The blog of the adventures (or mis-adventures) of an active mountain woman.
Currently Browsing: Beyond


Fortunately not a self-portrait.

Last week, we had company (okay, in-laws) coming in town on Wednesday evening. Wanting the house to be spic-and-span, I had a three-day cleaning approaching mapped out in my head. But on Monday, my sister called asking me to take her to urgent care. However, while we ate lunch and put in phone calls to various medical facilities, the bright red swelling began spreading up her leg and it became clear that urgent care wasn’t going to cut it.  Our plan quickly evolved to a visit to the ER and more than a passing acquaintance with our local infectious disease center over the entire week. Suddenly, a little bit of dog hair at the house was the least of my concerns and I was reminded of some other people who seemed to embrace the proverbial dog hair a little more fully.

My many years as a nanny allowed me to observe a wide variety of families at their most vulnerable – at their homes. The last family I worked for probably had a more chaotic house than any I had seen – but they had fun. They spent huge amounts of quality time with their kids and wouldn’t hesitate to leave dishes on the table to make a last-second dash to the general store for ice cream treats. Baths could sometimes go one more day in favor of a sibling backyard soccer game. I never worried about covering the dining room table with frosting drippings because I knew they would value the cookie-decorating experience I had given their kids more than they would worry about the mess. The kids were amazing travelers and took the unexpected in stride. However, their sometimes complicated medical life was highly organized and never neglected, because that’s one thing that really matters. Dirty dishes? Less so.

And that’s how my sister ended up helping me while I shuttled her to various doctors. The real things that matter aren’t a perfectly organized house where you can eat off the floors but people to run, bike, hike, climb, ski and live life with. Very few memorable life experiences come from scrubbing floors.



The Cautious Gene

What is it that makes some people crave safety and control, even in athletic situations (my husband), while others are having the most fun when they’re just on the edge of a complete and total blow-up (me)? Is it something we’re born with or something we develop?

I have one athletic friend who expressed a desire not to have children. When I asked why, his response entailed his mother (Freud, anyone?). His mom was an aggressive biker, skier and all around play-mate with his father. However, after they had kids, she stopped skiing the steeps and toned the biking way, way down. She explained that the consequences seemed too severe. My friend was knew that his eventual partner would also be an athletic woman and wanted her to stay that way.

So is that the key? An understanding of consequences? If so, wouldn’t all the pro skiers who have broken clavicles and femurs tone it down after their injuries? Instead, those that can seem to aggressively tackle physical therapy and often return to heli-ski another day. I myself have broken a few bones and torn a few ligaments, yet those pesky little things have done little to cramp my go-fast style. Instead, I think this comes down to a basic economics concept: cost benefit analysis.

We all have different lines for what we are willing pay for a good or service. Is someone cleaning your house worth $5 to you? How about $500? Is the best cancer treatment worth $10,000? What if it costs $1,00,000?  $500,000? For me, the benefit (adrenaline rush, focus, feeling of accomplishment) of riding my favorite single-track faster and faster is worth the potential cost of crashing. Usually (not always), I find the fear of crashing is worse than the crash itself. But even I have lines, and I’ve drawn that at class V whitewater. The risks are high and my enjoyment is not, so I just don’t go on it anymore.

So will this change after I have kids? It’s a possibility. But what will be even more interesting is to see what happens when a cautious and non-cautious gene combine. Stay tuned…

Mountain Baby on the Way

Have you noticed that the adventures have been a little light-core lately? That’s because there’s a bun in the oven. Yup, I’m pregnant.

“But pregnant women can still be hard core!”. Of course they can. But not everyone, and especially not in first trimester, otherwise known as the exhausted puking days (at least for me).

Clearly, this was not “normal for me” and to make matters worse, some women couldn’t wait to tell me how they “were never sick a day of their pregnancy”. This fueled a myriad of not great emotions. If I was completely honest, I would say I felt lazy and had guilt about my laziness, but my body left me no choices. Then I had a heart-to-heart with an ultra-runner mom.

For those of you that don’t know, ultra-runners run 50 or even 100 miles at a time, and not on nice smooth pavement. They run up mountain passes and through mud. For one. hundred. miles. This friend had ran 50-miles when she was unknowingly 4 weeks pregnant. But a few weeks later, symptoms like mine started.

To quote her awesome blog post: “I found myself completely and constantly exhausted. For the first time in my life, allergies seemed to be an issue, making the simple act of breathing laborious. Food also became a difficult teeter-totter between consuming enough of it to sustain myself and my rapidly growing baby, while not taking in too much at once, which inevitably ended in a horrible sprint to the bathroom… Life became a bleak routine of waking up in the morning, going to work, coming home, falling asleep by 7 p.m. and taking care of the most urgent matters on the weekends… I basically abandoned thoughts of sneaking out for a run or taking a week off to backpack in the Wind Rivers. Sometimes I would have to sit down to take a break while walking our dogs around the block.”

Whoa. I couldn’t have said it better. I did occasionally hike and practiced some Pilates and yoga, but I spent a lot more time in bed than ever before. And while I’m feeling better now, it’s not normal Michelle and won’t be for a little while. But not to worry- I’ll just have to get a little more creative with the outdoor adventures while a big new adventure grows in my tummy.

Hurt-Yourself-Product-of-the-Day: It’s a motorized snowboard… for the streets. Probably as much fun and dangerous as it sounds. Check it out here.

Olympian Eats

It’s easy to look at the athletes competing in the Olympics as something akin to aliens. How do the swimmers get their legs to do that funny wavy thing in the butterfly stroke? And exactly how does one flip upside down in the air and land facing the other direction on a beam four inches wide? The answer: a lot of hard work.

I think it’s easier to dismiss “those people” (Olympians) as genetically predispositioned to their sport. While there is a certain amount of this (can you name a 6’1″ female gymnast? I can’t), a whole lot more of their success can be attributed to complete and utter dedication. Ironically, it was a commercial during the Olympics that drove this fact home for me.

The ad is by Citi (view the 30 second spot above or by clicking here) and goes like this:

“Take a day off? I don’t even take a morning off.
I haven’t ordered dessert in two years.
You know that best selling book everyone loves? I haven’t read it.”

Two years off dessert? Gulp. Sugar and I are no stranger. But it’s not a surprising statement from an Olympian. Sugar is known as an “empty calorie” and athletes need a full tank to perform. The tank looks a lot like fruits, veggies, whole grains and lean protein, which is how we all should eat. And honestly, I mostly do, but a recent bout of feeling “not great” had me cooking less and reaching for prepared foods more (which is the worst thing I could have possibly done). The difference in how my body felt was marked. I’m not saying that if you eat like an Olympian you’ll be able to do no handed backflips, but you WILL be able to sleep better, have more energy to run, bike, work or chase kiddos and generally enjoy a higher quality of life. Let the Olympians be your guide.

That’s-so-cool/cute-images-of-the-day: Underwater doggie pics!


Possum Socks

Possum Sock Packaging

Usually I attempt to come up with some clever and catchy sort of headline for my blogs. But not this time. This post is truly about a pair of socks I bought made of possum. That’s right – possum.

I have to admit – when I first heard about the socks, I thought those silly Kiwis were pulling my leg. I was traveling in New Zealand and a discussion about how cold it got in Wyoming brought up what our hosts swore were the warmest socks known to man – possum socks. I was understandably skeptical, thinking surely no one would use the fur off that ugly little animal, the possum (for reference, the cute animal on the sock packaging is a Kiwi bird). To refresh your memory, a possum is pictured below. Not cute, right?

However, once the words “warmest socks EVER” were in my mind, I was a woman obsessed. Since we weren’t really on the tourist track, I was forced to wait until the return flight home to see and purchase the socks in the duty-free section of the airport. And guess what – they were right. My feet actually sweat in these socks, which is saying something. Like most females of my species, I suffer from perpetual cold feet syndrom. Not so in these socks. They aren’t 100% possum but a blend of merino wool (42%), possum (33%), nylon (21%) and lycra (4%) – and 100% deliciously warm.

If someone (granted, in New Zealand) is making socks out of possum, I wonder what other fibers are out there that are beyond my realm of consideration? A women in my knitting class stated that she had garbage bags full of hair from her past dogs and was planning on spinning it into a yarn which she would use to knit something, which just goes to show: no matter how special you think your socks are, there’s always someone more special (read: C-R-A-Z-Y).


Surf and Sun in San Diego

Looking South from La Jolla Shores, San Diego.

I’ve long maintained that visiting friends in another town/country is the best way to “see” a place, and I’ve been proved right once again (being right is a frequent occurrence in my life – just ask me). So naturally, when friends mentioned a vacant mother-in-law suite in the garage, a ride to/from the San Diego airport AND unlimited use of a dozen surf boards, I was all in. I just had to learn how to surf.

While I have flirted with surfing in the past, massive frustration led to me tossing that fiberglass plank aside for a more manageable boogie board, which wasn’t a bad thing. My previous attempts were made at a beach in the Santa Teresa/Mal Pais area of Costa Rica. The waves weren’t particularly friendly for a beginner and the boogie board enabled me to get out in the surf easier (I could actually duck dive under the breaking waves) and figure out how to read the ocean waves a bit. Despite my extreme comfort in water from a childhood in the Great Lakes and a summer as a white-water rafting guide, the ocean was a relatively new experience. Feeling the rip tides, watching the wave sets and even tasting the saltwater made this body of water a foreign entity, and I had to a lot to learn.

Ironically, learning surfing often involves as much contact with sand as water. The majority of the time I spend with sand involved a nose dive off a wave and straight down to the point of your body slamming into the sandy bottom (a major reason to not attempt to learn on a rocky bottom) only to be swept up by the chaos of water above you (this is aptly named “the washing machine”). After this process, one later finds sand in places where no sand should rightly go. This effect can also be achieved by staring blindly at a breaking wave while wishing one’s board was small enough to duck dive under the wave. Alas, such a board would be near impossible to learn on, so I was stuck taking the brunt of the wave or pushing the nose of the board down while trying to swim under the wave. Results were mixed and sand ensued.

Then, on the last day, a glorious miracle occurred. Instead of riding the waves on my tummy or awkwardly standing up for approximately 2.1 seconds before falling, I was paddling into the whitewash (I didn’t quite make it into blue water waves) and standing up on the board with little effort and feeling fairly stable. That’s right – stable standing on a surf board. When I shared my “but it’s my last day!” frustration with our generous hosts, they laughed and said that was the classic surfer syndrom and how they ended up shoreside in the first place. “I just need a few more days” turns into “a few more weeks” and then “maybe a month or two” and before you know it, there’s sand in your sheets. And that’s not always a bad thing.

Decisions – Empowering or Debilitating?

There are some overwhelming stats out there regarding the number of decisions we make each day – some estimates are as high as 35,000. While some are easy (where should I sit at the table?), others are not (where should I live?). And the more affluent we are, the more decisions we have to make as our consideration set expands. Should we give to charity and if so, how much? Which one? Or should I just volunteer? In comparison, tight budget constraints may narrow the decision making process down to chicken or beef flavored Ramen noodles for dinner. But certainly we would be more miserable if people (or *gasp*, government) told us what to eat/wear/do. Or would we?

As a lifelong public-school attendee, I was always fascinated by those that were forced to wear school uniforms and I often polled their feelings on the matter. Across the board, the guys almost always said “it’s awesome” while the girls were split – the fashionistas said they hated it, while the more pragmatic (sorry, fashion is rarely pragmatic) emphasized the amount of time it saved them each morning. This, combined with a healthy dose of dystopian fiction as of late, has me wondering about a world with less choices.

There are many examples of people and governments taking this too far. It generally is a model ending with “ism” and hasn’t worked out well for a lot of folks in modern times. And yet, there are days when I wish my nutritionally-complete meal would pop out of a hole in the wall. Days when I would like a uniform instead of staring bleakly at my many, many MANY clothing options. There is something wonderful about knowing exactly what you have to do and how to do it, but this type of serendipity seems to occur far too little in real life. To race my mountain bike, or to knit? Unbelievably, these are real dilemmas I face. Would I get more “done” if I had less options? And if achievement isn’t the goal, maybe happiness is – would ‘we’ be happier if our paths were a little bit more of a one-way road?

Tiny Houses and Hungry Ghosts

Manufacturer and provider of floor plans for tiny houses.

What would you be willing to give up to ski/bike/fish/hike/play five days a week and work two days a week? Your daily latte? Sure, that’s probably a no-brainer. But unless you drink really, really expensive lattes, that’s probably not enough to make up for the three (or five) missing workdays. What about your house? Your car? Would you share a $3,000 car with your spouse if it meant a significant lifestyle increase? Now we’re getting into the hard questions.

Like it or not, our default pattern for the American lifestyle is not to “give up” things. In fact, it might even be focused on getting more things. But at what cost? Do we have a choice? I say we do, and I would like to promote more of us exercising our choices (including myself).

The biggest investment most of us will make in our lifetime is a home, and our homes are getting bigger by the decade. Home theaters, once the bastion of the rich and famous, are now commonplace in middle-class American homes. Homes are bigger and families of five can easily spend weekends “together” in one home not interacting with one another, much less the larger community outside the front door (if a nearby community exists at all).

This phenomenon is sometimes known as the lack of the “third place”, a point where Americans in particular seem to lag. We have work (where we spend A LOT of time) and home, but community gathering places like cafes, pubs, bookshops, etc are on the decline as we spend more time in our spacious homes. One of my least spacious fixed homes (this does not include summers in cars/tents) was a cabin on Fish Creek in Wilson. It was probably all of 600 sq. feet and I had a neighbor on each side in a similar size abode. Because of the tight quarters and scenic location, we often had inpromtu gatherings based on the fact that we were all meeting in the yard, which was basically a share public (or “third”) place.

What if we all had smaller homes that encouraged us to get out in the community AND saved us a ton of cash with lower utilities and, of course, a lower total cost. There are a few companies peddling houses as small as 65 sq. feet to as large as 874 sq. feet (check out some tiny houses here). For less than the cost of a new car, you can get a complete house, which begs the question: what would you do without a mortgage or rent payment?


The Greenest Grass

Wendell agrees - It's hard to beat our backyard.

In high school one teacher made a particularly profound impact on my life (sadly, he’s currently suspended because of a mismanagement of an allegation, but that’s another story). He introduced me to philosophy books that flirted with quantum physics or touted human supremacy as a cultural myth. My Midwest teenage mind was blown and I once bragged that I was reading it for the second (or maybe third) time. Like any good teacher, he responded with an metaphor, explaining that while he enjoyed his time in the Black Forest of southwestern Germany immensely, he wasn’t sure he’d ever go back because it’s such a big world and there are so many places to explore. The correlation to books was obvious.

I acknowledge there are subtleties in books and places that can only be gained with continued introspection. Also, sometimes you don’t want a brave new world experience – sometimes, you want old comfy pajamas and a bowl of macaroni and cheese. For those times, re-reading an old favorite or visiting a cherished place is exactly the right thing to do. But when do we throw in the towel on our greener grass hopes?

Right now, I have a pretty gorgeous home on the North Platte river in Casper, Wyoming. Wyoming in general is a pretty special place with lots of land, wind, animals and a few people here and there, which begs a question. What do the other people know? Certainly some people have city tastes and value 3 a.m. grocery delivery over hiking trails, but I know that city life isn’t for me. But there are other adrenaline junky mountain biker chicks in other Wyoming places and even other states. For those that purposefully migrated, what did they see in that place? While Wyoming may be home forever, I’m curious what other people love about where they live. Leave a comment below and let me know!

Get-out-there-link-of-the-day: The 20 best hikes in National Parks list from National Geographic

If You Don’t Have Your Health…

My husband and I were having a conversation yesterday when he interrupted with, “we need to call my Dad. It’s his anniversary. He quit smoking 13 years ago.”

Celebrating a new healthy habit like quitting smoking got me thinking. Do I have any heath anniversaries? I did get an email from my gym at the one year mark, but since I’ve always had an active lifestyle (often making ‘active’ an understatement), I didn’t really see this as a milestone. But then again, maybe I have mini-milestones all the time.

I had a nasty bacterial head cold funk thing going for the last few weeks and my diet suffered. I didn’t have the energy or desire to pour into meal planning and preparation and ended up eating three not-so-healthy meals a day instead of my typically stellar five meals of whole foods. After a weekend of baking fun (chocolate chip cookies and molten lava cakes in one weekend? What was I thinking?), I’m back on the wagon with a pleasant reminder- the wagon is never too far away.

It took a healthy dose of antibiotics (and a new cookbook didn’t hurt), but feeling healthy again leaves me wanting to offer support to you, my dear blog reader, in a totally cliche “tomorrow is the first day of the rest of your life” sort of way. Do you have an unhealthy habit you can kick? It’s okay to start small – cut down the amount of soda before you cut it out or swap out your morning OJ for a whole orange. After all, it’s harder to get your body to do fun stuff when you put crap in every day. Pick a day, start a new health anniversary and thank me later.

Best-healthy-cooking-resource-of-the-day (I really love it): Clean Eating

Page 2 of 512345