Thursday, May 21, 2020

In the heat of the summer

 Does anybody else look back on their final week before lockdown with the same incredulous fascination usually reserved for odd dreams? I find myself ruminating on those days in Anchorage, Alaska, back when the air was still sharp and the streets were lined with five-foot walls of snow. My body was so depleted from 10 days on the Iditarod Trail that it felt like something that didn't quite belong to me, a leaden suit that I hauled around while listlessly pacing the sidewalk outside my hotel room and imagining I was still walking to Nome. Gratefully, friends swept me away from a descent into self-pity. We went shopping for herbal adrenal boosters and fancy chocolate. We rode bikes amid the surreal ice sculptures of Knik Glacier. We crammed into a crowded brewpub. Our shoulders and backs were literally pressed against the shoulders and backs of strangers. I ordered an ahi tuna salad drenched in wasabi dressing, marveling at these incredible textures and flavors after days of frozen nuts and dried fruit. I remember a sign advertising a big St. Patricks Day celebration, and already doubting that it could happen. Employees were disinfecting the door handles when we walked together into a crowded restroom to vigorously wash our hands. I wondered aloud if restaurants might close, and one friend assured us that it couldn't happen. That was Friday the 13th, in the month of March 2020.  It was the last day, for me, before this dream world came to a halt.

Now we're facing down the long summer and a lurch toward a new normal that no one can predict. What it will even look like is anyone's guess. Like most people, I fluctuate between dread and flickers of optimism. I've settled into acceptance about living with the threat of a virus that no one understands. Now it's economic news that seems to spark my anxiety more. I can only see it through the lens of my personal experiences. I watched the 2008 recession drive deep cracks into the already-fragile newspaper industry, and that's ultimately what drove me toward the "side-hustle" side of journalism. Then the "side-hustle" side seemed to take over the industry. Content became a free-for-all, information became opportunistic and fractured, and the "fake news" era brought us to the point where we are now — an entire population unable to parse truth from fiction, drifting aimlessly through a "choose-your-own-reality" culture. What will this mean for life amid the threat of a virus that no one understands? How will it affect our ability to come together for the vast amount of rebuilding and restructuring that must happen? Nothing seems good.

One thing that seems certain to me, is that life isn't going back to the way it was before March 13. So much is still unknown, of course. Maybe the feared second wave will never come. We're still close enough to the before-times that perhaps we'll recapture a lot of it. Many people seem to feel this way, judging by all of the races that have been rescheduled for autumn, and the trips people are rebooking for 2021. But a lot of restaurants and retailers are closing up for good. I can't imagine a world where most people are going to cram shoulder-to-shoulder into brewpubs anytime soon, regardless of government policy. I am starting to think I may never return to a gym, so I'm about to cancel my membership. I feel bad about this — my gym is independently and locally owned by a nice couple. But my side-hustles have been trimmed, and I can't afford to support unviable business models indefinitely.

A few days ago, Beat joked with me about starting a YouTube channel and gave suggestions for potentially viral and thus income-generating content. I felt a flare of anger that surprised me, and snapped that I'd rather stock shelves in a grocery store. Later I pondered why his comment riled me up so much. I was one of those lucky recession kids to graduate into the dot-com bust of 2000. For my entire career, I have watched the ongoing devaluation of my chosen passion happen in real time. Now storytellers need the eyes of millions just to make a few dollars. It's not just journalism. Almost every aspect of writing and publishing has been devalued. Many are wondering if anyone will still buy books or magazines, or if this era will deal a similar blow to all paid-for content as 2008 did to newspapers. I fear this devaluation will come to many industries, and it creates a scary vision of the future. What will still have worth, at the end of this?

 I write this out to make sense of my generalized anxiety, which still ebbs and flows, but which I hope to combat more directly. I know the best thing I can do is spend my time on things that have meaning — and meaning is such a personalized thing; I'm not even sure what exactly has meaning to me. With fewer ideas in the face of so much uncertainty, I've been spending my writing time working on old projects, trying to give some shape to nebulous ideas, and also relive past adventures. But who even wants to read about any of this? And is there any point in writing if there are no readers? Or is the act of recording ideas and moments in time enough to be meaningful? I ponder this when I'm out on a run, still going through the motions of training ... but for what? And why? Right now, I'm not sure.

 Really, it's still about the same things it has always been about — freedom and solitude, moments of awe, and being alive in the world. Our 28-mile run a couple of Sundays ago left me a bit downtrodden, but I went out anyway, plodding slowly and well behind Beat. My Garmin watch rated these training sessions as "unproductive" and outright scolded me for needing more recovery. Staying home is more justified than ever, and it would have been wise to just take a few rest days. But I felt angry that even Garmin wanted to keep me cloistered.

That Friday, I had chores to do in town and a forecast for cool and rainy weather that would be unpleasant for many activities — except for finding relative solitude on a popular trail. Climbing Bear Peak from the Cragmoor trailhead was my first-ever Boulder adventure back in 2015, and it's still a favorite for pushing limits. There's a nice 1.5-mile warm-up to the one-mile, 2,000-foot climb up Fern Canyon, where I gunned it about as hard as I'm capable right now. Head sweat and rain both pelted my arms as I marched, still unable to hit my "max," but maintaining a solid tempo heart rate all the same. In this I managed my fastest-yet Cragmoor segment, and third-fastest Fern. Take that, Garmin! I celebrated by tagging South Boulder Peak and looping back through Shadow Canyon, seeing surprisingly few others on all of these normally crowded trails. Even my watch conceded that this training session was "productive."

 Our big adventure for the weekend was a 63-mile ride with close to 9,000 feet of climbing. Another one of the decidedly privileged issues I've been struggling with recently is the "sameness" of our outdoor activities. I recognize that by almost any standard, there is plenty of novelty in my lifestyle. I've been working on cultivating better appreciation and new discoveries in my surroundings. When I was training for the Iditarod, I had no problems dragging a 90-pound cart up and down my home road, week after week. I enjoyed this monotonous grind, relished in it even, because it had purpose. I've been looking for a similar sense of purpose in my current day-to-day, but enlightenment hasn't quite come, yet. I still need to appease a gnawing desire for longer and higher, the new and undiscovered, or at least revisit a place I haven't seen in a while.

 Saturday was a rest day. Like most rest days, I was almost incurably grumpy by evening. These mood swings have become more difficult to avoid. Even my therapist thinks that I should make an effort to go outside at least once every day, even if it's just to go for a walk or sit by our goldfish pond. It's all part of working toward the enlightenment that I'm still far from achieving. I've been pursuing races and goals for so long that I'd almost forgotten they were always the means, not the end. Racing is a great excuse to train, but the point has always been to spend as much time moving through the outdoors, exploring mind and body and the vast world beyond my front door. Predictably, by the time we got rolling on Sunday, I was about as content as I could be, just spinning and breathing and watching the world go by.

This route has a lot of bang for its buck — useful for generating inspiration and energy for another long week ahead. The temperature was nice and there was barely a breeze out of the west. I fell behind on food and water, then faltered on the steep climb up Logan Mill and Escape Route. But refueling generated a second wind, and I felt refreshingly strong pedaling up the final 2,000-foot ascent even as Beat began to flag. I may still be searching to find a purpose for these day-to-day adventures, but I can immediately enjoy the rewards.

This week, things got hard again. Summer hit the Front Range like the early arrival of a freight train. The wind and heat have been relentless. Boulder had its first 90-degree days, which okay, I can live with that. But that wind. When I hear it raging, all I can think about are these green hillsides that will soon be brown, and those clear blue skies that will soon be filled with smoke. I dread the upcoming fire season, now that the mountains are nearly snow-free and the heat is cranking early. I fear another summer like 2018, when the air was often so smoky that it became difficult to exert myself outside. And right now, living with this virus that nobody understands, I want to be extra conservative with my lungs and immune system. Summer, with all of its airborne particulates, may be the hazard that forces me into the grumpy purgatory of cloistering indoors.

On Wednesday, I had several unsavory chores to complete including allergy shots, so I thought I'd treat myself to a "new-new" adventure. I brought my road bike, originally thinking I'd check out Lookout Mountain in Golden. The backstory is that several of my friends are attempting to "Everest" this weekend, meaning they will attempt to climb 29,029 vertical feet in a series of nonstop cycling intervals. They're doing it as part of an organized charity event, and I admit to harboring supreme FOMO curiosity. However, my current limited bike fitness, lingering physical and mental fatigue following the Iditarod, and unwillingness to weaken my immune system with such a taxing effort means I won't be attempting such a thing this weekend. Someday, though, it seems like an intriguing challenge. I crunched the numbers of several nearby climbs, and decided that Lookout Mountain is probably the best candidate for an Everest. It climbs 1,200 feet in 4.5 miles on a 5-6 percent grade, so it's efficient but not stressfully steep, and the distance allows ideal intervals between exertion and breaks. It's lower altitude (for Colorado), and I've heard traffic can be not-too-annoying on weekdays, although in the current times, I have my doubts. That's the problem with Everesting on a bicycle. Gravel routes require more energy, but paved routes require dealing with traffic day and night. The more I thought about it, the more I decided I wouldn't try this ever. So I abandoned my Lookout Mountain scouting trip and headed for something longer and higher — Golden Gate Canyon.

That's the short-story-long about how I ended up in Golden on a scorching afternoon, sitting in my car and reminding myself I didn't *have* to do this. Beat had just texted me about 50mph gusts in the foothills near our house. Down in Golden, the south wind was so strong that it rocked my car as I changed into bike shorts and a jersey, with arm sleeves to protect my sensitive skin from UV rays. Outside, the temperature was 88 degrees. I had one bottle of spiced apple cider-flavored Skratch sports drink that I had forgotten to throw in the freezer. When I sipped it, it had the exact temperature and taste as hot apple cider. Nice when it's 40 below in March. Not so nice when it's 130 degrees warmer in May. I strongly didn't want to do this ride, but I'd driven myself all the way out here, and anyway this is the one day of the week I really get "out." So I straddled the bike and churned into that impossible headwind, before turning into the canyon where it became an even more perilous swirling crosswind. Gusts frequently threw me off my line. To make matters worse, the canyon road had no shoulder and was much busier than I anticipated. Handling the bike amid these gusts and road hazards was tricky enough that I had to stop and throw a foot down each time I wanted to take a sip from my bottle of unpalatable hot apple cider. With each stop I was tempted to turn around. But this was a "goal" and it was "new," so I stuck with it.

Finally, about nine miles into the route, while nearing a short gravel segment I needed to ride to complete my loop, I started to feel better. Traffic was much lighter, and it was a scenic canyon with gently rolling hills and pine groves. Temperatures were a little friendlier at this higher altitude, but the wind was cranking higher than ever. As I neared the crest of a hill, a gust finally pushed me all the way off the road, and I toppled into a fence. "Okay, that's enough biking for today," I thought, and turned around right there.

Then, as I battled those gusts along the precarious descent, I thought, "that's probably enough road biking for this year."

Summer is coming. With summer come the crowds. As with all things,  it's anyone's guess what this summer will look like. But I know that each spring, I rediscover a love for road biking — the freedom and zeal of moving quickly along a smooth, flowing surface. And each spring, after a few rides, I remember how much I dislike riding in traffic.

I'll probably give road biking more chances. But I don't think I'll plan a Lookout Mountain Everest attempt. I miss having goals, but that isn't the right goal, right now.

In the meantime, I'll continue to miss Alaska, and winter, and restaurants. And I'll continue working toward necessary enlightenment, that the here and now is all there is, and it's enough. 
Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Every day is like Sunday

In one of the better exchanges on my recent social media feeds, someone made a common observation that life in the spring of 2020 is a lot like the film "Groundhog Day." She was trying to remember how exactly it was that Bill Murray extracted himself from the purgatory of reliving the same day for eternity.

"He got out when he decided to stop being a selfish asshole and help others," was one response.

I was tempted to post the photo of that lockdown protester's painted windshield sign — "Your health is not more important than my liberties" — with my own response: "Then we're doomed."

I did not post this. I try to keep a lid on my cynicism about American culture, that our toxic combination of individualism, exceptionalism and division means we're going to weather a long and painful storm, and there's not a lot any of us can do about it. We donate to local causes while lamenting our loss of income amid a simultaneously fractured and flooded freelance economy. We try to "stay productive" while questioning if anything we do has any meaning. We try to connect with people but feel a strangeness about watching life happen behind a screen. We're grateful for safe spaces, but we also feel smothered by limitations. We're anxious about the disruptions, but also hungry for more lasting change.

It's a mess. I am braced for many more months of this storm. Something that drove it home this week was an expectation that most Google employees will keep working from home for the remainder of the year ... at least seven more months of the current routine. This brought a visceral flashback of being 16 years old, grounded to my bedroom for "sluffing" (skipping school), lying on the floor and listening to Morrissey sing about a coastal town so forlorn that only a nuclear bomb could jolt it from its stupor. My teenage mind embraced this as an anthem for the paradox of life: Expansive imagination, limited freedom.

"Every day is like Sunday. Every day is silent and gray."

Memories of this scene sparked a smile about all of the layers of relevance. If we (I) continue to act like a grounded teenager, we're just going to keep spinning our wheels, never getting anywhere. I recognized this attitude in myself this week when I felt overly exuberant every time I let myself out. The outdoors have become my personal shelter from the storm. Now more than ever, I need this break from my wild imagination and runaway ruminations. Seeking respite in anything, whether it's Morrissey or long bike rides, is briefly satisfying. But in the quieter hours, when despondency creeps closer to the surface, I realize I need to work toward a better balance.

All of this is a long way of saying that I enjoyed my physical activities but struggled with most everything else this week, which I suspect is the case with a lot of folks right now. My inner teenager is telling me the answer is "MOAR RUNNING" and I admit to giving in to these urges. It sure beats writing bad poetry, which I'll also admit that 40-year-old me is dangerously close to trying.

My stats for this past week ended up similar to the week before: 20 hours, 40 miles on foot, 90 miles on a bike, boatloads (20,000 feet) of climbing, but with two rest days to break it up nicely enough that I didn't feel physical effects until Monday, with similar complaints (Achilles tendon tightness, stiff calf muscles and some residual allergy symptoms.) Every May, as summer closes in, I go through a sort of seasonal mood slump that resembles what a lot of people experience in early winter. The allergy flare-ups, fierce solar glare and lip sunburns serve as a reminder that outside is becoming a less hospitable place. I know this sounds insane to sun-lovers. We all have our challenges.

May in Colorado usually provides some respite to smooth the transition. After a particularly wintry April, this May has been mostly a bust on the snow front. Disappointing. We did receive a dusting and temperatures in the high-20s on Friday morning, which just happened to the morning I planned an ambitious road bike ride. Unwilling to be deterred by winter weather on the one morning I wouldn't have wished for it, I just stuffed a few more layers in spare pockets and kept an eye out for black ice. It was a lovely misty morning and I felt fantastic, zipping up Lefthand Canyon and enjoying being the only cyclist on the road. Amid the brisk pace I simultaneously sweated and shivered for most of the climb. The sun came out just in time to melt the road ice for a long descent along Peak to Peak Highway and St. Vrain Canyon. The amazing effect of this route is that the 20-mile climb is not all that hard, and yet it affords a nearly uninterrupted 30-mile descent. It's an incredible ride beside sheer rock cliffs and a roiling whitewater creek, as thrilling as any amusement park rollercoaster, in my opinion. The only payment for such fun day out is the 12-mile grind from Lyons to Boulder on Highway 36, which on this day was a particularly hard slog into a rare southeasterly gale.

 My other notable outing this week was a long run with Beat on Sunday. He put together a route to leave from home and link the far-flung peaks of Twin Sisters and South Boulder in a perfect loop, with only two short out-and-back spurs to tag the peaks themselves. It was a rugged route with a lot of rocky trails and some overland 'shwhacking, demanding 8,000 feet of climbing in 28 miles (and 8,000 feet of descent, which on foot demands a whole lot of effort, unlike descending St. Vrain Canyon on a road bike.) I guessed it would take us nine hours to complete, and temperatures weren't supposed to climb much out of the 40s with a potential for afternoon rain. Still, my brain has shifted to summer mode. I packed a small hydration vest with two 16-ounce bottles of frozen-solid electrolyte drink, two liters of ice water, a water filter, a tiny 3-ounce wind jacket, thin gloves, thin beanie, and various electronics. The night before, I pre-packed each side pocket with an assortment of snacks, but then emptied one of the pockets to make room for my phone in the morning. I never re-packed these snacks or my phone. Subsequently, I had to appeal to Beat to let me carry his phone (I'm not sure I could mentally endure a nine-hour run without a camera.) I also realized that I was going to have to ration my food.

 We made our way around the backside of Twin Peaks and summited around mile 10. This photo shows our destination for many hours later, the two peaks in the middle — South Boulder on the right and Bear on the left. To get there, we would descend Eldorado Canyon (notch to the right) nearly all the way to the valley floor, then ascend 3,000 feet to the peak with close to a marathon on our legs already. Good fun!

 While scoping out satellite images, Beat discovered a faint old jeep track through Walker Ranch that might allow us to bypass paved road running altogether. I dislike 'shwhacking, especially during green-up season, but I was open to trying something new. The faint track quickly petered out, but the initial overland hiking through the old burn was easy enough. Then we started to descend into a gully. We crossed a small creek and ended up in a tangle of thorny brush and stacks of deadfall, and I was quick to lose my patience. Beat wanted to hike right of that rocky outcropping in the center of this photo, but having observed the hillside while taking the photo, I thought left looked far easier. He relented, we went left, and it wasn't all that bad. We spent close to 45 minutes hacking out this "shortcut" to avoid 1.5 miles of paved road running. Was it worth it? Yeah, it was probably worth it.

Beat has also recently discovered alternative trails around parts of the Walker Ranch loop, so we were able to get through much of this section while avoiding crowds.

 Descending toward a raging South Boulder Creek. Now about 19 miles into this route, I was beginning to feel bonked and particularly wobble-legged here. My inventory of remaining snacks, which I had rationed well so far, was one package of peanut M&Ms, one small package of fruit snacks, and half of a ham sandwich. I had hoped to save the fruit snacks for last, but faltered enough on the climb out of the canyon that I popped them like energy pills, in two big gulps.

This is the start of the long, rolling and bouldery descent into Eldorado Canyon. I was listening to the audiobook for "Labryinth of Ice," a gripping account of the Greeley Polar Expedition of 1881-1883. I had reached the chapters where the men, with food stores dwindling and a third winter closing in, staged an escape with small boats and sledges. The crumbling shelf ice swallows most of their gear, and they ultimately end up riding an ice floe to the northern coast of Greenland. There they build huts out of stone and moss, and attempt to hunt seal and walrus in anticipation of hunkering down for the entire Arctic winter.

As Beat and I loped easily if wobble-leggedly down the canyon, I contemplated this scenario — wiling away months of darkness and unfathomable cold in a seal-skin sleeping bag, moving as little as possible to conserve energy. I reflected on the last night of my last adventure, with its hours of 40 below and deep snow in the hills outside McGrath. It's difficult to understand the oppression of 40 below until you've experienced it. You're surrounded by a world capable of freezing flesh in a matter of minutes, and your only protection is a bubble of artificial insulation and the energy you burn to generate heat. As energy levels diminish, it feels like this sinister world is closing in on you. You understand fully just how fragile you are, and just how indifferent the world is to your needs. When I awoke to those crushing temperatures outside my sleeping bag in March, I swore I'd never take my warm bed for granted again. Only two months have passed, and that perspective is already fading.

Here in the present, on a cool but cloudless Sunday in Eldorado State Park, we encountered a crush of weekend crowds. We'd expected this. We've done well to avoid these popular spots. But after two months, and with no end in sight, we decided we were tired of staying away from our favorite trails just because they're crowded. I descended carefully with my buff pulled over my face. I thought I was ready to face the crowds, but it was disheartening to see just how little a seeming majority of people appear to care about anything. Maybe 1 in 20 were wearing face coverings, and people who were clearly not related to one another were crowding switchbacks in large groups, blocking passage in a way that required either sketchy off-trail scrambling, or simply busting straight through the crowd.

It's frustrating. Covering our faces in public and limiting social contact with people outside our households seem like simple acts that nearly everyone can accomplish. Common sense plainly shows how such distancing and blocking can reduce the exchange of respiratory droplets. That so few seem willing to do so, and then accuse those who do of blindly following politics, is baffling. I feel like grumbling, "This is the way biology works, people. It doesn't care about our affiliations." But this is the way things are, so we won't be returning to Eldo anytime soon. Shame. It's such a lovely place.

 We climbed out of Eldo through the greenest field I've yet seen. We live at 7,200 feet, and staying at home means I haven't spent much time at lower altitudes. It was lovely to see a place where spring is in full swing. Pasqueflowers were in full bloom, and cute little yellow blooms were popping up across the hillside. Unfortunately, there is something here that ignites my allergies, and my airways tightened as I climbed. Also unfortunately, my multiple switches from cycling to running packs this week resulted in accidentally leaving my inhaler at home. I had to deal with low-level asthma symptoms and breathing difficulties for much of the long climb up Shadow Canyon. Limited oxygen on top of low glycogen made for a hard battle up those final 3,000 feet of ascent.

 I was stoked to finally make it to the top of South Boulder Peak, a place that had looked so far in the distance just a few hours earlier. A day of exploring new trails with Beat, standing at the top of mountains, listening to a fantastic audiobook while reflecting on Alaska experiences, and drawing inspiration for our current challenges, all within the vicinity of home, made for a gratifying day.

Looking back at South Boulder Peak from the summit of Bear, which we hit for good measure before wrapping up the 28-mile loop. This was a great Sunday, and I wish every day could be like this Sunday. But when a tight Achilles tendon and creeping fatigue demanded a rest day on Monday, I all too quickly fell back into dark ruminations and moodiness. Striking a balance seems increasingly difficult right now, but I think I can take a lesson from "Groundhog Day" and the importance of finding ways to be both productive and helpful. It's difficult, because in other ways, our current plight feels similar to that of the forlorn Arctic explorers in the Greeley expedition, piecing together moss and stone huts as meager shelter from a brutal winter. And yet they must have survived, because somebody went on to share their story. I'll have to plan another long run so I can listen to the rest of the book and find out what happened. 
Monday, May 04, 2020

A dozen months go by as you wait for a sign

I knew stay-at-home life was starting to get to me when I planned a grocery run on Friday and anxiously anticipated it all week. Don't get me wrong; I dislike shopping on a good day. The current social distancing mandate nearly doubles the amount of time and discomfort in these tasks — wearing a breath-obstructing mask, standing in long outdoor lines under the hot sun, stacking a cart full of groceries twice so I can bag them in my car, wiping down everything I touch, and seriously why are the toilet paper shelves still empty? 

However, this week was the first I didn't need to get a catch-up allergy shot, which meant I'd have the stamina for some sort of adventure. Since I returned from Alaska, every outdoor activity I've embarked on has started from my front door. This would be the first time in weeks that I ventured a bit farther, so even the prospect of setting out from town was exciting. I pulled the road bike down from its wall mount, pumped up the tires, lubed the chain, and checked the top tube bag for the same light rain layers I was using last spring (so that's where that hat ended up!) Nearly a year has passed since I last rode this bike. Grit from the sudden storms that frequently washed through the canyons in May 2019 still clung to the frame. I brushed off the sand as I wistfully remembered those rides. How simple things were back then. I had such big plans for summer 2020. Training for the Silk Road Mountain Race called for big days in the saddle, and I schemed wide-ranging road rides like double passes over Trail Ridge Road, climbing Mount Evans from Evergreen, maybe even a multiday nostalgia tour (riding up to Wheatland, Wyoming and tracing my 2003 route back to Salt Lake City.) So many possibilities! 

 That was then. Now I live in a world where a grocery run feels like an adventure. It's not necessarily a bad thing. When we adjust expectations to match reality, perspective quickly follows. A three-hour blitz from North Boulder was excitement enough — especially with the potential for an up-close view of the mountains.

After what felt like a prolonged recovery from the Iditarod, I've rapidly rebuilt strength and stamina in the past two weeks. This surge of energy has weakened my resolve to keep things easy for a while, and I'd already logged a reasonably tough week of runs and rides before Friday. My legs were rubbery and the 85-degree heat felt oppressive. I pulled my buff over my face, intending to keep it up the whole ride — mostly for optics —but I'd forgotten how terribly difficult it can be to breathe through hot, saturated polyester. I managed ten miles before I cracked, and then just pulled it up when passing other cyclists. But I was passing other cyclists, an admittedly exhilarating feeling. Soon my rubbery muscles loosened and the heat faded behind a stiff but cool headwind. The road bike became an undetectable feather underneath me, and I felt like I was running on air with turbo engines strapped to my legs.

 The climb from Boulder to Brainard Lake gains a cool vertical mile — 5,400 feet with minimal rolling. Just beyond the gate I encountered far too much snow to continue, although I fantasized about slicing the narrow road tires through slush, "just like a hot knife in butter." I was less than two miles from an incredible mountain vista, and I realized then how much I wanted that — just to sit on that solitary bench near the shoreline and gaze upward.

But on this day, I did not have the tools to gain access to such a paradise. I only had a featherweight bike, so instead I turned around and gobbled up a 20-mile descent, complete with one short climb, in 45 minutes. The bike hit speeds of 44 mph, which is a little recklessly fast for a squirrely rider such as myself, who only hops on a road bike a handful of times each year. It was pure bliss though, as close to flying as any sensation I've felt. Road biking probably is the most risky activity I engage in, and yet I didn't feel unsettled until I pulled back up to my car, changed into street clothes, and switched out my snot-soaked Buff for a cute patterned facemask that I purchased from a Boulder woman who typically makes bike-commuting gear. What was this strange dread?

A recent Tweet from Joe Simpson, who narrowly escaped death during a mountaineering accident in the 80s and wrote a brilliant book about it, "Touching the Void," summed it up well: "It's quite odd driving to a supermarket idly and wondering if this is the moment I pick up a fatal disease and die. Never thought I'd have that thought process again."

I've wondered why I feel so rundown after these trips to town. In earlier weeks I blamed the allergy shots. Perhaps this week I can blame the vigorous road ride. Either way, "town day" is often my most draining part of the week. I'll slump home, feeling vaguely out of sorts. I'll develop a headache, and become convinced my throat is scratchy. I'll pop a bunch of vitamin C and check my temperature and SpO2. Nothing's out of the ordinary. Just hypochondria again. Or is it? 

Consciously, I don't feel like I'm irrationally scared of COVID-19. I take it seriously, both because I want to be a good citizen, and also because I suspect I have a fair chance of serious complications. I contracted a simple case of pneumonia in 2015 that took me down several notches; things haven't been the same since. Now I'm a person with underlying conditions, asthma and Graves Disease. Still, I've spent years teaching myself how to embrace fears. I also believe the science that shows how most of us will likely be exposed to this eventually. I'm capable of acceptance and an "it will be what it will be" sort of attitude. As I move toward accepting that this is going to be with us for a while, however, despondency creeps in. If going to the grocery store feels this weird and arduous, how can travel happen again? Or racing? Riding and running with friends? Visiting my parents? I maintain a great deal of freedom and movement, and I relish these simple joys still. But it's difficult to let go of anticipation and future dreams that so recently were just an ordinary part of life.

Saturday dawned misty and gray. It was nice to see some proper spring weather, something I've missed since we skipped directly from winter to summer. Beat and I had a long run planned for Sunday, and I intended to rest up beforehand. I spent the morning cleaning the basement and chipping away at a writing project that currently feels like hammering a flimsy nail into stone. Malaise was building and I decided to combat it with a bike ride.

"I'll be gone an hour, tops," I told Beat. Heavy thunderstorms were forecast to hit at 4 p.m., and I was leaving at 2 p.m., so the motivation was there to keep it short. But as I pedaled into the cool afternoon, my legs felt amazingly peppy. With limited effort I could fly up the hills, feeling strong enough that I checked my watch near the start of a coveted 2.5-mile Strava segment. In four years I've posted 75 rides through this segment, so PRs are not easy to come by these days ... I haven't cracked the top ten since 2018. But I decided to for it. At mile two I dabbed in a muddy mess of ruts. I thought for sure I'd lost it, but my watch was still showing reasonable progress. I charged all the way to the top of the hill only to encounter a truck inching up the final pitch. The vehicle stalled on a sand-covered slab and stopped, blocking the entire road. There was no way around. After wavering a few seconds I threw my bike over my shoulder and sprinted up a side slope. The driver probably thought I was nuts. I was tempted to yell "STRAVA" as I ran past, but did not.

I missed my PR by two seconds. But I snagged a few other long-standing segments. I felt so pumped that I just had to continue riding. I descended the rutted county road and pedaled toward a usually quiet forest road that winds toward the reservoir. The road was still gated, and there were only a few cars at the trailhead on this cool and gray afternoon. Despite sandy conditions I managed a few more PRs on lesser-traveled segments. In doing so, I turned my relaxing one-hour ride into 20 miles of tempo with 3,000 feet of climbing. Beat said if I crapped out on Sunday, he would have no sympathy. I replied that it was worth it.

Beat and I have missed long runs. Even with potentially nothing to train for this year, we still long for a proper beatdown on rough and interesting terrain. We schemed a run that would allow us to both leave from home and explore new terrain. The route linked a couple of trails that until now had been dead ends to us, tracing remnants of social trails and old roadbeds. We try to avoid trespassing, so Beat cross-checked his track with a property map to ensure we stayed on county and national forest land. Even close to home, we can still find some lovely trails that see little use.

 "Little use" sometimes means lots of slogging. This shaded traverse held onto a lot of snow, and it took us a while to bust through. Shortly after I took this photo, Beat lost a shoe and bloodied his knee.

 Connectors also require some road running. Jogging toward this pasture, I thought, "those people sure have a lot of horses." As we passed by, I realized it was a herd of elk.

 We ran toward the trailhead for the forest road where I rode my bike the previous day. I was amazed at what an out-of-control zoo it had become on this sunnier and slightly warmer Sunday. Vehicles were parked up and down the county road a half-mile away in both directions, blocking driveways and obstructing the traffic lanes so much that it was barely passable one way. Cars passed constantly, and we occasionally had to jump onto steep side slopes to let them through. Thanks to a 4WD-only connector, this spot is essentially located on a dead-end spur off of a secondary dirt road — about as far from the beaten path as you can find in Boulder County. To see it so crowded, after years of appreciating its relative emptiness was ... strange. This scene also had a somewhat dystopian feel, like dodging a zombie mob with off-leash dogs. I'm not afraid they're going to pass around a virus; I'm afraid they're going to run us over in this seemingly blind rush to fill a void of time.  I concede that I can't criticize people recreating if I am also out recreating in the same place. It's just strange, that's all. Where do all of these people go when it's not the end of the world? Theaters and stores, I suppose. It's just as well that they're enjoying the great outdoors, but I wish it could be done in a less noxious way.

Anyway, we were grateful to leave the busy road and veer onto an empty trail, where we hiked and scrambled to the top of Twin Sisters Peak. The altitude of this peak is 8,700 feet, making it one of the highest in the region. It seems to be seldom visited. Access is limited by several miles of road walking on either side (or a decent 4WD vehicle) so even I don't come here often. This was Beat's first visit. He was impressed. The panoramic views here are incredible, stretching from the plains to a vast mountain skyline, from Longs Peak to Mount Evans.

Our original plan had us descending Flagstaff Road and returning via Walker Ranch, but we wanted to stay away from the inevitable crowds. Instead we made our way down a faint jeep road to another social trail, quickly reconnecting to the traverse to Meyers Gulch. Despite having to climb around frequent deadfall, wade deep snow and bash through thorny bushes that ripped my shins to shreds, we agreed this was an ideal sneak and vowed to return.

This detour lengthened our overall route just enough that we started talking about tacking on four more miles to round out the run to a 26.2-mile marathon. We did so in the hardest way possible, marching straight up a long-neglected old road behind our neighborhood. But we got it done, and I felt reasonably energetic and loose the entire time, despite the lack of long runs in recent weeks, and despite riding my bike a little too hard for two days prior. I did become dehydrated, having carried only three liters of water for seven hours in the hot sun (the transition from winter to spring always throws me for a loop, because with a seemingly minimal shift from 35 degrees to 65 degrees, I go from needing a liter of liquid to a gallon.) My payment for indulging in a long run has been a mild headache and a tight Achilles (argh, how I abhor my right Achilles tendon. This "touch of tendonitis" has been an ongoing issue for two years now. I can drag a sled 300 miles over deep snow with no problems, but will it let me climb hills or run a couple dozen miles? No!)

Also, today — Monday — I have been feeling emotionally down ... more so than I have in weeks, when I first began to come around from the shock of March. I could blame the latest headlines about bursts of new cases and deaths as states collectively decide to just get on with it ... that's part of it, sure. But I also need to consider a likely tipping point when I become a little too zealous with physical activity, especially after so recently recovering from such a hard Iditarod.  I took a rest day today, but I still feel down. That's just the way things are right now — such a rollercoaster of emotions, trying to balance wildly undulating uncertainties, even as day-to-day life slows down.

So it's funny, and maybe just a little bit sad, that when I ponder what might cheer me up, I immediately turn my thoughts to my upcoming trip to town, and where I might ride my road bike when that exciting day comes.