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Sorry Girl Scouts, you were not my type

October 13, 2017

If I could go back in time, I’d apologize to a few people. My Girl Scout leaders would be some of them.

You see, I was raised in a household of rambunctious, hockey-playing boys. I am still a “tomboy” because I require a pretty significant level of physical activity to balance the amount of time I’m required to sit still most days. Back when I was 8 or 10 or 12 years old I was a good student and focused in school, but wanted to let loose afterward. I was into climbing trees, building forts, playing football or baseball or whatever the other kids in the neighborhood were up to. I delivered newspapers on my skateboard. I started running races around age 12 (just a few but it planted the seed). Girl Scouts was the wrong organization for me to join.

Girl Scouts was anathema to me. It was more sitting still. The leaders, God bless them, tried to teach me things like paper mache and embroidery. We used miles of colored yarn to earn badges that required nothing more than channeling our natural energy into a checklist of pseudo domestic skills designed to make us better housewives. That’s the worst thing for pubescent girls who are beginning to battle body image issues, to face “mean girl” school cliques, and often having few outlets for confidence building activities. Girls need to test their physical skills and keep endorphins flowing through rock climbing, biking, problem solving and meaningful activities like public service, in my opinion. Like I believe Boy Scouts do.

Girls belong in trees and on climbing walls and participating in more than glue and glitter activities.

In Girl Scouts, when I was participating, we never went hiking or learned survival skills, but my brothers did in Boy Scouts. In Girl Scouts, we never rode bikes or camped outside, but my brothers did in Boy Scouts. In Girl Scouts we never shoveled snow for the elderly, paddled canoes, or learned fire-starting techniques as Boy Scouts did. I asked to join Boy Scouts but was told no, that’s not for you. Instinctively I knew it was exactly what I wanted to do but in 1978 or thereabouts very few people were challenging the rules and my parents were not going to rock the boat. So I made my Girl Scout leaders miserable by misbehaving.

Later in life I became a Girl Scout leader, hoping to provide the right opportunities to my daughters and other young girls. Sadly, I wasn’t able to offer the kids much better than I had experienced in  my youth. Up against a bulwark of rules designed to protect the organization from liability, we could not push girls to participate in activities that they didn’t want to do, perpetuating a system that clearly discouraged physical activities in favor of using more yarn and glue and glitter. It was nearly impossible to even teach the kids to cook or allow them to use scissors. It was ridiculous. But if you sold lots of cookies and made money for the organization to pay its attorneys (the troops got pennies on the dollar) you got a pat on the head.

The climax of this frustrating exercise of working within the status quo was when I went as a leader with a dozen other troops (total of 60-100 girls) for a camp experience. We were going to be allowed to cook over fires (if you followed a dozen pages of rules of course)! We were going to be outside! What actually happened was these 60-100 girls were stuck playing kickball in a big field under the burning sun on a 100 degree day while a nearby beach had to be ignored because of rules and liability issues. That’s when I had enough.

Girl Scouts is nothing more, in my opinion, than an outdated organization run by old biddies who believe girls should be seen and not heard, clean and not dirty, still and not active.

This week, the Boy Scouts finally announced that they’d allow girls to join. I surely hope that means more kids will be allowed to run outside and be physically active and learn meaningful skills. The attorneys who have made their living writing rules that made generations of Girl Scouts sit miserably still should be forced into retirement.

You see, I’m still climbing trees and playing in the dirt, despite Girl Scouts.

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My Walmart century ride

March 6, 2017

Sitting home was not an option, but neither was running another mile in the shoes that had just claimed a toenail. (Sitting at home hadn’t been an option yesterday when I ran 7 miles in them and regretted it all evening as I hobbled around on a swollen toe.)

So today I set out on the uber craptastic Walmart bike of my nightmares. My approximate destination was a state park about 10 miles away that has mountain bike trails. As I got closer I realized it wouldn’t be fun on a busy Saturday afternoon when lots of other people would be on the small circuit I rode a few years ago. Despite its full suspension and knobby tires this bike is just a look-alike, it was never meant for actual mountain biking. I do it because I would lose my mind if I didn’t get a dose of trails once in a while — even if I worry about snakes and gators the whole time.

I rode at that state park back then the Walmart bike was brand new and I was pretty cocky about how easy the trails were (swoopy but flat, with a few obstacles thrown in). But now the bike isn’t new. In fact, I think I it’s neutered itself into a fixie with just one gear thanks to a combination of the corrosive elements in Florida and the stress of throwing it on the bike rack again and again (sometimes for 2,500 miles). Oh, and then there’s the issue of genetics: it was born bad, made of cheap components designed to appeal to 12-year-old boys who dream of pump tracks but really just sit on their bikes in the 7-11 parking lot eating Cheetos. Last summer I took it to the Vietnam trails out of desperation and was mortified that someone might see me on it. Mike bought its craptastic twin at Walmart and his is so bad that he has a screwdriver taped to the crossbar for those (frequent) occasions when the chain pops off and gets stuck between the sprocket and the frame. And he never even shifts gears. It’s pitiful.

So when I got to the state park entrance I just kept going. How far could it possibly be to do a big loop around the next town and back through some nice scenery? Not an awful way to kill a Saturday afternoon, right?

Except I became obsessed with how awful the bike is. I decided that riding 25 miles on it counts as 100 on any other bike, therefore I did a Walmart century. Pushing the pedals became a cathartic exercise in forcing the bike away from me. The miles melted away as I longed to end the agony of its existence.

There’s squeaking from the suspension that reminds me with every revolution of the pedals that I’m on a lousy bike. So I turned up my futuristic MP3 player and sang along with Shakira.. it was especially fun when a serious biker came up next to me, hunched over his aero bars and I was wailing away, a capella:

“Whenever, wherever
We’re meant to be together
I’ll be there and you’ll be near
And that’s the deal, my dear..”

As if that didn’t compound the shame…

Its one redeeming quality is the loud shuddering scream of the brake pads on the rims that generally gets attention from any driver pulling out of a street or driveway. So I guess I have the Walmart bike to thank for not being road kill yet (note to self, rear brake is almost nonexistent). So maybe if I had a nice, squeak-free bike with gears and disc brakes I’d be dead by now.

 

Flip Flop to Costa Rica

February 4, 2017

This Central American country had been on Mike’s bucket list a long time. He showed me magazine articles about traveling there in the first month we were dating, but it remained the elusive, exotic goal for a few years.Costa Rica surfing

We were there a year ago this week. Was it amazing, was it worth the wait? I’ll let you make up your own mind.

First, we had visions of dipping our toes in the Pacific as soon as we got off the flight, but that evening we were instead schlepping chicken and canned beer from a street vendor to an unanticipated overnight in a city hotel room. That’s because we’d arrived too late to make the drive to our guest house by the sea. And because the car rental agency had abandoned us when we got stuck at an airport. Travel in Costa Rica is still pretty third-world. Our hostess had warned us that the 30+ mile trip from the airport to her guest house near Manuel Antonio National Park would take two hours or so, depending on traffic. I didn’t believe her until we were zig-zagging around food vendors who walked in traffic with bags of snacks for sale. Or maybe it was when we got on the main highway and discovered it was only one lane wide.

Narrow roads are the norm in Costa Rica, and I won’t exaggerate but I need to be clear. They’re often twisting, steep lanes where it’s risky to walk or drive because cars come at you at top speed only to skid to a stop just as the Grim Reaper has his hand on your shoulder. Once we arrived in our little village we decided we wouldn’t travel far for that reason. But this location would be just what we needed for relaxation and access to what matters: great waves on a long stretch of beach on one side of the peninsula, a calm lagoon for snorkeling on the other.

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The first thing we discovered is that the calm lagoon contained very little sea life. We had hoped to snorkel to some coral or pretty fish or SOMETHING to look at,  but there was very little. The water was also MUCH warmer than expected (yeah, I know we were close to the Equator but this is the largest ocean in the world..). Swimming was barely refreshing because of the ocean temperature. Everyone told us it was a warmer than average January, but isn’t that what we’ve been hearing everywhere?

The surf side of the peninsula was pretty spectacular. Big waves rolled in across a sandy break. We could walk for miles along the beach, right to the national park entrance. We both rented surf boards and had a great time practicing that (despite the bandage-covering-stitches-and-wrapped-with-duct-tape on my hand).. until Mike caught some waves that were a little too big and got freaked out (what’s sport without near death experiences??). But the sunsets here were to die for!

[I wasn’t joking about the lines at Manuel Antonio National Park, nor the monkeys]

Our outings included a morning in the National Park (honestly my assessment was a resounding MEH because of the crowds, the heat, and the damned monkeys). It was scenic but a chore to shuffle through with a million other people looking for sloths sleeping in the trees, and much of the park was closed to hiking without a permit and a guide, which was disappointing. When we took a sanctioned hike around a not-so-crowded peninsula to see cliffs and jungle we were accosted by a couple nasty monkeys on a bridge who wanted snacks. Also had a nice conversation with a giant iguana that got between me and my stuff on the beach — those suckers look lazy but can move really fast!

Another interesting day trip was to zip lining recommended by our hostess at the guest house. It included a bus ride with a ton of other American tourists into a very scenic area of the interior of the country (about an hour each way). We weren’t disappointed by the big trees we were frequently jumping off of! My issue (and this isn’t a minor one) is that the crew here made the quickest, most cursory equipment checks I’ve ever seen. I haven’t done a lot of rappelling or rock climbing or zip lining, but I know that  the way they were slapping on the carabiners that were going to hold a person 125 feet above a river isn’t enough of a safety precaution. I was nervous much of the time on this side trip but tried to put a good face on it. Also, I couldn’t help but analyze the return on our investment: we saw a beautiful area, we can say we did zip lining, but the reality of it was a lot of driving and standing around and perusing the base camp’s butterfly exhibit with a total of about 45 minutes of actual zip lining thrown in.

One of the aspects of the trip that we revisit is that we met some great people. Our guest house had a common room with kitchen that allowed us to relax and interact with couples from Europe, Canada, and the US. We had sundowners at a bar one night and met a naturalist who works at a local hotel and was very fun and interesting to talk to. There were people on the beaches who enjoyed sharing their suggestions and travel tips. All in all, the people were friendly, unlike the monkeys who were cute for about a day then got pretty annoying.

[Monkeys were cute for the first day or so.. and grocery shopping in foreign countries is so amusing to me!]

This blog item might sound cynical — Costa Rica is beautiful, but go with your eyes open. Don’t expect American-level facilities or infrastructure. Don’t try to pack in too much.

We had fun but we’re not in a big hurry to go back unless I decide to do the cross-country MTB race… which would probably result in the Grim Reaper REALLY getting his hands on me. (Check out this story!)

 

Making Reality a Dream

April 1, 2016

A few years ago I was hungry for new adventure, ravenous for the thrill of adrenaline-pumping experiences. I sought out new trails and eagerly logged them here on my blog.

Then life and a significant relationship got in the way, bending my ambition to better suit us rather than just me. Instead of biking, running and skiing dozens of new trails a year I was getting more adept at the few that were convenient to his house or mine… I began to feel the sluggishness of complacency weighing me down. I pined for the wonderful chill of getting lost at dusk, of knowing (from fresh evidence) that coyotes were probably watching me ski in circles in the woods, trying to find my way out. I missed the bruises and the excitement of crashes that only fellow mountain bikers enjoy.

Then last fall a project came up: would I update a hiking book that he’d authored many years ago? He was too busy schmoozing Hollywood stars who made a movie of one of his books. Fine, I thought, this is my opportunity to blow out the cobwebs and explore tons of trails, just what I needed!

I immediately booked several hikes with local groups, hoping to get most of them done before snow made it impossible without snowshoes.

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The first one I did was the Skyline trail (above) in the Blue Hills back in November, and I was shocked to find the trails very crowded on a mediocre day. Crowds, what? I didn’t sign up for that!

But the reality of updating a hiking book isn’t quite so dreamy as spending all my time out on trails. He said it’s a waste of time to revisit each of the 30 trails described in my half of the book. Just confirm the details of the descriptions and maps with the rangers on-site .. and spend more time being productive on other projects. That was a great reality check from the efficiency expert but a big letdown at the same time.

Still, the book needed a handful of new trail guides created, so I geared up to visit each and earnestly record my impressions of the wildlife, the history, and the enjoyment of the destinations accurately and completely. The book was still an excuse to get out and hike, bike and ski new places again, just not as radically as I imagined.

One was Massasoit State Park, a woodsy area including several ponds between an airport and a golf course that the state apparently stopped funding as a park more than a decade ago when a storm blew out power to the old campground. I’m assured the park is being funded again, thanks to a handful of local residents who made enough noise to be heard in Boston, but for now you’re flying without instruments because the trail markers are nonexistent and there are trails in places where none exist on maps. Still, the glacial hills and absence of root-strewn trails made it great mountain biking, especially the zippy waters-edge trails around the small ponds.

Another of my “new finds” for the book is an interesting 1,600-acre parcel in Hanson controlled by the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, called Burrage Pond. It consists of white cedar swamp, open reservoirs, defunct cranberry bogs, active bogs and woods. Because it’s so flat and wide open it has a distinctly different feeling than Massasoit, and bird watching there must be great in season. I loved skiing the overgrown causeways between the old bogs, it was like going through a tunnel.

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This definitely wasn’t my dream book, but it’s a start. Maybe my next will be about crossing Patagonia or the Continental Divide. For now this one may suffice to help fund those future trips. And it got me out to some new places during the dull winter months. Now I just have to keep the momentum going.

 

 

This bleeping watch

December 5, 2015

It beeped, and beeped again. I was cruising down a dirt road on a sunny afternoon, feeling pretty good about everything. A quick glance at the beeping watch reassured me that I was moving along at my usual pace, so I pulled my sleeve back over it. For a minute I thought about checking my heart rate on the watch but decided against it because I was sure I’d mess up by pressing the wrong button and accidentally lose all of the data it was collecting.

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As you can tell with this crystal-clear photo I am great with technology — my $35 phone that takes craptastic pics and does almost nothing else is just the right device for me.

I’m new to this data crunching on runs and workouts, I never thought I’d give in and get these devices. For years I’d been happy tracking my estimated times and distances by scribbling on a paper calendar — more for self motivation and satisfaction than to compile a training war plan or to achieve anything quantifiable beyond finishing an occasional half-marathon.

Learning to use the damned equipment has been a workout in itself. What do I press to make it recognize the heart rate monitor and start to track it? How do I see the results at the end of my workout? I press buttons and it beeps.. and beeps … and gives me no information. And I can’t even tell you how often I hook it to my computer only to have the data refuse to upload. Does this whine make me sound old? Ha.

When Mike saw the watch on my arm last week he had a good chuckle. Yes, it’s huge. I don’t even wear watches. When I go to the gym I really should balance the weight of the watch on my left wrist with an extra 2 pounds or so on the right end of my barbell. And putting the cold plastic heart rate monitor on my bare skin?? It’s barely tolerable.

So its purpose is what? I guess to quench my desire for novelty — I had all the running shoes and outfits one woman could possibly need but no fancy watch — but also to measure trail running and potentially track heart rate for furthering my rather ad hoc distance training that has somehow held up over the past 8 months. It would be helpful with xc skiing and mountain biking too, I rationalized..

In the end, I had a great run, probably 8 miles or so. Of course I can only guess because the watch never started tracking my run this afternoon even though I was sure I’d pressed all of the bleeping buttons to locate the satellites, tell it to pay attention to the heart rate monitor and start the timer. Great. So I have no data, no idea how to compare my stats to my last run.

The disappointment lasted a few minutes, but then I realized it was a great run on a beautiful day.. and I would have done it even if I never bought the stupid watch.

 

Quabbin: worth going back

December 3, 2015

“Don’t pee your pants if you step on a rattlesnake!” That’s what I’ll remember about our big excursion a week ago. We were bushwhacking on a steep hill (around 500 feet) with lots of ledges and big rocks sticking out. Just after the rattlesnake comment, Mike told me he was disappointed at not finding any evidence of active porcupine dens or mountain lions.

Mountain lions? I thought about it for a second and realized it was no big deal, Mike was ahead of me and would get chomped first, giving me plenty of time to get away on my bike. At least there was a decent view from the top.

We finally did it after at least 3.5 years of talking about it: we returned to Quabbin.

What’s the big deal? First, I wondered if a return trip could come anywhere near the magic we experienced four years ago when we set out for our first “adventure date” here on a COLD day. Second, it’s not a short trip: it’s a few hours drive, and we wanted to spend all day exploring if at all possible. That’s a big time commitment when we’ve been so busy writing and editing books over the last few months. And, I think it’s fallen off his radar since he doesn’t have to impress me with his knowledge of these remote places anymore, as he thought he had to back then. I’ve got my own book about cool outdoor adventures now.

QUBBIN COVE 11.15

Quabbin is the reservoir that holds Boston’s water supply in the middle of Massachusetts. In the 1930s the state dismantled several small towns, relocating residents and graves (missing at least one!), tearing down homes and barns, to make way for the water that would collect when the dams were completed. It took about 15 years for the Swift River Valley to fill in with water, obscuring the remains of four towns and creating a 18-mile-long lake. It covers 38 square miles.

The result is a beautiful nature preserve surrounding the reservoir, 56,000 acres of watershed, much of which is accessible for passive recreation. And did I mention it’s beautiful?

This time we entered around Gate 35 north of Petersham where there are just a few roads. Last time we were a few gates away, further south and close to the former center of Dana, one of the towns flooded by the reservoir. Around Dana there are more roads, more evidence of the area’s former inhabitants.

Mike’s the map man, he planned the whole thing out and carried a ridiculous amount of paper in his pocket to refer to when we were biking. My approach is more like, “I glanced at a map, let’s go!”

This time we enjoyed a long, nearly flat dirt road right along the water, then up into the woods (coupla decent hills there) and back to a dead end where one of the rivers comes in, forming a lagoon. Very few people around. It was peaceful.

When we hit a dead end (road runs into the water) he crossed a brook near a waterfall and went into the woods, looking for the road that would connect with Dana. Meanwhile I wandered around an inlet of the lake, climbing over a big beaver dam and up into a cathedral of tall hemlocks.

Here and there were bits of evidence of human habitation.. ahem.. why are there always underwear in the woods??

On the way back we had a little picnic on the beach and actually soaked in some of the sun’s warmth (wow, in November?). As always we wondered why more people don’t take advantage of this amazing resource of peace and outdoor recreation .. maybe there are just too few people out here to make a dent in all of the open space?  Regardless, we won’t let another four years pass before we return — and maybe we’ll do it in summer next time, even though they don’t allow swimming.

It’s just too beautiful to not visit more often.

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Compromise is a hard trail to ride

November 4, 2015

There’s one perfect day each fall when a light breeze is just enough to loosen colorful leaves from their summertime perches and send them fluttering to the ground through bars of golden sunlight. That was today — before I ruined everything.

I made the mistake of thinking someone else would enjoy my kind of mountain biking as much as I do. When will I learn?

We drove to a place in a nearby town where an old silo is crumbling in weeds next to the road. A trail used by ATVs runs past it, through a field and and into the woods. As soon as we had our bikes off the car and orange “don’t shoot me” vests on, I was completely engrossed in the experience, zipping around the looping path across a hillside and down along a stone wall. Nirvana! But at the bottom of the hill there was a bit of mud. A lot of mud, actually, because (so cool!) we’d found an old mill dam that held back a swampy pond with multiple great blue heron nests in the trees. That’s when I heard doubt creeping into Mike’s voice (not cool!).

“Are you sure we can get through there? We could go back and ride on some of those back roads instead,” he suggested (sounding hopeful that I’d change my mind).

not Mike's idea of a fun place to ride

not Mike’s idea of a fun place to ride

I was sure there would be amazing trails beyond the mud, so I skipped ahead, crossed some railroad tracks and tempted Mike to follow me into the woods beyond. He was hesitant. He said he’d give me 20 minutes to explore this area because he had somewhere to be tonight, he didn’t want to get lost in the woods…. he knew better than to follow me but he did.

The trails looped, followed old walls and tumbled over rocks on big hills. I was in heaven, he was being tolerant. “This has to loop back to that field where we started,” I told him, taking off in yet another direction, following rarely-used dirt bike tracks that were buried in a month’s worth of autumn leaves. He went along with it again for a little while but finally called my bluff, telling me we had to turn back because we had no idea where the trail we were on would go. He was right, but… God, I hate to turn around, to purposely find my way out of the woods when the afternoon  promised many more hours of golden sunlight and peaceful woods and fun exploration. But I knew it was time to be a grown up and turn around. I didn’t want one afternoon to poison an otherwise great relationship.

Oftentimes when I’m mountain biking I find the zone and enjoy it so thoroughly that my mind wanders through a strange playlist of music, maybe starting with something I heard in the car and veering around my memories to bump against anything from Van Halen to Lyle Lovett to Joanie Mitchell. Today my subconscious was kicking in and the playlist included a lot of breakup songs as I watched Mike sullenly push his bike over stone walls and up big hills. He wasn’t noticing the majestic pine grove we were in, the massive stone walls or commenting on the warmth of this November afternoon. Did I really want to be singing along with Kelly Clarkson on “Since U Been Gone” or Gotye’s “Somebody I Used To Know”?

We eventually found the way back to the mud hole, back up the hills to the old silo and… to a nice, paved suburban neighborhood where he could enjoy a ride without worrying about ticks or hunters or getting lost and missing his engagement tonight. That’s fine, I thought, he’s going to be busy the next few days and I can ride to my heart’s content … alone.

that's okay, I'll get my fill of riding with my GF* when you're not around, honey *Gary Fisher

that’s okay, I’ll get my fill of riding with my GF* when you’re not around, honey
*Gary Fisher

Driven to extremes: the Washingtons

October 30, 2015

Ask me to fly across the country to spend a week exploring an area I’ve never visited and I’ll drop everything to go now. But ask me to drive 8-10 hours south of here through the most congested part of the country to one of the busiest cities and.. gulp, I can do it but don’t ask me to like it. Yet that’s what we did in a short space of a few weeks in September: the Washingtons. Here are some of the highlights.

WA STATE: Our biggest issue on arrival was whether a particular floating bridge would be passable or if we’d have to detour through a scenic area and add up to 90 minutes to our trip. Big deal.

WA DC: Before we left I was checking traffic reports to find out if there was any major road construction or other foreseeable impediments to the trip. We were leaving on a Sunday and didn’t want good weather, which would make NJ beach traffic heavy, or a road race in NY that could throw a wrench into traffic flow that would continue to ripple for days. I was already having flashbacks to the time we got stuck in a 2-hour Beltway traffic jam on a Saturday night for no reason at all.

WA STATE: Boats. Serene beauty of mountains and water. Quiet walks through Port Townsend. Bambi.WA deer mother and bambiWA hike state park Mike

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WA DC: Cabs racing around, high-rise buildings, “I don’t want you to walk to CVS alone.” Ugh.

WA STATE: “GRIZZLY BEARS?!! GRIZZLY BEARS?! We can’t go hiking here! Those bloodthirsty beasts will just tear us apart for no reason! I want to go home!” It took a while to calm him down. I read to him from a guidebook that said there are no grizzlies on the Olympic Peninsula. He didn’t believe me. I finally convinced him the radio station we heard the grizzly report on had to be bounced from over the Canadian border. He finally relented — after he confirmed the info with a guy working in an info booth at the park. Whew, that could have blown the whole week. I had to restrain myself from bringing up the shark issue — how is it that sharks only bother him when he sees them on the nightly news, but not when he’s racing down the beach, ready to jump in the water? Nevermind.

WA DC: Kabob places, everywhere. Did we make a wrong turn and end up in London?

WA STATE: The best recommendation we had was Rialto Beach, a gorgeous hours-long stroll past huge gnarled trees on the beach that will forever change the way I think of “driftwood.” Mike says a British tourist at the Grand Canyon told him about the place. Thanks, mate!

rialto beach wa 1 rialto beach wa 2 rialto beach wa mike 3rialto us in hole

WA DC: Decent hotel room, not noisy as I worried it might be. But it was a mistake to let my expectations rise above the bare minimum: when I went looking for the hotel pool, of course it was bone dry and under construction. Great, after driving all that way it would be a night in, sharing a beer in front of the tv and hitting the sack early (dreading Monday’s dash across town already).

WA STATE: Cheap “inside” room at a beachfront resort with separate indoor pool/sauna/weight room across the street. Hours of peaceful beach walks. Yes, per usual we filled the room with “treasures” from our hikes and the beach (rocks, sticks, sand dollars.. even a significant piece of driftwood that he had to dare me to fit into my bag — so I did). I will forever laugh at the memory of Mike removing his pants to wade across the Moclips River when we were beachcombing. He said “People who see me will just think I’m a Canadian in one of those speedos.”

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WA DC: Do we really have to be across town, over three bridges and through Stage One of security at what’s basically National Security’s headquarters by 8 a.m.? And wearing panty hose for the first time in months (me, not him)? There goes the inner peace I’d enjoyed since the trip to the West Coast, wiped out in a single morning.

WA STATE: Had a good chuckle when someone told us the Moclips “store” had actual food.. sure, when we got past the big growlers of cheap beer and bags of chips we were able to find a neat bundle of celery sticks for $1. Smeared them in peanut butter and called it dinner. So the next day we dashed into a town for groceries, then retreated again to the cozy hotel room. We didn’t have time for restaurants, we had ground to cover and important stuff to do, like hike up miles of empty peaceful trails through rain forests and chase elk around at the Quineault River:

trees in rainforest washington Quineault river washington mossy gate Quineault River wash Quineault River elk wash mike on pony bridge trail washington pony bridge gorge washington me and big tree solduc river trail washington 2015 mike in rainforest washington 2015

WA DC: Our uniformed escort looks annoyed when we find her inside the security checkpoint. “Um, I had a phone call from security this morning. Which one of you is a foreign national and why didn’t you tell me before? I almost couldn’t get you in.” That was enough for us, we nixed the plan to stop at the Air and Space Museum on the way out of town. Red tape and hassles everywhere (BTW, we’d both submitted our IDs to security weeks before and neither are foreign nationals!).

WA STATE: We couldn’t stand the thought of going back to reality, so we detoured on our last day and drove through part of Rainier National Park. The mountain itself was shrouded in clouds but there was still plenty of beautiful scenery. We put off going to the cheap airport hotel as long as possible.

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WA DC: Mike says, “That was great, but I’m glad it’s over. I won’t agree to another one of these for a long time. Now let’s drive home and hope we don’t hit too much of the Northern NJ and New York City rush hour traffic at 5pm.” (We did, but he slept through it.)

WA STATE: Do we really have to leave? When can we come back?

Not counting to 48

August 22, 2015

The thought creeps into my head every now and then: Madison, Lafayette, Lincoln… then I have to stop myself. I don’t want to count the 4,000-foot peaks I’ve climbed in the White Mountains. I don’t want to join that group.

Yet I spend time among the group — those out to summit each of the 48, 4,000-foot peaks in the Whites — and I don’t dislike their company, mostly. In fact it was pretty cool to be “partying” (I use that term lightly) this summer on the summit of West Bond in the Pemigewasset Wilderness when one woman in our group finished her 48th peak. We had cheese and crackers, passed around a couple flasks of whisky and of course talked about who’s next to finish their 48.

It turns out that if you join this group of peak baggers you never really finish. Once you’ve logged the 48 in New Hampshire, you might move on to those in Vermont.. or, as someone told me, people repeat the list but only in winter — and the really crazy hikers do grids where they hike all 48 in each month of the year or some such madness.

on the trail between Guyot and Bondcliff

on the trail between Guyot and Bondcliff

My most recent foray above 4,000 feet was up Zealand (including Zeacliff) over Guyot to Bondcliff and West Bond. It was about 15 miles roundtrip (so I was told), with the hike out in the pouring rain. We camped at Guyot, an Appalachian Mountain Club maintained site between Guyot and the Bonds where everyone leaves a tip (on Sunday morning it’s usually their unwanted booze) for the staff member on site (whose primary responsibility, it seems, is maintenance of the only outhouse you’ll find way out there).

Along the way a woman in the group made an interesting observation: “trails” in the White Mountains are all rocks — and none of them are flat. There is nothing more true. By the end of the weekend that was painfully evident to me as I lost two toenails afterward. I guess I should be grateful that we changed our intended route on the rainy Sunday when we left: we were supposed to bag “the Twins” that day, two more 4,000 foot peaks, but our leader decided the vertical ascent/descent might be dangerously slippery in the rain. I don’t know about anybody else but I wasn’t disappointed. Mostly. Somewhere deep inside I wanted to say I’d hit 5 peaks above 4,000 feet that weekend, but my rational side says I have the rest of my life to do that because it’s not a race or anything. Right?

me on Bondcliff, trying not to look down

me on Bondcliff, trying not to look down

The race question would be a good one for some of the people we met along the way. Of course we were hauling food, tents, sleeping bags and other comfort items.. but we kept seeing small groups of people with just hydration packs on, and they weren’t interested in chatting. Turns out some of them were attempting the Pemi Loop, a 31-mile route with 9,000 feet of elevation gain — and because we were out there on the solstice they were trying to do it in a day. Seriously? That’s brutal.

It makes me wonder why one would even start counting their peaks. It seems to be the route to removing all enjoyment from the process. The hikes that have brought me the most pleasure are those I’ve done with people close to me, when there was plenty of laughter and commiseration about the obstacles. I remember taking my daughters up Jackson and over to Pierce one weekend, their first 4k footers. The highlight was the noisy campground that annoyed us when we needed to sleep that night and the frost on the ground the next morning (Labor Day weekend!). We did Carter Dome and descended into Carter Notch to the hut on shaky sore legs one summer — and that was all before the hours-long hike back out of the woods!

Hiking isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but I’m glad I was able to accomplish some with my girls while they were growing up. I believe the non-material reward of summiting under one’s own power teaches some powerful lessons in endurance, accessing stamina and goal attainment.

I’ve learned some lessons of my own through hiking, especially the part about not being infallible. If you’ve read my post about trying to bag the Kinsmans you’d know I learned some humility that day.

I was a sweaty mess but so happy the day's hike was over..

I was a sweaty mess but so happy the day’s hike was over..

This weekend I was supposed to go bag some more peaks. Of course it’s been maybe the second rainy weekend all summer, just like the deluge we got when I was out there carrying 30 pounds of gear over rocks to summit Zealand and the Bonds. Instead I’m lugging boxes and crates from my daughter’s old apartment to her new one. It’s not a bad trade off. The mountains will still be there when the sun comes out again.

Summer running: hanging ten

August 17, 2015

A few months ago I broke through the mental and physical barrier to running 10 miles. It had been a long time coming. My runs hovered in the 5-7 mile range for a long time and I had a hard time finding a route I liked that would expand my mileage. Runners can be quirky, so I don’t think it’s that unusual that I don’t like doing laps of my 5-mile route, that there are certain times of day when I’ll avoid running in particular neighborhoods and doing any out-and-back runs is completely out of the question. That limits where, when and how I’ll run, but it’s a little game I play – an internal struggle between the part of me that wants to perform well and the part of me that wants to sit in front of the t.v. and eat ice cream.

the subconscious wants..

the subconscious wants..

versus what I really should be doing

versus what I really should be doing

According to this article from the Atlantic, runners are weird: we spend much of our training time grousing about one thing or another.. Non-runners think that means we hate to run. That can’t be right. I tend to think it makes us happier people overall, because we get it out of our systems and are pleasant and joyful the rest of the day. Right?

In the end of April and through early May I enjoyed checking my Endomondo at the end of a long slog and finding I’d done 9.5 or 10.2 miles. I’d do that twice a week and a shorter, faster run another day – this was playing catch-up for the winter days when I should have run (in Florida) or couldn’t run (snow was still too deep in March!). The half-marathon I signed up for was coming quickly in June… so of course I promptly took a trip and blew any training schedule out of the water.

Going to Brazil was great in many ways, but not so much for my training. The race was just 3 days after my return and I’d gotten an infected blister just as I arrived, so there was no running until the antibiotics took effect (half of my foot was red and swollen, and the blister … let’s just say “can’t-look-at-it-gross” and leave it at that). But while I was in Rio I witnessed a pretty cool fitness culture that I haven’t really seen in the U.S. People run the beach road every morning – I mean HORDES of people, from the very fit to the chubby guy wearing nothing but his speedo – and many meet with trainers there for various calisthenics. It was very motivating to see. So when the blister subsided I actually ran – one day – in Rio, for a total of about 5 miles along the beach in 90 degree heat.

runners and bikers using the designated lane along Ipanema beach in Rio

runners and bikers using the designated lane along Ipanema beach in Rio

people working out with trainers at Ipanema beach in Rio

people working out with trainers at Ipanema beach in Rio

My hosts in Rio were runners too, which was interesting. Both were about a decade older than me but had been serious marathoners. I’ve done one and it was more than 10 years ago now. My takeaway was when the woman said she was losing interest in all of the training involved. She wanted a compromise. “I want to be able to run 10 miles, it seems like a good distance for fitness,” she said. For some reason this sounded so reasonable and doable at the time (blame the caipirinhas?), that I immediately adopted that as my strategy going forward. I may not run 10 miles several times a week but as long as I’m capable of running 10 I’ll be happy. Plus, it took me so long and so much effort to build up to running 10 that I’m frankly petrified to let go of it and have to start over again.

When I got home the half-marathon went better than expected, which boosted my resolve to hang onto the 10 mile standard. It had been 4 years since my last half marathon and that one was a bust, so trimming about 10 minutes off my best time (and not dying) solidified my resolve to hang onto the minimum necessary to do another — someday.

I would have been happy to finish but I surprised myself and trimmed a few minutes from my half marathon time

I would have been happy to finish but I surprised myself and trimmed a few minutes from my half marathon time

Maintaining that standard has already been challenging, with summer travel and hot weather throwing me off a bit. I’ve had good days and bad days, wicked hot days and too-many-horseflies days, but I’m trying to stay focused on the long term. Ten could be a great number for me.


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