Monday, September 01, 2014

In the Alphabet Hills



The Beaver dropped us off late Wednesday afternoon on Ward Lake or Bear Lake- depending on whom you ask. Jerry landed, brought the plane to a stop, unloaded our gear and he was GONE.  We were left in a bushy, lakeside spot that would become home for the next number of days.
We soon set up camp and fell into the daily routine of a campy chores. Wake, boil water, hunt, start fire, eat, hike, pick berries, eat, hunt, gather firewood, survey area with binoculars, sit, read, pick, hike, eat, rebuild fire, hunt, drink wine/tea, sit, read, sleep, repeat. The sleeping tent was perched up on a slight knoll and the make-shift kitchen was marked by a noisy brown tarp. Campfire and lounge area could be found lakeside. Grayling fishing to the far right of camp, blueberry central to the left, right and behind camp. We watched caveman tv (the fire) and the beaver channel, which consisted of a family of 5-7 beavers that worked in played right before our very eyes. While we enjoyed their entertainment, they seemed rather annoyed by our presence and let us know with an aggressive whack of the tail in our general direction.




The blueberries were the best picking I have probably ever experienced. Large blue grape-like globes grew in the dwarf birch alongside the small creeks that ran down into the lake. Bunches of 7 and 8 berries could be easily plucked in a one-handed grab. I could fill both palms at the same time, rather quickly, with proper body placement in the right patch. While I started with one berry bowl, I quickly moved to two and did not return to camp until both were spilling over. I carefully balanced an overflowing plastic bowl in each hand and later found that with each bowlful I was securing 2 1/2 cups of berries. Therefore, it would take me 15-50 minutes to accumulate 5 cups of berries. I came home with a 5 gallon bucket of berries and then some.
David hunted morning, afternoon and evening, sometimes by ancient skiff and other times on a walk-about around camp. We'd watch him move farther and farther away and then get closer and closer to camp hours later. The girls bounced from reading and drawing to fishing or berry picking to fairy house building and roaming freely on the edges of camp. Hours were spent making potions in a 5 gallon bucket and hunting for, carving and whittling the perfect staff. I moved between reading and picking and fire-tending- maybe my favorite camp thing to do.


Sadie honed her bone-finding skills.  Her future is bright in the art of skull, antler and jaw exploration. She spent many minutes wiggling moose and caribou teeth loose from their jawlines. Maren caught upwards of 20 grayling, keeping some in a 5 gallon habitat for observation before releasing them back into the small lagoon below the lake.






The colors in the hills were so rich and bright and vibrant. When the sun lit the land with its' bright rays, the colors were illuminated in bright reds, oranges, yellows and lime green. I was reminded of the feeling in spring when the sun's rays return and the light feels so good on the skin. The colors of autumn soak one in such awesome hues that one's eyes receive  a sensory overload of coloration. With each passing day the colors got brighter and deeper and more widely spread. Autumn truly is the season of color.


The sky was such a sight. Depending on weather and time of day, the sky never failed to amaze. The reflection of the lake only added to the dimension of the landscape. The first two nights were reasonably warm, but when the cold settled in for the second two nights, a mist developed in the evening, creating a middle layer between land, water  and sky. Binoculars provided a sharper landscape for the human eye. We watched moose and caribou roam the distant hills, beaver, loons and caribou swim in the lake and swans, kingfishers, eagles, ospreys, jays and kestrels navigate the sky.
A gunshot fired in the distance late in the morning of our last full day. Even in the silence of the wilderness, I second-guessed whether or not I had truly heard the loud, disruptive noise. As to plan, I turned on the walkie-talkie and waited to hear. Nothing for minutes. "Hello. I shot a caribou," David's quiet voice finally called. Just a mile a way, he came back to camp, gathered family and supplies and we all anxiously followed him back to the caribou.
He led us along and above the creek that began behind camp, through the short spruce and dwarf birch, to a glorious golden meadow divided by a meandering creek.  I only knew the animal lay creek side and I anxiously anticipated the moment my eyes found it. The sight of the caribou collapsed on its side took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes. It wasn't the sadness I expected, but more of a gratitude and awe for the environment and the animal and my family experiencing this together. 

And then the work began. David quickly went to work field-dressing the animal. I found myself gaping at his handiwork until he threw me a pair of rubber gloves and instructed me to pull the skin back. I couldn't take my eyes off the inside of the animal; the muscle, the fur, the tendon and cartilage. By removing its skin we allowed the warmth of its body to escape and thus release the last of its life. This felt like important, humble work. I served as David's assistant, retrieving game bags, spraying meat and placing raw flesh in clean white sacks. I thought I would cower and gag and become disinterested, but David was meticulous in his work, at times talking his way through the process, but not talking to me. It was something to see. 

Sadie moved closer and closer to the kill site, finally becoming fully engaged in the bloody carcass. Maren stayed a safe distance away, but kindly checked on me with the thumbs up and down sign. Even though I responded with nothing but thumb ups, she never got involved and in her words, found it " rough."
David loaded my pack in preparation for the return to camp. The meat would be hauled back to the hanging racks and secured with a bear fence. Two hind quarters strapped to my back, a half set of ribs in one hand balanced by the 45-70 in the other, I was quickly winded. Meat and bone are heavy. Lifting my legs over soft tundra and around fallen logs and roots, I quickly felt the familiar fatigue of the last hours of  a 100 miler. One step at a time, ignore the back and shoulder pain. This was a small caribou and it crushed me.
This was a proud moment for our family. This is where the words become more challenging to find to express the feelings of thankfulness, hard work, independence and togetherness. It was a calm, quiet, humbling moment. A moment of feeling very small, in a vast natural world.


This was an amazing 5 days for our family. I understand why David holds this time precious in his yearly plans. Our girls had an individual experience that they determined on their own. We just got them to the location and they made it their experience. For that we are very proud. We were together as a family in a way I think we can only be in a place like this. Our regular chores and routines and schedules were replaced with whatever we created at any given moment. A rhythm was created without discussion or plans, we just were.
As Jerry arrived to pick us up a little later than planned, I cried at the sight of the plane. I did not want to leave. As we flew back to Glenallen, I took in every last bit of landscape, every sight.
The girls seemed happy, but reluctant to leave. They made their dad promise to come back next year. He happily did.














Friday, July 25, 2014

Seward Camping Fun


It was a pleasure this week to surround ourselves with really cool kids. Sure, we packed up gear and food and made the drive to Seward to get them there, but these kids know exactly what to do to have a good time. It doesn't take much.. tidal exploration,


a cold ocean to wade into


sea creatures


skate park (don't even need wheels),


friends,


new friends,


snail games,


escargot races,


Moms that make it all look easy,


the outdoors and,


 the freedom to go and do and see.

Thanks for the fun!


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Ultra Community

An 100 mile ultra  is extreme, exceptional, excessive and immense in its undertaking. This is the nature of anything "ultra." An ultra is humbling. It has the potential to break one down in ways that are difficult to explain or recreate in day to day life. An ultra is energizing. The days before a 100 miler are nerve-wracking and exciting and over the top bubbly. The potential of an ultra sends powerful, palpable energy coursing through your veins. Goosebumps appear at unexpected moments. I find myself singing at the top of my lungs and cursing unnecessarily for emphasis. An ultra is a challenge-so many what-ifs, questions, details, logistics and worst of all UNKNOWNS. This is probably my greatest challenge and lesson in undertaking 100 milers- letting go of the fear and the desire to control and just  move forward with trust and confidence.

The ultra community I find myself in blows the ultra in 100 miles out of the water. I am surrounded by incredibly exceptional people whose support is excessive and immense. The 100 mile ultra is NOT POSSIBLE without the ultra community. These folks have accomplished extreme achievements of their own- far beyond 100 miles. They inspire me in their ultra actions and the way they reach out to whole-heartedly to support my endeavors. Ultra friends guide you in from 91 miles and tolerate your incessant complaints and hallucinatory descriptions. They get you off the mountain when you are totally and completely bonked and give you candy and take you to coffee and cheeseburgers. The ultra community shows up on run day to give you a good-luck hug at before 5am. They volunteer to travel with you and support your race day efforts. They read your blog. The immense interest and extending of  support is humbling.

 The ultra community is energizing. Emails, texts and phone messages of support motivate me to give it all I've got. Goodie bags of race day treats, handmade paper medals, "Go Mom" posters and a cd of energizing music get my heart beating a little faster and start the butterflies of anticipation flitting in my gut. The healing treatment of a skilled and caring practitioner invigorates my legs and my confidence and I feel rested and ready. The ultra community really brings it all together.

The challenge of the 100 mile ultra seems do-able because of the ultra community. The uncertainties floating around my brain are quelled by the exceptional support of my ultra family. The advice and good wishes remind me to just put one foot in front of the other- relentless forward progress- and 100 miles is within reach. I know my community will be willing me forward and keeping track of my progress. I am humbled and inspired and extremely grateful for such a gift. This gift will be reciprocated in my involvement and support and participation in the ultra community as an ultra runner and an ultra supporter.

Most of all, this ultra community lifts me up. As corny as it sounds, all of these extremely, exceptional people believe in me... ME? Their kind words and supportive gestures enable me to trust in myself and move forward-one step at a time- in confidence. THANK YOU.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Viscosity & Fluidity


I spent most of the Susitna 100 in a state of viscosity. Viscosity is a measure of a fluid's resistance to flow. It describes the internal friction of a moving fluid. A fluid with large viscosity resists motion because its molecular makeup gives it a lot of internal friction. A fluid with low viscosity flows easily because its molecular makeup results in very little friction when it is in motion. If I was a fluid, my viscosity would be LARGE. My molecular make-up was being eroded by the internal mental friction of the HUGE BITE of sled pulling I bit off in a frozen, cold, swampy wasteland. I felt in over my head from the start. I was resisting the flow before the race even started. The race pretty much started without me. I was resisting motion partly because I had no idea what I was in for and partly because I was scared.


I put on a brave face, a happy face and found a good spot among friends. I immediately worried about being alone. I kept Larry and Stephen close, knowing full well that I was running too often and not walking enough. The internal friction started right away. Mentally I was resisting the motion, but physically I was participating in too much motion, too early. I walk early and often in a "regular 100 miler" and this time I had at least 20 lbs of gear to pull. I knew I was running too much. But the temptation of good company in the dark and the cold and the unknown was too good to give up.


I felt pretty crappy coming into the first aid station. The trail prior was hilly and dippy and my sled was an external friction against my back. It flipped  5 or 6 times. The resistance started in my low back and moved up into my shoulders. I felt a slight bonk, but panicked when Larry and Stephen moved out of sight.  So I kept moving, walking mostly. I wanted to run so I wouldn't lose them, but walking was my only gear until the consumed calories kicked in. It seemed too early in the race to be resisting motion. I was only 20 miles in. 

I feigned feeling good when asked at the aid station. When pressed, I admitted my weakness and it was then I knew I couldn't lose sight of the others. The four of us- Jane, Stephen, Larry and I- sealed the deal at 20 miles. We became a unit. We were off to see the wizard. We found a rhythm of pairing up and speeding up and slowing down for the next 40 miles. We sang, shared personal stories, ran in silence, laughed, put our Kahtoolas on, took them off and put them on again. Heading into Flat Horn at 31 miles, I felt the first sting of LARGE viscosity. I was holding onto the flow of the group, but I was not maintaining the flow.

I was so happy to see Anne and Rob. I was so grateful that Kirk opened up his home to us. I knew I needed coffee and soup and warmth and LOTS of calories. Before I knew it, the group motion was leaving and I was scrambling to pack up and get moving. I used whatever calories I consumed ( for sure NOT enough) to fight  my strong desire to stay and take care of myself. The group was moving at a different velocity. Thinking back now, this was my first BIG mistake. I should have stayed viscous and let the group go.

It was here when I transformed into a frozen swamp zombie. It seemed like I was running in circles. I tried to remember to look for the laths that marked the trail. My fear of being alone propelled me forward. Frozen, icy swamp, upon frozen, icy swamp. Low clouds, black spruce, snow. Snow, black clouds, low spruce.


I moved with the group onto frozen rivers and into darkness. Thank God for Stephen and Larry and Jane.  They kept me running and walking and  talking and drinking water and eating. But, I succumbed to following the crowd and stopped thinking for myself.

The trail turned to shit. Hard-packed, solid trail turned to mushy, ankle twisting insanity. We met a runner whose sled broke at 16 miles and he was trudging into 46 miles with his pack on his back. I fell behind to walk and keep Eric company. His determination to keep going gave me a temporary energy to become more fluid.


The Five Star Tent was a very welcoming place. HOT beef soup was what I needed. Hot Tang, hot chocolate and I was ready to roll. My internal particles were revived and I felt mobile.

And then I didn't. THIS WAS ONLY 46 MILES IN!


The cold zapped my internal particles. I ran into 60 mile aid desperate to be revived. I knew where I was. Coming off the Susitna River, I knew we couldn't be far. Corral Hill kicked my ass and shredded my mental fortitude. I felt worn down.While Larry and Jane and Stephen trotted on, I struggled to move forward- cold, hungry and getting sleepy. It had to be 1:30AM.  I looked forward to changing my clothes and ordering hot food at Eaglequest Lodge. Somehow I found the momentum to get it into to the lodge.

The last bit of energy I had I used to change my clothes. The coffee didn't hit the spot and the wormy noodle soup left me unsatisfied and worried about keeping moving. I walked out of there very LOW. I used my iPod to power walk. I tried to eat a bar and 2/3 of the way through it I started to spit it out. I got cold- down to the bone cold and pulled out my -20 degree bag. I wrapped it around my body and started to fall asleep as I walked. I was no longer mentally resisting movement, my body physically refused to be fluid.  Jane suggested we sleep on our sleds. I resisted, then complied.

My arms grew tired of holding the bag around my body. I lost Jane. I was alone and tired and cold and stupidly stuffing my down bag into my duffle when two angels appeared. Adam and Stephen led me off the wrong trail and I followed their blinking red lights into the wooded single track Su 100 trail. The owls hoo- hoo-ed. The trail grew steep and my back ached. I would not lose the blinking red lights. 

The sun came up and somehow I managed to get into Cow Lake aid at 77 miles. The race director was hopping on his snow machine to come find me after reports of a lone woman with a purple sleeping bag over her head, aimlessly wandering the frozen swamp land. I planned to sleep for 30 minutes, but woke abruptly after 15 and felt I needed to go. I was alone now. It was light and I was trying to be more fluid. I was making a great effort to move forward. I valiantly ran across Cow Lake, but stopped as soon as I was out of sight from the aid station. Any glimmer of fluidity was a hoax. There was no running left.

The next 12 miles took me 5 hours. I woke up twice on my sled not knowing I had laid down to rest. I called David in tears. I was cold and it made me scared. My shivers were audible. The only fluidity I experienced was the constant stream of hallucinations I experienced. Women with white flowing hair, chickens, men in army fatigues in trees, lynx in trees. I came down a hill and saw a vast parking lot full of cars and I knew I was done. My day was over. I quit. Sue on the snow machine verified my worst fears. No cars and no road and no ride to the aid station.

I saw 4-5 tents though the trees and none of them was the aid station. None of them were even real. My legs moved 6-8 inches ahead at a time. Too much internal friction. No motion. Brooks fed me potato soup. I drank hot chocolate and tea. 11 miles to the finish. I couldn't bare it. Neither Sue nor Brooks offered me a way out. I had to leave, but I didn't think I could. 


 I was happy to get back out onto the trail and into the bright sunshine. Maybe I was just surprised I was moving. I took this selfie just pretending to be happy and certain I could finish. I tried to run to a tree, walk to the next. Running was NOT happening. The sun was too bright for my eyes and I got sleepy. I slept for 27 minutes on my sled in the warm sun. I woke to the sight and sound of a runner calling my name. Pam ran 9 miles out to find me. She was the fluidity I needed and I held on and only looked forward. Pam provided the motion my molecular make-up no longer possessed. It was because of Pam that I made it in before dark, before Monday for all I know. 32 hours and 35 minutes.


I had nothing left at the end. I raised my arms and David unclipped my sled. I got the hell out of there, ate cheeseburgers and slept until Monday. I woke Monday swollen face, stiff body, no satisfaction. I felt no accomplishment. I had nothing left to give. All I did was hold on and get through at a very slow rate of motion. The burst of energy/ motion or desire to be done or final fluidity I had experienced in previous 100 milers was not with me this time. It felt a bit disappointing. I felt sub-par.

Two weeks later, I think I know what I can do to make White Mountains more fluid. Eat LOTS more. Walk more from the start. Eat HOT food at every aid. Drink hot drinks at every aid. Revive and retain body temps at every aid. Sleep at aid when I need to. Find my own fluidity and reduce friction by eliminating fear and trusting in my experience and confidence and determination. Don't hang onto others. Go it alone. Trust my own motion. Reduce internal friction.

The next time you lose heart and you can’t bear to experience what you are feeling, you might recall this instruction: change the way you see it and lean in……Instead of blaming our discomfort on outer circumstances or on our own weakness, we can choose to stay present and awake to our experience ( Pema Chodron)...


Regaining fluidity atop Wolverine this weekend.
Ready to have at it in Fairbanks.
1 down 3 to go.


Friday, February 14, 2014

Smells Like Teen Spirit

These last two weeks- pre-Susitna- have taken me back to the adrenaline rush, the emotion, the mood swings, the excitement, the loud music, the denial, the total self-assured cockiness, and the lower than low insecurity of being an adolescent.

Two weeks ago I wasted all my time being completely distracted. I laid out my sled bag in the middle of the playroom and walked by it 1,000 times without a single contact. I saw it was there, but I denied the obvious. Every time I looked at it, I sank lower and lower into the dregs of inadequacy and doubt. I'd think about putting something in the bag and then rebel against the thought of dealing with it.

As my anxiety grew, I immersed myself in risky behavior. I shrugged off responsibilities. I forgot to make arrangements for kid care, I didn't feel like making dinner and I didn't do things I said I was going to. I remember feeling , "I should be..." and then immediately thinking, "F--k it." I checked out and found myself unprepared for work. I stayed up too late and back-talked my family. I had this big thing going on in my head involving a sled and 100 miles, but I couldn't quite get it grounded.

This week, the adrenaline rush of "I can do anything" hit. I found myself blasting, loud, obnoxious music from Eric B. and Rakim to Pearl Jam. Intense, powerful feelings of unrealistic confidence blasted through my body and I did so many sit-ups and pull-ups and push-ups I was sore for 3 days this week. I just had to do something with the arrogant, cocky vibes coursing through my veins. I'm not brave enough to share the self-centered, heroic, ass-kicker thoughts that constituted my daydreams. 

My daughter actually commented that I was driving a little fast on our way to school this week. I was too busy belting out Katy Perry lyrics while simultaneously crying for Kikkan Randall's Olympic disappointment. I GOT THE EYE OF THE TIGER, A FIGHTER, DANCING THROUGH THE FIRE,CAUSE I AM A CHAMPION AND YOU'RE GONNA HEAR ME ROAR! I hadn't noticed.
Last night at the pre-race meeting, I giggled nervously throughout the night. I heckled the speaker to my neighbor and made funny jokes about how I was gonna win and start up front and so on. I felt like the new girl at the first dance, like I didn't belong, afraid I was going to do something stupid or worse yet that someone would detect my insecurity. My bag was WAY OVER WEIGHT and so, as I feared, I revealed my rookie status for all to see.

But today, I took care of my bag business and got my ass into gear.  I'll take a little of the infallibility of the teenage mindset with me and unpack the insecurity that weighed down my bag. (Thanks wise guru).

I think this entry reads well with the following cranked  in the background.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hTWKbfoikeg&feature=kp

Friday, January 31, 2014

When Life SHOULD BE MORE Like Ultra-Running

Still nursing a nagging chest cold and cough, I met friends at the trail head in the dark.  The wind was howling, the temps were up to 49 degrees and the parking lot was an ice skating rink. Within 24 hours, the trails I ran the day before had turned from frozen snow to water on ice. This would be a Kahtoola run.

Wind gusts made the climb slow. I was blown off balance onto hand and knee. Ice-laden trails didn't help. I dressed too warm. Had to stop and de-layer. The menthol drops weren't helping the cough. I left my mitts near the trail head while adding spikes and my hands were cold. I could feel my tight hips resisting after over 4 hours of running the day before.

We altered the route at the bottom of the arm. There would be no Wolverine summit in this wind. After a few moments of admiring the city lights, down we bailed off the nose.

This run did not go as planned. This run threw many challenges in my path. This run made me feel uncomfortable. I felt mild physical pain. Maybe hostile is too strong a word, but the environment was not conducive to success.

Never once did I think about turning back. I never got angry or pissy, I felt steady and solid and determined.

Flashback 12 hours and I was losing my shit. Why? Because the cat kept meowing and I couldn't find he cat food dish. I was in the comforts of my own home. I was relaxing on the couch, watching a movie and BAM! Where's the frickin' cat food dish?

I was unhinged. My behavior was erratic and I felt unsettled and angry. I took it out on my husband (THANK GOD my girls were off at sleepovers).

This was not a hostile environment. This was a small inconvenience. My ability to problem solve and just replace the missing cat food dish with a substitute went out the window with my temper. I spent about 10 minutes looking for the cat food dish. I couldn't let it go. I couldn't put my head down and carry on like I did in the mountains.

Why can adverse conditions in the mountains motivate us onward and allow our steady determination to shine and life's minor unexpected inconveniences force us to throw in the towel?

Well, I've been thinking and reading and listening about it all week. I know I run to clear my head and feel strong. I enjoy the challenge of pushing through pain and discomfort and uncertainty on the trail. I run because it gives me confidence with adversity and more so, experience with not knowing how things are going to turn out. It helps me remember that feelings are fluid. Feelings pass and new feelings arise.

I know I like the 100 mile distance because it allows one to find that hidden gear. The gear that we never remember we had until we are at mile 80 or 90 if we are lucky. Having to use it earlier can be the definition of a really tough race. This is the gear that allows one to finish the distance and  finish with grit and determination and total domination of what is placed before us.

This is not a gear we get to use in life. It may be an emergency crisis situation that calls for such determination, but not in our day to day lives. This is why I like to run 100s, but I want to remember this gear when the daily grind gets frustrating. I want to feel solid and steady and determined in my civilian life. The daily grind is hard. Kids, work, relationships, money, cat food dishes and chores present constant to-dos and frustration. When I run 100 miles, I never say or think I can't do this.

Life presents us with challenges, big and small. The day to day can feel like an ultra- go,go,go, keep moving. In an ultra, I keep moving when it gets hard. I can do it. In life, it can be easier to give in to the discomfort and get aggressive or anxious or numb out. So, the next time I can't find what I need or I am running late or I'm anticipating and fretting about what comes next, it's mile 90 baby. Slip it into gear. This is hard, but I can do this.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

When Life Becomes Ultra-Training

Should have known last week, during my fussy, uncomfortable, grumpy long run with sled that things were heading south. I told a friend I met on the trail that I wanted to throw my sled in the creek. Passersby asked dumb questions about the sled and whether my baby was inside my zipped drybag. I wore different tights and they rubbed on my hips where my waist belt lie. I dressed too warm and got sweaty. I was too hot and too cold. I was too lazy to fix my insulated hose and so I kept zipping and readjusting and re-zipping and adjusting and unzipping. I looked at the time on my phone too much.

Once the sled pull was done, I had to pick up kids and make dinner. Enter sick husband leaving for business trip. In between salad prep, helping with homework, pasta boiling, sibling referee-ing and dinner on table, I located running shoes, travel toothpaste, ties and a book to read.

Husband leaves town, youngest daughter throws up in the dog blanket I jumped out of the car at the red light to grab just in time. I worked on lesson plans for 4 hours while sick kid drifts in and out of sleep and movies. I think about how good yoga would be for me.

Pick up older kid from school, make copies at office for school next day, pick up Jr. Nordic Gear, dinner, drop off at Jr. Nordic, youngest barfs in Russian Jack parking lot. Check math homework, serve snacks, put kids to bed and fall into bed by 9:30.

Cancel my class, call all my parents and apologize. No sick kid care available. Oldest gets sick two hours after I drop her at school and youngest proclaims, " I'm back to my crazy self!" I'd give anything if she'd barf.

None of this is an emergency or life-threatening or extraordinary. But for 48 hours, I didn't think about running or 100 milers or Talk Ultra or my frickin' sled. I put my head down and did what I needed to do. I didn't worry about the training I thought should be doing  or the trail conditions or what my running friends were running. I ran my own race. It just wasn't on the trails. I made note of it on the training calendar. Now that is good ultra-training.