If you separate a pack animal from its pack, it flounders, it does not thrive, it merely survives, if that. I think about this sometimes with Alvin, when I got him he was so malnourished and seemed so weary and guarded. But over the months (now years) with him, he changed into a completely different dog, he’s comfortable taking up space wherever, he’s more confident, and far more chill. I was talking to Tom about this the other night, noting that he hasn’t had to be on prozac in a while or use his thundershirt, saying that he must feel like he’s back in a pack (one that comes with endless pup cups, right Tom). When a pack animal is by itself it has to stay vigilant at all times because it never knows what threat is harboring, put the animal back with a pack and it can flourish because it has others to stay vigilant with it. I’ve thought about this a lot. For so long I felt so isolated and felt like I was on high alert, vigilant for the next looming threat, the next perceived menace. Since July, I’ve felt that rest can finally seep back into my bones, the burden I was carrying is no longer wearing me down. I feel like I’m back with a pack. The vigilance is no longer mine to carry alone, and it never was it just felt that way.
I’ve thought a lot about rest in the past few months– especially because for so long it felt so elusive– as I feel like I’ve been on the move quite a bit and have been asked if (a) I have down time and if so (b) what does that look like. I’ve thought about this a lot because when I was at my peak fight or flight, I had an MRI done and it was like 30 minutes of pure bliss. That’s when I started to think maybe I needed to rest. But even then, I couldn’t, it really wasn’t until the panic attack acted as this catalyst and even then it took so long to get back to a resting state. Now I realize that when my body was in this hyper vigilant state, rest, no matter how often I did yoga, got a pedicure, or did mediation, never came, it felt like I was constantly sleeping with one eye open, being on alert for what risk was around the corner. I feel like I’m mostly back to homeostasis and it’s given me some perspective on how I rest and what that looks like.
I’ve done a lot of visualization work in therapy (again maybe like a placebo effect but I’m a big believer in placebos). The last one I actually threw up during, I called it my great purge (exorcism-ha, sorry mom!) when in reality I think I ate something wonky the day before and had thrown up a few times already that day. Anyways, we were going back into the controlling times, when I felt like I was stuck, literally black tar around my feet, holding me in place, because any step would be the wrong step, everything was dark and closing in and realizing how terrifying it all was. Then I had to visualize the girl inside me who came to save me, who pulled me out of that dark space, but then it wasn’t just me there getting me out of the dark space, it was this whole choir, like everyone I knew was there, it was a large group and it was really moving and powerful. To realize that even though I had felt so alone and so isolated, I actually wasn’t, that others were staying vigilant with me, I just didn’t realize. But now I do.
I thought of this the other day because I was in yoga and struggling to get into child’s pose. The pose that you’re suppose to be able to relax into, but my feet kept cramping, and I kept adjusting to mitigate any potential cramp, I was doing slight movements to find the sweet spot of relaxing and non-cramping. It wasn’t pretty but then again most of the yoga I do isn’t (more blocks, plz!). I went up to David the instructor after class to talk to him about my cramping feet when I was suppose to be relaxing. “I saw you struggling to get into the pose, but you adjusted and adapted, you listened to your body and did what it needed.” He said that when you feel the cramp happening, go in the opposite direction, as if to let your body know it’s okay, then he demonstrated how I might too sit on my feet to stretch them out. Oh, he did see me. The struggle was not mine alone.
At first I was hesitant to relax into this pack feeling, it’s jarring when you go from fight or flight to a safe feeling. Even being more grounded I have to remind myself that the free falls isn’t going to come, the moments of joy can linger, there is no shoe that is going to drop that those steps can be missteps, stumbles, and falls but they are not final. Anyways, the rest comes in waves, on airplanes, in the checkout line, with a namaste, in the stillness of of holding your best friend’s baby, in the FaceTime check-ins and video messages, in the early mornings walking to work, in the phone calls just to say hi, in the parking lot meet ups, and beacon checks, in the swapping stories, the dance moves, the belly laughs, in the exhalations, the morning meditations, someone making the coffee, the house dinners, the MRI machines, the photos of Alvin, the kindness of others, the realization that while an individual pursuit, the collective humanity of it all, of us all.
So here’s to those that remain vigilant with us in our pursuits.
Blessed are those who linger just a little bit longer in a hug, those who stay after the check is paid and no one wants to be the first to get up, those who fill the chorus in with their laughter, who carry joy in their eyes, those that make you tea, send you photos of their children, stay on FaceTime so you don’t have to cry alone, those that text you on a powder day, that let you sit on their wheel, that show up to crew your race, those that ask you to watch their dogs (and cats), that show up for impromptu arepa nights, that bring you sour patch kids, that pretend to know what you do for work, that elate in the small victories and celebrate the big wins, those that remind you the loses are small, there are better things down the road, those that send you articles to read, and memes, those that support you getting 1000g skis even if that means only skiing together during volcano season, those that let you sleep on their couch, floor, spare bedroom, those that know how you take your coffee, those that show you grace, and those that see the magic and brilliance in your life, in your eye, in you.
There are two things that have prompted a lot of reflection, one is H5N1 is making moves and the other is I’m thinking about dating again. Both which have made me realize how many people are invested in my well-being. Thankfully, I love data so for 5 years I’ve been keeping a spreadsheet (called All About That D(ata)) of every guy I have been on a date with or dated since my last long term relationship ended, don’t worry he’s not included. I know you’re probably like wow, that’s weird, and sure it is but I literally have spreadsheets for everything so really it’s more like a journal, just with data you can manipulate. But it’s created this great sampling of longitudinal data where I can identify patterns. One thing that emerged was just how passive I have been over the past years with dating, where it’s like oh this fine because I always figured I would be leaving so never thought too much about how much I actually liked the person vs. being like oh well this isn’t bad–lollz! I also realize that I’ve ran so fast in the pursuit of so many other things that I have this great foundation now to just live my life. I joke that now is the right time to find a guy because of how fast I’m moving, I’ll need someone who can keep up or be excited for my solo adventures. Let me know if you want access to the spreadsheet, always happy for a peer review- haha. Sorry, mom! I joked during COVID that I couldn’t wait to get back to working on influenza but I’m okay if this one doesn’t spillover just yet….and of course happy to talk to anyone about this at any time and share data.
In all of this it’s also learning compassion for myself and others, and I liken things to COVID, I think back to how I operated in March of 2020, wiping groceries, leaving packages out because we didn’t know how the virus was operating. Fast forward to now, I think I know more about this virus than I ever thought possible but as a result my behaviors have changed. I some times think about this, those early red flags, the things that seemed off, and instead of judging I remind myself the information I have now is very different than then. Or as Frank says, no flag is red when you have rose colored glasses on. Hence the very helpful spreadsheet to remind me of them.
Alright, headed to CO for a ski race— and while my posts have gone a way of showing more emotion, one thing that the past few months have shown me is how incredibly grateful I am for my pack, and being more vulnerable in showing that gratitude for others.
Death is but a change of clothes and I came dressed to kill. What I thought would kill me actually came to save me.
Photos compiled from moments when I took in rest in some form or another.
I half joke that the only reason I run is to stay in shape in case someone asks me to go to the Grand Canyon, it’s not really a joke and there isn’t much convincing needed on my part to go there but always nice to have a partner mostly to ease my mom’s concerns.
The last time I went to the Grand Canyon it was with Dave and Allison, and while I started that blog post many times I never finished it. We went down in a post-wedding celebration (of sorts) where I made them recreate multiple wedding photos at multiple locations and we all dawned bridesmaid dresses for one of the days.
We realized that dusty rose might actually be Dave’s color. We ran down to the river, got the world’s best lemonade and then made the trek back up. In the months that followed the panic attack, I lost my narrative, my sense of self, and sense of belonging. Most days I could not even believe that I was the same girl who had ventured to the depths of the canyon mere months before.
In November friends started putting in for cancelled rafting permits and one was drawn. The dates didn’t align for work but half joked that I could always run down to Phantom Ranch, say hi, and run back out. Joke is on me. As the plans transpired it was realized they would be at Phantom on Sunday which meant I could feasibly do that without running into a work deadline. It should be noted that I don’t mind dancing around work deadlines, I love my job, what I do, and feel incredibly lucky for the life it enables me to live. Anyways, more logistics flew and realized that a friend would be hiking out, cool I could join him and figure out who was taking his spot to go in with. More planning, Carly would also be hiking out, amazing, and Jordan a friend from Alaska and Avery (friend of a friend) would hike in. Done and done, I’d have people to hike in with and people to hike out with. The logistics seemed more complicated on my end with my return ticket being purchased before my departure one as I hemmed and hawed when I’d want to arrive so I could be stable for a late Friday work call. I opted to leave on Friday and enjoy the Sedona sun Friday evening before picking the boys up at the airport on Saturday.
I arrived and drove up to Sedona getting to a trailhead parking lot just as the sun was moving behind the rocks. I put my windbreaker on forgetting how cold the desert could get as the sun went down. I started jogging up the Cathedral Rock trail, the most powerful vortex in all the land. I ventured off the trail a bit to get in some different views before linking back up onto the trail. I climbed up to the top and perched out on the rocks watching the last of the light cease from the day.
A very common issue is that I think it only gets dark in Alaska, because people outside of Alaska always ask if it really gets dark there so it has convinced me that nowhere else gets dark. As a result,I left my headlight in the car, but with a clear sky and moonlight was able to dance my way down the trail, amazed at how my body navigated though the rocks. I was approaching the parking lot when I saw a change in tone on the rock and stepped on it with my right leg before I could change my footing, my foot had struck ice and slipped out, my left in an already downward step motion, bent at the knee and kept going as I slid down. I stopped and got up feeling a foreign pain in my left knee all the way down my leg, oh wow I haven’t had an injury in a while. I slowly walked back to the car taking in the stats of my pain, location, and any altered movements I was making. I could move and haven’t heard anything popped making me think it was just a strain but was a little nervous that I had effectively nulled my Grand Canyon trek. I stopped at store and picked up some epsom salt to soak it and KT tape for the next day. I soaked it and propped it up on a pillow for the night.
The next morning I taped it up and headed to a fairly easy trail for a loop to see how my knee felt. The trail started with a half mile descent to link up with the loop, I gingerly pushed off my left leg, altering my gate for my right leg to carry more of the load. How odd, my right leg has been the weakest and now it was picking up the slack of my left. I notice what caused a sharp pain, down step with leg fully extended and a heel strike. I wove around people and the rocks. The pain was intermittent giving me hope that I hadn’t done any real damage. Once the trail leveled I settled into a slower pace than normal and ran the loop around. Sully and I used to come down to Sedona to visit his parents, I remembered riding the trail with him but running it now I couldn’t believe this was one of the easier ones in the area. I made it through the loop and felt better towards the end with no actual residual pain. Definitely got lucky on that one.
I picked up Avery and Jordan in Flagstaff and after a few stops at REI, three grocery stores to get some of the requests from those on the river, the dollar store, and gas station, we headed north. We stopped halfway to do a short hike where a volcano had essentially melted in on itself. After about a mile or so of post holing, we decided we were good with going back. I asked Avery (he’s a doctor) about my knee, he basically said the fact I could walk on it means there isn’t anything serious wrong. Worked for me!
We spent the night packing, them mostly repacking to fit some of the groceries in. I messaged Evan about the possibility of actually needing to pack my camping things in. He thought they’d be to Phantom around 1 at the latest so we’d be able to hike out the same day. Perfect, more room in my bag for groceries. In what is the most bizarre pack I’ve taken down to Phantom, it included a large block of cheese, two bags of arugula, bell peppers, and cuties, in addition to my layers and snacks.
We left the hotel around 8 and got to the trailhead around 9:15, I figured out my layers and we headed to the trail around 9:30. I have never been to the Grand Canyon in the winter so was excited to see what it was like. I carried my micro spikes as we crossed the parking lot and upon reaching the trail junction, put them on. We started the descent, it was about 15 degrees on the top and a pretty good layer of ice on the trail.
We started down the trail, the familiar switchbacks revealing themselves as the spikes pierced through the layer of ice. I was just taking it all in as we walked down the trail. We fell into a similar pace and chatted about what those on the river were experiencing and when we thought they would arrive. Before I knew it we were at the first outhouse, about 1.5 miles down. We stopped to grab some water and snacks, I passed out some sour patch kids and then we kept going. About 800 yards later I took off my spikes, the trail had mostly tried with just some lingering spots of ice. I thought back to the times before on the trail, the versions of me that had existed here — sometimes I think I’m almost reclaiming spaces that I went to during COVID, as if a part of me has been left there for safe keeping and I was returning to pick her up. I didn’t share this with Jordan but we did talk about crystals and vortexes and also everything else, dog mushing, growing up in Alaska, skiing, relationships, families, on the trail anything is fair game— but I’ve noticed that death is coming up less frequently.
We continued down and about half way I stopped to take off more layers, cursing that I had left my shorts in the car. A few guys were stopped too and commented on the beer Avery was hauling on his pack, there weren’t a lot of people on the trail but those that were certainly were curious about the boys’ large packs and my tiny one, in addition to the beer. We explained and they were like oh next time you should send it down on a mule, it’s $80 but that’s what we do to get out stuff down there to camp for a few days… ohhhh that’s good to know.
We ebbed in and out of being able to hear the river. It’s intoxicating to think about something so wild, so fierce, that spent years carving out the canyon and is still a force to be reckon with #Goals. As we got closer we could see the beach and we saw a few kayaks, oh I wonder if that’s them. A raft approached confirming it was there from where we perched about a mile above. I joked with Jordan I could run down and tell them we were on the way, he said okay and I said really? Okay! And took off down the trail. As I was running I was filled with what I imagine is the feeling of immense gratitude, which I find myself having more and more of these days, this overwhelming warmth that radiates in my body. I kept running down the trail, elated that I’d be reconnected with friends I hadn’t seen in a few weeks and others a year. I ran through the tunnel and into the light on the bridge to cross the river. I heard them yelling and hollered back. I dashed off the bridge and looped around with the river crew getting covered with shrubbery. I kept going and stepped off the trail and made my way to the beach— ohhhh heyyyy
We exchanged greetings and then a few of us wandered up to Phantom Ranch to get some lemonade and drop post in the mail. I heard more of their adventures from the river and told them about all my travels. I’m never sure what it is but the lemonade is amazing here.
We went back to the beach, this time Jordan and Avery were there and Carly and Evan were packing there things up. I took a few of their things in my bag and after saying goodbye we split up and they headed down the river to get a few more miles in for the day.
I’ve never hiked up South Kaibob, it’s 2 miles short than Bright Angel but doesn’t have any water on it. But since all the water is turned off in the winter figured it didn’t matter — and decided with Tom it was the best route for more sun exposure on the trail.
We started back up all the switchbacks I had just come down. I heard about their week, how it snowed on them early on, the rapids they encountered, and the food they packed in. I told them about Canada, Geneva, and DC. They both used to live there and I would usually spend my DC time with them. We talked about everything again, work, relationships, life, the geological time scale.
Going up wasn’t too bad but we made it a point to stop every mile to drink water and take a break. I half joked that we just needed to be near the top by 7 for my family FaceTime call. Even with the more frequent breaks we were taking we were mostly on track to reach that. We put on our micro spikes a little later after I had taken them off with the sun making the trail less icy over the day and more slushy.
Better to be safe than sorry. We kept going up and were able to see the last light of the day cast over the canyon before disappearing for the night. Fortunately, it was a clear night and enough light from the moon made it so we didn’t feel a need to bring out our headlights (but I did have mine this time). About 15 minutes from the top, I called in to my family, realizing that my text saying I was headed in never actually sent.
I told them of the day and Carly and Evan said hi too. We got to the top or as Carly said, rimmed out, packed up the car and headed towards the nearest McDonalds. After some food and coffee we drove back down to Flagstaff for the night.
The next morning, after barely making it to the hotel breakfast, we wandered around Flagstaff, Carly and Evan both served as my personal shoppers in the book store pulling a book on boundaries (these days I’m half in/half out the self help section with my reading). Given all they know I figured these options wouldn’t hurt and got a few postcards as well. We said our goodbyes with them driving out to California and I was headed down to Phoenix for a flight. I had enough time that I stopped for a yoga class on the way, and buying a tshirt from the place to do yoga in (this will be important later). I then stopped again in Sedona to head up to Cathedral Rock and see it in the daylight.
I squeezed out all I could to make it back to the airport in time for my flight. I dropped my car off at the rental place and hopped on the tram to transfer to the terminal. It should be noted that I don’t usually get to the airport very early (unless I’m traveling with someone who prefers that), the one time I did get there a few hours before my flight I fell asleep at the gate and missed my flight. On the tram I went to check in, except I couldn’t find any email with the check in information, huh, that’s weird. I looked at my account, nothing had ever been charged for a flight, although I do remember getting up to get my card information to purchase the flight but now wondering if I just didn’t wait for the transaction to get completed. Anyways about 30 minutes before departure I realized I didn’t have a flight. I also realized I didn’t have enough time to get to the ticket counter and through security. No matter, this was so exciting, I’ve seen this in the movies where someone goes up to the counter and is like, I need one ticket to DC and I have to be there by 9am tomorrow and slams the credit card down on the counter. In reality I did need to be back at work by 9am for an in person meeting. I walked up to the counter (while whispering big money big money, no whammies) and they asked if I was there to check-in. “No, I’d like to buy a ticket!” trying to hide my excitement, “you can’t do that here, only online or calling.” What? I imagined the plot of Home Alone getting rerouted. Well there goes any future spontaneity air travel. I quickly logged onto Kayak and found a red eye that would get me into DC at 7:30am. When I told my mom she couldn’t believe I got a ticket for $200, I responded that God works in mysterious ways- ha. But then I was at the airport a bit early so caught up on some reading and wandered around. When it came time to board, my mom Facetimed me again to make sure I was in fact awake and at my gate.
I arrived in DC without any time to go home and change. In my layover in San Francisco I managed to find some black leggings and a scarf to make it work. I got in an Uber and changed into my clothes, using the yoga shirt I had purchased the day before as it was the cleanest option in my bag, as well as putting a face mask on to depuff. I’m still not sure what rating the Uber driver gave me but no matter. I arrived to work to find out my 9am had gotten pushed back. I made it through the day and what did I learn, well not much actually because luck was on my side and behavioral economics was too. So I might just make sure I get an email confirmation on my travel before I get to the airport. I was joking with a work colleague that after feeling constricted for so long I feel like the pendulum is swinging the other way, with seeing how much chaos I can handle, turns out a lot when I’m not in fight or flight mode. Guess I’m back, chaos queen reigns supreme. I knew she was in there.
Don’t worry, my next post is all about rest, as I’m sure you (like most of the guys I seem to meet these days) are wondering when I actually have downtime.
No adventure is ever complete without commemoratory stickers
I’m still processing the Maah Daah Hey 150 as I keep telling my therapist I think it’s going to be a crying session and not a gossip session. The MDH had been on my radar for 5 years and postponing it for 3 years came with a lot of emotions to finally get to the start line and actually reach the finish line. I’ll write more later but yes I did finish, yes it was long, yes it was amazing, and yes it gave me just what I needed.
Getting to the starting line of in a race there is a moment where you push off and in making that decision knowing there is no going back– you know what you want to have happen and what you think will have happen but also in that moment is accepting what is about to come your way regardless of what you want. With racing I lean into this space, I feed on it, knowing that the lows don’t last forever and neither do the highs. I lean into that uncertainty, the instability, I poke into the places that have caused me pain. In life, I’m not as good about leaning into the spots that have caused me pain. Riding 150 miles gives you a lot of time to think about things– even if you are jamming out to Florence and the Machine for most of it. Anyways more later.
After the MDH I stayed in South Dakota for another week and met up with the rest of my family to watch Joyce get inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame. My siblings and I had the honor of introducing her and it was a fun time to reflect on all the activities and events that she’s been a part of (in her life and ours). She’s actually the reason that I ended up playing volleyball in high school instead of running cross-country and likely the reason that I even got into sports to begin with. I did some hiking and took Alvin for a few runs as part of my active recovery.
I caught a ride down to Colorado and stayed with Alex and Danielle for a few days in Durango. It had been years since I had been there and it was nice to get out on some of their favorite trails and see some of their favorite spots around town. They moved during COVID and it was nice to share some of familiar feelings of building a community during a pandemic. It was a lot of fun and definitely makes me want to get back there in the winter.
I drove the million dollar highway up to Steamboat for Parker and Kelly’s wedding. The last time I saw Parker was right after the bar when I headed to Cimarron for a few days at a private ski resort he was working at (yes, that’s a thing and yes it’s as luxurious as it sounds). When Alvin ran away Parker called me to assure me that he had to rescue his dog three times from the pound and that wasn’t counting all the times he found Stella before the dog catcher assuring me Alvin would return. We met each other through friends of friends in the bike industry, shared in the Mystery Can Mondays and plenty of gut rot on long rides. It was so great to hang out with him and Kelly and while brief, we made plans to hopefully link up for some skiing later this year.
Afterwards I had one more week in Boulder where I stayed with Dave, Allison, and Sam. Allison again proved to be a sounding board for all thoughts and feelings. I went hiking, and biking and saw a few other friends that it had been a while since I’d been able to connect with. I also discussed a lot of different ski options with everyone to get their input on what their set up was what they liked and didn’t like and what I should get. Are you a sensing a theme with skiing?
After that whirlwind tour and living out of two suitcases and a bike bag for a month I returned to Alaska (but not before buying new ski gear). I landed at 1 am after sprinting through the Seattle airpot and 12 hours later started a cyclocross race, after getting my bags from the airport the next morning. Every time I fly into Alaska I think back to writing to Molly in the Seattle airport wondering if by returning to Alaska I was going to make a mess or find meaning in my life. The sentence doesn’t seem to carry much weight as I’ve done both and neither — wherever you go, there you are. Returning to Alaska always feels a little different now, the pull is a little stronger. After I graduated high school I’ve never lived in a place for longer than 4 years– school, life, or jobs took me to the next location and I always figured each move was temporary. During COVID when I switched jobs I always thought my time in Alaska was temporary and it certainly seemed like it, more so last summer when campus was opening up and I thought I would have to relocate. I always felt like I had one foot in and one foot out, avoiding leaning too much into the spaces that had caused pain before. This summer came a different job assignment and with that more travel and less worry about needing to be in person. And so I sat and I thought about what do I really want, what do I want this life of mine to look like and I felt like I ran into a brick wall.
What I’ve realized through so much turmoil is that in the past two years I lost my voice and then after the panic attack I lost my narrative, and for a species that loves to tell and make meaning with stories this resulted in me losing my sense of self, like all of it. My autonomy had slowly been chipped away at until I was fitting into a smaller and smaller box as my body navigated so much uncertainty, instability, and pain. Life became black and white and for a girl who spent most of my life in the grey it was a foreign place to be. A lot of things are intertwined and parsing them all out doesn’t necessarily make sense but realizing how muted I was over the course of the pandemic is a big one, I lost my voice and so much of my confidence that came with it. People would say certain things or do certain things and I would operate around them to protect myself. But by doing that I realized that I abandoned a core part of my sense of identify– as my life became smaller and smaller my appetite for risk of any sort became less and less.
I realized this the other day when I was doing an emotional agility workshop– yes still throwing everything at the wall when it comes to healing. I had to rank my values or what I perceived to be my values and what I ranked number one was adventure. I stopped, am I adventurous? I feel like I used to be willing to do and try most things without questioning and I realized that since summer of 2020 this has become less and less as I stay in my tiny little box of what I knew I could do. Going to Colorado and seeing those friends I was remind of all the times that I just said yes and then figured it out or jumped and landed on my feet. I started putting it together backwards, sure there have been moments in the past two years where I’ve said yes and then figured it out but it’s been mostly yes and then self doubt and then wondering if I could do it and then overthinking and then not enjoying it. But in May when Ana asked me to bike to Haines I said yes and there was no doubt, no trepidation and I feel like that was the beginning of the process. Lining up for the MDH was similar I said yes and was going to take whatever came my way after.
After arriving in Alaska I did two cross races last weekend. After picking up my shoes from the airport I made it to the race in time to see Grande finish a few laps and see Ana, Dusty, and Lil’ Snugs. More friends were around and the cross community has really grown from when I moved up here in 2019. It’s really incredible to see. This year they’ve moved the open women to the same race time as the open men and singlespeed and that’s been a lot of fun because the women get spread out pretty fast but racing with the men we have more people around. I usually end up around some of the singlespeeders I know from the bike co-op and that’s been fun to heckle each other.
It also reminded me of this incredible community and this sense of belonging that I get living in Alaska. I feel like in other places I’ve had a sense of community but my sense of belonging was elsewhere or visa versa and honestly for the two years during COVID I had a sense of community but my sense of belonging also felt elsewhere or nowhere.
Now in getting my voice back, in gaining back some of my confidence, and realizing that the ground is no longer shifting I’m sitting with what I want, what matters to me, how do I want to show up in friendships, relationships, activities, work, and life in general. So after thinking for so long that I would be leaving Alaska I’ve decided to stay- who knows what that will all bring but I’m just saying yes and will figure it out later.
I promise I will get back to writing about more adventures at some point…maybe.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Did you know that only 25% of people who start the Appalachian Trail finish it. That leaves 75% that show up with the intention of completing it to call it quits, I’m sure only after rationalizing their decision. There are other (unverified) stats surrounding endurance events, one that I’ve heard about Leadville MTB is that only about 60% of the men finish; whereas 90% of women finish. One of the reasons is that men tend to overestimate their ability where women tend to underestimate their ability. Again, broad generalization.
After the bar I started reading a book about the Appalachian Trail course records, it went through details of those who attempted and ultimately achieved setting a new thru-hike record. At the time I tucked the book away with the tidbits of knowledge thinking I would rely on it for larger endurance mountain bike pursuits this year. Little did I know I’d be utilizing it for a completely different type of endurance pursuit, like staying at home and social distancing. I thought about it again, recently, when I stumbled onto this article. The slog we are in at the moment with the pandemic seems to resemble a really long endurance pursuit. At the start we’re all gung-ho, and then when you start to settle in you realize the daunting task in front of you and all of a sudden you’re questioning all of your life decisions (or really the federal government’s [lack of] response) that have brought you (us) to this point (usually like mile 55 of a 100 mile race). Now, with things opening up it’s like being at mile 70 of a race, where you’re cautiously optimistic that you’re going to make it to the end but realize that there is still enough time that a lot could still happen. And who knows maybe we’re at mile 70 of a 500 mile race instead of 100. Trying my best to remain optimistic but opening up offers a false sense of security because the virus hasn’t gone away, people have just rationalized the risks they are willing to take.
Times remain weird and I deal with feelings of guilt being in Alaska (lowest COVID case count in the US) and with my access to the outdoors not being limited, mostly encouraged by officials to maintain mental health.
After car camping with Alvin, we decided he was ready for his next Pawnee Goddess Badge: Backpacking. Which meant I got to haul the 9 pound tent into the backcountry because we’re still not convinced he won’t damage the nice tent. Alvin was great on the trail and we kept him on leash for the most part because there were a lot of people and dogs. For as many people we saw on the trail we only heard a few others around our campsite.
The next morning we decided to leave on a different trail, hiking up to the ridge line, going across the ridge, and then down. It offered better views and thought it would be better for Alvin to have him off leash more. We had him off leash initially but on the steep hike up to the ridge realized he would see a rock rolling and chase it down, and derp his way back up to us. We finally had to put him back on the leash so he would stop dawdling.
The views, were amazing, even though Kevin was like “they’re okay” which leads me to believe there are more amazing views to be sought.
The first half of the hike was great, with almost no post-holing into the snow.
The second half, made us realized why no one else was up there as some of the ridge lines weren’t completely melted out. There was only one section that I was mostly terrified on and it was about 20 yards of being unsure if I was walking on snow covering the ground, or just snow that could easily break and carry me away. We made it and Alvin proved to be a better rock scrambler than me, not surprised.
I felt like an anxious mom the whole time watching him go over rocks and praying he did not fall off the ledge. We made it down and again ordered burgers to be ready for pick-up upon our arrival back into Anchorage.
Last week I think I did the most Alaskan thing you could do which was bike and pack raft– or as Kevin said, boats on bikes, bikes on boats, boats on bikes. We rode out on double track for about 20 miles, the last 3 covered in loose sand made me realize why everyone else had a fat bike.
We got to Knik Glacier, where Kevin and I were the only ones willing to jump in (thank you 8 years of ice baths from high school and college sports).
We unpacked our boats and then gingerly put the bikes on the packrafts, which are just giant rubber rafts, and seem easily pop-able (quite terrifying when borrowing an expensive piece of equipment and then putting more gear on it).
The Knik River was quite mellow, almost so mellow that we had to paddle the whole time instead of riding the current. I drew on the three times I had been in a canoe or kayak and tried to avoid catching any crabs (I think that’s the lingo…). It was great until we hit mile 13 and a nasty headwind, I didn’t really think much of it, other than I wish my paddle had a power meter so I could see how much power I was putting out to go nowhere, and was quite content to just stay in that same place for the foreseeable future.
Fortunately, Kevin was thinking a little more clearly and paddled over to the shore to get out and start putting his bike together. He was turned away when I made my approach to the shore but as I pulled up and went to get out the wind pushed me back into the water, this went on about 3 more times before I was finally able to get on to shore and out of the boat. We broke down the rafts (more so Kevin) and I put together my bike, loading the packs back onto our backs to pedal out. I felt tired at this point but the one thing I’ve realized with biking is that even when I’m tired my body knows what to do. We started biking towards the road with only some detours as we found the best dirt road back to the highway to loop around to the cars. It was fun and with racing on pause this season a new type of challenge and adventure to have.
Sunday was mostly spent cleaning up gear. As of last Monday morning I was still planning on leaving for South Dakota. When I got into work (and by that I mean the spare bedroom) on Monday it was like the reality of closing all my cases or transferring them over and having to pack up and move this week hit me. I think in a lot of ways I felt like it was an either/or situation, like I was either leaving now, not knowing when I would be back, or staying indefinitely, not knowing when I would be leaving.
I didn’t feel like I could do an adequate job of finishing my cases and packing up enough that I wasn’t leaving completely disheveled (mostly my style but usually have my family to help me pack). I decided to focus on work this week and stay tentatively for one more month and reassess. The border might be open by then, which would certainly make travel easier, and South Dakota might not be the hot spot it is now. Selfishly, Alaska seems like the best spot for my mental health through all of this, besides being so far away from my family.
I think too starting last week I realized that I would be saying goodbye to clients, in my new position it’s more research and writing based and not direct client services. It’s what I want but certainly a change, some of the things I experienced this year are unlike anything I ever will – like when I went to serve a demand letter and interrupted a swat tactical take down– didn’t seem like we were going after the same person but I let them go first and called a colleague for reinforcement. It’s nothing I anticipated it would be but an amazing experience nonetheless. I’m sad that the timelines didn’t work out better for me to finish out this contract but I’m excited for what is ahead, even with all the underlying uncertainty…
In what I thought would be my last weekend here, we are headed to Denali National Park. I felt like it was going to be one of those questions that after leaving Alaska I would hear all the time, “oh have you been to Denali” and I would have to say no, like saying no to seeing the northern lights, and saying no to seeing a bear.
As things open up I hope everyone realizes that everyone is operating under a different level of necessity and rationalized risks –financially they have to go work, for the sake of their sanity take their kids to camp or daycare, some people are comfortable eating in restaurants, getting their hair cuts, or not making any changes.
It’s kind of like being in the backcountry, everyone has a different comfort level and their own rationalization of the risks. I just have a problem if what you’re doing potentially threatens my or others health, well-being and safety. Personally, I’m still pretty cautious because I can be–and I’m kind of curious of what my natural hair color is at this point. I also understand that isn’t the reality for a lot of individuals. I do also believe that we can move forward into this space of thinking beyond ourselves, but understand that some don’t have the capacity right now as their very foundations and securities have become cracked and broken. Is that not just a juxtapose of a paragraph if you’ve ever read one. If you feel like you want more to explore I suggest reading about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
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.
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.
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.
Last weekend I finally headed down to Colorado to take the in-person ethics course and get sworn in. When I was booking flights figured end of February would be a good time to leave Alaska (it was) and was a convenient time for my family to come because I’m convinced if they didn’t see it actually happen I’m not sure they would believe I actually did it. Either way it gave me a nice excuse to get out of the darkness and see some family and friends while getting officially sworn in (even though Alaska gave me a license a few months ago via email). The course itself was a bit dry and somewhat redundant as I had taken an ethics course in law school and a national test that proved I could at least think about being ethical. My parents and Joyce (sans Tenzen) picked me up afterwards and we went to Colorado Springs to see Mary work–which is a bit strange as she works in the Air Force Academy Athletic Department, so basically just watched a basketball game.
The next morning we headed back to Denver so I could fill out my application to register and pick up my oath. We had a bit of time to kill so went to the History of Colorado Museum. My dad got me a museum pass to the Anchorage Museum for Christmas but I think when he was looking at which to purchase he just picked the most expensive and went with it– that’s how I ended up with a family of 4 pass and access to all Smithsonian affiliated museums–so I was able to get everyone in for free and we wandered around a bit.
For the swearing-in ceremony, my mom’s friend from law school was able to arrange a good friend who is a judge to perform the ceremony– making it a bit more personal than the clerk of courts.
I imagine taking the oath is similar to reciting vows when you get married–you’re a bit nervous, excited, but mostly you’re like oh shit this is for real–quite a different feeling from getting an email.
We took some pictures, signed the oath, and that was it.
Because I had scheduled my fight for a long weekend, we headed to Boulder where I was able to get a quick run in with Sully before meeting my family again for dinner and then convincing everyone to go to The Downer for kamikaze shots (figured getting sworn in was enough to persuade my family into going down to the greatest bar in Boulder).
We didn’t stay out too late because we were heading to the mountains in the morning and had a 5 am departure (3 am Anchorage time for you folks at home). I slept most (all) of the way up and was greeted with a second cup of coffee (I chugged my first one when we pulled into their driveway) upon the arrival at our friends’ house. With the weather having been so nice and the roads mostly dry we settled for a road ride, mostly, with patches of gravel. I borrowed one of Sully’s gravel bikes and we departed.
It was so nice, I left my tights in the car and about 15 minutes into riding had to shed most of my other layers (one day I will realize that I don’t get nearly as cold as I’m convinced I will). We rode for just over 2 hours and about 40 miles. Providing a stark contrast to my last outside ride which was also just about 40 miles but over 5 hours on a fatbike. I was soaking in the sunshine and finally being outside on bikes. It wasn’t until we turned around did I realize how strong of a tailwind we had (even though we had been warned when Christa and I were apparently pushing the pace with a good tailwind…).
Lucky for me, I mostly tucked into Sully’s draft and sat on his wheel, until I feel off and then he would slow his roll and pull me back to the others. He said he didn’t mind because it was good training for him and I wasn’t going to argue.
We stayed in the mountains that night and did a short hike in the morning before packing up to beat the weather and traffic back to Boulder. We opted for running errands over working out but also both admitted our legs were a wee bit tired.
I schedule my flight for Monday evening in the hopes that it would allow time for one last activity. Because it had been snowing the day before, riding was out and no reason to ride the trainer in Colorado when I could do that in Alaska. We headed up to Sanitas for a hike/run. Most of the way up involves large steps up either stairs or rocks so power walked up followed by getting to the summit surrounded by clouds. We got our yak-traxs out for the way down and had just talked about what trail to take down when the clouds broke, creating an inversion and exposing the flatirons while Boulder remained completely hidden.
The sun was so bright but we quickly descended into tree coverage and onto a less popular trail (we theorized it’s because dogs aren’t allowed on it). We got down the trail by talking about different races, training techniques, and skimo races–joking about doing the Grand Traverse courses; bike, run, and ski from Crested Butte to Aspen. We finished having gone 5 miles and the most vertical I’ve done since South Dakota at Christmas (need to do more step-ups to prepare for the Grand Canyon).
I’m now back in Alaska, with a bit more daylight starting to creep in. This winter was a bit rough for me and I was surprised at how much the lack of sun impacted me–spontaneously crying on my way to work multiple times, check. It was certainly compounded by the cold as my penchant for merrymaking with negative temps was nowhere to be found. I keep thinking about the fatbike race–I think my only inclination to do it is, is because as Sully put it when else am I going to ride a fatbike for 100 miles in Alaska. It makes me feel like when I got recruited for intramural softball because someone thought since I was decent at riding my bike I must just be athletic in nature–very far from the case–and fatbiking is similar, being good at one cycling discipline doesn’t necessarily translate to another. But as if I did my planning quite poorly in anticipation of this race, I head to Albuquerque next week for a conference, and part of my is tempted to stay down and ride my bike in the desert instead of the snow. Stay tuned.
Early this year when I started to log more running miles than cycling miles someone asked me what I was training for, I responded with, “Life”. Even with the added base of running my legs were a little heavy for Day 3.
Knowing that time was a precious commodity I realized I could tackle the route I had planned even if I was hiking the whole time. My goal was to do a similar route to the day before, only on the other side of the valley. I started in town and hiked up to left towards Montenvers, I opted for the shorter route and still took a good 90 minutes to get to the top.
Only at the top did I realize that there was a train option. For only seeing 2 people on the trail the view point was suddenly littered with unaccompanied minors throwing rocks and adults wandering aimlessly around. It was a bizarre spectacle to come out of the solitude of the trail and emerge onto a boisterous scene of people.
From there I hiked up towards Signal Forbes, which was a lot of rock stairs and questioning if I took the right trail. Once I reached the peak it flattened out a bit but I still opted against running due to all the jagged rocks waiting to claim me as their victim (no need to learn about the French medical system). The trail smoothed out eventually and my walk turned into a trot and then back to a walk and then back to a trot as my quads were a little blown out. I started calling it the “wrot” and could only wonder what people thought of me (fortunately there were not a lot of people on the trail at this point). The views were still breathtaking, not so much the other side of the valley but the ridge line that I was running on offered vantage points up towards the highest peaks.
I made it to De L’Aiguille and was again mystified at the cable car running up from the town. No way was I getting on that thing. I sat down and waited a few moments hoping that the clouds would break and I could get a good picture of Aiguille Du Midi.
There is also a cable car that runs up to that peak at 3842 meters, I almost threw up thinking about that option. I wandered around a bit debating if I should hike up to Lac Bleu or head down, I saw a sign that said it was only 15 minutes so opted towards the lake. The problem with the maps and the signs is that none of them have distance and only times, and I’m still not sure who those times are based. The lake was pretty but with the cloud coverage didn’t offer as much of a view as Lac Blanc the day before. I sat for a few minutes, reapplied some sunscreen, ate some dried mangos and contemplated just how much sunscreen I had ingested at that point.
I started down, which the sign said time to Chamonix about 2:30 but I figured it would be 1:30. The first steps down the trail I wasn’t so sure, it was steep and the drop offs were more perilous than the Grand Canyon.
I was definitely hugging the non-exposure side at some moments and also scooting along to lower my center of gravity. It’s times like these that I really think about lasik eye surgery so I can have accurate depth perception (Background: I only have one bad eye but hate touching my eye so never wear contacts and only glasses for reading and school, which is probably why I crash a lot while biking or trip while trail running. My optometrist once stated, “I can’t believe you’re still alive with this depth perception.”). The trail was filled with a lot of switchbacks and continued on the steep grades, even when the exposure disappeared. I still continued to awkwardly shuffle down between a walk and a trot, trying not to jar my quads too much. I made it down in about 1:40 and bee-lined it to the grocery store to get candy (I ate all my skittles from the day before (Kara, I promise I will fit in my bridesmaid dress-haha)).
For my last day I knew I wouldn’t have too much time because I had to catch the shuttle back to Geneva. I opted for a short loop on the opposite side of the Chamonix Peaks so I could take in those views one last time. I also thought my legs would be completely shot but surprised me when they were good to run both up and down (fortunately not super steep grades). I only did about 2 hours and stopped a lot to take pictures. There is a race around Mont Blanc, I don’t think there is anyway I would survive the race and I’d probably spend wayyy too much time taking photos. It seems like the route goes through enough little towns that you can run it with minimal support, which would be really fun if anyone reading this is interested…
As I was getting packed up to leave I had the thought that I wish I could spend more time here, and I realized that I have that thought about almost anywhere I go. It’s certainly a great privilege to be able to explore this world.