Monday, February 11, 2019


Last week, Beat headed out to the Bay Area for a business trip. I planned to tag along for the weekend, for a whirlwind visit of old friends and a little 50K trail run in the Marin Headlands. But for a few days after Beat left I was anchored at home, where I enjoyed a blizzard, icy wind, a subzero cold snap, more icy wind and sunshine, all in the span of two days. 

 I suppose saying I was anchored at home is misleading, because I did venture out. Wednesday brought a blizzard and some reasonable cold — near zero in the morning, only climbing as high as 7 degrees when I headed out for an afternoon ride. The riding was tricky, with erratic tire ruts through several inches of snow over ice. Wind drifts were already more than a foot high. I descended to the reservoir, where I skimmed along the shoreline, following what really looked like a rectangular sled track skimming over faint footprints. It was the exact kind of track an Iditarod walker would make. The track veered onto the lake ice, heading toward the deep end before disappearing into the mist. I couldn't tell where the track led, but I was intensely curious. Who was this strange sled-dragger walking into a blizzard onto sketchy reservoir ice? I was much too frightened of sketchy ice — knowing recent temperatures had topped 55 degrees — to investigate. But the whole atmosphere — the blowing snow, frigid wind chill, flat visibility, and having seen no other vehicles on the road — was unsettlingly eery. Chills rippled through my limbs when I imagined the ghost sled-dragger who haunted the shoreline of Gross Reservoir.

 I caught a chill while descending from the reservoir, so I threw on my puffy jacket. As I climbed, the wind intensified and I became colder and colder. Damn it; I'd already put on my extra layers. This was a good puffy jacket. Why was I so cold? I started to think back to the many adventures of Thermoball and remembered that I acquired this jacket way back in 2013. Six years is a fairly long lifespan for a well-loved primaloft puffy. The insulation is likely not as effective as it once was. Gusts of wind drove what was certainly a subzero windchill right into my core. The pedaling was too tricky and slow to generate enough heat, so near the top of the climb I spent a few minutes off the bike and running. That actually worked, but I had another descent coming. I knew my only choice was to suffer, but then I'd be at home. Man, I was so happy to roll up to my house. I know I've had a number of posts about not being well-prepared for weather conditions, but I really thought I had it this time. Maybe it was just my hormone levels on this day, or lowish glycogen, or a failing insulation layer. Winter comfort is forever a puzzle to solve.

 Thursday morning dawned clear and a startling 11 degrees below zero. This is the day of the week that I need to transport our trash down to the county road by 7 a.m. I hadn't expected the cold to sink in so rapidly, and trundled outside in my pajama bottoms and regular running shoes with no hat or gloves — luckily I at least put on a down coat.

 It was a beautiful morning to be out and about, with frost crystals adding sparkle to mundane objects, pink and gold lighting up the sky, and new snow billowing from tree branches. As I rounded a corner, a large elk herd had spread out all over the road.

 Seeing me, they moved away and bunched closer together, and I didn't find my camera before they were well beyond close range for my point-and-shoot. But I had fun walking the perimeter of the road, watching them ... that is, until the -11F air sliced through my cotton jammies and exposed ears and fingers.

 Bear and South Boulder peaks in the background.

 I still lingered much too long, enjoying the views as I wiggled my toes while walking and stuffed my hands under my armpits. As soon as my ears went numb, I knew I couldn't stay much longer. Instead I dropped off the trash and returned to my still sort of frigid house. Subzero air outside drove the inside temperature down to 51 degrees. We supplement electric heat with a wood stove, which I was both too lazy and too reluctant to fire up, knowing I was leaving in the afternoon. Instead I bundled up for real and sat at the dining room table. No doubt I looked silly drinking my coffee while wearing expedition gear indoors, but it was a great vantage point to watch the elk, which I could still see in the field below.

 An couple of hours later it had warmed up to 5 degrees, accompanied by strong winds. I finally got out for my pre-race shakedown run. I surprised myself by feeling really reluctant to go outside — remembering how cold I'd been the previous day, and my ears still hurt because I'd willfully flirted with frostnip in the morning. I was standing at the door with all of my gear on, playing all of the quitting excuses in my mind. None of them were convincing enough, so again I trundled into the frigid (so frigid) wind.

As soon as I started running, the cold didn't bother me at all, but my legs felt terrible. Just heavy, stiff and somehow incapable of the running motion. Inches of fresh snow did not help, nor did the bumpy ice hidden beneath the powder. I wore studded shoes, but I still slipped every fourth step or so. Whether or not a planted foot would find traction remained a mystery, and I submitted to walking most of four miles. I won't say this run is solely responsible for destroying my confidence, but it did me no favors.

"I am such a terrible runner. I can't even stay on my feet in a few inches of snow. I need to admit I'm a hiker and give this up. Damn it, running, why can't I quit you?"

 I flew out of Denver on Thursday afternoon, and woke up Friday morning in Sunnyvale, California, where it was — cold and rainy and windy. Earlier that week, the Santa Cruz Mountains had seen their first snowfall in nearly a decade. Another big storm was approaching. Temperatures were in the 40s at sea level and the day promised to be wet and gray. As I played the excuse reel, my mind reminded me in strong terms that "rest is best." But my heart wanted to visit a good old friend, Black Mountain. I borrowed my friend Liehann's Moots YBB, which is just like my beloved Moots YBB, except for being recently converted to a drop-bar gravel bike. Still, for a bike that is not my bike, we get along really well.

Moots and I headed west from Sunnyvale toward a truly missed old friend, Montebello Road. My Strava has on record 157 ascents of Montebello, and I admittedly looked up my PR, wondering how I'd fare in the post-fitness-crash era of 2019. So of course, a day before this 50K race over which I'd psyched myself to the point of dread, I found myself effectively racing up Montebello Road. I wasn't pushing the red line — I'd resolved to keep my heart rate in the 150s or lower — but I was going much harder than I should have been. At the top, my watch said 50 minutes, and I felt devastated. "Fifty minutes? I think I did better than that when I did 10 of these in a row." And once again, I was looking back on the ghost of 2015 Jill, filled with regret.

It's quite silly, but heading into this trip, I scrutinized my stats and race report from the Golden Gate 50K in February 2015, and made a plan of sorts. I wanted to prove to myself that I could be every bit as good as 2015 Jill, when I had no reason to believe this was a reasonable goal. I also had no reason to be so sad about a slowish Montebello. This bike loaded with stuff probably weighs twice what my road bike weighs. Anyway, as it turned out the climb time ranked 80 out of 157, so I can't complain about middle of the road. Rather, my sadness was a side effect of low confidence rearing its ugly head. I recognized this as I continued up to Black Mountain, where I sat on a rock in the cold, cold wind to take in the gray-shrouded views. My entire body was racked with shivering, but I did feel more at peace.

 I bundled up for the descent. The added gear included vapor barrier socks under fleece socks, a furry fleece buff, wind shell, mittens, and a warmer hat. I was effectively as bundled up as I'd been at 7 degrees with a harsh wind on Wednesday, minus the nonworking puffy jacket. But I'd let my core temperature drop too much while sitting on Black Mountain, and became deeply chilled as I descended a series of muddy trails to Page Mill Road.

"Aw, Page Mill, it's just like old times," I said out loud — meaning I'm not sure I've ever descended Page Mill in the winter and not frozen every part of my body. This canyon is a refrigerator on a good day. I managed to continue steering the bike with completely numb arms and made it back to Sunnyvale just five minutes before the gray sky unleashed a deluge that lasted well into the evening.

I didn't want to admit to myself how tired I felt after this ride — the hard climb, the cold temperatures, the three-hour-and-fifteen-minute duration that would certainly extract its fair share from the energy bank. I had made poor choices this week, but now was not the time to dwell on them. Now was the time to gather what scraps of confidence I could find in the wreckage, because the Golden Gate 50K was going to be hard. 


  1. Read your post this morning, just before I had to start my work day, and was a bit more than jealous that you had a elk adventure just taking the trash out, in your PJ's, at home!!... :). Anyways, I stopped reading right there and had a Varuca Salt moment but then got on with the job at hand and tried to ignore you :) :).
    Ignoring you didn't work so I did read the rest of your post and it really cemented how autotelic you are and that I wish that came easy for me. Thanks for sharing a slice of life! It makes me hungry for my next trip to Alaska!

    Jeff C

  2. You certainly picked the right name for this site!
    Box Canyon Mark

  3. Out here we run into herds of elk while out XC skiing in 3 feet of snow. They are such tough, burly animals. When they stampede thru the deep snow they are totally silent.

  4. "I was standing at the door with all of my gear on, playing all of the quitting excuses in my mind."

    I wonder how often you get dressed, then hesitate due to the conditions, then skip going out.

    1. This doesn't typically happen. I actually can't remember the last time I decided to go outside and then changed my mind afterward. If it does happen, it's probably a hot day in the summer where I planned a short run, slapped on some sunscreen, and then decided that a gym day would be more enjoyable. In the winter I really do prefer the "interesting" weather, and can usually find a way to work around the difficulties. But it is an ongoing puzzle that I don't always get right.

    2. Yeah, when I was first starting out in this stuff, I looked back at some of the best experiences and many occurred either in epic weather or after the epic weather had cleared.

  5. I bet that the sled tracks were a person who was going ice fishing. I've seen them out there...

    Absolutely gorgeous photos. I agree with you that winter and cold make the world look really beautiful. I think that my recent complaining about cold is primarily that my Raynaud's syndrome has gotten worse. It seems that I had at least some time of piercing pain in my fingers whenever I was outside during that super cold week. It's bad enough pain to bring me to tears.

    I think that the elk herd may be on the move again. We've had glimpses of them up here in the past week.

    1. I can only imagine the pain of Raynaud's, which I'm lucky to not suffer from. I would not be such an enthusiast of cold if I regularly felt such pain. I complain enough as it is about the weather that does make me feel unworkably uncomfortable (heat.)

      It's always such a treat to see the elk herd in the winter and spring. We need to put up some trail cams set up so we're more aware about animal activity in our neighborhood.


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