Monday, September 24, 2012

Pants, metaphorical tsunamis, and my new gig

Too many adventures to write about, too little time! Let it be known that over the past few weeks, I have donned a variety of pants - literal, figurative, and otherwise. I've taken turns wearing my fancy pants, my mountain pants, my eating pants, and of course, my running shorts.

(Please note: If you're tired of reading about mountains and running, you can find a brief interlude from those themes buried in the middle of this entry: just look for Cee Lo Green!) 

So, two weekends ago, I went to Oregon with my friend Deby for yet another crewing/pacing gig. While Deby knocked out her umpteenth 100-miler this year, I tagged along for the road trip down to southern Oregon and a long weekend of rich conversations, glorious meals, evening hot-tubbing, and sleep-walking mountain miles.

The race, Pine to Palm, is Oregon's only 100-miler. After cruising for two days around the backcountry roads there to support Deby and the other runners, I'm definitely adding P2P to my Ultra Bucket List. Beautiful part of the country, great trails, tons of runnable single-track, thoroughly challenging course. The time cut-offs, unfortunately, were rather aggressive early in the race; paired with intense heat on a lot of exposed ridges and a couple aid stations running out of water, the conditions caused many runners to drop out in the first half of the race.

Strong, steady, and determined as always, though, Deby cruised through like a champ. A little before midnight on Saturday, I jumped in at Dutchman Peak to run the last 35 miles with her. The thin air in the Siskiyou mountains got to us quickly. Around 3 a.m., while trudging up a long section of service road, we both began drifting into walking sleep. It's the strangest sensation, to be moving, to drift off for a second or two, and come to stumbling along in the darkness...your legs still walking, but your mind completely shut down. We curled up on the side of the road for a short nap, but found neither of us could actually sleep - so we marched onward. When the sun came out, it proffered a welcome energy lift.

Perhaps the most amazing moment of the weekend came in the form of a kind stranger at the finish line, who let us borrow her car for several hours to go retrieve our own from Dutchman Peak. Prior to her generosity, we had hit a bit of a panic, realizing suddenly we were not on our home turf in Washington, where we're both accustomed to knowing a good chunk of the people there and could count on hitching a ride with someone. The two other runners and crews we knew had both dropped out in the middle of the night, so we were essentially stranded at the finish line, with no friends, no prospects, no money (left our wallets in our car at Dutchman!), no cell phone reception...and certainly no energy to backtrack 35 rugged miles on foot to get back to our own vehicle. Disaster! Thank goodness for the kindness and trust of strangers. We live in a good world.

All the time I've been spending doing this sleep-deprived rambling around in the mountains has been good processing time for my little heart. 2012 has undoubtedly cast some tidal waves of change in my direction. Metaphorical tsunamis, for better or worse, require a good amount of energy to handle.

As many of you know, I recently accepted a new communications job with a mobile start-up. It was a difficult decision to leave REI, as for 3+ years it's been an absolutely amazing company to work for. Ultimately though, I'm really excited about this new opportunity to further develop my skill set - and hopefully make a bigger impact than I felt capable of making in my old role.

I wake up every day with new tasks to tackle, whether they be drafting letters, writing video scripts, designing newsletters, or in the case of last Friday afternoon - greeting, schmoozing with, and being the face of my company for 400+ members from all over the country. I met good folks from New Orleans, Tulsa, Salt Lake, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and beyond. Really cool experience. Then jetted over to Seattle's EMP in the evening for our official launch party...rocking out to Cee Lo, scarfing hors d'oeuvres, and sipping Sprites at the open bar like the classy lady I am.

But putting on my fancy pants (or dress, as it were) didn't prevent me from totally shifting gears and donning my mountain pants again at 7 a.m. the following morning.

We've had a truly beautiful summer here in the Northwest. 40 consecutive days without rain, and more sunny, blue-skied, 70-degree days than I could count. It's a shame to reach mid-September without having tromped around even once in the stunning North Cascades - so this weekend, with the help of my new friend Steve, I rectified that. There was a tremendous amount of fog, but happily, we enjoyed the little island paradise of Mt. Forgotten, rising above it all at 6000 feet.

It was a rigorous hike that began in deep fog - but the upshot was getting the mountain (true to its name!) all to ourselves. We ditched our packs for several little exploratory scrambles around. Tasty Ramen mash, mountaintop Scrabble, and cliff-side naps in the sunshine sweetened the whole experience. Not to mention obligatory post-hike milkshakes.

North Cascades for the win.

And...I like my life! Thank you to all who continue to make it a good one.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

In the spirit of sharing

Just a few songs, articles, websites, and videos out and about on the internet that I've been loving lately:

 - Angus & Julia Stone: Australian brother and sister folk duo (Their Flash website is amazing!) My favorite tunes are "Yellow Brick Road", "The Devil's Tears" and "Living on a Rainbow"
 - Meditation Oasis podcasts: Great for clearing my mind and helping me fall asleep at night
 - This goofy, awesome song and music video by Seattle's own Macklemore on thrift store clothing
 - Codecademy: Learn how to program online for free
 - A conservative argument for marriage equality (thanks for sharing, Sara!)
 - The Jubilee Project: A few guys I went to high school with who are making videos for humanitarian causes...completely amazing. Go Jason, Eddie and Eric!
 - This tasty summer salad recipe: Corn and blueberries, who can say no?!
 - Someone else reflecting on why being > doing
 - Bop-Life! My friends Lauren and Ben just launched an IndieGoGo campaign for their website and mobile app project to help travelers better explore new cities on foot
 - Blackmill: Incredible dubstep music, perfect for running, writing or meditating
 - A sweet blog post on "JOMO": The joy of missing out
 - You ran that! Paul Ryan Marathon Time Calculator

Sunday, September 2, 2012

On the glorification of busyness

This morning, I met up with a good friend and went for an early (but not crazy early), long (but not crazy long) run in the mountains outside of Seattle. As many of my one-on-one runs with ladies go, we wound up talking a lot about our lives.

At some point, she shared a mantra she's focusing on in her life: Stop glorifying busyness.

This, coming from a woman who works full-time at a fairly stressful job, but in a compressed schedule that gives her four days off each week to devote to things like raising chickens, growing vegetables in her garden, making jams and canning pickles, traveling, neighborhood bartering, and having some awesome running adventures here and there. To someone like me who hardly finds time to cook dinner once in a blue moon, she absolutely gives the appearance of someone who's figured out the balance thing in her life.

But, in our different ways, we confessed to struggling with this same issue of glorifying busyness.

What an apt phrase, I thought. I'm sure my mother would agree...I have an insidious habit of overcommitting my time and energy. Facebook friends and readers of my blog sometimes ask me, "Are you even employed? Where do you find the time for everything?"

I find it, of course, the way most everyone else in our fast-paced society finds it - by cramming it in. I multitask. I sleep less. I sacrifice time with friends. I'm a zealot for to-do lists. As I've blogged about here, I do things like read books while I'm on the treadmill, listen to podcasts while I cook, run up and down mountains between work and evening classes, or watch TED talks while doing crunches on my bedroom floor at 11:30 PM. I've gone from being an avid journaler who filled entire notebooks in a couple months to someone who hardly manages a few pages of written introspection each month.

Generally, I take pride in my productivity. I work hard; I play hard. "How have you been?" people ask me. "Pretty good," I say, "but busy!"

But does busy always equal awesome? Many times, yes; I wouldn't trade my adventures for the world.

Pacing at Cascade Crest 100: Photo by Glenn Tachiyama

But sometimes, awesome is also just a weekend at home, with no alarm clocks and absolutely nothing on the docket. For the past 12 consecutive weekends, I have had big (awesome!) things going on: being out of town for a race or all-day hike, having out-of-town guests stay with me, or staying awake for 40 hours straight to volunteer and run in the mountains. Of those 12 weekends, eight involved ultramarathon-distance runs. The last truly "unscheduled" weekend I had was June 2, and even then, it was two days before moving to a new apartment...hardly relaxing.

Part of it, I'll write off as an affliction of living in the Pacific Northwest. When so many nearby beautiful places are covered in snow for 80% of the year, I think it's natural to want to go soak up every hour of sunny summer daylight playing outside. But part of it, too, is indeed my tendency to glorify busyness. As if being constantly doing stuff somehow gives my life value. As if a to-do list can be an identity.

Where did that come from?

When I was growing up, I begged my parents not to schedule up my summers. Aside from our annual June trip to Colorado, where I happily attended a week of day camp to play in the mountains, I wanted my summers clear. I had novels to write, magazines to design, books to pore through, art projects to do, bike routes to explore, treasure hunts to design, and yes, I'll admit it, one summer, a virtual kingdom on Neopets to develop. (That was the year I had to explain to my parents and pediatrician that yes, I still had friends in the real world, too.)

Don't get me wrong: to-do lists have their place in my life. As I learned this morning, I'm not the only one who makes them on my fancy phone in bed at night. Oi vey. But how productive am I, really, when I put relentless, often exhausting, pressure on myself to do, do, and do more? Isn't it okay to sometimes just be?

This weekend I gave myself permission to just be. What a gift. Did I do nothing? Of course not; I read books and took naps and went for walks around the neighborhood and met up with good friends for tea, sushi, and backyard salmon grilling. I watched some Seinfeld over a pint of Haagen Dazs. I spent an entire morning in my PJ's honing my elementary programming skills. But none of it came from a list; it was all what I felt like doing spontaneously, in that moment. I feel calmer tonight than I have in ages, and am no longer panicking that I burnt myself out on running this summer. It's not the running per se that did me in; it's busyness in general that's left me metaphorically gasping for breath.

So. To my blog readers, to the bottom of this evening's mug of tea, to the almost full moon out my window: I am pledging tonight to stop glorifying least for entire summers at a time.