Friday, December 6, 2013

3 MTB life lessons

focus on the opportunity, not the obstacle
I’m a terrible mountain biker, so this is one I like to learn the hard way. All the time. On every trail there is a section that literally passes between a rock and a hard place (generally a tree). More often than not, I fixate on that rock or hard place, hit one, and Superman over the handlebars. Apparently the trick is to focus on the foot or so of dirt between rock and hard place, or better yet the trail safely past said obstacles (the “opportunity”). The few times I’ve been able to do it, it totally works.
life application: Stop being so negative- take note of obstacles, identify the opportunity around them, and focus on that possibility.

anything worth doing involves a little risk
Sure, I can have a pleasant time and maybe get a little exercise playing it safe on the green trails at Sunderbruch or keeping to the outside loop at Sylvan. But c’mon, man. Is that why I’m there? No one in the history of ever gets jacked up talking about how easy their mid-tempo effort was or their lack of battle scars. I can ride my road bike from my house and get the job done- so if I'm going to drag my bigass MTB out to a trail then I want an accomplishment. I don’t care if it’s a simple log crossing, which is an epic challenge for me. The point is to get out of the comfort zone. Sometimes I surprise myself.  
life application: Never allow fear to guide my life.

i can cry and still move forward
I stole this one from Robyn Benincasa. Sometimes things don’t go well. Sometimes I get hurt, or lost, or I just straight up bonk. When this happened in the past, I used to go through an energy-sapping self destruction process of anger and mental self-abuse. But I have found that my best tactic is to just let it out, immediately and hard, while still pedaling forward. It’s fairly shameless and to the few that have noticed I am unapologetic: “Yep. I’m bawling.” Or I lie: “I swallowed a bug!” I get it out and get over it. And most people don’t notice if I keep moving anyway- a couple hard sobs and it's over, and I'm back to it. 
life application: Don’t get crushed under the weight of my own drama. Accept it, embrace it, and let it go. And keep moving forward.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

let's go to prison

So I'm trying to get back in shape. Really, really trying.

While in Waterville, IA for a photo shoot, I decide to detour east a smidge and check out Yellow River State Forest. I do a little research and email back and forth with the DNR to find out that the Luster Heights Unit has trails "groomed for cross country skiing". I make sure to toss my skis in the photo van before heading out.

It's been hard to find good skiing this year and I am excited to maybe find a new place to get some on-snow time. I follow the GPS, paired with my downloaded PDF of parks maps to the Luster Heights entrance. From there I just follow the signs to the public parking. The park is beautiful and covered in snow. Yes! I will ski today.

The public parking is plowed with room for only one vehicle to park, and I am in a giant van, so I continue on to see if there is another place around the bend. That's when it gets weird.

The forest road ends at a cluster of small buildings with a sign: "Authorized Vehicles Only". But just beyond that, I can see "Visitor Parking", and a building labeled "Office". The park ranger's office, I think. Excellent, I think- I can ask where the trailhead is.

I park in "Visitor Parking" and am starting up the walk to the "Office" when a uniformed gaurd comes out. I take notice of his sidearm and accompanying taser. The "Authorized Vehicles Only" sign registers in my mind; I realize now that I have breached some sort of security with a three-quarter ton cargo van. Nice work.

Gaurd: "Can I help you with something?"
Me: "I'm confused. I was told there are cross country ski trails here?"
Gaurd: "They're back by the public parking. Go back the way you came."
Me (indicating buildings): "What is this?"
Gaurd: "This is a prison."


Me: "Am I safe here?"
Gaurd: "Well, it's minimum security, so the guys aren't really dangerous. And the trails are outside the perimeter."


Me: "Okay. So, you said the trails are this way? And they go that direction? Great. Thanks."

As I'm walking back to the van, I realize that this is the point where most people decide that maybe a ski isn't on the agenda today. Maybe a swift drive back to civilization sounds more like a solid plan.

I've never claimed to be like most people. I will ski today.

I park in the lone "public" parking spot and get suited up to ski. I can see the service road that leads to the trails. Someone has already skied on it. It looks like they might only groom for classic skiing, and of course I'm a skater, but the trail looks wide enough to kind of bushwack it, and there's plenty of snow.

I put on my skis and start the double-pole coast down the side of the service road towards the trail. I've got a bit of speed going when my right ski stops dead and slams my knee (followed quickly by the rest of my body) to the ground. There is one itty bitty patch of exposed gravel- just enough to, well, stop a ski.

Again, it occurs to me that this might be a good opportunity to bail on this particular adventure. But now I'm on a mission; I'll be damned if I'm gonna drive to BFE Prison and be stopped by a little crash. I WILL ski today!

I continue on and find the proper ski trail, and they have only groomed for classic. That's alright, I'll freaking double-pole all day if I have to. I will ski today!

The first section of trail goes gradually downhill with a few nice flat sections. The snow is heavy and loose, so no skating for me. The second section goes quickly downhill, ending at a sharp right turn where the tracks are completely demolished by the number of crashes here. Seriously, I'm talking a 100% failure rate. It looks like a garbage chute. I obviously crash here as well, but softly in about two feet of snow.

I stand, brush myself off, and consider my situation. It's bit ridiculous at this point, forcing it like this to ski horribly in bad snow. I decide to bag it; I have to pee anyways. I will not ski today.

When I make it back to the van I glance at the base of my skis. The right ski has a number of new gouges, including one that has ripped away some of the base material. Beautiful. I officially own rock skis now.

It really needs to snow, soon. Hard.

Friday, December 14, 2012

how in the hell did i get a muffin top?

Lately, I've noticed in myself the influx of interest in social media that comes with an increasingly sedentary lifestyle.

I looked back at my blog for the first time in two years, only to read about the realy cool shit I used to do.

I decided I need to do more of it. So I took a solid look in the mirror and stepped on the scale.

Holy shit... when did all that happen? I have some serious work to do.

But not before I blog about it, of course.

Monday, January 25, 2010

can i get a 'hell yes'?

So, last weekend (Jan. 16) was the Frozen Oter Ultra Trek. I attempted this last year and got schooled so hard I stayed out of the woods for weeks. This year-- I knew-- had to be different.

Team Fat Otter offers up two flavors for this event: the 64-mile, 24-hour, I'm-so-crazy-I-need-shock-therapy full distance; or the 32-mile, 12-hour, I-have-a-few-screws-loose-but-am-still-a-functioning-member-of-society half distance. Since I have a full time job and a healthy respect (read: fear) of danger, I chose the latter. My Project Athena Goddess teammate Kerrie had to bail at the last minute (moving + training for a Namibian ultra + holidays = no time), so I was on my own.

Solo in the woods of Northern Kettle Moraine State Park. For at least five hours of darkness.

My group, the solo half distance, was the first off. A few of us began jogging right from the start, where the snow was hard packed. I'm glad we did; less than a mile in the snow got loose and deeper. I used my $18 Target trekking poles for all they were worth and then some. I was pretty psyched to see Evan Wing at the 8 mile CP-- it's nice to know that someone running support really gets what you're trying to do. I asked for whiskey and bacon, which no one had, so I settled for my trail mix and Heed mixed with hot water. I didn't allow myself my iPod unless I made it to the first 8 mile CP in time to continue on... and success! My second 8 miles, the ones with music, were my fastest for the day.

By 9 miles in, my GoreTex Salomons were filled with water--either from snow, sweat, or both. I knew I had a fresh pair of socks in my pack, so I pushed on to the 16 mile (a.k.a. the Turnaround). Perhaps I should have stopped earlier.

When I took off my first sock, one of the volunteers audibly gasped. My foot was basically grey (think bathtub pruning), with my second and middle toes forming weird blisters around the base of the nail. And let's not forget the "toe hat" blisters that I have grown to know and love... thank God for April and Ellie. Again, having friendly, knowing faces at these checkpoints kept me going. April lent me her Vaseline Lip Therapy (closest thing to lube anybody had) to rub on my toes, Ellie made some hot Heed (my new favorite drink), and I took my first (and only) 800mg of Ibuprofen. Now, I have never been a fan of doping, but damn did that help.

I was cutting it close. I had to get out of that CP before the 6-hour mark if I had any hope of finishing in time. A big group of 6-8 guys got to the checkpoint right behind me, and they did not like the idea of getting chicked. The hunt was on. I shoved my dry socks into my wet shoes and got my ass moving. It was getting dark and I knew it, so I had my headlamp out before I left.

One of my major accomplishments in this event was my organization; I seemed to have everything ready to go. I almost didn't stop for anything: glove changes, eating, drinking-- the one time I had to pee I was counting the seconds.

Regardless of my phenominal preparation for this event, a few of the boys caught me. Fine with me; while motivating, the coyote howling in the valley and the random car stopping for far too long (at one of the few road crossings) were not things I enjoyed encountering on my own. We talked a bit about these encounters before I broke away from them again just before the final manned CP at 24 miles.

Back at Evan's camp, I was again faced with super wet feet; but this time with no spare socks. I took them off and hung them by the fire. This time around, venison jerky and (yes!) a bottle of whiskey were available. I took a stick of jerky and a snort off the bottle, and suddenly what I was doing seemed much less idiotic. Back on with the wet socks and shoes, I'm off!

By this point, two of the guys from the group had passed me at the 24-mile, and my bladder of water was frozen solid. The other guys that were behind me were making coyote howls as they chased me down. I have to assume that anybody with less of a sense of humor would really hate this... and I'll admit that I was damn near sprinting to the end when I saw the fire marking the finish line. But at no point was I afraid. Coyotes, creepy cars, frozen fluids... these were all things that I handled with a levelheadedness that I did not know I possessed.

Anyway, I finished with about 12 minutes to spare. And there was chicken soup at the end! Real soup, not the skinny-noodled kind. And a jar of giant dill pickles! And New Glarus beer!

Can I get a hell yes?

Results: sore hips & feet, 9th of 37 (including teams), only chick to finish the half in time.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Project Athena!!

September 30- October 4: Rim 2 Rim 2 Rim, Project Athena fundraising adventure.

I'm a little at a loss for words on this, but I felt it was necessary to post something. My loss of words may be because I'm not much of a mushy person... and any descriptions in English are just going to come off mushy.

This was an amazing group of people in an amazing setting, all for the purpose of helping others. All the planets aligned; it was the perfect storm.

See? Already I'm getting mushy. Think of any cheesy cliche, and I won't fight you on it. I seriously came back a different person.

The goal:
Cross the Grand Canyon on foot. Twice. From the South Rim to the North on Thursday, and a different route back on Friday. So I was thinking that this will be pretty easy; hiking is just walking, right? After two 10+ hour days with minimal stopping and a new series of blisters that Robyn dubbed "The Toe Hat", I realized that I was wrong.

The cause:
Project Athena, a non-profit that helps women "strive and survive" after medical tragedy/setback by fulfilling an athletic dream. For example, Kerrie Kerkman. She has a degenerative spinal condition, and has already had one spinal fusion- with the possibility of more on the horizon. Her dream was to to not only see the Great Wall in China, but to run the Great Wall marathon. In May 2009, accompanied by Melissa Cleary, she did just that. Project Athena provides funds and support for the "Athenaship Recipients" in these athletic endeavors.

The R2R2R recipient was Sandy Kilburg, aptly nicknamed "Sunshine". Always positive and active, you would never know that she is a breast cancer survivor.

Some of the people:
Melissa Cleary, San Diego firefighter, marathoner (dozens of 'em). Strong and kind, her Project Athena job description is "Angel of Hope". Seriously, it says so on her business card- and after hiking with her, I can't think of a better description. And again, don't think mushy: she's originally from Philly and tells it like it is. She carried packs and weight from damn near everyone.

Robyn Benincasa, San Diego firefighter, world class adventure racer. Strong, fun, and ridiculously modest, she is a founder of Project Athena (job description: "Minister of Dreams"). Anyone who follows adventure racing is aware of Robyn's rockstar status, but she is more down-to-earth than most amateur Cat. 3 road cyclists. Another woman who isn't afraid to tell it like it is, she knew my feet hurt before I did. She took weight and physically pushed, pulled, and dragged us to completion.

Masha Glanville, recently retired from the workforce and world class adventure racer. I didn't get a lot of time with Mosh, but I do know this: she suffers more gracefully than anyone I have ever known. She physically pulled (on a towline) other hikers for dozens of miles.

Florence Debout, French, tiny, and powerful, her Project Athena description is "Commissioner of Courage". Again, not a lot of time with Florence, but her presence is much larger than her compact frame. For example, Florence and Robyn completed RAW this year, and their two-person female team won their division and placed 3rd OVERALL. She is also not one to boast.

Jonea Mounsey, flight nurse, local, hiker extraordinaire, route finder. Another pusher/puller/dragger, Jonea is just an all around cool chick.

Josh Liberman, a professional photog there to document who quickly became one of us, and Jackie Windh, a journalist and photographer there to cover the event for Sleepmonsters, and who has always been one of us.

The "B" Team: abbreviated from "Bitchin'!", this was Wendy, a San Diego firefighter, Erica, the sweetest girl with a contagious laugh, and myself, the ex-crackhead posing as an athlete. We vowed on Day 2 that we would stay together and damnit, we did. Every. Last. Painful. Step. You learn a lot about yourself when you are stripped of all ego, walking in well after everyone else.

There were 22 of us, which would make for a really long blog. The moral is this: go to Project Athena and donate at least a tithe. Or ten bucks, whatever. Click here to do it under my page.

It is a cause worthy of all of your disposable income.

makin' progress

Dennis Grelk and I teamed up on August 29th to do the 12-hour Thunder Rolls AR. We're both in our first year or two of adventure racing, but we get into it like a couple of rabid beavers. Dennis is a great teammate for many reasons, not the least of which are his VW bus and his ability to tow my ass on a bike to the finish line at 26mph-- after 11 hours and 53 minutes of racing. (We finished, according to my watch, with 20 seconds to spare.)

Of note on this race:
1. Two-mile run epilogue, in which teams receive Map 1 of 6 and passport (for marking obtained CPs). Dennis had a pulled Achilles' tendon, so the run was less than fun for his angry foot. Luckily for us, Dennis and I are total geeks (again, great teammate) and had spent the evening before overlaying the existing maps to determine where CP 1 was on the missing map.
That way, we didn't have to stop and plot the UTM coordinates. We were off!

2. Rockin' bike section, in which I was towed for the first time. It was awesome! The only team that caught us was 3-person coed Team Bushwacker, and we all know that they are monsters, so I'm okay with it. Two water crossings by bike.

3. The Tyrolean traverse, during which certain female racers are accused of sounding like birthing water buffalo. Whatever, I think I sounded like a warrior princess. Did I mention that we had to traverse with our bikes?

4. The first orienteering course. We hit the traverse in second place. When we came out of this O-course, we were 16th. We spent 90 minutes on one CP, and still never found it. Yeah, neither of us are navigators. Not at all.

5. The damned paddle, in which all energy stores are completely sapped. The Mississippi is one powerful, angry bitch. A few days before the race, one river town had received 10" of rain in one storm. It took us 3+ hours to get two CPs, but damnit, we got them. God bless 180 Energy drinks and beans- supplied at the boat launch. Thunder Rolls volunteers are awesome.

6. The finish, in which racers are handed an ice cold beer (in a custom Thunder Rolls coozie). The rest of the race was a blur as I clung to Dennis' wheel.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

the Muddy Buddy!! ...and a fuddy duddy

Did my first race as an Otter last Sunday-- the Muddy Buddy Chicago! Rod McLennan and I teamed up and gave that course the business as Fat Otter III.

This was my first Muddy Buddy, so I wasn't sure what to expect. It was what I would call a "civilian" race-- with 1700 teams of two and free Red Hook beer, the vibe was definitely pretty chill. The course was quick, creative and fun... and who doesn't love an excuse to crawl through the mud? Rod and I ended up 9th in our division... I'll take it, since there were 148 teams and I wasted some time waiting for a bike that was already in one of the transitions. (Note: make bike more identifiable next year.) Afterwards I stopped by the Zanfel tent and got to chat with Mr. Steve! Haven't seen him since the High Profile Adventure Camp last April.

We celebrated for a while, then I stopped by the bike corral to pick up my bike... to no avail. That's right: someone took my MTB. Are you kidding me? The year I get in to Chequamegon, and now I am without bike??

The race promotor/director was as helpful as could be expected, but the website had warned that the corral was not secure. I'm so used to bike and adventure races--where it's all athletes and no one would mess with your gear--that I disregarded this warning.

I had a three-hour drive home to totally lose my shit about it, and believe me, I did. But that didn't bring me any closer to having a bike again, so I decided instead on this:

I have chosen to believe that my bike ran off to live on a beautiful farm with an active family who cleans, maintains, and keeps bicycles inside. They have pristine singletrack out the back door and live on beautiful, rolling gravel roads. The Tassajara is in a much better place now. *sniff*

...and now I will somehow get a new bike.

(But just in case, keep your eyes peeled for a red & silver Gary Fisher Tassajara, nicknamed "The Ass Jar")