Thursday, August 10, 2017

Gimme Swelter

"It's as though a giant cloche has been placed over the whole region, like God is playing molecular gastronomy and we are her smoked langoustine cotton candy duck balloons."  Lindy West in the NY Times
People, this has been just ridiculous: the combination of a historical record-breaking streak of no rain, a string of hot hot temperatures, and waves of wildfire smoke drifting in from Canada and then hanging here, trapped by a pool of stagnant air over the Pacific, has left us over the last two weeks with an absolute miasma of disgusting air, murky gray skies, and temperatures that just won't cool off at night.

On the bright side, so to speak, we've had some spectacular post-apocalyptic sunsets!

And in a great stroke of luck for me, these two weeks were also the exact same time period that I had planned to buckle down and study for a licensing exam required by my job.  A test -- what could be more fun in the middle of August!  So while the city sizzled outside, I stayed late into the evening every night in my office, where the air conditioning shut off at 6:00, but then, ah, came back on at 7:00.  I turned my back on the smoky skies and fireball sunsets and memorized leading economic indicators, practiced calculating net interest cost, diagrammed swaps, and pondered the complexities of monetary policy.  I managed to make it to hip hop several times because, air conditioning, and I went to the free gym in my office building to move heavy weights up and down because, likewise, air conditioning, but mostly I stared at my computer monitor and ate sushi.

And it occurred to me that studying for an important test is a lot like training for a ski race, albeit on a much accelerated schedule: you figure out your strengths, you work on your weaknesses, you research what the actual race, I mean test, conditions will be like, you try to continue to eat well and sleep enough and stretch and stay positive.

And then the big day comes, and you have your hoping-to-finish goal, your reasonable goal, and your stretch goal.  For me, that day was today, and just like in most ski races, I didn't quite have the result I was hoping for.  I passed (finished), no problem, but I was hoping for a little better score (time).  Ah, well, I'm smarter now than I was last week, and best of all, the studying is done, the heat wave looks like it's going to break this weekend (did someone say RAIN??), and I can get back to my middle-aged athlete alter-ego.  Summer isn't getting any younger, and other women in my age group are training harder than I am and bragging about it on Facebook.  My trail shoes miss me, my bike is stale, my roller skis are dusty.  Time to get back in motion!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Evans Boys' Big Big Adventure

Now THIS is the way to have a summer adventure!  The Evans boys -- David, Hayden, and Logan -- and Scott Tucker and his wife Colleen Lester Tucker climbed Mount Rainier last weekend, and came back with this glorious story of success and these breathtaking photos.  Sit back, grab a beer, and imagine you are there!  Many thanks to David for the story and to Colleen and David for the photos.

Colleen Lester Tucker photo

 I glanced at my watch.  Sunlight was streaming in the tent, just as it had been when we'd fallen into our sleeping bags the previous afternoon around 6, bone tired and muscle weary from having climbed a mountain more than eight times bigger than the next biggest mountain in its range.  Incredibly, for the first time in my adult life I'd slept 12 hours!  Yet the boys, who'd turned in before me, were still sleeping, and as I listened to their soft breathing further extending their sleeps, I knew that their bodies would need some time to recover from what they'd just been through.

David Evans photo
   Rainier invites awe yet demands respect.  Fewer than 50% of those who even attempt making it to its summit manage to do so.  Of those who fail in their attempts, mighty Rainier, like a constant game of Rainier Roulette, claims the lives of some.  Just days before we were to set off on our climb attempt with my good friend Scott Tucker and his intrepid wife Colleen, a climber had attempted to ski down the very Emmons Glacier we would be going up and instead was swallowed by one of its many crevasses. Already this year five have lost their lives on its massive, glacier-hued slopes, with many more having to be helicoptered out with serious injuries.

Colleen Lester Tucker photo
   So, again, as a father I knew the stakes were high, indeed about as high as the actual goal.  Yet I had complete confidence in our guide Scott, had climbed the mountain myself, as had Scott, and knew that the boys had reached a point in their lives where their ambitions would now be a possible match for the incredible physical and psychological demands of a safe ascent and descent.  I also had a sense that as a graduating senior next year, that Hayden might have a busier, more independent life than now.  Besides, Hayden is a mountain man at heart, and the relentless drumbeat of his alpine desires began to wear his old man down, with the strategic outcome being, as you now all know, a decision to douse the boys with a good, long backpacking trip a few weeks back, soak them further with a climb up Mt. Hood a week ago, and then throw them in the deep end with Mighty Rainier scaling this week.  Secretly, I had my hopes, and quite a few fears, but little could I know that our boys would pull off the entire plan to perfection.

David Evans photo
   Yet just 48 hours ago we were still a very long, long way from achieving this final goal of Rainier.  We'd awoken at 1 am, left camp at 2 am, having roped up, hooking each of our harnesses with locking carabineers to the butterfly knot spot on our five-person team's shiny green climbing rope, and were now about a third of the way up the arduous, seeming non-ending ascent of the mountain.  At 3:45 the sun had begun slowly, almost imperceptibly, revealing more of the glaciated snow- and ice-scape we were trudging upon, the trail gamely dodging left and then right around the many daunting crevasses pock-marking Rainier's ramparts, all the while bravely making its way toward a summit none can see until the very end.  We one by one turned off our headlamps and gradually took in the rugged alpine beauty of this giant we were on.  By 8:30, now more than six hours into our ascent, Logan sat down, crying, saying he just had no more energy and couldn't go one step further.  A moment of silence ensued, some more snack food came out, a bottle of water was proffered, and soon a father's part-role as psychological coach took over: to properly assess a child's plight but to offer encouragement and beat back the demons that all climbers grapple with at various moments on any difficult ascent.  Quickly, I could see that Logan hadn't been eating or drinking nearly enough, and that the sudden recharging a few moments of respite were revealing the boy's amazingly resilient nature.  In short order we were back underway, none of us knowing how many pitches of trail still lay above us but each of us grateful that our rope team hadn't blinked and turned back.

   At 10:45, we'd skirted the west flank of the peak's caldera and were finally atop the imperceptibly highest point on its rim, grateful to be at the summit but quickly growing colder in the gale-force wind buffeting us.  We knew we'd achieved something special, particularly with a 12-year-old in our ranks; the more seasoned in the group also knew that the real work was just beginning, with about 75% of alpine accidents occurring in the descent and not the more romantic and depicted ascent.

David Evans photo
   From a physiological standpoint, it's simple to see why getting down is harder.  You've just given every ounce of energy and focus to making it to the top, and now weary and probably dehydrated and calorie-deficient, and with just a touch of hubris from having achieved your goal, you begin a repeated process of gravity-defying steps with legs that are less and less recognized by you, the rope by turns pulling and slacking on you, depending on the circumstances of each on your team, the snow, now softening in the late-morning sun, variously slushy and rock-hard, making each crampon-step unpredictable at best.  What's worse, you realize that you can see your tents as tiny specks far below and it dawns on you, fatigued and locked into a rope with a life of its own, that you must gamely push on and follow Scott's lead no matter what your mind or body is telling you.

Colleen Lester Tucker photo

   Yet push on is what we did, what we had to do, and in the end we made it back to our tents, each as tired as maybe he or she had ever been, leading to sleep, as mentioned, proportional to the task just accomplished.  Again, just like on Hood, we crossed paths with many a team, impressed by the two boys on rope and particularly amazed by the age of the youngest, and all I could think was, "he might be 12, but you don't know Logan..."  Later, after we'd broken camp yesterday morning and glissaded down much of the long snow-mass we'd had to ascend with heavy packs to get to our base camp the day before, made it back to our cars at White River campground at 4200 ft. (yes, we climbed over 10,000 ft. of vertical to get to the summit!), said our good-byes and special thank yous to Scott and Colleen, and quickly made our way to the nearest Safeway for a quick infusion of a half gallon of chocolate milk, a baguette, some gouda cheese, salami and jerky (all gone in 9 minutes) Hayden calmly looked his brother in the eye and told him what an amazing thing he'd just accomplished. Suddenly the tears quietly welled up in my eyes as I realized that these were the very words that meant most, to both boys, and to their father, and that we were a very lucky family indeed to have been able to have scaled such a monster of a mountain and all come back safely.

Colleen Lester Tucker photo

I commented to David that they had had spectacular weather for the adventure, and he added this coda to his report:

  Yes, the weather was spectacular.  At about 2:30 am on the way up, due to atmospheric conditions, we had a bare sliver of a vermillion crescent moon, almost like it had been drawn by an artist and placed just above the horizon.  Then the next night we had a new moon, and not a whisper of a cloud, which meant the front row seat that is any base camp above 9,000 ft. gave way to a riot of stars if you were lucky enough to have to pee at 1 am and get out of the tent to see them, as if you were sporting 3-D glasses and were watching an IMAX about the Milky Way.  The extra bonus was seeing the head lamp lines of each of the teams already heading out on the Emmons Glacier, replaying the cycle of climbing life that Rainier makes possible each day.  Sort of strange to think that had just been us... and grateful we weren't doing it again!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Down Payment

This week, after more than a month of no rain at all -- not one drop -- we had the tiniest little spritz of rain, just a whisper of rain, just enough to move the dust around on my car.  But it was enough to remind me that this endless summer will indeed end; the earth continues to travel around the sun and fall is on its way back.  And if there's one thing I love almost as much as skiing in the winter, it's training for skiing in the fall, splooshing through the mud, the wind and rain whipping through the trees, flirting with the edge of hypothermia.  And if there's one thing I learned from my last two summers of injury-induced non-training, followed by foolish attempts to catch up in the fall, it's that summer is the time to put in the foundation of the fun training we will do in the fall.

So I have to just deal with my least favorite season.  I slog along the hot dusty trails, where the leaves wilt and the creek beds are completely dry, dreaming of stormy hill repeats in a couple of months,

and I put in the time on my roller skis on the baking pavement, dreaming of roller skiing rooster tails in the rain.

Summer is the time to strengthen the joints and build the mitochondria and grow some more capillaries; summer is when we make the down payment on the coming ski season and the adventures ahead.  Silver Star is just four months away, MWC is six months away, and the Birkie is seven.   I'm a long way from the shape I want to be in by the time these fun things roll onto the calendar, so I try to embrace this long summer and work on making forward progress, one sweaty step at a time!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Kongsberger Hike, Numero Uno

Max photo

Are you bummed you missed the Kongsberger hike last Saturday and wondering how it went?  Me, too!  Here is the scoop from Joy, with pictures from Max and Doug.  Thanks, everyone -- looks like a great day!

The day dawned cool and beautiful (that was before we woke up, ya know, it's still an early sunrise at 48 degrees north!) and we all made our way to the brand-spankin'-new Teneriffe parking lot, with accompanying new toilet and trailhead. Just as Jeff promised.

"We" included Jeff and Joy, Max and Robin, Rob and Suzanne, Frank, and friends Doug, Toni and Dog Sophie. [ed. note: Kare and Aase and Linda were there, too, and hiked as far as the waterfall!]

The new trail, built by machinery so a little rough around the edges but wide and smooth in the middle, went up to the junction with an existing trail and we joined it to walk up to Teneriffe Falls. That's where the side-by-side chatting ceased and the one by one hucking began as we moved up the woods toward the peak. "Stairway to Heaven" or as Robin called it, "Stairway to Heavin'" ...

Max photo
... was a beautiful and challenging trail and interestingly not on the lovely new trail map at the parking lot, although it's a known trail. As Jeff promised, it's also a beautiful trail that moves up the ridge and provides peekaboo views of the river and mountains. At last we took the last few steps up to the top of Teneriffe Peak, where snacks and incredible views awaited.

Max photo
We then took the trail that follows the ridge down to the west, where it eventually splits to a fork that continues down or goes right to emerge at the top of the Mount Si trail (not the rock). We split up here--the group that went down did about 10+ miles and the group that looped over to Mount Si did more like 12+ and didn't enjoy the ascending "zoo" they met on the trail, as Jeff described it.

Max photo
We returned to a large parking lot that was still mostly empty (because no one knows about it but Jeff!) and further discussion of which loops would be the best for XC ski training. There are several options AND it's close in AND not very many people compared to Si.

A few of us celebrated the day with root beer floats and burgers at the XXX in Issaquah.

Questions? We have answers!
Bugs? Not really. Doug got one chomp, but otherwise we kept moving along and there were breezes at the top.
Animals? We saw BEAR POOP, but it was at least a day old.
Flowers? Beargrass is blooming, as well at Foxglove, Tiger Lilies and a bunch of other lovely flowers. It really is a pretty trail, with more variety than Si or Tiger.

Max photo
Here are Doug's pictures:

And here is Doug's GPS track of the route:

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Mental Game

Train every day. Train because it makes you fitter, because it relieves stress, because it makes you happier and more productive. Train in the hope that you will be fast, and achieve whatever goals you have set for yourself. But if there is a secret to my success, other than my genetics, it is that as much as I love to win, I love to race even more. And I much as I love to race, I love to train even more. And if you approach your athletic career with this attitude, you will be successful by the metrics that truly matter, and likely successful on the results sheets as well.  Justin Freeman
Ah, yes, consistency.  Always a shortcoming of mine.  I really do like to train, to be outside pushing my body and building new muscles and strengthening my heart and lungs and breathing the air and seeing the sky, but it's so easy for things/life to get in the way, and then that day's opportunity to improve is gone.  Winter is so short, but so is summer; so is the available window to get in the big hours of training that will make a difference when that precious winter comes back again.

So, I work on mental toughness, on discipline rather than motivation, and two things happened that pushed my mental toughness a big step forward.  First, I really like my hip hop class and I really think it's a good thing for my stodgy slow body, but last week, it was turning into a major struggle to get there.  I had a particularly brutal day at work and at 6:30, I was still at my desk, exceedingly unhappy with a co-worker and feeling too frustrated to even try to make it to class.  But I said, well, I know it's too late to get there on time but I'll at least change into my workout clothes.  Then I got to my car and drove out of the parking garage, where I could turn one way to go home and another way to get to the freeway, and I said, well, I'll at least head toward the freeway.  Nightmare time: pouring rain, gridlocked traffic, grumpy grumpy grumpy, still seething about work.  It was way too late to get to class on time, but I thought, well, I'll at least stay in this mess and see how long it takes.  I finally got on the freeway and burst out of the traffic jam, and when I got to the exit, I could go one way to go home or the other way to go to class.  So I said, well, I'll at least head toward the class.  When I got to the studio, I thought, well, I'll at least see if there's a parking spot.  There wasn't, of course, but somehow by now I was on auto-pilot; I parked on a side street and went in to the class and found that I had only missed the warmup.  So I stayed and did the damn class and had so much fun, and drove home in a state of sweaty euphoria, the music still beating in my ears, and all the work stress just gone.  Lesson learned: stop thinking, just start, and then just go, one step at a time, until you're done.

My second breakthrough happened after I saw that Øystein Pettersen, he of the Norwegian ski team whom I follow on Instagram, had done a 15x3" roller ski interval workout, and I decided to try to do the same.  I have no business trying to do anything a Norwegian Olympian does, even at my slower weaker level, but sometimes it is good to set a goal on the far side of possible and see if you can get there.  So I headed to Discovery Park on the loveliest of sweet summer evenings and skied up the hill to my three-minute starting point.  I did the first two or three intervals as hard as I could, but then, lungs heaving and heart pounding, realized I would not be able to keep that up for 15 of them!  The grade of the hill was interval enough, without also killing myself to go as fast as I could.  So I scaled it back to an intensity that I thought I could maintain for the whole workout.  I won't lie; the tenth and eleventh intervals were the hardest and I thought about stopping there, but then I did one more, and once I had done twelve, I knew I could do three more.  The last couple intervals I moved to a higher, more open stretch of road because it was getting too dark in the trees, but I did it.  All fifteen of them.  Yup, me and Øystein.  I walked back to my car in the delicious-smelling evening with a big smile on my face and some tired tired legs.

Kent tells me this workout might have been a little excessive, not something to do every week, and he's right.  (And Martin asked me how many intervals I need to do to be able to forget about our insane president!)  But even more than the physical training: conquering the mental part of the workout and strengthening the lazy-ass part of my brain?  Invaluable.  I'm going to remember this workout at about the 40k mark of the American Birkie next year, and I'm going to smile, and I'm going to fly to the finish.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Kongsberger Birkebeinerløpet

Who wouldn't want to be following this trail on a morning in June?

Slyfield is working his way through a fun project this year: paralleling the Norwegian Birkebeiner trifecta of a classic ski race in March, a trail run in June, and a mountain bike ride in August.  It's a fitting match, given our club's Norwegian heritage and interest in year-round fitness, plus it's a fun challenge to keep moving outside of the ski season!

Alas, he ended up doing the classic ski race all alone, just him and the rain, but this weekend, for the trail run, he had Victor and me along to share in the adventure.  And people, it was a perfect day for a jaunt in the woods, all cool and gray and damp, with just enough wetness in the trails to make the steep downhills grippy and not slippy, and just enough moisture in the air, including several bouts of rainy sprinkles, to keep the temperatures enjoyable.

The "race" was very free-form; Jim suggested that each of us decide on the course that would provide us our own personal best challenge.  So I hiked two times the Berg/Viking/Ozbaldy/PK loop, Victor hiked it once, and Jim jogged the same loop plus the road on his first lap, then skipped the road and shortened the lap a little on the second lap in the interests of time.  He had a prior engagement that afternoon, so he and Victor jetted out of there shortly after we all finished (thanks for waiting for me before you left, in case I was eaten by cougars out there by myself!).

Jim in the distance, working his way up the hill.

Flowers?  It's still early, but there were some baby trillium and Tiny Purple Flowers and Tiny Yellow Flowers and lots of bear grass.  Wildlife?  Hundreds of birds singing their little hearts out, frogs, chipmunks, one large deer crashing through the underbrush, and, a couple of times, the sound of something largish and possibly carnivorous rustling in the bushes on the side of the trail.  I sang my "I'm not afraid of cougars!" song at the top of my lungs and whatever was rustling decided I was something to stay far away from.

Who needs an actual trail when you have a sweet meadow to wander through?

For me, the route I chose was sufficiently challenging; I should have known this, I suppose, but guess what?  Hiking steep rocky ski trails is A LOT harder than kicking and gliding on them over a lovely bed of snow!  And as Victor pointed out, there are a lot of small but noticeable ups and downs in the trails that are smoothed out by snow in the winter.  Hiking it is much slower, obvs, and several times I was actually slightly disoriented, as I arrived at intersections much later than I would have on skis and wasn't totally sure where I was.  That was pretty interesting, and I was embarrassed that I had scoffed at the skiers who got lost on our trails this winter.  Also, there is a maze of trails on the top of Ozbaldy that you might not know about if you're only up there in the winter when Nick has set a track.  I had to stop for a minute on my first lap and think about the right way down.  It was part of the adventure!

Hello, Ozbaldy, my old friend!

Jim and Victor had to leave shortly after I got back, but lucky for me, Pat and Paul had come up to the cabin ... with meatballs!!  So after a delicious shower, I got to spend a lazy afternoon with them, eating my recovery lunch and chatting about all kinds of fun things.  And talk about recovery lunch!  Besides the meatballs, there was an absolutely divine borscht-type beet/carrot/onion/ELK! soup that Jim had made, plus incredible apple fritters from a bakery in North Bend, plus watermelon ... everything your tired muscles need after a good hard workout on the ski trails.  Finally, Pat and Paul headed out for a hike and I headed home, happy as a tired puppy with the training I had stored in my legs and lungs and the forest's beauty I had stored in my eyes.

Recovery lunch of champions!

Many thanks, Jim, for such a fun day, and such delicious food, and especially for thinking up the idea and making it happen.