Wednesday, January 05, 2022

2021 in photos

I suppose I couldn't resist. Of all of my blogging traditions, this seemed a reasonable one to skip: Sorting through the photos I took in the past year and picking a favorite for each month. I too have become bored with my ongoing premise that 20_ _ was a tough year but there were beautiful moments and now it's a fresh new start! Still, the main reason I've maintained an online journal for so long is for my own benefit, so I can save a few memories to hold up to the light before my screen fades to gray. It seems somewhat a shame to let 2021 slip away in that regard.

January: Cottonwood Crusher

2021 is the first year of this blog's long life (16 years!) that I didn't complete a single race. I did start a couple, the first being a free and self-supported fat bike race outside of Buena Vista, Colo. I started full of optimism because I'd ridden myself into fantastic shape and was excited for this opportunity after 2020 left many of us wondering if in-person races were a thing of the past. There was a good crowd at the start — maybe 30 cyclists — which was weird and exciting. We were still in that awkward phase of the pandemic when some of us wore masks whenever we were around people, even outside, and refused to go inside buildings just to err on the safe side. (Ah, the good old days.) Typical of these mountain events, trail conditions at the Cottonwood Crusher weren't all that rideable and the weather was very windy and cold. I was genuinely having a great time, but as I neared Cottonwood Pass, my shifter stopped working and I let that mechanical end my race. I was so mad. I drove straight home via a long detour necessitated by a terrible snowstorm and rode 100 miles on my indoor trainer instead. It's kind of amusing to remember the silly things that upset me just a year ago. 

February: Out of the depths

I continued to train fairly hard for ... nothing? And then I set out to time trial a 100K snowy gravel race called Old Man Winter on a dreary morning with terrible air quality. I'll never know whether this was a catalyst for what came next, but the following day I experienced a frightening panic attack and collapsed. Even my physical fitness crumpled. I spent much of the rest of the month trying to recover from an exhausting cycle of jitteriness and lethargy. Amid the many remedies for anxiety I've tried, I find "slog therapy" — my term for mindless yet physically immersive activities — to be the most consistently effective at calming the inner storms. I took this photo while out for one such outing. The temperature was below zero and it was, as usual, very windy, but this made for gorgeous glittery scenery. 

March: Mountain mojo

I don't remember a lot about March, but when I scroll through my photos I see that the month was delightfully snowy and I spent a lot of time in the mountains. When I scan this blog, I see posts called "There's still magic" and realize I was still coping with mental health issues that had settled into a low-level depression. I was especially sad after a shooter opened fire at a grocery store in South Boulder and killed ten people. (And now, reflecting on the Dec. 30 wildfire that roared through Louisville and Superior, 2021 has just been a whole lot for my community.) But I knew then, as I know now, that the only way forward is to keep moving. 

"Life as a human in the modern world can be sad and full of drudgery," I wrote. "But then sometimes, in the midst of these low moments, the universe returns with a barrage of magic so astounding you can scarcely breathe."

April: The Sentinel

This one is hard. My Dad was planning his annual visit to Canyonlands National Park and invited Beat and me to join. We were only recently vaccinated and I was still outdoor masking, so I was uneasy but agreed. We met at the Subway in Moab, our first reunion since January 2020. I still shudder at the memory of Dad walking up to give me a hug and me initially pulling away — he would become the first person (besides Beat) that I hugged since March 2020. We spent four days camping and hiking to all of Dad's favorite places. It was a wonderful trip that I now cherish more than anything else about 2021 — Beat's first time in Canyonlands (he was like a kid in a candy store), and as it turned out, Dad's last. This is a photo that I printed in poster size to display at his funeral. When I posted it on Instagram on April 26, I included this caption: 

"Over the weekend, Beat and I joined my 68-year-old father on his annual journey into Canyonlands Needles District, where he revisits some of his favorite places in the world. Here, my dad is overlooking a spot where he would like his ashes spread someday — overlooking "The Sentinel." I told my dad that he'll probably outlast that rock formation."

May: Before the storm

A lot of the issues I'd dealt with earlier in the spring had calmed, and my mojo was back in strong form. I remember because Beat and I had somewhat traded head spaces — the Delta variant surge in India had become an inflection point for his "weltschmerz" (German for world-weariness) while I was cultivating new optimism rooted in a kind of big-picture existential perspective (which I wrote about here.) I had formulated big plans for the summer and I was excited! As part of my renewed training, I set out for a longtime goal of riding to the top of Mount Evans from the town of Golden, a solid 10,000 feet of vertical relief. The day started out green and lovely, but by the time I climbed above treeline, the weather had turned to a white-out windstorm with gusts topping 80 mph. The frigid wind was enough to blast me off the bike and send me skittering on my back across black ice like an overturned beetle. And of course, the road is lined with tenuous drop-offs. I turned around. The following day, Beat crashed his mountain bike just 300 yards from our house and broke his collarbone in several places. It was another turning point for both of us — a long and difficult physical recovery for Beat, but something that renewed his appreciation for the simple goodness in life. I, in turn, was headed for more darkness. But not quite yet. 

June: All that really matters

Early in the month, my sisters arranged a trip for the entire family to St. George, Utah. (With the exception of Beat, who was recovering from clavicle surgery.) It was the first trip of its kind my family had taken — the first of many, we proclaimed. It was 110 degrees, there was a lot of lounging and laughter, and I was waking up to 4:30 a.m. darkness each morning to squeeze in a bike ride before the heat of the day and flurry of socializing cooked me thoroughly. It was wonderful. It was the last time I hugged my Dad. That's all I want to write about June. 

July: Simple goodness

July was full of darkness. I spent much of the month in Utah, trying to help my mom wrap up Dad's affairs and transition to her new reality. I wasn't writing and didn't retain many memories, but I do have photos from the better moments. Most of them came from hikes in the Wasatch Mountains with my sister, Lisa. This is from the trail to Lake Blanche.

August: There's still magic

I didn't complete any of my ambitions for summer 2021. I scarcely even spent time in Colorado, but I did have a couple weeks at home between Utah and traveling to Europe. In mid-August, I managed one Pawnee-Buchanan loop with Beat. It was my one visit to the local mountains that brought so much joy to the pandemic summer of 2020. This was a 27-mile grind, and yet a much-needed respite. My July outings with Lisa had been worth it but still a source of physical pain, as a raging bout of Achilles tendonitis flared up in June. I'd hardly been able to run or even hike without pain for most of two months. This chronic injury was finally starting to settle again by early August, and I figured out — much as I had in February — that I was most at peace when I was hiking in the mountains. The storms in my mind would calm and I would feel as though my dad was walking beside me. 

September: Switzerland

I did so much hiking in Europe. So much. I haven't tried to quantify it (Yet. The "2021 in numbers" post is probably coming), but there was at least one week in there with nearly 50,000 feet of climbing. One week! On foot! Not even racing! Beat dropped out of his PTL race fairly early and joined me for a lot of these micro-adventures. We were blessed with weeks of jaw-droppingly amazing weather and a lot of opportunities to get high and experience the incredible landscapes of the Swiss Alps. This was another gift from 2021 that I suppose I took for granted. And Switzerland is so abundant with incredible chocolate, yogurt, cheese, and bread that even with all of this hiking I still managed to gain back the 15 pounds I lost while grieving my father's death. I felt much more physically and mentally robust following this trip (the failed Utah Mixed Epic attempt notwithstanding.) 

October: A beautiful autumn

Both Boulder and Salt Lake City boasted beautiful fall weather this year. Early in the month, I spent a lot of time with my sisters — more hiking with Lisa in the Wasatch Mountains, and then a lovely weekend with both of my sisters in Orange County, California. On Oct. 10, a truck driver hit me from behind with his side-view mirror while I was riding my bike home up Flagstaff Road in Boulder. Initially, I thought I wasn't injured, but since then I've dealt with ongoing back pain. While not greatly limiting my mobility, this pain has become increasingly frustrating in its persistence. It's a low-level but chronic pain that, in part, conspired to welcome back some of the darkness. I continue to fight it by moving forward in the best way I know how — staying in motion. 

November: Zion

My friend Danni has been wonderfully supportive this year. For one reason or another, I backed out of every adventure we'd planned together since September 2020: Idaho Hot Springs route (I was alerted about a COVID exposure as I was packing up to leave for Idaho), self-supported Fat Pursuit (again, reluctance to travel on my part), an August gravel ride in Eastern Idaho (wildfire smoke was terrible), the Silk Road Mountain Race, riding as a team in the Utah Mixed Epic. Despite my flakiness, she still dropped everything in June to fly out to Utah and attend my father's funeral. She's a good friend. I really wanted to make a Thanksgiving backpacking trip in Zion National Park happen, but my back pain just wouldn't allow this. We still met up in Utah and had a great trip all the same. She and Beat completed a 38-mile Zion traverse, and I enjoyed shorter day trips with my new fanny pack. 

December: Alaska

Beat and I managed to transport ourselves back to the Far North just in time for the omicron variant and biblical storms that complicated everything about travel all over again. We managed to squeeze in one nostalgically normal sled-dragging trip to Colorado Creek cabin in the White Mountains (26 below with sandpaper trails. Ah, perfection. We stayed with our friend Corrine and Eric, and Corrine blogged about the trip here.) After Christmas, the region was slammed with a foot of snow, followed by nearly a half-inch of freezing rain, followed by another foot of snow. Travel was completely hobbled. We finally set out Dec. 30 when road conditions were downgraded two notches from "hazardous" to "difficult" (this meant a narrow corridor of ice-slicked and rutted packed snow that was so bumpy we could never drive faster than 20 mph. I'd be terrified to see what those roads are like when hazardous.) And of course, the thermometer had plunged back to 10 below, so no one else bothered to brave the trail beyond Wickersham Dome. We had to break trail through thigh-deep drifts of the worst wind-compacted snow possible. I'd compare the conditions to walking through a bottomless field of styrofoam that collapses beneath your feet. We were barely able to hold 1 mph while walking, and the effort was exhausting. The cabin we'd booked was 17 miles from the trailhead and it would have taken it until morning to reach it, but we were lucky to meet a musher who reserved the mile 6 cabin and was happy to share. We ended up having a fun night with Sean, his three huskies, and his eight beers that he apparently planned to drink by himself. And the remote cabin afforded me one day of ignorance about the suburban firestorm that was incinerating the southern communities of Boulder County at the very moment I was bundling up against an 18-below night to watch the northern lights. 

Happy new year, I hope. 

Photo posts from years past: 
2010 part one, part two


  1. Very beautiful pictures and very nice and heartfelt commentary. You are always on a great adventure!

  2. 20__ was so very very hard. Harder than the previous year but there’s one thing about Jill Homer is that you know what is healing for you. You always seem to (in time) to muster up that inner strength to figure out how to get moving somehow and someway. As you wrote in “Into the North Wind” you are “dependent on motion” and you know that is what heals you. So. . . you go!

    I know it’s been hard to write but once again I thank you for your always honest words. It does help me to know I am not alone with thoughts and mood over last couple years. And I know that if I “keep moving” it will help to heal my mind and soul.

    May blessings to you Jill. 2022 will have more beauty. GODSPPEED as you venture into this year. GODSPEED on the prep for ITI. I hope it’s a success for you or at least you experience all the beautiful moments it will offer.

  3. Beautiful photos from a truly crazy year. Thanks for sharing your amazing pictures. Here's to hoping that 2022 will be better.

  4. Amazing photos, Jill! They make me jealous of all the places you went. (Well, except for biking in the snow and high winds. Not a fan of that!) You really have the gift of a photographer's sense of composition.


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