The blog of the adventures (or mis-adventures) of an active mountain woman.

Wind Blows, Especially in Casper

Casper Weather

32 MPH. Not gusting. Not high. Just 32mph steady, gusting up to 50 MPH.

If you’re going to spend time in the mountains, you are going to encounter weather of all sorts. Of these sorts, wind has always been my least favorite. I have literally watched birds soar underneath me 5 pitches up on a wall in Mexico and thought, “huh, cool”. But blind me with sideways wind that nearly knocks me off my skis at my hometown ski area and my heart is all aflutter.  Just. want. shelter. NOW.

But I guess I’m lucky that I just get a little freaked out. This way too technical medical study states that “there seems to be a marked correlation between suicide and winds.” This may cause you to question why I live in Casper, Wyoming, otherwise known as Wind City and is, according to at least one medical study, a place that literally depresses people.

You probably know I’m here for love, which turned into marriage and a baby in a baby carriage. But does that mean I have to stay in Dorothy’s nightmare? It seems like weeks since since the alert board has read anything other than “Caution: Gusts over 50 MPH on Wyoming Blvd”. Wyoming Boulevard is a beautiful, scenic road that efficiently links the west side of town (where I live) to the east side of town (where my grocery store is) without having to pass through downtown. And it’s dangerous to drive when it’s windy.  So it’s officially too windy to enjoy the drive to the grocery store. I’m grasping for straws and failing.

Yes, we have amazing fishing, an impressive nordic center, a town alpine ski hill (I can’t even pretend to qualify it, but click for Hogadon stats) and a booming job market, but this wind has me all freaked out and thinking about more mild climates. Because babies are kinda fragile.

Mountaineering has been called, “the art of suffering”, but babies suffer on a daily basis. They put their finger in some impossibly small place and are earnestly surprised and upset when it hurts. Massive bits of enamel and bone are erupting through delicate gums. And their head is ridiculously out of proportion, making drunk-seeming motor skills even more difficult. Sure, I’ve got the most protective stroller known to man but until they make an indoor swing set and park, Owen is going to be a little frustrated with the small snippets of outdoor time before tiny fingers freeze and wind suffocates. Or maybe it’s just the elusive beast of springtime in the Rockies.

How to (not) Win Friends and Influence People

Tomatoes are DELICIOUS right now!

Tomatoes are DELICIOUS right now!

I’m not sure why I joined, but the sinking feeling that something was not quite the right fit for me began when the coordinator called me and told me where to check in to get my attendance noted and that I would be joining the lilies group. Lilies. Attendance. Really. Nonetheless, I forged ahead and attended my first “moms group” meeting.

The meeting began with breakfast, which was a variety of dishes brought by the group leaders. In short, this was NOT “my kind of food”. There was no kale. No quinoa. There were refrigerator cookie dough cookies, cheesy potatoes and other processed foods in vast quantities. In fact, my lactose-intolerance would have prevented me from eating about 80% of the dishes even if I wanted to try them. Next was an icebreaker exercise which began harmlessly with “what’s your favorite type of book to read?”. I can wax exponentially about almost any genre of book, so I was good here. But the next question asked about what kind of candy bar you coveted – you know, the one you hid from your kids and quietly consumed in the closet. The one I did WHAT with? Do people really still eat candy bars?

While I reflected on the myriad of issues involved with getting a processed sugar fix in the CLOSET and the various food issues implied by this behavior, the rest of the moms discussed Kit Kat Bites and other such wonders that aren’t on my radar. Soon, everyone had said their piece but me. When all the heads turned towards me expectantly, I frankly stated, “I don’t eat candy bars. I guess I have an occasional piece of really dark chocolate.” Add in my not-large body and cue the death-ray stares.

The immediate response from one of the largest woman was, “oh you’re so good”, but I think this isn’t quite the right phrasing. Maybe if people thought, “you must feel so good”, that candy bar would be less tempting because I promise that my body feels better without the extra weight (I would know, I had some for quite a bit of this calendar year) and without putting that chemical stuff in my body. And while I don’t have a thyroid, depression or other bodily factors working against my weight loss, the extra pounds post-baby didn’t just melt away. They were hard fought with both diet and exercise. While my breastfeeding status demands I consume quite a bit of calories, I’ve largely abstained from bread, pasta and other processed carbs that in the words of a personal trainer, “make weight loss almost impossible”. So this is my message today – eat food that makes you feel good not just for the moment it is in your mouth and not just because you ate the “right” food for a diet, but because your body truly feels more energized and healthy.

Also, sometimes you should probably lie and just use your blog as an outlet.


Triathlons – Blame it on the 7R

Early morning light before the triathaMOM began.

Early morning light before the triathaMOM began.

No, 7R isn’t the newest ultra-heavy base layer from Patagonia. It’s a genetic mutation (the variant is DRD4-7R for the really geeky) tied to dopamine, which is that addictive learning and reward chemical in our brains. According to the January 2013 issue of National Geographic (so I’m a little behind in my reading…), 20% of us have this variant. It’s linked to curiosity, restlessness and makes us more partial to movement and novelty. And here’s a not-shocker: it’s closely associated with ADHD. Ladies and gentleman, ski towns inhabitants in a nutshell.

But what happens when the restless gene meets up with something demanding a bit more stability, like pairing with a partner (marriage) and even offspring? In my mind, this explains the recent boon in adventure races, triathlons, trail runs and the like. Tough Mudder, an 10-12 mile obstacle course designed by British Special Forces, had 460,000 + participants last year. I just participated in my first sprint-distance triathlon and it seemed designed to coax a few 7R’s that have paused to bear children into action. It was fully supported, non-competitive, women only triathlon, or as they like to call it, a Triathamom. I’m sure if you grabbed DNA from these participants, 7R would appear in more than 20%.

The event itself was highly organized and incredibly enjoyable. My husband commented on the girliness of the body marking, which occurred the night before the event. Instead of conventional permanent marker, they used fun large stamps. As a side note to newbies- they stamp your AGE on your left calf. I was unprepared for this and found myself obsessing with the number on the calf in front of me. The calves starting with a “2” particularly irksome. But back to the event.

The 300 meter swim was indoors at the Kearns Olympic complex and I found myself wishing for open water because I knew it would give me an edge. I’m extremely comfortable in water and waves, wind, etc don’t really bother me, but had to rein in my competitive streak to remember that I was only racing against the clock, even if I would perform better with a shotgun and mass splashing. Since I had never done a swim, bike and run in quick succession (way to train, I know) I tried not to go “all out” in the swim and finished smiling and easily loped back to the transition area where my bike was waiting.

I thought I was relatively fast in the transition, but the clock showed otherwise. Apparently 4 minutes is quite a long time to spend downing a Gu and putting on my helmet. Oh well. I was a superstar on the 10 mile bike ride, or at least I felt like it. Feel free to copy my strategy: Only ride your race bike with knobby tires. The week before the race, get slick tires. Don’t ride the bike until the race. Whether you’re flying or not, you will be convinced that you’re incredibly fast. Ignore the clock and go with that feeling! The sign below was also posted along the bike path. Awesome.

Ryan, you are so right.

Ryan, you are so right.

Last was 3 mile run. As I began running, it occurred to me that I have never gone from a bike ride to a run. Why would I? And something was definitely wrong with my legs. They were leaden. The run was HARD. I knew that eventually my legs would loosen up, and the only way to get to the food at the finish line was to continue moving. So run I did. After a mile, glorious blood began to flow through my leaden legs and I could pick up the pace. When comparing my times with others, this appears to have been my strongest area by far. I wasn’t fast, but I pushed HARD through the suffering because I’m a mountain girl deep down and it’s a skill learned early on.

I’m so glad the 7R made me do it and can highly recommend this event to anyone wondering if they might have a bit of the variant themselves. I’m inordinately proud of the necklace I got after crossing the finish line, too.

Further-reading-book-of-the-day: The Scientist in the Crib by Alison Gopnik

Older and Wise(r)

It was just two weeks ago when opened my cell phone calendar and saw a curious entry. “Skunk Hollow Sneaker Chase, 8 AM, 7/27/13”. My heart briefly fluttered when I realized that I had indeed registered for an 8-mile trail run in early June, than promptly forgot about it. Which means I forgot to train. Oops.

I hadn’t exactly been sedentary; it’s summer and well, I’m me. I was actually quite focused on swimming in preparation for my sprint-distance “Triathamom” in August. But lack of preparation has never stopped me, so I stubbornly forged ahead. And I’m soooo glad I did.

Race day dawned with a bleary-eyed but excited Michelle. The baby hasn’t been sleeping for very long stretches at night and my coordination was a bit off as exhibited by my morning shananigans including dropping a Gu shot in the dog water bowl and knocking over my latte on the counter. I ignored my inner sarcastic voice about the auspicious start and loaded up the baby to drive up the mountain.

Part of my race excitement can be attributed to the location. I will take an 8-mile trail run over a 2-mile pavement run any day of the week. Add in aid stations and race volunteers (I love those people) and my participation is pretty much guaranteed. This particular trail was also located on Casper Mountain, which rises 3,000 feet above the town at 8,130 ft. This meant cooler temperatures, more variation in elevation (read: hills) and a little bit more huffing and puffing.

The race offered an eight mile OR sixteen mile option and during the pre-race meeting, someone asked “What if I’m feeling plucky after 8 miles and want to continue?”. Since I had no such delusional thoughts, I chuckled along with the rest of the “completion not competition” runners. The race began and the field inevitably spaced out to leave me keeping pace with a nine-year-old and his parents. I couldn’t decide whether to be annoyed or empowered. Chatting with his mom occasionally, I found myself at the aid station at the halfway (four mile) mark before I knew it.

I stuck to my “drink at least one water and one sports drink” rule while I downed a Gu. Actually, it was a Hammer Gel Espresso shot (my favorite), but I digress. I always force myself to drink slightly more than I want at aid stations and it serves me well. Overall, I felt fantastic and naturally started reflecting on this odd experience. I hadn’t slept but I HAD eaten properly, and it had made all the difference.

I ate my usual breakfast of two eggs and a bowl of oatmeal about 1.25 hours before the race. I drank a latte and then downed a Hammer Gel with water 15 minutes before the race started. Having good carbs and some protein with plenty of time to digest is key. Equally key is refueling about 45 minutes in. I kept a nice even pace and found myself (somewhat smugly, I’ll admit) flying by the nine-year-old, among others, around mile six. My refuel and even pacing left plenty in the tank for a strong finish while others were commenting on the end of race difficulty. Even though my training wasn’t very strong, my day of race preparation was smart, and that may be worth just as much.

Totally-awesome-female-product-advertising: Hello Flo video spot and website

Hell is Frozen OR I’m Getting Old

pathfinderThe older I get, the more I realize that the word “old” is completely relative term and highly situationally dependent. Only during pregnancy can a 35-year-old woman be labeled with “advanced age” and 25 seems a little old to be drinking Boone’s Farm wine. But this little blog post is inspired by my birthday and that boring of boringest boats, the sea kayak.

I abhor sea kayaks because they are designed for paddling across flat lakes with nothing happening more than a slow windmill of your arms. If you just sit in a sea kayak, chances are you will just stay in one place. I personally prefer a little acceleration from mother nature in the form of gravity or flowing water. Consequently I find a white-water kayak exciting (and sometimes terrifying). It is designed for dynamic moving rivers and surfing and fun! If you just sit in a white-water kayak, you’re moving downstream and things are happening, for better or for worse. So what was up with my post-birthday fun in a (gasp) SEA KAYAK?

I wanted to take our new camper trailer out to the lake for my birthday. We chose Pathfinder Reservoir along the North Platte, just over 40 miles from our house with 21,000 acres of water. Since I grew up swimming all weekend every weekend in the various bodies of water in Michigan, a camper trailer was the cheapest way we could think of replicating that experience for our little guy (and to be honest, for ourselves). The baby slept on a bed improvised out of the drop-down dinette set and a bed rail, so I slept lightly and checked on the baby A LOT (who was fine, of course) and was consequently sleep-deprived the next morning. Enter the sea kayak.

The boat was already at the waters edge and our schedule was non-existent, so I jumped in expecting to return the boat to the shore in about 10 minutes. But I got into a weird, peaceful trance and kept telling myself that I would go just to the next little opening in the meandering reservoir and before I knew it, I had paddled for an hour and enjoyed it. Naturally, I blame this on the lack of sleep. Certainly an alert, awake Michelle would be bored to tears by this mindless activity. But since consistent quality sleep could be a summer or two away, this may be a looong experiment full of that weird, long and maybe not so boring kayak.

Cool-mason-jar-add-on-of-the-day: the recap for mason jars

Camping with Baby

A warm baby is a happy baby!

A warm baby is a happy baby!

It probably says something about me that I didn’t really think much of throwing my 5-month-old in a tent for a weekend. Road-tripping friends had suggested we all meet up in the Black Hills of South Dakota (near Mt. Rushmore) and mid-June seemed the perfect time to get my infant out for a weekend. After all, Owen loves the outdoors (taking him to a window or outside is the quickest way to calm him). There was some last-minute creativity involved, but a little planning made for a successful trip overall.

I am nothing if not a planner, sometimes to my own detriment. If I was planning on having my right leg removed and it was suddenly changed to a toenail, I would initially balk at the new plan just because I hadn’t planned for it. But this time (and other times, thank you), it paid off. Thus, my first recommendation for camping with an infant is “bring it”. I brought the pack-and-play (it’s a really big tent). It kept Owen off the tent floor (which is cold!) and provided a safe place for a rolling baby to sleep. I brought the saline spray, snot sucker and a few teething devices. I brought a variety of warm clothing in a variety of sizes. The last thing I wanted to do was pull on his cute warm jeans to realize that he had outgrown them in the last two weeks (a common occurrence in infants). I didn’t bring the toy gym or other large “keep baby entertained”, because camping is, at its core, about spending time with family and nature. Instead, we held Owen next to tree branches and let him touch new textures. However, one thing I didn’t plan for was keeping little hands warm.

Pack-and-Play meets REI Base Camp 6 tent.

Pack-and-Play meets REI Base Camp 6 tent.

We camped at Horsethief Lake Campground  (the forest service campground, NOT the similarly named Horse Thief Campground RV resort). At an elevation of 5,000 feet, the nights were naturally on the cool side. So cool that my little guy had ice cube hands when he woke up way too early for his middle-of-the-night feeding. I somehow wrangled him into my mummy sleeping bag and we managed to stay cozy until morning, but I had to devise plan for the next night.

Because the following night was cooler (in the mid 40’s), I went for layers. With babies, this equates to different sizes. He wore a snug onesie, followed by footed cotton 6 month jammies. This was tucked inside cozy fleece 9 month jammies, followed by a lined cotton sleep sack. He wore an adorable Patagonia fleece hat. However, his little hands were still bare. I solved this dilema by borrowing tube socks from the 5-year-old in our group. Thus, with purple mitten sock hands, my baby slept blissfully on his normal feeding schedule.

Tall trees and toys at the campsite.

Tall trees and toys at the campsite.

As for the campground, I can’t say it was THE campground to hit. The “lake” was more of a stagnent pond. However, there was a nice boardwalk along the lake ideal for small children to hike around and explore (less ideal for adults that want an actual hike). Nearby Hill City has some decent restaurants and wineries and the 110 mile Mickelson trail (part of the Rails to Trails program) is fantastic for bike enthusiasts of all ages and ability levels. And then there is that giant cliff with four carved faces. That was two miles away.

One last tip – use clean socks for the mitten trick. Teething babies do chew…

2-ingredient-recipe-of-the-day: Flourless Nutella Cake

Beware the Bike Path

Note the exact positioning of the sun and puddle edge.

Note the exact positioning of the sun and puddle edge.

I really, really wish I loved running. It’s efficient and can be accomplished almost anywhere with minimal equipment. And best of all, my body seems built for it. But my brain is not.

My brain is usually saying something like “why can’t we be biking?” and “how long do we have to do this for?”. Trail runs are slightly more entertaining as they require some mental engagement navigating various obstacles, but I resort to coping mechanisms for the boring-est of boring, the bike path.

My favorite coping method is a good audiobook. To be fair, it is a luxury to be able to tune out and listen to a book in a valiant attempt to forget that I am indeed exercising. There are certain places where this is ill-advised, like in National Parks where you may inadvertently startle large hungry animals. But I was less concerned about the wilds of the Boulder Creek path. This was foolish.

The Boulder Creek path is 7.5 miles and traverses the CU campus and downtown Boulder. While there were undoubtably a few hungry animals along the way (Colorado did just decriminalize marijuana), I wasn’t exactly concerned that they would give chase. So off I jogged, laughing at the lanky college kids floating the creek in inner tubs and bike helmets (true story).

Screen Shot 2013-06-12 at 10.05.54 AMAll was fine and comical in a uniquely Boulder way until one of the many underpasses. I’m not sure if I even noticed the puddle (Where was I looking? Who knows…) until my ankle was suddenly wet. My entire foot, up to and including my ankle had stomped into an alarmingly deep puddle. I may have let out a sound mimicking the rare Colorado Macaw, which echoed nicely off the surrounding concrete. My shoes were throughly soaked in the sloshy soggy sort of way.

Which is a really long way of saying that you can’t really ever completely check out while exercising. And if you fall off your treadmill downloading a new book while updating your Facebook status, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Stay-of-the-day: Millennium Harvest House is in a great location if time is extremely short. You pay for the location, NOT the hotel or amenities.

I’m Judging You by Your Clothes

And I don’t like what I see. No, it’s not the brand that I’m obsessed with – it’s what your lack of sport specific apparel implies. It says, “I just rented this bike and am out for a jaunt in the woods,” rather than “I live for single track and my ultra-light full-suspension bike”. And the only real reason I care is that you, Mr. Basketball Shorts, are passing me. And it killed a small part of my ego.


If it ain’t broke…

Satellite view of Cache Creek drainage in Jackson, Wyoming.

Satellite view of Cache Creek drainage in Jackson, Wyoming.

You should still take it in for a tune-up. In this case, the “it” is my beloved Kona Manomano full suspension cross-country bike. While the components are far from original (some were busted, some upgraded), I still love it. And most of the time, it loves me back. But this is about the time it went rogue.

Saturday marked my first mountain bike ride in two years. I had decided that biking wasn’t worth the risk while pregnant and had been dreaming about a weekend of biking for weeks. I made sure that the trails were dry enough to ride before getting my hopes up and continued to plan my long weekend in Jackson around my adrenaline obsession. First up on the docket was my all-time favorite trail up the Cache Creek drainage, Putt Putt.

One trail change since my last pre-pregnancy ride was most welcome. The excellent trail building in the Jackson area has continued with the addition of “the sidewalk”, which serves as a single-track bypass to the busy Cache Creek road. I happily pedaled up with a few short, less technical downs to summit on the top of Putt Putt. Eagerly awaiting my first real down, I took off with gusto. When the gusto got fast, I hit the brakes for a quick speed check, but things didn’t feel quite right. In fact, things felt like a big pickup with a trailer bearing down. Instinctively grabbing more brake, I had a dramatic forward weight shift and realized I was going to have to ride this out with minimal brakes.

This is where occasional fast and reckless riding experience is invaluable. Extreme familiarity with the trail also helps. I focused on the single-track and enjoyed the ride (with a tad bit more trepidation than normal) until my speed petered out enough to steer into some sage for a full, partially controlled stop. A quick examination of the bike confirmed my suspicions – my back brake was out. I knew there was a small adjustment that could be made on the trail, but wasn’t sure how to complete it. The popularity of Putt-Putt soon paid off when I asked a trail runner if he could possibly help. He checked the small adjustment and confidently diagnosed my ride as dead, advising me to walk the down back to the road and coast to the nearest bike shop to have the brake lines bled. While disc brakes are totally ah-maz-ing, this is one drawback – there simply is no trail fix.

Cursing my luck (and lack of thought in regards to a tune-up), I walked my bike down to the road and made it back to the house in one piece. One of my close friends married a talented bike mechanic who bled the lines with new hydraulic fluid in a matter of hours and I had a much more successful ride the next day. Even on my oldest favorite trail, there is always something new to learn.

Awesome-stay-on-baby-shoes-of-the-day: Cade & Co – like those “other” wildly popular shoes but made in Park City, UT instead of China.


Capitalizing on “mis-adventures”

2013 Trail Mix finishers. Obviously, 2.5 hours was not realistic given that these people are in top running condition with significant training.

2013 Trail Mix finishers Obviously, 2.5 hours was not realistic given that these people are in top running condition with significant training.

The thing about blogging is that you pretty much owe it to your readers to follow up on the event you talked up in the previous post. In this case, that would be the run. Oh, that run. At  one point during that now infamous run, I said “oh sh(oot), I’m going to have to blog about this. Well, my masthead does say ‘mis-adventures’.”

The issues started when we left the house, and my husband left his cell phone on the dresser, thus preventing communication during the race should baby assistance be required. The next issue was all me. Before the first of four water stations, my running partner and I had ventured off-course to complete an extra mile and somewhat significant hill. While we’re not quite sure how this happened, I have a few theories.

1) We are chatting.

2) The pin flags marking the trail were a bit sparse.

3) She has an 8-month-old. I have a 4-month-old. Our best calculations estimate that two baby brains equal about 3/4 of one average adult brain.

Enter the race coordinator, who picked us up in her car and dropped us back off on the trail we had already run with explicit instructions for the next mile.  She also gave me her cell phone number should future questions arise. And arise they did.

Unfortunately, she gave me her husband’s cell phone number by accident. This means that my calls went unanswered. While frantically dialing various phone numbers (I had already forgotten that my husband did not have his cell phone), I realized I had one more resource. Wiping sweat off my screen (I’ll save you the details of where I stashed the phone, but most women will figure it out), I pulled up last weeks post on to view the topo map. This helped in a very generalized manner but still resulted in us completing a few extra hills. By the time we reached the second water station, it was clear that we were in a race of our own.

We had estimated our completion time at about 2.5 hours, which was critical as both our nursing babies eat every 2-3 hours. Also, my husband had a flight to catch. But we had a backup plan – if I didn’t finish promptly at 2.5 hours, he would leave the baby with a good friend who was volunteering at the finish line.

My confidence in this piece-meal plan was low for good reason. Largely, because it was piece-meal and there was a misunderstanding about the exact location of the finish line and backup baby rendezvous point. But back to me.

We were at 2.25 hour into the race and running up a looooooong slow street (Ridgecrest, for the locals) when the number the race coordinator had given me was finally answered. I was looking for a mileage estimate since we knew hungry babies wouldn’t wait forever. The dismal report from her husband was “a little more than half way”. Having a sneaking suspicion that my husband was about to miss his flight and with some concern about the babies state of mind, we threw in the towel and asked the coordinator to pick us up. She confirmed that with our “variations” (the ones she knew about…), we had likely completed 7 – 7.5 miles. We clung to the 7.5 mile figure and figured that next year, we would train, sleep more than 2 hours in a row, and watch for those little pink flags a bit more closely.

Non-profit-of-the-day: Soroptimist! I’m a Soroptimist and the Trail Mix run was a fundraiser for us!

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