Tuesday, June 23, 2020

A tale of three rides

Recently, I've been struggling with the frivolity of my passions. Endurance racing has brought my life an actualizing sense of meaning, but what does that actually mean? Writing gives shape to my life through stories, but what truths have I uncovered in the process? A couple of weeks ago, as part of my resolve to reduce anxiety-stoking screen time, I picked up my high-school-era colored pencils and started sketching again. I no longer own a pencil sharpener, nor have I boldly ventured to a store that sells them, so I've been scrawling away with the nubs, using the odd colors that survived even my neon comic phase of twelfth grade AP Art, imagining great beauty while scowling at the muddled motions of my unruly right hand. Carpal tunnel didn't take away my ability to draw, but decades of disuse have done their damage. Does one ever get it back? Or are lost passions much like our teenage selves, a wholly different conglomeration of cells linked to the present only by memories and a trail of shifting convictions about what it means, to live a life?

Sometimes I feel like I'm just spinning my wheels. Wednesdays have become their own weird day. I have my morning meeting with my virtual therapist (she's a real person, but it's weird that we've only interacted through screens.) Then I pack up masks and insulated grocery bags for my weekly grocery trip to town. Last week I needed to schedule an allergy shot, and the clinic only had 11:30. After they pump me full of allergens, they always warn me not to exercise afterward, as stress can trigger a reaction. I admit I usually ignore this warning. But I try to avoid doing anything too strenuous because, at best, shots leave me feeling like garbage for the rest of the day. However, Wednesday feels like a rare escape, an opportunity to embark on a solo adventure from the far-away lowlands. I don't like to waste this opportunity. 

As I drove away from the allergy clinic at 12:45 p.m., my car thermometer read 91 degrees. Smoke from distant wildfires hung in the stagnant air, and the state issued an ozone alert for sensitive-lungs folks who react poorly to pollution (raises hand.) I'd skipped lunch but had no appetite, so I decided I'd start on an empty stomach but carry some snacks in case I felt peckish. The car needed gas, so I stopped at a gas station and gave in to the temptation to buy a 32-ounce bucket of iced Diet Pepsi. I gulped it in ten minutes on my way to the mouth of Lefthand Canyon, relished the rush of cold liquid surging through my system, and climbed on my road bike to begin the 5,000-foot ascent to Brainard Lake. 

Things were fine, for an hour or so. Despite the heat, I felt reasonably peppy and not overheated. The iced water in my bladder had stayed nice and icy while stored in a cooler, and I slurped it greedily. Then, suddenly, things became not fine. I felt dizzy. My heart was thumping. I thought it was a matter of oxygen deficiency, as exercise difficulties usually are for me. But when I stopped to catch my breath, my status did not improve. I kept pedaling, hoping it would pass, but a growing sense of desperation persisted. My hands started to shake enough that the front wheel shimmied somewhat. Finally, I decided I might just be on the verge of something terrible like allergy shot anaphylaxis — something I'd been warned about by my asthma doctor, but I'd long since written off the possibility. I turned the bike around and descended 400 feet to a large shaded pullout. My stomach was lurching but I forced down a package of cheese crackers and lay on my back in the dirt, watching puffy white clouds waft across the sky. 

The carbs and salt went down, and after I few minutes of resting, I began to feel more centered. Maybe this wasn't allergy-shot-related, I thought. Maybe this was an electrolyte imbalance. It might also have been hypoglycemia. However, like most people who have been involved in endurance racing for years, my body is well-conditioned to move for hours without calories. It would be weird for me to have such a severe reaction after a single missed meal. But drinking a bunch of liquid with minimal salt and then sweating like a snowman in hell is something I'm more prone to — and also a recipe for hyponatremia. 

The crackers revived me enough that I stubbornly continued to the lake and then descended without issue. Back at the car, my thermometer read 107 degrees — because it had been sitting in the sun, but doesn't that mean it's basically the "feels like" temperature? It felt like 107 degrees. I masked up, staggered around the grocery stores, and headed home. I felt off for the rest of the evening, even after eating dinner. Only when I finally took a couple of salt tabs did the hand tremors finally cease altogether. Mild hyponatremia seems a likely culprit, and I resolved to be more careful in the future — heat is so much scarier than cold. 

 A couple of quiet days passed. I tapped some words into the void and ignored my abraded colored pencils, reasoning that I need to buy a pencil sharpener and thus can procrastinate what was supposed to be a therapeutic outlet that became another source of disquiet. A storm moved into the region, driving the daytime temperature into the 40s and driving out the smoke pollution. It rained and rained, more than an inch of solid water in less than 24 hours. Beat and I went outside for a drenching run and I marveled at the sensation — to go for a run and not feel crappy. He asked me what I wanted to do on Saturday, and I suggested riding bikes to the top of Mount Evans.

 Every Coloradoan knows Mount Evans. It's often the only fourteener than many Coloradoans have visited. In the early days of Colorado tourism, the state envisioned a scenic byway that could carry motorists to the sky. Construction began in 1916, but wasn't completed until 1930 following almost insurmountable hardships, which included — according to Wikipedia — steam shovels performing poorly at high altitude, a flu outbreak in camp, damaging windstorms, the difficulty of hauling coal and water, horse suicide (?) and more. The last 600 feet were finally built by hand.

Thanks to the road, Mount Evans is a popular destination, even though the highest temperature ever recorded on the summit is 65 degrees, and the average wind speed is 30 knots (35 mph!) It's also a famous hill climb for cyclists. However, thanks to the aforementioned weather and oxygen-starved altitude, it often becomes a "one and done" endeavor. I, of course, love it, although I'd admittedly only ridden it twice before, once each summer in 2018 and 2019. I never expected that Beat would want to join me. If you start riding in Idaho Springs, the route climbs solidly for 28 miles — no reprieve — gaining 7,000 feet in the process. Long, grinding rides hurt his back, and this is a road ride with annoying traffic and no hike-a-bike to speak of. But this year, citing the COVID-19 pandemic and need for long-standing repairs, the state decided not to open the road to vehicle traffic. For the entire summer, Mount Evans Scenic Byway is the nation's highest paved pedestrian path. It's a boon for cyclists, and Beat has been weirdly into cycling lately. Riding on Saturday was practically his idea.

A friendly forecast lulled us into a late start Saturday morning. But as we drove south toward the higher summits, I was floored by the thick coat of white descending from the peaks, almost to treeline. Clearly, temperatures in the 40s and rain at 7,000 feet mean lots of snow at 12,000 feet. I'm not sure why this didn't occur to me sooner, but it was disheartening. I know, it's weird that I wasn't thrilled about the prospect of snow. But I had a gravel bike, and the possibility of several inches of snow did not bode well for reaching the summit. We decided to chance it, reasoning that turning around early was better than no Mount Evans at all.

I was coming off of a bad night, after I worked myself into an anxious lather over Saturday's Trump rally in Tulsa. My catastrophizing mind conjured images of false flags, violence, massive illness spikes, terrible things. I was still stewing over all of this as we set out, but the rhythm of pedals and my beating heart soon worked their meditative magic. Beat set the pace on his mountain bike. He's usually a stronger climber than me, and I wasn't able to hold his pace when we rode Trail Ridge Road together on similar set-ups. But he was having his off day for the week, and our shared speed was perfect. Not too fast. Not too slow. Just the perfect equilibrium of relaxation in motion.

We rode past the Echo Lake gate to enter the cyclists' haven — friends riding side by side, roadies pegging the descent, dozens of cyclists out enjoying a gorgeous morning. At Summit Lake we sliced through our first slush patches, and then they became thicker. Others began to turn around. We encountered a group of three young men who were torn on continuing. One seemed particularly unenthused, and we leapfrogged several times as we surged, swerved, and then trudged through the snow. Beat caught up just as they announced they were "calling it."

"You have to hike-a-bike to the summit," Beat urged them. "I'm going to stalk you on Strava, and if I see you didn't make it ..."

The threat of Strava-stalking seemed to do it, and the guys shouldered their road bikes and marched forward, pressing their awkward clipless shoes and thin socks into the snow. Together, the five of us trudged the final switchbacks, nearly two miles of hand-built road soaring from 13,300 feet to 14,200 feet, as our legs wilted beneath the cumbersome dead weight of our bikes and our lungs begged for oxygen. It was all so frivolous and silly, carrying a bike up a mountain buried in fresh snow on the summer solstice. I hoped the roadies wouldn't resent us for this, while simultaneously wondering if their hearts were soaring like mine. When we reached the empty parking lot, the guys looked elated. They thanked us for nudging them forward.

The true summit is about 150 feet above the parking lot, and the hike up those final switchbacks is always such a kick in the gut. Beat was feeling quite bad. He's usually good at hiding it, but I could tell he was flagging, and he complained of nausea and fatigue. I was briefly concerned, but then we approached a runner who was truly discombobulated, stumbling over small rocks and walking so slowly that I wondered if he was drunk. The man tripped on a boulder and toppled just as we reached the summit. We struck up a conversation with a woman, and I learned they had run the road all the way from Echo Lake, nearly 14 miles one way. He was from New York, but the woman assured me he didn't have coronavirus.

"Is he going to be okay?" I asked. "He doesn't look okay."

"He'll be fine," she laughed airily. Poor dude from New York, dragged all the way up to 14,000 feet with a long run ahead of him. I felt concerned, but at least he had a friend to help him.

Later I mentioned the altitude-drunk man and this conversation to Beat, and he didn't remember much of it. He was having his own issues, but he was happy to reach the summit. The views up there are incredible — to the east, a 9,000-foot drop into Denver. To the west, snowy summits rippling over the horizon.

We retreated to the shell of a burned-down restaurant to eat our lunch, where we shared space with this mountain goat who I believe was purposely striking a majestic pose. Beat only ate a few bites of his sandwich. All we had left was 28 miles of effortless coasting, back to the oxygen-rich, snow-starved real world. We gave in to the temptation to stop in Idaho Springs for another tanker of diet Pepsi, a decision I again regretted when the gas station was packed with people who were mostly not wearing masks. It was the least social-distanced situation I've encountered in three months, which I suppose is a mark of my privilege. But next time, I will just walk out. If the pandemic can continue keeping me away from the devil soda, that will only be a good thing.

None of my worst-case scenarios of the weekend came true, although the current state of affairs isn't great. I was again stewing and sleeping poorly on Sunday. This is just the way things are going to be for a while. 2020 is hard for everyone. I recognize that there won't be straightforward solutions anytime soon, so for now a few band-aids will have to do. Cycling. It's never the wrong answer.

Old Fall River Road is another classic, a gravel byway in Rocky Mountain National Park. I'd hoped to ride this with a friend, but our schedules didn't quite line up. So on Monday morning, I headed out solo with Beat's gravel bike, on which he just installed a light new set of Spinergy wheels. It's so snappy and fun right now.

I made quick work of nine-mile, 3,000-foot gravel climb to 11,700 feet. My legs felt strong and my mood was weirdly neutral. Maybe it was the haze of a sleepless night or the emotional fatigue following a volatile week. The kind of week where the weather I experienced outside swung from 90-plus degrees and hazy to 48 degrees with heavy rain to near-freezing in a stiff wind atop fresh snow. And the emotions I experienced swung from dizzy desperation to cool relief to soaring joy. On this morning, this beautiful morning in one of my favorite places, I felt mostly — nothing. Honestly, it was sort of nice.

After I turned onto Trail Ridge Road and joined the relatively light weekday traffic, I started to wake up a bit. I took some photos.

Elk grazing near the summit.

Views from Rainbow Curve.

It was nice. Just nice. I decided to turn around and ride the alpine zone again, a 12-mile out-and-back that added another 2,000 feet of climbing. I didn't ride hard, and it didn't feel hard, although the altitude was beginning to catch up.

When it was again time to return to the lowlands and real life, I did feel disappointed. My mind would be easier to manage, and my life probably easier as well, if I could just ride bikes and do nothing else. But life doesn't work that way. Bodies don't really work that way. Which is why we return to real life and continue toiling for mundane things. Turn in my ballot. Finally file my taxes. Mask up and buy more groceries. Make a donation. Call my parents. Scrub the counters. Realize that living a life entails all of this, and all of it is frivolous, and also none of it is.
Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Faith in geography

A blister finally formed over my lower lip. This has been a painful rite of passage every spring —one that I do my best to ward off, to no avail. People whose skin can tolerate the sun just don't understand; prevention efforts are futile. I can apply lip sunscreen every time I take a sip of water; the high-altitude UV will still win. I've become that middle-aged lady who wears dorky arm *and* leg sleeves on bike rides, slathers on SPF50 to go for a run even if it is actively raining, wore a buff around my neck well before the pandemic for the sole purpose of protecting my neck, and is one REI visit away from owning one of those full-brim hiking hats that I hate for the way they obstruct vision and flap in the wind, but I'm running out of options. Still, none of these things can save my lips. Even surfer sunblock won't withstand a relentless urge to wipe away lip snot, and then I just end up with white or blue goop smeared on everything. No, the sun has won. Now I look forward to a couple more months of breaking into tears every time I raise a balsamic vinegar-soaked lettuce leaf to my mouth. 

I struggle with summer. Can you tell? It is my S.A.D. season for the heat and bug bites and pollen-choked air, for the hard sun and surging crowds, for the unpredictable threats of lightning and hail. This summer feels particularly sinister as it moves toward more extreme weather and a potentially bad wildfire season, and, oh yeah, one almost forgets that still lurking everywhere is a deadly virus about which little is understood, except for that it appears to be coming for us all and we've collectively decided to just get on with it. But getting on with it doesn't mean that life will go back to normal or that we can start traveling or running races again. It just means that we decide what line of magical thinking to adopt while a rampant and little-understood virus does the actual work of getting on with it. The future is nothing if not uncertain. May the odds be ever in your favor.

Okay, now I feel better having written away some of my bad mood. Honestly, I don't know why I'm so grumpy on a Tuesday evening. I'm heartened by recent societal developments, even if they are droplets of rain over the dumpster fire that's consuming 2020. But I've also improved on my resolution to spend less time scrolling through Twitter and stewing over news articles. And personally, I had a great week. I enjoyed my first social outing since March, my first overnight camping trip of summer, more ventures into the high country, and a hike above that soaringly magical 4,000-meter mark. Also, it snowed. It happened a week ago and was only the lightest of dustings. But it gifted me with a 37-degree morning in June, and for that my lips were grateful.

Amid work deadlines, I was able to get out for a quick morning jaunt to South Boulder Peak, where I could see snow frosting the ridge. It was disappearing fast despite temperatures in the 30s, with the warm ground and a misty rain to speed the melt.

 Recently my fitness has been on a bit of a downswing. I suspect high pollen season still affects my airways, and I can't boost my heart rate nearly as high as usual before heavy breathing and lightheadedness slows me down. The inhaler helps some, but what helps even more is a 37-degree morning with a dusting of snow to clear the air. I felt amazing, charging up the west ridge of Bear with lungs full of oxygen. I figured my fast pace would give me enough time to scoot over to South Boulder Peak before I needed to get back to work.

 Snowline was still clearly visible from the top of SoBo. It crept down to about 8,000 feet, the closest I've seen yet to a June winter storm hitting home. If anything this wisp of cold weather was probably just a harbinger for a particularly hot summer to come, but it was a welcome respite all the same.

For the rest of the week, I sought respite in altitude. On Wednesday I took my road bike to Brainard Lake, again. Tuesday's cold front lingered as a harsh breeze swept down Lefthand Canyon. I was simultaneously annoyed that I had to pedal so hard against a headwind and relieved that the late-morning air felt downright cold. I even wore a jacket. On Thursday evening, Beat and I set out to run the loop around Walker Ranch, and were shocked to find quiet trails. The weather was perfect, but perhaps just cool and breezy enough to deter the now almost constant crowds. Solitude in the Colorado frontcountry is a rare treat these days.

 On Friday, for the first time since March, I met up with friends for a social bike ride. Betsy invited me and Cheryl to join her on an overnight camping trip on Boreas Pass. The whole thing felt so novel — seeing people I know in real life, sharing real conversation, all while embarking on a journey to a far-away place. Even a hundred miles from home feels far away these days.

We met at a parking lot off I-70 in Frisco, and made quick work of the bike path into Breckenridge before continuing toward Boreas Pass. This route is all part of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, and I carry mixed feelings about this section in particular. The Frisco parking lot where we started pedaling is just a few blocks from the house where I officially quit the Tour Divide in 2015. I was so sick and so disappointed; I can still feel these emotions viscerally when I ride through the streets of Frisco. Occasionally, I'll reflect on how I stomped all over my good memories of the Tour Divide when I became too ambitious about the endeavor, and wonder if I've done the same with the Iditarod. After all, despite all of the real-world problems happening everywhere, I admit I'm still preoccupied with ruminations about my 2020 race. Approaching Boreas Pass brought a host of conflicting emotions. This isn't to say I wasn't excited to be out for a little adventure, riding in the mountain sunshine with friends. I only mean that life is a spectrum of experience, and the memories that remain will inevitably cast shadows over the present.

 Boreas Pass — the first GDMBR pass I failed to reach in 2015, and a big goal should I ever return to ride the full route from Canada. It's fitting that I still have the same bike and all of the same bikepacking bags. Cheryl teased me about the grimy state of my stuff, but the bike is in better shape than it has been in years. Beat has been on a kick to upgrade all of our bikes, and I'm enjoying a new fork, new headset, new grips, and a snazzy titanium seatpost. Beat even replaced the warped brake rotors that I rode all of last summer, until I just learned to live with constant squealing. He replaced the kinked cable housing that was causing the chain to drop off the cassette every time I tried to crank up a steep hill. He also freed a loose bolt that had mysteriously found its way into the handlebars, and had been rattling around for months. My bike maintenance is atrocious, but Mootsy has been well-loved.

 Fittingly, while we were snacking and chatting near the old railroad depot, we ran into Bonnie, who is perhaps the Tour Divide's most prominent advocate. Friday also happened to be the day that the 2020 Tour Divide was set to start in Banff, before the event was effectively canceled by Canada border closures and individual state limitations. Bonnie wanted to celebrate the date, so she planned her own ride to Boreas Pass. She recently moved to Boulder, fulfilling a longtime dream to live in Colorado. Although we've been virtually connected for years and now live in the same zip code, we had yet to meet in person. I was a bit muddled and socially awkward after months of relative isolation, but it was fun to chat with her in person, finally. She took this photo of me, Betsy, and Cheryl, but I failed to get one with her in it.

 Betsy planned the route to fulfill the requirements for a virtual 70-mile gravel race she was aiming to complete. It was 90 miles in total, and she had to ride 70 on the first day. After cresting and descending Boreas Pass, we headed out for a 25-mile bonus loop through South Park. I was unenthused about this part of the ride, as I've only experienced terrible weather — smoke, hail, wind, or all of the above — in this open basin with nowhere to hide. Indeed, as soon as we crossed Highway 285, we were blasted by a strong west wind and sideways rain.

 But, as summer weather does, the storm cleared out in less than an hour. The loop turned out to be a pleasant tour through rolling grasslands with big views all around us. I do love a good swath of wide-open space.

 We returned through Como, where an older man and his wife pulled up in a truck and told me we couldn't ride our bikes to Boreas Pass because the road was closed and "it's against the law." He claimed to work for the sheriff's department and kept repeating this, suggesting that we instead make a death-defying shalom run through weekend traffic on Highway 285 and Highway 9. I'd rather take my chances with Park County jail than ride those highways at dusk, and was about to say as much when Betsy pulled up and authoritatively stated that she was certain the road was open to nonmotorized use. The man finally got tired of arguing and pulled away, probably to call the county sheriff. I pondered what it is about human nature that makes some people so determined to ruin a stranger's day.

We raced to leave Como and return to welcome solitude behind the closed gate. The final ten miles were a grind on loose gravel up an interminable railroad grade — perfect for quiet meditation. Near the pass, I stopped to filter water trickling away from a snowfield, as fresh and cold as water comes. Betsy rolled up to complete her 70-mile virtual race, smiling wide on her loaded fat bike.

 We descended about a mile find camp, which we set up in the forest near a precipitous dropoff toward Indiana Creek. We pitched our three tents well away from each other and sat in a socially distanced circle to cook and eat dinner. I filled my entire cooking pot with hot tea and sipped as we chatted well into the dark hours, mostly about dreams of future adventures. The night was bizarrely warm at 11,200 feet, but the altitude robbed us of a good night's sleep. I was about a half-hour away from giving up and going for a 4 a.m. hike up Boreas Mountain when I finally dozed off. Betsy needed to be back by noon the following day, so in the morning we pack up and coasted the 20 miles back to Frisco, wrapping up the entire trip in fewer than 24 hours. It was a brief but much-appreciated excursion.

 On Sunday, Beat and I set out for a half-day hike in the Indian Peaks. Our intended destination was South Arapaho Peak, but we were thwarted by a closed gate on Rainbow Lakes Road. Not wanting to run five miles of boring road each way, we made the somewhat strange decision to head over to Brainard Lake, where another gate closure still required a three-mile road approach to the nearest trailhead (looking back, I think we probably would have been happier aiming for what would have almost certainly been complete solitude on the Arapaho Glacier Trail, but that would have made for a 25-mile day.)

 Anyway, we set out from Brainard's winter lot and fought through the already-thick-at-9 a.m. crowds toward Mount Audubon. At 13,200 feet, Audubon is one of the most accessible 4,000-meter peaks in the region, so it's immensely popular. Beat had never been up here, thwarted several times by either thunderstorms or harsh winter weather. Indeed, Audubon seems to sit directly in the funnel of the jet stream, and the wind is always brutal. If there's a light breeze wafting across Brainard Lake, I know it's going to be blowing at least 30mph on Audubon. On this day there was more than a light breeze, and the winds up high were gale force — strong enough that I was reluctant to hold my camera in one hand for fear the wind would rip it away. The windchill was sublime.

 Views to the northwest. Beat and I spent a little time, amid shivering in the cold wind and stuffing down sandwiches, analyzing the ridge that wraps around Brainard Lake basin. It appears to be a mostly class-2 boulder crawl, with an impossible-looking but apparently doable crux over Mount Toll. We may try it soon. I waver between a strong desire to explore these mountains and the knowledge that I'm quite fearful of exposure and objectively bad at negotiating tricky terrain. These ridge traverses would be equal parts exhilarating and mentally exhausting — the trick would be getting through before stress shuts my mind down and causes my body to make an awful mistake. We'll see. As you can see, I think about this a lot. Another reason I look forward to the end of summer is that I don't need to torture myself with alpine fever dreams for another nine months.

  Views toward Rocky Mountain National Park. So many mountains!

As we began the long descent back to 85-degree heat in Boulder, I was already missing that fierce windchill. My breathing had been rough all day, and I lagged well behind Beat for much of the hike. I thought about blaming too much time at altitude, as this week was by far the most time I've spent above 10,000 feet since last summer. It could also be that I'm preoccupied with wanderlust and not paying any attention to training, and thus have put in some unintentionally big weeks — this one, for example, held 23 hours of moving time, and 23,000 feet of climbing. But I feel like I'm finally venturing back out into the world, and it helps keep the negativity at bay. 
Monday, June 08, 2020

Return to mountains

 It's been another one of those weeks, hasn't it? Despite my efforts to limit time on social media, I still caught some of the terrible videos that have been circulating. I may have spent nearly as much time crying in the bathroom as I did during those emotionally volatile weeks in mid-March. But it is beginning to seem like positive change is happening. Coronavirus may still have the upper hand, but there's reason to believe that the deeper, more persistent diseases in our society are, at the very least, rising to the surface and being exposed to the light.

I've been fairly quiet on social media because this seems like a time to watch and listen rather than interject. But in the context of this blog, I think it is important to address the issue of diversity in the outdoors. I believe outdoor endeavors can add so much beauty, joy, personal growth and understanding to people's lives. Over the years I've followed several organizations that work to empower underrepresented women to opt outside:

Black Girls Trekking: A couple of years ago, I read an article in the Guardian about the anxiety of hiking while black. Embarrassing as this is to admit, it didn't occur to me until recently just how justifiably vulnerable women of color can feel when it comes to "bad things that happen in the woods." This organization focuses on equipping individuals with knowledge and support to address these fears and confidently venture outside.

Unlikely Hikers: Jenny Bruso launched an impressive initiative with this group, which promotes the stories of underrepresented individuals and, prior to the pandemic, organized dozens of group hikes all over the country. She welcomes anybody who sees themselves as an "unlikely hiker," including people of size, people of color, people with disabilities, queer, trans, gender-nonconforming, and others.

Color Outside: This group offers workshops, retreats and coaching for people of color. 

Indigenous Women Hike: An Instagram-based community of indigenous women who find healing and connection to the land through hiking. In 2018 they led a hike on Nüümü Poyo — also known as the John Muir Trail — while exploring the often-uncomfortable truths and complex history surrounding the region. Their stories have led me to work harder to learn the names and histories of ancestral lands that I have grown to love.

Native Women's Wilderness: Another group that works to bring indigenous women together in the outdoors. The nonprofit organization has been raising funds to send COVID-19 relief packages to the Navajo Nation.

The BIPOC Bike Adventure Grant: Bikepacking Roots created this grant program to reduce barriers so black, indigenous, and people of color can discover the joys of this relatively new and admittedly homogeneous sport. The grant is set up to help recipients pursue adventure by bicycle, whatever their vision of adventure might be. It seems a worthy cause to donate a few dollars, after putting your money to work in justice-seeking organizations such as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Southern Poverty Law Center, etc.

I'm incredibly grateful for the time I was able to spend outside this week. After what feels like — and in fact, was — months away, I was finally able to venture toward the higher mountains along the Continental Divide. Our home peaks and trails have been nice, but I missed these mountains in a visceral way. I even started to dream about them ... once the anxiety dreams about the Iditarod Trail began to fade, I started seeing alpine tundra and craggy ridges in my sleep.

Anyway, on Wednesday most of the snow along Brainard Lake Road had melted, and I was finally able to coax my road bike all the way to the basin — 50 miles and 5,600 feet of almost continuous climbing toward the puffy white clouds in the sky. Physically, I've been feeling a bit off this week — I'm not sure if it's the emotional turmoil, recovery from Beat's birthday run, the fact that it's June and June is just a bad month for me, or a simple environmental shifts such as heat, pollen, etc. Really, it could be anything. My watch hasn't even been scolding me for unproductive workouts, but my fitness feels like it's slipping a bit. That's okay.

I will mention that I finally had a check-in with my endocrinologist two weeks ago. Throughout March and early April, I grappled with night sweats, more debilitating anxiety, high blood pressure, high resting heart rate, and other classic symptoms of Graves Disease — which, I acknowledged, could also be classic symptoms of being undone by an endurance race. So I waited until May to get checked, and was surprised by the results. My blood pressure had dropped to 100/60 — borderline low. My thyroid hormone levels are on the low end of normal, and my TSH is higher than it was in November, and now nearing the high end of normal range. I became concerned that the Hashimotos antibodies I carry may have been activated, but my doctor didn't seem worried. There's not much I can do about it unless my TSH skyrockets, and for the most part I feel fine, so I'm optimistic. I am also very relieved that Graves Disease hasn't relapsed, because the implications would be more serious.

On Thursday, Beat and I headed to Rocky Mountain National Park to ride Trail Ridge Road. After the park re-opened in late May, I'd hoped to head up for one ride before the highway opened to vehicles. I planned a date and Beat took the afternoon off. Then, on Wednesday night, the park announced the road would open the following morning. Blast. Beat doesn't love riding roads, so I thought he wouldn't want to deal with national park traffic — which can be the most annoying kind of traffic. But I had talked up my love of the scenery on this route enough that he still wanted to try it out.

We got a relatively late start and the weather became intermittently stormy as soon as we hit the road. We climbed toward 12,000 feet, where the wind was biting and sinister clouds gathered around the peaks. Thunder rumbled, and at times we were surrounded by curtains of rain, but managed to dodge all but a few errant sprinkles. The views were lovely but we were buffeted by a hard-gusting, quartering headwind that knocked us around quite a bit — especially me, who made the mistake of riding a gravel bike rather than a more stable mountain bike. We descended to the Alpine Visitor Center in hopes of escaping on the still-closed Old Fall River Road. We knew the gravel alternate was likely still buried in occasional snowdrifts, but we were willing to endure some hike-a-bike rather than descend with the bully wind threatening to blow us off ledges or into traffic. But the route was closed with a ranger guarding the entrance. The entire visitor center was blocked behind tape, so the only wind-break was the outhouse, which we huddled behind to eat our sandwiches. Even with a coat, I was shivering by the time we got going again. I think it was close to 90 degrees in Denver that day, but there's something about that Trail Ridge corridor that holds onto winter, almost year-round. I sure do love it up there.

Sunday brought us back, finally, to the edge of the Indian Peaks wilderness. Since April, recreationists have been out in droves and everything feels much more crowded than last year. Given my support for more inclusivity and diversity in the outdoors, I won't complain. But the recent explosion in outdoor activity has made it more difficult to find places where we can enjoy late starts and solitude in a half-day of hiking. Niwot Ridge is no secret, but it feels like one of those places. We'll take one of the last open spots in a large parking lot, push through a steady stream of family hikers along a half-mile of the Sourdough Trail, then veer over to the rugged doubletrack that climbs to the research station. Often we'll see nobody. On Sunday, we saw about a half-dozen other groups spread out over four hours.

Niwot Ridge is our go-to spot for testing winter gear, because it is home to some of the most fearsome weather in Colorado. It's a treasure trove of extreme conditions, which is why CU built a series of research stations along the ridge. Winds frequently top 90mph, and it's rare to find any winter day without a 50mph gust. Windchills dip far below zero, and it's nearly impossible to remain upright, let alone walk directly into the wind. Thus, it's perfect for Alaska training.

The research station buildings are currently locked tight. These weather-ravaged sheds look a bit apocalyptic in the best of times. The waterlogged COVID-19 signs really make it seem like a place left behind at the end of the world.

Returning to Niwot Ridge feels like coming home. But it also feels strange in June, when I can make the ascent from the trailhead to the boxcar shelter in just over an hour rather than three, and then march confidently into the teeth of the wind without feeling like it might take my life at any moment. We made quick time to far research station, about 6.5 miles from the trailhead, and continued a bit farther along the rocky and increasingly narrow ridge that rises toward Navajo Peak.

We headed up there mainly for the views, and to look for a wind-sheltered spot to eat our sandwiches. I wanted a closer look at the ridge, to assess whether I could work up the courage to climb Navajo Peak someday. The answer is no. There's a nasty-looking chimney — shown right of Beat's head — and as it turns out that's a false summit, not even all that close to the real summit. I love mountains, but I sure am afraid of mountains. I even teetered uncomfortably while picking my way along the boulders. Every summer my body gives me fewer reasons to trust it on dangerous terrain. I fear I am slipping farther away from many of my Colorado ambitions, rather than building the experience and confidence I hoped would develop when we moved here four years ago. I'll probably never attempt a mountain ultra like the Ouray 100, an Indian Peaks traverse, or the Nolans 14 line. At this point, I'll be stoked if I can coax myself up Longs Peak someday. My mountain legs just haven't materialized. The season is too short, the rocky training grounds too distant, the sense of balance too precarious, for me to hold much hope that I'll ever become a competent traveler in this world. But I can still visit. And I can still dream.

A few large snowfields remained lower on the ridge, and it was fun to break out into an awkward, loping run for the descent. The afternoon heat and rapidly rotting snowpack turned the surface into a slippery, punchy minefield perfect for destroying ankles, but I let loose all the same. I wish I could be so carefree all of the time. It feels like so much time has passed since I last relished such an unhindered sense of freedom — the wind, the snow, the vast horizon of hills and plains spread out in front of me. The wait was worth it.