Rationalized Risks

Did you know that only 25% of people who start the Appalachian Trail finish it. That leaves 75% that show up with the intention of completing it to call it quits, I’m sure only after rationalizing their decision. There are other (unverified) stats surrounding endurance events, one that I’ve heard about Leadville MTB is that only about 60% of the men finish; whereas 90% of women finish. One of the reasons is that men tend to overestimate their ability where women tend to underestimate their ability. Again, broad generalization.

Colorado Trail from last year

After the bar I started reading a book about the Appalachian Trail course records, it went through details of those who attempted and ultimately achieved setting a new thru-hike record. At the time I tucked the book away with the tidbits of knowledge thinking I would rely on it for larger endurance mountain bike pursuits this year. Little did I know I’d be utilizing it for a completely different type of endurance pursuit, like staying at home and social distancing. I thought about it again, recently, when I stumbled onto this article. The slog we are in at the moment with the pandemic seems to resemble a really long endurance pursuit. At the start we’re all gung-ho, and then when you start to settle in you realize the daunting task in front of you and all of a sudden you’re questioning all of your life decisions (or really the federal government’s [lack of] response) that have brought you (us) to this point (usually like mile 55 of a 100 mile race). Now, with things opening up it’s like being at mile 70 of a race, where you’re cautiously optimistic that you’re going to make it to the end but realize that there is still enough time that a lot could still happen. And who knows maybe we’re at mile 70 of a 500 mile race instead of 100. Trying my best to remain optimistic but opening up offers a false sense of security because the virus hasn’t gone away, people have just rationalized the risks they are willing to take.

What will this nugget do when I actually have to go to work

Times remain weird and I deal with feelings of guilt being in Alaska (lowest COVID case count in the US) and with my access to the outdoors not being limited, mostly encouraged by officials to maintain mental health.

After car camping with Alvin, we decided he was ready for his next Pawnee Goddess Badge: Backpacking. Which meant I got to haul the 9 pound tent into the backcountry because we’re still not convinced he won’t damage the nice tent. Alvin was great on the trail and we kept him on leash for the most part because there were a lot of people and dogs. For as many people we saw on the trail we only heard a few others around our campsite.

I bring you a nice tent and this is where you want to sleep….

The next morning we decided to leave on a different trail, hiking up to the ridge line, going across the ridge, and then down. It offered better views and thought it would be better for Alvin to have him off leash more. We had him off leash initially but on the steep hike up to the ridge realized he would see a rock rolling and chase it down, and derp his way back up to us. We finally had to put him back on the leash so he would stop dawdling.

The views, were amazing, even though Kevin was like “they’re okay” which leads me to believe there are more amazing views to be sought.

The first half of the hike was great, with almost no post-holing into the snow.

The second half, made us realized why no one else was up there as some of the ridge lines weren’t completely melted out. There was only one section that I was mostly terrified on and it was about 20 yards of being unsure if I was walking on snow covering the ground, or just snow that could easily break and carry me away. We made it and Alvin proved to be a better rock scrambler than me, not surprised.

I felt like an anxious mom the whole time watching him go over rocks and praying he did not fall off the ledge. We made it down and again ordered burgers to be ready for pick-up upon our arrival back into Anchorage.

Last week I think I did the most Alaskan thing you could do which was bike and pack raft– or as Kevin said, boats on bikes, bikes on boats, boats on bikes. We rode out on double track for about 20 miles, the last 3 covered in loose sand made me realize why everyone else had a fat bike.

We got to Knik Glacier, where Kevin and I were the only ones willing to jump in (thank you 8 years of ice baths from high school and college sports).

We unpacked our boats and then gingerly put the bikes on the packrafts, which are just giant rubber rafts, and seem easily pop-able (quite terrifying when borrowing an expensive piece of equipment and then putting more gear on it).

The Knik River was quite mellow, almost so mellow that we had to paddle the whole time instead of riding the current. I drew on the three times I had been in a canoe or kayak and tried to avoid catching any crabs (I think that’s the lingo…). It was great until we hit mile 13 and a nasty headwind, I didn’t really think much of it, other than I wish my paddle had a power meter so I could see how much power I was putting out to go nowhere, and was quite content to just stay in that same place for the foreseeable future.

Before the headwind

Fortunately, Kevin was thinking a little more clearly and paddled over to the shore to get out and start putting his bike together. He was turned away when I made my approach to the shore but as I pulled up and went to get out the wind pushed me back into the water, this went on about 3 more times before I was finally able to get on to shore and out of the boat. We broke down the rafts (more so Kevin) and I put together my bike, loading the packs back onto our backs to pedal out. I felt tired at this point but the one thing I’ve realized with biking is that even when I’m tired my body knows what to do. We started biking towards the road with only some detours as we found the best dirt road back to the highway to loop around to the cars. It was fun and with racing on pause this season a new type of challenge and adventure to have.

Lifejacket on because #safetyissexy and I was cold

Sunday was mostly spent cleaning up gear. As of last Monday morning I was still planning on leaving for South Dakota. When I got into work (and by that I mean the spare bedroom) on Monday it was like the reality of closing all my cases or transferring them over and having to pack up and move this week hit me. I think in a lot of ways I felt like it was an either/or situation, like I was either leaving now, not knowing when I would be back, or staying indefinitely, not knowing when I would be leaving.

Plus not sure Alvin and I are ready to camp by ourselves

I didn’t feel like I could do an adequate job of finishing my cases and packing up enough that I wasn’t leaving completely disheveled (mostly my style but usually have my family to help me pack). I decided to focus on work this week and stay tentatively for one more month and reassess. The border might be open by then, which would certainly make travel easier, and South Dakota might not be the hot spot it is now. Selfishly, Alaska seems like the best spot for my mental health through all of this, besides being so far away from my family.

I think too starting last week I realized that I would be saying goodbye to clients, in my new position it’s more research and writing based and not direct client services. It’s what I want but certainly a change, some of the things I experienced this year are unlike anything I ever will – like when I went to serve a demand letter and interrupted a swat tactical take down– didn’t seem like we were going after the same person but I let them go first and called a colleague for reinforcement. It’s nothing I anticipated it would be but an amazing experience nonetheless. I’m sad that the timelines didn’t work out better for me to finish out this contract but I’m excited for what is ahead, even with all the underlying uncertainty…

Crossing one more thing off the bucket list–ignore my derpy “I’ve exercised for 10 hours” face haha

In what I thought would be my last weekend here, we are headed to Denali National Park. I felt like it was going to be one of those questions that after leaving Alaska I would hear all the time, “oh have you been to Denali” and I would have to say no, like saying no to seeing the northern lights, and saying no to seeing a bear.

As things open up I hope everyone realizes that everyone is operating under a different level of necessity and rationalized risks –financially they have to go work, for the sake of their sanity take their kids to camp or daycare, some people are comfortable eating in restaurants, getting their hair cuts, or not making any changes.

It’s kind of like being in the backcountry, everyone has a different comfort level and their own rationalization of the risks. I just have a problem if what you’re doing potentially threatens my or others health, well-being and safety. Personally, I’m still pretty cautious because I can be–and I’m kind of curious of what my natural hair color is at this point. I also understand that isn’t the reality for a lot of individuals. I do also believe that we can move forward into this space of thinking beyond ourselves, but understand that some don’t have the capacity right now as their very foundations and securities have become cracked and broken. Is that not just a juxtapose of a paragraph if you’ve ever read one. If you feel like you want more to explore I suggest reading about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Keep Moving

Alvin has taken to sleeping under the bed and even retreating there at moments during the day. After a quick google search it seems like dogs to do this to feel safe and to help them relax easier; after learning that I wondered if he had room for me under there.

The past two weekends I’ve been able to go camping. Which means life has simultaneously felt weird and normal. The Governor specifically addressed travel saying that you can go but cannot go into stores outside your community. The case count remains low here and with the physical distancing that took place early on gave the hospitals enough time to increase their bed capacity (and morgue capacity) so that if we do surge they are better equipped. As a result, some restrictions have been eased which I think we’ll know in about 2-3 weeks how that worked out.

The first weekend I found a friend to watch Alvin because apparently even the best trained dogs shred tents and not wanting to add a $300 tent to his running tab thought it was best to leave him home.

We headed down to Caines Head in Seward, I’m told it’s the trail that you take your out of state Alaska friends and also your girlfriend who doesn’t backpack. Perfect.

The trail beckoned us into the forest with lush tree coverage and dark, rich soil. We had an early start in order to make sure that we were able to cross a section while the tide was low and had plenty of time to spare. We topped off our water at a waterfall and headed to a fort that was used during WW2 to eat lunch but only after having to walk through the fort and hope that no bears were hibernating.

After that we headed to South Beach, which I kept calling North Beach and set up camp. Unlike winter camping it was insanely easy, no digging a hole, no shuffling around on skis, no having to eat a snack before hand; tent set up and ready to go in less than 3 minutes.

Having so much time we wandered around the beach, watched some sea kayakers, filled up our water bottles for dinner, made dinner, walked around the beach some more, found a dead otter somewhat near our tent. In my mind I was like oh great, that will attract the bears not us, which the next morning I was told that it could make the bears aggressive and they could come for us–ignorance is bliss.

In the morning I crawled out of the tent, with just about as many layers on as for winter camping but without a -20 degree sleeping bag. Again, the break down of camp proved much faster than winter camping and we were on our way.

As we hiked up we lost track of the trail covered up in snow and in a few places had to post-hole our way through. As communities begin to open up I felt a similar feeling to apprehensively moving forward on top of the snow: is it safe, will it hold me, and then occasionally finding my leg plunging through the crust and only being stopped by my hip on the surface. I had no idea that the snow remained that deep in places (deeper than a whole “Kate Leg”) and feel like with COVID cases we are in some ways only on the surface (again, call your congressional delegates about mass testing +contact tracing). We got down from the snow coverage and back onto the beach were we (I) haphazardly looked for animals in the water. We got back to the car and had just enough snacks to hold us over for the drive back but did put a to-go order in to a place in Anchorage to pick up on our arrival.

Last week I had a roller of emotions. It didn’t help that I was also about to start my period (not to add stuff to stereotypes but should be noted). I took a new job, well actually I took it a while ago but it’s in Washington DC so was waiting for more information on when I would physically need to be there. Initially thinking June 1 but then maybe end of June and finally got word that it would be mid-late fall. Which means working remote starting June 1 until we can be in the same space, but with the caveat of having to work east coast hours (for those of you at home, Alaska is in a separate time zone) meaning 5am-1pm in Alaska time. At first I was really excited about getting to stay in Alaska, I felt like I was just hitting my stride and settling in, getting friends, a community, have a boyfriend, have an Alaskan dog, starting to do more activities, have a sweet work remote gig, the dream.

But at some point the reality of me having to get to DC with the logistics of a pandemic began to cast a shadow over this ideal situation, besides having to go to bed at 8pm every night for a 4am start to the day. I initially thought of staying till the end of my lease, through July. Part of me was like yeah, do that, getting to DC is a problem for future Kate to deal with. But that would mean either moving end of July and in all likelihood flying (which I was adverse to all the germs on planes to begin with so no thank you at the moment) or staying here until I could get to DC which realistically might not happen until after fall. I have time now to drive, and it’s not ideal because even though it’s essential travel I can’t stop anywhere except for gas in Canada. Thinking of going to South Dakota and hunkering down with my parents Tenzen and Alvin (still not sure which one would end up sleeping in my bed) until I needed to head to DC (a 20 hour drive from SD vs. 70 hour from AK). I’ve consulted with all my friends in public health and my therapist about what to do. I think with things opening up in about 2-3 weeks we’ll see how it’ll play out and the last day I can make a run for home would be May 25 in order to get there and start work on June 1. Right now I’m leaning towards going home but I feel like I’m leaving this safe cocoon in Alaska for a hot zone/inferno in South Dakota. It could be a game time decision.

Me telling Alvin to not embarrass me camping

Maybe some of this coupled with it being Alvin’s first overnight camp trip was on my mind when I had Alvin hooked around my waist and hiking up Point Hope. He’s been really good (mostly for maybe having no training in his life) but does pull sometimes. I was seated on the ground digging something out of my pack when he saw a puppy approach and he lunged for it. The belt had slid up above my hips and onto my stomach and so when he lunged, he performed the heimlich maneuver on me, which felt like getting the wind knocked out of me. And then just for good measure he did it two more times. And then I started crying, and it’s never about what you’re crying about–like when I bought the wrong size bed, it wasn’t about the bed it was about having a brain injury and dealing with that. It’s like all this uncertainty hit me and I couldn’t see how I was going to move forward.

Luckily Kevin un-clipped Alvin from me and took him to give me some space. Kind of reminded me of when your mom is on the verge of an emotional breakdown (as portrayed in TV shows) and your dad is like “okay kids, let’s go get some ice cream”. We made it to the summit without any other incidents and then Alvin took a nap.

Going down he was much better, probably from getting tired going up. We would alternate between jogging and hiking down with him.

We got back to camp and met our friends who also have a rescue husky. Talking to them made me feel a bit better as the owner told me she cried multiple times the first 6 months of having hers and now they take her biking, hiking, and running. Because the other dog was off-leash eventually we decided Alvin could go off too. In the moment of unclipping him from his tether saw the rest of my evening spent looking for him on the hillside. Fortunately, that did not manifest and he stuck close to us, the other dog, and the campsite. It was actually really fun to watch him play with the other dog and at some points it’s like he realized he was a dog. The other dog started digging a hole and then Alvin realized he too could dig a hole. Then came the moment of truth. Bedtime. Was Alvin going to hear a noise in the night and shred our newly acquired $25 craigslist tent (in case he did shred the shit out of it, would only be out $25….).

He was a champ and I’m not sure he moved positions the whole night, no holes in the tent, no holes in our sleeping pads. Here’s hoping I can train him to sleep more on my feet and keep them warm.

We packed up the next morning and shuttled Kevin for a pack rafting adventure. I walked around a bit with Alvin but mostly sat on the beach reading a book that had been on my list since September only pausing once to briefly entertain what my life would look like without the pandemic– no Alvin, more bike riding, I’d probably already be on my way to DC for the June 1 start so I could stop and ride my bike and see friends along the way. And yet, sitting on that beach felt completely normal.

Even this feels normal now

We’re going backpacking again this weekend but combining the two last weekends into one: Backpacking with Alvin. Last weekend we just car camped with him, but will continue to haul that beef-cake of a tent around in the backpack just in case though.

Still trying to get that Patagonia sponsorship…

Creatures of Comfort

Did you know that without any social distancing, one infected individual with COVID-19 can infect more than 400 people over the course of 30 days. With social distancing that amount can drop to only 15 people over the same amount of days. Going forward even after the initial peaks I think as one person put it, we will be in a “hammer and dance” situation where there is an ebb and flow of restrictions put in place as the virus continues to circulate, at least until we have an effective vaccine, prophylactic, or anti-viral therapy. Not to make this start super depressing but the fastest vaccine brought to market took 4 years, which was for mumps. I don’t think we will be in this hammer and dance situation for 4 years because so much money is in the pipeline for research and development at the moment but yeah…

Fashion and function–thanks Kathi Deane!

This week proved to be a little harder as our society’s response towards social distancing measures has become more divisive, which I will just leave it at that instead of going down a rabbit hole of rights vs. responsibilities of productive members of society, not to mention court cases that support strong public health measures. Might I suggest listening to the Hysteria podcast for those who want to think more about this.

Alaska still has a low case count and the Governor has started talking about a reopening plan. He has, however, seemed to defer much of the response to our Chief Medical Officer who I have now started calling, Patron Saint Zink of the COVID Response. It seems that the response will be science and case incident driven, as I saw the other day, “I would rather have to wait a few weeks to get my hair done at a barber shop, than have the mortician do it.” And yeah, there is no way the mortician would know my dye numbers so for the record my roots are a 5R and the rest is a 6R, and not too many people who can tame this mane soo…. let’s all keep our space for the sake of our future dye jobs so they don’t become die jobs. Be glad you aren’t in my head all the time…

My family keeps shaming my hair but nowhere to go soooo

It’s been interesting to see how time has slowed down and even though the days seem to blur together I feel like I have more time because it’s more intentional. Or at least that’s the narrative I’m telling myself, as this article points out, “we can’t control the virus, we can’t control the government, we can’t even control whether our faraway family members and friends stay safe and inside. But we can control our own individual existences by making them that much less complicated than an outside world that weren’t not even allowed to live in anymore.”

Instead of spending 90 minutes in the morning getting ready and driving to work, I wake up, drink some coffee, take Alvin for a leisurely 30-40 minute walk while catching up on podcasts.

Then I walk to the bedroom next door with my desk to begin my work day. I settle into a makeshift work routine. Most of my client’s have multiple risk factors for COVID-19 so navigating that space has been challenging, both in terms of getting them access to programs they are entitled to while also having zero in person contact with anyone. In a lot of ways Alaska was primed for a situation like this, because they are so rural most court systems have operated with telephonic and remote hearings for a while, even for us in Anchorage. Some challenges have been worked through like having video conferencing for will signings, while others remain like getting notaries for power of attorneys. But time remains an illusion and simultaneously it all seems like an emergency and it doesn’t. Some days I finish what needs to be done by 2 other days its past 5 but in a world where nowhere to rush off to, it seems so arbitrary.

Quarantine has certainly brought a lot of challenges and I’m grateful every day this lockdown did not happen in January. It’s also brought more time and space to communicate with one another. Reflecting on the past year I thought a lot about death, more specifically seeing death all the time made me think about if I had a choice how I would like to go. I’d want something that would give me time with my family and friends and left my mental capacity in tact. And I don’t want to make light of the people dying right now because it seems absolutely horrific; one of the most impactful moments of my life was being there when someone died and I can’t imagine those who are having to make the transition by themselves.

In a lot of ways it seems like quarantine is creating that space for more time. I now have a standing weekly FaceTime appointment with my immediate family, the kids, my college friends, and am in almost constant communication with my Notre Dame friends and high school friends. Before with the time zones was often difficult to find a time that worked for everyone. I’ve talked more to my aunts and uncles in this time than maybe the entire year before this happened. I know not everyone is this fortunate but in a lot ways it’s like time is being created to have more meaningful contact and communication (even though I realize very limited in-person contact is happening).

And with people having more time on their hands it’s almost like we’ve all had more time to reflect and reach out. Like my first boyfriend from high school sent me this really funny message about when he tried to walk me to my door but slipped on the ice– legit thought he was messaging me about wanting legal advice haha–don’t worry got his permission before posting:

“Hey Kate, Hope you’re doing well! Congratulations on your progressing your career! This is rather random but I wanna know if you remember a story that has been told by Eamin every chance he’s gotten since it happened back in 2006. That story being the time we were “going out” and I dropped you off at your house. I said I would walk you to your door and you told me that I didn’t need to. I disregarded your request, got out of my car, and tried to hurry around to catch up to you. Mind you the shoes I was wearing were completely bald, zero tread. Also it was winter. Anyway I plant my hand on the front corner of my grandma car (pretty sure thats what I was driving at the time? might have been the Intrepid) and am completely betrayed by the snow and my traction-less shoes. I fell so fast, I’m pretty sure I was on the ground before my hand actually made contact with the car. By the time I recover, you’re already at your door. I basically said, “welp see you later.” And drove off. Possibly the most defeated/embarrassed I’ve been in my entire life lol of course I told Eamin immediately. This comes up at least twice a year and puts us into fits of giggles.” So naturally I laughed super hard at this and then went down the rabbit hole with him of assessing our awkward interaction as 16 year-olds new to the dating scene.

I’ve had other messages pop up with friends about times in college, events that happened after, or even weird dreams people are experiencing. Even a friend dropping by and talking to them from the porch while they stood on the street seemed like such a treat.

And the feeling of isolation remains but only in a physical restriction and I keep going back to Marina Keegan’s writings, “It’s not quite love and it’s not quite community; it’s just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together. Who are on your team.” How we emerge from this is still unknown but I remain optimistic that we will sculpt our future in a way that is more just and equitable for everyone– we should not be satisfied with the systems returning to normal, we should demand more. “You’re probably not spending the evening hours putting the final touches on embroidered pillow-covering when you’re worried about feeding your family, and you can’t curl up by the fire with a dusty old book when you don’t have a house, let alone a fireplace. You definitely can’t do it if you’re on a ventilator.” Molly Roberts.

We are able to give up comforts only if we have those comforts to begin with. This statement isn’t meant to shame anyone for doing things that they are now doing or not doing– and how they are dealing with the pandemic. More of an observation, like if my biggest inconvenience at the moment is only going to the grocery store 1-2 times every two weeks, then after this is over I hope we all work to ensure everyone has those same levels of comfort and security moving forward. After the 2008 economic recession it seemed the people turned inwards out of a fear based response that their securities were no longer secure, understandably so. Right now there is a lot of fear and uncertainty and hopefully moving forward we will not forget that we are all on the same team.

In case you clicked on this after seeing the imagine thinking it would be more photos of Alvin, sorry to disappoint. I’m going camping this weekend so at least will have something else to talk about next time.

Weird Times

I’m not even sure how to start this post– honestly most days being in Alaska feels like I’m perched somewhere just watching the world burn. I’m grateful for the response that Anchorage’s Mayor took early on and Alaska as a state, our case increase has been a slow uptick, still under 300 and only a handful of deaths.

But we only have 880,000 people….cool, cool, cool.

Meanwhile, my parents in South Dakota still have no lockdown orders mandated state-wide. Some cities and counties are doing their part but most were slow to react and not everyone has an order. I’m proud of my parents for taking it seriously, finally got my dad to stop going to the jail (I wrote a motion on why inmate’s should be released– proud prosecutor’s daughter ha). Unfortunately, I also wrote a paper last year that focused on contrasting my community with another community which means I know there are 3,570 residents, 290 people (before COVID and people losing their jobs) without health insurance; 847 individuals have one or more disability and just over 1,000 individuals are over the age of 65. I know that our hospital has 25 beds and 2 ventilators. And I’m well over 3,000 miles away but even if I was closer, I know that if someone I love goes into the hospital I can’t go with them. And it’s terrifying because it’s like a ticking time bomb and we won’t know the extent of the damage for months to come.

Love the community that raised us– and yes after this is over I might be blonde again…

Beyond my family I think about the community that raised me, growing up in a small town (the same one as my mother) means that everyone knows everyone, so I think of my teachers, most of who are retired now, I think of my friends who work in the hospital, I think of the restaurateurs, the grocers, the ranchers, the funeral director, those in the assisted living facilities who became like second-grandmas.

Dug through some photos so needed to post more than one

I think of this virus and the response and I’m not sure I will ever forgive those in power who passively have let the virus wash over our communities. With recent cases, Sioux Falls just surged ahead of Chicago and Seattle with a higher per capita infection rate at 182.25 per 100,000 people [When I started this draft, SD had just over 600 cases, it’s now over 1,300 in the 2 days since…]. But I also know not every worse case scenario that is portrayed in the news is going to come true– but hard sometimes for my mind not to go there.

It’s just so good.

Did I need to find something to take my mind off of all of this, oh you betcha. Usually around this time I start training for the upcoming season but with COVID and most races getting pushed back haven’t felt the need to really jump into training–fortunately I planned on this year being most developmental and focusing on the Maah Daah Hey but now not wanting to suppress my immune system (check out this article my Godfather sent me about training loads during this time) and/or train for things that might not materialize means I’m actually in a pretty good mental state around bike racing right now (heyyyo, shout out to my law school therapist).

With physical activity focused less on gaining fitness and more on mental clarity, I decided to start cross-stitching again, it’s repetitive and I have to focus somewhat otherwise I tend to stab myself, perfect. I collected all my things and was engaged in a ‘this color or that color’ when my phone rang. “Hi, we have a dog that we think would be perfect for you.” As like most things in life until that moment I had forgotten that I put in an application for a foster dog. “He’s 6, we just got him in, he’s real sweet.” “Ummm, okay when do you need me to pick him up by.” “Can you get him before 3 today.” They texted me a few pictures and I confirmed with my roommates that they were okay with having a dog in the space. Alright, let’s do this.

I put an application in when I started working from home figuring it would be a good idea to take my mind off of everything– they said that they didn’t have any dogs at the moment so I mostly forgot about it until they called. I picked the dog up, he didn’t have a name, and they handed everything over to me, leash, food, poop bags, crate, and blankets. I got him home and unloaded all his things and took him for a walk. I had planned to go cross-country skiing with a friend later and one of my roommates said she would watch him so I could leave him out while I was gone. Perfect. I grabbed my gear and opened the door to leave when he squeezed by my legs–it took me a minute to realize what was happening, with Tenzen he’s allowed in the front yard because he stays there, when I realized this dog was not Tenzen I tried to grab him but he eluded my clutches and took off. I threw my ski boots down and took off sprinting behind him. I didn’t even have a name for him so couldn’t even yell anything. This dog is going to be gone and I’m going to have to tell these people, I’ve already failed. I kept sprinting with my heart rate not getting that high since cross nationals. Luckily the street he had turned down had a large fence at the end of the lane. He ran there and then kind of jogged around. I slowly approached without trying to spook him. Luckily, like most days, I had some jelly beans in my pocket so dug a few out and stuck them out to entice him to get close enough to grab his collar. Well my plan worked; in the 5 minutes I was sprinting after him I didn’t think once about the virus.

I had been mulling over a few names, I’ve had a few dog names in my mind for a while but only fostering him didn’t want to give him one of those. Upon catching him and bringing him back settled on the name Alvin. After Alvin McDonald, an early cave explorer in the Black Hills.

Since then we’ve settled into a routine of 3-4 walks during the day, which means I’ve reduced my running because I don’t want to leave him but have gained leisurely paced strolls with the occasional abrupt jerk when he pulls. It’s given me a reason to finally catch up on those podcast recommendations or call my family. After a week of feeding him several large heaps of dog food a day to get his weight up figured we were ready to try a short run. Run is a loosely applied term for what we did. It started off promising but with him being more interested in smelling things and I realizing he only has one speed (a bit too fast for walking sometimes, a bit too slow for running). We settled into some weird shuffle of 2.5 miles in 40 minutes.

Post first runish….

I’ve worked him up to accepting treats, and now we’re starting to broach commands [although my Dad has pointed out, he has me trained], although I’m not even sure he even recognizes his name at this point. The first weekend I had him I left him at home for the adventures, still unsure of his capabilities. One day I did a very mellow alpine touring ski which required some stream crossing and bush whacking, only to get within range of the summit and have it disappear.

Not wanting to loose ourselves in the abyss we turned around and followed our tracks down where the clouds dissipated and the sun seemed like it had always been there. Going down felt euphoric, as my skis seemed to float underneath me.

To avoid the stream crossing we did earlier we ended up skinning up and thought we had found a good place to cross the gully but after getting to the other side realized it wasn’t a good exit. We ended up skinning a bit up in the terrain trap, which just means that if an avalanche were to happen that’s where it would likely go. Obviously we assessed the risk, extremely low, but if something did get triggered it would be less than ideal. Basically we were kind of like sitting ducks and at mercy of others actions– and again thought about the virus because feel to some extent we’re all just sitting ducks waiting, feeling trapped at what might be headed towards us but unlike the current pandemic we were able to get out of the gully and to the other side quite quickly.

We then pitched our angle uphill a bit more so we could then gain enough speed to make it back to the car without having to put our skins on. I felt so bad about leaving Alvin at home for a few hours that I think I took him on close to a 90 minute walk that night.

I’m sure he must just stare out the window like this when I leave him.

The next day I did a shorter cross-country ski but again left Alvin at home. We ended up on the other side of the valley but the snow was a little more crusty.

What snow there was…

We had less of a finish in mind and more of a let’s see where this takes us approach. We skied for a bit, took our skis off, and hiked for a bit, and then had some lunch, deciding it was a good spot to turn around.

I’m not sure how much was the crust and how much was the champagne (I mean life is short, right) I drank for lunch that resulted in more than a few face plants. We skied down and stayed off the main trail to avoid as many people as possible.

The second week with Alvin I settled more into a routine, recognizing his favorite spots to poop and when he’s most likely to go. He started sleeping out of the crate and after the first night gave him multiple pillows off my bed to accommodate him. Was grateful when a friend offered one of her dog beds up– now those floor pillows have just become his second bed….

Maybe I should give him a bath….

He hasn’t had any real accidents in the house, other than peeing on my bike attached to the trainer. He wasn’t a fan of it to start with but then really showed his feelings during that moment. I was yelling at him to stop and he didn’t even flinch, didn’t break eye contact just kept going. He’s more tolerating of my trainer rides now but not sure I’ll ever get him close enough to a bike to be a proper trail dog.

This past weekend I took him on his first hike, but not before heading out on my own the day before. I headed up Wolverine Peak, which was 9 miles and definitely not one for the dog at the moment. It was pretty steep uphill with some icy spots that made me grateful I bought shoes with spikes in them last fall even though I thought it would be an overkill (lover of treadmills and trainers). The trail head had the most people which again for Alaska I guess is crowded but compared to most other places it was like 6-10 people and we were mostly able to avoid people and pull our masks over our faces. The trail traffic was a minimum and the view from the top was well worth taking in.

On the way down we stepped off the trail to give distance to older guys who jokingly covered their faces and said they had the virus yesterday and were better now. I responded a bit snarky to some effect saying, “you think this is a joke but people are dying.” I really wanted to follow-up with and ‘you’re more likely to die than I am’ but left it at that and instead of getting back on the main trail, bush whacked a bit to get down into a gully that would avoid more people. Everyone else seemed conscious of maintaining distance and trying to minimize any potential spread.

We’re both not exactly morning people

For Easter planned on doing an early morning hike (kind of like a sunrise service) with Alvin to see how he would do but upon waking couldn’t see the mountains so opted for a later departure date and a trail closer to the water and out of the mountains. Alvin is pretty great on the leash and just likes to stop and smell and mark most things–at least on the way out. We hiked about 2 miles out to a vantage point to take pictures of the good boy before turning around.

On the way back he was less interested in smelling things and oscillated between wanting to sprint and dilly-dallying down the trail. He did quite well, given my history with Tenzen was more than prepared to have to carry him for some of it. He also did well around other dogs, he seems to be mostly curious and not aggressive in anyway. I’m not sure he’ll ever be an off the dog leash, for one he still does not recognize his name, and two I’m not sure he would ever come back.

Look at this trail corgi

I’m now on my fifth week of work from home, which means I finally gave in and assembled my desk and office chair. At this point my contract ends mid-September and honestly not sure I will be back in the hospital before then. Mentally preparing for a marathon but hoping for a sprint….

I remain grateful that my life continues to have some semblance of normalcy (definitely recognize the privilege that comes with all of that) as my heart aches for all of those who have had massive shifts in their lives and livelihoods as a result. Again, if you are thinking we need to open up the economy and don’t understand why we aren’t, call your representatives and demand massive testing for COVID and for the anti-bodies. Testing and contact tracing is our best bet at the moment (until there is a vaccine) while continuing to socially isolate. Just because our government is incompetent doesn’t mean you need to be (looking at you, South Dakota).

The Abyss

Last weekend seemed like an indulgent, illicit activity and now a lifetime away. Many people are finding themselves in spaces that don’t allow for them to escape for empty trails (looking at you, CO) and fresh air all while being able to maintain 6 feet of distance apart. I was finding myself with feelings of isolation in Alaska this winter and have found that this might be as good of place as any to weather out the impending storm. As COVID-19 cases have slowly uptick in Anchorage I’m now trying to consciously recreate in a way that would reduce the need for me to access healthcare services or require a backcountry rescue so will in all likelihood find myself on the local trails for the impending future–but fortunate enough to squeak one more weekend in.

We headed out to another glacier, this one was 20 miles one way–the plan being we’d ski out, set up camp, ski back the next day. I did 20 miles total the weekend before but my biggest fault when it comes to mileage is I still operate in cycling miles, 20 miles, psh ain’t no thang. Little different when cross-country skiing and having 30-40 pounds on your back (realistically probably 20 since I didn’t pack my industrial strength hairdryer this time– and if you don’t get that reference guess we know what you’ll be doing in quarantine).

While we escaped from the constant news updates and feelings of impending doom it was hard to completely turn my mind off from the virus. I would float in and out of scenarios and do comparative analyses to past pandemics and outbreaks (fun fact my favorite pandemic to study is the 1918 flu (you never forget your first) but my favorite disease is tuberculosis). I worried about being out of service for 48 hours and the potential notifications that might be awaiting my arrival. I also thought about if we should even be out there– there is a lot of discussion right now about if people should be partaking in these activities (yes, no, responsibly…I’ll default to my favorite lawyer answer, “it depends” (not legal advice).

The first day called for cooler temps than last weekend and snow. Okay going to get my winter camping badge for real this weekend. We drove 2 hours out of Anchorage and pulled off on the side of the road. I know the saying, “be bold, start cold” but I’m always convinced I will stay cold and never get warm so I bundled on layers with the thought I would take them off as needed. I was told that it was a river bed of flatness out to a glacier so was slightly surprised when we started on a slight downhill, followed by a pretty steep uphill, some more downhill, and some fresh tracks. Stopping to go pee I mused that I’d probably just leave my skis on so I don’t sink in the snow to which there was thunderous chorus that exclaimed of course I should keep my skis on just try not to pee on the bindings (still so much to learn). We descended down for about four more miles before the reaching the river bed.

With the clouds still surrounding us we just began skiing towards this white abyss. And in a lot of ways the physical landscaped matched my internal feelings about the pandemic. Right now we can’t see what we’re working towards (all these measures social distancing, quarantine, isolation against an invisible enemy) we have projections of what will happen if it works and if it doesn’t work but we’re in this abyss right now where we have pushed off from one side and have yet to see a safe landing. And yet we kept moving, I would repeat the mantra in my head, “kick, glide, feel the rhythm, feel the ride” (and if you don’t get that reference also prime quarantine opportunity). We would stop and change layers as needed–adding, removing, snacking. Talking about what the view would have given us without the clouds. On an exposed section the wind had picked up and the soft, fleeting snow had turned into fierce pieces of ice striking my face, it reminded me of acupuncture needles and just imagined I was getting a free facial –one guy talked about doing 100 mile ski race (yeah, read that again) and how it was like this the whole way and at one point he remembered thinking he just wished the snow would stop hitting him in the face. We only dealt with it for maybe 15-20 minutes but imagine I would have different thoughts if it was 100 miles…

After skiing for 19 miles with about 6 hours of moving time we talked about setting up camp, we were within range of the glacier (maybe depending on route beta) but could still be 2-3 miles away, it was getting late and dark and still a lot of things that need to be done to set up camp. We found a spot perched out of the riverbed and got to work. I dug out a hole to put the tent in, which at least helped to warm me up, while one of the other guys started the stove to melt snow and boil water for our bottles and dinner.

We got it accomplished and set up without too many mishaps– and even dug out some more snow for cooking and eating.

Even adding on another area for a firepit (as one of the guys packed firewood and we stacked it on shovel to get it going). It was nice to warm up next to and abate my shivering if only for intermittent moments.

After we had gone through all the wood we headed to bed. At this point I took off my damp ski boots, put on wool socks and down slippers, and got into dry clothes which helped to really warm me up (the -20 degree bag also does wonders). I still slept with a puffy vest, jacket and a hat on. I even figured out how to work the sleeping bag this time and only woke up once with a cold face.

Before going to sleep one of the guys thought about checking the weather for the morning, I lamented, that it doesn’t matter what the weather is going to be we have to face whatever shows up so we can just not check and pretend it will be nice. Which again took me back to the pandemic as we don’t know what tomorrow will bring but we’re in it and regardless will have to wake up and face whatever shows up overnight. Luckily, the morning did not disappoint. I stepped out of the tent and was greeted by calm skies and the sun starting to creep over the horizon releasing a nice alpenglow that quickly bathed the valley in sunlight.

We made breakfast, packed up camp, leaving our bags and gear to ski over to the glacier. It was alluring but in a more subdued enchantment than the previous weekend. It wasn’t piercing blue but rather dingy with intricate crystal lattices where water had frozen onto the surface.

We skied around for a bit, I learned that you should just follow in the previous tracks and not put in your own tracks on a glacier–not because anything bad happened, it was just pointed out to me as I was frolicking around.

Here’s me in multiple puffy layers…frolicking

We headed back to our camp spot to pick up our things and I took off about three layers on the top and bottom. We started making our way back along the trail we came in on. The views were pretty spectacular so occasionally I would just stop to turn and take it in.

Skiing out was pretty uneventful, minus the view. I found myself more hungry than the day before and slowly made my way through all my snacks (and a few emergency ones-which made me a little nervous but never got to my emergency, emergency sour patch kid provisions so).

All those downhills became uphills in the later part of our day but saw it as an opportunity to try to get better at going uphill (spoiler alert, I did not) but at least it gave my legs a different position to be in for a while. We crested the last hill and could see the road off in the distance but there remained a false flat to get up to the car. I started on the slight incline that would lead up to the car but had no concept of how long or the distance it would be so pulled out another emergency provision when I saw the snow pile the car was situated behind and put the morsel back in my jacket for another time (because I had left a bag of Hippeas in the car as a post-ski snack, also learned that trick the week before).

We got to the car and my boots were frozen to my bindings so took the whole contraption off. Then got in and ate a bunch of Hippeas.

Putting the fun between the legs (mostly a cycling joke)

The whole time I kept making comparisons to being in the backcountry with the pandemic– feel free to keep reading but stop if this will contribute to your anxiety. I’ll also put some good websites that I follow you can check out at the end.

  1. Have a good leader: Going into the backcountry requires you to be putting your life in others’ hands if something happens. Our trip leader sent out a map, route guidance, and information on what to anticipate and expect. Right now I feel that most administrations are operating out of fear/unknown/uncertainty/poor planning and actively triaging while not doing anything to assuage the public’s anxiety about what we’re facing (don’t believe me, remember the 2009 pandemic, how long were you stuck in your house for that one?).
  2. Only take what you need: skiing 20 miles with a pack means making the conscious effort to really decide if you need an article of clothing or piece of gear. This is also relevant now with people buying insane amounts of toilet paper and hand sanitizer (pro tip: hand soap is better).
  3. But be prepared: It means I carried 4 pairs of socks, extra food, and multiple different layers to meet the potential challenges. Social distancing means reducing your interactions so be prepared to last a week between grocery store runs.
  4. Don’t be a dick: You’re in the backcountry with a long ski out, if you’re attitude goes south it’s going to impact everyone. Again, turn you speakers off at 11:30pm when ya know your next door neighbor has a small child and is also stuck at home all day.
  5. Communicate effectively: Talking about when to eat lunch, letting them know if you’re stopping to change layers or to take a rest. Giving others in the group time to anticipate (I usually announce that I’ll be peeing in 20-30 minutes to get everyone on the same page). Right now we don’t have one unified voice giving us direct messages (thank you federalism for reserving public health powers to the states; apparently the founding fathers did not know how viruses work and that they don’t respect boundaries). During Ebola the US had a Czar (what an amazing job title) right now you have the President saying one thing, State Governors enacting various orders, and Dr. Fauci trying to get a clear and accurate message out, but not one unified message telling you that this is going to be a long haul– are we up to the challenge yes, because we are responding by taking x,y,z steps and this is what the next few weeks/months are going to look like.
  6. Look out for one another: Checking in to make sure everyone is still feeling okay, do we need a break, how about some candy, how are people’s feet. When you’re in the backcountry you’re only as strong as your weakest member (i.e., me– also thank you to all my high school coaches who loved that saying and would occasionally linger their gaze a little too long on me when I had a lackluster performance.) For a pandemic, we’re only as strong as our most vulnerable, our most uninsured, our most elderly. Which means being willing to step up and take care of each other now- the cost of treatment of COVID-19 is estimated to be ~$34,000. Imagine not having insurance, are you going to go to the hospital unless it gets really bad and how many potential people will you be in contact with before it gets to that point. Our institutions are being challenged, health isn’t just the absence of disease but all the social determinants that make it up (access to food, water, housing…) all these things that provide stability so people can seek healthcare. I also don’t think it should take a pandemic for us to realize how broke some of our systems are but that’s a whole another blog post/paper.
  7. Don’t operate out of fear: Things can go wrong but staying calm and making decisions using logic will help you go a long way. My go to mantra for most things is: Facts over fear. The hysteria around contagious diseases is somewhat understandable; and only supports stronger legal regulations so that politicians cannot capitalize on this fear and uncertainty to gain political points. By enacting robust legal framework that safeguard civil liberties while taking into account an unprecedented necessity for quarantine we can avoid the mistakes of the past and abrogate the uncertainty of the future (lolz, this was a section from my conclusion on my paper on quarantine last year where I mostly argued that quarantine should only be used a tool of last resort because we have so many other provisions we can use to safeguard the health of the public– didn’t really factor into my analysis a 2 month lackluster response from the government for a contagious disease outbreak–jokes on me).

I remain angry at the situation because I don’t believe it needed to get to this point. China as the source of outbreak spent a lot of their time triaging and just trying to get ahead of it. They put other countries on notice and I believe our response is criminal because we had plenty of time to prepare and we squandered it away (it’s like getting a 30-day eviction notice and waiting till day 31 to take action). Lives will be lost because of the passive response our government (cutting funding to the CDC, designing their own test, not adequately providing healthworkers with protective equipment) has taken. I remain hopeful that communities are up to the challenge, we are up to the challenge, and just like the storm moving out and the blue sky shinning the next day, we will emerge from this cloud. Research actually shows that when disasters strike people become more pro-social, they cooperate and support each other, they’re better than ever. This storm isn’t going to blow over overnight and we won’t get through it quickly (Easter is highly aspirational– and without more tests to know what we’re really up against, highly unlikely) it definitely won’t be today, not this week, unlikely this month, maybe May we’ll take a breath and reassess. What I’m saying is it’s going to be a long haul at this point and things will probably get worse before they get better but we need to stay strong and do our part– oh yeah and call your congressional reps and demand mandatory testing and while you’re at it suggest that they commandeer private companies to start making PPE, ventilators, and getting respiratory therapists trained (grateful to the companies that have shifted their focus already–but the government should respond like a war effort, this is a war we are waging). Yah know, I love a good government overreach. But really if you think the free market will save us now, there has been a post circulating showing that Tuberculosis remains the number one killer in the world as if that means we should not be taking action with COVID-19. This actually shows why we need a strong government response. Antibiotics have existed for TB for nearly 70 years and yet it remains endemic in parts of the US (no, really, think about the last person you knew with TB in the US and now realize it’s still around circulating in communities– not your community? Maybe ask yourself why that is–happy to pass along a paper). Oh yeah and also tell them that the vaccine and treatment should be covered by federal funding. As much as it’s easy to get consumed with the negative I remain optimistic that this will shift our societal norms for the better. That doesn’t mean I don’t fluctuate between wondering if the tightness in my chest is anxiety or the virus–daily temperature checks and yoga to help assuage my fears. If you feel like this paragraph sounds exasperated with tones of eternally optimistic well welcome to the inside of my brain at the moment.

Unlike the 1918 Flu, I hope that when this is over we will not look backward and inward with fear and shame of our response. COVID-19 has exposed massive fault lines in domestic and global institutions but I remain hopeful that we will come out on the other side willing and ready to work towards a more perfect world. But as my brother would say, ‘hope springs eternal‘ with me.

I feel like I should apologize for how sassy this comes off as but I’m not going to because I don’t like having to counsel young parents who are in high risk categories of what documentation should be in place for their children because they have been informed by their physicians if they catch COVID they will likely die.

For your reading pleasure:

Duck of Minerva– Mostly focused on global politics but all the articles as of recent are focused on COVID-19 responses.

The Washington Post Monkey Cage– Also another political science based platform but mostly for domestic politics.

New England Journal of Medicine: Mostly focused on COVID-19 related science, stats.

And if you’ve made it this far here are some things I’ve combat my anxiety:

Down Dog: Free yoga!

These articles sent by my friend, Vega: The Science of Well-Being and one on the grief you’re feeling. She also shared a host of wellness tips, I won’t put them all here but my favorite was: Remind yourself daily that this is temporary. It seems while we are in the thick of it, it will never end. It is unsettling to think of the road stretching ahead of us. Just remember we will return to feeling free, safe, busy, and connected in the months ahead. You can find more of her stuff, here.

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations, take a breath and remember those blue skies will be back.

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

3 closer to the top

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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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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

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On our bike tour

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Lausanne from a dock in the lake

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New biking gear! haha

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By the water in Lausanne

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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.

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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.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0703.JPG
“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.

Good Morning, Viet Nam

My first thought upon walking off the airplane and into the Hanoi airport was, “Oh wow, I’m tall”. Most days I think of myself as being 5’5-5’6″ even though I’m just over 5’9″. I blame this on the fact that Frank and Mary tower over me. I’ve never thought of myself as being tall before arriving in Viet Nam. Most of the people stood up and I soon realized that they looked much taller when they were seated on the plane. This sense of feeling like a giant hasn’t gone away.

church better one
This church is about half a block away from where I’m staying so how I orientate myself

I walked around a bit Sunday night but with the travel and lack of sleep on the airplanes went to bed at 7pm. Both Monday and Tuesday were holidays here, first International Labor Day and then celebrating the Fall of Saigon.  I woke up at 4am the next morning and was ready to go. I facetimed my parents because it was early evening for them and waited until the noise of the street crept in to let me know the city had awaken. I got up and went to walk around the Hoàn Kiếm Lake, or “Lake of the Restored Sword”.lakeview 2 I also walked across the Huc Bridge into the Temple of the Jade Mountain. Right before the entrance two girls in front of me had to turn around and the man seemed to be gesturing to their shoes. Looking at my sandals I wondered if it was a problem but he let me pass. I later realized it was because they were wearing shorts and had to go back and put smocks on to cover their legs.

in the temple .jpg
Inside the temple

lake view 1
View looking onto the lake from the temple

brdige 2
I’m taller than everyone on this bridge

The temple is still active with people putting money (fake money) to burn as the offering.

I then met up with one of the guys here for lunch to talk about preliminary things, like areas to go running and what places are the best to eat.

near the temple
My shorts were too short for me to go up into the temple

Tuesday was the celebration of the Fall of Saigon, which is probably a similar feeling to a Brit being in America on the Fourth of July, but with less fireworks. Given that everything was still shut down I decided to make my way to the Temple of Literature and maybe the Viet Nam Museum of Art. Unfortunately both of those are off my paper map by a few blocks and ended up instead at Ho Chi Mihn’s Mausoleum and Museum.

masoleum
Not as busy as I thought it would be on the holiday

There was a temple there as well, which I could not go in because of the shorts I was wearing and they didn’t offer smocks. I also didn’t go into the Mausoleum because it was closed, which I found a little ironic given the day of celebration. templeI never found the Museum of Art, which is what I was really after. I would go up to a police officer and ask, “English?” and they would respond, “Hello” and that was the just of it so besides trying to point on the map any phrases I knew in Vietnamese that I did not butcher were not sufficient enough to get me to where I wanted to be. I took a cab back to the hotel, which was maybe my first and last cab ride given how terrifying the roads are here.

taxi ride .JPG
Slightly terrifying

Yesterday I woke up again around 4 so decided to go for a run when the daylight broke. I decided to go run around Hoàn Kiếm Lake because it was close and that way if I didn’t want to do 6+ miles I could just cut it short whenever. Within about the first 5 minutes I soon realized why I didn’t see more runners, the humidity and the heat even at 5am was miserable. Plenty of people where out exercising, either walking around or doing group fitness, but not a lot of runners. Most of them in normal clothes and a few times seeing their clothes drenched in sweat I wanted to yell, “Cotton kills!” but didn’t.  The side street markets were also unfolding spilling out fruits, vegetables, and handmade goods. I couldn’t believe all the activity happening still in the wee hours. I only last 3 painstaking miles and then went back to my air-conditioned room and did yoga. I only had a dinner on the schedule for the day so spent most of the day just roaming around. The Old Quarter is a mix of tourists interjected with the locals. A lot of shops seemed tailored to tourists and then I turned a corner and found myself on a street that only sold coffins and memorial flowers.

Hoc Bridge
On the Hoc Bridge

Other things:

(1) It doesn’t make much difference whether you look or not while crossing the road, there is always traffic so you just go–sorry mom!

(2) Not speaking anything more than really basic Vietnamese phrases means that I’m surrounded by thousands of people but still very isolated. My mom asked how I would do with it but it hasn’t bothered me yet, I’m actually enjoying it. I do worry that if I do something wrong and someone starts yelling I will have no idea why

(3) I have yet to a store that sells hairbrushes, and I’m in desperate need. I’m debating just cutting it so someone will have to brush it.

flowers .jpg
Flowers outside the Ho Chi Minh Museum