Saturday, June 26, 2021

In memory

On June 16, 2021, my dad fell while descending Mount Raymond in the Wasatch Mountains and died. He was 68 years old.

Ten days later, the shock of this event is only beginning to abate. In an instant, my world collapsed. I finally understood grief, a chasm so deep and wide that I believed I'd never climb out, that I'd never feel anything but waves of pain and numbness ever again. I'm still deep in this pit, but I can now begin to see that this is a journey my family and I have embarked on rather than a place we'll remain forevermore. It is going to be a long, difficult climb. I am not ready to write about it and I'm not sure when or if I'll return to this space, but I wanted to compile some of the items from this week — for the benefit of my family and my future self more than anything else.

Initial news stories:

KSL News

Salt Lake Tribune

Gephardt Daily

Snow Brains

Obituary and tribute walls:

Deseret News

Anderson and Goff Mortuary

Slideshow that I put together for the funeral:

(Direct link

Memories I shared at my father's funeral in Draper, Utah, on June 25, 2021:

When I was 11 years old, I had some babysitting money that I wanted to spend on sheet music so I could learn a fun song to play on the piano. My Grandma Homer accompanied my mom and me to the music store. I wanted to buy “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips, but Grandma didn’t like the look of that one. She thought the women on the cover were dressed immodestly. 

Also on the shelf was “Cat’s in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin. I remember thinking, “Oh, look, that’s Dad’s favorite song!” In my weird 11-year-old way, I decided that I should learn that song just in case I ever needed something to play at my dad’s funeral. I don’t remember if I voiced this idea out loud, but I was allowed to buy the Wilson Phillips. 

 Now, I don’t know whether “Cat’s in the Cradle” was then or ever my dad’s favorite song. I just know that every time it came on the radio, he would belt out the chorus while my sisters and I giggled. I thought it was a lighthearted song about a boy who loved his father. I loved the part when the son declared, “I’m gonna be like you, Dad. You know I’m gonna be like you.” 

It wasn’t until quite a bit later in life that I realized the lyrics conveyed the regrets of a father who was too busy to spend time with his child. And I also realized that my dad was nothing like the father in that song. Dad was always there for my sisters and me. There were times when I didn’t so much appreciate that, like when I was a teenager breaking curfew. All the lights in the house would be out and I was certain I’d gotten away with it, only to open the door and find Dad sitting upright on a straight-backed chair in the dark. The street lamp was always shining this eerie light into the room and he had the most stone-faced expression. My sisters agree that “I’m very disappointed in you” was the most chilling phrase in his repertoire. 

Then there was the time he and my mother drove 900 miles to Antelope Wells, New Mexico, to meet me at the finish of a 3,000-mile mountain bike race called the Tour Divide. I’d recently lost a longtime relationship and spent 24 days battling the many ups and downs of the Continental Divide while feeling broken and alone. The final 100 miles of the route crossed this desolate expanse of desert. There were no other humans for miles and my bike was on the verge of falling apart. I’ll never forget the way my heart soared when I caught the first glimpse of them, standing together at the closed gate of the Mexican border and waving their arms. I rolled up to the finish of what was — until now — the most difficult thing I’d ever done. Dad wrapped his arms around my sweaty shirt and said, “I’ve never felt so proud.” That was perhaps the greatest moment of my life. 

My dad of course was the one who introduced me to outdoor adventure. I was 14 years old when he invited me to join him on excursions with an office hiking club that he’d only recently joined himself. At first, I wasn’t entirely sure I enjoyed hiking — it was a tiring, often tedious activity and my feet always hurt afterward. But the views were nice and we often stopped at 7-Eleven for Slurpees after the hike. A few weeks before my 16th birthday, he proposed we climb Mount Timpanogos. This was an intimidating one — requiring 18 miles of walking and nearly a vertical mile of climbing. The ascent was a mix of beauty and misery. I remember stunning fields of wildflowers and also a veritable bouquet of blisters on my heels and toes. As the uphill miles accumulated, I silently made excuses for why I’d never join Dad on another hiking trip. But then we climbed over the saddle, where I caught my first glimpse of the western horizon beyond Utah Lake. I was awestruck by the sweeping view and the sense that the world was so much larger than I could ever understand. I knew then that I’d spend my life chasing horizons. Looking back, I wonder if Dad understood the monster he’d just created. 

 Dad and I shared countless wonderful hiking adventures in the 35 years since then. In 2004 he started an annual tradition of crossing the Grand Canyon from rim to rim. My mom would dutifully drive the four-hour shuttle, and we’d make the long trek — sometimes with friends, and sometimes just the two of us. Dad and I were alike in many ways, and we didn't have to say a lot to convey our love and appreciation of the experience. We made our 13th and final crossing together in September 2019. I called it our “Lucky 13” because he’d just had treatments that gave him enough relief from a bulging disc to make the hike possible, and because the weather was perfect despite the early autumn date. One of my favorite aspects of our Grand Canyon tradition was the way time seems to stand still within it. We’d dip into the morning shadows below the rim and all would be as it had always been. Dad seemed timeless in that place. I’d joke about still doing this when he’s 90. But then he’d wince from back pain and I understood that the world does change. Time doesn’t stop. And I had to cherish every moment we had. 

 I always felt most safe when I was hiking with my dad. He had a calm but strong presence, like a steel rod I could hold to when I felt frightened or weak. I was going to have him take me up Longs Peak in Colorado this summer because I’ve been too scared to do it with anyone else. He was always there for us. All of us. My mom, my sisters, his grandkids, his siblings, his friends. He was our rock. That I have to be strong for myself now is hard, and it’s also hard to acknowledge that the memories we’ve made are now all that I have. But we have many amazing moments behind us; more than a lifetimes’ worth. I cherish them more than anything he could have possibly given me. He’s gone onto the next adventure, chasing the far distant horizons. And I’m going to spend the rest of my life trying to be just like him. 

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon 

 Little boy blue and the man in the moon 

"When you coming home, Dad?” 

"I don't know when" 

 But we'll be together then, Dad 

 I know we’ll have a good time then

Blog posts from past adventures with my dad:

I did it for the views (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, May 2006) 

Catching up (Homer, Alaska, June 2006)

Grand expedition (Grand Canyon, September 2007)  

Soggy Grand Canyon (Grand Canyon, September 2007) 

The parents in Juneau (Juneau, Alaska, June 2008)

Parents part two (Juneau, Alaska, June 2008) 

Vacationy post (Orange County, California, August 2008) 

Happy at home (Orange County, California, August 2008) 

Grand outing (Grand Canyon, October 2008)

Salt Lake City (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, May 2009) 

Southern New Mexico (Tour Divide finish, July 2009) 

Sojourn in the desert (Canyonlands, Utah, April 2010) 

Closer to home (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, July 2010)

One year past (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, July 2010) 

Dad comes to town (Missoula, Montana, August 2010)  

Frustration and awe: The Zion Narrows (Zion National Park, Utah, August 2011)

Lone Peak (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, July 2011)

Great moments (General memories, July 2011) 

Torturing the parents (Los Altos, California, July 2011) 

Fall in the Grand Canyon (Grand Canyon, October 2011) 

Three adventures and a wedding (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, November 2011)

The Zion Narrows (Zion National Park, Utah, July 2012)

Still an incredible ditch (Grand Canyon, October 2012)

White Friday (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, November 2012) 

So maybe I overdid it (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, May 2013) 

Bold return to the Wasatch (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, May 2013) 

My Dad (Father’s Day 2013)  

Shut down (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, October 2013) 

Wasatch mountain bender (Wasatch Mountains, October 2013)

Thankful (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, November 2013) 

And then it was summer (Mount Whitney, California, July 2014)

Still grand, even from a limited perspective (Grand Canyon, October 2014)

Thank you notes (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, November 2014)

Things that last (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, January 2015) 

Week in motion (Orange County, California, May 2015) 

Getting my lungs back (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, August 2015)

Another round in Chamonix (Chamonix, France, August 2015)

Hard-fought failures (Chamonix, France, August 2015)

The Tradition (Grand Canyon, October 2015)

ITI training, week seven (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, November 2015)

Opt outside (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, November 2015) 

Rusted wheel (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, January 2016)

Grand Canyon 2016 (Grand Canyon, October 2016) 

Thanksgiving, again (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, November 2016) 

Actually home for Christmas (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, December 2016)

Parents in Colorado (Boulder, Colorado, July 2017)

38 (Lone Peak, Utah, August 2017)

Fog, leaves and thundersnow (Boulder, Colorado, October 2017)

Pretending it’s not December (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, December 2017)

There’s beauty, heartbreaking beauty, everywhere (Canyonlands, Utah, April 2018)

11th Grand (Grand Canyon, October 2018)

Bookend adventures (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, November 2018)

Lucky 13 (Grand Canyon, September 2019) 

Shoulder season bites back (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, October 2019)

All of the Utah Snow (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, November 2019)

Momentum lost (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, January 2020)

Love on a mountain (Boulder, Colorado, September 2020)

Magic Lands (Canyonlands, Utah, April 2021)  

May snow (Boulder, Colorado, May 2021) 

Friday, June 11, 2021

Summit to inferno

Ten days until Solstice, and already I'm bummed out about the arrival of summer. As soon as the May rains tapered off, my allergies kicked into full gear. Now I can't spend more than a few minutes outside without deteriorating into a watery-eyed, sneezy mess — which means I can't venture inside, because no one wants to be that person in a pandemic. There was a heatwave that I escaped by descending into an even hotter inferno. Now wildfires are already exploding in the drought-stricken West — torching beautiful places, choking the air with smoke, and blotting out the sunset in a crimson haze. A friend almost lost her home in the Pack Creek Fire near Moab. I watched a time-lapse video of that fire blowing up and then spent way too much time plotting my own wildfire escape routes on foot (South Boulder Peak, and if that's on fire, I'll run to Gross Reservoir.) My therapist told me I really need to buy that weighted blanket I keep talking about, because she senses my anxiety nearing August levels when it's only June. 

Of course, things aren't so bad even if my attitude might be at times. Beat's surgery went well. He is now sporting a bionic clavicle and recovering quickly. He goes for daily walks and has regained his self-sufficiency. I'm embarrassed to say he has a better attitude than me even though I am not injured and went for many nice bike rides and a whole vacation while he convalesced. I need to remind myself to be grateful for all that is good in these early days of summer. 
On June 2, I managed to reach the summit of Mount Evans after being shut down by high winds a week earlier. It was just two days before the road's official opening for the season, but the pavement was still coated in snow and ice from a storm just a couple days prior. Snow-removal crews were out in force, but it was nice to squeeze in a ride before passenger vehicle traffic returns. 
It was a pleasant day, although breezy. The temperature was right around freezing at the summit. While USFS employees pried plywood off pit toilets that have been closed for 20 months, I donned all of my layers and trudged through knee-deep snowdrifts to the summit. This half-mile trail ended up becoming one of the more treacherous hikes I've attempted in 2021, as the final pitch had just a dusting of powder over hard ice. Once I realized this, I'd already climbed halfway up a 45-degree slope above a jumble of boulders. Any step down would risk slipping. I was effectively clinging to the ice with my fingernails as I kicked tiny steps with my worn-out bike sneakers to scramble to safety. 

"At least those forest service workers will see my body bouncing over rocks and probably call 911," was a thought that I had when I realized I'd made a huge mistake by climbing onto that ice sheet. 
The views from the summit were sure lovely, though. And it was cold and windy. I miss it already. 

Beat had his surgery the following day. I think I wrote in my last post that just after Beat sustained his injury, I experienced a spike in anxiety, something I'd largely tamped down since my last spike in February. It's not nearly as bad as it was then, but I've been battling the inexplicable jitters and trying to remain wary of my patterns so it doesn't spiral out of control. Feeling generally anxious about nothing at all meant I was extra nervous about Beat's surgery, certainly more so than he was, but it all went as well as it could have. After a day it was clear he could manage his own affairs just fine, so I opted to join my family in St. George, Utah. After we missed both Thanksgiving and Christmas, my sisters planned this trip back in January, gambling on the hope that we'd all be vaccinated by June. St. George just happened to be the location most central to all of us. That June isn't the nicest time of year to visit a community with a climate that rivals Phoenix didn't occur to my mostly not-outdoorsy sisters.
Temperatures were forecast to hit the high-100s for most of the week. I wasn't terribly excited about the heat, but I was looking forward to seeing my family and also getting to know my young nieces and nephews a little better. As a child-free couple, Beat jokes that we "need to snag at least one of them" to visit us in our old age. I headed out early Saturday morning — one day later than originally planned to ensure Beat was okay — and made my way west on I-70. As is my custom, I did stop along the way for a bike ride in an intriguing middle-of-nowhere location. The exit was called Gooseberry Road and I thought it would be gravel, but it was actually a nice paved road with a decent shoulder and limited traffic on a Saturday afternoon. It was also 94 degrees at 6,000 feet when I started riding. 
The road kept climbing all the way to 10,500 feet — right at timberline in central Utah — which was a nice surprise. I made relatively quick work of the 4,600-foot climb, and by then I was so drenched in sweat that goosebumps formed on my legs and I started shivering from the windchill. Or maybe I was simply experiencing the early stages of heat exhaustion. It was difficult to tell. 
The views up there were sure nice though. As usual, photos don't do scenic vistas much justice. I realized that the climb felt effortless because there had been a stiff tailwind that I would have to face on the return. Hairpin curves became a terrifying wrestling match with unpredictable crosswinds. After I dropped below 8,000 feet, the wind made me feel like I was pedaling with a blowdryer aimed directly at my face. 
Everything lined up perfectly, though, and I arrived at the rental house exactly in time for 6 p.m. dinner. The temperature in St. George at that time was 108 degrees. Just stepping out of my car felt like breathing into an open oven. But it was fun to reunite with the family. The following morning, I set an alarm for 4:45 a.m. 
Sunrise in this part of the world happens at 6:15 a.m., so at 5:15 a.m. it was still pitch dark and already 81 degrees. It's strange and almost a little thrilling to feel that hot at "night." I embarked on a ride I found online called "Utah Hill." The Greater Zion website called it "a challenging climb that will push your endurance levels to the limit as you wind through the foothills that trace the western border of Utah." It sounded amazing, and it was amazing. I am so far from a morning person that I start to become a hollow shell of myself if I do too many early mornings in a row. But it's also difficult to top the beauty of redrock country at sunrise. 
Another benefit of predawn starts is that the rest of the family was barely waking up when I returned from my 2.5-hour ride. We managed to get the kids to a small slot canyon in nearby Snow Canyon. But the temperature already topped 100 degrees at 10 a.m. and the kids were done after a half-mile. 
After staying up late into the evening chatting with my sisters, I was a bit lazier about my Monday ride and didn't get going until 5:45 a.m. For this day I chose another designated bike route, Veyo Loop. I didn't realize this before, but Washington County has a wealth of bike-friendly infrastructure. It was surprising for a rural Utah county that stereotypically caters to elderly people.  
I started the day with the two climbs in Snow Canyon State Park. The morning was surprisingly pleasant ... temperatures were probably in the 70s. Trails were empty. The dawn light was incredible. It was as perfect as a place could possibly be. I wish I could be a morning person; I really do. But at some point, I have to concede that morning and I will always be frenemies. It makes itself seem friendly while quietly eroding my mental health until I crack. 
This is the bike path in Snow Canyon. Again, it's tough to top this.

The rest of the loop was great as well. I crossed through Veyo and descended Gunlock Canyon, which was quiet, bursting with green cottonwood leaves, smelling of sweet tamarisk, and feeling almost chilly beneath morning shadows. The ride was almost 50 miles and I was still back just after 9 a.m., arriving as the family was sitting down for pancake breakfast. I felt like I was getting away with something.  
Another late night, another dawn start for Tuesday. My friend Cimarron saw on Strava that I was in town and commented, "Welcome to the hottest place on Earth." (I know it's not the hottest. But I don't blame locals for feeling that way.) Cimarron runs a series of fantastic mountain bike races, which is how I know her — Beat and I raced her "25 Hours in Frog Hollow" a few times in the early 2010s before I crashed out of the 2013 event and quit racing bikes (I know, I relapse often.) She offered to take me on an early-morning tour of one of her favorite gravel routes, which turned out to be fairly challenging with the glare of sunrise in our eyes. I didn't get any photos of the rocky and rutted sections, but they were rowdy on a gravel bike. 
The route took us by the Little Black Mountain Petroglyph site, so we stopped for a breather and some sightseeing. I did a quick Internet search to learn more about the petroglyphs, which are carved on numerous sandstone boulders and dated across thousands of years of indigenous cultures. The author of Hike St. George describes this as "an easy and short hike, making it great for those who want to get out of the city without getting dirty or being gone for too long." 

As promised, Cimarron's route clocked in at exactly three hours and I returned home at the precise time I said I would. But the kids had been through an early morning meltdown and the family seemed frazzled and ready to escape. It was a lot of family time for everyone involved, but again it was so much fun. I loved that I could have these morning adventures every day and still have a full day to spend with my parents and siblings, laughing with my brothers-in-law, and trying to convince the nieces and nephews that I'm not just weird Aunt Jill; I can be fun. (I don't know that I had a lot of success this time around. Next time when there are more outdoor opportunities, I'll prove it.) 
I couldn't head home right away, as I had deadlines to fulfill by 5 p.m. that couldn't line up with a 10-hour drive. I made my way an hour north to Cedar City and did my first coffee shop work day in 16 months. I sat outdoors in the 85-degree shade with a strong breeze tossing my belongings around, but it feels like I'm nearing 2019 levels of normalcy. And since I finished up several hours before sunset and hate to waste an opportunity for exploring, I set out for another ride. This one wasn't planned; I just briefly looked at a Strava map before I set out. But it turned out wonderfully. Right Hand Canyon, climbing from 5,700 feet to 9,300 feet on grades topping 14 percent. Hurts so good. 
At the top, the road turned to gravel and traversed a high plateau through lovely aspen stands. I wanted to keep going, but I only had my helmet light and the clock said it was time to turn around. 
The views for the screaming steep descent were spectacular. I may never turn myself into a morning person, but at least I can be at my best and brightest at sunset. This is my time to shine. If I let myself do so, I could easily keep riding until dawn. At which time I would fall apart ... because my brain really does dislike mornings that much. (Seriously. I'm probably one of the few who dread the second-day sunrise during an ultra. I can usually manage the darkness just fine, but as soon as the sun comes up, my brain wises up and the sleep monster descends.) 

Evening light over Cedar Canyon. 

By Wednesday morning, I was quite exhausted. There were too many dawn starts, late nights with my sisters, loud family time for this introvert, work catch-ups, and now I had a nine-hour drive in front of me. But I don't get out to this part of the world all that much anymore, and I just couldn't resist one more excursion. Biking was starting to feel unappealing, and I was worried the rear tire — now riddled with many micro-cuts — was leaking through the sealant, so I looked for a hike. 
Another two-minute Strava search landed me on the trail to Valentine Peak, a 2,500-foot climb from the tiny town of Parowan. Supposedly the peak is so named because when viewed from the center of town on Valentine's Day, the sun rises directly over this 8,050-foot peak. I was impressed with the trail development. I expected something faint and unmarked, basically a deer trail. But the trail was well-defined and there were many signs, marked artifacts, and benches all along the way. The trail was typical of many I've hiked in Utah — relentlessly steep and coated in moondust. While side-stepping my way downhill, I slipped and fell directly on my right shoulder. While wincing away the pain, I thought about Beat and how much a fall like that would set him back — but unlike me, Beat probably wouldn't fall hiking this trail. 

My car was the only one at the trailhead at both the start and finish. When I walked up to the parking lot — half of my body coated in red moondust — an older man in a red car pulled up beside me. He introduced himself as Vito and asked, "did you make it to the top?" When I confirmed, he said he was the one responsible for the trail maintenance. He hiked it three times a week all year long, even though at age 75, he was slowing down. He knew I was from Boulder — he must have run my plate — and was interested in my perspective as an out-of-towner. He was clearly proud of his trail, which was justified. It was a great trail. Small towns are fun. How often are you stalked by the town trail caretaker because it's unique that you're there at all? 

Yes, I know. Summer isn't all bad. In fact, it's pretty good. I just need an attitude adjustment. And one of those weighted blankets. And maybe refraining from spending time on drought and wildfire Twitter feeds.

Finally — speaking of infernos — I have been on the fence about this far too long. But I signed up for another charity ride to compliment the virtual century I rode for the Alzheimer's Association in April. Since our team raised so much during the virtual event, they encouraged us to ride a real, in-person century in Fort Collins on June 13. Friends and family have donated $1,470 to the cause. I'm hoping to boost it to $2,000. So for this reason and others, I'm going to set out for another pre-dawn drive, 7 a.m. start, and brutal 95-degree heat, to ride a bike a hundred miles in hopes of completing what will be my first official road century since 2004. It's a great cause, so if you are able and interested in donating, please visit my ride page here: JILL HOMER IS FUNDRAISING FOR ALZHEIMER'S RESEARCH.  

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Expect the unexpected

It was 10:30 p.m. and I'd refreshed Beat's tracking page for about the tenth time that hour. He and his friend Daniel were out running a 31-mile segment of the Colorado Trail. It was Beat's last long run to prepare for his first post-pandemic race on June 5. They'd started at Kenosha Pass on the Continental Divide and were making their way eastward to lower altitudes. They'd moved at a fast clip since their mid-afternoon start, but in the last hour, they'd slowed down a lot. Why? I found this uncertainty worrisome. If there was still any snow on the trail, it seemed like it would have been more of a problem earlier in their route. Was somebody injured? Had the weather taken a significant turn? 

Several hours before, I caught an early report from The Guardian headlined "Twenty-one dead as extreme weather hits ultramarathon in China." It seemed unfathomable, and information throughout the evening was sparse. Later reports would reveal complacency on the part of the race organizers, slow response, and the terrible bad luck of a large group of people in the wrong place at the wrong time when a particularly strong storm moved over the mountains. But on Saturday night, a lot of commentary from the ultrarunning community moved straight to victim-blaming — i.e., "why weren't they carrying better jackets?" 

I bristled at this reaction. Yes, runners travel light in these types of races, especially at the front of the pack. These runners know they're taking a risk, but they also maintain trust in the race organization that help isn't far away. I've witnessed this at well-organized mountain races in Europe. In my opinion, the army of volunteers, extensive communication, last-minute reroutes, and funding for helicopters and the like are what have prevented UTMB from experiencing a similar tragedy — not the meager mandatory gear. 

For my part, I'm slow and have trust issues, so I try to be self-sufficient at all times. I've carried large backpacks in well-supported California 50Ks because I thought it might rain and wanted enough gear that if I sprained an ankle, I could sit for two hours without developing hypothermia. Obviously, I have a long list of survival gear for my Alaska races, which seems to grow rather than shrink as I gain more experience. But I also accept that there are no guarantees. There are nonsurvivable weather scenarios. 

A personal experience that still gives me pause happened during a simple eight-mile training run in Nome, Alaska, in 2019. The weather in Nome is always harrowing — seriously, just try to convince me otherwise — so even for what I thought would be a 90-minute run, I carried my 30-liter backpack with extra layers, expedition down parka, vapor barrier mittens, goggles, a bivy sack, satellite messenger, and a GPS navigation device. My run was on a road — flat and straight for four miles toward the Nome River bridge and then back. The wind was so strong that the pavement was covered in several inches of spindrift. I was already pushing through a ground-blizzard whiteout when sleet started coming down hard. Suddenly I felt blind. I thought, "no problem, I'll turn around now." I had been running into the wind on my way out. But when I moved with the wind, the chaotic gusts seemed to knock me around even more. Sleet soaked into my windproof fleece coat and somehow needled through my rain pants. Visibility was so bad that I genuinely could not tell the ground from the sky. My disorientation became severe. I'd stumble through what had become knee-deep drifts until I smacked full-face into a six-foot-high snow berm at the far edge of the road. I had to squint at my GPS to follow my own bread-crumb track in order to stay on the road. If it hadn't been for GPS, I'm convinced I would have wandered off toward the Kigluaiks. Sleet froze to my goggles until I couldn't wear them anymore. My clothing soaked through and refroze in minutes. When I finally stumbled through the door of my apartment, my entire body was coated in thick ice. I'd already relented to put on the parka and mittens, and yet I was still shivering. I thought, "What would I do if that storm hit me on the Iditarod Trail? In a completely exposed and shelterless place like the Topkok Hills?" I still don't have that answer. 

Which is to say, all of this was weighing on my mind as I refreshed Beat's tracking page and wondered what was taking him so long. Finally, I sent him a message about how I was going to bed because I planned to get up early for a long ride. Despite the worry, I drifted off to sleep.

I woke up at 5 a.m. to find Beat safely asleep in bed and this response: 

"Got back late. Absolutely insane storm on the way home. Took forever. Roads might be in very poor shape. Lots of rockfall and debris. Not sure if it was as bad further north, but it was nuts until Golden for sure. Some of the worst weather I've ever driven in."

Sure enough, I checked a weather station in the area of my ride to confirm that it had been pummeled with nearly two inches of rain. The last segment of Beat's run was slow because of lingering snow on the trail, but they also caught the front end of this soaker of a storm. At least Sunday's forecast looked nice — a bit windy, and maybe I'd see some afternoon showers. It is spring in the mountains after all. I decided to go for it. 

It was, truly, the most serene morning. The air was still saturated but not exactly humid — more crisp and cool. There wasn't a breath of wind. Roads were indeed streaked with sand, small rocks, and flowing runoff. Earthworms slithered and writhed on the pavement. I remember seeing storm-washed earthworms on sidewalks as a kid, but I can't say it's something I've noticed as an adult. And everything was so green. As I climbed away from Golden and rolled onto the quiet roads surrounding the I-70 corridor, I was struck by how "California" this place felt.

I spun through happy nostalgia, breathing satisfying lungfuls of rich air and marveling at the seemingly tireless pep in my legs. In past years, spring has been a difficult season for me. Spring is when pollen fills the air. Late May and June bring the grass pollen explosion, when it feels as though the whole world is pinched somehow. After 4.5 years of allergy immunotherapy and finally starting on a maintenance inhaler in February, I almost feel like spring and I can be friends again. I powered up the rolling ascent from 6,000 feet in Golden to 11,200 feet at Warrior Mountain, where I caught my first view of Mount Evans. The popular road to the 14er is opening to vehicle traffic in June after remaining closed for all of 2020. I hoped to pedal up there before opening day. I had no clue how far I could ride before reaching impassable snow, but I figured it didn't hurt to see. This view of the skyline told me I was in for an adventure. Spindrift was ripping off the ridges with startling velocity. Here at 11,000 feet, the wind was merely a stiff and cold headwind. Up there? Probably a continous hurricane-force gale. 

I stopped at Echo Lake to pull on my hat, wind shell, fleece buff, mittens, and rain pants. All of these layers weren't quite needed yet, but I didn't want to have to deal with stopping above treeline. Shortly after the gate, a man on a mountain bike passed me. He was wearing shorts and a long-sleeved jersey. 

"It already feels like way more than a mile," he commented as we passed mile marker one. 

"It does," I replied, not adding that I started in Golden. 

Two miles later, just above treeline, the road wrapped around a bend and turned directly into the brunt of the wind. The front end of my gravel bike started to buck like a nervous horse. The air was breathtakingly cold, even though I could tell from the water running on the road that it wasn't that cold. The man had stopped to sit on the pavement and pull on some feeble-looking knee warmers. I nodded as I passed. The wind was much too loud for words. I did not see him again. Later I did a fly-by on Strava and found the above photo that he took of me. It looks like I'm wrestling my bucking-bronco bike, which is probably what I was doing.  

The accumulated snow continued to deepen. Since crews had recently plowed a path through deep snowdrifts, I knew this was all new snow, probably from the previous night's storm. But the traction underneath seemed decent. In this case, the gravel bike was more or less the right bike for the job, since it sliced through the alternately slushy and crusty snow. I tried to keep an eye out for patches of ice. I pushed my bike when I didn't feel secure. Some wind gusts made it impossible to move forward at all. 

It was all a bit silly, but I was really enjoying myself. First I had this great climb through a perfect spring morning, and now I was embroiled in a true winter adventure! Ground blizzards swirled around me and I imagined I was back in Nome, battling with all of my might for the faintest of forward progress, chanting the mantra that my Nome fat-biking friends taught me: "Moving is winning." With decent wind protection from my layers, the ambient temperature didn't feel so cold. I did start to notice more ice on the road, so it had dropped below freezing. But I figured if I could continue to coax traction from my tires, I could probably battle my way to Summit Lake. Since I could still see a jet stream of snow pouring off the summit, I had no delusions about reaching the top. 

After I pedaled past Goliath Peak, there was a mile-long stretch where the road was well protected by an east-facing hillside. The crosswind remained, but it wasn't so bad anymore. I pedaled hard through accumulated snow. I became complacent. Then, just as I was about to round the next bend, the most incredible gust of wind hit me broadside. Honestly, it felt like being side-swiped by an invisible vehicle. I toppled over and slid across the pavement. Then, most disconcertingly of all, the wind pushed my body along the road like a candy wrapper. All I could deduce was there was black ice I hadn't noticed, and now I was being pushed on my back toward a sheer dropoff. It was going to hurt if my body went over the edge and started sliding down the rock-studded snow. I scrambled and spun and somehow got up onto my knees. The wind was still too strong to stand. I had blown at least six feet away from my bike, which was anchored by a pedal to the road. I crawled to my bike, grabbed the frame with both hands, and scooted on my knees backward to the relative wind shelter around the bend. Phew! That's enough adventure for today. 

Returning with an unpredictable tailwind, now feeling skittish about hidden black ice, was an arduous and admittedly scary task. I walked much of the three miles back to treeline. But after that, the world quickly turned to spring again. I pulled on my puffy coat to descend to Idaho Springs — after more than an hour of slow descending on an exposed mountainside, I was quite cold, but the puffy did the trick. After that, I spent more time on gravel roads. By afternoon the gale found its way down to these elevations, and the headwind could be intense. A few showers moved in, but they were nonthreatening non-thunderstorms, and carried the rich aromas of spring that I'd enjoyed in the morning. The hills were green and gorgeous. Except for a bruise on my thigh from toppling over on my bike and a slightly sore hip, I felt energetic and alert for the rest of my century ride, which ended at 98 miles with 12,600 feet of climbing. It's always hard to quantify experiences since memory is imperfect, but I'd have to say this was one of my favorite solo day rides of all time. Like a spicy piece of chili chocolate, all the tastier for that zing of heat — or in this case, brutal windy cold — at the center. 

On Monday, still buzzing from this ride and the deep green spring beauty, I asked Beat whether he wanted to join me on an afternoon ride. Even though he's been in training for summer foot races and not riding all that much, he was game for one of our local favorites, Homestead Trail. We launched from the driveway and started down a steep descent of our road. The road had just been graded over the weekend, and I noticed the abundance of loose stones now littered across the dirt. This was the only thought I had time for, because literally 0.15 miles from home, Beat's bike suddenly catapulted forward. I watched as it flipped end over end several times. In the cloud of dust, I couldn't see what happened to Beat, but I did see legs in the air and knew he'd gone over the handlebars. When I pulled up, he was gapsing alarmingly. I thought maybe he'd just had the wind knocked out of him, but I feared he'd punctured a lung. When he finally caught his breath, he said he wanted to go to the hospital. 

The drive was pretty horrible. We live 35 minutes from town, all on winding mountain roads. I tried to drive carefully, but every switchback caused Beat to moan with pain. My mind was wracked with stress and becoming muddled. This is the kind of stress I don't manage well. Stress that only affects me, like 60-mph winds on Mount Evans = Fine. No problem. But Beat was hurt and I felt at least partly responsible; my anxiety was starting to shut down rational decision-making. I hate this. I need to work on this. In what felt to me like two minutes but was actually four hours, we were in and out of the ER, had confirmed that Beat had a broken clavicle and possibly broken or bruised ribs, gone to two pharmacies to find one that was open, and purchased snacks for Beat to ease some of the pain ... the drugs were for the physical pain. The snacks were for the coming disappointment of losing this part of the summer, just as post-pandemic plans were finally setting him free. 

Since then, it's been a week. Beat was able to quickly get in to see an orthopedic surgeon, but because of the holiday weekend and other factors, couldn't secure his surgery until June 4. He has a lot of pain on his right side, more so from the ribs than the broken clavicle. He has to sleep sitting up in a recliner. He needs help dressing and taking a shower. It shouldn't be surprising but always is, how quickly one can go from fit enough to run a 100-miler in the mountains to calling out in the night because they've slumped over too far and can't get up. Of course, Beat had to drop out of his June 5 race. I am feeling terrible about this.

I haven't wanted to leave Beat alone for long, so I dropped weekday plans to ride Trail Ridge Road and kept my rides and runs to two hours. On Saturday morning, I set out to run nine miles around Walker Ranch. Storms were forecast to move in around 1 p.m. and remain for most of the weekend, but the morning was clear and almost hot. I was feeling so good that I contemplated how I could extend this run just a bit. Near the end of the loop, I guiltily messaged Beat that I planned to drop down Eldorado Canyon and climb back via Shadow Canyon, which was going to turn my two-hour run into a five-hour run. I felt some shame, but at this point, I was willing to acknowledge that my guilt arose from being able to run when Beat could not, rather than the delusion that he needed me around at all times. 

I had an amazing run. 18 miles with 5,000 feet of climbing, and while I never pushed it hard, I genuinely felt no fatigue. And this is in spite of the fact I only had two packages of fruit snacks for an energy boost — about 180 calories total — and 1.5 liters of water. The water I did have to start rationing, but luckily for me clouds began to move overhead. I felt thirsty but acknowledged I would have suffered more if it stayed 70 degrees and sunny. As I made my way toward Bear Peak, the forecasted storm arrived right on target, 1 p.m. Fast-moving fog encircled the mountain, accompanied by thunderclaps and at least one bright flash of lightning. Why is it that I always find the thunderstorms on Bear Peak? This is my fault for staying out much later than planned. I also regretted that I was only carrying my light wind shell and a pair of thin fleece gloves after proclaiming in the post-China-ultramarathon-disaster chatter that I try to be prepared always. But this was my two-hour, close-to-home, Walker Ranch pack. I'll hadn't expected to end up on Bear Peak this lightly packed, and will try to avoid it in the future. My gear would get me through but it was going to hurt if it started hailing or raining heavily. Luckily the worst of the storm moved south. I shadowed this dude in a red hoodie, matching his steps as we danced over tricky terrain to safety.

Expect the unexpected ... always. 
Saturday, May 22, 2021

I could write a long book about time and space

I've been reading "Cosmos" by Carl Sagan, and I have to say — I've found a surprising amount of comfort in his simple yet satisfying ruminations on astronomy and the human condition. I was too young to have seen the original television series and still a teenager when Sagan died, so I admit I'd never heard of the famous astronomer until 2015 or so. I was listening to a radio program about Voyager. In a voice recording, Sagan described the reasoning behind the images and sounds stored on the golden record that scientists launched into space. I was driving across Nevada at the time, traversing a windswept basin and crying full tears at the thought of this tiny time capsule of human endeavor swirling through the infinite void. 

"Billions of years from now our sun, then a distended red giant star, will have reduced Earth to a charred cinder. But the Voyager record will still be largely intact, in some other remote region of the Milky Way galaxy, preserving a murmur of an ancient civilization that once flourished — perhaps before moving on to greater deeds and other worlds — on the distant planet Earth." — Carl Sagan 

 Amid all of the hope-crushing events of the past year — the pandemic and all of the mean pushback, Fire Summer 2020, election season, the Jan. 6 insurrection, ongoing world conflict and sickness, intensifying climate change, etc., etc. — I find I take the most heart in this simple idea: That I am an infinitesimal being in an infinite universe. My machinations and striving, my mistakes and ambitions, all are mere flashes of light and cosmic dust. And yet I'm part of a world where everything is unique, everything is beautiful, and everything is worthy of awe. Life gifted me with the perspective to experience this beauty in my unique way, but life gifted all living things with this perspective on some level. Life will go on long after I'm gone. This truth brings me comfort. 

Cosmic existentialism and the wisdom of Carl Sagan have been on my mind as Beat has been battling his own recent existential crisis. He taught me a new word: "Weltschmerz," which is German for "world-weariness" or the sadness one feels while perceiving the pain of the world. The Germans have a word for every complex emotion, don't they? Beat's been feeling particularly sad about the state of the pandemic in India. He donated to a charity that's working to help Indian people directly, but it doesn't feel like enough. He laments that he hasn't done more to have a greater impact on humanity. He wonders if life can have purpose without at least trying to change the world for the better. Is it enough to impact just one life? What about one's own life? 

We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and the depth of our answers." — Carl Sagan

Asking myself what makes a meaningful life is what got me through my anxiety episodes in February. I'd go for long walks through frosty subzero air and ponder how I could emerge from my own turbulent psychology. When the inexplicable jitters became too overwhelming, I'd soothe myself by imagining a camera panning out until the world was a speck in the glittering expanse of interstellar space. From this vantage my existence was abundantly simple: I'm a life form who needs to experience life. I'm an intelligent life form grasping for a better understanding of The Truth. I'm a creative life form with an innate compulsion to make sense of this search through stories. And I'm one of 7.6 billion in a flawed species flailing through our collective adolescence. I do not need to be a great person, but I do need to be a good person — or at least I need to continue to try to be a good person, through all of the ego and personality glitches and humanness built into my flawed mind.  

"Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it, we go nowhere." — Carl Sagan

And I need to keep moving. My mind craves motion almost as much as it craves air — the space to run from excess noise, to reach beyond entrenched beliefs, to perceive both the immediate moment and the infinite space within. For years I believed I needed goals to find fulfillment in otherwise aimless wanderings. Then the aimlessness of 2020 taught me that I don't need goals or even good stories to tell; motion for the sake of motion is enough. I thought this insight might be enough to end my year-long ambivalence about returning to racing, but it did the opposite. I'm excited to return to racing. I'm eager to embrace old ambitions and again pursue old goals. Racing still offers useful perimeters to stretch my preconceived limits. Racing is still a reliable avenue for adventure. Also, a tangible goal does help my brain convince the stubborn old body that we need to continue this rigamarole. 

Which is a very long way of saying that I am "in training" once again. And again, rather than working to become conventionally stronger or faster, I'm sharpening the old mental endurance tools. This week presented good opportunities to put in long hours on my bike, so I headed to Buena Vista for a brief but robust exploration of the Ark Valley. 

“We live on a hunk of rock and metal that circles a humdrum star that is one of 400 billion other stars that make up the Milky Way Galaxy which is one of billions of other galaxies which make up a universe which may be one of a very large number, perhaps an infinite number, of other universes. That is a perspective on human life and our culture that is well worth pondering.” — Carl Sagan

My first ride was a solo 118-mile meander along the old railroad route beside the Arkansas River, wrapping around Twin Lakes, and proceeding toward the wind-blasted climb to Independence Pass. Cold gusts buffeted my bike as I tucked in as much as I could. I live in the Front Range so I'm used to headwinds, but the eastern edge of the Continental Divide is home to a particularly challenging wall of westerlies. I'd brought a puffy jacket and mittens but they did little to cut the breathtaking chill. Physically I was pretty miserable, but the old brain is getting better and better at discounting mundane discomforts. There was nobody around for seeming miles and I relished the solitude. I was gasping, straining, feeling hot blood coursing through legs wrapped in icy skin as I lifted my chin a few inches off the stem to squint into the sublime. 

“We have begun to contemplate our origins: starstuff pondering the stars; organized assemblages of ten billion billion billion atoms considering the evolution of atoms; tracing the long journey by which, here at least, consciousness arose.” — Carl Sagan

With a few thousand rotations of two wheels, metabolizing carbohydrates and caffeine, exchanging carbon dioxide for oxygen, recirculating water, firing countless neurons to generate muscle contractions — I made it to Independence Pass! At this point, I was chilled to the core and not looking forward to the long descent. Instead, I extended discomfort by sitting cross-legged on the icy pavement and eating the enormous sandwich that I assembled at home earlier that morning. It felt like a long time ago in a place far away. 

The descent with a stiff tailwind wasn't as painful as I'd anticipated. I enjoyed the opportunity to focus less on generating meager pedal power and more on the powerful freedom of chasing the world as it unrolled in front of me. At times I accelerated in perfect harmony with the 30-plus mph wind and all was calm, silent, as tranquil as outer space. 

Riding south toward Buena Vista meant being buffeted by crosswinds for miles afterward. I admit this was becoming tedious. By the time I finally turned east, the evening had settled. The wind finally lost steam, just in time to provide no benefit for the final uphill grind. My original plan had been to take Highway 285 and scoot back to camp as quickly as possible. I'd already ridden 105 miles and the Independence Pass headwind alone sucked away at least two days' worth of energy. But the highway at 5 p.m. on a Friday night was soul-crushing ... not to mention legitimately dangerous ... so I veered off on an unplanned detour — part of the route I planned to ride with friends the following day. It snaked up a ribbon of singletrack before climbing high into the hills on a steeply graded forest road. 

Is it fair to say I loved this part of the ride most of all? It was more than a bit ridiculous, this sandy mire of a climb that brought tears to my eyes and full rebellion from my overworked heart. Sometimes I just stopped pedaling without making a conscious decision to do so. Then I'd walk for a while. Then with a furrowed brow of determination, I'd hop back on the bike and declare out loud that I hoped this climb went all the way back to 12,000 feet for no reason. I was going to climb it all and love every sand-choked mile. This exhilarating embrace of pain finally collapsed after I'd descended through quiet meadows occupied by dozens of mule deer, lulled back into complacency before I crossed the highway. The final three miles of the day followed a road so badly corrugated that I nearly lost a filling amid the painful chattering of my teeth. At one point I stopped and forced back tears as I yelled like a toddler, cursing the unfairness of this washboarded mess that only brought purposeless pain and bone-rattling desperation. I just wanted to be back at my quiet camp along a gurgling arm of Trout Creek, where I was so looking forward to a box of Annie's Mac and Cheese that I didn't even mind that I forgot to bring a spoon and had to scoop my dinner with a folded tuna packet.

On Saturday morning, I returned to town to meet Betsy and Erika for an 80-mile ride. Our loop headed back into the hills and south to Salida. We started with the same 15-mile stretch that I rode to reach my camp the previous night. The climb was a lot easier with renewed glycogen stores and rested muscles, but the washboard still sucked. 

Betsy pedals the sandy road with the Collegiate Peaks in the background. 

We climbed onto the high basin of South Park, an otherworldly region of rolling sandhills and grassland all above 9,000 feet. This road is part of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, a section I hadn't seen since 2009 since I dropped out of the 2015 race in Silverthorne. I was struck by how familiar this place felt, complete with foreboding skies and gusty sprinkles that I was certain I'd experienced in this exact location, in this exact way. The little déjà vus in life are interesting, aren't they? To me, they're unsettling, because they reveal just how flawed memory can be. My brain must constantly rewrite its stories to match present perceptions. Or maybe, just maybe, consciousness expands beyond my body and into the multiverse. Childish interpretations of quantum physics have boosted me through many difficult moments in life. When racing a thunderstorm across an exposed prairie, it's better to imagine having already escaped it. 

Eventually, the storm moved on but we continued to fight mighty headwinds to the crest of Cameron Mountain Pass. There I enjoyed another enormous sandwich that I purchased at a gas station in town. What's funny about that gas station is that I visited it once before in January, when the pandemic was raging through Colorado. The place was packed with customers and not a single one wore a mask. There were people wearing helmets and full-body snowmobile suits and no masks. On this lovely spring morning, it was just me and the clerk, both wearing masks. What can I say? I like the anonymity of masks. Also, I don't trust anyone anymore. 

From there we enjoyed 10 free miles, a 3,000-foot descent into Salida. Everyone was feeling cooked by the wind, so I proposed heading to my friend Dave's house. Dave, a friend from Fairbanks who spent the pandemic year in Salida to be closer to family, was throwing a barbecue before heading back to Alaska to work for the summer. The timing worked out well to join the party for a couple of hours before riding back to Buena Visita. Since Dave moved to Colorado, we'd thrown around the idea of riding together, but it never happened because the logistics of travel and meeting always felt like this impossible barrier. I remember last May when it wasn't even legal to ride my bicycle beyond Boulder County limits. It seems so long ago now. 

This was, however, my first "party" in more than a year. I tried to remember the last ... it must have been in Alaska, in February 2020. That definitely seems like a long, long time ago. Dave welcomed us into a small group in the backyard. We were a bit buzzed on endorphins and fatigue, and I felt downright intoxicated as I drank La Croix and carried on conversations in this casual yet surreal social setting. 

Before parting ways, my friends requested a hug. That was a first since March 2020 as well — physical contact with a human who wasn't Beat, my parents, or my sisters ... or my medical providers, to make a fair comparison. I balked for a moment — I admit to being a reluctant hugger even in the Before Times. So it surprised me how good this felt — a hit of oxytocin that I've largely deprived myself for much of a year. 

“In all our searching, the only thing we've found that makes the emptiness bearable is each other.” — Carl Sagan

With bellies full of food and beer (in my case, ginger beer), we moved slowly toward the rest of the loop. Erika opted to catch a ride with her partner, who drove down from Buena Vista. Betsy and I pedaled north on secondary highways for what turned out to be 30 more miles and another 2,500 feet of climbing. Betsy doesn't like riding high-traffic roads and also expressed reluctance to riding in the dark, so I felt like we were racing the clock. But it was a beautiful evening, cool air tinged with warm light. It was a favorite day. After the depletion of the past year, Spring 2021 has filled with a relative glut of such days. 

The past week's third opportunity for a long ride came Thursday. I set out to ride Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, a classic Colorado spring ride. Like Independence Pass, there's usually a short window after the pavement has been cleared of snow but before the route is open to cars when cyclists can ride free from traffic. I love this easy accessibility to the high country in the late spring — a time of year when all high-altitude hiking is mired in rotten snow and wet slide danger — so I try to take advantage of these brief windows. 

The 4,500-foot climb from the park entrance to the 12,183-foot high point was uneventful, besides the usual spring challenges of fierce wind and stunning cold. Instead of putting on a jacket, I thought I'd use the chill as motivation to urge my legs into a harder effort. Still, without even consciously deciding to back off, I relaxed after just a few miles. Since March my activity levels have increased, topping 20 hours of moving time most weeks. This steady-state endurance is my favorite sort of fitness, but it definitely eats into any semblance of a high end. Of course, I wish I could both set PRs and pedal for hours without feeling fatigued. But if I have to choose one, it's going to be the latter. 

There is considerably more snow than I've seen up here in past spring rides, even though I usually make it up to Trail Ridge by early May. Snowpack in this region is sitting at 121% of normal, mostly on the strength of spring snow, while the state is still a paltry 69% and locked in drought. I still have low faith that we'll make it through the upcoming fire season unscathed (meaning a normal fire season as opposed to another historic fire season, which is becoming the new normal) ... but the recent surplus rain and snow in this corner of the state has kept me blissfully content. That and finding more time and freedom to move through the world as I please. And seeing my parents and friends on a more timely basis. And adopting more hopeful personal goals for the future. And also CBD ... I doubled my intake shortly after my anxiety episodes in February, and everything since has really fallen into place. Coincidence? Yeah, probably. But I am grateful for CBD, placebo or not. 

“I have a foreboding of an America in my children's or grandchildren's time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what's true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness ..." 

Sagan wrote this prescient paragraph shortly before his death in 1996. In Cosmos, he laments several times about the progress we as a civilization lost when we rejected or destroyed great repositories of knowledge such as the culture of Classical Greece and the Library of Alexandria. A thinker during the height of the Cold War, Sagan baffled over our zeal for war and our mutually assured destruction. Like Sagan, I believe humanity has great potential, but fear that we won't make it through our volatile adolescence — clinging to tribalism and violence, to regressive superstitions, to the cancerous inevitabilities of progress for the sake of progress. When I consider my ennui during the Trump years and my subsequent desire to zoom my perspective as far from civilization as possible — I realize that this fear is at the heart of it all. 

“Once we lose our fear of being tiny, we find ourselves on the threshold of a vast and awesome Universe which dwarfs — in time, in space, and in potential — the tidy anthropocentric proscenium of our ancestors.” — Carl Sagan

Then I swing back to Voyager, pressing deeper into an unfathomable void and carrying a story of humanity that has the potential to outlast even Earth itself. Voyager launched on August 20, 1977 — two years to the day before I was born. For my upcoming birthday, maybe instead of an ego-driven effort to celebrate myself, I'll celebrate that tiny hopeful relic traveling through space for 44 years and counting. This is the way I hold onto hope — knowing that beauty goes on. The stories we share go on. And despite our best efforts to destroy what we don't understand, the truth goes on.

“The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what's true.” — Carl Sagan