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Elegant, Yet Ferrel

I half joke that the only reason I run is to stay in shape in case someone asks me to go to the Grand Canyon, it’s not really a joke and there isn’t much convincing needed on my part to go there but always nice to have a partner mostly to ease my mom’s concerns.

The last time I went to the Grand Canyon it was with Dave and Allison, and while I started that blog post many times I never finished it. We went down in a post-wedding celebration (of sorts) where I made them recreate multiple wedding photos at multiple locations and we all dawned bridesmaid dresses for one of the days.

We realized that dusty rose might actually be Dave’s color. We ran down to the river, got the world’s best lemonade and then made the trek back up. In the months that followed the panic attack, I lost my narrative, my sense of self, and sense of belonging. Most days I could not even believe that I was the same girl who had ventured to the depths of the canyon mere months before.

In November friends started putting in for cancelled rafting permits and one was drawn. The dates didn’t align for work but half joked that I could always run down to Phantom Ranch, say hi, and run back out. Joke is on me. As the plans transpired it was realized they would be at Phantom on Sunday which meant I could feasibly do that without running into a work deadline. It should be noted that I don’t mind dancing around work deadlines, I love my job, what I do, and feel incredibly lucky for the life it enables me to live. Anyways, more logistics flew and realized that a friend would be hiking out, cool I could join him and figure out who was taking his spot to go in with. More planning, Carly would also be hiking out, amazing, and Jordan a friend from Alaska and Avery (friend of a friend) would hike in. Done and done, I’d have people to hike in with and people to hike out with. The logistics seemed more complicated on my end with my return ticket being purchased before my departure one as I hemmed and hawed when I’d want to arrive so I could be stable for a late Friday work call. I opted to leave on Friday and enjoy the Sedona sun Friday evening before picking the boys up at the airport on Saturday.

I arrived and drove up to Sedona getting to a trailhead parking lot just as the sun was moving behind the rocks. I put my windbreaker on forgetting how cold the desert could get as the sun went down. I started jogging up the Cathedral Rock trail, the most powerful vortex in all the land. I ventured off the trail a bit to get in some different views before linking back up onto the trail. I climbed up to the top and perched out on the rocks watching the last of the light cease from the day.

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A very common issue is that I think it only gets dark in Alaska, because people outside of Alaska always ask if it really gets dark there so it has convinced me that nowhere else gets dark. As a result, I left my headlight in the car, but with a clear sky and moonlight was able to dance my way down the trail, amazed at how my body navigated though the rocks. I was approaching the parking lot when I saw a change in tone on the rock and stepped on it with my right leg before I could change my footing, my foot had struck ice and slipped out, my left in an already downward step motion, bent at the knee and kept going as I slid down. I stopped and got up feeling a foreign pain in my left knee all the way down my leg, oh wow I haven’t had an injury in a while. I slowly walked back to the car taking in the stats of my pain, location, and any altered movements I was making. I could move and haven’t heard anything popped making me think it was just a strain but was a little nervous that I had effectively nulled my Grand Canyon trek. I stopped at store and picked up some epsom salt to soak it and KT tape for the next day. I soaked it and propped it up on a pillow for the night.

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The next morning I taped it up and headed to a fairly easy trail for a loop to see how my knee felt. The trail started with a half mile descent to link up with the loop, I gingerly pushed off my left leg, altering my gate for my right leg to carry more of the load. How odd, my right leg has been the weakest and now it was picking up the slack of my left. I notice what caused a sharp pain, down step with leg fully extended and a heel strike. I wove around people and the rocks. The pain was intermittent giving me hope that I hadn’t done any real damage. Once the trail leveled I settled into a slower pace than normal and ran the loop around. Sully and I used to come down to Sedona to visit his parents, I remembered riding the trail with him but running it now I couldn’t believe this was one of the easier ones in the area. I made it through the loop and felt better towards the end with no actual residual pain. Definitely got lucky on that one.

I picked up Avery and Jordan in Flagstaff and after a few stops at REI, three grocery stores to get some of the requests from those on the river, the dollar store, and gas station, we headed north. We stopped halfway to do a short hike where a volcano had essentially melted in on itself. After about a mile or so of post holing, we decided we were good with going back. I asked Avery (he’s a doctor) about my knee, he basically said the fact I could walk on it means there isn’t anything serious wrong. Worked for me!

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We spent the night packing, them mostly repacking to fit some of the groceries in. I messaged Evan about the possibility of actually needing to pack my camping things in. He thought they’d be to Phantom around 1 at the latest so we’d be able to hike out the same day. Perfect, more room in my bag for groceries. In what is the most bizarre pack I’ve taken down to Phantom, it included a large block of cheese, two bags of arugula, bell peppers, and cuties, in addition to my layers and snacks.

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We left the hotel around 8 and got to the trailhead around 9:15, I figured out my layers and we headed to the trail around 9:30. I have never been to the Grand Canyon in the winter so was excited to see what it was like. I carried my micro spikes as we crossed the parking lot and upon reaching the trail junction, put them on. We started the descent, it was about 15 degrees on the top and a pretty good layer of ice on the trail.

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We started down the trail, the familiar switchbacks revealing themselves as the spikes pierced through the layer of ice. I was just taking it all in as we walked down the trail. We fell into a similar pace and chatted about what those on the river were experiencing and when we thought they would arrive. Before I knew it we were at the first outhouse, about 1.5 miles down. We stopped to grab some water and snacks, I passed out some sour patch kids and then we kept going. About 800 yards later I took off my spikes, the trail had mostly tried with just some lingering spots of ice. I thought back to the times before on the trail, the versions of me that had existed here — sometimes I think I’m almost reclaiming spaces that I went to during COVID, as if a part of me has been left there for safe keeping and I was returning to pick her up. I didn’t share this with Jordan but we did talk about crystals and vortexes and also everything else, dog mushing, growing up in Alaska, skiing, relationships, families, on the trail anything is fair game— but I’ve noticed that death is coming up less frequently.

We continued down and about half way I stopped to take off more layers, cursing that I had left my shorts in the car. A few guys were stopped too and commented on the beer Avery was hauling on his pack, there weren’t a lot of people on the trail but those that were certainly were curious about the boys’ large packs and my tiny one, in addition to the beer. We explained and they were like oh next time you should send it down on a mule, it’s $80 but that’s what we do to get out stuff down there to camp for a few days… ohhhh that’s good to know.

We ebbed in and out of being able to hear the river. It’s intoxicating to think about something so wild, so fierce, that spent years carving out the canyon and is still a force to be reckon with #Goals. As we got closer we could see the beach and we saw a few kayaks, oh I wonder if that’s them. A raft approached confirming it was there from where we perched about a mile above. I joked with Jordan I could run down and tell them we were on the way, he said okay and I said really? Okay! And took off down the trail. As I was running I was filled with what I imagine is the feeling of immense gratitude, which I find myself having more and more of these days, this overwhelming warmth that radiates in my body. I kept running down the trail, elated that I’d be reconnected with friends I hadn’t seen in a few weeks and others a year. I ran through the tunnel and into the light on the bridge to cross the river. I heard them yelling and hollered back. I dashed off the bridge and looped around with the river crew getting covered with shrubbery. I kept going and stepped off the trail and made my way to the beach— ohhhh heyyyy

Roomies at the bottom of the canyon

We exchanged greetings and then a few of us wandered up to Phantom Ranch to get some lemonade and drop post in the mail. I heard more of their adventures from the river and told them about all my travels. I’m never sure what it is but the lemonade is amazing here.

We went back to the beach, this time Jordan and Avery were there and Carly and Evan were packing there things up. I took a few of their things in my bag and after saying goodbye we split up and they headed down the river to get a few more miles in for the day.

I’ve never hiked up South Kaibob, it’s 2 miles short than Bright Angel but doesn’t have any water on it. But since all the water is turned off in the winter figured it didn’t matter — and decided with Tom it was the best route for more sun exposure on the trail.

We started back up all the switchbacks I had just come down. I heard about their week, how it snowed on them early on, the rapids they encountered, and the food they packed in. I told them about Canada, Geneva, and DC. They both used to live there and I would usually spend my DC time with them. We talked about everything again, work, relationships, life, the geological time scale.

Going up wasn’t too bad but we made it a point to stop every mile to drink water and take a break. I half joked that we just needed to be near the top by 7 for my family FaceTime call. Even with the more frequent breaks we were taking we were mostly on track to reach that. We put on our micro spikes a little later after I had taken them off with the sun making the trail less icy over the day and more slushy.

Better to be safe than sorry. We kept going up and were able to see the last light of the day cast over the canyon before disappearing for the night. Fortunately, it was a clear night and enough light from the moon made it so we didn’t feel a need to bring out our headlights (but I did have mine this time). About 15 minutes from the top, I called in to my family, realizing that my text saying I was headed in never actually sent.

I told them of the day and Carly and Evan said hi too. We got to the top or as Carly said, rimmed out, packed up the car and headed towards the nearest McDonalds. After some food and coffee we drove back down to Flagstaff for the night.

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The next morning, after barely making it to the hotel breakfast, we wandered around Flagstaff, Carly and Evan both served as my personal shoppers in the book store pulling a book on boundaries (these days I’m half in/half out the self help section with my reading). Given all they know I figured these options wouldn’t hurt and got a few postcards as well. We said our goodbyes with them driving out to California and I was headed down to Phoenix for a flight. I had enough time that I stopped for a yoga class on the way, and buying a tshirt from the place to do yoga in (this will be important later). I then stopped again in Sedona to head up to Cathedral Rock and see it in the daylight.

I squeezed out all I could to make it back to the airport in time for my flight. I dropped my car off at the rental place and hopped on the tram to transfer to the terminal. It should be noted that I don’t usually get to the airport very early (unless I’m traveling with someone who prefers that), the one time I did get there a few hours before my flight I fell asleep at the gate and missed my flight. On the tram I went to check in, except I couldn’t find any email with the check in information, huh, that’s weird. I looked at my account, nothing had ever been charged for a flight, although I do remember getting up to get my card information to purchase the flight but now wondering if I just didn’t wait for the transaction to get completed. Anyways about 30 minutes before departure I realized I didn’t have a flight. I also realized I didn’t have enough time to get to the ticket counter and through security. No matter, this was so exciting, I’ve seen this in the movies where someone goes up to the counter and is like, I need one ticket to DC and I have to be there by 9am tomorrow and slams the credit card down on the counter. In reality I did need to be back at work by 9am for an in person meeting. I walked up to the counter (while whispering big money big money, no whammies) and they asked if I was there to check-in. “No, I’d like to buy a ticket!” trying to hide my excitement, “you can’t do that here, only online or calling.” What? I imagined the plot of Home Alone getting rerouted. Well there goes any future spontaneity air travel. I quickly logged onto Kayak and found a red eye that would get me into DC at 7:30am. When I told my mom she couldn’t believe I got a ticket for $200, I responded that God works in mysterious ways- ha. But then I was at the airport a bit early so caught up on some reading and wandered around. When it came time to board, my mom Facetimed me again to make sure I was in fact awake and at my gate.

I arrived in DC without any time to go home and change. In my layover in San Francisco I managed to find some black leggings and a scarf to make it work. I got in an Uber and changed into my clothes, using the yoga shirt I had purchased the day before as it was the cleanest option in my bag, as well as putting a face mask on to depuff. I’m still not sure what rating the Uber driver gave me but no matter. I arrived to work to find out my 9am had gotten pushed back. I made it through the day and what did I learn, well not much actually because luck was on my side and behavioral economics was too. So I might just make sure I get an email confirmation on my travel before I get to the airport. I was joking with a work colleague that after feeling constricted for so long I feel like the pendulum is swinging the other way, with seeing how much chaos I can handle, turns out a lot when I’m not in fight or flight mode. Guess I’m back, chaos queen reigns supreme. I knew she was in there.

Don’t worry, my next post is all about rest, as I’m sure you (like most of the guys I seem to meet these days) are wondering when I actually have downtime.

No adventure is ever complete without commemoratory stickers

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Fearless Knitting and Improv

After my brain injury in 2012, before I was cleared for any physical activity I took up knitting, again. Dorothy Fetters had taught me how to knit one Christmas when I was in high school but all of those projects remained unfinished. I guess past Kate knew that future Kate would need something like this at some point. After the panic attack I took it up again as it would at least give me some small task to do that engaged my brain enough that it wouldn’t wander too much. I finally finished the only project, despite all the ones I’ve started, which was a tube top for Alvin and currently working on a baby blanket for a friend’s first baby but at this rate she might have a few more kids before they get it. I asked a cousin for some knitting pointers and she sent me a few spools of yarn and a few books, one which was called Fearless Knitting. Reminding me that even the smallest things can require great feats of courage and fearlessness. The progress in Alvin’s tube top followed my mind trajectory at the time, the rows closer to the panic attack are a little more chaotic, with missing casts and a few more holes protruding, the ones further away from the panic attack are a little neater, less gaping holes and cleaner lines— mimicking the space in my mind during those times. I flipped through the fearless knitting book that I was sent, finding the title amusing but soon realized that I was not in the fearless knitting category with some of the techniques far above my skill level. 

I took a workshop from Jennifer England the other week that focused on intention vs improvisation. I hadn’t ever thought of improvisation as a skill that I use in my daily life. Rather it’s something reserved for the stage or outdoor pursuits when you have to pivot or adapt but sitting in this space it made me think of all the daily improvisations that creep in.

I had to write down what intentions I had come into 2022 with– and I thought back to pre-panic attack Kate, what did she want: finding grounding in the uncertainty, a greater sense of community, building out more of my own research, maintaining and building my relationships, getting the Maah Daah Hey course record, getting published in Teen Vogue, and down step energy only. I reflected on this thinking of the chaos I had entered the new year with and the lack of any clear direction or intentions.

Little did I know I would be climbing into a very dark hole mentally at the start of 2022

For the first 3-4 months I felt like I was bouncing off things, like a pin ball that was getting sent in all different directions. And I thought about those days when I couldn’t even conceive being here a year later, existing in this space as I do.  

I think so often of the improvisation that happens in the outdoor space— every trip we aren’t exactly winging it but we’re constantly adapting and reevaluating our original intention. Before I left town I had skied with Lang on Wednesday, being mindful of the avalanche conditions, we climbed up towards tequila bowl in Arctic Valley and were rewarded with abysmal lighting.

We talked about the different lines and opted for going near rocks to have some depth perception. Lang went first and when he gave me the all clear I followed. My body knew what to do but it felt lost in space as each turn left me more and more disoriented, and confused. I got to the end and despite feeling the spins told him we should definitely do another lap– probably similar to a little kid who spins herself sick and then after throwing up proceeds to do it again (or was that just me).

We climbed back up talking a bit more about the conditions and weather. We took another line down on the other side of a rock outcropping of what we did before. I let Lang go first again so he could put a line in and I could follow. Again I got to the end with a high sense of spins followed soon by the euphoric feeling. We opted for one more lap of the route we had just gone down before heading further down the valley and skinning back up to get a better line to get back to the car. We got up to the top where we ran into some other friends who had come out for a lap with their dogs. Realizing it’s much easier to recognize dogs than people in ski gear.

That night there were only two of us for Wednesday Worlds (if you build it, they will come…). We opted for just a chill Spencer loop as we had both been out skiing that day. We got about 900 yards in and ran into a moose that was compromising any continuation in that direction. We talked about options and knew of another location we could hop on to maintain the uni-direction of the loop. We headed up and after going about 500 yards on the loop realized that we were going the wrong way (and as I found out earlier this season the loop is in fact uni-directional not just like hey you should got this way). We discussed our options and there really wasn’t a good bail out option so we kept going, given the recent snow fall we didn’t anticipate seeing anyone else. We were wrong and we did, informing them that we had seen a moose and had to go this way. Once we got to the top of where we should have been going down, we ripped our skins and finished the loop the proper way. Improv.

On Wednesday, Lang and I had talked about skiing a line on O’Malley, thinking that maybe there was enough snow coverage to avoid the rocks and have a good line. We wouldn’t really know until we were up there and discussed that option as well. We had another friend, Morgan join us. We headed up a little early know that the skin might be a little long, especially if we had to put the track in. We left Glen Alps and despite the temperature showing 2 degrees when we warmed up rather quickly.

We saw another group headed up the Little O’Malley gully and were happy to know that we wouldn’t have to put a skin track in. We were about halfway up the skin track when I heard a familiar yell, having a friend ski down towards up, I didn’t recognize her until she was closer (as I never recognize anyone in ski gear) and we talked about the line and routes that they were taking and the ones that we were taking. I was glad to know the group as the sun and snow looked so good going down I was thinking I should grab a photo of whoever was about to descend and turns out I could send the photos to them.

We got up to the ridge line and looked at the line we wanted to ski. Ha! Lots of rocks exposed we discussed options as we really wanted the line and really tried to talk through how we could get it but finally realized that even if we avoided the exposed rocks there were probably plenty just below the surface and if we messed up it’d be like going through a cheese grater. Instead we headed up the same line we would have but cut it short to ski down False Peak. It required some boot packing and negotiating around some rocks but we finally reached the line to put in.

No one else had been here. Lang having gone a bit further up dropped in first that way if something happened we could respond. He took the line clean down and then I followed. I pushed off and flowed into the soft powder, trying to follow Lang’s squiggles but improvising into my own turns. Lang is pretty experienced and I still cut my turns pretty wide. After that we watched Morgan come down in untracked powder as well.

Feeling successful at getting first tracks we decided to opt for a few laps off of the gully of Little O’Malley. As we traversed we talked about skiing back to town and to either of our houses, we went through all the options and logistics as we took Lang’s car to the parking lot and our other car’s were at Lang’s. We talked about skiing to my house, and then skiing to a parking lot and finding a shuttle, and then we finally got to the point where we realized that both of our keys were in Lang’s car and the way we parked would require way too many logistics and a lot of improvisation. We decided to scrap it although we did give it a good go as even into our second lap we were still talking about how it might work. We got one final lap in as the sun was starting to tuck behind the mountains and then headed back to the parking lot.

The next day I headed out with Tyler to what ended up being Corn Biscuit but we thought was another mountain for most of the day. I’m always grateful for Tyler– he’s one of the people who convinced me I could live in Alaska just by the way he exists in Alaska. I always felt a little manic during COVID and with other things happening and felt like I was constantly running out of time to do what I wanted to do. Tyler has big days in the mountains and even more epic trips to glaciers and Denali (with Charlotte) but also takes ‘day of contemplation’ where he will chill at home and get caught up on life. I realized that this manic feeling of having to go go go didn’t have to exist and well I’m still here aren’t I.

We navigated through some alders as the snow had limited coverage and used his old Gaia track to figure out where we needed to be. We skinned up to an overlook but couldn’t exactly see the line below and how soon we would hit the alders so scrapped that for a place to do laps. We kept going up and found a good spot that would give us a pretty clean line down to the overlook we had just been at. Tyler went first and after getting the clear I followed. I was on different skis than the day before, these ones are a little lighter and wider so still adjusting but they perform well for me in the untracked powder we had found. Having another pair of skis has helped me to figure out what I like and don’t like. Last year I always lamented about how heavy my old set up was and got a lighter one this year. Except I’ve found myself taking the heavier one out more times than the lighter one, some of it is because rock exposure and some of it is the snow conditions but it’s been nice having the comparison to understand how exactly a heavier boot drives the ski or the different turn radius. I got to the bottom and we went up again, this time going a little bit further and off to the side. We got to the end of the run and talked to some of the avy forecasters who were out digging a pit about the snow conditions. We decided to do one more lap and then use that to head out on a different out track that Tyler had taken the time before. We got to the top and Tyler was talking about how when someone goes the person behind them can try and alternate their “S” turns. I took that as a challenge and after Tyler went I followed down but contradicting his turns and alternatively trying to match where he would start turning. It was a good challenge for me as I still struggle with control all the way through my turns. I got to the bottom and we decided to take a different track out to hopefully avoid some of the bushwhacking we had with the alders coming up, spoiler alert we did not avoid and in fact maybe found more. It resulted in a somewhat comical exit from the trail but we made it back to the car without too much fanfare.

After I got back to town I had just about an hour or so to pack before my I needed to leave for my flight– I ended up being later than I was planning as my roommates came home and we were catching up and swapping stories before we all scattered again. For living with 3 other people it’s very rare that we’re all home, and as it was there were only 3 of us at the house. I got to the airport and was the last one in line to check my bags but made it only to have my flight delayed. I spent time thinking of all the ways I had improvised in the past year– not just in the outdoors but how untethered I felt at the beginning of the year. Drifting aimlessly I was passive towards everything and felt like I was constantly improvising as I would wake up and feel “not healed” and spend the day in survival mode. I improvised trying not to word vomit everything all the time as a way to get the chatter out of my head, I improvised when the word vomit came out, I improvised through nervous laughter, and fumbling into the dark depths of my brain. And then I improvised during the 600 mile bike ride. And then I slowly started being more intentional, finding shallow bits of ground to base off of while the improvising continued. I feel like in June I started putting more things out into the universe, intentionally. I’ve also thought over the past year of all the people in my life who have face different/similar challenges and the resilience they have shown, the flexibility, creativity, adaptability, improvisation that comes with meeting those challenges. As I sat and thought about the intentions I had started 2022 and the improvisation that had resulted I realized that in a very round about way I had met a lot of my intentions, I have a greater sense of community, I feel more adaptable in the face on uncertainty, I’ve found a deep sense of gratitude towards my friends and family who have supported me, I got the MDH course record, and starting to build out some of my own arctic research. I’m still working on the Teen Vogue publication (if you have an in) and down step energy only is really more of a lifestyle commitment (#IYKYK). But thinking back on what brought me to this was also a lot of pain, grief, sadness, confusion, and uncertainty, in going to the darkest places without a light and sitting for a while as my eyes adjusted and finding solitude there.

The light can only show you so much

In thinking about my intention for this year one of the words I keep coming back to is ‘burn‘. I told my therapist this and she was like um, okay, I think she thought I was going to go on a tirade and burn all the bridges but instead I told her how for most of COVID (and probably for a multitude of reasons) I felt like my flame was diminished and/or completely out and so now I’m only burning for those things that burn me back, that set me on fire, that give me energy instead of taking it away– everything from work, to relationships, to outdoor pursuits. To be more intentional in how I show up and where I spend my energy. After being in the dark for so long it’s nice to get the light back.

I’m grateful for the darkness, the dark embraces everything just as it is and in that space without a light you can see things as they truly are, there are no shadows to dance with just the tranquil solitude that greets you as your eyes adjust to everything that is around you. I traveled to the messiest parts of my mind and have finally found beauty there. And I hope that if you ever find yourself on a similar journey you too remember that you are a living extension of the moon in the night a light that shines the brightest during the darkness.

Here’s to 2023 and setting the world on fire (but like not literally because climate change is already kind of doing that– sorry not full Pollyanna yet, Jane).

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The Storm Outside

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Before the wind picked up

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

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

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

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

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

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

Totally worth the 6 hour uphill to get this line

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

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

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

And get by with a little help from my friends

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

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

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

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

genius is not born in quiet. 

it’s the child of chaos. 

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

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

pain, unleashed, is the real becoming.

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

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

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Last Place Champ

I was looking for an email this morning and had searched Chamonix when something called Last Place Champ popped up, I didn’t recognize it so clicked to search and it took me to an email from February 10, 2020. It was for a profile someone was doing on me after getting last place at Nationals in the singlespeed category. That took me back to a life that seems so far away now. I was looking at my responses to the questions.

How did you feel once you crossed the finish line?

I had mix feelings crossing the finish line, on one hand I was proud of the effort I put in to get me across the finish line and on the other hand I was pretty disappointed that a mechanical had taken me out of contention and I spent the majority of the race running with my bike instead of riding. There are a lot of factors you can control with racing; training, nutrition, equipment choices, ect…., but you can’t control for everything and that’s part of the appeal is the chaos that you attempt to contain while racing.

What would you say was the hardest challenge in this race?

…I think it’s hard because a last place finish, doesn’t tell the whole story of the race, it only captures a brief moment of time, there is no asterisk there to explain anyone’s story. I kept joking that sometimes ‘I’m fast, sometimes I’m last’. During the race I also had to shake the expectations others had for me and that is not to say that I felt pressure from anyone else but during the race felt like spectators just assumed I was not here to really compete, I mean who runs with their bike during a bike race. I had to remind myself that these people don’t matter but that’s easier said than done.

What was the most rewarding thing about completing this race?

Gaining that mental toughness. Before the race I was joking with my mechanic that is something really went haywire I would just pull the plug, I was there mostly for fun and then to see how my body actually responded during that moment of deciding, it didn’t want to give up and wanted to keep racing, that was oddly exciting to see. This season was one of transition for me and at times I wondered if my body and mind were maybe just done with racing (I took the summer off from racing to study for the bar exam so had to race my way into shape throughout the seasons). It also taught me that it’s okay to have fun and still take things seriously. I didn’t want to put too many expectations on myself to perform so missed some key equipment checks because I didn’t want to come off as too serious because I didn’t think I would be a contended.

Any final words of encouragement and thoughts you’d like to share?

Racing opens you up to vulnerability and potentially criticism, but it also opens the door to an amazing supportive community that will share in your victories and buy you drinks to drown your sorrows. I’ve learned so much about myself by showing up to starting lines that I was minutes away from talking myself out of. I’ve never regretted doing a race, even the ones that I didn’t live up to my potential at, in fact those are the ones that keep me up at night and leave my hungry for more. I thought getting last would be devastating and it was for a bit, but the bright side is that when people ask you how you did in the race, no one expects you to say, “I got dead fucking last” and then laugh, which really sounds better than some random number, unless you’re first.

———

I don’t know if this ever actually got posted anywhere because as 2020 unfolded most things took a backseat to anything other than COVID. In a way it was weird to get transported back to that time and place, the girl who wrote that, past Kate must have known that future Kate was going to be going through some shit soon and maybe would find these words all these years later a little encouraging (I love when past Kate looks out for future Kate). I read through them and thought of how much the answers related to the trauma I’ve been carrying, about holding space for the duality, shaking others’ expectations and assumptions, being confident in my ability, leaning into the community, and how the finish results only serves a snap shot of the race. I think we should all come with asterisks, Kate*

*Kate had a panic attack at the end of December 2021 which she feels like was her own fault and the amount of pain and destruction it caused is complicated by the amount of joy and growth it brought, please proceed gently she is still sometimes anxious and occasionally gets an intrusive thought but loves playing outside and is really good at an extremely niche area of international law.

But we don’t come with asterisks. And in a lot of ways with writing and the past year I’ve been more vulnerable than I ever was when I was racing and while that vulnerability brought pain it also brought me into this amazing circle of others who are navigating choppy waters as well (I mean aren’t we all). I remember during the MDH 150 (yes, still working on that) my phone died and Barb gave me her phone with music on it and tee’d up Florence and the Machine– I told her that was perfect because the most recent song I had had on repeat was one of hers that starts, “Sometimes I wonder if I should be medicated…I’m on fire and I’m trying not to show it.” And isn’t that the theme for most of early 2022. But I suppose I have shown it and it’s taken a while to peel back all the layers and talk about them because well who knew what I would be peeling back. I’ve found that the space that used to be filled with so much grief, sadness, and anger didn’t go away, that space still exists but now has room for other things to fill it like joy, content, relief.

I kept thinking that once COVID was over my life would unpause and I could make plans, grow/strengthen my friendships, dance, laugh, cry, show any emotion. But that thinking did me in and instead I felt so numb for at least a few months leading up to the panic attack, joy was fleeting and even the highs were punctuated with bated breath to see if anyone would get COVID. As I said before life doesn’t pause and having to reschedule and cancel things or adapt comes with frustrations, even when not dealing with a pandemic. I feel like in the past year I saw my mind fail me in a way I had never experienced and am doing everything to make sure it never happens again. Fortunately (or unforunately) I’ve also seen friends in the same boat and some navigating having their bodies fail as they share the frustrations of having to reschedule or put things to a date to be determined. So we’re all adapting, navigating, and walking each other home.

One of the bigger loses I felt this past year was my relationship, I’d like to think the panic attack and the residual aftershocks killed it but it was probably more like death of 1,000 cuts and thinking that once I got footing and my narrative back from COVID, the panic attack, life, I could pick up where we left off before everything, back in March of 2020. Before the cascade of uncertainly crushed me in the chaos. I think of that post-race analysis and it’s like man, I don’t even know if he met that girl who was talking about how strong she was and how much fun I could be, if he did she was fleeting. And while certainly sad it’s also acknowledging that within every relationship is a time stamp of the events around it, with no asterisk. While I certainly grieved for the relationship I feel like I grieved more for the girl who didn’t show up, who had been knocked down and couldn’t figure out how to ask for help, who felt incredibly isolated, alone and awash with my own thoughts, who lost her laugh. I think I grieve mostly for what I lost in myself, who I used to be, and the amount of effort it’s taken to get back to her — the girl who breaks her bike and takes off running to keep up. My therapist (and I) think she’s still in there- and is making quite the moves to come back–but it’s almost like she had to retreat for how much she was trying to protect herself. As I move forward with healing and trying to untangle COVID, panic attack, relationships, I realize that they are all intertwined and figuring out the contact points of the specific fission isn’t exactly a productive use of time. It’s like when a race really goes sideways and it’s just a multitude of factors. And yes, sometimes I still get real annoyed at this trauma suitcase even though it is much smaller than it was a few months ago. Anyways, #SingleK8 is back (IYKYK) and I’m sure this is the start of a Hallmark movie….just kidding more like #SkimoK8 is back (just signed up for a race).

I thought about this all after I arrived back in Alaska after 30 hours of traveling from Italy and awoke early from jet-lag. I was waiting for the sun to come up and then headed out to ski with my roommate. We ran into some overflow early on and Hailey’s foot broke through exposing her to cold water. Realizing the potential damage that could come with a wet, cold exposure she turned around and I remained to do some laps and then ski home. I went up to the top and then dropped down a bit to do some hill repeats, up, down, up down, up down, my heartrate monitor still in a bag over the Atlantic. I kept going beyond what I was told to do, entering the flow state, breaking down the technique, wondering if I could just be a little bit better than the last time. I stopped just as the sun was about to crest the hill line and decided to rip my skins and go down. I took off thinking I should wax my skis at some point, the loop itself is short but there are a few tight corners and as I’ve worked on my technique I’m more comfortable leaning in and pushing through the apex. In those moments, right before the turn falls away, I feel a pushing back from the earth and yesterday as I rounded the corner I couldn’t help but to think it was mother earth kindly reminding me that she had me and would always have me. Alright, nerds don’t ruin that with the forces of gravity pushing back on you, I know logically how it works, just let me have this.

I did a writing that isn’t public yet about how my relationship changed with the outdoors during COVID, before once a place of refuge, became a place where anything and everything could kill me. After the panic attack it was the only place I could go that would quiet my thoughts and pull me back into the present being, however brief and I kept chasing that no matter how elusive it was on some days. I thought of that yesterday too as the quiet spots are no longer elusive or just contained to the outdoors, my resting heartrate is back to a normal 45-55bpm range, and while some days feel long and the trauma suitcase a bit heavy I know that over time this will become a footnote in my story.

On a side note, Italy was great, I was able to meet up with a former co-worker, Renu. Julia and I did some touristy things when we overlapped in Milan. Trento was lovely and I feel like once again I get the push and pull of do you return to a place you already know or to go explore somewhere new. I don’t have to answer the question just yet as I’m headed to Canada and Switzerland in January but sending the question into the universe to see what comes back.

I’m back for a few weeks before what will feel like another whirlwind tour and packing in all the days on snow I can. Charlotte and I once again got out today, with Lang, finding some nice fluffy snow on a less than existent base layer.

You’ll know how to build your own fire in a cold forest. You’ll find yourself in the middle of life’s wet howl and you’ll recognize how bright you are. You’ll reach for only what will burn you back.

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Never Enough

Even before getting to the start of the Maah Daah Hey 150 people would ask me what was next. Next? I hadn’t even thought about that so I would joke that I was going to retire. Part of me maybe wasn’t joking. It’s been the first bike race in my life where I didn’t have something immediately lined up afterwards– I think I wasn’t even fully convinced I would get to race this year and the other part knew that if I did, I wasn’t sure what the after would look like. Instead of rushing off to the next event, I’m absorbing all that has transpired and releasing what’s also been contained in my body for so long. It’s like a long savasana and my body is finally in a state of resurrection.

Three years ago I wrote about death and the novelty of the dark reaching Alaska. During that period, in the span of one week I had lost three clients and one co-worker and it seemed like death was closer than it had been in previous locations. That feeling didn’t go away once COVID hit, in fact it seemed to get closer as I would go into the backcountry without service for 24-48 hours and wonder what I would come back to– if I would miss the passing of a parent, relative, or friend. This was taking me away from being in the present and into the liminality between life and death.* Instead of coming back to life I was stuck in this transition space in-between it seemed like. I was just waiting to be released and go back to living. After the panic attack death felt so close and it felt so foreign, as someone who has been relatively comfortable with death for most of my life, maybe more than others. It felt like it was chasing me as I tip-toed around my brain, worried that somehow while suspended in this chaotic state I would die and spend the rest of eternity being anxious. Told you it was a wild ride. But in learning to release all this trauma it’s shown me a lot that got built up during COVID and finally feeling like I have some distance from death gave me new perspective on what that really meant or didn’t mean, I mean who really knows right. Now in a lot of ways I feel grounding that I haven’t felt since COVID, these days my grief is living closer to the surface but so is my joy. I no longer feel like I must plan activities days/weeks out to give my mind time to prepared and can envision a future that exists more than 2-3 days out. Why do I keep writing about this, well for part it’s cathartic but also ties into a lot of my experiences with the outdoors. But it also is starting to fit into the larger narrative of how to do I want to move forward in my life.

After I returned to Alaska I did four cross races, two I previously wrote about. The last two included a night race and the other one in snow covered/icy field that my only real goal was to not crash and break my leg this close to ski season. I didn’t, instead I opted to hand out candy on the course to the spectators #plottwist — and we all made sure to celebrate Grande’s 40th birthday as she crossed the finish line. At some point this summer I had entertained the idea of going to cross nationals this year. Another friend up here, Mel was also thinking about doing it but we both realized our work schedules were a little too hectic to make it work this year. We both talked a lot about how racing is so different up here (for context, Mel and I raced against each other at national’s- she got 3rd and I got 5th) nobody is stressed about points or races, everyone is kind and pretty excited to be riding bikes. In a lot of ways, it’s what you want out of a cycling community. And even if cross seems to be dying in other parts of the country it continues to grow here– which makes me happy.

After the cross season wrapped up, I went to Ottawa, CA for work. Two of my friends and I decided to track our elevation for 2 months to help get in shape for ski season with a goal of at least 1200 ft/day. I spent time running there and finding stairs to get as much elevation as I could. It’s weird to travel and to present about COVID-19, it’s like a postmortem but the body is still moving.

When I returned to Alaska, I was able to get on skis, getting a few laps in Hatcher Pass with Charlotte the end of October. The first run of the season we took pretty mellow to see just how our ski legs would do after months off, not terrible. The snow glided under my skis, and it felt like no time had passed. We turned around for another lap where we climbed higher and we were rewarded with some nice pockets of powder and opted for another lap. I wasn’t sure I could find someone to ski on Sunday with so discussed with her a route that would work for low avalanche danger but could still get some elevation in (for the elevation spreadsheet).

I was able to get another friend, Nate to come with, he seemed pretty open to my ridiculous idea of skinning up to the ridge and then I would run down and he could ski down, the snow was a little sparse and he’s a better skilled skier than me, as he still teleskis (that’s how that works right?). I know the absurdity of this idea but I wasn’t sure my skill level was strong enough to get down the line I wanted. Instead, I left my running shoes in the car and after skinning up the road we saw a bowl that looked pretty good and made our way up, navigating above where Charlotte and I had been a few days before. I was on my lighter, skinnier skis than I would have liked but didn’t hesitate about climbing up. Nate and I ended up talking about death on the way up, he was raised Jewish which means they don’t have the same after life thoughts as Catholics, he joked that it was poor for recruitment but nice in terms of not having to concern yourself with where you ended up after you died. That seemed nice and I told him how close I had felt to death for so long, not in a suicidal sense, more that I would just die and I would be stuck like this forever– on top of feeling so incredibly isolated during COVID I wasn’t sure that I had made an impact in any community and had feelings of being incredibly disposable. I was so worried to do anything that would push me any closer into the death zone. Told ya not to trust your brain when it’s on fire.

I ripped my skins, and we discussed our lines down, the light was flat and so we opted instead for tracked out areas of snow instead of untouched powder. We got down, hooting and hollering despite the survival skiing methods being deployed and looped back around to the top of the road to take that down instead. Nate commented about a section to not trigger a slide, oh that’s right, avalanches, things that can actually kill me instead of my thoughts. We got done and Nate commented how I seemed like a strong skier already than when we had gone out last spring. I told him that having some distance from death and gaining confidence back in myself and self-trust seemed to make the biggest difference in terms of my ability.

For all you at home, don’t worry finally got my lighter (after this photo)

I’ve had a few more Fridays of skiing that I call ‘Ferda Girls Friday’ —Charlotte and I have somewhat similar work schedules and we’ve been trying to get out when we can. The skiing has been good up in Hatcher’s Pass or at least they have snow. One Friday had another friend, Julie join us as well, she dubbed it ‘Femme Fatal Friday’. Again, we warmed up with a road lap to scout out conditions, seeing more avalanche activity we picked a route up that wouldn’t leave us too exposed and would put us back where we had a been a few weeks earlier. We skinned up and on the first run down were surprised with the pockets of powder that existed, despite a few rocks poking up. We opted for another half run and took a different line down. The Anchorage scene is filled with incredibly strong women and in talking to them about everything from life, work, and relationships it seems like my challenges aren’t unique to just me, which is reassuring, and almost comical for how long I held things in thinking I was the only experiencing these things. Not only do I get to bounce life and work ideas off of them, I also get to follow their lines down. On the last run I took a nice little chunk out of my ski, despite not realizing until I went to put my skins back on. I joked that it was okay, because I needed a pair of rock skis anyways.

After that I headed to Singapore for work where I traded in my down jacket for tank tops and sandals. I opted for running outside when I could, having some familiarity with the city from being there this summer. The jet-lag often meant that I had a lot of places to myself at 4am. Into the dark I would head and not think anything of it- a stark difference from where I had been a few months ago. The darkness seemed to be a place I didn’t want to go, I was already spending too much time there in my mind and was fearful that surely there was more that could kill me in the dark than in the light. In a weird way being able to poke further into the dark spots in my mind and hold space for them has allowed me to hold and reclaim space in the darkness. What was once feared is back to feeling like an old friend. I would dash around the botanical gardens and despite being next to a large metropolitan was easy to get into the dark spaces and revel in them.

Maybe it’s also because in the dark I don’t get sunburnt because after we had some time after work and spending an hour or so outside, I got too much sun, threw up (totally normal), and I joked with my coworker that’s why I live as far away from the equator as possible.

I got back to Alaska with one weekend in between arriving from Singapore and leaving for Italy. Opting to try to make the most of it, I found a cabin down on the Kenai to ski into. Charlotte joined and what started as thinking of going to the cabin grew into backcountry skiing on the way down and carrying skates in to skate on the lake by the cabin before heading back out and if there was enough time to ski again on the way home. We couldn’t find anyone else to join us (Fridays are hard) and left late morning. We got to Turnagain pass and were pleasantly surprised to find the weather was nicer than anticipated. We skinned up and again looked for routes to go down as the recent weather had created a weird crust on top. Charlotte is an incredibly strong overall athlete and has really good skiing technique so I often let her go first and then will try to follow her tracks, turning where she did and making similar descents. Which sometimes works but more often than not I’ll veer out of her line and try to gain some control to get it back.

We found nicer snow lower down but only opted for one lap so we wouldn’t arrive to the cabin too late. We rearranged things in the parking lot, putting away our backcountry gear and getting our Nordic gear and re-packing our packs for the ski in. About an hour later we got to the trailhead and we were on the trail quickly but moving on the trail proved to be less than quick.

The snow was patchy, and we would alternate between gliding and having to pick up our skis and walk on what seemed to be ice on top of dirt and rocks. After one up-hill switchback tiltering on the icy/rock mess I toppled over the side of the hill but luckily only had 1-2 tumbles down before stopping with my pack and skis still attached. I somehow avoided any underlying brush that could have been problematic. I unsnapped my pack and skis and hopped back up to the trail taking note of anything that might have been impacted. Surprisingly good to go. We kept making our way down the trail and after another mile or so we opted to instead take our skis off and hike in. The snow had covered the alders and weighed them, so the branches were often covering the trail requiring more navigation than we at points were wanting to do. After about 4-5 hours we made it to the cabin around midnight and with getting a fire going and making food finally got to bed around 1:30am deciding we would figure out what things looked like in the morning for our activities.

Throughout the night I could hear snow sluffing off the roof with the warmer temperature, at one point convinced someone else was in the cabin but was too sleepy to actually investigate. The morning brought a bit of a drizzle and after a fire and breakfast we packed up most of our things and went to the lake to check out ice skating. Charlotte used her ice screw to determine we had at least 4 inches thick to skate on and in that time period I realized that I had the wrong mount for my boots and skates- ha! Well, something had to go array on this 24 hour frenzy. Charlotte skated around near the shore, avoiding a large crack across the ice and I walked out on to the frozen lake. One of the distinct memories from last January is skating on a frozen lake and being absolutely terrified, like so much so that I became almost paralyzed and had to be gingerly coaxed back to shore—this was despite all the cars that were parked on the ice for ice fishing. I remember thinking that at any moment I would just plunge through and at that time I wasn’t convinced I would be able to fight to stay alive, I was too weak physically and mentally, and that I would just simply perish. And despite the current ice being in the same molecular state I felt grounded with a renewed sense in myself.

We didn’t spend too much time on the lake but enough to make it worth carrying an extra set of boots and skate into our packs. We made our way back to the cabin, repacked our boots and skates in our bags and headed out. Thinking we would at least start skiing and hoping to at least get a mile in before we’d have to hike. We hit the trail and we were pleasantly surprised, the warmer temperature meant that most of the snow had fallen off the branches with the trail being mostly clear of the wood that had posed so much hassle the night before. We were able to ski out for about 5 miles before having to switch to hiking, almost the exact opposite of what we did the night before. We got back to the car as night was approaching and didn’t even discuss getting a backcountry lap in on the way home. We watched the temperature not even dip below freezing on the drive back and wondered what the rain would do to the snowpack that was already being formed for the season.

In between, I’ve tried to start a ‘Wednesday Worlds’ group- there is a small contingency of those who have been showing up (mostly Charlotte and Mary) to hike and now hoping to consistently be on skis to get some hot laps in– but if anything it helps to get me out of the house and do something on Wednesday, often later than I would. I keep thinking it’ll be one of those if you build it they will come and going for the long game here but if you have some skis and want in, let me know!

I still have a lot of guilt and some shame about how I showed up during COVID and the panic attack, and while it’s been a long recovery for me, I also feel like it’s been a long recovery for my support system. Now having more space from that gives me a new perspective on everything. In a lot of ways, it’s similar to bike racing, there are highs and lows and you try to learn what you can and keep moving forward hoping that the highs will be enough to carry you through. One thing that I deviated from with racing is that my general approach with my support crew is it’s not their problem, I’ll let them know what I need but they shouldn’t panic. Well with COVID I feel like I let that line blur and did not necessarily contain my problems. The lows certainly damaged relationships and I’m grateful for those friends and family who keep showing me grace with how I can show up some days. And while I certainly wish there were some things I could do over much like a bike race you take what you can from it and keep moving forward accepting that sometimes there just aren’t any do overs to be had. In some ways I feel like COVID and the panic attack resulted in the biggest bonk of my life and much like experiencing that during a race, you take the lessons you can from it so that you never get to that space again.

How do you continue to live and love with so much uncertainty. How do you stay in love with the world amid so much loss? Nevertheless, you love, you’re injured and you inflict injuries, you throw people away then try to get them back, we yearn for one another in sickness and in health.

Love in the time of Contagion

Where does this leave me, well the future is much easier to plan, and getting outside in the dark is no longer anxiety inducing so I asked my coach to keep coaching me for skimo racing with a few races on tap in the L48 when I have to be down to teach later in the winter. I also signed up for a stage race in Iceland next summer (you didn’t really think I would be done biking did you). But it’s also leaving space for what comes my way, a hut-to-hut running trip in Switzerland, that sounds fun, going backcountry skiing in Canada, ohhh I can definitely make that work.

Or I can go as long as I don’t break any more rules

I’m also trying to work on the balance of not wearing myself down to get anywhere close to a breaking point again. In a lot of ways that means that it feels like there is never enough time while simultaneously having to be okay with the time that I have. One of the biggest things I’ve been tackling in therapy is this duality—that I can love my job and love where I live (before it felt like I would always have to pick one), I can love my work on pandemics and really hate that the pandemic happened, I can have doubt while also knowing that I’ll land on my feet, I can be afraid and still take the leap, I can hold space for all these things, or at least try to hold space for all these things. One thing that has helped me a lot recently is when someone told me, “it’s okay to not be okay, but it’s also okay to be okay while others are not.” That literally feels life changing for me.

Scouting ski routes and making plans for the future

I’m in Italy this week for work but will be back in Alaska next weekend in hopes that the snow has finally stuck around in Anchorage. I also convinced a friend to come with, it didn’t take much convincing but appreciate being at the point in my life that friends have disposable income and PTO. We’ll be in Milan for about a day where we’ll meet up with a former co-worker and then I’ll head off to Trento for work and she’ll go Venice before we meet back up in Milan and head to London, where I’ll continue onto Anchorage and she’s tacked on a few other sidequests.

I guess I continue to write more about my personal life (I mean is it any more than normal, I’m sure my mom would suggest not-ha!) because we write about the things we’re trying to make sense of or are hopeless at. So much of my writing became trying to make sense of COVID that I lost the sense of everything else. Thinking I could put things on hold and return where I had left them when things were more stable, more grounded, but time keeps marching on whether you try to hit pause or not. And realizing that while control is illusory (I mean is there even free will), there is a difference between trying to control your life and passively living your life—and while sometimes it seems like the work is long and the narrative will remain incomplete, there is some solstice to be had in knowing that we (I) may not know the whole story in our (my) lifetime.

Handstands also seem to help

And if anyone in Anchorage has next Friday off and wants to ski lettttttttme know.

Oh and still working on the MDH150, but gossiping more with my therapist than crying so it’ll probably be done soon.

* I mean aren’t we all just little souls carrying around corpses (Marcus Aurelius)

Exhaling

I’m still processing the Maah Daah Hey 150 as I keep telling my therapist I think it’s going to be a crying session and not a gossip session. The MDH had been on my radar for 5 years and postponing it for 3 years came with a lot of emotions to finally get to the start line and actually reach the finish line. I’ll write more later but yes I did finish, yes it was long, yes it was amazing, and yes it gave me just what I needed.

Getting to the starting line of in a race there is a moment where you push off and in making that decision knowing there is no going back– you know what you want to have happen and what you think will have happen but also in that moment is accepting what is about to come your way regardless of what you want. With racing I lean into this space, I feed on it, knowing that the lows don’t last forever and neither do the highs. I lean into that uncertainty, the instability, I poke into the places that have caused me pain. In life, I’m not as good about leaning into the spots that have caused me pain. Riding 150 miles gives you a lot of time to think about things– even if you are jamming out to Florence and the Machine for most of it. Anyways more later.

After the MDH I stayed in South Dakota for another week and met up with the rest of my family to watch Joyce get inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame. My siblings and I had the honor of introducing her and it was a fun time to reflect on all the activities and events that she’s been a part of (in her life and ours). She’s actually the reason that I ended up playing volleyball in high school instead of running cross-country and likely the reason that I even got into sports to begin with. I did some hiking and took Alvin for a few runs as part of my active recovery.

I caught a ride down to Colorado and stayed with Alex and Danielle for a few days in Durango. It had been years since I had been there and it was nice to get out on some of their favorite trails and see some of their favorite spots around town. They moved during COVID and it was nice to share some of familiar feelings of building a community during a pandemic. It was a lot of fun and definitely makes me want to get back there in the winter.

I drove the million dollar highway up to Steamboat for Parker and Kelly’s wedding. The last time I saw Parker was right after the bar when I headed to Cimarron for a few days at a private ski resort he was working at (yes, that’s a thing and yes it’s as luxurious as it sounds). When Alvin ran away Parker called me to assure me that he had to rescue his dog three times from the pound and that wasn’t counting all the times he found Stella before the dog catcher assuring me Alvin would return. We met each other through friends of friends in the bike industry, shared in the Mystery Can Mondays and plenty of gut rot on long rides. It was so great to hang out with him and Kelly and while brief, we made plans to hopefully link up for some skiing later this year.

Afterwards I had one more week in Boulder where I stayed with Dave, Allison, and Sam. Allison again proved to be a sounding board for all thoughts and feelings. I went hiking, and biking and saw a few other friends that it had been a while since I’d been able to connect with. I also discussed a lot of different ski options with everyone to get their input on what their set up was what they liked and didn’t like and what I should get. Are you a sensing a theme with skiing?

After that whirlwind tour and living out of two suitcases and a bike bag for a month I returned to Alaska (but not before buying new ski gear). I landed at 1 am after sprinting through the Seattle airpot and 12 hours later started a cyclocross race, after getting my bags from the airport the next morning. Every time I fly into Alaska I think back to writing to Molly in the Seattle airport wondering if by returning to Alaska I was going to make a mess or find meaning in my life. The sentence doesn’t seem to carry much weight as I’ve done both and neither — wherever you go, there you are. Returning to Alaska always feels a little different now, the pull is a little stronger. After I graduated high school I’ve never lived in a place for longer than 4 years– school, life, or jobs took me to the next location and I always figured each move was temporary. During COVID when I switched jobs I always thought my time in Alaska was temporary and it certainly seemed like it, more so last summer when campus was opening up and I thought I would have to relocate. I always felt like I had one foot in and one foot out, avoiding leaning too much into the spaces that had caused pain before. This summer came a different job assignment and with that more travel and less worry about needing to be in person. And so I sat and I thought about what do I really want, what do I want this life of mine to look like and I felt like I ran into a brick wall.

What I’ve realized through so much turmoil is that in the past two years I lost my voice and then after the panic attack I lost my narrative, and for a species that loves to tell and make meaning with stories this resulted in me losing my sense of self, like all of it. My autonomy had slowly been chipped away at until I was fitting into a smaller and smaller box as my body navigated so much uncertainty, instability, and pain. Life became black and white and for a girl who spent most of my life in the grey it was a foreign place to be. A lot of things are intertwined and parsing them all out doesn’t necessarily make sense but realizing how muted I was over the course of the pandemic is a big one, I lost my voice and so much of my confidence that came with it. People would say certain things or do certain things and I would operate around them to protect myself. But by doing that I realized that I abandoned a core part of my sense of identify– as my life became smaller and smaller my appetite for risk of any sort became less and less.

I realized this the other day when I was doing an emotional agility workshop– yes still throwing everything at the wall when it comes to healing. I had to rank my values or what I perceived to be my values and what I ranked number one was adventure. I stopped, am I adventurous? I feel like I used to be willing to do and try most things without questioning and I realized that since summer of 2020 this has become less and less as I stay in my tiny little box of what I knew I could do. Going to Colorado and seeing those friends I was remind of all the times that I just said yes and then figured it out or jumped and landed on my feet. I started putting it together backwards, sure there have been moments in the past two years where I’ve said yes and then figured it out but it’s been mostly yes and then self doubt and then wondering if I could do it and then overthinking and then not enjoying it. But in May when Ana asked me to bike to Haines I said yes and there was no doubt, no trepidation and I feel like that was the beginning of the process. Lining up for the MDH was similar I said yes and was going to take whatever came my way after.

After arriving in Alaska I did two cross races last weekend. After picking up my shoes from the airport I made it to the race in time to see Grande finish a few laps and see Ana, Dusty, and Lil’ Snugs. More friends were around and the cross community has really grown from when I moved up here in 2019. It’s really incredible to see. This year they’ve moved the open women to the same race time as the open men and singlespeed and that’s been a lot of fun because the women get spread out pretty fast but racing with the men we have more people around. I usually end up around some of the singlespeeders I know from the bike co-op and that’s been fun to heckle each other.

It also reminded me of this incredible community and this sense of belonging that I get living in Alaska. I feel like in other places I’ve had a sense of community but my sense of belonging was elsewhere or visa versa and honestly for the two years during COVID I had a sense of community but my sense of belonging also felt elsewhere or nowhere.

Now in getting my voice back, in gaining back some of my confidence, and realizing that the ground is no longer shifting I’m sitting with what I want, what matters to me, how do I want to show up in friendships, relationships, activities, work, and life in general. So after thinking for so long that I would be leaving Alaska I’ve decided to stay- who knows what that will all bring but I’m just saying yes and will figure it out later.

I promise I will get back to writing about more adventures at some point…maybe.

Surrender

A friend recently mentioned that getting to the starting line of a race is often longer than the race itself. He had no idea. Back in August 2019 when I moved up to Alaska I was already scheming how to get back to the Maah Daah Hey, this time in the form of the 150. I signed up in December 2019 for the September 2020 race thinking I would be able to do it on my way to Yale or Washington DC. We all know how that went so in December 2020 when vaccines rolled out I signed up for the September 2021 race. The recovery from the 250 took longer (shout out to my doctor of 12 years for fixing me up) and I had the honor of officiating Allison and Dave’s wedding instead.

In November 2021, I signed up for the MDH 150 for September 2022. I basically took it off the table until end of May 2022. I didn’t think I would be anywhere near shape mentally or physically to even get to the starting line.

I started working with a trauma informed therapist at the end of March and that’s been extremely helpful in gaining perspective and realizing how much I had been absorbing when it came to COVID over the years. And it’s easier to talk about being in the dark space now because I’m not in that space anymore but still feel like I’m in the building phase of putting all the pieces back together, and/or getting new pieces. And meeting that darkness resulted in some of the scariest moments of my life. As a result I’ve been unpacking my trauma suitcase that I’ve been lugging around for a while and it’s uncomfortable and ugly and painful and for a long time I was so resistant to growth and surrendering because I was so scared of the girl I would be meeting on the other side, would she be filled with darkness, or would she emerge with kindness, joy, and light? It didn’t seem it was worth the risk of finding out so for months I felt stuck in the freeze response. I’ve slowly been able to move out of the freeze response.

It was a lot of baby steps, I didn’t have any confidence that I would be able to ride the MDH 150 until I did the ride with Ana and Grande realizing physically I could if mentally I was also there. As a result this training season looked different than others but then again so has life. Sometime in April I adopted the mantra, “Whatever Kate wants to do is okay” and mostly it came to outdoor activities and centered around training. I would do other things besides biking and other times I would find myself late on the trail under the summer sun trying to squeeze in one more lap before a 5am wake up call.

I would do my intervals but then would also include side quests, revitalizing my curiosity–where did this trail go or could I hit a feature just right to try to get the grace point of a flow state. I became more liberal with my time, taking half days when I got asked to ride, and working to prioritize anything I thought would re-establish my brain/body connection with the earth to get some grounding. And this included a lot of non-activity work too, two therapists, one trauma informed, a specific trauma informed yoga practice, journaling, meditation, daily photos of Alvin, and an amazing community that helped to nourish my mind, soul, and body. I keep calling my response the totality of the circumstances (which lawyers love), as it’s not just one thing but a whole host of things. I think of what I’ve been through and the resources I’ve been able to access because I have the privilege and means to do so whereas a lot of these things are still so inaccessible for most– even though our country was in a mental health crisis before COVID-19.

“There is no restitution for people like us, no return to days when our bodies were unscathed, our innocence intact. Recovery isn’t a gentle self-care spree that restores you to a pre-illness state. Though the word may suggest otherwise, recovery is not about salvaging the old at all. It’s about accepting that you must forsake a familiar self forever, in favor of one that is being newly born. It is an act of brute, terrifying discovery.”
― Suleika Jaouad, Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted

I didn’t do my first bike race until July when Grande and I signed up for the sport section and opted for 2 laps instead of 3. This being the first ride Grande and I have done that was less than 200 miles or without middle school girls. I didn’t know what to anticipate because while I had done the Kenai 250 the year before I hadn’t done any real short races in a while and didn’t know how my body would respond given everything it had been dealing with. But with racing comes an element of surrendering. You get to the start line and the hard work is done, you know what to do but you also have to react and respond to those around you and you have to pay acute attention and make micro-adjustments during the race and let go of expectations and get new expectations as things unfold. After that first race, it gave me some more confidence back, that girl who left during COVID is still in there, having been in hiding, as if to keep her safe.

I did two more races, one as a team with Ana and Grande. Because of the way the timing worked, all three of us never actually ended up in the same place. Ana did the first leg and then went to Colorado for the Colorado Trail Race (and got 2nd!!). I did the second segment and without a lot of racers was worried about staying motivated but was able to keep on the gas for the most part and only crashed once (see previous post). After that Grande did the final leg and was hecka fast with enough time for us to eat dinner before driving back to Anchorage. The other race was a gravel hill climb that I started with Grande and then spent the rest of the race trying to chase her wheel. It didn’t start raining till the top and Dusty and Lil’ Snugs met us up there and gave a ride down. During COVID I always thought that I missed racing because of the community it gave me and while this is true I also found a community outside of bike racing.

I did my first Kenai ride by myself (bears included!) and if you had told me that I would do that three years ago when I was scared to even leave the house because of bears I would have been like lolz, nope. I was setting up a car shuttle to ride back the next day with some friends. I packed my camping gear but when it started raining a friend offered me a spot in her RV, I pointed to a spot on the floor I could put my sleeping pad and she just laughed and pointed to the extra spot for an air mattress. Instead of being in the damp cold rain all night I got a full air mattress and access to a microwave, definitely starting to see the positives of glamping- ha! A group of 5 of us rode 40 miles the next day back to the van where we somehow managed to fit 5 people and 5 bikes in (#HowDoYouSienna).

I did another ride where I drove 2 hours with a friend only to find that I had forgotten to charge my battery so rode a singlespeed for 30 miles– I chalked it up to being a good training ride and my friend was gracious enough when I had to jump off and run up some of the shorter hills. But since I have been better about keeping things charged.

I went paddling with some friends, with all the rain we had been getting and me not wanting to wash my bike again, felt like it would be a good activity for the rainy day. We hiked in about 10 miles and had incredible views down into the valleys and definitely made me want to come back and trail run and/or ski there in the winter. I’ve been slightly apprehensive about paddling since COVID began. The whole risk perception was skewed and it seemed like it would be so easy to have something happened. With biking I know my abilities but water certainly adds another element. We put in after scampering through some woods and finding a good spot to lay out all our gear on a gravel bar.

The water was higher than normal so we figured it would be a pretty fast float and we anticipated two spots we’d have to portage around some wood. We put in and started the float, not thinking too much of it. After a bit of getting used to the water and easing back in we came up on a flooded area that was scattered with wood. We started pulling out on the sides and I opted for the shore but realizing that the water was elevated resulted in there not being a great eddy or place to actually pull out. I hit the shore but the current quickly grabbed me and spun me around back into the river and before I could react I saw the downed tree right in front of me. Here we go, stay on top, don’t get under. I hitched my hips to lift the raft up as I hit the tree and quickly got out of the boat, which immediately made it fill with water. The current pushed me against the wood and I was briefly held there while I realized what was happening. Okay I’m trapped against this piece of wood with this boat that is now taking on water. I threw my paddle to shore and started to fight against the current to get some leverage to then wrestle against my boat, trying to get some water out so it would release from the grips of the water. As the water raged against me I thought of how often I had thought of this exact scenario the past two years– and now it was happening. But unlike the panic attack where I thought I might die, I was calm and was fighting back. After what seemed like an ungodly amount of time, I wrangled the boat free and got to shore, settling my heart rate down. As soon as I released another friend had the exact same scenario happen, I was able to get back into the river and help her wrangle her boat free.

We debriefed after which helped to talk through what we did wrong and what could have been different. Talking to others afterwards it seems like everyone has a wood story on that river. We finished the float and got done with just enough time to stop by a restaurant on our way to the car shuttle to get yam fries. Which we had spent most of the float talking about.

A few days later I took a day off to do a hike-a-bike adventure. Earlier in the summer Grande mentioned to me that Dusty had tried to hike up and bike Seattle Ridge but they had to turn back. I asked Caleb if he wanted in and then we all decided to do an attempt. We had initially thought about doing a loop and going up the route Dusty tried but with the late season growth and how much rain had been happening we opted for the up track from the winter snowmachines, which still had a lot of growth on it.

It was about 1.5 hours of hike-a-biking to get to the ridge line but it was so worth it. Once we got to the top the clouds parted for what felt like the first time in days and the views were incredible. We biked around and found some gems from the snowmachines, like a grill, a brand new gopro, and lots of trash.

Standing on the ridge I couldn’t believe my luck, how lucky am I to get to be here right now and do this. In some ways I couldn’t believe I had survived the past 9 months and I was eternally grateful that despite all the hardships I was right here. The descent down proved to be pretty uneventful because of how much we had pushed the trail down on the way up.

It took me a while to process what had happened on the water and I spent most of the next week having one good cry a day (even on Seattle Ridge), often on the phone with Molly, my mom, or other friends depending on the time zone. Molly thought that I was finally moving into the next stage of healing that I had been holding in so much for so long and hadn’t really cried much that I was finally releasing it. My mom and others would just silently sit as I sobbed– misery loves company. When I had the panic attack I thought I was dying which was terrifying because I was so discombobulated and my thoughts were running rampant. And that experience was so counter to what I had experienced with prior close calls, like this calm, serene feeling comes over and I’m just like well this is what’s happening. The panic attack made me so worried that I would actually die and be in a total state of chaos and that’s how I would leave this life and somehow carry that state with me to whatever happened next. And that I wouldn’t fight back I would just be stuck. Welcome to my brain on fire where the total illogical somehow became rationalized in my mind and calling into question any past experience. But in a weird way getting caught on the log made me realize how illogical the panic attack was like I was calm and it was a scary experience that could have gone sideways pretty fast.

I often think of every experience outside as a meditation in mortality and while normally I’m at peace with that COVID and the panic attack totally changed my risk perception. And then the tears would just flow thinking of all the pain that was brought about by my brain and all the joy that I’ve missed out because I was so terrified of taking a step of doing anything that would potentially put me in a similar situation. A friend graciously reminded me that there is still a lot of joy left in my life. I know how bonkers this all sounds trust me. It helped to shed light on the dark parts, the parts that I kept hidden fearing they would be too scary if I brought them to the surface. When floating they say that the scariest hazards aren’t necessarily the ones you can see but the wood or entrapment hazards that are under the surface. Same with the dark parts, bringing them to the surface has made me stare them in the face, to see the hazards and negotiate my way around them. And it’s not even about stuffing the dark parts back down but holding them in the light.

The next weekend I was able to get back on the water, as I was leaving Alaska for a month and didn’t want to be off the water that long with that experience hanging over my head. My two roommates and their friends took me out. I borrowed a kayak and given that I can’t roll and did two swims I had an insane amount of fun– it was pure joy the entire time.

Why pack when you can ‘yak

Each time I swam I was able to do what I needed to get out of the boat and get up to shore, realizing that my body does in fact know what to do to keep me safe. And each time the crew would grab my gear and meet me on the shore. The second swim was a bit longer with my roommate telling me which direction to towards shore and one friend giving me her hand to prevent me from going into more wood down the river. I felt bad for swimming because it can be a lot of work but the crew I was with was gracious towards me being a newbie and very kind and generous with their support, knowledge, and expertise. In some ways it mimic’d this chapter that I feel like I’ve been in that the support that I got in the water has transferred to the shore.

That while the waves lap over me this group of people has helped to keep my head above water. In some ways it seems like I’ve picked up where things paused during COVID. This Alaska experience and community that made me fall in love with the place is still there and it’s been magical and intoxicating to reengage.

Then almost to the day that I left Alaska last year I left Alaska this year. But this year I already booked my return ticket and I feel better about the uncertainty that life is brining these days. I left Alaska to race the MDH 150– 4 years after being here for the 100 and 3 registrations for the 150 later. The last time I came to the MDH I was filled with a lot of doubt, it was the first big race I had done by myself without Sully and had my parents to crew me. Despite having 4 mechanicals I surprised myself and kept going being resourceful and scrappy and asking for help. I didn’t realize how strong I could be until that was the only option. I finished the race and laid down in the grass and was surrounded by my parents, Barb, Pat, Tom, Aleen –those that had been with me from the start and will likely be with me at the end.

I had so much happiness in that moment that during my dark times I would think back to laying down in that spot surrounded by love and support. It was the last race I did with Tom and really the last big race I did before COVID started. The trail remains pure magic in my mind, it gave me just what I needed even if it wasn’t what I wanted. This time I’m returning to spend more time on the trail– if I could get that from 100 what will 150 bring? In a lot of ways I feel like I’m in a similar place showing up to the starting line with more bruises and scars with doubt from the past two years if that scrappy, resourceful, strong Kate is still in there. Once I’m off the starting line it’s the ultimate lesson in surrendering, in releasing, in dying 1000 deaths so I can have room to breathe, be present, in the moment.

In one of my last therapy sessions my therapist asked me what the opposite of anxiety is for me. I said adventure she thought that was interesting, I guess most people say calm or peacefulness. But for me not having to battle anxiety means that I have the confidence to run full speed ahead towards what is headed my way and know that I’ll be able to handle it. To have the fear and still do it.

I’m starting out on the MDH 150 on Saturday (I might be out there right now). Only two women have done it so far in 22 and 19 hours. I have no idea what to expect, three years ago I had certain time expectations and now I have no expectations but I will be out on some kind of adventure. I’m a little worried about what the darkness will bring but it will be under a full moon and I have plenty of lights and music to get me through– trying to remind myself that anxiety and excitement have the same physiological response. If you feel like you should send me good vibes, maybe send some to Barb and Jane. They are crewing me and I’m not sure any of us know what exactly we’re about to get into.

Doubt.

They say that if you sit with your feelings that’s how you process them. After the panic attack I would sit, and sit, and meditate, and go to yoga, and try to feel all my feelings, enlisting therapists, friends, and whoever else I thought would have good perspective so I could hurry up feel my feelings and get back to life. I didn’t realize for a while that while I was feeling my feelings, I wasn’t feeling all of them until I read this from Allison Jansinski: “Anxiety made me feel small and incapable. I had been so confident for so long and suddenly I couldn’t trust myself with the smallest tasks. I had climbed literal mountains no more than 5 months prior, and then there I was, asking my husband to accompany me to the grocery store because I was too afraid to go alone. What if I have a panic attack in the middle of the cereal aisle? The collapse of my mental health was all at once. Or at least that’s how it felt. It was the most lonely and isolating experience of my lifetime. Triggered by a horrific car ride, feeing my burning neighborhood with my dog and a laptop. I was wearing slippers. My wedding ring sat on my nightstand. I’d never see it again. As I navigated my new reality of panic attacks, depersonalization, and nights spent wide awake begging for a deep breath that would never come, I can say with absolute certainty it was the hardest I’ve ever worked. The bravest I’ve ever been. And while I deeply wish I was dealt a different hand of cards last December, it was an absolute honor to meet that version of myself. She stayed at the table. She never folded. I can’t believe she never folded.”

Lots of doggo time

In the early days after the panic attack people would say that they thought the panic attack was going to be good thing once I got through it and on the other side. I hated hearing that so much at the time– they don’t understand what my brain is like, they don’t understand what is happening, what if I never heal, what if it never changes. I would wake up each morning and immediately check to see if I was healed and if those thoughts were gone and when they weren’t I would resign myself to still being angry and confused at the work I had to do. But here’s what I’ve realized, that girl who was angry and confused each day at not feeling healed, at tip toeing as if she was about to burst through a glass floor, still showed up, she went to work, she made food, she sustained herself with meditation, and yoga, and journaling, and therapy, and more therapy, and as the days ached on and she would wearily get into bed each night she would be grateful for having made it through with her marbles intact and fall asleep worried about what the next day would bring for her inner turmoil.

Here’s what they don’t tell you about trauma, much like fear it’s a liar. It tricks your brain so you don’t know what is true and what isn’t real. And you wonder if this darkness that exists if that’s my true essence and the light that is gone, if that was the facade. When it happens it’s just all dark, stormy, and twisty, and there is no light, and you wonder if this is how it’s going to be forever. You have no choice but to keep moving. And so, you do and slowly, very slowly, the light starts to trickle in, the fresh snow under you skis, the house dinners, the moments of silent and rest with my head on your shoulder.

Beating someone to the car – pure joy

You think this is the light, here it is. But the trauma makes you think that those moments of joy are the outliers, a small blimp in the spectrum of time. And in those moments, I felt like I was floating on the love and lightness of all those around me who didn’t know the depth of my despair. I didn’t want to go back and yet the darkness would rip me apart faster than a black hole. You want to get back to the light and so you keep moving, keep surrendering, keep breathing. Then one day you laugh and in that laughter, you realize you aren’t holding your breath wondering when this will disappear, and you realize you are healing because you are breathing. Woofta, was that heavy for you? I’m sorry, hang on it gets better. I promise.

In those moments I couldn’t even process what was happening. I was just surviving, barely keeping my head above water before the next wave would come crashing down. Treading to stay alive and breathing. I had to leave Alaska to go to DC to teach at the end of January and leaving felt like I was once again ripped through the time/space portal. I fumbled around for new activities to occupy me, bouldering and running with Carly, walks with co-workers, getting back to yoga in person. I went and saw my parents and even then, felt like I couldn’t exhale, couldn’t talk, fearful of what might come out. My parents sat or more kept vigil as I would lay on the couch and slowly words would trickle out lamenting about it all. I went and stayed with Allison and Dave for a few days as I was supposed to be in CO for a ski race but that ski race didn’t happen, but I had my skis just in case that girl showed up. Allison (and Kati who spent also spent multiple days with us) helped to give me words to the trauma and feelings that I had been experiencing. We shared an unspoken bond of seeing the weariness in the other that comes with vigilantly rowing ores to keep moving in the unknown water. For the friends that have known me longer than COVID and the panic attack this is such a blip in the timeline and I think I was seeking that out and getting back to those who knew me before all the darkness overtook me, reminding me of who I used to be and who I could be again.

I returned to Alaska and I wrote in my journal that upon arriving it felt like finally arriving home and was starting to see more and more of my old self, albeit slowly. I was still acutely aware of how much trauma felt stored up in my body, but the light returning to Alaska felt like it was returning to me too. I moved up to Alaska so soon to COVID and COVID and the panic attack dominated how I managed my relationships (for better or worse). I felt so much uncertainty and instability that I leaned heavy into those few relationships I did have but also felt the strain of doing so which only accelerated wanting to be healed so I could get back to baseline and then reassess my life. That put additional stress on me trying to rush and desperately trying to feel normal. Which only put me on higher alert each morning I would wake up realizing that I was not fully healed. Love negative feedback loops.

I would ask my self what would pre-panic attack Kate do and then do that

Starting at the end of March my therapist told me to acknowledge joy when I felt it and it started timidly and in the most mundane ways, at a moment of stillness I would whisper, “I feel joy.” Then it got louder and one day I was out skiing with friends and I was just exploding with it, yelling it as I raced down the mountain. One friend asked me if I was being sarcastic, clearly showing how little emotion towards joy I had been showing lately. But it’s been helpful in acknowledging its existence and finding a new way to express it.

How did it happen that you just finished maybe the darkest section of writing that I’ve ever put on this blog? Well, it all came about because I crashed last weekend during a race and it was such a minor crash (like I’m fine, mom) but cut my knee and scrapped my shoulder and hip. And then I thought of all the other times I’ve crashed this year and it’s been a lot (sorry mom, but like I’m fine). I pride myself on being a sound, technical rider. I know my limits and know what I’m capable of that I usually don’t worry– lots of years following the lines of Wayne, Sully, Dave, Alex, Sam, Chris, Christa, Bryan, Katie, Neven, Parker, Jen, so many more that are way above my riding level. I did a ride with a friend and was leading the descent and she came around the corner to find me on the ground, saying she was surprised to find me there, I was too.

I had two crashes during one descent which was mostly out of the view of anyone else and recovered quickly but have been bumbling a lot more in areas that I feel like I’m technically sound in. I starting thinking about how pervasive doubt is. With riding there is a moment where if you doubt, you hesitate, and in that moment the magic is gone, you’ve messed up the line, you’re brain has convinced you that you are in capable and you question you’re ability and then poof you’re on the ground assessing the damage. I was telling my therapist this because I often use outdoor activities to understand my life so I said, “well it seems like I can be quick to recover and I’m actual quite flexible in falling, but I’m doubtful in the approach, in the take-off, in the transition.” And because she always makes me bring it back to center, I followed up with and I think this is probably a larger theme in my life, I’m hesitating and doubting because I still don’t trust my body or myself and it’s getting better but there are moments of doubt that end up pulling me down. And it’s true after the panic attack the doubt overtook everything. And my rational became that if I was doubting, well then surely some of that doubt must be true and if it’s true where does that leave me– but trauma is a liar. And nothing is every guaranteed or fully certain but all I wanted was certainty when I was only filled with doubt. I didn’t trust myself that if the bottom fell out, if the glass shattered that I would be able to recover, that I could overcome what had been thrown my way because I felt like I hadn’t. I had a panic attack and then felt like I blew up my personal life as I scrambled to find dry land. For those who weren’t in my brain it’s so hard to explain that the explosion is how I did what I thought I had to do to survive, to fight, to breathe again.

When I real Allison’s post I thought of the girl I am now, she shows up to start lines with much more bruises and scars than she did before, but she’s scrappy, and resilient, and she is whole. And while I wish I had never met her under these circumstances, it has been an honor.

I read it before I did a gravel race with Grande– Ana had already left for the Colorado Trail Race after our relay last week. I was at max heart rate the whole time and trying to catch Grande’s wheel but I just kept repeating in my head, “Thank God I never folded.”

Like any race where you really shit the bed and everything goes wrong it takes a while to process everything, to pick out the lessons, the good and the bad, and sometimes the only good is like welp, I’m never signing up for that race again (cue the Black Hills 100). Just like with any bike race you know there will be highs and lows and it’s figuring out how to get out of the lows so you can get back to the highs. I know how to get out of the lows when I’m 80 miles into a race and bonking and have to pull myself out to get to the finish line but this felt like completely unknown territory that I was charing. I was in such a low I couldn’t even conceive that there would be a high. Much like when I did Super Walker for the first time and ended up sobbing on the side of the trail for 20 minutes having the worst bonk of my life– and just like then I got up and starting moving wondering if I would ever see the high again. This high just took a long time to get back to.

With the panic attack my therapist pointed this out that 4 months ago I couldn’t even process what it would mean to be here because my brain was still floating in the sea of despair, and I was convinced that no good would possibly ever come out of this. But I feel like I’m finally hitting the apex and the road is bending and there is light shining. Someone posted about a trip to the Grand Canyon and I didn’t even hesitate by saying I wanted in.

this is not a trauma related thing just getting the excess sugar off — don’t ask

I will say that doing the 600-mile ride with Grande and Ana helped me in a tremendous way, I reset my system, was alone with my thoughts but wasn’t overwhelmed. There was so much comfort and familiarity in just pedaling. And for the first time since the panic attack, I actually trusted my body to do what I needed to do. I fully surrendered knowing that I would be able to make it to Haines, even when the doubt crept in. I guess you could say that that was the beginning of the healing journey, all the work before then set the foundation but since then the steps have been greater, I’m surer of the footing, more comfortable with the uncertainty. And running, no sprinting towards the joy that has seemed so fleeting for so long. I think that’s part of the broader theme with COVID– so much pain and destruction happened as a result of it and acknowledging that any good existed seemed so antithetical to the collective suffering that was being felt. Again, you can hold space for both, or I can hold space for both, or I can try to hold space for both.

This one is less bike focused for sure but hope that by talking about it– and if the data is accurate as more people are searching for mental health therapists than ever before– maybe others will feel less alone and realize how much is going on behind the facade that we put on. Allison has been such a lifesaver for me but so many others and not necessarily in any big way but in the small ways that kept me going and kept me sustained. But certainly a handful that were there in a very big way– and they got an inner look into my brain and they didn’t bat an eye, they didn’t turn away, they held space for my pain and grief and they reminded me that it would get better, maybe not today, or tomorrow but it would. A friend mentioned that after reading last week’s post she hadn’t realized I felt all of that because I usually just said I was fine and would carry on. I was gobsmacked only because I was convinced there was no way that I was hiding how much I was walking in a glass house. So, lessons I learned from that and affirmed by my therapist is that (1) people are far less concerned with us than we perceive them to be and (2) I probably need to do a better job of reaching out and asking for help.

And as I looked for picture for this post and the things that I had done I found so few from January and February (less than 100) with more starting to show up in March and then April and then more in May and June (more than 500). It was almost like I didn’t think there was anything worth capturing, there was no way I would want to remember this pain. Just another way to quantify an arbitrary data point.

You stay alive for the stories that need to be told, the chapters that remain unwritten and the endings that need to be completed.