Friday, December 20, 2013

Falling in and out of love, and back in again, with running

Sunrise on Mt. Si run with Glenn and Jenn
Remember when this blog used to be nothing but rambling, endorphin-fueled odes to my trail-running adventures in Washington's Cascade Mountains? I do.

Running Bandera Mountain with good friends in WA
Now that this year is almost over, I have to admit something: I spent most of 2013 not really enjoying running.

Don't worry; this ends well. But first, some truth: Moving to Colorado (a year ago now!) has been hard on my running.

In my second week as associate editor for Trail Runner at the beginning of this year, I attended the winter Outdoor Retailer trade show. I had never met Bryon Powell, for whom I'd done a smidge of writing in 2012, before then, but we coordinated to meet up for a run through the icy streets of Salt Lake City one morning before the trade show floor opened. During our run, he asked me about my running goals for 2013. I shrugged the question off and told him I planned to focus on my job in the coming year first and foremost; running would necessarily come second. Plus, in the 10 days or so that I'd been living at altitude at that point, my lungs felt like death every time I tried to runso, I found myself dreading runs more often than not.

Bryon, wise as he is, gave me a piece of advice that morning: Don't let anything get in the way of your running.

But, I did. I have. Not my job, thoughafter all, there are trails two minutes from my office, and I am surrounded all day long by fellow runners. I couldn't have a more flexible, accommodating work environment in terms of allowing me ample time, whenever I want it, to go run. (When Trail Runner first posted the job opening on their Facebook page, someone joked in the comments, "Are three-hour lunchtime runs permitted?" Yes. Yes, they are.)

Rather, I let other things get in the way of my running: the altitude being hard. Feeling intimidated by trail races in Colorado. Most trails being icy and snow-covered or closed altogether for much of the year, or threatened by thunderstorms and lightning every afternoon all summer. Losing access to the supportive community of trail runners and friends I thrived on in the Pacific Northwest. Being immersed, instead, in a community of elite and semi-elite runners here in Colorado who view running more as a competitive endeavor than a social activity. Not being able to keep up on runs with anyone here.

I only ran two ultras in 2013, only a fraction of the seven ultras I ran in 2012, not counting four more that year at which I paced someone 35+ miles. This year, I was undertrained for both the races I did runTransvulcania 83K and the Leadville Trail 100simply because I'd been having such a hard time dragging myself out the door to train. Let me tell you: running 50 or 100 miles when you haven't really trained is not a great game plan.

You know what I miss? The feeling I had in 2012 at the Vashon 50K, when I'd worked hard and shaved nearly 40 minutes off my time from the previous two years. The feeling I had just a few weeks after that, finishing my first 50-miler, White River, a full hour faster than I'd expected/hoped to, because I'd trained my butt off for it.

Sheer bliss at the finish line of the White River 50
See that smile on my face? I want that back! It comes from having spent months preparing myself for that race by doing something that brings me exceptional joyrunning in the mountains.

And, slowly but surely, my passion is returning. It's been building back for months nowmy ability to enjoy running again, to reach the same highs I was so accustomed to in the Northwest, to familiarize myself enough with the trails out here that they've begun to feel like home in the same way that Cougar Mountain and Mt. Si did to me in Washington.

The running out my back door here ain't shabby. This view from 12,700 feet is all doused in snow now, but Colorado's high country is, no doubt, incredible. I feel lucky to be where I am.
Lungs are finally fully adjusted. I've found some wonderful women out here whose pace is roughly on par with mine, with whom I can run trails (and cross-country ski, too!). I'm learning to suck it up when it's below zero here with a foot of snow on the ground, and get outside for a run anyway. I'm not letting myself work through the lunchtime hour anymore, but rather, making sure I get out, even if it's just for a short one.

I'm starting to plan out my 2014 race/adventure calendar and I couldn't be more excited about setting goals and getting out in the mountains every day to work toward achieving them!

Smiles at the finish line, here I come.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

What It Means to Tell the Truth

When I was little, I was very insistent about the fact that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up—but not a journalist. An author, yes; a novelist, yes. As the fiercely independent daughter of a longtime newspaper editor, I wanted to follow my own dream, not just in his footsteps.

When I took a journalism class my freshman year in high school, I was turned off by all of its rules, the legality of it, and what I perceived to be the utter squashing of creativity. After a year writing journalism-style pieces for my high school's yearbook, I quit yearbook staff to help cull art and poetry for the literary magazine instead.

I spent my college years writing poetry and short stories, wrangling the nuances of the English language, honing the craft of storytelling. To my surprise, though, of all the writing workshops I took, my 300-level creative nonfiction workshop was my favorite. Family and friends asked me, But, what IS creative nonfiction? Isn't that an oxymoron? Or, Isn't that just journalism?

Well, for me, no. When I was 19, "creative nonfiction" was really just a glorified term for "writing therapy." In other words, I wrote a lot of either (1) angsty, teen memoir-style babble, or (2) David Sedaris-esque attempts to poke fun at my own experiences, my relationships, my family. Not that anything was wrong with those approaches; I was, after all, just writing what I knew at the time. I got plenty of practice fine-tuning my wordsmithing abilities through those writing projects. Above all, writing about my own experiences instead of others' seemed a good way to avoid becoming a journalist.

Fast forward to the past year of my life, during which I've found the books that most capture my attention are not the novels I used to so love, but rather, investigative nonfiction stories like Tom Kizzia's 'Pilgrim's Wilderness,' Nicholas Kristof's 'Half the Sky,' Laura Hillenbrand's 'Unbroken.' And, due to the nature of at least some of the writing projects I've tackled in my professional life, it seems that I have become a journalist after all.

In August, I ran the historic Leadville Trail 100 race, in anticipation of writing an upcoming feature story on it for Trail Runner. Aside from sharing a few anecdotes from my own experience, though, I am not all that interested in telling my own same-old, same-old ultramarathon narrative (i.e. I ran for a long time! It hurt a lot! I fell apart at mile 75 and thought I'd never make it to the finish line, but with the support of my amazing pacer and crew, I did!)

Rather, I am compelled to (attempt to) tell a much bigger, far-reaching story about Leadville, its history and what happened at this year's race—a situation that has already sparked widespread controversy throughout the blogosphere and injected some real ugliness in the greater trail-running community. I'm not interested in joining the personal jabs back and forth; what I want to do is uncover the truth.

But, what I've been reminded of over the past few months is that "the truth" is more subjective than we often think. I recently finished reading two very different feminist books. One is Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's "Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead"—essentially, a treatise encouraging women to "lean in" to their careers, combat lingering sexism in the workplace and ascend to more leadership positions in their companies. Sandberg interviews many highly educated, upper-middle-class women who've managed to balance full-time jobs with motherhood, and derive deep satisfaction from such.

The other book I just finished reading is Harvard graduate and writer Emily Matchar's "Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity"—which examines the opposite phenomenon among the same (perhaps slightly younger) demographic: highly educated, upper-middle-class women who've decided to "opt out" of the full-time, working world in exchange for pursuing a simpler, more DIY life at home. The Etsy generation, the urban homesteaders, the corporate-dropout-turned-organic-farmers, the lifestyle bloggers.

Both books were terrific, thought-provoking reads, full of women speaking their own personal truths. For many of those interviewed by Sandberg, their truth is, "Women are better off having rewarding careers outside of the home." For many of those interviewed by Matchar, their truth is, "Women are better off stepping outside the traditional full-time work paradigm." Is one more right than the other?

Interestingly, both books arrived at pretty much the same conclusion: Women should do whatever the hell they want with their lives. More specifically, women should not fall prey to societal expectations, whatever they may be, and instead heed their own intuition and pursue their personal dreams with rigor. Although both authors, Sandberg and Matchar, interspersed their books with their own personal experiences, I appreciated that neither presumed to know "the truth" about what's best for women. Rather, they allowed the stories and ideas of the women they interviewed to be heard. They listened.

For my Leadville article, I interviewed runners who loved this year's race, and I interviewed those who said it was the worst race of their life. I interviewed Leadville locals who think the race is the best thing that's ever happened to the town, and I interviewed those who feel it's a monster. Certainly, after running it this year, I had my own thoughts about Leadville, some of which I do express in my article—but thanks to invaluable input from my editor, I did my best to let those take a backseat to the diverse voices of those I interviewed.

As a journalist, you have incredible (terrifying) power in your hands to pick and choose the words, the quotes, the details you include, or exclude, in your story. It's all too easy to editorialize, to let your own biases creep in. When I was 19, I was interviewed by a newspaper journalist about hurricane relief work I'd done in New Orleans; her questions to me were deeply biased, interrogating, from the moment we got on the phone. I felt disappointed that my words were ultimately twisted to fit her agenda—a chastisement of young people traveling to volunteer, thereby abandoning needs in their home communities. It was a valuable idea worth exploring, but the fact that she approached our interview (and eventually, her readers) with the mentality of a prosecutor rather than a listener, seemed a reckless use of her power as a journalist.

In the age of instant Facebook and Twitter status updates, of blogs and comment threads that rapidly devolve from productive dialogues into personal attacks, we're all the more accustomed to flash-broadcasting our opinions in lieu of being patient enough to ask questions, to complicate our understanding by seeking out opposing ideas. Social media and the kind of inflammatory headlines that sites like Gawker and Jezebel thrive on encourage us all to react before anything else; we already have an opinion, a sense of outrage, before we've even read the article. Confirmation bias is rampant. Is listening to one another—particularly those we don't already agree with—becoming a lost art?

Taking the time to explore contradictions in what "the truth" is, rather than shuttling readers high-speed toward an uncomplicated conclusion, is at the heart of all good journalism. I wouldn't proclaim to be anywhere near mastering this yet, but it's a principle I'm grateful to be working on every day.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Luna and Me

I'm not a car person.

But, allow me some sentimentalism: this month marks the 10-year anniversary of my obtaining Luna Moonshine, the '99 periwinkle-colored VW Passat that's been the only car I've ever owned. And, several days ago, I finally said goodbye and put her to rest in the hands of a VW shop here in Colorado.

Over our shared decade, we traveled roughly 100,000 miles together. She moved with me from Kansas to Ohio to Washington to Colorado. She road-tripped with me to Chicago (twice!), to Massachusetts to visit my good friend Becs and experience Trader Joe's for the first time, to New Orleans for three weeks of hurricane relief work after Katrina, to Kentucky for my very first backpacking trip, to the depths of the Cascadian jungle in western Washington for many a banjo jam session by the river.

She died a few times, including once at the end of a 20-mile gravel road in the woods, after which she had to be hauled out of by Cambajamba's jeep and a four-foot tow rope. She suffered sub-freezing nights in Ohio, rain storms in Seattle, snow storms in western Colorado. She was only ever in one accident. On one of the rare occasions I permitted someone else to drive her (those who know me know I was always protective of Luna), she was rear-ended on a highway exit ramp and had to have her bumper replaced.

In her final years, she cost me a fortune in repairs, not to mention in taking only premium gas for a decade; I'd be lying if I said I wasn't happy to be washing my hands of VWs and hopping on the Toyota bandwagon. But, that won't stop me from making an overly sentimental post here on my blog about our many good years together.

The Kansas days. Christine and Pat and I pack for our first road trip--to Chicago, for Lollapalooza, to see Weezer and Death Cab for Cutie and other high-school favorites. Luna was bumper-sticker galore back then, including but not limited to cliches such as: ART NOT APATHY; Compassion is Revolution; SAVE THE DRAMA FOR YO MAMA; People are Miracles; Every breath is a gift; ENJOY LIFE THIS IS NOT A DRESS REHEARSAL.

My first backpacking trip, in Mammoth Cave National Park, with Sahale, Ezra, Erika and Shari. It rained for 40 hours straight. Magical as the trip was, we cut a planned five-day trek short after three days and I was grateful to Luna for putting the "car" in "car camping" that night. As in, I slept in her front seat that night.

Piling into Luna in New Orleans with Ruth, Anna, Daniel and Adam after a long day of gutting houses.

My commute through northeast Ohio farm country from Oberlin to Elyria for my job at Dick's Sporting Goods--the first job to send me down a running/outdoors-related career path, and also introduce me to some incredible friends outside of the "Oberlin bubble."

Sunset over I-90 in Washington state, the night I arrived in Seattle after a 2000 mile drive from Kansas, and a few days' stopover in Glacier National Park to visit Shari and hike the heck out of some beautiful Montana trails. Real world, adult livin', here I come.

Cruising the streets of my new hometown the next day. Seyeon took this picture from my backseat, because my front seat was still full of moving boxes.

One of my first travel-writing gigs, with OutdoorsNW magazine--road-tripping to Oregon's Willamette Valley to ride my bike, go wine-tasting and write about it for the magazine! Thanks to Carolyn for entrusting me with the assignment.

Luna pretending to be a 4WD mountain car, playing chauffeur to my annual Christmas-in-Seattle tradition with Elodie and James--snowshoeing! In the Seattle years, post accident-and-bumper-replacement, Luna sports new hippie bumper stickers, including but not limited to: Run Happy; Namaste; I {heart} New Orleans; 50k Vashon Ultra.

The neighborhood cats in Seattle loved Luna.

Other creatures have also enjoyed sleeping on, or in, Luna. She played chauffeur to the most magical road trip of all time, out to the Methow Valley for the Angel's Staircase 25K with Tom and Elodie. (Flatlanders running straight up an 8000-foot mountain elicits midday car naps.)

Luna also earned me my favorite parking ticket, featuring the best butchering of my name EVER. I've seen Yikta, Yata, Yakita, Yita, Yika, Yikita ... but this. This was a whole new level.

Luna survives a long, cold, grueling drive from Seattle to Colorado at the beginning of this year for my new gig with Trail Runner.

My mom (visiting from Holland earlier this month!) and I saying goodbye to Luna in the VW lot here in Colorado where we left her.

RIP Luna. Thank you for 10 years of awesome!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Life: The Outtakes Reel

Photo by David Clifford
This week, as I was reviewing photos from my recent "work" trip to run trails in Iceland and write about them, I couldn't help but think, Damn, my life is freaking awesome.

... a sentiment which was immediately swallowed by my ongoing fear that I was once again contributing to that everyone-else's-life-looks-better-on-the-surface phenomenon that I feel, more and more, I want to devote my creative energies to squashing.

Truth be told, following an admittedly amazing week in Iceland (which was on top of an equally amazing long weekend in the Pacific Northwest for the wedding of my wonderful friends, Kate and Jeff), this week, my heart has been heavy. A number of people in my life, both dear friends/family as well as several close acquaintances, have been grappling with tremendous personal challenges, including, but not limited to: cancer, depression, divorce, unsatisfying marriages, corporate layoffs and other assorted rejections.

Thinking about these people I love and care about so deeply has made it difficult to concentrate on the regular, day-to-day aspects of my life. I hate feeling helpless. The ongoing question, for me, seems to be: can I somehow help people feel less alone in their struggles? I've had so many people hold my hand through the darkest periods of my own life in the past; I want to pay that forward. We all deserve to feel as though we are not alone in chugging through this life.

Perhaps it's the only child in me, but there's something especially terrifying to me about the concept of alone-ness. Not solitude, which I consider something different entirelya proactive choice to spend quality time with oneselfbut the case of having alone-ness cast over you, like a cloak. Isolation, alienation. Feeling a lack of connection to others in the world.

With all this in mind, I think I'm finally ready to share a blog post I wrote seven months ago, immediately after I accepted the job as Associate Editor at Trail Runner, but have left hiding in my drafts folder ever since (and, at the time, spun into this one instead ... )

See, one of the things I've felt sad about this week is some "restructuring" at REI's headquarters, through which several friends have lost their jobs, some of whom have been with the company for decades. Despite the fact that I never officially transcended my role as a temporary employee at REI Corporate, I felt very much a part of the family there. So, my heart hurts for them.

On the other hand, in many ways, I feel a lot of hope for those who will be leaving the company, willfully or not. Change, when thrust upon us, is never easyyet it nearly always leads to growth, to some recognition that, in the long run, the change was for the better. I spent a year and a half trying very hard to earn a permanent spot at REI Corporate, certain that being a copywriter there was my ultimate dream job. Maybe, if I'd gotten it, it would have been. But sometimes it's easy to get so wrapped up in the immediacy of our own lives that we fail to recall the big picture of what it is that will really make our souls sing. Not ever being offered a permanent copywriting job for REI is probably the best thing that's happened to me ... after all, I wouldn't have been getting paid to run around waterfalls in Iceland last week if REI Corporate had ever made me a permanent employee.

So, in my effort to remind my friends that change, loss, and not getting what you hoped for can actually turn out to be amazing in its own way ... here's the unpublished blog post from seven months ago:


While I've had a number of really fabulous opportunities come my way over the past few years, there have been many disappointments and heartbreaks along the way, too. Today, I feel like writing about my behind-the-scenes, my outtakes reel, if you will, along my convoluted path to my dream gig.

Before I went to college, I had some illusions about becoming a published novelist upon graduating with my creative writing degree. Then, toward the end of my time at Oberlin, I got it in my head to apply for the Watson Fellowshipa $25,000 grant to travel the world for a year and focus my energy on a single project. My project proposal was to travel to Malaysia, Tanzania, Malawi, South Africa, and Suriname, and look at the intersection of long-distance running and humanitarian projects. I wanted to be inspired by the amazing ways that people have used the simple act of running to accomplish so many thingsto spread joy, to supply neighborhoods in need with shoes and other resources, to empower women and kids throughout the world, to raise money for villages and schools and water wells, to bring disparate communities togetherand I wanted to write about those efforts, as well as develop the skill set within myself to launch my own running-based, global nonprofit.

But alas, I bombed my interview with the fellowship committee at Oberlin. I was rejected at the first level of evaluation all Watson proposals undergo. It crushed me.

By the time I graduated, I'd adjusted my ambitions to what seemed like more practical pursuits: getting involved in the publishing industry, copywriting for a marketing team, or possibly working in corporate communications.

But even those jobs were hard to come by, in the midst of a difficult economy. My liberal arts degree  spun me into a poet, but left out the bill-paying kinds of skills that most of us need to survive in the big, bad "Real World."

So I chiseled away even more at my dream, began applying feverishly for jobs that I only sort of wanted, in any part of the country I could even vaguely see myself living. Still living in rural Ohio at the time, uncertain I had the money to move to a new place without securing a job first, I felt scared, and increasingly desperate.

Reed College, in Portland, interviewed me for a job in their admissions office. They turned me down.

When I applied for a one-year communications fellowship position with the Oberlin Office of Communications, I didn't get offered an interview.

YES! Magazine wouldn't even entertain my application for an assistant editor position.

Brooks Running didn't want me.

A marketing agency called Merkle interviewed me for an editing job and I never heard from them again. There's nothing worse than getting rejected from a crappy entry-level job with a marketing firm that's light years away from your true passion. But, that happened. A few times.

Heck, I couldn't even get Road Runner Sports to talk to me about a $10/hour "Running Specialist" job hawking shoes.

I was spiraling to the bottom of my dream funnel.

The day Reed rejected me for the admissions job, I hit a pretty bad low. So I took a step back and asked myself, "If I could have any job in the world right now, what would it be?"

... and found that my answer, at that time, was, Writing and editing for an outdoorsy magazine in Seattle. So I decided two things: One, I was going to move to Seattle, no matter what. Two, I was going to reach out to Carolyn, the editor of a magazine called Outdoors NW that I knew was published in Seattle. Their website didn't even have a section for jobs or employment, but I figured I could learn a thing or two from someone who'd been in a pioneer in the world of outdoors journalism for decades.

The next day, my dream funnel began opening back up: Carolyn wrote me back and offered to meet me for coffee and chat. (I hadn't even moved to Seattle yet!) When I did finally move and meet up with Carolyn, we hit it off instantly, and she gave me my first freelance writing assignment, putting together some book reviews. So began my own fledgling career in outdoors journalism.

(One more "rejection" worth noting: I wrote to the magazine Northwest Runner around the same timeThey never responded to my email.)

Small successes began building: 24 Hour Fitness hired me as a front-desk minion (which I quit after one week with that horrible company.) REI hired me to work part-time, seasonally, in their flagship Seattle store as a sales specialist in the footwear department. Outdoors NW magazine eventually brought me on as an assistant editor. I made it through an "audition" with Kaplan Test Prep to work as a private SAT tutor for high school kids in the Seattle area, and survived four weeks of intimidating tutor training, designed to weed out anyone who was too nervous or insecure. I couldn't sleep at night for a whole month, I was so terrified of failing ... but I made it.

Yet, the stumbling blocks were far from over. The next year, I landed the temporary copywriting gig at REI, but was sent back to work retail at the store when the team's freelance budget for the year ran out ... invited back to the corporate offices at the beginning of the following year, but nevertheless strung along as a temp for another full year.

I applied for a digital content manager position with the Washington Trails Association, my favorite nonprofit in the Northwest—and though I was fortunate enough to be one of only a few people interviewed out of the nearly 100 who applied, ultimately they went with someone else as well (though, notably, offered the nicest rejection ever, which left me feeling warm and fuzzy about the whole experience, and equipped with honest, helpful feedback on why they'd gone with another candidate.)

But it still hurt. I can't tell you how many times that week I reread the words of Max Ehrmann from his 1927 Desiderata poem: "Whether or not it is clear to you, the universe is unfolding as it should."

Fast forward a year, and after all that, I've finally landed the gig I always wanted in the first place.

Career musings in my personal journal, circa 2011

The experience of failure, by the way, does not go away with earning a job title. This week, even with the best intentions, I managed to do a disservice to an amazing athlete by writing a headline that felt too much like a "bait and switch" to several disgruntled readers (including several folks in the greater trail-running community whom I've long looked up to), who didn't waste a moment letting me know in the comments section they thought my headline was lame.

One stroke of acceptance does not insulate us from criticism. But, with criticism come lessons, and with lessons comes growth. At least that's what I keep telling myself, anyway ... :)

Ehrmann's poem concludes: "With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy."
Watching sunrise from the summit of Mt. Sopris (12,966 feet) this week

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Slowing down and deriving growth from solitude

Yesterday at work, my colleague Gina remarked, "You don't update your blog much, do you?"

Oh no. Have I become one of those bloggers? But it's true; the frequency of my postings have been on a steady decline since I started 'Proximity to Water' in 2009 - an average of 8 or 9 postings a month that year, down to 5 or 6 in 2010, on down to 3 a month in 2011, 2 a month in 2012 and ...

Well, I'm not doing so well in 2013.

In some ways, it's counter-intuitive. I've been enjoying unprecedented swaths of free time this year, and could easily churn out a blog entry a day if I really wanted to--but I haven't been.

It begs the question, why not? Here are several theories:
1. After many years of juggling part-time gigs, freelance work and temp jobs, this month marks my first full year of steadily working behind a computer for 40-hour, Monday-Friday work weeks. Sometimes the last thing I want to do at the end of my work day is stare at another screen.
2. Perhaps I'm just following up on the goals I set for myself this year, hazily defined as they were. One of my 2013 New Year's "Projects" was to spend less time online. I also wrote in February about unplugging from daily internet usage (outside of work), and no longer wanting to contribute to this phenomenon of everyone else's lives appearing, from the outside, so much better than our own. Sometimes I worry that, in the past, my blog has painted too idyllic a picture of my daily life--and it's this kind of internet-ing, in particular, that I want to shy away from. I want people to come away from my blog feeling inspired and connected, not jealous and alienated. Above all, I want to be authentic, open, honest--and yet, not at the expense of the privacy of people I'm close with. It's a fine line, and perhaps the more nervous I am of overstepping it, the less I share on my blog.
3. Or ... could it be that living in a city simply provides more fodder for blog-oriented content?

Okay, I say this a little tongue-in-cheek. I don't intend this to devolve into a debate over whether urban living or small-town living is better; honestly, I'm grateful to to have experienced both environments at this point in my life. I do find the differences compelling to explore, though.

Yesterday evening, I called my good friend Cam(bajamba) in Seattle, who picked up his phone and happened to be out to dinner at my all-time favorite restaurant in Seattle, Annapurna, with a boisterous group of mutual friends of ours. After their feast of authentic Himalayan food, they planned to hit up a new bar on Capitol Hill, my old neighborhood and stomping grounds. The good old pass-the-phone game was played. Birthday girl Angelina screamed my name into the phone in excitement over and over again, then yelled to the group: "Hey everyone, Yitka's coming back for July 4th this year!"

Hut Trip with Seattle friends, 2012
In that moment, I missed Seattle and my friends there more than I can possibly put into words. The ambient noise in the background of the restaurant, the voices, the clinking of glasses and dinner plates, the laughter ... all of it was in such stark contrast to my quiet living room here--made quieter by the fact that Steve's out in the mountains for several days this week--nothing but a gentle wind in the aspens and the sounds of the river in the distance.

My life here is about as far away as can be from my life in Seattle.

For the most part, I think I've adjusted well. I enjoy my job greatly, and I feel extraordinarily content with the life Steve and I have built together out here. I love our home, our routines, the food we make together, the trails out of our backyard, our fledgling garden ... Several nights ago, we grilled out on our back deck as the sun went down, watched as the deer came out in the twilight and the first stars appeared in the darkening sky. Yesterday evening, I baked muffins and brought them to a town potluck/picnic down the street, on the banks of the Crystal River, and got to know some more of our neighbors. Moments like these make me wonder how I ever lived in a city, no yard to speak of, bedroom windows pressed up to those of neighbors I'd never spoken to.

Baby bok choy just beginning to sprout on our sunny back deck
Here, I can do long runs in the mountains from my doorstep, or from any of a series of trailheads within ten minutes by car. In Seattle, I drove half an hour to get to the mountains, and had to time it so as not to hit rush hour on my way in or out and tack on an extra 30 minutes to my trail-commute. I don't worry out here about my car getting broken into at trailheads here, nor about not finding a spot in Wal-Mart-sized parking lots at popular trailheads, because most days out here I don't encounter a single other soul on the trails.

Backyard playground. No other humans anywhere.
Solitude can be beautiful--and often, immensely productive--but I think the experiences that arise in its midst can be more difficult to put into words than the external experiences I had in Seattle and found so easy to churn out blog entries about--the restaurants I ate at, coffeeshops frequented, events attended, urban routes explored, people met.

My evenings and weekends here are pretty consistent and predictable--make food, eat food, do NY Times crossword, go for a run or hike, watch Chloe hunt moths in our apartment, sleep. At the risk of this devolving into a cooking blog, a crossword blog or simply a gratuitous photo blog (not that there's anything wrong with those, but just seems like those niches have already been covered ... ), sometimes I wonder what is left to blog about from among my day-to-day experiences.

Food: Always an adventure here!
More food! Typical weekend brunch at our house.
And yet, perhaps this is just what the doctor ordered. After a few exciting years of hustle and bustle in the big city and a lot of focus on, indeed, my external experiences, I feel like small-town Colorado is helping me turn inward and work on myself in really meaningful ways. Though it's still early June, an almost-mid-year reflection on my progress toward my New Year's projects shows that this place is helping me grow in all the ways I hoped to this year:
  • The Simplicity Project: I ditched a lot of possessions when I moved out here, I sleep in on weekends now, I've succeeded in no longer "glorifying busy-ness", and I don't feel perpetually "behind" on keeping in touch with far-away friends
  • The Wellness Project: I'm sleeping more, spending more time outside, and eating 10 times better than ever before--mostly plant-based, unprocessed foods, nearly everything from scratch (well, + a healthy dose of coffee and beer)
  • The Courage Project: Boom. I've been confronted with more criticism (mostly constructive) in the past few months than ever before, and feel like I'm learning to handle it better each time
Sometimes a little solitude is what we need most to flourish. For what it's worth, here is the best essay I've ever read on the subject: If you do nothing else with your day today, read this essay. It changed my life when I first encountered it several years ago, and in some ways, can be attributed for the place in my life at which I now find myself--slowed down, more relaxed, and content with being a little less surrounded by people.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Transvulcania 83K Race Report: “The Hardest Sh*t I’ve Ever Done”

Note: 90% of the interesting details about my experience in the Canary Islands last weekend are missing from this write-up :) as I’m saving them for my feature story on the race in Trail Runner this fall. But if you’re an ultrarunning geek like me and curious for an overview of what running Transvulcania entails, by all means, read on …

Running the Transvulcania 83K on La Palma Island (technically Spain, but much farther south, off the coast of Morocco), involves three separate ultramarathons: the travel to get there (30+ hours total), the race itself, and the travel to get home. All three were harrowing in their own ways—and leave it to my body to survive a brutal race just fine, then suffer a strained calf muscle sprinting through the Madrid airport to catch a flight two days later, but that’s another story …

To my Northwest friends familiar with Rainshadow Running races, the best way to describe Transvulcania is as a blend of Orcas Island (unbelievable views), Angel’s Staircase (relentless climbing, altitude and highly technical terrain), and Yakima Skyline (heat, exposure and scree-laden trails). Throw in a little UTMB (thousands of runners, elite-level competition, thunderous crowds of spectators) and you’ll start to get an idea of what this race entailed.

The first mistake I made was listening to Ian Corless’ Talk Ultra podcast from last year’s Transvulcania on the 3.5-hour drive to the Denver airport last week. I thought doing so might jazz me up for the race. In fact, it had the opposite effect, as I learned bit by bit just what I’d signed myself up for.

The first 50K would be mostly relentless uphill—almost all of the course’s 15,000 feet of elevation gain occurs in the first half of the race. We’d run from sea level up to 7000 feet, then back down again a bit, then steeply up again to the course’s high point of 8000 feet—mostly on soft, black volcanic sand. “Every step you take uphill, your feet will slide right back down—just brutal!” Ian enthused (paraphrased.) “And then you’ll pop out into the crater, and blimey, it’s so hot, it’ll just feel like you’re running into a furnace!”

I shut the podcast off before it convinced me entirely that I was an idiot for thinking this was a good idea. The rest of my journey to La Palma was long, but uneventful—three flights, lackluster airline food, not nearly enough sleep on the Chicago-Madrid leg of my journey, a dizzying, rally-car shuttle from La Palma airport to the hotel where I’d meet up with Gina and Chris (the rest of the Trail Runner crew—badass runner and badass photographer, respectively) who’d gotten there two days before me.
Photo by Chris Hunter, taken of Gina and me at the start
I had one day to acclimatize and sleep off the jetlag before race day. On Saturday, the alarm went off at 2:15 a.m., just enough time to get dressed and eat some breakfast at the hotel before our 3 a.m. shuttle to the start line on the other side of the island. As we stepped out of the hotel, I could feel the heat in the air already. Not a good sign, for melt-into-a-puddle-when-exposed-to-sun types like myself.

The starting line, right next to the crashing waves of the ocean, reminded me a good deal of road marathons: thousands of runners, loudspeakers blasting music, huge inflatable arches, timing chips, a giant digital clock counting down until the start.

As the gun went off, we started up the mountain in the dark, 1600 headlamps bobbing, my feet already slipping and sliding in the soft sand. The plethora of trekking poles above me, being aggressively planted and subsequently lodging volcanic rock down in my direction, was no help.

We continued to climb and climb, up into deep pine forest. The ground felt like running in a litterbox, with all the sand, little rocks and lack of traction. There was so much scree inside my shoes already; I knew this race would be blister-central. The sun beginning to peek over the horizon, however, was a big boost.

Shortly, too, we arrived at the town of Los Canarios to throngs of screaming, cheering spectators. Much like I’ve heard the Boston Marathon be described, the crowd was many levels deep, thunderous, with so many little kids’ hands held out for high fives. I was nearly moved to tears as I ran through the mostly uphill stretch of pavement through the town. Hard to believe so many people had come out just to see us run.

I don’t speak much Spanish, but I quickly learned all the key words: “Venga venga!”, “Animo!”, “Vamos!” and, my favorite, “Chica chica!” So few runners in this race are female, so the spectators blew up with excitement when they saw a woman running.

Then it was back into the woods. Gina, who ran the half-marathon (actually a 26K, which started half an hour after our race), passed me around this point, looking super strong on the uphill. She went on to win the women’s half-marathon by at least a 20-minute margin over the second-place female. She’s an animal! I cheered for her as she went by me, then hunkered back down into my lonely climb up to the first caldera—which means “volcano”, and is derived from the Latin “caldaria”, or “cooking pot.” Aptly named.

I’d strained my piriformis several weeks before the race, and it had acted up quite a bit in the first few hours. However, around the 25K mark, it seemed to stop hurting much and, in fact, ceased to bother me for the rest of the race … I suppose my body just got distracted by the plethora of other pains that came in to roost: blisters, heat exhaustion, sleep deprivation, fatigued muscles, bruising under my feet from all the sharp volcanic rocks.

Fortunately, there was a tremendous amount of camaraderie among us middle-of-the-pack runners to take my mind off of the physical pains. Most of the participants (90-95%, I think?) are Spanish, so most made that assumption of me and would try to engage me in conversation, before I’d explain, “Lo siento, no habla Espanol; I speak English.”
One of the more runnable and shady stretches of the course, early in the day
So, with a few broken words of English, a few broken words of Spanish, and many exaggerated hand gestures, I made friends with the men around me. Many of us leapfrogged all day with one another, cheering one another on as we passed.

Much of the course is run along rolling, exposed ridgelines (I don’t think there was a drop of shade the entire second half of the race), so the views of the surrounding ocean and nearby volcanic islands were just stunning. Bluebird skies all day long.

At the risk of giving away all that I intend to write in my feature on the race for Trail Runner, there’s little I can say about the rest of the race except that it hurt a lot. I had looked forward to the long downhill after the high point around 50K in, but like a child craving ice cream all day only to discover it had all melted before I got a taste, I was sorely disappointed by the reality of the downhill—so steep and technical that, on my tired legs, it was far from runnable. 
Steep trail down. Can I just parachute into the ocean now?
On blistered feet, I hobbled down 15ish miles of relentless climb down the mountain and couldn’t stop thinking, “This is the hardest shit I’ve ever done.” In retrospect, I'd say that's arguable, but in the moment, I was very convinced of this fact.

It had been since my hundo back in October that I’d been thrust so far into the pain cave. There were so many thoughts: This is a dumb sport. Why do I do this? As my mom once asked me, Ultramarathons? Can’t you just do drugs instead?

The final few miles feature long stretches of steep pavement—both uphill and downhill—off of which the 90+ degree temps and beating sun were radiating like, indeed, a furnace. Two miles from the finish, a runner collapsed on the hot pavement right in front of me, screaming and writhing in pain. Medics were there in a heartbeat to carry him away. At the finish, I watched dozens more collapse and be carried away on stretchers. Is this even healthy? I asked myself, and again, Why, why, why?

The final half-mile of the race is flat, on pavement, and again, through screaming crowds a dozen people deep. I’d never wanted something so badly as to cross that finish line and stop running. They announced my name (pronounced correctly!) over the loudspeakers as I approached the finishing chute. Neither Chris nor Gina nor anyone I knew was there, and yet, in that moment, high-fiving every kid I could to the tune of “Chica bonita, buena buena!”, I felt anything but alone.

I crossed the finish line in 13:10 and plopped down into a filthy, ice-cold kiddie pool, overwhelmed with satisfaction. I hadn’t quit. I watched as the friends I’d made that day came across the finish line, too, see me, wave, scoop me up out of the pool for a sweaty hug and the traditional Spanish two kisses, one on each cheek. We’d all made it; we’d survived.

It always amazes me how quickly all the doubts and pains of a race like this fall away at the finish line. How the pleasure of sitting in a shallow pool of icy water, or slurping down a cold Powerade, or exchanging a hug with a perfect stranger, can redeem so many hours of pain. How worth it it suddenly all seems, and how grateful I feel to be a part of this amazing, albeit somewhat crazy, community of people that feels the same no matter where in the world you are.

I couldn’t help but think of something a fellow ultrarunner, David Green, recently said to me in an interview (see my story on him, ‘The Man Behind the Photo’, in the upcoming July issue of Trail Runner.) He’d said, “This is what runners do—we look for pain and punishment, but we know there’s meaning in it.”

Amen. This race will go down in my memory as one of my proudest accomplishments and most meaningful experiences. I'm extraordinarily grateful for the opportunity to have gone and run the amazing trails on La Palma! Stay tuned to the mag for the full story in a few more months :)

Sunsets in the Canary Islands are pretty stunning.

Friday, May 3, 2013

A Love Note to the Seasons

Several days ago, one of my coworkers came back from a sultry lunchtime run, panting, drenched in sweat, and said, No more lunchtime runs for me. It’s no longer the season, I guess, now that noon here on a sunny day generally sees temperatures in the high 70s or low 80s.

In contrast, last summer in Washington, after a long mountain run in the middle of a cool, cloudy day of what I recall to be July-ish, my good friend Tim proclaimed, “Today was awesome! You know you must be a real runner when you’re grateful that it’s overcast so often in Seattle!”

And indeed, for all my years in mild Seattle, I was far too busy being giddy about having escaped Midwest summer humidity and bitterly cold winters to consider what I might be missing. Yet, now that I’m living in place that once again has very distinct seasons, I feel grateful for them—despite dreading summer temperatures forcing me to give up the lunchtime runs I've so been enjoying this past month.

And ... random snowfall on May 1 = not cool, Colorado! Forgiven, only, by the fact that it was sunny and all melted by 3 p.m.
Perhaps it’s once again a case of cognitive dissonance, of my trying to see the best in whatever situation I find myself in, but watching Colorado transition from winter to spring to what feels like summer (at least on days like today) has been pretty darn mesmerizing.

When we moved here, Redstone was silent, semi-deserted, muted by the snow:

Now, it looks like this:

Slowly, seasonal residents have returned, tourists have come to visit, and the town feels as though it’s come alive. Across the street, the Crystal Club Café—all shuttered up in the winter—opened for business for the season today. Tonight, there are lights and voices and laughter outside … children playing corn hole, bikes flying down the street, music playing, the happy clink of pint glasses.

Trails are (finally!) opening up for running. 

I’d been lamenting the fact that the only places I’d run here yet were all dusty, exposed desert trails, scattered with twisted juniper trees and sage bushes—beautiful, no doubt—but not like the deep, lush, fern-and-moss-laden forests of Washington that I love. Last weekend, though, I ran the Avalanche Creek Trail out here for the first time, and was amazed to find myself running under a canopy of tall pines that felt far more Washingtonian than Coloradoan. 

There are still snowy patches here and there, but soon enough, it’ll be a spectacular 24-mile out-and-back to a series of alpine lakes … and with a trailhead just five minutes away from home.

The Crystal River has risen tremendously in the past few warm weeks, as snow has melted off up high and transformed the Crystal from a trickling creek into a roaring river. 

Taking a short break on a run near the "Meatgrinder" Class V rapids
We can hear the river now from our living room windows. Earlier this week, our beloved hot springs down the road disappeared for the summer, as the river level has risen and rushed right over the top of it—but it feels okay; it will come back when the water falls again for autumn.

Seasons are soothing in this way. They’re predictable, but not so much that they’re lacking the delight of small surprises—the sound of birds in the spring, the first summer night that permits a nighttime stroll in a T-shirt, the turning of the leaves in autumn. Seasons are an antidote to stagnancy; they promise forward movement, without threatening irrevocable change. No matter how drastic the season is, you can be sure that it, too, shall pass.

It’s different from the kind of changes we experience in our lives, which are indeed often both unpredictable and irrevocable—for better or worse.

2012 saw more changes in my life than any other year recently. Not counting miscellaneous freelance projects I juggled, I went through three different jobs—four, if you count the new one I started in January 2013. I experienced the end of a 3.5-year relationship and the beginning of a new one. My income fluctuated wildly. I went from having run one ultramarathon a year in 2010 and 2011 to running more than a dozen in 2012. I moved to a new apartment last summer, then six months later, moved halfway across the country. Needless to say, by the time I got to Colorado, I was a little tuckered out, and ready for some steadiness.

And very quickly, I cultivated just that—living in a quiet town in the mountains, going to work five days a week, doing all my runs on pretty the same couple of snow-free trails, settling into a peaceful evening routine at home of cooking and crossword-ing with Steve.

While much comfort can be derived from this kind of stability, the flipside is that it can also feel awfully scary. Even if you enjoy your routine, you might wonder, So … is this the way my life is going to be forever? Given that I’ve struggled a good deal in the past few months with homesickness for Seattle, wondering if I’ll be able to make the same kind of friends out here that I had there, the prospect of nothing ever changing again hasn’t exactly been a thrilling one.

We need change to continue thriving. The seasons are reminding me of this. I feel fortunate to have Steve in my life, to feel the warmth of an amazing support network of friends even from hundreds or thousands of miles away, to have the kind of job I’ve dreamt for years about having...

Tough day at the office last week! Our gear guide photo shoot, part I at Mt. Garfield
Gear guide photo shoot, part II, Grand Junction, CO have a home I love coming back to at the end of the day … even yes, I feel lucky to have a hungry kitty who, without fail, paws me awake at 5 a.m. every morning for breakfast.

Gratuitous Chloe photo
What I’m learning out here is that I can have these big rocks in my life that anchor me, while still pursuing growth. I can be stable without being stagnant. 

In closing, I’d like to state that while I still believe Seattle is the best place on Earth to be a long-distance runner, I am eager to see what Colorado's got in store for the summer. It's a tall order to compete with Seattle, where there are hundreds of miles of amazing singletrack in the city or within 30 minutes of it, that stay mostly snow-free and runnable year-round. Trails don’t get shut down for eight months a year to help preserve elk herds. It never gets hot enough in the summer to make midday runs uncomfortable. It never gets cold or snowy or icy enough in the winter to make runs unbearable. And as for all the rain … personally, I always feel like a million bucks when I go running in the rain—like my own personal sprinkler cooling me off every step.

However. I’ll admit that the sunshine out here has wooed me—and I move forward with an open mind. Come on, Colorado … I’m here, I'm optimistic, I’m ready to love you, too … show me whatcha got.

Chair Peak, Crystal River run-off in the foreground, as seen from Redstone this evening

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Exploring the relationship between tragedy and humanity

As the country, if not the world, struggles to come to terms with what happened in Boston on Monday, the Internet is filled with people’s stories of how close they were to the blasts—how many minutes before or after 4:09 they crossed the finish line, where they were standing when the explosions went off, whom else they knew who was there.

What is it about tragedy that makes us all want to be so close to it, all the while feeling exceptionally grateful that it didn’t happen directly to us? I struggle with this question, because I’ve felt this compulsion to draw a thread of connection, however thin, between myself and those at the heart of so many recent tragedies that have befallen communities I’ve been a part of.

Last year’s Seattle coffeeshop shooting touched me deeply, because I ran by the Racer Café often, and because several of the victims were friends of a friend. The avalanche at Stevens Pass that took the lives of three talented skiers in February 2012 hit me hard as well, at least in part because Chris Rudolph and I had recently chatted about a story for Western Snowsports on Washington ski areas for which I was helping solicit photos. After 9-11, I shivered to learn that my dad’s colleague’s nephew was aboard the plane that hit the north tower.

Are these scenarios any more or less tragic, due to my flimsy connections to them? Certainly not. Did I really know any of the victims? No. Is it unfair to those who did, to their friends and families, to say that their deaths, through however many degrees of separation, hit close to home for me? Why do I even feel compelled to write about these tragedies in the first place, when in reality, they’re so far removed from my own life, linked only—in this case—by a shared passion for running long distances?

On September 11, 2001, I was sitting in a journalism class when the second tower fell. Our teacher seized the opportunity to have us all spend the class period writing articles on the events as they transpired, chronicling the reactions of those around us. Even for the sake of education, something about it didn’t feel quite right to me—this grabbing at others’ misfortunes and transforming them into “opportunities.” It was an aspect of journalism that, at the time, rubbed me the wrong way.

A year later, on the anniversary of 9-11, I wore an “I Love NY” shirt to class, among other red-white-and-blue accessories. A classmate indirectly berated my choice, ranting to the class about those who’d boiled the tragedy of others down to cheap commodities and material patriotism, who’d used it as an opportunity to draw attention to themselves … I felt deeply shamed, even as her accusations didn’t ring true with what I felt my motivations had been when I got dressed that morning. What I wanted was to express some sense of solidarity with those who’d experienced losses I couldn’t even fathom; perhaps my method of doing so was misguided, or amounted to little more than an empty gesture, but it was what made sense to me at the time.

Here I am more than a decade later, in the role of an actual journalist rather than a student one, working for a publication that, by its very nature, cannot ignore the events in Boston on Monday—no matter how much I’d like to crawl inside my Internet-less hole of a home, forget that any of it really happened and wait for my broken heart to mend.

But I can’t do that. This is my community, the magazine’s readership. Writers and athletes I’ve been working with on stories were there; our readers and subscribers were there; countless friends and acquaintances from the greater running community were there.

News and social media reports indicate that hundreds of runners and bystanders ran toward the blasts, rather than away from them. In the most literal sense, such actions are a display of our very human desire to help others, to experience solidarity in our increasingly isolated society. Many reports thus far are overwhelmingly about the heroic efforts of everyday people aiding one another, rather than conjecturing about the coward who caused it all; for this kind of journalism, I am grateful.

The truth is that people die, often in gruesome ways, every single day. Yes, I am deeply saddened that the Boston Marathon will never be the same again. (I still hope to run it someday.) I am saddened, too, that the running community as a whole has been tainted. I am even more heartbroken for the victims themselves and their families, whose lives have been irrevocably damaged.

Perhaps another of the great horrors of Monday is that the images plastered across the media of bloodied and dismembered bodies are ones that are in our papers every day, but rather than on the front page, they’re tucked into the backs, under headlines about countries that seem so far removed from our daily lives that we become immune to feeling anything for the atrocities they report. We flip the page and move on with our lives, and for our indifference, we feel a little less human—or, at least, I do.

Maybe, then, we find ways to articulate our tenuous personal connections to tragedies like Monday’s not because we seek attention, but because we want to feel empathy. In the midst of our generally comfortable lives, we want to experience the very things that most make us human—our connection to others, our compassion for the suffering of strangers, our sense of global community.

My heart goes out to all affected by Monday’s senseless tragedy. I do not wish to use it as an opportunity or soapbox—and perhaps, despite my best intentions, that is what I’m doing here anyway. But for what it’s worth … humanity, I still have faith in you. I am grateful to live in a beautiful world where love and community still far outshine tragedy.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Colorado livin'

How is life in Colorado?

I've answered this question several dozen times in the past month, and no doubt I've given slightly different answers every time—but for those I talk to less regularly, here are some bits and pieces of how my life has changed since leaving Seattle.

From an outsider's perspective, the culture in Carbondale feels pretty similar to that of Seattle: a left-leaning community of outdoor enthusiasts, dog lovers, NPR listeners. The restaurants have vegan and gluten-free alternatives and plenty of microbrews on tap. When people ask what you do, they mean "What do you like to do on the weekends?", not "What do you for work?" Beards, Subarus and coffee dependence are prevalent; work attire is plaid flannel and jeans. The local grocery has banned plastic bags. Everyone loves Whole Foods.

So every now and then, I'm floored by some of the differences. On the pro-Colorado side...when people pass me on the sidewalk here, they look me in the eye and say, "Hi!" This happened approximately once in every 99 encounters with passersby in Seattle. I love how astoundingly warm, friendly and hospitable people are in this valley. Steve and I moved into our new home in Redstone the day of the Super Bowl, and we hadn't been unloading our Uhaul twenty minutes before a neighbor rolled up on his dog sled to offer to help us unload and invite us to his house for a Super Bowl party that evening.

Sometimes, I feel overwhelmed at how magical this place feels. If it's cloudy one day, it's pretty much guaranteed to be sunny the next day. The sky understands; we did our time, we deserve some rays. The sky in Seattle did not understand this. 

While I worried that my blog name would no longer be apt once I left my beloved Puget Sound, I do, in fact, still live in proximity to water. I live across the street from the lovely, rippling Crystal River, and a five-minute drive from an awesome natural hot springs that makes for terrific post-run soaking.

The Crystal River
On the pro-Seattle side...apparently no one here has ever heard of recycling. Not only is there no recycling pick up at our house (let alone yard waste/compost pick up!), the closest drop-off recycling center is 25+ miles away. Putting glass bottles, cardboard boxes and even banana peels in the trash can feels like nails on a chalkboard to me—yet, at some point, doesn't driving all those miles counteract the environmental benefits of recycling in the first place? We just have to be all the more mindful. 

Snowboarding is not cool here, the way I like to think it sort of was back in the Northwest. I get asked all the time, "Do you ski?!" To which I say brightly, "I snowboard!" Inevitably, the inquirer's face falls. "Oh," they say. Oi vey, the disappointment in their eyes!

The restaurant scene in town also leaves something to be desired. It's pretty hard for anywhere to compete with Seattle—but oh, I am homesick for my malai kofta from Annapurna, my phad see ew and red curry from Jamjuree and phad thai from Amazing Thai, my injera at Queen Sheba. Carbondale has decent pizza, Mexican food and all-American diner grub...but the ethnic options are sorely lacking. With that said, I really have nothing to complain about, because the eating at home is fabulous, and I'm undoubtedly saving oodles of cash not eating out anymore. 

Steve's Amazing Thai rendition. Amazing is the correct adjective to describe what is pictured here.
Teaching my body to run at altitude has been an another beast entirely, which I could ramble on about at length. I think I'm finally starting to turn the corner on what's essentially felt like a month of miserable, asthmatic slogs in the snow—but more on that in another entry. (Soon!)

Adventures in unplugging continue. I’m compelled to share the following excerpt I came across in a productivity book published in 1976. From a section called Information Overload:

“The office duplicating machine, the mimeograph, the offset press, the videotape recorder—all these and many more products of modern technology have one common goal: the production and distribution of more and more information to be absorbed by the human brain. But no one has come up with any ideas for increasing the human brain’s capacity to absorb more information. Most people are already taking in more information than they can usefully assimilate. Why multiply the input…[and] make it difficult for you to concentrate on the big picture?”
– from ‘Getting Things Done’, by Edwin C. Bliss

I must confess I have no idea what a mimeograph isbut funny how much things change, and how much they don’t change at all.

My jeans, for example, will stop wearing out rectangular holes in the right butt pocket, where my iPhone dwelled in Life Before Redstone. My internet-less evenings have afforded me swaths of free time I never imagined possible alongside a 40-hour-a-week job. Granted, this probably is also due to the fact that I went from having 30-40 friends I regularly spent time with in Seattle (thanks to the communities of REI folk, Oberlin alumni, and the Seattle Mountain Running Group) to having precisely two friends here—if you count my cat.

Then, there are things that have not changed.

The addiction to checking things, to hoping someone has reached out in some way, has not disappeared altogether. After Mt. Sopris interrupts my car radio’s reception, I spend the better part of my drive home from work fantasizing about the letters, cards or packages I might find inside our mailbox. After several weeks in our off-the-technology grid experiment, Steve and I succumbed to the lure of the modern world and got a landline in our cell-phone-receptionless new hometown—so now I wonder, too, if we've gotten any voicemails.

The frenzied checking continues.

Granted, it’s mediated. On Facebook, there are roughly 700 possibilities for people who might interact with me at any given moment. My iPhone has 217 contacts on it, at least a couple dozen of whom I’ve texted with semi-regularly.

In sharp contrast, there are exactly four people in the world who currently have our landline number, so the possibilities for voicemails are slim—“your mom or mine?!” Though a few more folks know our mailing address, the mail quietly shows up only once a day, six days a week—not 24/7 the way the Internet is incessantly alerting, notifying, pinging, poking. Back in Seattle, I’d developed the habit of checking my email first thing in the morning, on my iPhone, while still in bed…turning off my alarm clock and opening Gmail with concurrent swipes of the thumb.

FYI that’s dumb.

As I am again composing this blog entry offline at home for posting later, I am now off to look up “mimeograph” in my dictionary.

P.S. A number of you have asked me to share pictures of Redstone and our new home. As I wrote before, I hope to stop participating in the look-how-great-my-life-appears-when-I-present-it-this-certain-way-on-the-interwebs business…so just know that all these come with a necessary disclaimer to shred any perception you might have that life here is perfect: I'll reiterate the complete and utter lack of decent Thai food here. Also, because I do not have the Internet and Facebook to look at pictures of other people’s cats, I spend inordinate amounts of time taking pictures of my own. It's a pretty unglamorous life here, I promise.

Okay, now on to the good stuff:

Our street! Population 94 now.
More from our street
Looking toward Coal Basin, the snowshoeing paradise across the street from our house
Inside Coal Basin

Running up by Hanging Lake near Glenwood Springs
I generally see more deer than humans on my runs

Sunset run on the bike path near my work

Enough of that snow! Let's go inside, where it's cozy. Here's home sweet home.
Chloe knows what's up.
The day she figured out she could climb up and down the loft ladders was an exciting one indeed. Cat paradise, this place.