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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)

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.

600 Miles to Nowhere

After I left Alaska (like a year ago), I traveled around a bit, went to the Grand Canyon (will write about that some day). And then 2 months after thinking I would be gone for good, returned. Leaving Alaska in that moment didn’t feel right and I was determined (albeit stubborn) to figure out what the pull back was. As I got on the plane in Seattle I wrote Molly a postcard musing if by my returning I would make a mess or find meaning of my life. I found both and neither.

At the end of December, on the third anniversary of getting a notice of a novel pathogen causing pneumonia like symptoms in Wuhan, China. I experienced a panic attack– traditionally the third anniversary is suppose to be leather.

The panic attack fractured my sense of self, cutting off any narrative in my head. I didn’t even know that I could have so many pieces of me laying in a disarray. It dismantled a lot of the scaffolding I had spent my life building. After what felt like drowning in the abyss I was able to fashion a life jacket and start swimming to shore but remained unsure of what that shore would look like upon arrival. Six + months later I feel like I’m finally standing on solid ground but still some days feel myself getting pulled out by the tide. I spent most of the months that followed trying to piece back a sense of my life, this goes here, that goes there but sometimes the pieces didn’t seem to fit and I stubbornly kept trying to shove things back into place. I spent part of the winter in DC where I carried skis and a bike around both rarely getting used but thinking if that girl inside of me was to re-emerge she would want them. I had already signed up for the Maah Daah Hey 150 this September and was continuously texting my coach to say I wasn’t ready and would keep doing what I could, she responded always very kind and gingerly supporting my “pivoting”.

I stopped making plans unsure of what waking up each day would bring. Friends talked about doing a trip to the Grand Canyon in July when I saw them in February but July felt too far away and I felt too unstable, what if my brain never recovered, what if I felt like this forever. I couldn’t commit to anything because I didn’t trust myself enough to be able to handle what came my way.

I arrived back in Alaska in mid-March just in time for a skimo race, not even deciding to do it until the night before and even then after signing up resigned to calling it off at the last moment if I wasn’t feeling it. I mostly went for the costume contest but feeling getting a trickle of racing back into my veins helped, even it it was at max VO2. I didn’t win and didn’t win the costume contest either, getting beat out by a Chewbacca and Avocado (those things are so political anyways).

I started volunteering with the GRIT program, which stands for Girls Riding Into Tomorrow, it’s a program for middle school girls where we ride around town going to different workshops and places for them to learn more bike skills (they are pro at First Aid needs) and different community spots like the Botanical Gardens. The program ends with a 40 mile bikepacking weekend. All the girls were troopers during the weekend and they definitely showed a level of tenacity that I’m not sure I had at that age. It also helped to provide some stability and grounding with a fixed schedule of activities.

During a GRIT session, Ana was like hey I have a weird question for you and given the past two years figured it was going to be some strange probability of COVID exposure and what she should do. Instead it was, “want to bike 600 miles”? I was most relieved and didn’t find it that strange. I immediately said yes and then asked what dates and then asked why and then followed up with let me double check with work but I’m in for the most part. I was mainly surprised at how fast I committed but took it as a sign. Since the panic attack I was trying to slowly gain pack parts of me through familiar things and biking had not really happened. I thought maybe just a long ride would help reset and remind my body of who I used to be and who I could be. We also talked to Grande about going but she had a work conflict but decided she would bike the first two days with us and then turn around and bike back.

We only do rides that are 100+ miles or with middle school girls

Because of the GRIT campout we decided to drive to Glennallen on Tuesday and take off to Haines from there. Mainly because we were on a deadline, Ana had to get to the start of the Tour Divide Race in Banff by June 10 and we’d have to catch the ferry in Haines. She joked that it was her way to get into shape for the race. I had a little trepidation, it wasn’t the physical part that scared me, more the mental, how would my brain handle being alone for that long with my thoughts– where would it go. When I had the panic attack I thought I was dying and/or would be stuck like that forever in this state of what felt like dementia and couldn’t remember who I was– making me question if I was living an authentic life (and like what even is that). That didn’t go away when the panic attack ended and instead released all the anxiety from 2.5 years of COVID research into my body. When the panic attack started all the adrenaline was getting ready to fight an external threat and instead released it all back into my body to fight itself. But I knew there was only one way to find out and it wasn’t going to be sitting at home wondering how I would handle something. I’d have to slowly start rebuilding the trust I had. Plus with Ana and Grande I knew that if shit did hit the fan, I would be in good hands– just did not tell them all this before we departed.

We left early Tuesday morning, double and triple checking that we had passports and things to cross the border. While we had a few weeks to prep for the trip the only decision we figured out before we left was if we were going to sleep in tents or bivy. We decided on tents for luxury living. A few people asked where we would sleep and stop but we figured it didn’t matter to do much planning, we knew when we had to catch the ferry and the rest we would just figure out as we went.

We departed Glennallen after getting some groceries, changing, and figuring out where to park the van. Only 600 miles, woof. We turned left, heading north as only a few roads out of the state meant we had to go north in order to eventually go south. We loosely planned on getting to Slana about 80ish miles away and camping there because it seemed like there would be some resources. We were met with very little traffic and chatted about everything and nothing of consequence. We relived moments of the Kenai 250 and the GRIT campout, and about bigger adventures to come. I let them into more of my personal struggles and in doing so learned as I often do that I’m not alone.

We rode on and stopped at Christochina, arriving a few minutes before their small store shut down. We warmed up, got hot coffee, a few resupplies, and chatted for a bit with the individuals in there. In our state, we seem to lend ourselves to conversations, where did you come from, where are you going, you’re biking all that way, which soon dissolves into more information about the area, the weather they’ve been having, how busy they are, how often people stop. We only had about 30 miles left to Slana when we left but bundled up as the temperature started to drop. We arrived in Slana only to find what seemed to be a dead town, I had never been there before but it’s the launching point for a lot of adventures that happen in Wrangell National Park so thought there would be something. The temperature read about 30F and we made our way off the highway onto a gravel street following our maps to what looked like something. We saw a post office and I stopped, “hey these are usually open at night” I got off my bike and opened the door feeling a rush of warmth overtake my body, “It’s open and it’s so warm!” Ana and Grande thought maybe we should try the inn next door before violating any federal laws. We went up after seeing the open sign and knocked on the door, a woman rambled down the hallway and confusingly opened the door, “hi, we’re biking through and wondering if you have any rooms we can get for the night.” The lady, seemingly not realizing that she was standing in the door to a place that say “Inn” and “Open” very clearly said they weren’t open, the rooms weren’t ready, winter had stayed longer and they had flooding they had to deal with. As if we should have known all this. She almost lambasted us for being out in the cold, as if we didn’t know. I hesitated but then asked, “Do you think we could sleep in the post office.” “Oh absolutely not!” As if it was the most absurd thing she had heard.

We left, debating sleeping in the post office but opted not to as her house was so close and figured she was the postmaster. We rode back to the highway knowing there was a store just a mile or two down the road that we thought maybe we could try. There was a sign that said while they were closed we could ring the bell and they would come down so we did, and then again, and then again. Nothing, we weighed our options, the ground was pretty saturated from all the run off and we’d need a dry spot. We saw a gravel pull out across the road and made our way there opting for the spot that we thought would shield us best from the highway. We made camp and because of the cold opted to fit all three of us in a 2 person tent. We ate, changed into dry clothes, I shoved my riding clothes into the bottom of my sleeping bag and went to bed barely fitting all of our sleeping pads into the tent without overlapping. Fortunately, when I sleep I don’t seem to move and found myself in the same position when I woke up. We all stayed mostly warm throughout the night and packed back up, joking about how much easier it is when you’re not packing up middle school girls’ gear as well. Our plan for the day was to go past Tok.

Our aim was about 100 miles for the next few days to get us into Haines on time for the Ferry, with less focus on reaching a certain destination as more just acquiring mileage. Doing less mileage in one day only meant we’d be doing more mileage the next day. We had about 60 miles to Tok and it’d be our last big stopping point before we reached Haines so we planned on stopping at the grocery store and loading up. We only really figured we would need to make sure we had breakfast for the following day but I realized the further interior we got the less dietary options I would have for my restrictions. We rode on trying to identify a curve in the road that was a result of an earthquake not too long ago and that someone had told us about the day before but missed it if it even existed. The sun came out for a bit and we delayered, still commenting on the water that was almost breaching the highway from all the snowmelt. We started a descent and saw a moose on the side of the road, we all stopped as it looked at us. It seemed curious and instead of running off like moose in Anchorage do, it turned around and started up towards us, we turned around too. Ohhhh no, it started trotting up and we started riding up pulling our bikes back up the descent we just got down. Not a moment too soon an RV crested the hill and came down alternating the course of the moose and it ran off the side and up into the woods. We turned around commenting how moose out here probably don’t see many bikers but still for little traffic on the road the timing was perfect from the RV.

The only thing we really knew about Tok was that it had a Three Bears Grocery and an electric school bus. Ana had shared that she had read about the electric school bus that can operate in -40 degrees which it does because it gets that cold. Ugh, I don’t even operate in -40 degrees. As we arrived into town we saw a school bus and wondering if it was ‘The’ school bus but upon further inspection it seemed that it was gasoline fed. We rode through town seeing a Three Bears small shop that was closed, surely that was not it and plugged in our google maps to realize there was a larger one around the corner. We parked on the side and I stayed out with the bikes while the other two went in. Have a brief spot of service I sent off updated texts to my family and Kevin letting them know where we were and our plan.

I also had my inreach tracking us the whole time so people could see our progress and keep tabs on us. They came out and I went in, what to get, what to get, I got some frozen bagels, frozen donuts, bananas, apples, a tube of peanut butter, and some gatorade. After going outside to eat a bit and repack, upon going back in again I found not frozen bread and some neoprene gloves incase we ran into bad weather. Thinking my load would get lighter as we went and I worked my way through the three pounds of sour patch kids I realized this would not be the case as I put denser food back in my pack. At this point I had almost over done the sour patch kids and was developing sores in my mouth from all the sour, which if you think that stopped me from continuing to eat them you don’t know me at all.

We left Tok and after about 30 miles decided that when we saw a good spot to camp we would pull over. On the slope of a hill we saw a spot we could climb up to that would overlook the highway but shield us from being seen. Perfect, we pitched our tents deciding it was warm enough to sleep separately, ate dinner, and went to bed. We got up in the morning and was greeted by sun instead of clouds. This is where Grande would turn around and Ana and I would keep going. We ate breakfast and then packed up and parted ways after figuring out how to connect our InReach so we could update each other with our destination for the day.

Ana and I had loosely planned on again riding as far as we could and seeing where we ended up. We rode without any mishap until we saw a bear in the road. Then we stopped debating what to do, we could go by it, low risk that something would happen but high consequence if something actually did happen. We rode off a gravel road to see if there was a loop around, we talked about bush whacking around it but without eyes on it was worried it would run our direction and finally opted to wait for a car. So we waited, and waited, and then waited some more and talked about our options. I sent people updates from the inreach mostly because I was bored and not because I was worried.

Then finally a car approached, followed by another car, we waived them down and they stopped.”Hi, there is a bear up there, could we follow behind your car while you drive by?” “Oh yeah sure, do you want a macaroon?” “Um, yes absolutely, would like some sour patch kids?” They passed on the kids but we got into formation with the jeep behind them realizing what we were doing, they were between us and the bear and what seemed like a little too close when the car finally reached a certain point the bear scuttled off into the woods. We got over to the shoulder and waived goodbye. We continued on discussing what we had done and decided that it’s better to be safe than sorry.

We reached the Canadian Border and got through with no real issues having our passports and vaccine cards. The border had only opened up about a month earlier otherwise we probably wouldn’t have been able to ride through. We had to fill out information about where we would quarantine and put down a random hotel in Haines Junction.

We arrived in Beaver Creek around 7pm and stopped at the gas station, again it being the only spot to get water and food for another 100 miles. We both opted for frozen food that we could heat up and resupplied. I didn’t realize then just how much the warm fried rice would carry me through the night. But it was nice to eat some what real food. The owner of the gas station made a lot of conversation with us and we heard all about the drama between that store and the next store the town over in Destruction Bay. And like most people gave us a fair warning about all the bears around Destruction Bay. We left after taking a break, charging up our electronics, touching base with people and buying more fruit roll ups and coffee. We talked about how good we felt riding and how we would just keep going until we decided not too.

I think some of the push to keep riding was not only our timeline but the fact that we were in proper bear country, it’s one thing to think about sleeping with bears abstractly and a whole another thing to realize that it’s still early in the season, they’re hungry and close to the roads right now for the dandelions. We kept pedaling and never really discussed stopping until it was midnight and we were descending down a hill. I have a terrible eye for animals and from behind Ana yelled out “Bear!” I slammed on the brakes and at the bottom of the hill was a grizzly on the side of the road. We got over to the side and waited, maybe it would leave. We knew our chances with a car at this point were slim. We watched it walk across the road and sit down on the side we were on. Okay that’s annoying, we decided to wait a bit and the could backtrack and camp if we did. Within a few minutes we heard the low hum of what seemed to be a semi-truck approaching on the other side of the hill. We put on our bright jackets and got into position to wave it down. It crested the hill and was just a large lifted truck, not a semi.

They stopped and we explained the bear pointing down the road and then asked if we could jump in their bed. It was three guys and they moved stuff around to put us in their cab and said it would be warmer in there. They did have a point, but this is also how a lot of bad Lifetime movies start. Ana and I put our bikes in the back exchanged quick words, I grabbed my inreach and we got into the cab. I offered up fruit roll-ups or sour patch kids. They were drillers headed back to Whitehorse after being in Fairbanks for work. We drove past the bear and the roar of the truck sent it down off the side of the road but we still decided it was best that we didn’t try to go around it given it’s size. We made small talk with the guys, in situations like that were it’s evident that I could be easily kidnapped I try to give enough information that they know people love me and would miss me without too much information. It’s a fine line but I’ve perfected it over the years. Plus we knew that our GPS was tracking and they would have to stop at some point so even if they didn’t immediately let us out we could navigate that.

Really need to do a better job of getting outside pictures of vehicles

We originally thought we would just be going around the bear but they also told us that they had seen a bear right before they saw us, reminding us of how many bears were there. We thought if we saw a good camp spot and/or a spot with another vehicle that might work but the night wore on we stayed in the truck. We reached a point where we decided to just catch a ride to Destruction Bay about 40 miles away so we wouldn’t have to deal with bears at the moment. We continued making small talk about their work, the wildlife, living in Deadhorse, and their music choice (a lot of Nickelback) for being like 20 years old. Gus messaged Ana to see why we were going 50mph so we at least knew people were watching us when it maybe mattered the most.

We arrived in Destruction Bay and got out of the truck around 2am, thanking them for the lift and telling them we would be fine. We thought about getting a hotel but the hotel was closed and not answering their phones. We debated sleeping in the door way that was open and slightly warm. We stayed in there while making a plan, there was a campsite just back and it seemed like it was open so we rode over there. There was a lot of trash piled up on the edge of the campground which didn’t exactly bode well for pitching our tent with bears. We saw a covered deck and thought about pitching our tent in there and then we saw a man inside the house (that seemed to run the campground) on his computer so we thought we would knock and ask him about camping. We did and when he answered we were greeted with, “Do you know what time it is?” Looking at us in bewilderment. Yeah, obviously that’s why we’re here. We told him we were just looking for a place to camp and for someone who owns a campground seemed angry about it but said we could camp. After that interaction we decided not to and rode across the highway and found a park with a pavilion where we pitched our tent at least getting some shelter from everyone. It was 3am by the time we went to bed and I was shivering myself to sleep as the mountains and water cast a cool blanket over the land.

We woke up around 7 and were still cold so we packed up and went over to the dinner in the hotel to get coffee and hot food. We stayed there for a while, almost 3 hours. So long that my mom texted Kevin to ask why we weren’t moving and having already checked in with him he said that I had service and could call. I Facetimed my mom to let her know we were still alive. After warming up as much as we could we made a plan of getting to Haines Junction, refueling and then riding on. It was Friday so the more we rode today the less we’d have tomorrow.

We left town with the sun finally cresting from behind the mountains and not even 10 miles out we wee greeted with cars coming the other way stopping to let us know there were two grizzlies on the side of the road about a mile up. Times like these make me realize how terrible people are at gauging distances. After we had gone 2 miles we thought we had changed our luck and the bears were off the road, not so as we turned a corner and were greeted by what seemed like yearlings hanging out on the side of the road. Completely unfazed that cars were driving by- this meant two things they would completely ignore us as we rode by or they wouldn’t (as is often the case). They were closer than we would have liked and again opted to wait for a car. A truck soon pulled up that was a member of the Canadian Parks Department and he let us load our bikes in the back but for safety reasons we had to get inside.

We drove past the bears and he drove us a few miles down to a good stopping point. We got out, reloaded up and took off. The sun was shining and the fatigue was starting to set in at least for me. I was pedaling but the slight inclines felt a little harder than the day before. I put in an audio book to distract me. I had been listening to When Breath Becomes Air, about a young surgeon who on the cusp of finishing residency gets diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. It’s beautifully written and while I don’t have cancer a lot of the themes seemed to resonate with me, the turmoil in his personal relationships, the losing the sense of self, the questioning of what you should be doing with your life and given the time what’s really important. All things I had struggled with since the panic attack. And after I had some distance from Ana and as the ending came to a close my tears flowed, like they haven’t flowed since before the panic attack, big heaping sobs of the trauma, grief, and pain of the past 2 years and what had been brought on from the panic attacked. I cried for it all, for all the loses, collectively and individually, the pain I had caused and the pain others had caused me, the injustices that exist– it all came flowing out. The tears burned my face as they rolled down having been caked in the sun, wind, and rain the past few days. It took a long time to get here and only 500 miles of pedaling but I was finally releasing what felt like would never get out. I took a few deep breaths wondering if this was the ending or just the beginning.

Ana and I got together again and rode in tandem for a bit stopping before a long descent into Haines Junction. I told her about the book but stopped short of reliving my sob fest. At this point both her and Grande knew about the panic attack, I mean there is a lot of silence to fill, but this felt like mine to keep to myself, the grief that can’t be shared, and if she noticed she didn’t say anything. We sat on the side of the road, me laying down more, and talked about how tired we were. I told her I was tired but not as tired as the 250 but more tired than a normal ride of only 40 miles. The cold night before and lack of sleep really took a lot out of us and we were feeling the miles catching up with us today. We ate some food and didn’t really talk about anything other than making it to Haines Junction before the bakery closed.

We got back on our bikes and pedaled on. We descended down and arrived in Haines Junction opting to go to a grocery store before it closed. We found bagged salad kits and were gleeful at the prospect of fresh veggies after 4 days of commodity food (cue scurry).

We grabbed a few more things and then made our way over to the bakery where we ordered more food and sat outside planning to carry on for a bit longer before making camp. As time ticked on we slowly changed our plan, we had only gone 70ish miles so the need to do more was certainly there. But the bakery was so nice and we were so tired.

Okay, what if we stay in Haines Junction, actually get some sleep and then can do the last 150 miles tomorrow. We looked up a Hostel. I told Ana at the start of the trip that while I support her dirtbag lifestyle (I was young once) if needed to I would opt for a hotel and she could stay with me because what’s the point of having a good job if you can’t credit card bikepack sometimes. We rode over to the hostel and got a room with bunk beds. We pulled our bikes inside and put some food in the fridge. I baked some sweet potato fries that I had found frozen (the upgraded version of just letting them dethaw in your bag before eating). We were also able to shower which was a game changer as the grime of the past 4 days required some deep scrubbing and the occasional realization I’m scrubbing a bruise. I got into somewhat clean pajamas, put my legs up on the wall, and soon fell asleep. We woke up in the morning and packed up enough to ride to the bakery for when it opened. We ate breakfast and stayed there long enough for me to realize I forgot the sweet potato fries back at the hostel. After I returned I got another sandwich for later in the day and we took off to Haines.

The ride was mostly uneventful but we were warned there would be traffic and bears, which spoiler alert there actually wasn’t a lot of either. We rode for about 5 hours and then pulled off into a campground to see the Million Dollar Falls and maybe get some water. We thought even about putting our legs in the water but that was soon thwarted as it was linked off with the falls raging below us.

We wondered if you could run a kayak through it but neither us actually know that much about water so just figured someone had done it. We went back up and found a picnic table in the sun and ate some food. After eating, Ana laid down on her bench first and then I followed and we both fell asleep in the afternoon sun. And we slept so long we missed the ferry. Just kidding but that would definitely happen, we woke back up about an hour later saying we didn’t really have anything else to do and probably needed the rest and then rode around looking for a water faucet. No luck so we went back out on the road and figured we would filter when we found a good spot.

After getting some water we climbed up to what would take us to Haines Summit but it’s not a continuous climb instead you climb and then you are elevated for a while before reaching the actual summit. It’s surreal to be that high and surrounded by peaks. We saw what seemed like a weird public use cabin but there were two girls outside so we decided to stop and chat. The cabin is somewhat public use, a researcher built it and now it’s a first come, first serve type of thing but with it being so late in May they figured they wouldn’t have an issue. They talked about what they had skied and asked about our trip. They gave us some more water and they were the first ones who finally took some sour patch kids. As we rounded one of the last corners an avalanched released, I have never seen one in real life but it was a lot more subtle than I imagined it would be like.

We continued on our way after they told us we were close to the summit and then we would drop down to the Canadian Border. We reached the final actual summit and stopped to layer up. After that we dropped about 2,000 feet in 10 miles and it was a nice change from just pedaling.

We stopped at the border where it told us to stop but as we weren’t a car it didn’t seem to alert anyone and we debated what to do. I always get a little nervous about not doing exactly what they want but we decided we would slowly move towards the window and see if we could get anyone to notice us. The agent came out and was friendly enough taking our passports and asking if we had any guns or cash– welcome to America. It was almost comical with how little we were carrying to think we had some how stashed $10,000 in cash on us. I also wanted to ask how many people actually say yes to those questions but I realize sometimes it’s best to remain silent. The agent told us we only had about 40 more miles and we would descend for 20 of those and then it’s pretty flat for the last 20.

Grande had a friend in Haines that she had put us in touch so I sent her a message. We never try to presume anything so we asked her for campground recommendations, she responded with campgrounds but also said they had an off shoot in their house that we could sleep in and gave directions. Alright well she offered. We let her know we’d be coming late to double check and she said it wouldn’t be a problem at all.

We descended the 20 miles and then we were greeted by the flat pedaling coming into town. It was similar to the Valdez ride where you descend the pass and then all of a sudden you still have 20 miles to town. We pulled over at one point to delayer and two cars pulled over to ask if we needed rides, oh no we’re almost there and we should probably finish this section. Plus Grande told us her trick of counting mileage, once you hit 10 miles it’s basically like nothing and you’re there. So we figured we had two 10 mile segments and really that’s like nothing. But the flatness wore on and we realized just how far 20 miles is even if it seems like nothing after having gone 580 miles. We talked about how cool the landscape was with the big trees and even seemingly bigger mountains.

Neither of us had been to Haines but it was on my places to check out. The darkness came quicker with the canopy of the trees blocking out light and we put on our lights just to be safe. We put the address into our GPS to figure out where to turn as it’s just before the main part of Haines. The miles ticked by and we kept joking how we really had nothing left (clearly delirious at this point). We made it into Haines and turned to be greeted by a large hill to get up to the house, after some tricky navigation we found the house and followed the directions. We ended up sleeping in an office and bathroom that was separate from the rest of the house so we felt less bad about coming in late.

Two nights in a row of showers, what a treat and no having to set up the tent was even better. We showered and went to bed with no real plan for the next day other than to catch the 4pm ferry. When we woke up we saw one host outside, the other had to take off for a guiding trip, and chatted with him for a bit about Haines and the area, they had been crust skiing the day before at Haines Summit for 7 hours.

We made our way into town to the one shop that seemed to be open for breakfast and got coffee and breakfast burritos and sat outside to kill time for the next few hours. We had arranged for bike boxes to be ready for us in Juneau but the bike shop called and said that would no longer work so we were trying to figure out another option as we need to have them boxed for the flights the next day. Grande once again had the hookup who put us in touch with the guiding company in town who had boxes we could come get around 1. From there our hosts would let us use their van to transport the bikes and boxes to the ferry and then Ana would drive the van back and ride back to the ferry where we would box our bikes up. This was a great plan it only threw a wrench in the fact that we needed to ride our bikes from the ferry to the house in Juneau we were staying at. We hoped we’d be able to hitch.

We caught the ferry no problem and sat out on the deck before moving into a more sheltered enclave as the wind picked up. We got some food, snoozed, and read to pass the time. We made a plan of trying to get off the ferry first so we could grab our bikes and hold up a sign for ‘Douglas Island’ to try and catch a ride. We made our sign and upon docking went to get our bikes and make our way towards the cars. In what could have been out of a movie scene we grabbed our bikes, turned around and all the cars seemed to be gone. What? How did that happen. We made our way to the exit and held up a sign. A box truck stopped, “You girls need a ride?”

“Yeah, but we’re going to Douglas Island, are you?”

“I can take you, no problem.” We put our boxes in the back and Ana went there too as there was only one seat up front. I got up front and immediately texted Kevin, got in a box truck with some guy who is going to take us to Laura’s just in case something happens. He responded asking for a license plate number– too late I’m already inside. I again made small talk to let him know that people would miss me. But we were delivered unharmed and he was just a nice guy who had daughters and understood our problem. The final spot we stayed, another hook up by Grande was a house on the water in Juneau. It was so nice that it almost seemed like the past 5 days weren’t real as we both go our own king beds with sheets to sleep in. Our bikes had been packed so there wasn’t much else to do and we headed to bed after FaceTiming our boyfriends to show them our lux accommodations.

We woke up the next morning and Ana caught a taxi to the airport before I did as her flight was earlier so I just hung out and drank coffee and watched the massive cruise ships dock across the marina. I made my way to the airport, leaving our bear spray and extra fuel for Laura as they don’t allow them on the plane.

I arrived back in Anchorage and Kevin got me from the airport, in true summer fashion I already had a trip planned for the next weekend and it took me another 7 weeks to even reassemble my bike. I spent a lot of time on the trip in my own thoughts and I didn’t make any headway to knowing or figuring anything out. I try to making meaning out of meaningless things. Maybe the meaning of it all is that it validated my most exaggerated fears and in doing so I can be released of them or face them or deal with them now. Maybe it’s just in accepting the arbitrariness of what happened, in a moment a spasm of random damage in time and space, that just as randomly, a small number of humans got the opportunity to help me repair. I spent most of the months before this not trusting anything in my brain or my body as if in one fleeting moment it could all be gone the ground crumbling underneath me. I kept waiting until I felt better to make plans unsure of even what tomorrow would bring as if making plans for the future was something that I would get to do when I was better, when I was back to baseline and could rebuild from there. But at some point my body got tired of waiting and decided to act. I’m not back to baseline or maybe I am or maybe it doesn’t matter but I have a lifejacket on in case I ever need to start swimming again.

Anyways, it’s been a long while since I wrote, my narrative got cut much like Meg’s soul in Hercules and it took me a while to find it, like a long while. It caused so much pain for myself and for those around me that it’s still taking a while to sort through. But in this pain I’ve also found joy and learning that these can coexist–that shutting off joy doesn’t prevent the pain and feeling the pain only heightens the joy. Anyways I feel like I’ve spent the past few years running from the fear and not running towards the joy. Maybe it’s all the same. And maybe it’s just in the running that will lead you to where you need to be. 600 miles to no particular destination seemed to be a good place to start.

Grande, Ana, and I are back at it tomorrow but riding less than 100 miles and with no middle school girls– a first for us! Ha

Oh and if you’re wondering after departing Haines we took the ferry to Juneau where I flew back to Anchorage. Ana flew down to Seattle rode to Banff and then won the Tour Divide.

Going Nome

On the first day I was working at the hospital one of the first things my coworker said to me was, “You have to get off the road system.” Me, being fairly new to Alaska didn’t actually know what he meant, like hiking off a road? I asked for clarification (as I had already done with every legal issue up to that point), “you know, the bush, fly out to a village.” Oh okay, sure, yeah I added it to my list of things to accomplish in Alaska before my fellowship ended. Most of the first fall I was still focused on racing and prepping for nationals. After I was back in January, COVID-19 began to thwart any plans of going to a village. Most villages locked down, and for good reason, the pandemic of 1918 has left scars throughout the state. They required an essential reason to travel and I did not have one. But with vaccines came some loosing of restrictions.

Early in the summer a friend mentioned trying to go to Nome to ride the three roads, not even knowing what those were I immediately said, yes, let’s do it. But this was early June and our schedule for the next two months didn’t exactly overlap for a weekend to do it and settled on next summer. I mentioned to Kevin how cool it would be to do that but put it on my ever expanding list of all the things I want to do.

For my birthday, Kevin bought me a ticket (and himself) to Nome to go ride the roads. I had a three day weekend in August and took an extra day so we would arrive on Wednesday afternoon and leave Sunday giving us time to explore the different roads. We booked tickets but then planning took a back seat as we did the Jurassic Classic followed by a long weekend in Denali, followed by a long weekend at a cabin in Seward, and my own personal turmoil figuring out if I was going to leave Alaska and lose Kevin or stay in Alaska and maybe at some point loose my job (more on that later, lolz). That decision was brought on by our landlord selling our house and us needing to be out by the end of August.

We realized that we didn’t have any spare time to not start planning though and were able to get a contact there, a friend of a friend who would let us camp in the yard. We also found a bed and breakfast off of one of the roads and another place to stay at the end of one of the other roads. We decided it would be worth staying at these places just so we would reduce the overall gear we’d have to haul. We’d do about 35 miles the first day, 100 miles the second day, and 55 miles the third day. Giving us a travel day on each end.

We packed up and a friend gave us a ride to the airport not realizing just how loaded down we were. I sat in the back with the bikes and kept thinking if we crashed all the ways my legs and hips would be messed up for life and just prayed a little extra harder especially because Anchorage drivers are bonkers. We settled into the airport, it was again strange to travel in the midst of a pandemic. For work I actually never interact with the general public and I’ve taken to ordering groceries so really have a very small bubble, which I realize how privilege and fortunate it makes me. Being at the airport I realized why we were were still in the midst of it all with noses hanging out and others having masks covering their chins, even one removing their mask to sneeze. I bought some postcards at the gift shop to send out and we situated ourselves away from anyone else. In 2017, I came down with some anxiety around flying that hit me out of the blue and has never entirely went away, I think it’s the whole trusting someone you’ve never met to get you to your destination safely. I’ve found ways to manage and usually in either doing work or writing to occupy my mind and telling myself, “I can’t die, I have to finish this.” Internally I felt so much turmoil that I was grateful that this flight did not also contribute to that. The last sentence I wrote before landing was, “about to arrive in Nome and I have no idea what the next 4 days will bring–hopefully a sense of peace, wanderlust, and healing but who knows.”

We landed and got picked up by Burr from the airport, she drove us to her house talking about the area and town, when they had moved, and giving us the lay of the land. Kevin had been there once before for the Iditarod but was there for only about 24 hours and in March. We got to her house and she offered up a spot to pitch our tent but then also offered up the dog kennel, where they put the dogs to sleep when it’s too cold.

That sounded amazing and I said yes absolutely, even better if we had the dogs with us. She said they only go in when it’s really cold and it wasn’t there yet. We unpacked, put our bikes together and then joined Burr and Tim inside for dinner. We chatted about the Alaskan experiences that we had had with some overlapping without realizing it. We asked a lot of questions about dog mushing and operating a kennel and they graciously answered all of them. We decided the next day that we’d hitch a ride into town with Tim when he headed to work so we could see them run the dogs too.

We went to bed and there was still tension between Kevin and I being in this weird space of am I leaving or going and where does that leave our relationship. I didn’t know what to say so managed a “I’m glad you brought me here, thank you” and left it at that. The next morning we saw the running of the dogs, you can feel the energy from the dogs and how much they want to run, heck it made me want to run.

They attached them all to the four wheeler (upgrade from the wooden carts that are maybe still in use some places) and took off, it was very cool to see. After some frantic packing on my part not realizing the car left in 10 minutes we made it in the car and on our way to town. I asked about the COVID situation in Nome how the response had been and what it had been like. It’s off the road system, which helped, so they reduced the number of flights in and then prior to vaccines did airport screenings upon arrival. We unloaded our gear and I loaded mine mostly on the bike but knowing we’d only be going about 35 miles and then would be stopping back by the house the following day was somewhat reassuring in case.

We spent some time in town knowing we didn’t have far to go, seeing the arch that they take to the Iditarod finish and stopping at a recommended coffee shop, from there we made our way to the beach and sat on some rocks for a bit and talked about the state of our relationship dispersed with information about the gold panning that still happens.

We finally were on our way out of Nome when Burr’s dad drove by and honked and waved at us, felt like we were already locals- ha. We headed out towards Solomon B&B, the road was pretty nice and could definitely ride a gravel bike on it, and not a lot of steep climbs so we were able to cruise for a bit. Outside of town I saw some wooden crosses on a hill and pulled off, kind of a when am I ever going to be back here to see these, and told Kevin I was going to venture up to see what they were.

The crosses offered little information about who was actually there and it seemed like they were remains that had been repatriated from various museums. I thought of myself and the connect to various lands that I’ve felt, especially in Alaska, and I wondered if the turmoil of being ripped from your land existed in the afterlife, if it did I hoped that maybe there were finally able to rest being back here.

I walked back down to the road, grabbing some blueberries on the way to snack on. We got back on our bikes and continued on. Kevin saw an opening for the beach and suggested we ride out there, I thought of my drivetrain but he was already in the sand and if I stayed on the road the shrubbery blocked him from view. I got on the beach and rode down near the water where it was mostly packed and my 2.2 tires had some traction.

There were a few houses and I couldn’t tell if they were lived in year round or just a summer cabin. I rode by one that had a large brown apparatus in front of it, it almost looked like a rusty fuel tank but was situated on the ground. I couldn’t figure out what it was and it was a little too close to the house to be snooping around. When I caught up to Kevin he asked if I had seen the dead walrus, “the head was cut off.”

“Ohhhh” I replied, “I couldn’t tell what it as and just kind of assumed it was a rock or something.” We talked about the reasons the head was cut off, maybe for the tusks after it had washed ashore and died, it didn’t seem like an animal would do something like that, and it wasn’t the only headless Walrus we would see on the trip.

We came up to the Safety Roadhouse, which we had planned to stop at for a drink. It’s the “last checkpoint” on the Iditarod Trail before Nome, about 22 miles. We went in and the walls were covered with signed dollar bills and Iditarod memorabilia. I couldn’t tell if it was a shrine or a dive bar.

We ordered some food making small talk with the caretakers. They were from Florida and had met the owners in Hawaii who offered them this job, they said they enjoyed it but wouldn’t be back because of how cold it was. At that moment it was 50 degree and they had some burly winter gear on. I, in shorts and a t-shirt decided that we both probably thought the other person didn’t have a good internal regulation of temperature. We grabbed our food and headed outside, they had a tee stand so we hit some golf balls, which immediately made me grateful I don’t do ball sports anymore as when I did finally make contact with the ball it made a pithy bounce off the tee and rolled close enough that Kevin walked a few feet to grab it so we could hit it.

When we left we only had about 15 miles or so our stop for the night and the road seemed to stretch on in this distance for miles, which it turned out it actually did. It reminded me of being in South Dakota in a strange way, there are a few areas that on one side you have the hills and the other side the prairie, except for here it was the hills and the ocean. When the road finally did curve, we got off to see the last train to nowhere, with its finally resting place being the marshy area that it had once traversed.

The locomotives were brought as part of a dream to build the most extensive rail system in the area. As with the boom and bust of a gold mine area, as the gold rush faded and only 35 miles of line put in over 5 years, the project was abandoned and the trails were left to deteriorate. 

We saw the Solomon B&B we’d be staying at and pedaled the last half a mile. There was a vehicle parked out front but we had been warned that no one would be there and it was a self check-in/check-out. We walked around to the back and the maintenance guy greeted us, telling us that he knew we were coming and we’d be in room 5. He showed us in, saying he’d be leaving in a bit and then went back out to finish his work. The place had multiple individual suits and a few common areas, including a pretty stocked kitchen, with fresh fruit (which we decided was a real treat given our location). There were enough twists in the hallways and creaks in the floorboards that I decided I would not be out of our room at night by myself. 

We learned that the place had been a former BIA boarding school and was currently ran by the Solomon Village tribe. With all the children remains being discovered this summer at various former boarding schools, I wondered if there were unmarked graves here. I decided that since it was now in the hands of the tribe they would be able to pursue that if they wanted to and I should leave it at that.

There was a large world map in the living room that reminded me of my looming decision. I saw just how far Alaska was from DC, I found it almost comical that we were considered the same country. I stared wondering if I could some how minimize the distance to make it feel physically closer, it didn’t move and I pushed the feelings of wanting to stay and feeling like I needed to leave down, that was a problem for future Kate I decided. 

We got up a bit early since we had 90 miles of pedaling in front of us, made breakfast, got packed up, and back on the road. It was a bit chiller than when we had started the day before, reminding me that winter, especially here, would be settling in soon.

We rode back to the Safety Roadhouse and stopped to change layers and stopped to eat our own food as it wasn’t open this early.

Getting back on the road we saw bear prints in the soft dirt on the shoulder, they were headed the same direction we were going and they definitely had not been there the day before. With so much vastness we found it odd that if there was a bear we were unable to see it, but we kept riding, seeing where the bear prints disappeared and reappear, thinking they must have gotten off for a car or something. We made it back to Nome, having decided to skip the cut across road so we could get some coffee and maybe some food. No luck on the food but we had plenty and I was really after the coffee, and a coffee mug from the shop.

We headed past town and on the road that would take us to the Pilgrim Hot Springs, it also happened to be the road that Tim and Burr live on so we planned on stopping to switch out gear. Right before the turn off for their road, I heard the familiar hissing of air being released from my tire, ohhh no, I got off and immediately identified the spot, it was the same spot that had released a week before but I thought I had gotten it to seal. I put some air in but it still wasn’t sealing so Kevin gave me a bacon (not actual bacon just look like it) strip to plug the hole with, it worked and with a bit more air we were back at their place and swapping stuff out. 

Tim was able to join us for part of the next leg; he told us about community, the land, the history, the hospital, how they came to Nome, it was almost intoxicating as I tried to weave it all together in my mind.

It came across how incredibly grateful he was to be here and how much him and Burr were taking advantage of everything the area offered. He point out Leonhard Seppala’s house, the musher who ran his dogs most of the way with the diphtheria serum and I thought of the barriers that still exist in accessing care and services in such a remote place like this. 

Tim turned back after about 15 miles with us, we told him we’d see him the next day and settled into a more relaxed pace, not sure who was pushing it when we were all together.

It had been drizzling but had mostly stopped when Kevin said there was a bear, me being quite terrible at any wildlife sightings did not see it and was convinced it was just going to pop out of the brushes, I dinged my bell, Kevin quickly hushed me, “don’t bring attraction to us, it doesn’t know we’re here”. Oh, I just figured it was better to let it know, sometimes I feel like I’ve made great strides in my backcountry competence and then other times feel like I’m fresh off the farm. I asked him where the bear was as my scanning still provided no glimpse of it, he said it was on the other side of the brush, which again I was like is that 5 feet or 50 feet. He told me to keep pedaling, which I did, with one hand over the bear spray. We got beyond the brush and looked over in the clearing, I squinted, what the heck is that, my mind tried to make sense or what I was seeing, is that a moose, what else would it be, I squinted more and then started laughing, it was a hiker with a large external frame backpack that stuck out against the landscape, he was also quite a ways a way, you thought that was a bear?!? Kevin explained that he only got a glance and just assumed since what else would it be, I agreed saying I thought it was a moose and my brain couldn’t figure out what else it would be since it seemed so out of context. I wondered where he had come from and where he was going and if I would ever feel that comfortable being in the backcountry by myself. We pedaled by giving a small wave. 

As has been the case over the past 18 months in the silent pedal strokes my mind wanders to COVID. This time it was focused on Nome though, thinking of their respond, did the fact that they have a spot in their cemetery dedicated to those victims of the 1918 flu impact the response, how about being internationally known for the serum run. With it being off the road system they had more control over those coming into the village, flights were reduced from 2 to 1 per day and they would test everyone at the airport as they arrived. I voiced some of these to Kevin, about how cool it would be to do a specific case study of Nome, tying in all these factors. He added that Nome was settled by gold miners and not an Alaska native village like some of the others, and that most villages had diphtheria outbreaks but Nome (being predominately white) was able to get the serum. At one point, Kevin used to be a tour guide, which is insanely useful for someone who is new to the state and looking for nuances in research questions. Ohhh interesting, yeah it would be interesting to do a comparative analysis between here and another off-the road village.

We began to see a lake emerge in the distance that told us that we were at least in the latter half of our distance for the day. The cabins that speckled the landscape were vibrant, seeming almost to belong in a Scandinavian country. Kevin said it reminded him of Newfoundland, where he lived for a year. I rode across a bridge and stopped, peering down at the water, “Kevin, look at this, it’s so clear, like I can see the bottom..” he reminded me that this is what water looks like when it’s not glacial fed and you don’t have the glacial silt. “I just want to jump in.” It might not be glacial fed but it’ll still be cold. 

We checked the elevation profile, okay two more good hills with the last one being off the highway and up and down to the hot springs. As our elevation changed so did our layers with us putting our shells on before one of the summits so we wouldn’t have to do it at the top. I got a little warm but always much less concerned with temperature regulation when we aren’t sleeping outside at night.

We bombed down the descent and if Kevin hadn’t told me to keep and eye out for the turn off I definitely would have missed it as there was little marking, I turned left and saw Kevin waiting for me. Alright 7 miles left as we began the climb up, it really was just up and then down. I stayed on the bike to ride up, Kevin got off to walk, but he’s a much faster hiker than me.

I made it to the top a little before him and took in the views, in a lot of ways it felt like Denali with these looming mountains in the foreground and they seemingly appeared out of nowhere. Kevin reached the top and was just dumping gorp into his mouth, saying that he was reaching his limit, I reminded him that we have been riding for 93 miles, which I feel like my gauge is skewed for long distance mileage, but for mostly off the couch for him, he was a champ for only bonking at this point.

We descended down, avoiding the puddles as best as we could and turned onto the trail that went by the caretakers cabin, we stopped to check in and asked about the water situation just to make sure we would have enough for the next day, they said they would bring some more by in the morning. 

We got to the cabin and were surprised by the accommodations, a stove burner, pots/pans and real silverware. We unpacked a bit and then decided to make our way to the hot springs. I’m not exactly sure what was going through my mind when I was packing but I did not include a swimsuit, and for some reason had a pair of underwear (again for being in bike shorts all weekend those were not warranted). I kept the sports bra that I had been wearing that day on, having a clean one for the next day and wore my sleep shorts to the cabin by the hot springs to change. I slipped into the hot springs and there was already a family in the other side, I told Kevin, given my white underwear situation we would be outlasting them to leave. I made sure to keep my head above water because brain eating amoebas and can’t be too careful with those.

We made small talk with the family, with them having moved to Nome recently and they talked about the decision to do so and where else they looked. After a while they left and feeling like our muscles had been sufficiently soaked we also got out to go eat some dinner. I laid out some of my gear to try and dry out before going to bed. 

In the morning I woke to the thunderous sound of raining hitting the cabin, it was so boisterous that it covered up the white noise that I had put on. I figured we only had 50 or so miles to go in it if we needed to and rolled back over hoping Kevin wouldn’t be in a rush to get going. The next time I woke up the rain had dissipated and turned again to a similar mist we had had most of the day before.

We packed our bikes back up, I shoved my still wet clothes into a separate compartment to try and preserve some of my other layers and we rode to the caretakers cabin to check out. We asked about some of the buildings on the property, specifically the church. They said we could ride over to it, it used to be an orphanage for kids’ whose parents died during the 1918 flu, opening in 1919 and was run by the Catholic Church before being returned to the tribe in recent years. He also explained the network of travel that the surrounding communities used to get to the area and the history of the landownership. 

We rode over to the church which was pretty dilapidated, I questioned out loud if history was repeating itself with COVID, a recent number was that 120,000 children had lost their primary caregiver in the US. I also thought about potential unmarked graves, the orphanage would have been removed from any village and wasn’t easily accessible in those days. The area had a former larger church, dormitory and school, and living quarters for the staff, which all remained somewhat identifiable. The site closed in 1941. We walked around a bit but didn’t go too close to any one building as they seemed near potential collapse, which surely would bury any secrets that remained in their walls. 

We left climbing the hill that had delivered us the day before. I kept glancing back to take it all in, would this really be it. 

We turned back onto the main road and on the first climb a truck coming down slowed to tell us there was a musk ox ahead. They continued but we weren’t sure how far ahead so proceeded with caution, and going uphill we weren’t exactly moving fast. We were talking when the musk ox poked its head around some shrubbery, it was almost like it was peeking out to say hello and then quickly disappeared behind the bush. Kevin yelled and waved his arms. “What are you doing?” I asked. “I’m letting it know we’re here” He replied. “What? They’re not bears, they’re more like buffalo.” I finally felt like I had knowledge to contribute. We took a wide berth around and part of me was worried that we would run into the entire herd reminding me of the times I’ve had to duck into cars when riding through parts of South Dakota to avoid the buffalo herds. Here, there would be no cars. We got to what we felt like was a safe distance and popped back on the road. I glanced back to see if the Musk Ox had made any moves but it seemed to have retreated further into the shrubs.

The weather cooperated for the most part with no torrential downpour or really hard rain, I kept my shell on for the duration of the ride and we stopped more frequently to eat food with the two previous day of activities finally catching up with us. At one point Kevin saw a bear on the side of a hill about 100 yards away, through the misty clouds I said I was pretty sure it was a brush or rock or something, ignorance is bliss.

We made it back to Tim and Burr’s without much instance and got showered and dried off. Friends of their brought over salmon for dinner, the friends live one month in Nome, one month in Missoula working for both healthcare systems. Oh, unusual work/life situations can work, especially given the remoteness of Nome.

Because of the rain we got to sleep with two dogs in the dog shed, as when it’s raining they don’t go into their kennel outside.

We went to bed and the next morning packed up our bikes and headed to the airport. We got back to Anchorage, unpacked our gear and I hit the harsh reality of what I needed to face, or rather still tried to avoid it.

I felt like it was an impossible decision and kept going back and forth with the pros and cons of staying versus going. At one point this summer, when I was packrafting, I flipped over in the water and was stuck in the boat underwater as the skirt that normally releases did not. In the time I was submerged I realized that no one was around to save me and was able to release the skirt and get above water and back into the boat. This decision felt like I was still submerged underwater and the skirt wasn’t releasing no matter how hard I tried. As any former partner of mine will tell you I get a little stressed about decisions and really they could all probably form a support group. I felt like either decision would have huge ramifications, if I stayed it could impact my job, and I love my job and the trajectory I’m on; but if I left I was giving up so much of my life. I couldn’t tell if by staying or leaving I was running from or towards my life.

It didn’t feel like Kevin and I were on the same page for any of it which was also really painful because I felt like in the backcountry and on these trips we were really the best version of ourselves as a couple but we couldn’t get that to translate to day-to-day life and logistics. Finally, Kevin released the skirt on my metaphorical packraft by telling me he wanted to break up [Or maybe we were both submerged underwater and he got out to swim to the shore]. Back in May he had made other housing arrangements when our landlord sold the house and it didn’t seem likely that I’d be able to stay. I didn’t know how to respond, I thought about staying but felt like without a job or a relationship it didn’t make such sense. At least in some sense with his decision, I was out of purgatory.

I also had to be in DC most of the month of September so decided to leave and then figure it all out. I decided to move all my stuff and ship my van, that way if I decided I didn’t want to go back I wouldn’t have to go back to deal with it. At each moment that required me to do something I tried to resist. It reminded me of when my grandmother died and the whole time leading up to the funeral I didn’t want to do any of it, I didn’t want her to be dead, and I didn’t want to have to acknowledge she was. This felt similar, I didn’t want to leave, and I didn’t want to acknowledge that I was. I spent the final two weeks mostly in a state of tears, one friend reminded me that everyone dies so we all technically end up alone anyways, another friend reminded me that everything I was going through was really challenging and these decisions weren’t easy. Other friends took me on final rides and threw Hail Mary’s my way, they would use my van, or I could store gear in their space but felt like it didn’t make sense to do that. And part of me wanted to leave in part to lick my wounds. But in a lot of ways I felt like I was losing so much more than a relationship. I dropped my van off for shipping, still not believing it was actually happened. I spent the last morning riding a trail I hadn’t done before with Rachel.

I kept reminding myself that even if I wasn’t moving I would be gone for September anyways so I just pretended that was the case. Later that evening, Kevin dropped me off at the airport, which felt surreal the whole way there, I even played Kesha thinking that something would prevent me from leaving. I got to the airport and that was it, time had run out and I hadn’t figured out any other options.

Leaving gave me some of the clarity I felt like I was missing in August, I wasn’t able to see the forest through the trees when I was in the thick of it. I also spent a lot of time this past month saying ‘be a river not a rock’. I felt like I was grasping so hard for an expected outcome that it was suffocating– one of the little girls that a friend used to babysit was so excited when she got a hamster that she squeezed it so hard that it’s guts came out. I feel like in a similar way I was squeezing so hard to how I thought things should be that all the guts came out.

Jurassic Classic

After the Kenai 250 I lacked substantial feeling in both my legs below my knees. I didn’t think it was super abnormal since it was impacting both legs and others had mentioned feeling similar numbness. But always a little more worried about nerve issues since I had some when I broke my right leg almost 10 years ago. It probably didn’t help that I caught a cold at the tail end of the race and spent most of the week after lying down and not doing a lot of moving. When I did start to move, it wasn’t pretty with my calf muscles feeling like they were on the verge of seizing up at any moment. Normally, I would just ride out the recovery period with swimming, foam rolling, and yoga. And I did, except for Kevin’s birthday he wanted to do a 100-mile human powered loop around anchorage. For his present, I ran the logistics (but also secretly love spreadsheets so really a present for me) and promised to do the whole thing.

Three days before the depart and the start of us staging gear, Kevin voiced concern about my inability to walk up the stairs. “Oh I’ll be fine.” But internally I wasn’t convinced realizing we would be hiking uphill and this didn’t exactly bode well. I immediately texted a friend who was a PT to help me speed up the process, they suggested calf raises which seemed counter intuitive to me, but it did help quite a bit or at least enough that I was able to convince myself it would be fine.

Commemorative Sticker

Doing the whole loop required massive gear requirements, two sleep set ups to be left in different spots, a mountain bike, road bike, hiking gear, and packrafting equipment. We also designed it so that people could join and leave the various activities at different spots. On top of our gear drops it also required the coordination of others’ gear depending on when they would be joining/exiting and a few car shuttles and coordination (spreadsheets, they are a lifesaver). Everything came together rather amazingly and so on Friday afternoon around 3pm we departed our house for Stage 1.

Stage 1 Mountain Biking- Home to Glen Alps Parking Lot~ 16 miles

Three of us left the house and headed towards the Glen Alps parking lot where we would meet more people. We started on the multi-use path for a few miles before turning onto the single track to take the hillside trails up. I felt mostly okay but didn’t really have much power in my legs but thankfully my body still seemed to know what to do when it was on the bike. I still got off at some of the steep inclines and did a little hobble up still not having full extension of my calf muscles. After we climbed the single track for a bit we started on the double track which I briefly recognized from skiing (having lived in Anchorage for 2 years I still have a hard time connecting everything).

We were also met with blustering wind coming down the hills. I put on more gear despite the fact that I was going up hill. We talked about the storm clouds ahead, they looked ominous and all of our checked weather forecasts called for no rain. As a result, Tyler didn’t have any rain gear with him and near the top it started to spit small drops of water on us. Instead of waiting near the trail sign we headed up to the parking lot. I took shelter on the side of a building and ate some pizza while we waited for the others to arrive. Tyler decided to not take any chances with the weather since we were about to go over the pass and opted for a ride down from the shuttle that brought Maddy and Brianna up.

Stage 2 Mountain Biking- Glen Alps Parking Lot to Indian ~ 14 miles

Powerline Pass is one that I’ve heard talked about many times but have never actually done– kind of like when I lived in Boulder for a whole year before I rode Flagstaff Rd. As you can imagine it gets its name from following the powerline up a two track over the pass to the other side. We left the parking lot and to start the climb that would eventually drop us down into our camp site for the night. We alternated positions and chatted catching up on recent summer activities for the first part. We encountered a stream crossing and the only two options were walk through and get our feet wet or try to navigate around. I, opted for trying to navigate around as I will always try to avoid getting my feet wet.

It required some hike-a-biking and patching what looked like would not be super marshy areas together but we made it and were able to get back on the trail. As we approached the steepest part of the trail I found myself lacking any real power in my legs and found it easier to get off and hike and push my bike– which is saying something because I’m a rather terrible hiker and more so when I have to push my bike.

With some 80+ miles left to go no sense in totally thrashing what little power I had left. As we neared the summit the wind picked up and some loose rocks tumbled down the side. Kevin reassured me (from his WFR training) that a fall like this would be very survivable with minimum damage given the slope. Not entirely reassuring and opted to continue walking my bike while leaning into the wind to counter those forces. At the top we moved quickly as the wind had picked up, so much so that my bike felt like it might get lifted and blown away.

We began the descent and would end up dropping 3,251 feet in about 4.7 miles. It took about an hour as we would drop down for a bit and stop to regroup and let our brakes cool off. I led the charge which I’m always grateful for not having to worry about navigating with someone in front of me but also the first to greet any potential bear– and made sure I was yelling at the top of my lungs as I couldn’t remove my hand from the handlebars to ding my bell.

Thankfully no bears and the side trail we hopped onto to head towards the cabin proved to be the correct one. We arrived at Christina’s and had tents set up and sleeping gear ready to go. Other than the small bit of rain on our approach to the trailhead we were only met with blustering winds which was nice.

Stage 3: Camping in Indian

Christina lives at the end of a dirt road in Indian which happened to be on the route making for a good spot to camp. We had dropped our tents and sleep gear the day before and when we arrived the tents were already set up (hostest with the mostest). More friends met us to camp with Tyler rejoining and Kelly also coming out to camp. We ate dinner and sat around the camp fire for a bit before Kelly suggested we play ‘bite the bag’. I definitely thought it was going to be a drinking game and just a different version of ‘slap the bag’. Instead it was quite literally biting the bag. You put the paper bag down and then everyone has to bite the bag without using their hands/legs on the ground and really only your mouth.

The kicker is that after each person goes you rip off about 1-2 inches from the top of the bag and go again. It was actually quite hilarious, mostly because there were various levels of flexibility. I opted out of the final round, which was barely off the ground, realizing that being so inflexible at the moment could be the straw that broke my whole system. We went to bed having informed everyone there was a curious bear in the area (but had not been seen for a week) and figured my chances of survival with all of us out there were pretty high.

Stage 4: Mountain Biking -Indian to Girdwood ~ 20 miles

When Kelly came to camp she also grabbed a tote we had left that was full of breakfast food and necessities. We heated up breakfast burritos, drank coffee, and talked about the day plan. Brianna wasn’t feeling super great having come down with the cold that we all had shared earlier and decided to drive back to town. I said the only caveat was that she couldn’t mess up my logistics. It ended up working as she would drive Tyler’s car back and he would ride with us to Girdwood and drive Julie’s truck back from there (like I said multiple logistics). We gained another person, Oscar, for this trek and soon we were on our way. The path was paved the whole way but to make it work we were still on our mountain bikes. The forecast again not calling for rain decided to open up a bit and we huddled under a tunnel to put our rain gear on. With all the gear changes it seemed less dire if we got wet so we didn’t waste too much time waiting for the storm to pass and kept moving. We were in the most exposed part of the trail during the most rain but again knowing you have dry clothes waiting is a game changer. We came around a corner to see a bull moose just to the side of the trail and we all stopped. He definitely noticed us so we backed up a little bit and discussed our options, we waited a little bit to see what he would do, he was definitely curious or at least not disinterested. We debated going back to the highway and riding around but that seemed less safe with the cars and where we would have to jump on. We thought of bushwhacking around too. Someone suggested going by to see what it would do. I’m still new enough that any animal encounter makes me nervous and I usually default to the local Alaskans. This option made me particularly uncomfortable and I voiced my concern. We talked through how it would go, Maddy would go first and if the moose engaged we would stop and reroute and then each of us would go one at a time. I decided to go last which I couldn’t decided if that was dumb or not since four people would have by before me but would also leave me to be the one he engages with. With each person going by he would watch but not move. Everyone had left and I pushed off from what felt like a very safe area, I turned my head away as to not unintentionally make eye contact and scampered by as quickly as I could turn my pedals. He again, just stared at me as I rode by and once we turned the corner and out his view I relaxed, my heart rate had peaked at 155 during that encounter and didn’t even come close to that the rest of the day. We cruised down the rest of the path with the rain stopping, half joking that Tyler ended up joining us for the worst weather section.

We turned onto the gravel road that would take us up to the next portion and on the road got passed by Rachel driving her car to meet us and deliver pastries (not part of my logistics). We got to another friend’s house where we had done a gear drop of mountain bikes, changed into dry clothes, reallocated food from the my bike to my backpack, did a double check of everything and took off (much quicker typing that than how long it actually took). We picked up Julie and left Tyler, Rachel joined us for pastries and then headed back to Girdwood and Oscar turned around to head to back to his car in Indian (running into two bear cubs on the way and opting for the road).

Stage 5: Hiking Crow Pass ~ 13 miles

Now the real test of my legs began. I warned Julie and Maddy that I still had some lingering numbness which limited my full range of flection and probably wouldn’t be going for any speed records. We started up the gravel road only having to walk a mile and stopping to filter some water before getting onto the trail. I had never done this one and feel like I always ask what to expect, mostly to manage my expectations but like most of Alaska it was a you go up for a bit and then down for a bit.

The trail slinks around the mountain connecting various mining areas to one another and other than some left over cables and a warning not to drink the water there wasn’t much sign of the mining activity that took place years before. We did go up, and up, and up. One steeper section was loitered with baby heads and I warned that I would have to go even slower. I had to watch where I was placing my feet and in the most literal sense because I wouldn’t be able to feel if I stepped wrong or not. I awkwardly made it up and we kept hiking. This summer I feel like I found a new appreciation for hiking; last summer if I was hiking it usually meant I wasn’t biking which felt like such a foreign concept that it was a rough adjustment. This summer, I feel like I was doing a better job at appreciating the different activities that Alaska lends itself too.

And I feel like I’m finally in the conscious competent category for hiking or at least I don’t cry as much. We kept going up and I kept turning around to look at the valley. Part of the valley hosts the most northern rainforest in the world so it was a stark contrast to look ahead and be met with tundra and turn around and be met with lush green expansiveness over the valley floor. We made it to the top where it flattened out a bit. There is a cabin at the top which I added to my running lists of cabins to go back to–during COVID Alaska kept their public use cabins open and each cabin has a journal where people write down whatever and it’s always interesting to look at the ones from the early days of the pandemic, how people were or weren’t referencing COVID and thinking about how it’s transpired over time in the log books compared to what was happening in the state (anyone want to help find me funding for that one lettttme know).

I was then told that we would have 7 miles of mostly downhill that would take us to our camp spot for the evening. To begin our descent we had to cross a river as there was no option to navigate around. I debated leaving my shoes on or taking them off. Taking them off I might risk getting cut or slipping on the rocks; leaving them on I risked having cold wet feet the rest of the night and tomorrow. I had a dry pair of socks but it felt like a false sense of security and so I opted to take my shoes off. I plunged on foot into the glacier fed river, no going back now, and started making my way across.

I was half way through when some feeling crept through the numbness and I immediately felt a rush of intense pain and my body not knowing how to respond. I stopped realizing that either way would be the same amount of time in the water but there was a brief moment of hesitation where going back to the side I just came from seemed like the better option. I had to override the decision and keep walking forward. I made it to the other side and put my feet into my hands to provide some warmth. It wasn’t so much how cold it was as the nerve pain that had accompanied the shock. I put my dry socks and shoes back on and my muscles felt somewhat refreshed, not that a 3 minute ice soak would do anything but figured maybe I would get some thing of a placebo value.

We talked about the nearby glacier and the ski traverses that people had done on it– glacial traversing still seems very much out of my bailliwick but my interest was piqued. We did one snow field crossing with Julie lending me her extra pole so I could have an extra touch point on the soft snow. I peered down the ravine and thought about what might await my body if I slid but decided it would probably be survivable.

The next snow crossing seemed even more perilous and the markings that were left didn’t exactly show a clear crossing so we navigated down to where it was a narrower crossing and made our way down diagonally, again crossing one at a time just in case. After crossing we traversed back up to the trail and soon we were out of the tundra and crossing a bridge over some untamed water.

We joked about whether or not Kevin was scouting to packraft this section as the river ran with such a force it felt as if it was trying to break out of the channel. We came into more shrubbery and continued to make noise to ward off any bears that might be on the trail. With about 3 miles left my legs began to ache from the downhill and the awkward immobility of not being able to push off when walking, going downhill felt more clunky than going up.

The closer we got to the river the more in the thicket we became, Julie and Maddy got some distance on us, with Kevin staying behind me, to make sure I didn’t get too far behind. At one point I rolled my ankle beyond where it should have gone by normal standards but by my standards since there isn’t much left there isn’t much to roll, I feel like Kevin was slightly horrified seeing this and also confused that I appeared fine. I think he thought I was rushing to keep up with Maddy and Julie but the truth is that my ankle just does that sometimes regardless of how fast or slow I’m moving and Kevin suggested we all stick together for bear awareness.

We made it to the campsite, pitched our tents and sat by the river to eat dinner. For most of the trip I had brought the same thing to eat, peanut butter and apple on a bagel. It required no fuel, no cook time, and worked for whatever meal time we were at. I still waited to eat with the others and used the opportunity to put my legs up on a tree and let the blood rush out.

We finished dinner, hung our food away from the camp, and crawled into our sleeping bags. It was fairly early by Alaska daylight standards but we had had a full day and being off my feet felt like a well earned reward.

Stage 6: Packrafting ~ 8 no make that 9 miles

It took me a while to warm up to the appeal of packrafting and it wasn’t until this trip that I saw the full utility of it. Some of my hesitation is that while the risk of something happening is low the consequences are high and that doesn’t exactly pair well for me being in the conscious incompetent phase of not really knowing what to do. Like my strongest skill for packrafting is swimming and with the primary goal being to stay in the boat it’s not really a harmonized skill set. The raft I had was light for hiking (3lbs) and had minimum accessories to it, I kept referring to it as the dinky but with it being smaller than a normal packraft found it more maneuverable by just sheer force but not as quick to respond to any finesse (which I didn’t have so it didn’t matter).

The river itself was mostly Class 1/Class 2 with no Class 3. Oscar shared beta the day before about the put in area saying that it’s has the most technical aspect of the whole float. We were able to see the rapids from our dinner/breakfast spot and talked about options. Being in the smaller boat with limited skills I didn’t feel super comfortable looking at the rapids– I mostly didn’t want to swim this early in the float and talked about portaging around the bend. Kevin decided to attach the scout (my raft) to his raft with his rope to pull it through the rapids since it was narrow and rocky where I would be walking around. Julie and Maddy went ahead with Kevin following, I scampered around the shore watching Julie and Maddy pick their lines and feeling secure in my decision as what we didn’t see was a little drop that was definitely more than I wanted to start the day with. Kevin approached and I was in line with him watching him go over the rapid, there was a brief moment where Kevin stalled in the pool and the scout got swept up and flipped over and I wasn’t sure if Kevin was going to end up swimming or not (I’m sure he was in total control but from my perspective and lack of knowledge of what was happening I couldn’t tell). At this point in my life I haven’t lost a close friend in the backcountry, I’ve had friends of friends die in avalanches, falls, mountain biking, drownings, but very fortunate that no one in my immediate circle but it’s an accepted unacknowledged (mostly, except when I’m around to talk about death) part of these pursuits is that at some point it’s very likely we will all lose someone close in the backcountry. Why did I just go on that little tangent, well when Kevin stalled and I wasn’t sure what was happening I envisioned him swimming and getting smashed into a rock and then his death would be a result of him tugging the scout through the rapids. I morbidly joke that if my partner is going to die in the backcountry I would rather not see it or be present. He made it through and met me at the shore to deliver the scout. They all commented about the rapid being a little more spicy than it seemed from our vantage point and agreed that I probably made the right call. I feel like learning a new sport is a master class in letting your ego go; it’s very strange to go from being very skilled and technical in one area (cycling) to knowing absolutely nothing in another and having to acknowledge limitations that don’t exist for others simply because they started sooner.

I got in the scout and we started floating down, one of the tips for new boaters is to follow a ‘mother duck’ down the river and take their lines so I would usually stick behind one of the others and they made sure that I wasn’t the last one or the first one but safely tucked into the conveyer belt. It was mostly smooth sailing though, some areas were shallower than others and my raft would awkwardly scrap the bottom as I would contort my body to shift my weight to try to keep moving. Someone made the comment about getting out of my boat to walk when it was super shallow which immediately reminds me that I’m not very competent at this activity — and sometimes that was easier to do but sometimes it also seemed more awkward and unstable in doing so. The water was tame enough that if I did get out and fall it would have (more than likely fine) and the boat would have been easily recoverable.

Until this trip I had only ever done road rafting which is shuttling on river sections to practice certain skills and get comfortable. Being on this trip I finally understood how you can look at a river and see a highway, as we were certainly faster moving faster than hiking.

Being on the river was also a different vantage point, if we had been on the trail we would have been covered in trees and unexposed to the views were were able to take in. We passed a handful of waterfalls, some of which Julie had ice climbed and she would talk about that experience. Sometimes someone mentions an activity and I think oh that would be fun to try, ice climbing has not been one of them but I do appreciate hearing about those adventures and mostly in awe of those who can.

We came around a bend and heard the thunderous escape of water and eddied out, we realized we had missed the take out by about half a mile or so. We got out of boats and pulled them in the water as we walked back up stream and then had to cross back over to the shore. We got to the take out, deflated our boats, pulled off our dry suits, packed everything back up and started the 3 mile hike back to the road.

Stage 7: Hiking ~ 3 miles

We hiked on the Eagle River Nature Trail back headed to the Eagle River Nature Center where we would meet Jay and our road bikes. The trail was mostly mellow and my legs were mostly okay but still kind of shuffling. We talked about the food we would eat, I had stashed a bag of chips in the van to have after our hike and plans for the rest of the week. While it’s a popular hiking trail there are still a few bear maulings that have happened there so continued to make some noise even if it was just in our conversation.

I jokingly tried to run towards the end but it was really more of a hurried walk with my feet barely breaking contact with the ground. We saw Jay and were ecstatic– one more stage– we had made it

Stage 8: The Parking Lot

Jay broke the news first that there were 4 bikes but only 7 wheels in the van– Oh no! My luck with the logistics had run out. Our plan was that Julie would drive the van back to Anchorage with Maddy, Jay, Kevin, and I taking our road bikes the 30ish miles back to town. Jay offered up his bike to me and I felt hesitant to accept so we hummed and hawed for a bit with Maddy also debating whether or not to ride. After a while in the parking lot and some restlessness to get going I realized that I could take Jay’s front wheel and put it on my bike. Maddy decided she would ride with us to Eagle River and then turn off for Jay’s house and Julie would drop Jay off before driving the van back to Anchorage (Yay! Logistics).

Stage 9: Road Bike ~ 30 miles

After I profusely thanked Jay for the wheel we headed out on the last stage. My body being unconscious competent knew what to do on the bike but there wasn’t much power in my legs to get up the hills. Maddy and Kevin would soar up the small inclines as I felt the gap increase meant I was surely going backwards but slowly I would catch them as they waited at the summit of each small hill. On one of the hills we were able to catch a glimpse of a full moon that had peaked out for a bit.

On the descents I would tuck and try to put a gap back on them which never amounted to much. We enjoyed the rolling hills that took us 9 miles back to town.

We split from Maddy at a stoplight with her going into Eagle River and the two of us continuing onto Anchorage. We both commented on how impressive it was that we only had 20 miles of the route that we didn’t have anyone else on. And both agreed that it was really nice of the friends who were able to show up in the various stages and in various ways.

We also talked about what it would take to do the whole loop self supported and I mostly just laughed. As we turned onto the path by Arctic Valley that would take us home I called another friend to see if she wanted to meet us to ride the last 5 miles, she was just getting into town but her house was on the bike path so we picked her up when we got to town.

We got to recap the past 48 hours of adventures telling her all the things we had done and relive most of the moments. We arrived back at our place almost 48 hours after departing. Early enough that we were able to do a final stage of dinner in Girdwood while picking up the gear from our friend’s house on Crow Pass.

Oh hey, my wheel!

At dinner we toasted to a very successful adventure, still somewhat surprised that the only thing I completely forgot was my front wheel but also somewhat bummed that the only thing I forgot was my front wheel. The place we had dinner have very similar vibes to the Chalets in Chamonix which almost transported me back for a brief time thinking about the adventures that I have been lucky to pick up along the way.

Girdwood or Chamonix?
Chamonix or Girdwood?

Last summer I really struggled with being in Alaska during COVID and this summer I couldn’t believe how grateful I was to be in Alaska and get another chance to experience a ‘real Alaskan’ summer. Thank you vaccines and lots of therapy.

While I put together the logistics it really couldn’t have gone off without the help of a lot of friends who shuttled/brought gear, gave us camp spots, let us do gear drops at their house, shuttled different vehicles, dropped pastries, and joined us in the adventures for however brief–especially those we kept joking were our ‘Platinum Sponsors’. I’m not going to name individual names because I inadvertently always leave someone off so if you are thinking you would be named, you definitely would be on the list. Let me know who wants in for the Winter Jurassic Classic.

Also a lot of people asked about the name so here it is. There is an event in Alaska called the Wilderness Classic (or The Classic) that is a backcountry adventure where you use human power to get from point A to point B all self-sufficient. Kevin had talked about doing it this year but some other things came up so when he was thinking about this he half joked that it was like ‘The Classic’ and then since it was for Kevin’s birthday I called it Kevin’s Jurassic Birthday Classic (which became Jurassic Classic). And then I kept being like well you know the Jurassic period happened where we’re doing this and then people would be like didn’t happen every where and I would say yes so this can happen anywhere. The other option was Kevin’s Abasic Birthday Classic but I didn’t want to have to explain that abasic sites are the result of DNA damage from the loss of a nucleobase by hydrolysis that then generate an abasic site but then I would anyways because I would be like well the other option was this– so hit me up for all your naming needs.

Radical Hope

In the past months I have started and stopped writing more times than I can count, thinking I needed to find the right words for the right audience but I’ve realized that I don’t do this for you I do it for me and if I’m trying to craft the right words for the right reader well then that will never happened because who is the right audience (like besides my parents who already get mini life updates 3-4 times a week).

I still spend a lot of time working on COVID so it still occupies a lot of my mind (globally, we had our highest daily case count this week) but with the vaccines coming online here it feels like I can breathe easier knowing my parents, family, friends, and community are protected. Then I feel guilty because all of those individuals who still can’t access the vaccine while still tracking everything that is happening worldwide and knowing that our individuals actions can have large and lasting impacts beyond our immediate contacts. I’m sure it’s been a wild ride for my therapist and she’s probably learned more about pandemic preparedness and vaccine deployment than she probably ever anticipated knowing about. And it’s been exhausting to see peoples’ response and while I won’t get super deep into my thoughts I will say that I hope when this is over we invest in public health, education, and mental health resources.

Alvin did become a pretty good trail partner

To catch you up from last fall I drove through Canada while the border was closed, with Alvin- the best backseat driver. I didn’t think I could handle an Alaska winter during COVID and it was the longest I had not seen my parents in person like ever (which is very fortunate). We left here in late October (figured if there was a coup during the election resources to Alaska would be cut off first– and that was only funny to joke about until an insurrection happened).

When I drove up to Alaska I promised on my return I would not do it in that amount of time again, I’d take like 2-3 weeks really make a trip of it, well I at least kept half of that promise and did not do it in the same amount of time, but rather quicker. The border was closed (and still is) except for essential travel. My plan was to drive most of my things down before the roads got too bad in case work was like hey we need you in DC and honestly was not sure I could handle Alvin flying beneath me in cargo, let’s be real. I had to show way more documentation to get into Canada than I thought was possible (they did not even seem to care that Alvin was vaccinated). I was given strict instructions and a number to call if I developed symptoms on the drive. It wasn’t too bad just long, and having Alvin at least forced me to stop every few hours to get out and walk around.

When we got to the US border I was met with one question, “where did you stop” and well because I’m me had a list of all places that I had stopped even briefly in case they needed to contact trace, I handed them the list and he goes “oh no, we just need to know if you have any fruits or vegetables that could be carrying something” I looked at him as if I was not the potential carrier of something. I said I had no fruits or vegetables and he waived me through (again not concerned about this wild village dog). I turned my paperwork into the Canadians to avoid getting a bench warrant on me and entered the US. After another 12 hours of driving, and quarantining before hand, I finally made it to my parents and was oddly relieved to see them alive (even though weekly Facetime calls told me they were).

I planned on going back to Alaska and decided to sign up for a running race the first week of March figuring it would give Alvin and I something to do while we were home. And it did, I spent most of the time hiking, trail running, and entertaining both Tenzen and Alvin.

I found a friend to run with who knew the trails in Wind Cave, which I had never spent much time in because too many snakes in the summer but with winter only had to do a few bison detours. And she was even down to run 15 miles without thinking twice about it.

I left Alvin at home when I came back to Alaska because I wasn’t sure how long I’d be staying for. It was incredibly challenging, because we had basically spent the past 9 months together like all the time and obviously very worried about traumatizing him by leaving him with Tenzen but he seemed unfazed by it, probably had to put up with more in the village. I do get daily updates and pictures from my parents, and my sister has sworn that she will not be getting a dog (as my parents are currently watching both Frank and I’s…)

I came back to Alaska and continued running and started skiing more which was similar to a baby giraffe figuring out what to do with its legs but had kind friends who would take me out, share tips, and wait for me as I side stepped steep hills (you’re welcome mom).

I did the Homer Epic and raced (ran) 30 miles, it was a time trial start with each participant spaced out by about 30 seconds so I started alone and spent most of the day alone. I figured it was a good way to get to see Homer, albeit a bit slow but it was a blue bird day so could not complain.

I felt great until mile 12 and then the snow lost it’s firmness and it became soft and squishy with a sideways wind picking up the snow and whipping it around me, reminding me that it was in fact a winter race. I made it to the half way mark and recognized one of the aid workers from previous bike races, we briefly chatted and then I took off again. Because of COVID I didn’t make any plans to stop at aid stations and carried what I thought I would need in my backpack and then Kevin carried other things I thought I might need and met me at two points, mile 10 and around mile 21.

After the halfway point I started what seemed to be the only climb of the day, or at least memorable one, it seemed to go on for about 3 miles. It started with a short climb that made me think it was over but upon cresting the summit realize there was still more to come, I started the downhill before getting to the next uphill approach when a woman rode the opposite direction towards me, she yelled something like, “woohooo go lady!” And that was enough to make me cry, like full on sob, I think because in that moment everything felt so normal, like every other race before there there is always someone yelling “go lady” or “girl power” or cheering in some form and it felt just like that, except it wasn’t, we were (are) still in the midst of a pandemic that had claimed so many unnecessary lives, caused so much financial upheaval, and torn at the very fabric of our society. So I think it was a culmination of things, plus having ran like 17 miles before maybe didn’t help my ability to control my emotions but then I cried most of the way up the hill and just like embraced it, like let it all out and it felt real good (or maybe it was the runner’s high).

I met Kevin at mile 21 and was very much looking forward to the processed turkey meat I made him haul out for that mile. I ate the food from him, lamented on how much I wished I was running on concrete since the soft snow had been my nemesis for the past 10 miles. Kevin packed up to ski back to the finish line, but it was rather anti-climatic as he never fully disappeared from my viewpoint for a few miles. I finished in around 8 hours and got 2nd (but the field was very small, although more than 2). The finish was pretty anticlimatic too, I almost tripped going across the finish line and then walked to the car and convinced Kevin to get takeout food from Alice’s Champagne Palace and that was it.

I took a few weeks off and putz around going back to skiing and lifting and then realized it was March and should probably start thinking about biking–got a little thrown that spring was here given how much snow was still around. I loosely started training and have some things in mind for what I want to accomplish this summer/fall but feel like it’s still too premature to state concretely that I’ll be doing these things, like I’ll somehow jinx it and will spend another summer grieving for time that keeps marching on. It’s been nice to get back on my bike, last summer I struggled without much structure in place, among other things, and I feel like my risk factor assessment was skewed in being able to properly assess what was required of me and others.

My academic training taught me a lot about how to prepare for pandemics but in all of those years studying I never once stopped to think about the day-to-day life of the people living through an outbreak– again law focuses on facts and not feelings. But now I realize how detrimental it is to neglect feelings and human behavior and I’m sure all the behavioral scientists are like yeah, duh. After the Exxon/Valdez oil spill a lot of researchers moved to the area, scientists, toxic marine biologists but also sociologist and anthropologists. We had never dealt with an oil spill of that magnitude and weren’t exactly sure how to respond, like after the crash happened nothing happened for 3 days, the oil just stayed in the water while people tried to figure out the best course of action for retrieval, the 4th day a huge storm moved in and displaced the oil up and down the coast of Alaska going from an isolated area to impacting many small communities that rely on the water for fishing and other ways of life. A class action law suit happened, with something over 30,000 plaintiffs but as my dad will point out, justice is not always swift with the lawsuit dragging out for more than a decade. The lawsuit got appealed all the way to Supreme Court and they did in my opinion a terrible job of articulating what punitive damages are for– basically reducing them from an initial award of $5 billion to then $2.5 billion at the Court of Appeals and finally to the Supreme Court saying that punitive damages for maritime related cases should not exceed compensatory damages which was an award of $200 million. So Exxon went from losing one year of profits in punitive damages to 1-2 days. But in exchange we’ve recovered 8% of the oil that was lost. Why did I just tell you this rather depressing information, well because in addition to this legal information, we have sociology and anthropology research that came out it too. I’ve often found the law does an awful job of telling the true realities, which makes sense because you want facts and not feelings making legal precedent but as I’ve written about before, law school only teaches case law and not the human emotions that go into walking into someone’s life on their worst day, as I often felt when walking into a patients room to complete a Will so they could be discharged into hospice and die. My story stops at completing their will and their story stops shortly after but there is no mention of the turmoil one goes through in having weeks to get their affairs in order before leaving this earth. So what did a lot of the behavioral research show after the Valdez oil spill, well it showed that communities come together when dealing with a natural disaster (i.e., disease outbreak.acts of God) but they get torn apart based on acts of humans. Basically technological disasters (acts of humans) were more psychologically stressful than natural disasters, n=177. In addition to the trauma response to the disaster, the community became divided because the longer it went on the more people were split on how it should have been handled- if it should even be litigated vs. just moving on. But there is no playbook for things like this, there is no trauma response class in schools, some people going through the legal system is healing, for other’s it’s putting salt in a wound they don’t want to have open anymore. This is all to say that I’m not sure this leaves us post-COVID, it’s been hellacious seeing our response and I often think of the 1918 Flu because we don’t have a lot of information on that, and some of that was in part because of the sedition acts but I think a lot of it was it was probably really traumatizing for individuals. Now we have all the information but will it get suppressed because of human behaviors. I don’t know but that’s what I spend time thinking about, how do we heal, how do I heal.

I did my first big ride since before COVID this past weekend and it’s the moment I’ve been waiting a year for where this desire finally trickled up and I couldn’t put it off any longer (kind of like finally blogging). Before it wasn’t there, I would think about doing long rides and going on treks but just couldn’t get over whatever barrier was there in my mind. And they weren’t barriers put up by biking but more about how society functioned during COVID which I don’t need to get into here but they have been identified and working through it with my therapist. But I knew the moment was here when I was met with either driving 100 highway miles or riding my bike and riding my bike seemed easier and more enjoyable. Which I know you’re like what, and I would have been like what all last year too. And I was amazed at how quickly my body settled into the rhythm of riding, sure I’ve done longish rides at this point but nothing really over 2-3 hours. It became mechanical again when to eat, when to drink, like I had never stopped doing it. I got done and finished at 95 miles, Kevin suggested I go ride 5 more for a century but I thought best not to over do it right out of the gate.

Why ride 5 more miles when you can go eat hot dogs

I guess my hope is that whatever you have endured this past year, whether COVID related or something else, whatever barriers you had that made you stop, take a break, and question everything that you know, that when you pick up you don’t just think about going back to where you were but are in a place where you get to think about how to make things better than they were before for yourself, your community, wherever you feel called. I also got sent this article this morning by a friend on how the pandemic mental wounds are still wide open, it helped me so maybe it will help you.

I’m headed to Valdez this weekend, it’s been on my list to go for a while and missed the opportunity to get there this winter. I have a lot more thoughts I feel like I need to get out but seems like the best thing for me is to ride 300 miles and see how this community healed after trauma. And in a way all these things tell me that I’m healing.

“If you insist on entertaining hopes you might as well be ambitious in your desires do not bother fantasizing about a return to how things were before you might as well be ambitious in your desires hope that things will be better than they were before” -Plague Poems

Photo by Rachel Heath and I hope everyone has a friend like her in their lives

The Law of Nature

In all my studies about pandemics I would always think about what one would look like today, we have made so many scientific advances since the 1918 flu but it’s now clear one thing hasn’t changed and that’s human behavior.

My dad talks about getting taken to the gymnasium when he was a kid to get his polio vaccine, and how grateful his mom was that there was one available. Polio killed but even more so it maimed in a ferocious way that children were put in iron lungs or if they were lucky only wheel chairs for the rest of their lives. The first big outbreak happened in 1916 in New York City, before that it had circulated but did not strike in the way it did that year. Until a vaccine was created in 1955, theaters and pools would shut down every “polio season” as they were often seen as hot spots in an attempt to prevent the spread. Those who could leave crowded cities often would escape to the country side in an attempt to avoid it and children often had to carry records showing that they were not infected with it. The March of Dimes came out of polio research and really spurred early philanthropy beyond the ultra wealthy. FDR took it upon himself to call on Americans to send dimes to help fund polio research (hence the name). Even when there were no known cures people would seek out remedies, FDR would escape to a bath house down in Georgia believing that the water helped with his rehabilitation (probably an early form of water therapy).

What was once a potential death sentence or a life filled with disability has been almost completely eradicated worldwide, there are less than 200 cases globally but without a vaccine it’s estimated that 17 million people who are otherwise healthy at this moment would be paralyzed. As of 2017, there were three individuals in the US who still depended on an iron lung to survive, which is one of the most inspiring and also heartbreaking medical devices we have. This article does a great job of painting the picture of those three lives. In the peak year of 1952, 60,000 cases of Polio happened in the US with 3,000 people dying, and an additional 21,000 paralyzed as a result. Polio gets into the body through the mouth then grows in the intestines, it can then travel into the blood stream reaching the nervous system where there it will attack the spinal cord or the brain, where it can cause paralysis. The death like most viral infections is not pretty, imagine a 6 year-old gasping for breath as their lungs become paralyzed and they essentially drown in their own secretions, parents only able to offer some comfort as they cradle their head as the rest of the body is in an iron lung working to force them to breath. Devastating. Jonas Salk started trials of a vaccine in 1953 (beginning with his own children) and by 1960s the reoccurring epidemics were 97% gone.

Why am I talking about polio, well with the current pandemic feel like I can finally spew out all this random knowledge about other diseases, and I still have a book due to the Notre Dame Library about it. But because I think a lot about polio right now with the discussion of schools opening up because polio mostly impacted younger children– but also if at it’s peak it killed 3,000/year by today’s measure we would have never focused on a remedy so maybe there is a lesson to learn about how society acted towards life during that time. There aren’t a lot of articles out there about movements during polio that contested the closure of areas; but I’m sure some mothers were exasperated when getting to the pool to realize it’s closed down and all the kids want to do is go for a swim. COVID-19 fortunately does not strike kids in the same way as adults and elders, or at least that is what current studies show but we’re still responding in real time to the virus so we still don’t know everything about it (the polio vaccine did a double blind study with 1.8 million school children). The most recent data shows that kids under 10 aren’t big spreaders of the virus, but with 1/3 of the cases in Florida being children that might change. A study that just came out of South Korea (n=65,000) shows that kids ages 10-19 are just as effective at spreading COVID-19 as adults (still limitations within the study). Those kids who are impacted tend to have preexisting conditions (much like adults) and symptoms are showing up differently with inflammation and rashes, and often triggering Kawasaki Disease (1/3 of kids who were diagnosed with this in NY had preexisting conditions).

Let’s take it back for all of you at home that stopped your science education in high school (and there is nothing wrong with that, that’s where my math career ended and always so grateful I have Heidi to message about math problems– and math is technically different than stats which I have painstakingly taken twice now for two different degrees….). A virus is a collection of genetic code (either DNA or RNA) surrounded by a protein coat that needs host cells to replicate itself, since it can’t replicate on its own. Viruses are different than bacteria–which are single celled organisms that can harm or help support life — think of gut bacteria vs. those that cause an infection. Viruses can’t be treated with antibiotics and instead need anti-viral medication or vaccines to eliminate them, non-pharmaceutical interventions are a way to reduce or mitigate the spread, think of hand washing.

Why does this information matter, well based on quite a few facebook posts I’m convinced that people don’t know how viruses function and behave. Because viruses can’t survive on their own, they need a host, and that host doesn’t necessarily have to be humans but most human infectious diseases are initially transmitted from animals. This is a great video that shows how host jumps happen. One more step that the virus has to take is going from just infecting humans to transmit the virus from human to human. H5N1 causes a severe respiratory disease in birds (avian flu) and human cases do occur with a 60% mortality rate but it’s very difficult to transmit humans to humans so the virus jumps from a bird to a human and there is no additional jump to another human– but if it jumped human-to-human and retained that mortality rate we’d have a problem.

Humans are hosts for COVID-19, it is transmissible from human-to-human which means each one of us is a potential host and potential spreader. How do we stop COVID, we make it hard for it to find a host. This is where all the non-pharmaceutical interventions come in that have been talked about; washing hands, wearing a mask, maintaining physical distance because we don’t have any antivirals or vaccines developed at the moment, and even if we did, a mass vaccine campaign is no small undertaking.

Right now the United States has 142,000 deaths from COVID–in the past two weeks alone cases are up 33%, hospitalizations are up 75%, and deaths are up 101% with 20 states being in the “red zone”. That’s a line of dead bodies that stretches 66 miles, or from my parent’s house to the nearest McDonald’s, pasture upon pasture filled with a person who was somebody to someone. So it’s been extremely frustrating and quite dismaying to see people’s response to this: “It’s not a problem here” “Masks are an infringement of my freedom” and “We just have to live with it” because we’re all potential hosts and we’re all potential spreaders. Even arguably those who have been previously infected because we don’t know how long immunity is lasting for, and it might not mean much if the virus keeps mutating beyond what immunity you had.

“It’s not a problem here”– this is really interesting to me because I think of 9/11, the twin towers didn’t fall in rural South Dakota and yet my community was shell-shocked on the attack. 3,000+ Americans died and it was enough that people felt called into action from around the country. I also think of what our reaction would be now to 9/11, how many would be quick to believe it’s a conspiracy theory, an inside job, a way to control the citizens, how much misinformation would have gotten circulated on facebook. If COVID isn’t a problem at the moment for your community, be grateful, but also work to take steps to prevent it from becoming a problem. We continue to take our shoes off at the airport, even though dying in a terrorist attack is a much lower threat than COVID-19 right now. Viruses don’t respect borders, it doesn’t stop at state lines or county lines.

“Masks are an infringement of my freedom” I’m not sure how this became such a rally cry or such a partisan issue. Masks aren’t an infringement of your freedom. Individual liberty isn’t an absolute. “In every well ordered society charged with the duty of conserving the safety of its members the rights of the individual in respect of his liberty may at times, under the pressure of great dangers, be subjected to such restraint, to be enforced by reasonable regulations, as the safety of the general public may demand” and that “[r]eal liberty for all could not exist under the operation of a principle which recognizes the right of each individual person to use his own, whether in respect of his person or his property, regardless of the injury that may be done to others.” (Jacobson v. Mass, 197 U.S. 11 (1905)). Basically you’re arguing that everyone should have the freedom to unfettered rights and that rights come with no responsibility.

Cheney and I agreeing 100% on something–not the Patriot Act….

The mask argument just shows how unwilling we are at the moment to take care of one another. I get there was confusion early on with masks, I didn’t start wearing one until end of March when I went out. A lot of the mask data we have is from antecedent studies because it would be unethical to have a control group without masks exposed to COVID-19. We continue to learn new information about this disease, and we’re responding in real time. We know to be infected it’s time + exposure. Because I live in Alaska when I go to a trail I don’t wear a mask (I also don’t go to very busy trails), but will have a face covering around my neck that I can pull up like a bandana or buff. It doesn’t have to be this all or nothing, we know that inside, poor ventilated spaces are great for transmitting the virus, and that masks help if you can’t maintain distance (inside and outside). On a personal note, I would love to see the data of those who supported the Patriot Act passage and those who oppose mask mandates, my guess is that there is a large correlation but I would argue the Patriot Act was a larger infringement on your individual liberty.

“We just have to live with it” Nope, nope, nope. No other country is willing to live with it, if this is your view point, ask how many more Americans is it acceptable to die. I get frustrated because the amount of deaths we have are wholly unnecessary, and I’m quite ashamed of our response. I have spent the past three weeks in the weeds of other countries law and policies related to COVID and I can tell you almost every country is performing better on this test. Are we suppose to be okay that we’re doing better than early model projections, that we don’t have 500,000 Americans dead? What’s the threshold for you to take action? Washing hands, wearing masks, maintaining distance are what should also be part of broader testing and contact tracing. Look and see if you are able to get tested in your area without showing symptoms? It’s not happening in a lot of places and until it does we will be in this constant catch up game.

This past week I was in a pretty dark spot because I can’t believe that this our response and that people are okay with it. Do I think if I got the virus I would die, statistically no, but there are outliers, do I want to have prolonged lung damage or neurological damage, no. Do I think my parents are at a higher risk, absolutely. Do I want members of my community to die or have their lives impacted, no. This virus doesn’t just kill but wrecks havoc on one’s body in a brutal way (and in ways we won’t know for a while), and I know what you’re thinking, but Kate, asymptomatic people, you wouldn’t even know you had it, except that lung damage is shown in those who have shown no symptoms. Imagine going for a hike or a walk with 75% of your current lung capacity. Breathe through a straw if you want a full effect.

As schools talk about re-opening, we’re missing the part of the conversation that talks about what we can do in the next 6-weeks to make that more feasible. I don’t have kids so I’m not writing from a place of needing to get them out of the house so I can focus on my work, but I feel for those parents who are navigating this work space and childcare/school work at home. I think ignoring the disease is not a great approach– and think there are concrete steps we can be taking to ensure our schools are safe for when they do open up.

Viruses don’t care about our families, our work, we can’t negotiate with them. It’s the law of nature, not the law of man that we are battling with. Do you want to be part of the solution or part of the problem? Everybody is a potential host of this virus to replicate in. We don’t have to be in total lock down or completely open, it doesn’t have to be this divisive. We’re all battling the same enemy, we’re all on the same team. Until everyone realizes that the longer this is going to go on. The longer issues go on beyond COVID, immunizations are down, mental health issues, domestic violence. A lot of people had an idea of fissures happening within our society but this has exposed large ruptures in a way that we should no longer be willing to ignore. For me this is the longest I’ve gone without seeing my family. And everything just seems a little harder to deal with most days– as if I was going to graduate from therapy any time soon…

As for Alvin and I’s adventures, we have gone canoeing, hiking, backpacking–oh and he ran away from the boarder’s for two days and ended up 20 miles away, yikes. We just sent out a breed kit to find out what he is. If you haven’t placed your bet yet, you can here.

Congrats, if you made it this far, my next therapy session is about 3 weeks away and the turmoil in my mind was putting me in not a great place personally so welcome to my current therapy session. Happy to discuss anything further or provide references to anything that I have. Hope at least the pictures of Alvin helped you get through it. I’m sure if you’re reading this you’re probably on a similar page with the COVID response.

Keep Moving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me telling Alvin to not embarrass me camping

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even this feels normal now

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

Still trying to get that Patagonia sponsorship…