The Storm Outside

This week Anchorage received a massive snow storm—schools were cancelled for 3 days because the plows were unable to tackle all the roads in time (a massive policy failure if you ask me). No matter, I didn’t have to drive and I don’t have kids. But waking up on Wednesday and seeing all the snow certainly made me giddy like a little kid. Text messages started flurrying, who was going to ski; where and when? I had a meeting that I could not miss at 9am so needed to find people willing to wait till 10. I found not one but two. We met to carpool at 10:20 and were headed to Turningan Pass by 10:30. There were a few cars in the parking lot and we saw 2 avalanche forecasters also heading out. We started skinning up and talk about death once again found me—I don’t even bring it up anymore because I’ve been told that I talk about it too much—but I’ve found that it’s a common topic in Alaska or maybe I just attract it. Like in the L48 snakes always seem to find me and since there aren’t any snakes in Alaska maybe I just attract people who are comfortable talking about death. But despite being told that it’s weird to talk about, we’re headed out into terrain and doing activities that could kill us all the time– I think it’s weird not to acknowledge it.

Anyways, back to death. We talked about the different risk that activities bring, snow vs. water, which ones carry higher consequences and how risk isn’t cumulative but we treat it as such. All the decisions that go into risk mitigation and how skewed everyone felt during COVID-19. I was almost relieved someone else said it, that they felt their risk perception had also changed during the pandemic. Mine certainly did but I also know others who became more riskier, like they were trying to get it out of their system somehow. That happened when I first started grad school and my racing took a back seat, I would get small adrenaline rushes by turning in assignments as close to the deadline as possible without it being late (it was never late and I soon learned how to channel that energy into more productive things). With all the new snow we talk about avalanche conditions and opted to start with a lap in the lower section in the trees where it would be more stable. We transitioned on a little knob and then talked about the different lines down and our next connection point.

After I pushed off, the snow parted as my skis carved through the powder and I felt like I was floating with the ground breaking away. I pushed into the snow to turn and would quickly (or what felt like) whip back the other way, trying to drive my skis through the deep powder without getting swamped. We regrouped at the bottom and transitioned back deciding to go back to where we were and do another lap from there. We skinned up, cursing those that had put in a steep skin track but we got back up there quick enough. We took a different line down but it was the same feeling of cutting through the snow and feeling like I’m the best skier ever (I’m absolutely not, very far from it) but powder is magical and it makes you feel magical. We got to the bottom and seeing the clouds break decided to make a push for the summit and if it socked back in we could take the skin track down.

On the way up this time we talked about breakups with one of the guys’ recently getting out of a relationship. I pointed out it’s been interesting because post breakup it’s like with COVID when you realize you just have different values than other people and how they show up in their lives—it’s like learning your cousin is an anti-vaxxer and you’re like okay well if this hadn’t happened I wouldn’t have known this and how do I continue to show this person grace. Same thing, post breakup when you see a different side or maybe not even different you just don’t have the same lenses on anymore and you’re like ohhhh well if we hadn’t broken up and/or even gotten together in the first place I wouldn’t have seen this side of you and how do I keep showing this human grace despite it all. How much does the unspoken assumptions do more damage than anything else but I mean we all have free will (right, Dave) so what are you going to do. And like most communities, Anchorage is pretty small so showing grace seems to be the best option, I recently realized just how small it is but that’s better left for a different medium. Anyways, back to skiing.

We got to the top and felt lucky that we were still in the weather window of the clouds breaking and we’d have a clean line all the way down. We ran into another friend at the top and talk about the conditions and where everyone might be skiing this weekend. Then one by one we pushed off, I followed lines down, trying to work on my turns and trying my best not to squeal at the amount of powder we were in. We regrouped and talk about the next line. I went second and was hooping and hollering when I hit a rock and rolled, even in powder the landings are soft. The guy behind me followed me and not realizing that I hit a rock also hit it and was soon on the ground by me, both of us laughing. We got up and followed each other through the trees, I saw the tracks going through a section and didn’t exactly peak, push, roll that I teach in mountain biking but instead followed the tracks thinking everything was mostly roll able. It was not and instead I slow-mo tumbled off the side of a rock and then rolled down onto a ledge where I did one more roll before landing. Again, the powder proved to be a soft landing and laughing I got up, apologizing for the delay it caused. They didn’t seem to mind and once they realized I was unscathed talked about how hilarious it was to watch. I gathered my ski that had come off and met them at the bottom. We talked about the next line and decided to head back to the car after that long run.

I got back in time to break trail for Wednesday Worlds—we slogged through about 2 feet of powder to put in a little skimo loop, the first lap being almost an hour of breaking trail and the second lap once it had been packed down was closer to 25-30 minutes. To give you perspective, the loop usually takes 15-20 minutes. I caught a ride to the trail thinking I would ski home but soon realized the normal 30 minute ski would probably be another 2 hours of breaking trail and caught a ride back–thanks again Maddy!

I got home and posted on Instagram to see if anyone had the next day off as I would finish my meetings early enough in the morning and could make up hours later in the evening when I was done skiing. I wasn’t sure anyone would bite but someone reached out but wasn’t sure it would work out so also starting thinking about how to ski from my house. In the morning we touched base again and I told her what I was thinking—it was loop I had run about 7 weeks before; it was about 13 miles but would put us on the top of Wolverine to ski down but it would be a bit of a slog to get up there. Much to my surprise she was game.

We decided to drive to a closer trailhead and start where we would take out on the trail just to save time and were skinning up the road by 10am. We didn’t think it would make much difference how we got to the top of the first hill because everything was covered in snow so we just started heading up, navigating through alders before finding what seemed like a little trail with clearing from the brush but the trail did not exist on any map so we decided to just keep taking it up figuring at some point we would get where we needed to be. We alternated breaking trail and I had much appreciation for those who put the skin tracks in that we all follow. Some of the navigation was rather comical, what seemed like a clean uphill track proved to be rather challenging with the angle and the loose snow.

We soon intersected with the actual trail up and laughed that there was an actual track that we could have been on for the first part but hopped onto it and saved some energy. We kept going up and about half a mile from the top the wind started picking up and blowing snow, we put on a few more layers and kept going. We made it to the top after getting in one persons downhill tracks that were quickly filling in with blowing snow. The top looked very different covered in snow, the wind had picked up and cornices were forming, like white caps in the ocean. We quickly had a snack and kept moving. We navigated the backside and dipped low to carve a wide angle into the hillside before looping back around to get onto the ridge line that we would boot pack to get closer to the summit to ski down (again, can’t believe someone was game for this).

Before the wind picked up

The last time I had done this run I listened to a podcast about a couple in Alaska who after a one received a terminal diagnosis decided to die together on their own terms (small world but after listening to that realized a friend had bought the guys’ sailboat). I thought about that time I was back here traversing the hillside going through my own death and rebirth. And also thought about what it meant to love a person so deeply that you simply don’t want to exist without them–is that the level of commitment people should be willing to undertake in a relationship? Again, good reasons that I’m single because that’s definitely not my thinking. I’m not even sure how we got on the topic but once again we landed on death, with my ski partner being in the medical profession we talked about how she navigates it and how I navigated it when I was in the hospital. We also talked about all the environmental impacts of embalming and when she questioned out loud how that even started I enthusiastically was able to respond having just read a book by a funeral director and the culture around the industry. We both agreed that our culture doesn’t do death very well and she recommended the book The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.

We still had to get to the ridge on the right in this picture

We skirted around to the ridge line, traversed between the rocks and tried to tuck behind a larger rock to gain shelter from the wind while we took our skis and attached them to our packs. The rock offered little protection and despite how heavy my skis are I was worried they would just get ripped out of my hands as I wrestled with the straps to attach them to my pack. I grabbed another snack as quickly as I could and we started hiking up. It proved to be pretty easy because the wind had moved enough of the snow and we could navigate from rock-to-rock-tundra to get some stability. Occasionally, I would step out onto what I assumed was solid ground and my entire leg would plunge through the snow quickly making me renegotiate my way across. The wind was vicious and the snow was getting whipped into the one spot on my body that was exposed, my left face cheek. I tried not to take it personally but realized that a nose guard might be in my future (another obscure thing that only seems to exist in Alaska).

After about an hour of hiking up we popped over to look at the run, huh, not great, we tucked back in and navigated up a bit further. We looked at the line we had initially thought of running but with all the wind activity thought dropping in would prove the most perilous. We moved again, finding a spot between rocks that gave us a clean view. The line didn’t seem to have much wind effect and it was low angle- we talked about the reasons we shouldn’t do it and decided we were okay with the amount of risk that it came with (very low, risk mom, don’t worry).

Still unclear if I have windburn or frost nip on my face

With the line I would take she would have eyes on me the whole time in case something went and then I would see her the whole time. Because it was my idea I felt like it was only fair that I went first–not for a clean line but in case I triggered an avalanche, sorry mom. I pushed off trusting our knowledge and ability to respond if something did happen. It didn’t and the snow proved to be the playground that you can only dream of as a kid. The minutes went by fast but the seconds went by slow as I took it all in. I got down to the meeting point and gave the signal. I watched similar turns to mine come down the mountain. I couldn’t believe it.

Totally worth the 6 hour uphill to get this line

We met up and talked about how great that was and the fact that we actually got our objective as we both doubted it would be do-able at multiple points. Where we stopped didn’t prove to be a steep enough angle and with all the powder and we had to work to get going again. Despite that we linked up with an uphill track and worked our way the rest of the way down the mountain. I would ski in the track and then pop out when I felt like I needed to slow down a bit with the powder doing enough to slow my momentum. We took our skis off twice to hike up short little hills to get out, as the snow proved too deep to want to do any side-steeping. We exited the trail just as the moon was rising and darkness was sweeping through the valley floor. We didn’t even need to pull out our headlamps. We were glad that we didn’t start from my house because that would have added 4 more miles to the route—but it’s on my list of things to do. We got done and went over the events of the day–we ended up skiing for about 7 hours but really to only go downhill for about 30-40 minutes of that and really with only about 4 minutes of powder turns but made those 4 minutes all the more magical. I felt lucky that I found someone last minute who had the day off to do it with me.  

I’m trying to get as many skis day in because I’m going to Canada with some of my friends from Colorado and well they can all ski laps around me so trying to at least get my legs ready for 7 days of skiing. I’m pretty excited but trying to act cool so they’ll invite me again—haven’t decided if it would be too much if I showed up with t-shirts that say, “Bayesian Kate Learns to Ski” – or “geological time is now” sorry that’s a joke that only 9 people might get and I’m sure none of them read this.

After Wednesday Worlds, we were in the parking lot talking and eating chocolate I had brought back from Italy when one of the guys said that he feels like he’s really coming into his time, like this is it. I was almost taken aback, are we allowed to admit these things out loud? I decided if he could, I could too and I said yeah, I feel like I’m also entering my time, and I’m really excited about everything and feel like it’s all coming together and I’m finally thriving, not just surviving. Then I thought about this book I was recently reading from an author that I’ve read a lot of books from and she told the story of how she kind of lost it on an airport worker and I was like what, you’ve been writing about how to operate in this world with kindness and grace for like 30 years. And I started thinking is she different than she was, have any of these things change the way she interacts with the world or do we just fall back into old habits at some point and write about what you did so others can learn but you don’t actually learn. I had an intense therapy session last week (probably why I wanted to get outside so much this week) where my therapist suggested meeting myself with compassion instead of judgement, for thanking myself for doing what it needed to do to survive, even if that felt like getting myself lost. I guess what I’m saying is that I still wonder, despite feeling like it’s my time and I’m finally on solid ground, what the future will look like and what I will look like and how I will navigate through it all, how will I show up in certain situations. But I suppose it’s just like a big outdoor objectives where you do what you need to survive until you can thrive, adapt as needed, pack a lot of sour patch kids and trust that you will see yourself through.  

And get by with a little help from my friends

the storm inside you isn’t trying to kill you. it’s trying to save you. from the mercilessness of the universe.

you are not meant to be at peace with yourself. they’re selling you lies. 

you are meant to rage. and to look where no one dares to look. 

you are meant to seek lightening. hell, even become it. 

genius is not born in quiet. 

it’s the child of chaos. 

you can either run from it or embrace it. but you sure as hell cannot be free from it. 

i imagine myself to be a writer. old wrinkly hands, and my children crying at the poems i wrote. 

pain, unleashed, is the real becoming.

–this was definitely taken from somewhere but I cannot find the credit but it’s not my words just seemed fitting

Jane said this blog was a little Debbie Downer and didn’t think it was reflective of how much joy I’ve been showing these days– but I suppose just like finding joy and happiness in the dark right now outside maybe that’s what I’m doing inside. Stay tuned for more Pollyanna. Oh, and Team Couch will be riding again! We all got into the White Mountains 100 in March– TBD if I’ll be biking, skiing, or running. Lolz

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