Goodbye, Purple Monsters

“So do you just want to leave your old pair with us?”

ummmmm….

“We can just recycle them here.”

I had visions of my shoes, my constant partners of the last five months, being ripped to shreds, parted out, destroyed…

I looked up at the cashier, the pair of impostors in a fresh box sitting insolently between us. My tattered purple sneakers reeked quietly in my hands. He must have recognized the panic in my eyes.

“Don’t worry, we can say a few words, if you like.”

I laughed like it was a joke, payed for the new un-smelly shoes, and left my purple monsters behind, no words said. Still, I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge them here.

I bought those shoes the moment I was cleared to run after shoulder surgery. After six weeks grounded, I took off like a bat out of hell and proceeded to beat on them with everything I had. They did things that no running shoe should ever be asked to do and handled it all, until a couple weeks ago when they began to stink up my car and injure me. Below is my list of our best moments together:

THE FLATIRONS

The whole time I was sling-bound, I stared at the flatirons, picturing the runs I’d attempt as soon as I could get outside again. I’ve lived in Boulder my whole life but my knowledge of the trails closed to bikes is embarrassingly slim. So I squinted over a map and put together what I figured would be a reasonable linkup; I started from my front door in North Boulder and crawled, semi-delirious, to my parents’ in South Boulder about seven hours later.

CITADEL PEAK

The next thing I did with my new shoulder and new shoes was a little ski tour. It’s a pretty cool thing about Colorado that you can park just off the highway in June and hack your way up to some snow in just a few hours. I eventually had to switch to ski boots, but my purple monsters carried me all the way to the white stuff, and for that I was grateful. I was also grateful to Emily, who brought dumplings.

THE MIDDLE TETON

I was really stoked to link up with KT and Tory for a scamper up the Middle after OR this summer. It was my first trip to the Tetons and it was love at first sight. We hopped boulders, kicked terrifyingly shallow steps in the summer corn, and enjoyed a cloudy, dramatic summit. On the way down Tory reminded us of the beer stowed in my car, and we spontaneously broke into a noisy run, passing backpackers, tourists and one lazy, huckleberry-stuffed bear.

MOUNT COWEN (with Ned and Adam)

These shoes were a terrible choice for this objective. I backpacked eight miles in them and then soloed two class five pitches before switching to rock shoes. On the descent their grip on steep flowers was considerably lacking, and their unprecedented ability to fold completely in half when stressed was not much appreciated. However, I was still glad to have them to share the experience with me, especially because camping out for the night meant that I didn’t have to ask to sleep on anyone’s couch.

THE BEARTOOTHS (with KT and Caroline)

Here was where I really got to test the versatility of the purple monsters. They handled extreme huckleberry picking, canoeing, trail sprinting, whitewater crossings, scree surfing, more class five, and an hour standing in an alpine lake trying to trick fish into being dinner. They performed admirably, but at this point their stench had become a palpable thing.

PIKES PEAK

After a great month on the road I was feeling pretty cocky about life, so I decided to run up a fourteener. 7,000ish feet over 13ish miles didn’t seem too bad from the comfort of my tent with a whiskey-cider in hand, but after seven miles it felt like my legs were made of cement and there wasn’t enough oxygen left in the world. So Brooks and I settled for a “fast hike” the rest of the way, and then ate huge bacon cheeseburgers. Ah, Sweet success!

BOULDER TO WINTER PARK

Spurred by the thought of even more bacon cheeseburgers, we then decided to run over all the mountains between us and the high country, neglecting the fact that we’d only had about four days to recover. The trip ended up being over twenty miles, which when you’re not a marathon runner tends to feel like a lot. I couldn’t really walk by the end of it, which brought me and the purple monsters to our final goodbye.

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As my new hero, Dr. Mark, pulverized my foot, muttering words like “crepitus,” and “overuse,” I gritted my teeth and tried not to scream. Apparently the pain of the last season had all been stored in a single muscle, which had recently reached capacity. Embarrassed, I showed him the purple monsters, and he promptly sent me off to the running store with a list of possible replacements. Now I’m wearing something squishy and too-clean. The guy who sold ‘em to me didn’t believe I was a runner. I’m not sure I do either.

Anyway, I’d still like to thank Mizuno for making the greatest adventure shoes I’ve ever had. I know they weren’t designed for the things I did to them, but they took me everywhere (physically and emotionally) that I needed to go this summer. It hurt to leave them behind yesterday, and not just because it hurts to walk.

Road Lessons

Since my first day as a gypsy two weeks ago, I’ve slept in tents, on couches, and occasionally in beds– in nine different places. I’ve biked seven new trails, climbed two bucket-list mountains, and gone cragging topless…and I’m only halfway through this trip. These are some things I’ve learned so far:

1. You’ll probably send if you’re cragging topless.

Because cheese-gratering back to that last bolt just isn’t an option.

2. If the couch you’re crashing on is occupied by people drinking tequila, you should drink tequila with them. 

Because why the hell not?

3. Multi-day trips in the mountains are a great way to avoid begging people to sleep in their homes. 

Even better if they want to come with you. Stars > ceilings. Forever.

4. Sometimes trails live up to the hype. 

Cases in point: Bobsled in SLC, Phillips Ridge in Jackson, Elbow in Big Sky.

5. Say Yes.

It’s an unwritten law of the road that you must be open to whatever comes your way. Even when you’ve spent the week tossing and turning on couches, drinking tequila, riding till your legs scream for mercy and watching the stars while listening for bears– say yes. To that next trip, to the mystery meat, to the vision quest. Because you WILL learn something, and going to bed tired is a sure sign you’re doing it right.

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Packing it all up

photo 2My apartment smelled like cat pee the day I moved in. The blinds were broken, the carpet was stained, and the peeling, chipped bathroom looked like it had never been cleaned. But it was mine and I loved it.

I spent months filling my place up. I needed silverware and furniture and rugs and lamps- and I spent an incredible amount of time choosing each one. I got a really, really nice kitchen knife- these were things I would keep.

Yet even as I began to settle in I started to notice that I was doing something kind of weird. Every time I had a down moment- like when I was waiting for something to cook or working on an email- I’d mentally begin packing. These weren’t just little daydreams; we’re talking detailed, specific plans on how and where I would store every item I’d brought into my home. I guess you could say that having “stuff” for the first time in my life made me anxious. I should have known right then that I wouldn’t be around for too long.

I’ve had this road trip planned for years. It’s just a series of dots strung together on a map, but each dot represents a friend and the lines between give me butterflies. I’ve toyed with how long it would take, how much it would cost, how I could justify it… I’ve been planning this thing forever. Actually making it happen though… that’s been a different story.

I just knew that if I didn’t do it this year, I probably never would– so I didn’t renew my lease. I saved up enough money to quit waitressing, gave away all my furniture and packed all my gear into my hatchback, which hit 200,000 miles a week before I planned to depart. It felt bizarre to actually enact the packing I’d fantasized about so often, but it also felt right.

Now I’m sitting on a park bench in Jackson, eating chips and watching people shop with their families. I got a bolt replaced on my bike this morning and instead of beer the shop guys asked for juice. Yesterday I climbed a Teton with some girlfriends. My home is parked where I can see it, bike locked on top, clothes and gear packed inside. It makes me super happy that it’s all right there.

I kept that really, really nice knife– because I know I’ll have a kitchen again someday– but for now it feels dang good to be a nomad.

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Gear Review: Wound Vac

DSC_0183So a few weeks ago I crashed my bike. I clipped my bars on a tree, sailed gracefully through the air, and landed mostly on my leg, mostly on a tree stump, which became detached from the ground. Then I went into shock.

I’ve always said the first crash of the season is a good thing because it’s cathartic. A nice rowdy crash can clear all your bad energy and fear, and when you get back on you’re usually a better rider. This crash was definitely a good thing, because it did all that AND introduced me to a really cool new piece of gear; the wound vacuum.

I didn’t know wound vacs existed, but apparently that’s what they give you when the recurrent baby-head hematoma you’ve had for two weeks gets infected. My wound vac comes in a handy (and stylish) black purse, and only needs to be plugged in at night.

The hose is situated to discreetly come out the waistband of my pants, and the machine makes periodic, soothing sucking noises. It’s fun to watch how much serrous fluid my leg can produce! Don’t know what serrous fluid is? That’s ok, I didn’t either. (It’s a fancy word for pus.)

Was this crash still cathartic? Yes. Do I think I’ll be a better rider when I get back on the bike? Probably not. What will my leg look like without a tube coming out of it? That remains to be seen. This is by far the weirdest injury I’ve ever had.

The Definition of Insanity

The moment of a fall is the intersection of percieved vs. actual reality. Your sweaty, unresponsive fingers slide from that crimp, your skis rocket from beneath you, and before you know it your tire just smashed the back of your helmet and you’re somewhere far, far away from where you thought that last move would take you.

Sometimes you jump right up- the rope catches you or you land in a puff of powder. But sometimes you’re bleeding. Sometimes you’re really broken. That’s when you find you suddenly have lots of time to think about falling.

The greater the disparity between what we thought would happen and what actually happens, the harder it is to reconcile. Sometimes you commit hard, and sometimes you break catastrophically.

So what do you do the next time you find yourself pulling over that roof, or about to drop in? It’s a fact that those scenarios which allow us to live most fully tend to require proportionally full commitment. And the ghosts of our falls follow us. The echo of that ligament popping or the crunch of a bone- they all bubble helpfully to the surface at the point of decision. Those voices of reason, always trying to keep us safe.

They say that the definition of insanity is repeating the same actions and always expecting a different outcome. They also say we should never give up. The one thing I know is that occasionally what we thought would happen turns out to be far inferior to the richness and joy of the experience we’re granted.

The best I can do, as far as I can tell, is to wear my scars with pride and keep committing, even if it is, literally, insane. Another fall older and marginally wiser, right?201405_BuffCreek_298

What Happened to Wise Women?

Yesterday I brought a dessert to a table of ladies celebrating a birthday. They were a couple of older gals, and I wished the birthday girl a happy 25th, because that’s just what you do. She gave a little laugh and said “oh, honey- I’m 76!”

She barely looked 50, and I wasn’t sucking up when I told her so. Yet instead of hearing my compliment her expression turned hopeless, and she gave an inexplicably apologetic look to her friend. “I’m almost 80. It’s crazy.” She said quietly. We both reassured her it was an accomplishment to be proud of, but she clearly wasn’t buying it. I left the table a little shocked.

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I was at dinner with a group of women a few weeks ago and, as an adult (but the youngest there by 25 years or so) I found myself suddenly in a different role than when I was the daughter or niece at the table. “That waiter only started giving us any attention when you sat down!” One of my friends remarked, after another had said something to the effect of “I can’t believe she looks that great without any makeup!”

These women are role models I’ve looked up to my whole life. They’ve beaten cancer, they’ve owned businesses, they’ve run insane distances through the desert and they’ve traveled the world. Yet here they were coveting my eyebrows and the attention of some blushing kid. I didn’t understand how my status, which was backed up by little more than the odd adventure and a spotty working life, could have been so elevated by something none of us could control; youth.

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Maybe it’s the possibilities, the strength or health that lend youth its power. Or maybe it’s all just a fabrication of capitalistic media, which recognizes the buying potential of a young, impressionable, sex-driven demographic. In their world, being young is desirable, fashionable, and (lets not forget) extremely lucrative- every ad we see reinforces the point. What is super sad to me is that our elders feel ashamed when the ads no longer apply to them. What happened to wise women?

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This is my love letter to old ladies. You created us, you raised us, and if you’ve done it right your lives are rich and full of stories. Share them! Don’t teach me how to do my nails right or keep my skin wrinkle-free; teach me how to be kind and strong when I’m tired. Teach me generosity and courage. Teach me how to be a woman; there are more than enough girls around here.

The Sedentary Life

I spent the last year or so pretending I didn’t have a bum shoulder. I figured I could just be more conservative, stronger or more mindful, but eventually I was getting super injured doing daredevil things like lifting up my duffel bag or sleeping. I began to worry about my ability to take care of myself and my partners in the backcountry- it was time to do some more body maintenance- my seventh major orthopedic surgery in the last decade. The cool thing about having a bunch of bad luck over the last few years is that I’m really good at keeping myself sane on the recovery end. Hint: it involves more than just whiskey. I’ve learned how to be ruthlessly cheerful with myself, and I get exercise in every way I possibly can- which for now just means walking. A lot of walking. I got one of those pedometers (it has a tres chic rubber butterfly on it, ensuring its ability to clash with everything) and on good days it tells me that I’ve walked enough steps to be considered “active.” I live for those 10,000 steps, which can be a bit of a buzzkill. The thing is, 10,000 steps are actually really challenging to gather, especially when you’ve already got all the books you can handle and/or you’re bummed about hurting your shoulder and don’t want to get out of bed. The distance usually comes to about 5 miles, and you don’t get that just from taking the stairs. IMG_5236 IMG_5232It’s really made me appreciate how hard it is to become “active” if you’re not already. Maybe your office is less than five miles wide (most are), or maybe the road to work makes for a dirty, dangerous commute. Even with the fitness, time and motivation to walk, I can usually think of about a thousand reasons why not to. So I do stuff like make dates with people absurdly far away, and then plan on the “commute” taking two or three hours. If I go hiking, I also hike to and from the trailhead. Often I just have to suck it up and walk even if it’s not the most exciting walk to walk. My ipod has become my best friend. As soon as I start walking I’m almost always weirdly stoked to be doing it. You get an amazing feel for what distances really are, and you see/hear/smell all sorts of things on your way. Especially if you walk allies, which is the sort of thing I like to do. I’m becoming a connoisseur of chalk art, a totally non-creepy people watcher and a collector of litter. If I’m on a trail I’m an ardent hot-lava player and photographer of dead trees. It’s not a strenuous workout, and I never get the kind of satisfying full-body exhaustion I might get from, say, climbing a couloir before sunrise. BUT walking’s what I’ve got right now and I’m grateful. Heading to New York next week to visit my brother and do some city walking- we’ll see what they think of my R1 and butterfly pedometer (look for me on the Sartorialist!)

Breck

Six months ago, my hands were calloused and I had belongings scattered across three states. This week, the majority of my material possessions reside under one roof (an unexpected relief) and my hands are soft and pink. I’ve watched the signs of my time as (what? a nomad? a “climber”? a non-contributing member of society?) fade with mixed feelings. They’ve been good times, and I know other seasons will be dedicated to struggling once more in high places. Just not this season. This is the season I got back in the saddle.

I think there was something weirdly personal for me about coming back to cycling; a kind of grudge I felt I had to work through, and the only way I could figure was to throw myself at the sport, flat out, as hard as I could. For a couple months there I was a simple kind of girl, who wanted nothing more from life than to get as tired as I could as often as I could. The hope (I suppose) being that somewhere in the bits of clarity that come with getting truly worked, I’d rediscover whatever spark once made me love this stuff so much.

It wasn’t pretty. I accidentally-on-purpose missed half the events I planned to do, and randomly showed up at ones well beyond a reasonable person’s calendar. I barely kept track of my workouts and flat out refused to use a heart rate monitor, which is not to say I was slacking off. I was riding. A lot. Probably too much. I figured the events I payed attention to were simply the ones that demanded my attention, and my workouts felt best when done for myself. I felt very zen, but I rode mostly like crap.

My first big try was Tour of the Gila, during which I camped in a van and raced with the flu. On a whim, I then headed up for a butt-kicking at the Teva Games. A few weeks later I raced the Winter Park Hill Climb- and logged my first two century rides commuting to and from the start. At the ProXCT in Missoula I got my first concussion, and two weeks later I did my first marathon mountain bike race in Breck. When I wasn’t doing big races I was doing small races, and when I wasn’t doing small races I was doing stupidly big rides. It was all very hard, and I got very tired on a regular basis, just like I wanted.

…But that was it. And then suddenly July was over and my grudge-match of a season had slipped by without much of a fight. No lightning bolts of realization; no signs from the universe- I’d had a lot of fun with friends and family on bikes, but all in all my whirlwind tantruum against the sport I love amounted to little more than a gasping puff of thin, high-altitude hot-air.

And what did I expect? It’s a sport. You cant settle a grudge with a sport any more than you can settle a grudge with a mountain, or a rock, or a lake. We will ultimately play no part in the existence of these things- but if we let them, they just might play a part in ours.

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So when I was given the opportunity to do maybe the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, I accepted not with any more scores to settle, but with curiosity, excitement and substantial concern for my personal wellbeing. As far as existence-altering experiences go, this one might be the real deal; The Breck Epic is six days, 240 miles and 40,000 feet of already high-altitude climbing, all with a bunch of other hooligans who do this for fun. I have no idea how to survive something like this, let alone race it. Yet here I am, one day already in the books, and all I can tell you is that I’m psyched. It’s beautiful up here and I’m about to get really, really tired.

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Soul Searching

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So I’m in Spain. In a climbing hostel in the small town of Finestrat, to be specific.  I’m still a little baffled about how exactly I ended up here, but I can say that when someone offers to barter with you for tutoring, you should just go with it. Especially if you’ve already rationed off the time for “soul searching.”

I’m trying to make peace with that term but to be honest I kind of hate it. Are you searchingyour soul or searching for your soul? More importantly, what do you expect to find?

It seems like people often say they’re “soul searching” because they’re uncomfortable saying they’re uncertain, that they don’t know what the hell they’re doing, or (god forbid) that they’re doing nothing. Rest assured, I am fully happy admitting that I am all of those things (and more!) but sometimes it’s hard to explain that to people. 

Instead I wish I could explain my perfect occupation, to which I will soon be happy to devote myself.  I wish I could explain the thrilling plans I have to use the degree I supposedly got, but the truth is I haven’t got a plan and sometimes I wonder if my degree is even real. It’s hard to explain (to both others and myself) why I quit a perfectly decent job and moved back to my parents’ house, so I don’t. I just say I’m Soul Searching, and then I try not to gag as the words come out of my mouth.

photoAll I can really offer in way of defense for being uncertain, not knowing what the hell I’m doing and, in fact, doing a lot of nothing, is that it’s the only thing I haven’t tried yet. I’ve been driven, I’ve been efficient, I’ve worked hard and I’ve reached all sorts of goals- yet none of it brought me more than a fleeting sense of satisfaction, usually based on someone else’s approval. So in hopes of finding the bedrock photothis soul’s supposed to stand on, I decided to just hold still, keep my eyes open and let myself settle to the bottom.

What’s strange is that as soon as I resolved to do this, I got swept over to a different country, where I’ve been surrounded by endless winding roads and more limestone than I could climb in a lifetime. A nice Spanish lady grabbed both my cheeks and my ass during our brief conversation this morning, and a few days ago some Germans offered me their dachsund as we rode through a thunderstorm. Last night I got to walk home through impossibly narrow streets as the sun set over the olive orchards and a sea breeze tickled my face. I’ve learned British climbing grades and I ate some baby squids.

Ah, yes. I can feel it all becoming clear now…

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To the Desert!

“What’s your best Moab story?”

We’re five hours on the road and my little brother is getting desperate. I’ve resorted to my old fallback, the Lady Gaga pandora station; he’s apparently resorting to conversation.

“Uhhh…”

How much do I tell him? Is this my baby brother, whose diapers I changed and whose cartoons I censored? Or is he finally a peer, a partner in crime- a true road trip buddy? I mean, he is taller than me now- that counts for something, right?

Moab has had a pull on me since I first saw my mom cry on slickrock. She was very pregnant with my future road trip buddy and we were stranded in the middle of a biblical storm, of the sort that cause those legendary desert flash-floods. Don’t ask me what a pregnant lady was doing out there- or any of us, for that matter. My mom works in mysterious ways.

In short, I was terrified, she was terrified, my grandpa and other brother were terrified, but for some reason my memory skips from that snapshot (the rain, the rocks, the terror) to one of us sitting happily in the back of our station wagon, munching our way through a shocking quantity of skittles while a corresponding rainbow bloomed over the red rocks. Moab has remained that way in my mind- awesomely powerful when upset, but inevitably too beautiful and too magnetic to stay scared of for long.

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So I’ve kept going back, and every time I do those rocks speak to me. I could tell my brother about my friends getting married under the arches, about the weak beer and semi-legal campsites, about the bonks, scrapes, cactuses, tears, vomit, hangovers, and that persistent, pervasive red sand. I could tell him about the sunflower-plastered trailer we once crammed 15 people into or the tents with only stars for company, but should I?

Lady Gaga offers some sage advice: “can’t find my drink or man, where are my keys I lost my phone- what’s going on on the floor?”

I shrug and spill it. He is taller than me now, after all.

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How to collect scars, ruin clothing and find joy in unlikely places.

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