. The weight-lifting session was great. I'm in that beginner period that leads to fast improvements. It's so much more fun than going in the opposite direction.

Friday: Run, 1:26, 6 miles, 1,654 feet climbing. Our friend Roger came for a visit from Australia. He's been to Boulder before, but never up the iconic Flatirons, so I took him for a jaunt up Bear Peak.

Saturday: Run, 3:26, 12.5 miles, 4,110 feet climbing. Beat and Roger were headed out for an 18-mile run, but I decided to leave later and run a shorter route. I ran down Eldorado Canyon and cut across to Shadow Canyon on a somewhat overgrown social trail with a lot of shoulder-high grass. Despite walking slowly along this trail, I still had a breathing reaction where it felt like my chest and throat were tightening. This is one of the reasons I prefer running alone, because I don't feel as self-conscious about slowing way down or stopping for a while to sit on a rock. Beat and Roger caught up to me while I was resting. We left the grassy slope, and I began to feel much better while marching at Beat's pace up steep Shadow Canyon. So, another run with a mild breathing reaction, but I handled it much better than my episode two weeks ago. The breathing reaction happened when my heart rate was in the low 140s. But overall this was another high-heart-rate effort with a Strava "Suffer Score" of 405. This score is a generic calculation based on distance, elevation change, and typical heart rates. So a 405 score should be interpreted as a very hard run, rather than the recreational jaunt that I view it as. It's a little too soon to determine whether this is a bad thing, or just my own individual status quo.

 Sunday: Hike, 6:00, 14.3 miles, 3,185 feet climbing. We offered to take Roger on a hike into the high country, and headed to Hessie for an out-and-back up to Devil's Thumb Pass. There was surprisingly only slightly more snow on these slopes than there was a month ago, but temperatures were lower and the wind was fierce.

 Before this outing, I was not aware that ptarmigans lived in Colorado. We spent some time cooing at an adorable group of white-tailed ptarmigans and marveling at their living conditions. Gusts as high as 40mph would rip across the slope, and they just shut their cute little eyes and burrowed into the snow.

 Beat on Devil's Thumb Pass. High winds and the fast-approaching sunset deterred us from continuing along the Continental Divide to King Lake Pass.

Beat and Roger celebrating our miniature "epic" in the Colorado high country.

Total: 18:48, 41.2 miles ride, 42 miles run, 15,535 feet climbing. This felt like a good training week, except for the brief breathing issues on Saturday, and perhaps too little biking. I'm feeling better every week. I do need to continue to monitor my heart rate, as that may be a concern. (I might be sick. I might be out of shape (i.e. good endurance, less cardiovascular fitness.) I might be overtrained. I know. I have this theory about altitude adaptation that I'm currently researching. Also, the allergy shots are not easy on my body. That's definitely an additional stressor.) But all-in-all, more positive directions. All we need is a little more snow, lower than 11,000 feet.