Thursday, December 07, 2017

Pretending it's not December

'Tis the season — that time of year when everyone (meaning a small sampling of friends and acquaintances) is planning 2018 outdoor adventures and races. I see their posts on social media and admit to feeling a small sting of resentment ... "Oh, look at you with your high confidence in a predictable fitness arc built on training and preparation ..." 

Beat has been sending me links to enticing events, but I've resisted the temptation to sign up for anything past next March. The sting of 2017's disappointments and failures is still fresh, and my body hasn't given any consistent indication that it's going to cooperate for me next year, either. I feel like I should continue working on acceptance and nurturing other interests rather than beating my head against the same wall. 

Of course, I'm as bad as the sugar addict who swears off sweets in the morning only to eat a giant cookie for lunch (which, incidentally, is something I would do.) This resolve to not sign up for any more races completely ignores the two huge events I'm supposedly training for right now, which are happening in just over two short months. ("80 days!" someone posted. I prefer this characterization because 80 sounds like a comfortable buffer of days, while two months sounds soon.) What gives me any confidence that I'll have what it takes to survive the Iditarod or White Mountains 100? Nothing, to be honest. Besides, I suppose, the reality that I've done it before. 

My most recent thyroid numbers have fallen into normal range. In theory I should be feeling better. I am, I suppose, but my breathing is still on the rough side, and there hasn't been much pep in my recent efforts. On the positive side, my weight-lifting has rapidly improved in the past few weeks. I almost feel like a real athlete again every time I hit the gym. This leads me to believe my body isn't consuming muscle right now (which is something hyperthyroidism does.) It also sparks a temptation to just go full gym rat and forget all of the running and biking. Of course, I'd probably last three days before missing the outdoors so terribly that I'd come crawling back, in the literal sense. I am a addict. 

The rough breathing is probably tied to multiple issues and won't be easily solved. I've had multiple discussions and tests with my endocrinologist and asthma doctor, and they both agree that I have allergic asthma. Asthma has nothing to do with my thyroid, although these numbers affect my heart rate and therefore breathing, and the autoimmune responses may be connected. This autumn has been particularly bad for allergies, with little moisture and lots of wind. I let myself believe that if winter would just come, everything would be all right. I'd be relieved of this dust-filled air. I'd actually be able to drag my sled, and put my recently boosted strength to better use. And if my sluggishness doesn't improve, it won't matter because winter is guilt-free slog season. So I continue to hope for snow, even as the high-pressure ridge lingers. 

The snowless late autumn even extended to Utah, where I managed a couple of fun outings between the Canyonlands backpacking trip and returning home to dusty Colorado. My dad and I hiked to the ridge above Desolation Lake, with views toward Park City. It was 63 degrees when we left the trailhead, and 37 and snaining when we returned three hours later. Sadly the cold front didn't stick around long enough to bring much precipitation.

On my way home I opted to drive I-80, mostly to take a quick jaunt up the west ridge of Grandeur Peak on my way out of town. This is perhaps my favorite hike from the Salt Lake Valley, because it's short enough to wrap up in a couple of hours, and although it gains 3,500 feet in just over two miles, it somehow feels more gentle than other routes of similar steepness. From the peak I could see the beginnings of a smoggy inversion, and felt grateful that I was leaving town. Salt Lake is my hometown and I still think it's an ideal place to reside; however, I suspect that I no longer possess the lungs to tolerate the awful air quality of a Salt Lake winter. If life brings me back here, I may have no choice but to become a seasonal gym rat.

Looking east at the Wasatch Mountains. No snow, no snow, as far as the eye can see.

The week in Boulder was very warm, with temperatures rising into the low 60s. It was almost enough to make me forget that the calendar had rolled into December, which is also good for my denial that there are only 80 days until the Iditarod. Then a snowless front moved through, and suddenly it was cold. I understood this on an intellectual level, but it was still a shock to the system. Wednesday presented an opportunity for a six-hour solo ride — still one of my favorite ways to spend a half day regardless of how healthy or fit I'm feeling on any given morning. Wednesday morning also brought temperatures in the low teens, and a 15-20mph west wind for exhilarating subzero windchills.

"Better put the pogies on," I thought. Then I proceeded to severely under-dress, because I don't even understand what subzero windchill feels like anymore, given my last ride in 60-degree temps. From the outset I felt awful, with that wind needling into my core until my knees and shoulders ached with cold. My hands and feet were dead slabs of meat. It was stupid, but I was convinced I just need to ride harder to warm up, even as the cold wind drove dust particles into my lungs until I was coughing up gunk and sucking water to spit it out (that is, until my hose froze, and then I didn't have water for four hours.)

It was all so stupid is because I was carrying multiple layers in my backpack. After two hours of purposeless suffering, I stopped to put them on — every last piece, even though I knew this may mean more suffering when it came time to descend 4,000 feet into town. Encased in a virtual space suit, I almost instantly felt better. Windchill was the sole cause of two hours of misery. I'd say oh well, live and learn ... but apparently I never do.

It was a great ride in the space suit, though. The lower mountains had received a dusting of snow overnight. I churned up Caribou Road until the powder was too deep for my semi-skinny tires, did a little snow dance while unsuccessfully trying to thaw my water hose with my hands, and started the long descent into Boulder. Wearing wind-proof layers, with the piercing gusts at my back, I felt like I was floating through a bubble of silence and warmth. As it turned out, descending was somehow warmer than climbing. Next time I will just start out my rides in the space suit.

Beat and I are now headed to the Bay Area for a weekend, so my pseudo-summer will extend further yet. Although our time there is short, I'm really looking forward to visiting old haunts ... both for nostalgia, and to compare my current fitness on routes I did regularly two years ago. I suspect I will love the first and mourn the second, but knowledge is always better (unless I'm counting days until the Iditarod, in which case I'd really rather not know.)


  1. You should sign up for the Old Man Winter Bike Rally in February. If you haven't heard of it, it's just up in Lyons, and a fun 100k ride. Or do the 10k run and 50k ride. Good times and close to home. They run it no matter the weather (although it's been warm and sunny the first 3 years...still hoping for a snowy run of it one of these years.)

  2. "Next time I will just start out my rides in the space suit."- No, you know you won't! ;)

  3. Bobbie and I suffered through some of those notorious, front range, down-slope winds while buffeting our way up, over, and around Table Mountain above Golden over Thanksgiving. Being so low, our "chill factor" was in the comfy 40's, but the physical and mental effort was at least doubled.
    When I saw the Flatirons over in your neck of the woods from Table I drew an analogy between wind and your battles with your body; Like running into the wind...every time you try to do what used to be effortless.
    Hang in there,

  4. If you have a chance, Mt. Umunhum is now open to the public. You can drive to the top or hike the new 4 mile trail to the top from the Bald mountain staging area. Weekdays are best. Weekends there are not enough parking.
    Hope you at least get back to Black mountain or the redwoods.


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