That which sustains us, also destroys us.

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Photo Credit: Mark Lehmkuhle

It has been a long and wonderful few weeks out here.  My yard was dug up and held captive to the city’s contractors who took over it, my sanity, and my sprinkler system.  This led to me giving up any ambition of doing the “homeowner” fix everything at once state of mind and  along with pushing aside the dark cloud of work stress. I went running, played with the puppy, went biking, traveled with friends, traveled for work, ran with friends, rinse, repeat.  Mountains sustain and satisfy the soul.
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Photo Credit: Mark Lehmkuhle

18089028350_939cbc2b25_oI lived life in full color and enjoyed every last drop.  However, while the physical tolls of of our ventures may be immediately apparent, the mental and emotional fatigue of having fun and venturing socially is delayed in onset and even further delayed in recognition.

I have taken a lot of walls down this year, so while there is too much and yet always never enough said about this story, I want to keep sharing. When I was 17, I took a double digit number of sleeping pills, advil and promptly chased it down with some bad beer.  A reaction to stress, that I’ll now describe as not wanting to die, but just needing the world to stop spinning, just to stop; no cognition of the selfishness that decision actually entailed until later in life.  A reaction of wanting to do everything, that I could, physically, academically, and socially which was followed by delayed onset mental soreness that nearly destroyed me.

to write love on her arms

My father, forever wise beyond his (and certainly my own) years, kept me on a modified house arrest for a while after this.  Citing fatigue, I’d had too much stimulation. I needed a break.  Feeling physically fine, I wanted to get back into the tackling everything game, but fortunately for me, someone loved me and knew better.  Over the years I have learned to love myself, so that I can then love everyone else.   That means taking care of myself and forcing myself to not take part in every adventure… despite how amazing they appear to be.  It has still taken me more than 15 years to truly learn this lesson.

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It is still a battle to balance the physical, “hell yes!”, I want to go play with friends in the mountains with the emotional decompression that my soul needs, on a more frequent basis.  So friends, please be patient with me as I stumble through this mess, I am still learning to take care of myself… and hopefully that means that I can be around to be a better friend on all accounts, not just one that plays in the mountains.

 

 

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Gave Utah Another Go Around the Sun!

And I’m still here…

I don’t know where to start. I don’t have too many photos from this year and they seem to come in spurts.  2014 for me was a whirlwind of sorts filled with stagnancy in life at times and strong bursts of movement at others.  It was a year in which I was forced to let go of someone who I thought was the most important person in my life, and a year where I came back to realizing that you, in fact, are the only person who is ever going to take care of yourself.  Fortunately, I have so many amazing people in my life who were willing to help in that battle and for maybe the first time, I think I learned to let them.  I don’t have photos from every month… well I do… but let’s be honest, you see enough darn Tele photos already that I can’t use them as filler any more.  In lieu of twelve fantastic photos for 2014 with one for every month, I’ll give you fourteen photos that were actually taken in 2014 filled with life, love and some of the best friends, views and dogs that a girl could ask for.

New Year's Day - Ridge Line

The path less traveled, but one of my favorite vantage points in the Wasatch.

The end of 2013 came with the news that my Dad’s mother had passed away, complete with the perfect storm of a massive blizzard on the east coast, exactly where I was trying to go.  After finding out that my flight was canceled — indefinitely– and waiting for the projected 4 1/2 hour wait time for Delta to call me back, I did the next logical thing.  Went on a 4 hour impromptu adventure run.  In reality I actually spent at least an hour of that time, sitting on the ridge, soaking up the new years sun, and absorbing the situation.

Snow angels on a run with my sister.

After flying to the West Coast to fly to the East Coast, I managed to make it in and out of the state between storms.  While my sister and I were in snowy and cold Albany, we figured when life hands you lemons you make lemonade, so if life hands you too much snow, you may as well make snow angels.

Alice Wheeler

All in all, it was sadly wonderful  to see family, and to hear stories of my grandmother, I felt as though I got a glimpse into this wonderful woman who I didn’t know as well I would have liked.  My sister bears an incredible likeness to her (pictured above).Mar2014 (1 of 1)

March soon rolled along and most of my fellow mountain goats came out to play!  Kendra, John, Abbie, Jenny, Ali and Adele all came and filled the house for a great weekend.  Also, I believe that Ali & Jenny ate at the Habit, three times while they were here!!

morning ski

Ski Uphill! Dawn Patrol- photo credit Eric Dacus ericdacus.com

April  was filled with business, the skiing slowly trailed off and I snuck in a visit to NOLA to visit my sister.  The month closed out with surprise fresh snow the last week, including a nice solid 10-12″ the day before my birthday.  I ended April with a sunrise birthday trail run with my favorite girl.

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Always hunting for something.

 

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Ride and run straight from camp? OK!

May brought me a change of jobs and an impromptu visit to Bend, camping, all by my lonesome, just to get some decompression.  It is moments like that when I think I might figure it all out someday.  June and July came and went quickly, filled with lots of mileage in my Wasatch training, gardening and just life!

On the Dunes near Glen Arbor, MI

August was taken over by a giant road trip to Starlight and Northern Michigan.  Tele, of course, in tow.  Being nearly eaten alive by the Michigan mosquitos was certainly worth it for the scenery that we sometimes bypass mentally when we live in the west.

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On the return trip, I was lucky enough to get a quick stop in Golden to see all sorts of awesome people, AND their puppy dogs.

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Wheels on Wheels.  September entailed a lot of mountain time on the Wasatch Crest.  After obliterating my previous race time at Wasatch, the most significant (physical) damage was losing my two big toenails; nonetheless, I still kept moving.

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Kendra and myself overlooking Big Cottonwood Canyon

 

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I took Jenny trail running in the daylight this time!

In October, I was lucky enough to get a visit from, not one, but TWO great friends.  Both weekends filled with spectacular Wasatch trail running, fall colors, and above all, good company.

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November became rather dormant on the mountain activity front as Tele and I moved into our own place.  Grateful that we had a safe place to rest our weary bones.

We ended 2014, filled with hope, that this time around might treat the world a little bit better, and grateful for all the love we have in our lives.

I started 2015 with new friends, and old friends, ready find a better path forward than much of the idling of the last two years.  I’m spoiled and have been skiing 5 times already this year, so I’ll leave you with a starting view for this time around. Some friends took me on a great ski tour, with some ridge walking, that pushed my mental comfort zone just to the point to shake your soul with a bit of energy. I walked away from everything about that day, and said “I needed that.” It’s nice to have found people in each different part of your life that can push the little things to help you learn to trust yourself again.

 

2014 Year in Pictures

A friend recently told me that I have mastered work-life balance.  Sadly, I had to tell her that she was mistaken.  For most of 2014, my spouse and I had incredibly boring jobs.  Getting through the hours of the workday could be painful, but we had plenty of time to plan and execute adventures in the mountains.  The boring jobs are now behind us, but I plan to take the gear, organization, and lessons learned into 2015.

January – The weather in Owyhee Canyonlands is unpredictable, yet there are enough crazy runners in the Boise area to support the Wilson’s Creek Trail Races.  Weather in 2014 was promising, so I signed up for the 20 miler.  Starting before sunrise in an extremely dense fog, then climbing above it and into the sunshine, was spectacular.

I’m going to cheat and share 2 photos from my favorite annual January event – the Stanley Outdoor Bonspiel (S.O.B).  What the hell is a bonspiel?  A curling tournament.  Although bonspiels originated as outdoor events in Scotland, very little outdoor curling exist today.  Stanley, year round population of 69, is located at the base of the Sawtooth Mountains.  It’s f’ing cold out there, but the backdrop, drinking, and camaraderie of the curlers make it a great weekend.  Thanks to Kathy & Kelly for letting me know that I made the front page of the newspaper!

Sweeping SOB 2014

Idaho Statesman SOB copyFebruary – I don’t remember anything too crazy in February.  The Boise Curling Club started the winter curling season. There was a run to Wilson’s Peak, the same place as the race mentioned in January.  There was no fog or snow, but we did startle a group of wild horses.

WIlsons Peak wild horses

March – We went to Utah and saw Jeanni, Jenny, Adele, and Ali!  I don’t downhill ski, so John and I attempted to skate ski for the 3rd time.   I missed that trip to the Habit, but did stop at In N Out on the way back to Idaho.  No pictures.

April – Spring running in Boise can be a bit frustrating.  There is a lot of user traffic and it’s highly encouraged to stay off the local trail network when it’s muddy.  (I strongly support this.)  John, Abbie and I went out to the Little Jacks Creek Wilderness in the Owyhees.  Although our guide book claimed it was “Subaru doable”, the drive was painful.  We covered 3 miles in an hour due to the rock and rut dodging.  The weather went from blue skies to pounding hail and back to blue skies in 30 minutes. Typical mountain/canyonland weather!

little jack wilderness

May – My parents came to Boise to help with yard work, enabling me to spend more time doing fun things on other weekends.  They are endurance yard work athletes.  They are awesome.

This month was also the start and end of a lot of trail running.   Due to a new pair of shoes, I developed severe planar fascitis.  Because I am a moron, I changed shoes and kept training for a 60k.  Picture below is from one of the runs where I told myself “but it loosens up after I climb several thousand feet.”  Idiot.  I’m pretty sure this is also the month Jeanni came to visit.  Due to my prolonged injury denial, I couldn’t take her on any of my favorite runs.  Walking around work was horribly painful.

Kendra Hardguy

June – I asked the Scout Mountain RD to move me from the 60k into the 35k.  The course was surprisingly pretty, but it was one of my worst races.  John had a more successful 60k.  After the race I stopped running for 6 weeks, joined the Y, and started pool running.

During my time off, I worked Fanny’s Hole.  (Tee hee.)  2014 was the inaugural year of the River of No Return 100k in Challis, Idaho.  We learned an important lesson at this aid station: do not leave sealed 2 liter bottles of Coke in the sun.  One exploded, scared the shit out of everyone, and covered Abbie in Coke.  They have changed the course in 2015 so I can no longer work Fanny unless I want to do it alone.

Fanny's Hole

July – I really enjoyed the McCall 20 Miler in 2013, but I had to sit it out due to the damn foot.  John took 4th in the 40 miler.  My garden started to look like it might actually produce  vegetables.

Garden July 9 2014

August – I started running again with the hope of completing a 50k by the end of the year.  While John ran the Standhope 60k, Abbie and I went on our own mountain run.  I love the Copper Basin and the idea of crossing 11,000ft passes, so I’d like to race Standhope in 2015.  On another weekend we camped and ran in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.  I am in love with that single track!!  I had to turn around a bit earlier than John, but I’ll steal one of his photos anyway.

Grand Jean 2014

September – John and I were both signed up for The Rut 50k at Big Sky, MT but I wasn’t able to race.  The race is kind enough to let you defer a year.  The cutoff was brutal, eliminating a third of the field. John wasn’t ready for the loose rock and scree, but he finished respectably for a guy who lives a couple of hours from serious mountains.  This was his 4th ultra in 4 months – all happily finished and uninjured!!!  I do have a nice photo of Kilian Jornet at the finish.   I recently received an entry confirmation for the 2015 Rut and I’m a bit terrified.

Kilian Big Sky

We also volunteered for an overnight aid station at the IMTUF 100 in McCall, ID.  This was our first time volunteering at a 100 miler.  John is interested in doing a 100 miler in the next year or two, so this was a great learning experience.

October – The fall curling season started!!  Due to more driving drama getting into the IMTUF aid station, the Impreza was traded in for a used Tacoma.   The next day we took the Tacoma into the Oregon Owyhees for a trail run.  My inner environmentalist feels terrible driving a V6 4×4, but wow, it’s freeing to have high clearance!  Desert canyonlands are not for everyone, but as Midwesterner, I find the desolate expanses intriguing.

Oregon Owyhees

For contrasting terrain, I visited Jeanni in Utah and she took me on a beautiful run in the Wasatch.  Pictures were taken, but I have no idea where they are.

November – My ego wanted to run at least one ultra in 2014.  I found the Silver Falls 50k in Oregon as the last ultra of the year within driving distance (9 hours). It was a nice bonus that the race has dog-friendly camping and beautiful scenery.  The forested course has 10 waterfalls and racers run directly behind 2 of the falls.  Due to plantar fascitis, my training was marginal, but I was prepared to go slow.   It was a fun and successful 50k.  This was also our 9th camping trip of 2014.  I used to snub car camping, but sleeping on a thick pad and waking up to crepes, sausage, and multiple cups of coffee is awesome.

Silver Falls Camping

December – I have not enjoyed learning to downhill ski as an adult, but a few skate skiing trips in 2013 were challenging and fun.  John and I bought skate equipment and we are committed learning.  It doesn’t hurt that we live only a few hours from “Nordic Town, USA” and I love the being in the Sawtooths.  We managed to get two yurt reservations there.  We also started skiing the trails 30 minutes north of our house in Boise.  There are several pics from December that I’d like to include, but I’ll finish with a cheesy selfie.

Skate skiing 2014

Spike’s 2014 in Photos

Wheels recently sent out an email that did two things, first it pointed out how lazy we all are with regards to posting here and second it suggested we do a 2014 in photos.  After going through my various albums from the year, I learned that I lead a slightly less boring life than one might anticipate for a swamp resident.  Here, are some selected highlights for each month.  Some were easy to find, whereas other months involved mostly work, while some months had multiple highlights.  If you feel something I did with you should have made the cut and didn’t, well next year you will just have to improve your lobbying game.  I enjoy coke, snickers, and marshmallow filled candies.

January– Last January I resolved to run a minimum of one mile every day, this year its ten minutes.  This ended up being a fun goal and was a good motivator to get outside every day and to explore places I might not have otherwise, even during work travel.  This photo was taken on a run I took above the Rio Grande outside of Los Alamos, NM.

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February– This month didn’t hold a lot of excitement other than a lot of work deadlines.  I’m sure I had lovely runs and lovely bike rides here in the swamp, but the focus was on meeting said deadlines.  As a placeholder, please see this very cute photo of Tilly relaxing in my home office, while I typed away.

February

March– In March I made up for February, and as such will post two <gasp> photos here.  The first photo is from a trip, which is detailed in this blog when I biked the Florida Keys with my friend Jenn.  After that trip, I was sooooo calorically deficient that I flew to Utah to eat Habit Burger with Ali.  Oh yeah and to ski with Ali, Adele, Jeanni, Kendra, and John.  It is worth noting that that was a speed-eating Habit visit, because there was fresh powder at Alta that needed to be tracked out, and lets be honest Ali and I were the best qualified people for that job.

March March-2April– This was another great month.  I took a trip to New York to run a trail race in Westchester County, outside of New York City.  For reasons that probably made sense only to me, I decided to pop over to visit a friend who had just moved to Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  You know, while I was in the area!  While there, I got to climb my first ever New Hampshire peak.  Folks, they don’t call it the granite state for nothing. The photo below is taken from Mount Chocorua from the turn off to the trail head.  From the top we had great views of Mt. Washington and the White Mountains.

April

May– After traveling like crazy last summer, this year I tried to keep that in check.  I spent most of my time in the swamp doing work, ramping up marathon training, and doing great bike rides.  The photo for this month is from the Prairie Overlook, one of my favorite scenic spots on the Hawthorne trail.

May

June– June was a fun month, where I finally managed to visit Italy.  This has long been a place I wanted to visit, ever since I studied Italian language and Culture as my Liberal Arts theme requirement as a techie in college.  While attending a conference in a small town outside of Tuscany, I took advantage of jet lag to go for early morning runs.  As luck would have it, on one of these runs I saw a sign with a hiker on it pointing me to trails that headed up.  Never one to miss out on a good climb, I began to explore.  These trails went  from dirt to cobbles, and I found myself in the idyllic hilltop town of Montecatini Alto.

June

July– This is another month that was tough to pick just one highlight.  Though difficult the decision, it had to be made.  This month was the culmination of my marathon training with Claire, where I was able to run with her for 26.2 beautiful miles in the San Francisco Marathon.  Kudos to Claire for doing a marathon within 14 months of giving birth to her beautiful and energetic daughter.  She probably also deserves kudos for putting up with my stories not only during 26.2 miles of running, but through the 100+ miles involved in training. Check us out as we run through Golden Gate Park!

July

August– Once again I found myself in San Francisco, this time for work.  Thanks to Kelly & Dave for their incredible generosity as I used their house as my basecamp for almost 3 weeks straight.  Though I had two conferences in San Francisco I naturally visited many more parts of California.  One ended on a Wednesday and the next didn’t start until the following Sunday.  Naturally, that time was spent going to Sonoma, Montana de Oro, Santa Barbara, back to Montana de Oro, and finally back to San Francisco.  In addition to letting me crash off and on at her house, Kelly also allowed me to borrow her road bike, which allowed me to go on many rides with friends, including the ride below with Jill in Sonoma.

August

September– There is a whole blog post by Wheels on the September highlight.  Can you guess? It was of course traveling to Utah to pace Jeanni in the Wasatch 100, where I might add she had an amazing race.  I was lucky enough to get to pace her on the section from Lambs Canyon to Brighton, where we had a great time making excellent time. This photo shows how high maintenance I am as a pacer.  I had Jeanni drop these bags for me every 0.25 miles of our journey.  Seriously though, it was fascinating to see all the drop bags for the racers at the pre-race meeting.  It gives you even more appreciation for how much work volunteers do to aid in the success of racers on race day!

September

October– October was a good month.  I did my third half ironman that allowed me to bike through closed off sections of Kennedy Space Center.  I even saw some alligators on the course, which thankfully weren’t during the swim, and for some reason didn’t make Wheels or others excited about the idea of doing a triathlon in Florida.  Despite this highlight, half ironmans have nothing compared to the Wasatch and in October I was able to sneak away and spend some quality time with Wheels running and playing.  This time Wheels was kind enough to take me on several runs with complete daylight.

October

November– After a fun-filled last few months, it was time for me to get back to my routine trails and rides at home, and also to do some work.  Here, is a photo of the cats mocking me one Sunday as I was working hard to develop research ideas that didn’t violate the laws of physics.

November

December– As most people who know me have become aware, I suffer from a rare disease known as Alpine Crankypants.  As a result of this condition, every few months I must be sent to the mountains in order to regroup and to be capable of functioning in society, or at least pretending to.  This December per what is becoming a tradition, I headed to Mammoth and went skiing.  I was lucky to get fresh powder, and even luckier to spend time with great friends.  The below photo is a picture of me and Anneke at Minaret Vista after we cross country skied.  It was a wee bit cloudy and beyond a wee bit windy, but nonetheless we snapped this lovely photo.  Patagonia, if you want to use this for your catalog please let us know :)

DecemberThanks to everyone who I played with in 2014! I am excited for the adventures that 2015 is sure to bring, and cannot wait to see you in them!

Movement

Redpine

The earth moves regardless of how badly we want it to stop spinning; in that moment I will always be better off if I open up my soul and decide to move with it.  Keep on running.  One foot in front of the other.

Never stop loving, never stop living.

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“We had done this thing we had set out to do, and instead of becoming larger because of the experience, we became smaller, more humble, more aware of how little we know: about the world in general, about ourselves specifically.” – Rich Benyo

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If this image is too much for you, then consider that fair warning that the rest of this post will be raw as well.  I originally told Spike that I wasn’t sure if I could blog the race, but it turns out it was a huge event in my life, and thanks to some of the best friends I could ever ask for, I ran an amazing race.  It is in these races, as you break down, you become stronger, a process of rebuilding grows inside of you without you even knowing it.  You must be broken by the world, to grow strength and grace and be who you want to become.

I set out to run Wasatch this time around because I volunteered at Ant Knolls aid station (mile 79), last year and caught the bug of nostalgia and inspiration.  I was overcome joy when friends who were there for me the last time around immediately said they wanted to pace me after the lottery drawing in February.  While it seems crazy from the outside these runs become a part of your soul, your character and sharing that space, that exposure with someone is sharing a piece of yourself. Training runs, races, hikes alike; we have good days and bad days, and just plain mundane days.  Every time you go out you risk failure, you risk exposure, and you break yourself down; sometimes just physically, sometimes only mentally, every time though, you build a little bit of strength.  With that exposure comes the views and the beauty and the reflection; the trail runs in your own backyard and the shared experience of a sunrise on this earth.  For all the runs I’ve had, whether it be a huge failure or a short easy jaunt watching the puppy dog, I’m grateful for everyone of them that I’ve been able to share with friends and family.

This year my runs leading up to the race made me stronger.  I didn’t set out to run specific things, I just set out to run and enjoy the year, enjoy my mountains and enjoy all the company I had.  This summer I ran with a lot of weight off my shoulders, I can’t pin point it, but even being broken down I felt stronger.  Despite having the worst taper of my life, I carried that strength through to Wasatch, to my first sunrise of the race.

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Experience paid me well this time through, I climbed faster and with less effort than before.  I quickly wound up with runners who were telling me they would finish in 24-26 hours, a time significantly faster than my 30 hour target.  My brain said slow down, but my feet just found a rhythm and went with it.  By mile 24, I was lacking in calories and nauseous due to the sun, but I felt great and kept clicking along.  I just soaked in the views and eagerly ran to meet my friends at Big Mountain.14984856660_dc3c3d2ffc_o

The sun in the next section beat me down, but Emina’s cheery spirits kept me moving as well as I could between bouts of nausea.  The fall colors had come out to play for us creating a spectacular backdrop overlooking the valley.  Eventually, we made it to Lamb’s canyon, where I picked up Jenny for round 2 at pacing this section.  Greeted by wonderful friends and family, I was sent on my way.

lambs

Jenny grabbed on to my energy and worked like a slave driver to get me to Brighton as quickly as my feet could go.  A stark difference to the long, cold night we walked through two years ago; we made incredible time, and despite the persistent nausea I still felt amazing. I surprised Jenny, and most certainly myself, when we walked into Brighton Lodge about a full hour before my optimistic projection.  It was at this time that I began to wonder what my limits were, how far could I push?  I was surrounded by people who loved and believed in me and there were some pretty fast numbers that seemed within reach.  20 minutes and a bit of coffee later, Kelly and I were out the door into the cold of night for the last big climb.

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Fatigue began to set in as we made the climb to Point Supreme, one of my favorite places in the Wasatch.  I kept moving, always one or two steps behind Kelly, there was a faint familiarity to this routine by now, and my body remembered exactly how to do it this time around.  We sailed down through Ant Knolls, where I briefly caught up with the crew I volunteered with the year before. Getting back on our way, we moved purposefully through to Pole Line Pass, then taking a brief minute to let my stomach settle, we turned off our headlamps and soaked in the stars.  I finally started to break, falling few times on the way down to Pot Bottom, I sat on my ass and wondered if that was all I had left.  Kelly didn’t miss a step, she kept gently pushing me back up and kept me going.  Climbing our last real climb, I finally started to find a rhythm again, amidst a constant fight with my digestive tract, as we kept running towards the second sunrise.7075_10152228449681891_7027872862308038822_n

Like clockwork, the sun came up and brought some life back in to my soul. I swapped Kelly out for B and we proceeded to fly through the next 4 miles, with 5 miles to go the course flattened out and B kept me running as much as he could, challenging me to pass people and to move faster.  I ran into the finish line in a time of 27:24; 6 hours faster that my previous time.  I felt amazing, and strong; something I’m still in disbelief over, as I didn’t take in even 1/4 of the calories I should have.  By all rational reasoning, I should have bonked, yet every step of that race, I gained something inside of me.

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I have the most amazing crew, friends and family for supporting me, for believing me, for challenging me, and for pushing me.  With any large feat like this, your body and mind will break down and I am again broken.  I am at a loss with what was the most significant relationship in my life right now, perhaps the one which has seen me the most exposed and broken, as well as inspired and strong.  I gave myself to that but I wasn’t strong enough, it wasn’t strong enough to survive.  I am bewildered, as the world I knew is vast and different than I once thought; yet I am grateful I am surrounded by amazing people and friends.  I will be stronger and a better person because of it.  The world I emerged out of Wasatch from is different than I expected, yet beautiful and challenging and waiting for me.

Post-notes:

As Mike Place commented, “Wasatch isn’t special by accident.”  So once again, hats off to the race, all the volunteers and even Matthew Van Horn who made all of our days with his special appearances along the course.  I hope this race can stay small and special.

Ali, Adele, Emina, Jenny, Kelly, B, seriously I could have done it with out you, but it certainly would have sucked a lot.  Thank you for being in my life and for everything.

Wowasatch has some spectacular photos from the race, for your viewing pleasure.

More of my edited photos can be found here

Biking the Keys

This blog is long overdue for another report from its token flatlander (me).  Also, this report will be on a particularly flat but fun adventure.  As many of you know, several years ago before I moved from California to become gainfully employed in the state of Florida, I had a California bucket list.  On this list were a number of adventures to do before moving that ranged in time commitment and difficulty, including another weekend of climbing in Joshua Tree, another weekend or two of skiing in Mammoth, and biking the California coast.  Now, I do not find myself moving, but I do have a good friend, named Jenn, who is leaving the flat state of Florida for the much more mountainous New Hampshire.  In light of this, I suspect that I would only be negligent in my friend duties if I did not aid in the facilitation of, or at least join on, a Florida Bucket List Bike Adventure: Biking the Florida Keys.  What follows is my version of what happened along the final ~133 miles of US Highway 1 as it travels from Homestead, FL to Key West.

the route

Our route from Homestead to Key West.

Day 1

The first part of any good adventure is planning, and I can only tip my hat (or bike helmet) to Jenn for ensuring we had a place to stay on the first night (really the first two nights, but I am getting ahead of myself) with a UF field crew that is currently performing research in the Everglades.  The nice thing about starting an adventure with a field crew, is that you get to feel like you are sleeping in.  The field crew was up and out of the house before dawn, making waking up just before sunrise seem both relaxing and a bit decadent.  After, packing up we were pedaling down the road around 7:45am, carefully timed for the 8am opening of a fruit stand (Robert Is Here) that has amazing smoothies.

After filling up on tropical fruit smoothies it was time to get on the road.  After some failed shortcuts we found ourselves heading south on US 1 towards Key Largo.  Everything was going great, until. . .

Actually, I think I need to take a break to tell you a little bit about my traveling companion.  So far all you know about Jenn is that she is moving to New Hampshire, and presumably likes to ride bikes.  However, I think it is important to know a bit more about her.  Jenn is an expert ecologist, climate change-ologist, ornithologist, botanist, marine biologist, and a few more –ists and –ologists all combined into one.  Why is this important?  Well it means that as an engineer and a non-ologist I can assume that she knows everything there is to know about the natural world.  Just like she might (wrongly) assume that I know about all things materials.

. . . Back to the story, everything was going along great, Jenn was answering all of my my questions about the everglades.  I was learning, I was looking at the scenery, but I was not carefully looking at the road.  All of a sudden I saw a sharp metal piece in the bike lane and was forced to run over it, I was pretty sure this wasn’t going to end well and this feeling was confirmed by the “psssssshhhhhhhh” sound of a tire going flat.  We quickly pulled over and started working to change the flat.  At this point, I was not thrilled to remember that the tires on my road bike (Oscar Rrramon) were incredibly new, and therefore more difficult to get off the wheel.  As I was wrestling with the tire, a guy had pulled over and was heading towards us asking if we needed help.  I of course was feeling proud, I know how to change a flat and can generally get it done rather quickly.  However, not wanting to seem too proud, I allowed this gentleman to help.  We proceeded to learn his name was Alfonso and that he is a cyclist and always carries bike gear in his car in the hopes of being able to help someone.  Apparently, we were the first time he has actually come across someone he could “help”, despite carrying this gear with him for years.  I don’t want to drag on too long about our visit with Alfonso, but what should have been a helpful and quick repair job, soon became neither quick nor helpful.  I will summarize by saying that after Alfonso wasted two of my tubes causing pinch flats, and wasted one of Jenn’s CO2 cartridges I took over again, and soon after we were back in business.  Interestingly, I thought this was going to be the “downer” for the day and maybe for the trip, but I did not yet know what was in store.  Even more interestingly, this visit by Alfonso that depleted my tube reserves would lead to one of the most positive contributions of the trip through a necessary visit to a bike store in Tavernier (more on this later).

photo 2

Flat fixing time.

With the flat finally repaired, and some advice from Alfonso on a bike shop in Tavernier to replenish supplies we were back in the saddle and pedaling south once again.  A road sign informed us that we had 15 miles to go until Key Largo, or in more useful terms approximately an hour of biking lay ahead of us before we were officially on the keys.

The bikes were happy to take a short break upon reaching Key Largo.

The bikes were happy to take a short break upon reaching Key Largo.

With all of our early delays we decided to stop and have lunch in Key Largo, finding a restaurant with a view.  After lunch, we came to what I think was the biggest downer of the whole trip.  The bike path between Key Largo and Tavernier was a combination of non-existent, under construction, or constantly crossing busy driveways for restaurants and shops.  As a result, the riding didn’t feel very relaxed at all and was some of the more stressful riding I have experienced  (but still not as bad as biking across LA).  Once in Tavernier, we stopped at the bike shop that Alfonso had mentioned to pick up new tubes and a fresh CO2 cannister.  The guy working at the shop is an avid cyclist, and as soon as he realized we were biking the keys brought out a map and highlighted in detail where we should stop along the way, and more importantly on which side of the road to look for the bike path for the remainder of the ride.  Although, we had the adventure cycling map this map would prove itself way more useful.  We were also assured that we had ridden through the worst of it and that it would get better soon.  I was reluctant to believe this, but soon after leaving the shop we were rewarded with an improved bike lane that spit us onto a secluded service road that took us 6-7 miles further down the road.

The advice we also got from the bike shop was to turn left just past the Hurricane Monument to get to a beautiful beach.  We were certainly not disappointed with this advice, and spent time taking photos of our bikes with palm trees and eating snacks with a view. (I should also point out that I accidentally road my bike onto the sand, and in trying to get somewhere safe to put down a speedplay cleated shoe ended up falling over, whoops!)

A beautiful beach in Islamadora Key.

A beautiful beach in the Keys. Can you spot the bikes?

Jenn's bike enjoying the view, while resting against a palm tree.

Jenn’s bike enjoying the view, while resting against a palm tree.

After our snack break it was back on the road to Islamadora Key, where we took a brief stop to check out the fish other people were bringing in, of course asking the fishermen if we could just say we caught the fish.  This is also the location that I nearly lost my travel companion to a great white shark!

Jenn narrowly escaped this shark!

Jenn narrowly escaped this shark!

After, Jenn escaped the shark attack we continued from Islamadora Key all the way to Marathon following bike paths and enjoying looking left to see the Atlantic Ocean and looking right to see the Florida Bay.  After pedaling over 87 miles we reached our hotel in Marathon (coordinated by Jenn), and transitioned quickly into swimsuits for a dip in the pool, followed by showering and eating all the food the restaurants of Marathon had to offer.   Did you say dessert? Yes please!!

Day 2

We chose to stay at the southern end of Marathon to be able to get an early start across 7-mile bridge.  Both of us had heard that this would be one of the scarier parts of the ride, as you are stuck riding on the shoulder (albeit fairly wide) for 7 miles (turns out the name of the bridge is important) until reaching the other side.  Before venturing across the bridge we rode to the Stuffed Pig for what may well have been the best meal of the entire trip (yes, I am biased towards meals that include eggs).  After filling up on benedicts, more seafood and high-fructose corn syrup (aka coke) we were off across 7-mile bridge.

Oscar Rramon at the start of 7-mile bridge.

Oscar Rramon at the start of 7-mile bridge.

One of the other nice things about this day is that the mile markers are counting down to 0.  Although they were doing this yesterday as well now the signs displayed numbers like 47 or 39, which seemed more and more doable in terms of biking to our destination of Key West.  After crossing the 7 mile bridge, which I found to be way more pleasant than the ride from Key Largo to Tavernier we stopped at Bahia Honda State Park to look around.  There, we saw the remainder of a railroad bridge that was partially destroyed in a hurricane on Labor Day in 1935 and a great egret primping itself for the day.  On a side note, while using the google to fact check the date of this hurricane, I learned that this also correlates to a zombie attack at Key West.


Morning grooming.
Morning grooming at Bahia Honda State Park, voted best beach in America in 1992.
Bridge that was destroyed in the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane.
Bridge that was destroyed in the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane.

The ride into Key West was particularly scenic with winds mostly in our favor.  We biked past Key Deer and Marsh Rabbit Habitat, but despite our calling them did not see either.  However, we did see a crazy monitor of some sort climbing a tree, just a reminder of the uniqueness of the Keys.

With about 15 miles to go we stopped for some (iced) coffee and tea and sugary treats from Baby’s Coffee, another great suggestion from the bike shop in Tavernier.  After our snack and about 10 more miles of pedaling we had crossed into Key West and were narrowing in on Milepost 0.  Milepost 0, although a necessary photo-op was itself a bit anticlimactic.  It was just on a street corner, not even at the end of a street.  Of course to get to this street corner we passed Hemmingway’s house and the Audobon house.  Sadly, I did not see any of Hemmingway’s polydactyl (six-toed) cats as we passed by, but did return later in the evening to see a few cats over the fence.   I was not able to count their toes though.

Milepost 0, end of Highway 1 south.

Milepost 0, end of Highway 1 south.

The other interesting thing I learned about Milepost 0, is that although it is the end of US 1 South, when you approach it on US 1 South you are actually going north.  This may seem to you like a simple curiosity, but continuing straight after US 1 South ends does not in fact take you to the southernmost point in the Continental US.  Whoops!  Fortunately, this only cost us about a mile of additional riding, and soon we were heading south again, back past the polydactyl cats to the southernmost point in the continental US.  Here, we met a guy who had just finished riding from San Diego (who wants to join me?), took a few photos, and headed to our hotel.

Southernmost point in the continental US.

Southernmost point in the continental US.

One thing we learned during this trip, is that the Keys are not cheap, at least not during spring break time.  As such, I used frequent flier miles (a lot of them) to book a room at a fancy resort.  You know those $400+ per night places that other people seem to stay at.  Well, clearly the guy at the front desk was good at pegging bike tourists and the fact that our desire to jump in the ocean would be greater than our desire to complain about a room.  However, I am sure that what we got was not in fact a standard room at the Waldorf Astoria resort.  Unless, their standard rooms are all windowless.  Ah well, we didn’t spend much time in the room, and were instead either sipping pina coladas on the beach or wandering the town in search of food and sites.

Supposedly a "standard" room at the Waldorf Astoria resort in Key West.

Supposedly a “standard” room at the Waldorf Astoria resort in Key West.

 

Day 3

Like all good things, this trip came to an end.  The last morning we climbed onto our bikes one last time and biked three miles to the Key West airport, where we picked up a rental car to head back to Homestead and then home.  This concludes another great adventure in the books, and a good Florida send-off for Jenn.