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

Sometimes I get frustrated that my friends in Jackson will travel to the other side of the world just because they can, but won’t come vist me five hours away in Casper. They’ll travel for baby showers or even poker games but  have less interest in seeing a town nicknamed “oil city”. Then I remember that it took me five years to really start exploring Wyoming, too. When there are not one but two National Parks in your backyard with terrain for all of the sports you love, it can be hard to take the time to explore what may lay beyond. But what I have found is that almost any place on earth is interesting enough for a long weekend – even the desert.

King Snake, moving AWAY from me.

Before the Southwest starts an anti-blog campaign, let me acknowledge that plenty of folks think the best place on earth is the desert. A large part of our retired population, for one. I obviously have never been one of these people. To me, the desert feels hostile. Like life is hanging on the tenuous edge  and could collapse if a few drops of moisture don’t show their face at the appropriate time. I prefer habitats where gigantic prehistoric looking creatures like bison and moose can eek out a living and precipitation is measured by the hundreds of inches. But on this visit, I was delighted to find a strange ethereal beauty in the blooming cacti. The juxtaposition of a delicate flower balanced on a spiny cactus is fascinating. And there are plenty of creatures there, too. They may not be as big as bison, but they pack all the danger and then some. Next time I need to appreciate a new environment I’ll seek out flowers and foes.

Musical-time-suck-of-the-day: 39 songs I like (at once)

 

Wonderful Distractions

Dean Potter on the Eiger

It has taken nearly six months to have the hindsight to blog about my wedding, but there was one particular unexpected gift that I would like to call attention to – and that would be proofreading a 30 page law school paper.

I fully realize that this doesn’t sound like a gift – and to be fair, I didn’t initially see it for what it was, either.

The wedding was family only with the exception of one friend each. As my childhood best friend is now in law school and I sometimes proof her work, it wasn’t unusual for her to ask me to take a look at this document as well. What was unusual was that it was the morning of my wedding and I wanted nothing more than to look at her paper.

The anxiety and anticipation of the day faded into a dull background hum as I pondered the context for capitalizing the “T” in Trooper. Contemplating apostrophes quelled nausea and I was struck by the similarities to what most extreme athletes already know – distractions can be priceless.

It’s no coincidence that some of the hardest climbing routes have been put up by recent divorcees or those going through trama. When “real” life gets to an overwhelming point, complete and total immersion in another activity can offer blessed relief. Since I was getting married, arguably a happy yet still nerve-inducing event, editing a technical paper suited the bill just fine. But when life really throws a curve ball, a pen and paper can’t cut it for some athletes. And there is no focus like climbing large parts of El Cap in Yosemite, sans rope (yes I’m looking at you Dean Potter). When every finger placement matters, there is no room for dull “what ifs” to run through your head, and that can a blessed silence. And fortunately, as few of us approach Potter’s level of expertise, most of us can get that bliss in the company of safety gear.

Article-of-the-day: Potter free-bases the Eiger (that would be free climbing, as in no rope, with a parachute to jump off).

Wonderful Distractions

Doggie Math: Mutts Cost Money.

The mightly Lab(ish) dog known far and wide as Wendell.

While maximizing my internet time by remaining highly focused on the task at hand (yeah, right), I came across a Bloomberg article regarding the exorbitant cost of canine companionship. “Tally up the lifetime costs and it’s more than a few college tuitions,” touted the article. They compared “a top-of-the-line Australian Labradoodle living the high life vs. owning an equally-loved mutt or rescue dog whose owner has a more down-to-earth approach.” The items and prices for the Labradoodle were beyond ridiculous, so I threw them out the window and decided to stack my beloved mutt lab Wendell against their hypothetical down-to-earth 50-pound dog in New York City (with a 12-year lifespan, in case you were wondering).

While this isn’t a dog about blogs (there are enough out there already), longtime Mountain Kidd followers know that over the years there has been one constant companion for adventures long and far: Wendell, my black Labrador Retriever mutt. But the article made me wonder – while I couldn’t put a price tag on my dog, just how much does he cost?

Basics

Mutt

  • $100.00: Cost of dog (includes spaying or neutering, microchip)

Wendell ‘cost’ 500 pesos that I donated to the lady in Mexico who was helping launch a vet clinic and ran a very, very informal pet adoption program. That’s roughly $50US, and I did get him microchipped so I’ll let this cost stand. Yup, Wendell was a street dog in Mexico. How much more “mutt” or “rescue” does it get?

  • $102.00: New York dog license

That would be $10 in Wyoming. Clean air is free, too. But I digress.

  • $35.00: Collar, leash

Yup, gotta have these.

  • $4.95: Metal dog tag

Those too.

  • $22.99: Petfinder.com: The Adopted Dog Bible

Wendell never asked for a Bible.

  • Free: ASPCA Pet Safety Pack with window decals

THE TALLY

  • Mutt: $264.94
  • Wendell: $149.95

Bedding

Mutt

  • $129.99: Basic one-door crate ($110.00), with quilted crate mat ($19.99)

Wendell’s crate was $20 at a garage sale. Incidentally, the best garage sales in the universe are in Jackson, Wyoming. Don’t say I never shared my top secrets with you. As for the quilted crate mat, I just move the blanket that was his original bed… genius, right?

  • $99.00: LL Bean Premium Denim Dog Bed

Swank bed was free, courtesy of the owner of The Blue Lion in Jackson, Wyoming. It was too small for his dogs. I did spend $10 on a small fleece throw for Wendell that functioned as his bed prior to this windfall.

  • $6.00: Ticking clock to “simulate heartbeat of puppy’s mother and calm it down”

Wendell came to me at age two, thus saving me this $6 and countless pairs of unchewed chews. It’s easier to not adopt a puppy.

THE TALLY

  • Mutt: $499.93
  • Wendell: $179.95

Training

Mutt

  • $16.99: Housetraining for Dummies

Wendell was two and was never tried to go in the house. If he’s sick (rare), he even scratches at the door to go outside and vomit. That’s a good dog and again, it’s easier to not adopt a puppy.

  • $99.00: “Mutt Manners” five-week class

I taught Wendell his manners.

THE TALLY

  • Mutt: $615.92
  • Wendell: $179.95

Poo

Mutt

  • $37.99: Cost of 300 “wee-wee” pads

I don’t know what these are. Nor do I want to.

  • $127.80: Lifetime supply of Resolve Pet Oxi Advanced Carpet Cleaner and Nature’s Miracle Deep Cleaning Carpet Shampoo

I’ve bought two pet cleaners, mostly to clean my house up after other peoples dogs. I’ll put $40 in this column.

  • $802.50: Pooper scooper and biodegradable pick-up bags

Pooper scooper? How about “the shovel that you already own”? And I get pick-up bags from the station on our daily walk. My taxes pay for them, anyhow.

THE TALLY

  • Mutt: $1,584.21
  • Wendell: $219.95

Food

Mutt

  • $30: Two large white dog bowls
  • $5,342.00: Pedigree dog food
  • $900.00: Treats including Beggin’ Strips and Cloud Star Buddy Biscuits

Alright, these are fair. I buy Wendell the good food, too.

THE TALLY

  • Mutt: $12,382.56
  • Wendell: $6491.95

Doggie Doctor

Mutt

  • $3,120: Routine veterinary care

Checkups and stuff. It’s the responsible thing to do.

  • $672.00: PetArmor Plus flea and tick protection

No fleas or ticks in Wyoming. There are pluses to living in a bitterly cold climate.

  • $1,079.00: Heartworm treatment

It’s only warm enough to do this half the year, so I’ll add half this number.

  • $1003.02: Super VitaChews multivitamins

They make vitamins for dogs? Really?

  • $49.99: ASPCA Pet First Aid Kit

Umm, no.

THE TALLY

  • Mutt: $18,306.57
  • Wendell: $10,151.45

From here, the article starts to get just silly in my eyes. $4,348.00 in premiums on catastrophic pet insurance? Really? And Wendell’s grooming category falls under sunk costs such as “the garden hose” and “the dish soap”. Don’t even get me started on the doggie clothes for the dog and the doggie-related clothes for the human. Buying a dog that is comfortable in your chosen climate is a lot cheaper. Pugs get cold in Wyoming, Huskies get hot in Arizona. Is this really a surprise to anyone?

The lifetime total for the hypothetical mutt was (are you sitting down?) $59,668.88, but as you can see there are a number of costs that my mutt doesn’t incur. However, even with my fairly minimalist approach (my dog doesn’t even like toys), I’ve ran the cost of Wendell up to five digits. For this, I get constant adoration and a willing mountain bike and ski buddy 365 days a year, which is a pretty good value in my eyes.

Read full article: Labradoodle vs. Mutt: The Real Cost of Owning a Dog.

Michelle’s Famous Healthy Banana Bread

For years I’ve been making this banana bread for road trips, ski trips, ski tunes trades and other various thank yous. It’s a variation on a classic wholesome banana bread with a few more nutrients and a little less sugar. I always make a double batch, usually one regular size loaf for home and two mini loaves for neighbors/friends/etc. If you just want to make one regular loaf, cut the recipe in half (duh).

Michelle’s Famous Healthy Banana Bread

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup butter, softened

about 6 mashed ripe bananas
(3 1/3 cups)

1/2 cup milk
(soy, rice, cow, whatever!)

1/2 cup plain yogurt

2 large eggs (or 4 egg whites)

2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup combination ground flax/wheat germ/oat bran
(feel free to experiment!)

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

cooking spray OR Williams-Sonoma Goldtouch® Nonstick loaf pans

1. Preheat over to 350°.

2. Cream butter and sugar at medium speed until well blended. Add banana, milk, yogurt and eggs; beat well.

3. Combine dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, salt and flax/germ/bran mixture) and stir well. Add to banana mixture and beat until blended. If you want to add some walnuts or chocolate chips, this is your chance to stir in a handful or two.

4. Spoon batter into loaf pans, coated with cooking spray if they’re not nonstick. Bake 1 hour 10 minutes for 9 x 5 loaf pan, 45 minutes for 5 x 2.5 mini loaf pan OR until wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

 

40 Miles Feels Like… 40 Miles

The first half of our ride, more or less. The rest is a blur.

I’m guessing that you’re curious as to how I traveled these 40 miles, so I will keep you in suspense no longer – by bike. While I’m well aware that certain die-hard road bikers do “century club rides” (that would be 100 miles) with alarming frequency, this 40 miles trek was my longest to date. And boy, did it feel like long.

We started out strong from south Boulder with temps in the low 40’s. I was nervous. My heart is with my mountain bike and on single track it’s you versus trail, rock, trees, etc. But suddenly I was facing a much bigger, scarier foe (cue dark, gloomy music): cars.

My fear can partially be attributed to the results of an informal poll I have conducted that past 5 years or so. Every time I meet someone who is really passionate about road biking, I ask if they have ever been hit by a car. The answer, without exception, is “yes”. This is not a comfortable margin for me.

So, with the fear of Not Being In Control in my heart and two Boulder locals, we wove through the intricate system of Boulder bike trails before striking out on highway 36 north towards Lyons. For the first few minutes, I had an odd feeling I can only describe as anxiety. The cars passing by were too loud and disruptive. What if someone reached down to change the radio station and swerved? However, finding that level of anxiety too high maintenance, I soon settled into a happy peddling rhythm and watched the colors fly by.

And by colors, I mean bikers. In matching colors. As my friend Aaron pointed out, if you see a biker with a jersey that matches their shorts which match their bike, you’re about to get your butt kicked. I can further simplify that to if you see a biker with a matching jersey and shorts, they are passing me, which leads me to this solid hypothesis: matching makes you go faster.

I did not match. In fact, I didn’t even have slick tires. I was laboring away (happily, I might add) on my Jake cyclo-cross (see this post for more info on Jake). While I appreciated the margin of comfort provided by the tread, I do believe I had to work a bit harder than if I had outfitted my bike with slick tires. But it was all worth it when our posse veered off 36 North to Hygiene road and the Crane Hollow Cafe.

The Crane Hollow Cafe is tucked in the sleepy town of Hygiene and has some truly delicious eats. So delicious that I could have ordered a second sandwich after the first tuna melt went down incredibly easy and just started to ebb the hunger of a 20 mile pedal. Alas, it was not to be – someone (not me) had only brought $20 cash for our duo to dine at the most excellent cafe. This proved to be a problem.

I had no juice left for the return ride. Luckily, our brilliant Boulder friends had stacked the odds distinctly in my favor – we looped back on a shorter, 17 mile road with less hills (okay, okay, I know you’re doing the math and it’s only a 37 mile ride. But 40 sounded better for the title, so just relax). My quads just felt empty. The sandwich didn’t make it past my belly. While I had chowed down before the ride, I had forgotten my #1 rule of long hikes/runs/bike rides – bring lots and lot (and lots) of food in many forms. A Gu shot or two would have made all the difference. While I know this to be inherently true for me, I still found myself without. Is life just a big repeating loop after all or will I someday get wiser (provided I don’t get hit by a car first)?

Yummy-recipe-of-the-day: Whole Wheat, Rosemary & Caramelized Onion Bread from Simplyscratch.com

 

Having Enough

This image appeared to Patagonia customers via email on cyber Monday. See the text of this blog for link to full email.

I’ve recently married, which pertains to this blog in that two incomes are now in one household. Naturally, this had led to increased economic comfort and confirmation of what I already suspected: more doesn’t equal better.

My quest for simplification is becoming a daily struggle instead of an occasional thought, fueled largely by the fact that it feels so good to have open, airy spaces and a place for everything (even if everything may not always be in its place).

Take my biggest demon: clothes. By donating a (large) handful ill-fitting or seldom worn items, my drawers went from stuffed full to comfortably closing. It’s easier to keep the bedroom tidy and I can find the clothing I want more easily, which leads to more time doing life’s more fulfilling activities. But once you get there with the clothes, how do you stay there? To this query, I have a radical proposition (and it’s not ‘one in, one out’), which was recently highlighted in a stunning email campaign by Patagonia: buy less.

Before your hackles get taller than a terrier meeting a mastiff, hear me out. I’m not suggesting you eschew any and all new purchases; just ones you don’t need. And that’s what Patagonia asked, too. Just think twice before purchasing those $15 sweaters at the Old Navy. In my experience, they will stretch and their color will fade before the season is out. Instead of having three sweaters in three colors, take that $45 and buy a sweater that will last for many winters to come.

I’ll admit that $45 doesn’t buy a Patagonia sweater (it’s more like $89+). But if you refrain from buying clothes of questionable quality at department stores, that initially expensive Patagonia sweater comes with a guarantee that you probably won’t need. I have ski jackets from them that routinely get trashed on lift-serviced skiing. Purple can turn to a dark, dirty grey at an alarming rate, but their gear washes amazingly well and can be washed and repaired to look like-new for 5+ years or more. And if you tear something, send it back to them. Chances are they will still have the same fabric (even it it’s 25 years old) and will repair it at a reasonable rate. But you probably won’t even need to find out. I have expedition-weight fleece long underwear that has seen me up the Grand Teton and though Class V whitewater in West Virginia. That was 8 years ago, and it’s still going strong.

So next time you see a deal, or think you ‘need’ something, consider the definition of ‘need’. And if you have to have it, can you buy it used? Can you repair what you’re replacing? Patagonia has partnered with eBay in an effort to facilitate getting little-used gear to new homes.

And don’t forget once of the best parts: saving money. For much of my life, my money goes towards travel, but now I would love to work on paying off the house ahead of schedule. Think of how great your few high-quality sweaters will feel in a house that is owned by you instead of the bank.

P.S. Patagonia has free shipping through 12/8 and quite a few web specials/sale pieces. Click here to see.

My repair of a wool shirt.

Rad-ski-video-of-the-day: http://vimeo.com/sherpas/jpstreet

Diving in Belize + Win Gortex!

First, a note from our sponsors (not really, but they did contact me about this contest and it sounds cool!):

Want to win some  GORE-TEX® gear? Then check out the awesome contest they are running on the GORE-TEX® Brand Facebook page from Nov 21-Dec 15.

The ‘Your Story – Our Gear’ contest invites you to share your story about how the  GORE-TEX® gear delivered for you when it counted in a memorable outdoor experience.The most compelling story will win, so get going and upload it to the contest page along with a photo or video of yourself .

The Top 10 entries will be determined by People’s Choice voting, and then three expert judges — an AMGA guide, a Gore tri-athlete, and a GORETM MountainTechTM – will pick the grand prize winner, who gets a sweet head-to-toe GORE-TEX® gear package. Choose from among the hand-picked The North Face, Marmot, Patagonia, or Arc’Teryx product groups.

Upload Entry Here  (TWITTER INFORMATION: @GORETEXBRAND #YOURSTORYourgear)

 

And now, for the blog:

Diving in Belize!

To make a happy Michelle, just add water.

I must humbly pat myself on the back for a few things I did in quest for dive certification. The very best and brightest thing was doing the pool work and homework at home (a.k.a. Casper, Wyoming – and chances are if Casper has a dive shop, your town does, too). This means that one windy weekend, I sat in a classroom on a Friday night and Saturday and Sunday afternoon. On Saturday on Sunday morning I wore a lot of dive gear (which seemed like slight overkill in the local high school swimming pool) and practiced dive skills as I became familiar with all the equipment. We flooded our masks, then cleared them. We practiced breathing from a friend’s regulator and a free-flowing regulator in preparation for numerous ‘hope it never happens’ scenarios. I stood on my head at the bottom of the deep end and watched the bubbles float up. So why was this so brilliant? Because in Belize, I did a few dives and sat by the pool.

Lionfish! An invasive species in Belize, the poisonous barbed lionfish is the only animal divers are allowed to hunt.

To complete open water certification, you must do four dives in two consecutive days. When the dive days dawned in Belize, I happened to be completing them with one other student, Molly. Molly did not do the homework and pool work ahead of time. This meant while I embroidered by the pool (yes, I’m aware of how dorky that sounds) and sipped delicious rum drinks, Molly donned a mask and tanks and hung out at the bottom of the resort’s pool. Then, Molly read chapters from the PADI book and completed her quizzes. Poor Molly. And to make matters worse, I can’t help but feel that I received a more thorough education from Western Divers in Casper than Molly did in Belize. Yes, it cost a little bit more than it would have in Belize, but as they say “time is money” and my vacation time is worth about $60,000 an hour (give or take). And are dive skills really a place where you want to skimp, anyhow? I didn’t think so.

For more information on diving certification  (and some rad sounding vacations!), check out PADI.

Movie-of-the-day: Fat Sick and Nearly Dead. Watch it. It will be featured later right here on MountainKidd.

 

Mountain Kidd Takes a Break

What? Why? Because I’m getting married. And one of the many cool things about getting married is a honeymoon, which will involve diving in Belize! More adventures to come when I come back in mid-November.

Riding the Mickelson Trail

There ARE two dogs in the trailer - look for Shasta's ears to the right of Wendell, the big black Lab.

With Fall colors (finally!) at a peak, we decided to make good on our “we should do that someday” and headed over to the Mickelson Trail in South Dakota.

At only 3.5 hours from Casper, this weekend trip was a hop, skip and jump in Wyoming drive times and delivers a lot of bang for the buck. The wide trail is built on an old railbed and totals a huge 109 miles of packed gravel with only slight inclines over some sections. The user fee is a very approachable $3/day for everyone over 12 and the trail is open to bicyclists, hikers and horseback riders, although we didn’t see any horses on the trail. What we did see was lots of healthy forest, a river (a major plus for the dogs) and some awesome secnery from some of the 100 converted railroad bridges and four rock tunnels.

For a bike, I choose my Jake, a cyclocross bike from Kona that is basically a sturdy road bike with slightly knobby tires. It was definitely the right tool for the day although a mountain bike with the suspension locked out would work well, too. We rode about 20 miles on Saturday, which started slow as there was some intense dog training happening. What was the training, you ask? 20 miles is a lot for Lab like Wendell to run and Shasta is a 15-year-old border collie/blue heeler. Needless to say, there is no way she is running 20 miles. But since our dogs are our adventure partners, we improvised sometimes they ran, other times they rode- in a trailer (see photo at right).

Wendell was NOT impressed by the trailer. After being bribed in by treats, he nearly had a heart-attack when the bike started moving and gave new meaning to the phrase “sad puppy-dog eyes”. The trailer was specifically designed for dogs and featured a super helpful tie down in the middle which had to be extremely taut to prevent Wendell from jumping out and being ran over. However, an hour and half a bag of treats later, he sat up proudly, unrestrained (but with a watchful eye on me at every second) and learned to enjoy the scenery. A successful weekend for all involved and one that may be repeated on cross-country skis in the winter. Stay tuned for Colby pulling a trailer over now sans bike…

Colby at Mount Rushmore

Parting tip: If you go and find yourself a little saddle-sore after the first day, take a day to visit Mount Rushmore. It’s right there and worth a visit once in your life. Also, eat dinner at Sylvan Lake Lodge and get a picnic lunch (or just get food in your tummy after a wine tasting) at Prairie Berry Winery. That’s all folks!

Cooking-site-of-the-day: Gojee.com – put in what’s in your fridge and pantry, and it gives you a recipe. Brilliant.

Transitioning Lifestyle: The Gym Debate

Yoga at Prana

Last fall I left my beloved Tetons in the name of love and moved to Casper, Wyoming. Just five hours from the valley of Jackson Hole, Casper seems a world apart. Of course, Jackson is a world apart from any town that doesn’t wear the ubiquitous title of ‘ski town’. But the part of Jackson I miss most are my recreation options.

Let’s say I worked on the computer for the morning and early afternoon and wanted to get out with my dog for some quick exercise before the evening (or another job) began. From my home in Wilson (7 miles down the road from the town of Jackson), I could jump in the car and in 5 minutes be at the trailhead to hike old pass road to Crater Lake. The road hasn’t been used since the new highway went in over Teton Pass in the 70’s. Paved on the ascent, the hike is a great loop with a calf-burning up and meandering single-track down. The top of the trail has a small blue lake perfect for thirsty or swimming dogs (mine would be thirsty type only). And if I was really ambitious, I could even ride up to the trailhead safely on a sweet bike path. If I was in the mood for a longer hike, I could opt for picturesque Ski Lake (which I have blogged about before here). Or maybe I was after great single-track biking. Just a few miles higher reside a number of trails like Blacks Canyon, Jimmy’s Mom or the Ridge Trail.

If I was more into a pavement-pounding mood, I could run on Wilson bike path with striking Teton views and horses braying in the neighboring fields. And there was always a chance to see some Wilson flair, like the resident I spotted walking her goat on a rope. What, you don’t have a goat on a rope?

But maybe I didn’t want to get all sweaty but spend some outside time with a girlfriend catching up while our dogs ran themselves silly – then I would go (again, in less than 5 minutes) and walk on the Snake River dyke. And I haven’t even gotten to town.

Seven miles down the road in the town of Jackson another world is waiting and in it another blog, but suffice to say Cache Creek along has a weeks worth of single track. But enough about Jackson – what are my options in Casper?

In Casper, I can hike Rotary Park with Garden Falls and the 4.5 mile Bridle Trail. There are also a number of hiking and biking trails on top of the 8,130 tall Casper Mountain. None of the trails have posted signs for directions or mileage. I’ve heard there are a number of bike trails on Muddy Mountain, but by that point we’re into an hour drive from home and that’s tipping the scale towards more car time than recreating time, which is definitely not MountainKidd style. So what do I do? I’ve been hitting the gym.

Less than 10 minutes from my new Casper home is a great fitness studio called Prana Fitness. I’ve been enjoying classes like Bootcamp, Pylo-Kick, Kettlebells and Yoga Sculpt with some pleasant surprises. In just 45 minutes, I can get my heart-rate up in a major way and work on enough muscles that my reduced mountain-biking schedule doesn’t mean reduced strength. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that even though I’m not riding often, I can ride as hard as I did when I rode four+ days a week. And another advantage? At the gym, you can go HARD. There is no slowing down to listen for bear or moose or terrain evaluation to avoid avalanches. It’s just you and your body – and the guy running the class who missed an illustrious career as a drill Sargent. And while I will always miss my breathtaking Teton views, I suspect this adaptation is the key to lifelong fitness and the happiness that comes with it.

Interesting list of the day: Money Magazine’s 100 Best Places to Live.

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