Back for Redemption

I raced Derby City Cup this past weekend. It might have been the most challenging cross course I’ve ever been on– or I’m really out of shape–maybe a little of both. I can tell you this whole Law School thing really cramps on my training (and blog writing- if you haven’t noticed).

I only planned to race on Saturday, because law school and was hoping for a decent result. I raced in Boulder over Fall Break and did okay and was hoping to get a good enough result here to at least get a decent starting position at nationals. Saturday started as a bit of a mess, I forgot to pre-register so did day of. This is the only race that this has happened in but there were 4 categories starting at once and instead of dividing us into those categories or some division it seemed that they called us based off of when we registered, where did homegirl end up? Second to last called! Which isn’t a big deal when only 10 women show up but fortunately more women are racing so that means I was about 6 rows back from the front. Yikes!

I took off with the group and quickly found myself passing people, I mean when you start in the back that’s the only viable optionAlright! After about 50 yards it’s a little incline and left turn to get onto the grassy, slicky course. I wasn’t too worried about it but soon found myself getting bumped at less than optimal timing and my bike getting hooked around a pole. I went down and my bike created a barrier so nobody ran over me, just my bike. After getting untangled I got up and found myself quickly in the position I had started. Dead last.

Derby City Hill Climb
Photo by: Meg McMahon 

I jumped back on my bike which made a few cantankerous noises and gingerly pedal through the remaining mud. Back on course I slowly caught people going into the stair flyover. There was one girl that I felt really bad for, I think she had crashed or just wasn’t feeling it- either way she was crying (we’ve all been there) fortunately for me, her name was Kate too so it seemed like a lot of people were cheering for me.

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Photo by Meg McMahon 

The middle part of the course was the toughest with the course dipping in and out of a bowl.  After going by the pits the first time, it’s a long off-camber descent followed by a short punchy climb into an off-camber slope that loops around a tree and then followed by stone stairs. Some relief is granted with a descent that was filled with muddy ruts and really poor line choices. The kicker was then a slope steep enough that everyone was running followed by a slow-grind up a patch of pavement then back down into the bowl and another hill to climb out and back by the pits. After the pits there were two barriers on the back section and then back through the start. Enough of a space to recover and see the lap counter that said 3 to go. Oh this is going to be fun.

I started lap two being mindful of the pavement to grass spot where I went down. Having ridden one lap I knew where my strengths would be (descending) and where my weaknesses were (climbing) but I also knew that I could ride smoother through some areas. Lap two remained uneventful, minus the dry heaving after the stone stairs. I’ve also come to realize that I am most terrible at getting back on my bike on a slight incline–like embarrassingly terrible. 

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Photo by: Meg McMahon

Through the finish line of lap two I saw two to go. Uhhh I can’t believe I have to do this course two more times. I don’t have a powermeter on my cross bike (I know, slumming it up) only heart rate and I was maxed out; between the hoping off, running the stairs, descending, and sustained climbs I was doing all I could to hold on. The third lap was better, smoother, more consistent. Still I dry heaved after the stone steps–man, is it possible I had too much bacon this morning (the answer is always no-even if you are dry heaving).

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Photo by: Meg McMahon

By mid-way the third lap I had caught up to a few women and figured I would be able to work on passing them the rest of the race. I settled into a pace with them and held on. Over the barriers and around to the finish. One lap to go…oh nope- they are pulling us–which occasionally happens when you’re not fast enough or they miscalculated and need to stay on schedule. I rode past the finish with a girl that I know from racing and we talked about how challenging the course was. Disclaimer: Only three women in my category didn’t get pulled (which made me feel slightly better…)

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Photo by: Meg McMahon

Well shoot, I wasn’t planning on racing on Sunday because of law school but after a lackluster start I wanted to do better. At dinner on Friday night I had been talking about how law school has really changed my priorities for racing, it went from focusing on trying to win, or at least top five, to okay maybe just finish and have fun–one girl chimed in, and maybe don’t get pulled, and I was like welp, even then it’s not a problem. It’s also tough because after Saturday’s race it felt like I wasn’t able to give my best, I would have been fine with my result otherwise but with the poor start it just left me wanting more. If you haven’t picked up by now law school, at least for me personally, makes me feel like I’m terrible at a lot of things; law school, bike racing, personal relationship (like if I don’t wish you Happy Birthday, it might be because my mom hasn’t reminded me- that’s where I’m at right now- and I’m sure most of you reading this have been on the receiving end of a text reply at least a few days old). I labored over lining up on Sunday morning: Well it’s only 30 minutes instead of 40; it starts at 8 and we have the time change; but I’m on call in class on Monday; how much am I giving up vs. how much am I gaining. It wasn’t until Sunday morning at 6:20 am that I decided to race.

Round 2:

The nice thing about Cyclocross is that it usually is a Saturday/Sunday event which allows for redemption if you have a bad race on Saturday.

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The gaps were pretty big 

They didn’t do call ups on Sunday either but they at least put us in our respective categories. I took the outside line (as opposed to the inside from the day before). It still looked a wee bit slicky and thought it would at least give me more room to maneuver if I needed to. We were off! I was assuming that they hadn’t changed the course from the day before so still opted for some of my old lines but the mud was a little bit thicker so alternated with hitting the grass patches when I needed too.

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I always forget to not wear white for CX races…

My legs were a little tired from the day before but not as bad as I thought they would feel. I also knew going into the race we would only be doing 3 laps today and knew I could survive that. The top of the flyover is a little short and each time would only get one pedal clicked in before descending and praying that I wouldn’t manage to crash. I’m not sure if it’s the course design but gaps opened up rather quickly and they were big- I felt for the most part that I was riding alone.

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Running up stairs: something I’m not the worst at! 

I had talked to one of my friends (who has lots of experience bike racing) the day before about my dry heaving, she asked if I was panic breathing. I didn’t think so but maybe unconsciously after crashing and trying to chase back I was. On Sunday, I tried to be conscious of my breathing and focus more on yoga breath. That didn’t work and I ended up dry heaving more times than the day before– I actually thought I was going to vomit on course and then everyone would know I’m terribly out of shape! Fortunately that didn’t happen. The race went smooth, and I felt content with my day on the bike. I moved up 3 positions from my finish the day before from 9th to 6th. Last year at Derby City, I won both days in my category but that’s okay–I knew this season would be a little rough.

I also think the dry heaving has to do with the humidity more so than my fitness. It didn’t happen to me during my race in Boulder, just places where it’s humid. Unless someone else has a different theory or we can just go with me being out of shape…

The next race before nationals that I’ve thought about doing is in Indianapolis next Sunday for our conference championships. That will really be a game time decision if I go based on how much work I can get done this week.

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And always, thanks for the support- I don’t know how Sully manages it all 

*Also please forgive all typos- I’m out of time to proof read and must get back to studying.

Jingle Cross

I bet you thought this post would be about the Leadville 100–me too but it turns out that writing about a 40 minute race while in law school is a lot easier than an 11:30 race – stayed tune though.

I moved up categories at the end of last season in order to get to nationals which was great at the time but some what regrettable going into Jingle Cross. Primarily because it put me in a faster category with less training. It was hot in Iowa City, which meant deciding if I should ride with a bottle or not. After doing a lap preview I decided against it so I could more easily carry the bike. I knew either way I would probably regretting having it or not having it.

All women started together (cat 1-4) which was good and bad. Good because I wouldn’t necessarily know who was in my category, bad if I got last out of everyone not just my category.

The race started on a flat paved straight away before funneling in the dirt/grass section. The gun went, everyone lurched forward and started sprinting, my heart rate spiked and I immediately questioned why I was doing this. Hitting the dirt I settled into my pace and the group quickly got strung out. At this point I might have lost sight of the leaders but early on it became a game of survival. The course went through some curves up over a flyover and then into Mt. Krumpit. Sidenote: Mt. Krumpit is the premier feature at the race with two small logs at the bottom of a steep hill. Perfect location for spectators.

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Okay, so maybe the logs are rideable?

Going into it I knew that I wanted to be off the bike before the logs to run up. Run up? I meant walk up. Thank goodness my category all took the quick, brisk walk up instead of running up the incline (is that the mentality I should have for racing?).

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This is why cyclocross is so hard to explain.

Getting back on the bike at the top was never a smooth transition, there is something about still being on an incline that really just throws me off. At the top it shoots down into the sandpit which after entering I would take about three pedal turns, hop off and run the rest of the 20 yards or so. I was able to make up a few spots here each time but it would seem almost just as quickly relinquish them.

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It’s like choose your own adventure

The next feature on the course were two barriers, of all the cyclocross features this is the one that I’m the least worst at. I think it stems from my brief, uninspiring career as a track hurdler. In this moment I also realized why people where bibs/skinsuits to race as my jersey had pulled up exposing my blinding white stomach. Which then I spent most of the race wrangling to pull it back down. out of the barnThe course is on the county fair grounds so we actually weaved our way through two different barns with another little sandpit that fed into a staircase. The last little technical section was an off camber climb up which meant I had another disjointed hop back on the bike to descend and loop around to the finish. One lap done. Three to go.

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I have no idea what I’m doing

As the race wore on I regretted not having a bottle more and more. Each time up Mt. Krumpit was like getting sucker-punched, getting off the bike and climbing straight up the heat was all encompassing and leeched out any last resources that I had in my system. The breeze on the descents did little to offer reprieve because of how hot and dry it was. IMG_0161I finished the race in a sprint finish with a girl who I later found out was not in my category but it still counts…? I was 14 out of 22 for my category. I was hoping to get top-10 but given how little riding I did leading up to the race and the heat factor I was just happy I didn’t pass out.

I was able to get off the bike and lay in the grass and roll over just in time to dry-heave. While the heat was a factor, probably not a direct correlation to wanting to throw up. I was also in much better shape than a girl in front of me who was suffering from heat stroke and had to get a ride in the ambulance.

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Best mechanic in the business (I’m slightly biased)

The race served as a good motivator to actually start getting back into training and work to get faster and smoother on the technical aspects. Next up I’ll be racing in Boulder over fall break.

Stronger Together

I didn’t plan on doing the Leadville 100 this year, at least not after I didn’t get in through the lottery. I didn’t think about it when I was trekking through the Grand Canyon, finishing finals or traveling in Viet Nam. In fact, most of the time in Viet Nam I thought about how out of shape I was getting and thank goodness I wouldn’t be racing 100 miles. Then I got to Switzerland and started running and had a few long days on trail in France and the thought began creeping back in that maybe I can ride 100 miles with Sharon. When I got back to the states I contacted WBR and it was almost serendipitous as one guy had to drop out due to a medical condition and was willing to give me his spot to ride with Sharon.

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Recon training in Boulder last week

That’s been the thought the whole time, at least since Michelle planted the idea in my brain last December that the only way I would do Leadville is with Sharon. Sharon is another member of WBR and due to circumstances outside of her control wasn’t able to finish the Leadville 100 last year. Since we’re both passionate about WBR and riding long distances (she has quite the impressive stage race resume) thought we would be stronger together.

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Sharon and I riding in Boulder

I really thought after Leadville last year I would be done, knowing I would be traveling for a good chunk of the summer and thinking I wouldn’t be able to do enough early season riding to build up the engine I would need to PR (4 years of training for Leadville has taught me a lot). I’m convinced that riding with Sharon is the only way I can top last year’s experience is to help someone else reach that finish line.

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Working on power output

This year, Sharon and I will both be riding for World Bicycle Relief. WBR is a program that helps distribute bicycles in Africa. After a year studying global health I truly believe that the one thing we can do that will create the largest impact and ripple in a community is to educate young people, girls especially. With a Buffalo Bike (the one that is designed for WBR) a student increases classroom attendance by 28%. In all my years of schooling, I’ve been granted the privilege of never having to worry about how I would arrive for my education.

Head on over to the World Bicycle Relief to learn more or wanting to donate head over to my donation page at WBR.

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Hoping I look this ‘fresh to death’ after the Leadville 100

 

Thesis Training

When focusing on writing and defending my thesis, my blog posting fell to the way side–Here’s just a brief recap of what I’ve been up to since arriving back in the states in mid-June.

I arrived back into the states, did two trainer rides and signed up for my first mountain bike race in almost 10 months– and my first go back on my mountain bike in 7 months.

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Well

It was a bit ugly and 2 hours later I wondered why I didn’t sign up for the 10 mile option instead of the 20-miler. I somehow survived and was surprised that my legs went out much sooner than my lungs, so maybe running actually did something. I decided to do the race to help ‘race my way back into shape’.

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Well, at least I wasn’t sandbagging!

Within the first week of arriving back into the states I secured a spot for Leadville (yikes!) but with no aspirations of defending my age group title. Instead, I’m hoping to be in good enough shape to ride with another WBR team rider and get across the finish together (more on it all later, promise). It should be a great day and I’m looking forward to it.

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This was my view for the past few weeks

Given the limited time frame to get into shape and the fact that I was writing my thesis, I got in touch with my coach from last year to come up with a plan, which meant a lot of road and trainer rides.

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At least other ND cycling people were on campus

I did not tell my parents about Leadville until I absolutely had to because was worried my mom would worry more about my stress level between training and writing. Riding gave me a good excuse to take a break and ruminate on what I had been working on. Only once did I go to the doctor to get some blood drawn and have a resting heart rate of 92, minor detail.

I defended my thesis and passed, if you’re interested in reading 97 pages about influenza vaccines, lettme know! I found that prepping for a thesis defense was similar to an endurance race.

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You spend a lot of time, resources and energy working towards the goal. Don’t change your equipment the day of– I walked halfway across campus with the podium I had practiced with, and the night before you realize you have done everything you can at this point and just need to get some good sleep. Afterwards, I was able to spend about a week and half in South Dakota before heading back to ND for graduation.   bh trailsI was able to get some trail riding in with Barb why home. I’m now on my way back to South Dakota and will head down to CO in about a week for Leadville. After Leadville, it’s back to law school!

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Pre-graduation dinner and not cycling clothes!

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It happened to be baton twirling national championships at ND this weekend and I found a discarded baton in the grass that allowed me to relive my glory days, much to the amusement of my family- ha!

Days Like These

Early this year when I started to log more running miles than cycling miles someone asked me what I was training for, I responded with, “Life”. Even with the added base of running my legs were a little heavy for Day 3.

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At the start of the day

Knowing that time was a precious commodity I realized I could tackle the route I had planned even if I was hiking the whole time. My goal was to do a similar route to the day before, only on the other side of the valley. I started in town and hiked up to left towards Montenvers, I opted for the shorter route and still took a good 90 minutes to get to the top.

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Only at the top did I realize that there was a train option. For only seeing 2 people on the trail the view point was suddenly littered with unaccompanied minors throwing rocks and adults wandering aimlessly around. It was a bizarre spectacle to come out of the solitude of the trail and emerge onto a boisterous scene of people. 3 stairway .jpg

From there I hiked up towards Signal Forbes, which was a lot of rock stairs and questioning if I took the right trail. Once I reached the peak it flattened out a bit but I still opted against running due to all the jagged rocks waiting to claim me as their victim (no need to learn about the French medical system).3 trails .jpg The trail smoothed out eventually and my walk turned into a trot and then back to a walk and then back to a trot as my quads were a little blown out. I started calling it the “wrot”  and could only wonder what people thought of me (fortunately there were not a lot of people on the trail at this point). 3 closer to the top .jpgThe views were still breathtaking, not so much the other side of the valley but the ridge line that I was running on offered vantage points up towards the highest peaks.

I made it to De L’Aiguille and was again mystified at the cable car running up from the town. No way was I getting on that thing. I sat down and waited a few moments hoping that the clouds would break and I could get a good picture of Aiguille Du Midi.

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I promise there is a cool view behind the clouds

There is also a cable car that runs up to that peak at 3842 meters, I almost threw up thinking about that option. I wandered around a bit debating if I should hike up to Lac Bleu or head down, I saw a sign that said it was only 15 minutes so opted towards the lake. The problem with the maps and the signs is that none of them have distance and only times, and I’m still not sure who those times are based. lake selfie.JPGThe lake was pretty but with the cloud coverage didn’t offer as much of a view as Lac Blanc the day before. I sat for a few minutes, reapplied some sunscreen, ate some dried mangos and contemplated just how much sunscreen I had ingested at that point.

I started down, which the sign said time to Chamonix about 2:30 but I figured it would be 1:30. The first steps down the trail I wasn’t so sure, it was steep and the drop offs were more perilous than the Grand Canyon.

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This wasn’t the worst exposure but the only one I felt comfortable stopping to take a photo

I was definitely hugging the non-exposure side at some moments and also scooting along to lower my center of gravity. It’s times like these that I really think about lasik eye surgery so I can have accurate depth perception (Background: I only have one bad eye but hate touching my eye so never wear contacts and only glasses for reading and school, which is probably why I crash a lot while biking or trip while trail running. My optometrist once stated, “I can’t believe you’re still alive with this depth perception.”). 3 down switchbacks.jpgThe trail was filled with a lot of switchbacks and continued on the steep grades, even when the exposure disappeared. I still continued to awkwardly shuffle down between a walk and a trot, trying not to jar my quads too much. I made it down in about 1:40 and bee-lined it to the grocery store to get candy (I ate all my skittles from the day before  (Kara, I promise I will fit in my bridesmaid dress-haha)).

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And there was minimal cloud coverage on my last day- go figure!

For my last day I knew I wouldn’t have too much time because I had to catch the shuttle back to Geneva. I opted for a short loop on the opposite side of the Chamonix Peaks so I could take in those views one last time. I also thought my legs would be completely shot but surprised me when they were good to run both up and down (fortunately not super steep grades). 4 views .jpgI only did about 2 hours and stopped a lot to take pictures. There is a race around Mont Blanc, I don’t think there is anyway I would survive the race and I’d probably spend wayyy too much time taking photos. It seems like the route goes through enough little towns that you can run it with minimal support, which would be really fun if anyone reading this is interested…

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As I was getting packed up to leave I had the thought that I wish I could spend more time here, and I realized that I have that thought about almost anywhere I go. It’s certainly a great privilege to be able to explore this world.

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More photos:

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Views from the trail

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Realizing I could have taken the train
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Perfectly timed snack break looking at Aig des Drus (I think)

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Never thought about a destination wedding until I saw this place
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Sorry Mom and Dad- but at least it’s Catholic 😉

4 parting shot

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Hotel Du Montenvers
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View from Ref. Du Plan
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View from Grand Balcon Nord Trail towards L’Aiguille
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Caillet about halfway up to Montenvers
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View from Caillet porch

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Chamonix Day 1 and 2

I had initially planned to have a few days at the end of my trip but with some scheduling conflicts it worked out better to make a long weekend of it (my research budget did not get approved for that much time in Geneva). I had initially thought of going to Lauterbrunnen or Zermatt but one of my good friends has spent time in Chamonix, doing the Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc (163 km race and she crushed it) and just wrapped up a month of skiing so with someone being familiar with the area that I could pick for trail recommendations (and the fact that it’s wayyyy cheaper than Switzerland) that was all it took.

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The building behind me is La Para but I also could have been on a completely different trail too…

I planned to only do one posting about my time in Chamonix but rather than encumber you with an insane number of photos thought I would break it down into two days for each post. I arrived Friday night after taking a shuttle from Geneva and just in time for yoga hosted by Patagonia. Normally I avoid studios (shout out to YogaGlo on my computer) but figured it would be a good way to get some stretching in for the next day. Thus, I attended my first bilingual yoga class.

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Cascade du Dard

Saturday I decided to ease into being here so only sought out a trail that was about 2 hours give or take. I went up to the Cascade du Dard and then continued on the trail to the La Para. I thought about continuing on but didn’t want to overdue it with the next few days allowing for more time on the trail.

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Today at the recommendation of my friend I took the trail up to the Lac Blanc. I started in Chamonix and at the recommendation of the Tourism office took the tram up the first leg (they said it would save me 3 hours of hiking and they told me to plan for a 7 hour day without the initial hike). I opted for the tram, which meant I was sweating profusely before I even got to the trail (still an abnormally high amount of anxiety in them). day 2 signage .jpg The signage is fairly good but because of my poor sense of direction I took off in the one wrong direction I could have gone and spent an hour getting up to Col Du Brevent. I back tracked (it was only about 15 minutes down if that gives you an idea of steepness) and got on the right trail.

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It was sometimes hard to focus on running though as each step offered a new view of the surrounding landscape and it was hard to contain my excitement.

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Running away from all my responsibilities

After passing through the last hut before Lac Blanc I had assumed I was nearing 14,000 feet elevation (later I saw I was only at 8,000-what?). My breathing felt labored, my legs were starting to retain lactic acid (is this what people deal with going to Leadville?!? Yikes!). day 2 ice with guy .jpgIt’s the only time I’ve noticeably felt the effects of the altitude but continued to scamper up the trail, hoping it would be worth it.

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Made it!

It was, I was in complete awe that my travels allowed me to come here, my mouth was completely open as a surveyed the landscape, is this real life—EEEEEK! Major fan girl moment. How has it taken me this long to get here?!

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The descent wasn’t as buffed out and reminded me of the Centennial Trail in SD

I was a little low on water at this point and wasn’t sure if I would make it back without running out so instead opted to go left towards Argentiere instead of right back to Chamonix (it was still about 90 minutes down as opposed to the 3 hours it would have taken because I was not going down in the tram). Then opted for the bus, fortunately I had enough left over skittles to contain me until the bus arrived

Hoping to go up the other side tomorrow and reach De L’Aiguille.

Here are a few more photos from today- if you want access to the full 150 (probably why it took me so long to get anywhere today), I’ll send you the google photo link!

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Lac Blanc

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You knew I was going to reenact this at some point, right?

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Last views from the trail

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And if you’ve made it this far, congratulations! To reward you here is a PSA on the use of SPF 100, it only works when applied correctly! Looks like I’ll be rocking the pantsuit the rest of the week- ha!

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Cathedrals and Courthouses

When I was initially packing I opted against bringing any cycling gear, thinking it wouldn’t be worth having for maybe one or two rides. I should have thought about at least packing cycling shorts.

I had some free time last Friday afternoon so wandered into a bike shop to see about renting a bike to cruise around Geneva for the next day. I opted for a fitness bike (flat bar) and asked about some routes to get out of town, it was suggested that I do the group ride on Saturday. “They’ll all have road bikes though, right?” “Yep…” “Okay, can I get a road bike.” When in Rome…errr Switzerland.

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Visor for life!

I showed up the next morning thinking it would be a 90 minute ride with an hour or so coffee break. I opted against buying cycling shorts (it was hard to justify given how many I have at home) so showed up in spandex, tennis shoes, a camelbak and casual sunglasses – I was ready. Dressing like a newbie I graciously took any helpful hints that came my way, like recommendations for shifting. What instead happened was 4 hour ride with about 3,700 feet of climbing– definitely my longest ride since Leadville.  Thankfully I’ve never had saddle issues and while padded shorts would have been nice it wasn’t as terrible as I was envisioning. It was a little unnerving descending without being clipped in. I found it similar to getting into an uncomfortable yoga pose when you realize how tense you are and have to remember to breath.

I survived and even made some friends, a nice lady from Arizona who was leaving on Sunday to do some bike packing around Switzerland. We started chatting and she told me her route and I talked about riding with her for part of the way on Sunday and then turning back. We started talking with another guy who was going to do a winery tour by bike the next day and the town just happened to be on the route. We opted to ride to Nyon on Sunday and then go to the wineries with him and then figure it out.

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On the way to Nyon

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Switzerland has amazing bike routes all over the country with really nice signage so leaving Geneva we took route 1 over to Nyon, about 18 miles or so. A few roads I was surprised to see cars on as they weren’t very much wider than a bike path. The wine tasting was fun, I keep thinking in a few more years my palate will expand to include enjoying red wines, but most I tried weren’t terrible, and there were some great white wines. It was nice to spend the day outside of Geneva and on some desolate country roads to get to the various wineries. We ended up spending most of the afternoon cruising around and when the time came I opted for the train back so I wouldn’t have to ride alone into the dark (your welcome, Mom).

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This was at one of the wineries and someone mentioned it’s for sale!

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The next day was a national holiday, which I didn’t find out until Friday otherwise might have tried to plan a bit more. After spending two days on the bike without a chamois wasn’t sure I was up for a third. Fortunately I have a friend who is a pro-traveler and I was texting her Monday morning about how everything was shut down. She suggested going to the train station if I wanted to get coffee and upon my arrival there was so tempted to buy a ticket on the next train out. The first place that pulled up was Lausanne and recognizing it as a recommended place to see and feeling a little serendipitous bought the ticket and took off for the day. I didn’t even bring a sweater because I had no thoughts when I was leaving the hotel that I wouldn’t be back in 20 minutes.

I’m glad I went even with most of the shops closed for the holiday it was still a gorgeous town to walk around in. church.jpg Fortunately the Cathedral of Notre Dame of Lausanne was open. It was consecrated in 1275! church2

It even has a lookout which is open. I read that the lookout has been open since 1405, walking up the concrete steps they were certainly worn from where people had walked.

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From the lookout tower

I was also able to see the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland, which was shut down for the holiday but still impressive from the outside no less. I’m sure the habits of visiting churches and court houses stems from trips I took as a child but I like to think they complement each other well, as my dad says, “you get law in this life and justice in the next.”

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Federal Supreme Court
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Law Justice Peace

This weekend I was able to take a few extra days and I’m headed to Chamonix, France. Hoping Get some trail running in and pick up some dirt for my soul.

Here are a few more photos I picked up

flowers
On our bike tour
luasanne
Lausanne from a dock in the lake
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New biking gear! haha
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By the water in Lausanne

more castles .jpg

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Another view of the lake from Lausanne

The Hills are Alive

The problem with doing a split location for research is as soon as I was starting to feel comfortable in Hanoi, I was uprooted to Geneva. It’s great being able to be in two different locations and experience two very different areas, but I felt like I was just starting to get the hang of things in Hanoi.

I was tied to being in Hanoi my last two days waiting for an email to come in so went to a few museums. It was a rather peculiar feeling walking through the Military Museum and realizing that they view the Viet Nam War a little differently; we (Americans) aren’t viewed as the good guys but instead as imperialists that they defeated…

The last few days in Hanoi I knew it was time to go when “Raspy Kate”
showed up*.  Normally I love when “Raspy Kate” shows up, usually a day
or two before a full blown cough and lingers a little bit after with a
low, seductive should be in a cabaret voice. This Raspy Kate was
prompted by smog and second hand cigarette smoke. What I assumed was developing throat cancer dissipated with one swift inhale of clean
air. It makes sense why everyone has face masks in the city. Anyone
thinking we should roll back EPA regulations should go spend a week in
a country that doesn’t have them. I’ve been amazed at the amount of smokers in Geneva as that clean air was soon interrupted.

mountains

I arrived in Geneva and the next day the World Health Assembly began. I’ve been attending on and off depending on what they are discussing. And then re-watching parts of the day in the evenings. It’s been nice just to observe and see how a large international organization appeases 194 individuals countries. It hasn’t been without drama, as Taiwan wasn’t officially invited this year and the assembly elected a new Director-General that ushered in a few protests of its own.

Tawain protests .JPG
Taiwan protesting to be officially recognized by the WHO

I made time to go to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum, which I thought would be more of look at all the times we’ve intervened and the lives we’ve saved but it ended up being a harrowing experience as I was compounded by all the times the international community was silent for far too long towards heinous war crimes.

records in ICRC
6 million records to track 2 million displaced people during WWI

 

I went to France this past weekend to run/hike up Mont Saleve, it’s visible from Geneva and was a short bus ride over and the easiest border cross I’ve ever had (it was non-existent). It seemed fairly simple to get on the trail so I grabbed a trail map from the start of the tram and headed off to the right.Short overlook I ended up on a trail that went up so figured that was it and proceeded to go. It was steep, any thought I had of running up was now laughable as most of the time I was using my hands to help scamper up. It wasn’t until I reached a rock face that had a rope to clip into that I thought maybe I should turn around (for my family reading this, sorry the thought didn’t come sooner).

rope going up
Left my climbing harness at home

I turned around as one of my goals is to not create an international incident and I can’t imagine that injuring myself on some random unmarked trail in France would go over smoothly. I headed back down, albeit slower than going up as I would catch one tree and push off and catch the next one to prevent from just sliding down. I opted for the tram at this point to at least reach the top. Upon boarding I immediately regretted it as we were all stuffed into it like sardines and while I looked at the floor the entire time it didn’t help when upon nearing the top a girl went, “it looks like we’re going to crash”. Vowing not to ride it down I went to the look out point to figure it out from there.

view point photo .jpg
Carrying the map that I never used

At the top I ran into a French man who was willing to take my picture, I asked about what trail he used to get up and had indicated that the one I was on they call the “throat” and gestured to his neck as if he was choking, “because it’ll squeeze the life out of you” Ohhhhh. An American woman interjected and told me about the trail she had taken up that only took 1:45 and they took it pretty casual. I figured it must not have been too bad as she had an empty beer bottle in her backpack so I opted for that one. It was a smooth, buffed out, well marked and I could not figure out how I missed it. Until I realized at the end when I should have went left instead of right to reach this trail head. Next time!

The stark contrast between Hanoi and Geneva has led me to some reflecting on how we (I) showcase the two countries. My biases against Hanoi really stems from that I’m not a city girl, at all. The traffic, horns honking, constant noise, fast pace I’ve also found in Boston, Chicago, NYC. This past spring when I went to Boston for a conference and upon returning my dad asked if they were going to lose me to Boston for law school. I said the first few days there I was really feeling being back in the city, getting around no problem, fully handling public transportation, I was ready to move back. Then I got off at the wrong stop, and my uber driver took the long way around and getting back to the train station my phone sent me in the wrong direction and I was over it. I’m really good in cities that are less than 500,000 people. I did an 8 month stint in Denver once but was constantly driving back to Boulder or the mountains to get out of it.

It’s also made me think on how each country is reflected towards the outside world, a lot of photos (mainly on pinterest) coming out of Viet Nam are of the people or of food, whereas Switzerland it’s more landscape shots. I thought of how strange it would be for me to be circled by a bunch of Swiss kids on a park playground, but yet that’s often the photos coming out of low-income countries. I had the realization when I was walking to the UN in Geneva and crossed a 4 lane street in the morning without much traffic. That same scene in Hanoi prompted me to stop and take a photo. Someone told me that you’re often attractive to the unfamiliar in a new area and so I hope that I have I done Viet Nam justice as I really did enjoy my time there, especially once I got into a groove, and would have liked to have spent more time in the Sapa region as mountains and less people seems to be more of my style, no matter what country I’m in.

I digress a lot with this blog as the transition just provided a stark contrast. I also meant to get this up sooner but was hit with a 24 hour bug that led to me throwing up a lot. Feeling better now, and one day left of the WHA marks my time here almost halfway done! I can’t believe it.

More Photos:

in front of the flags
Inside the UN with the flags
Peacock
Peacock at the UN
Lake geneva
View from Mont Saleve
ICRC museum
Outside the ICRC
church
Never very far from a Catholic Church!
Assembly hall
Inside the Assembly Hall

*I have asthma so am more conscious of air quality and someone mentioned that the smog in Hanoi is similar to smog levels that were in the US in the 1970s. Sapa had very clean air, slightly more humid than my lungs are capable of handling. Not to put it in a negative light, but this is the bias that I’m bringing to the table.

The Mountains Called

back of sapa
The mountains called

With the finite time that I have in Hanoi I knew that getting out of the city to sight-see would be limited so this past weekend decided between going to Sapa and Ha Long Bay. It wasn’t that hard of a decision because given the choice between mountains and the sea; I will always pick mountains. Off to Sapa I went. I took the train overnight (8 hours) in a sleeper car. It’s a bit odd to share a chamber with people you don’t know but everyone went to sleep pretty quickly and only awoke at 6 am as we pulled into Loa Cai. From the train station it was was a 45km drive up to Sapa and the views did not disappoint.Sapa 1I knew as soon as stepping off the train I had made the right choice, the air was so much clearer and thinner. Getting in to the hotel by 8am, I was able to drop my bags off and head to go to Mt. Fansipan (the highest peak in the Indochina region at 3,143 meters and for those of you back in the states 10,312 feet). Looking at the trail map it was feasible to climb with the fastest person going up in 2:30 hours and the slowest being 22 hours, yikes! gondolaI did not bring enough snacks so instead opted for the 45 minute walk to the gondola that would take you to near the top with 700 steps up to the top. gondola 2

The gondola was enough to make me grateful I opted not to hike, the sheer steepness of the peaks made me realize why the slowest was 22 hours. Getting to the top with 700 steps I soon realized that the steps were not made with a size 42 shoe in mind as they were tall and shallow leaving me a few times grabbing the railing as to not fall backwards. Sapa 2Getting to the top the views were incredible at least when the clouds broke. I was surprised at how many people were at the top and then remembered it was only a gondola ride up. I was more surprised at how many people at the top were smoking (a reoccurring theme in Viet Nam). Getting down the gondola was a little more nervous wracking, the first time the mountain drops off my stomach ended up in my throat.

jump on fansipan
I’m sure this doesn’t help stereotypes of Americans

I spent the rest of the day just walking around the town and familiarizing myself with the area, and of course stopping to stare at the views from time to time.

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Down we go!

The next morning I signed up for a trekking route that was 12km. One other reason that I was drawn to Sapa was the Hmong people. I read a book earlier this year, The Spirit Catches you and You Fall Down. A story about a Hmong child and her family as they navigate the medical landscape in America. It’s a book that stuck with me as you see the lack of communication and good intentions by both parties fall short in the best interests of the child. The opening scene of the book is the mother giving birth to this child in a small house in the same room as her other children who were sleeping. They are only awoken by the cries of the new baby as the mother is silent throughout. Damn, now, I’ve never gone through childbirth but if I do I’m definitely planning on all the drugs. My guide who was Hmong talked about how with her first child her water broke on the trail and she hiked home, hopped on the motorbike and went to the hospital because she needed a c-section; one of her friend’s had her child on the trail(!!!!). DCIM100GOPROGOPR0586.JPG

We trekked through terrace rice fields where there was a look of the irrigation system up close. I kept thinking of how many years back this practice has gone and how incredibly intricate it was. The trails were steep and with it raining the evening before a little slick too. Some of the Hmong women hiking with us wore slip on sandals and our guide was in rain boots and they all floated along the trail. Meanwhile I’m in full on trail-running shoes and still struggling to find traction. There is an ultrarace in the area in September of each year, I can’t even imagine how intense that must be given the grades that we were hiking. , It would be fun to come back and do the ultra for the views alone, even if it would destroy me.

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Giant bamboo trees

Part of the economy in the area is based on tourism and the handmade goods that the various ethnic groups sell. I was able to resist the first group of kids that came up to sell bracelets but it must have exceeded all my self-will for the rest of the day as each child that would approach me I gave in, fortunately each bracelet was only 5,000 Dong (22 cents USD). One group there were 3 girls selling them, and I told them I wanted 5 which made their eyes light up. After thinking they were the only ones, I was soon swarmed with many other children–I have no idea where they came from. I won’t tell you how many bracelets I’m coming home with, but if you want one, let me know!

when it rains in Sapa
When it rains, everything just runs straight down

About half-way through the trek it started raining, unlike Hanoi it released the humidity and was a warm rain. It made me think of Forrest Gump and how he talked about it raining so much, “And sometimes rain even seemed to come straight up from underneath.I had this same thought until I realized I was getting sprayed by an irrigation hose leak. My rain jacket did little to overcome the wetness and it was apparently clear why umbrellas are the way to go.

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“One day it started raining…” and only lasted for a few hours

I had asked our guide about snakes and she told me not to worry, they eat them so if they hear us talking they run away so they won’t get caught. This made me feel slightly better. I only saw one snake while in Sapa and someone was carrying it on the back of a motorbike, I’m assuming to go home and eat it.

empty morning street
The calm before the storm of the day

It’s one area that I wish I could have spent more time in but had to get back for a meeting on Monday and took the train back overnight. Walking back to the apartment at 5 in the morning the city was filled with calmness and most of the streets aren’t recognizable with all the shops closed up instead of spilling out.

More photos from Sapa and the Temple of Literature in Hanoi:

sapa tourist
This is not the first person to randomly ask to take their photo with me
pineapple
Thankfully I did not regret eating this fruit later– soo good!
Catholic church in sapa
Catholic Church in Sapa
temple of literature 2
Also had time for the Temple of Literature
temple of literature 4 .JPG
Temple of Literature
temple of literature 6.jpg
Water I did not want to fall into
temple of literature
Figurines at the Temple of Literature
hanoi hilton
Outside the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ which came highly recommended by Sen. John McCain….
Hanoi backdrop
Pretty sure this is just a spot used as a photo backdrop–or at least for me!
Viet nam UN
And in case you thought I didn’t do any work this past week.

It’s This Whole Other Country

I picked up a book before I left the States about how to be more merciful. It was a bit of a whim purchase only recognizing the author from another piece I had read. If there is anytime to explore a more merciful life it’s in another country with a huge language and cultural barrier. 63947067

One of my first meetings this week was only 2K from the hotel but not wanting to show up sweating I opted for cab and wrote down the address in my notebook. Leaving the abyss of wifi rendered me kneeling before the paper gods to help me. The cab driver spoke little English but more than I spoke in Vietnamese. I pointed to the address and he shook his head no, I shook back yes and we were off.

NIHI
I had been to the building previously, unfortunately the cab driver had not

I watched the timer go by from what google maps had showed as a 9, max 12 minute cab ride from the hotel slowly ticked into 23…24…25. Where is he taking me, maybe I was wrong, he had never heard of the company so that was useless and there was nothing else for me to do but sit in the back of his cab and hope that he shows me mercy to deliver me on time. He didn’t and I was about 30 minutes late, fortunately the people waiting for me were very kind and still welcoming as I ran huffing into the office from the cab.

official status
In my haste I almost ran by security….talk about an international incident

I had sat in the back of his cab for 50 minutes, knowing that something was a miss but nothing to be done about it other than pointing to my address. It was the right address and walking back home was only about a 20 minute walk. I have no idea where the break down happened and it doesn’t really matter but I went to a pretty dark spot in that cab. I cursed the whole country to get influenza, I know petty, and fortunately since I’m so close to a catholic church have already gone to confession for that one. I also thought a lot of people who are trying to get to the US (or another country), either as an immigrant or refugee. What place of desperation or hope that move must come from to abandon every comfort you have and arrive in a country where there is certainly for most a language barrier and even more cultural. I have the ability to Facetime with my parents, almost constant contact with friends by text message and email (when in wifi) and still it’s been a bit of a struggle. I’m leaving in 10 days and even knowing that my mood fluctuates between euphoria and dread.

chickens
Most of the other chickens I have seen do not live in cages

My cultural competency was a little low yesterday when finding a watermelon and purchasing it I returned to the hotel and asked for a plastic fork and was met with glazed over stares. It only took me a moment to realize just how absurd that question was. Thank goodness for China Buffet growing up that I have some idea of what to do with chopsticks. One guy I know has told me the story of coming to the states as a refugee after the Viet Nam war, before they had left Viet Nam his family packed up all their chopsticks. He laughed when he told it because he said there were plenty of places to get chopsticks but they had no idea the world they would encounter.

Finishing the book about mercy left me with this quote, “Love and Mercy are sovereign, if often in disguise as ordinary people…forgiven and included, when we experience this, that we are in this with one another, flailing and starting over in the awful beauty of being humans together, we are saved”. My parents will often send me articles about vaccinations or anything related to a pandemic, I respond with my usual, “viruses don’t know borders.” And it seems that I’ve found being here that kindness and mercy don’t either. Not that I needed to leave the country for this lesson but it’s easy to take for granted in a familiar world.

suitcase
This weighed as much as him, I’m sure.

I’ve been shown plenty of mercy and kindness: from a 4-year-old wanting to engage in English with me in a park; to the barista recognizing me and asking me about my previous order from the day before; to the boy at the hotel who not only carried my suitcase (that might have weighed as much as him) down 5 flights of stairs and into the cab and then my hosts at my airbnb carrying it up 5 flights of stairs; to a woman offering me her phone to call someone when my phone wasn’t doing the trick; to the people who engage in conversation in English with me even if they have no idea what I’m saying. I’ve been amazed at the kindness that has surrounded me.

Sorry for going soft with this post, and if it comes off with political undertones, that was not my intention but instead to express what I’ve experienced and thought while being here.

flagsss
Out and about

I haven’t had as much time this week to get out and explore the city but I did download an app that gives me a map offline so my radius of exploring went from about 800 meters to the city as my oyster. I spent one day (that I had a lot of free time) walking 3 miles one way for tacos. I’m still waiting to find an area where the city unfolds and it’s not chaotic or crowded but have yet to find it, so learning to embrace it.

I think the strangest thing is that being 11-13 hours ahead of most of my contacts in the states leaves me in bizarre state where I wake up with all my emails for the day already delivered and my text messages overflowing. After responding it’s radio silence until people begin waking up again and I’m going to bed. It’s almost as if I’m waiting for things to happen on the other side of the world.

all the messages
466 text messages in one night.