Weird Times

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

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

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

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

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

Dug through some photos so needed to post more than one

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

It’s just so good.

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

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

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

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

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

Post first runish….

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

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

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

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

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

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

What snow there was…

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

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

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

Maybe I should give him a bath….

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

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

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

We’re both not exactly morning people

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

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

Look at this trail corgi

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

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

Corona K8

I don’t know what I was thinking when I agreed to sleep in a tent, outside, in 0 degree weather.

Actually the only thing I was thinking was I need to get out of this place and away from people and that’s how I found myself sleeping in a tent in a -20 degree sleeping bag near a glacier with no one around. I was suppose to be in Albuquerque for training and was so close to getting a mountain bike on dirt trails that when the trip got cancelled as a result of COVID-19, selfishly I was upset because dirt, finally, but as a public health expert (heyyo master’s in pandemic preparedness ironically not a lot of funding for a job when I was looking) realized that the best thing is to stay put and remain as isolated as possible, and pray to God they start testing everyone, soon.

Also tried to convince my dad to stop going to the jail

As a result last week was weird, I spent Monday thinking I would be leaving, Tuesday cancelling flights, Wednesday and Thursday on calls, and Friday packing up what I thought I might need from my office in the hospital in anticipation of leaving indefinitely. I imagine everyone kind of had a week like that; a lot of moments where I’m like what is happening. And it’s weird because there is nothing I can do right now except wait for what feels like this cloud to engulf us and see how quickly it will blow over or how long we’ll be trapped in an endless fog. Researching and writing about every pandemic during graduate school has really made me jump to the worse case scenario because I know how it can potentially play out, especially when ineffective leadership and missteps will literally cost our country lives (but that’s for a research paper discussion and not my blog).

With all this going on in my brain I didn’t even realize there would be no fire with winter camping.

I had gone the weekend before on a backcountry nordic ski trip to a hut where there was a wood fire stove where we dried our boots out and a stream nearby to collect water to boil and drink. On that trip I was comfortable the whole time, temperature wise, which I got a few comments on how small my backpack was and honestly felt like I overpacked, I didn’t even get to wear the shorts I brought. One of the guys did carry my sleeping bag in his pack because apparently it’s not ideal to just hook it to the outside of my bag (so many things to learn).

It even came with it’s own out house….

The hut trip was really fun and we skied about 15 miles each day, the first day was prime skiing conditions and the weather was nice too. The second day left a little bit to be desired as new snow had fallen, creating a heavy snowpack, very ideal for creating snowballs, less ideal for sliding through it on toothpicks. The snow would pack up underneath my skis rendering them mostly useless and then I would get frustrated and then just kind of run/walk with awkwardly long sticks to my feet and then I would see a downhill and stop and scrapped the snow off my skis and try to get enough glide to gain momentum to go down. I definitely ate a lot of sour patch kids to get me through that dark time. Overall it was a very enjoyable experience with good company (that’s not sarcasm given the next picture).

Having gone through the hut trip meant I was ready for my next Pawnee Goddess Patch: Winter Camping.

I won’t bore you with too much of the details getting there, we skied in a about 10 miles along a mostly flat riverbed area and then found a camp spot near the glacier and set up before going exploring.

We shared the glacier with some snowmobilers and even a few dog sleds (so Alaskan) before they all left for the day and we seemed to be the only souls for miles.

Also did some falling

I dug a hole in the snow so that we had some sort of bench to eat dinner on (because are we not civilized haha).

As we sat there I talked about how my mom tells the story about when she was a kid and she asked her dad what would happen if a nuclear bomb went off and he responded that they would just go sit on the backside of the hill overlooking the river. She joked how as a kid she was slightly mortified but as an adult realized he probably didn’t want to be in a small crawl space with five young children. I concluded by saying this seemed like a good place to sit and take a minute with all the chaos and uncertainty that we had left miles away.

I survived that night with the mantra, you might not ever be comfortable but you won’t die. Being in a -20 degree sleeping bag and almost every piece of puffy clothing I owned I was actually quite comfortable and only found out the next morning I had slept with the back of the sleeping bag covering my face (thought it was a little hard to breath at times but was also quite warm so…). We packed up in the morning and skied by the glacier before running into some friends on bikes. The ski out was nicer than the day before and I slowly peeled off all my puffy layers.

Photo taken by Rachel from 6 feet away

I have spent this week working from home which has come with it’s own challenges (like that I convinced myself I would never need a desk at home) but also endless hot water for tea and real windows in my office.

And in weird ways living in Alaska has helped me prepare for this as I felt like I was having to Facetime and call to maintain a lot of my relationships but conveniently now all my friends who were four hours ahead are also working from home so are more available to talk. And also with my mom working from home, just means I can Facetime and see Tenzen more.

I’m sure like a lot of people (me) right now have a lot of anxiety and it can be hard not to get consumed by it all. I worry about the people I know who are sick or will become sick, I worry about how it will ravish our healthcare system, I worry about my parents, my communities, the small businesses that will be impacted. I know these are normal feelings and acknowledging them is okay, but also dwelling and being consumed by them is not–yes yoga has been helping. Alaska is a weird place to experience this, I feel the distance with my family more than ever, but also realize if I was closer I still wouldn’t be allowed to have contact. In a lot of way getting outside here seems like a completely selfish pursuit at the moment but so few other people are around that it’s maybe safer than going to the grocery story–almost a weird guilt that I can still do most things while others are having their lives upended in irreparable ways.

I know I’m beyond privilege/blessed to have the ability to work from home while still being able to access the outdoors and have some semblance of life. The fatbike race that was suppose to happen this weekend got cancelled which even though there weren’t that many participants I really thing the biggest thing we can all do right now is restrict our movement until more tests get deployed to test for asymptomatic and mild symptomatic people– realistically until we have that data we have no idea what we are actually up against. If you’ve made this far I will make my one political plug and that is to call your congressional delegates and demand mandatory testing for every individual — they want to send everyone a check, great, attach a test to it. Typhoid Mary is thought to have infected 3,000 people with typhoid and she presented as asymptomatic, she was isolated by judicial order for 23 years…

I am headed in the backcountry again this weekend– who knew a pandemic would ignite my love for winter camping but really I think it’s more being able to turn off the email, news cycles, and case counts. Mostly, I’m trying to act as if I was contagious and don’t want to infect others; because while there are some great ‘Kate’ nicknames: Kissing Kate, Rattlesnake Kate, Big Nose Kate, #singlek8 –no these aren’t all my nicknames but would rather not end up with Corona K8 added to the list and be an asymptomatic individuals that is transmitting the virus.

The American Birkebeiner

My first year in Boulder, I lived in a house with mostly engineers–and if you want an idea of what that experiences was like I suggest watching The Big Bang Theory–I’ll give you a hint, I was Penny.

While many hilarious antidotes came out of this living situation, so did some learning moments like the Fermi Paradox, Schrodinger’s Cat, and most importantly when throwing stars come out it’s really best to go to bed.

I think mostly about Schrodinger’s Cat at the moment (and quick recap for those at home: it’s this theory that if you place a cat and something that could kill the cat in a box and sealed it, you would not know if the cat was dead or alive until you opened the box, so that until the box was opened, the cat was both “dead and alive”– or you can watch it here–just like Wayne explained it to me). I think about it because I’m still waiting to hear back from anything and all those decisions are in this box where in theory I have something lined up for next year and also don’t have anything lined up for next year (and I’m sure I botched that analogy- but you get the point).

When your roommate gets you.

February was mostly this state of anxiety because one of the applications said they send out responses in Feb/March so most of February was spent refreshing my email. At the end of the month my professor told me to relax that it probably wouldn’t show up till after spring break (that would have been helpful a month ago).

It was so much that I thought about pulling the plug on the Birkie to just sit at home and wallow in my state of being, while also constantly refreshing my email. Instead, my roommate kindly pointed out that I like to exercise for long periods of time, there was a group of us going and all staying in a cabin, and she made me homemade granola for trail snacks. She made excellent points and so we set out on an 8-hour car trip to Haywood, Wisconsin.

1 dog, 3 people, 2 sets of skis, a million snacks

There were six of us staying at the cabin, with 2 doing the Korte (the 18 mile version); 2 doing the Birkie (the 31 mile race); and 2 along to crew and provide support (really the hardest job). It was nice because the 2 doing the Korte raced on Friday so we were able to go through the production of getting to the start line. Which involves parking in one lot and getting bused to the start line. We saw them off at the start and took the bus back to our car to drive back into Haywood to see them at the finish line in approximately 2-4 hours. I had some work that needed finished so headed to the public library (seriously, public libraries are soooo amazing!). I got back to the finish line just in time and when I greeted Ann at the end she said, “I wouldn’t want to have to ski another 12 miles- ha!”. Gulp.

Ann finishing the Korte!

The two of us racing the Birkie did packet-pickup where I bought another pair of gloves, convinced that the two pairs I had brought would not be optimal (I tell ya, you get caught in a blizzard during one mountain bike race without adequate gloves and it’ll leave a mark). Afterwards, we both picked their brains on a little more course information and race tactics but still slightly unnerved about what was going to happen. It felt different than any other long distance race I had done because my longest ski at this point (pretty inadequate snow conditions) was about 10 miles. And some of it was worrying about how to dress, balancing higher nutritional needs, and generally having no idea how my body would preform after 10 miles. After a few outfit changes and packing different clothes entirely for the start I okay about starting.

Still unsure of this whole skiing business

The morning was smooth getting there, the other guy doing it had a start time 15 minutes before me so I was knew if I just followed his plan I would be there on time. Megan and Jeff came to the start which was nice so they could grab our things and I could wait until the last minute to take my jacket off. They have staging gates (which really reminded me of a cattle branding) they herd you into one and then when one wave goes off release you to the next holding area until you get to the start. I jumped in right before they got to the start when you run for position and have to start in a track. If this makes no sense to you, I assure you it made even less sense to me at the start of the race. Because I had never done this race I started in the very last wave and while I had a good starting position before the gun went off by the time I crossed the start line (less than 30 seconds later) I was in second to last place. I looked around and everyone had left, there was one guy to the side of me who was literally leap frogging in his skis to gain position and boy did he. I blame him because I was so memorized by this form that I just stood there shell shocked and then realized I needed to go.

The last wave start

Right from the start the course went uphill, it reminded me of baby turtles making their way back to the water from the sand, everyone’s skis were splayed out and we all neatly formed four lines. The first few miles were pretty uneventful. Around mile 4 we were stopped at the top of a hill where someone had crashed and needed a medic (they were able to get up but the people were apprehensive to go down until everyone was on the side). I looked at my watch…oh wow, it’s been an hour. Now, I’m not good at math but knew I had 8 hours to finish and in my mind that didn’t really calculate to enough time to do so. I turned to a guy next to me who had a bib indicating he had done it multiple times, “how strict is the cut-off, will they pull us at the aid station?” He told me not to worry as long as I didn’t take 20-30 minutes at each aid station. I thought that seemed do-able but also have found myself laying on cardboard slabs at aid stations for well over an hour so really it was anyone’s guess.

I made it through the first 10 miles feeling okay. As soon I passed the 10-mile mark it was like my body realized this was the furthest it had ever skied and started to hurt. I made sure to keep eating as best I could but also knew I was behind on nutrition. I found the whole carrying a ski-pole, having to take off gloves and unpack some food, made me less wanting to invest in eating.

Snow nice to see people on the course (get it?)

I saw Jeff and Megan around mile 15 and stopped for a bit to chat and eat some more food. It was maybe the last time I felt good on the course and was entering a somewhat delirious stage. I went downhill (not a pun, there weren’t a lot of downhills) pretty fast after that and entered a pretty dark place for the next 11 miles. It was totally food related, the course was a bit crowded now with the two styles (classic and skate) merging onto one, but in my mind people were working together to keep me boxed in (yeah they definitely weren’t). One guy kept sprinting by and then halfway up an uphill would just stop to rest and turn his skis to take up a good chunk of the course. In my moment of wanting to ski over his skis to show him how inconvenient of a place it was to stop, I instead opted to eat some granola which helped.

The one thing I noticed is that when biking long distances, I definitely get tired and enter similar mindsets but my body knows what to do. It has ridden enough to keep turning the pedals over (like the MDH when all I wanted to do was sleep, my legs at least knew what to do). With skiing, there was no familiarity in the muscle memory, so each movement required conscious thought to keep propelling myself forward.

I had been leap-frogging with Judy from TDA most of the day and was also nice when I saw her on course, we both joked how we were ready to start biking after this with it being both our first Birkie. In the last few miles she pulled ahead of me and figured I would see her after the race was done. In the last four miles, I caught my second, really my first wind. I felt like I was able to somehow get into a groove, the snow was less slushy and more crunchy/icy, which was similar to what I was used to skiing in South Bend. I even got my sense of humor back, when one spectator said we were looking good another participant yelled, “you are definitely lying there is no way we look good.” I poked back, “speak for yourself”. The last two miles contain a lake crossing (1 miles) and then a passage through town over a bridge and down main street. The lake route was groomed and I felt like I could really move–and I did, I put in my fastest mile of the day going over the lake around 7:30.

I came into town and up the bridge, I was a little concerned about going down because of how many people would see you crash but was able to navigate it successfully. I came up the main street and saw Judy stopped right before the finish line, I caught up to her as she picked up her glove. Woooohooo! We made it and skated across the line together.

Skating in with Judy

Ann greeted me with warm clothes and boots- the other part of the group was with Aaron who had finished only minutes before me. We then went to the beer tent, and Megan bought me a sausage to get some real food and because I had no cash. We all talked about various aspects of the day and then went back to the cabin to cook dinner and decompress.

Megan was right, it was a fun weekend, despite having to ski for 6 hours, it was nice to get out of South Bend and hangout in the woods for a few days. I took a few days off without too much soreness only in my shoulders, before I started biking again.

Not a bad place to spend a long weekend

While I’m still waiting to hear back on applications, March seems to be so busy with deadlines that I’ve mostly stopped constantly refreshing my email and focusing more on what I have to get done. I won a free entry into the TommyKnocker 10 in Silver City, New Mexico this weekend. I changed my flights to reroute through Phoenix for break, but earlier this week realized that I just didn’t have the mental energy to race for 10 hours. So I pulled back and decided to stay in Phoenix for the Cactus Cup, which has a short-track, 40 miler, and enduro. I’m currently signed up for all three but still waiting for my bike to show up so might just end up doing the 40-miler. I definitely was not planning on starting my season this year, but also realize that when I’m studying for the bar I’ll do little to no racing so might as well even if I’m not in racing shape (12 days on the bike won’t do too much for fitness levels).

I’ve also been hitting up therapy again, because as my friend Gen pointed out on her blog, exercise is a great tool, but not really a substitute for actual therapy. Also realizing that anxiety and excitement mask themselves in the exact same physical symptoms, so now just tricking myself to be excited at the endless opportunities that are available instead of anxious about none of them being available.