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

 

Back to Biking

View of Casper Mountain from the Platte River Parkway.

View of Casper Mountain from the Platte River Parkway.

Some women will curse me for this, but I’ve never carried extra weight. Sure, I’ve been more toned at times than other, but I’ve mostly been the same size since high school. Then I had a healthy, full-term baby and like the great majority of women, have a little extra baby padding that needs to come off.  There is only one way to accomplish this: healthy whole foods diet (check) and now that my body is healed, exercise.

Exercise is harder when you have extra weight. I’m just now fully appreciating this. Go jog a city block. Come home and strap on a 20 lb backpack and go run again. That sucked, right? According to the film Fork Over Knives, the average American carries 23 extra pounds. I have no doubt that people would enjoy exercise more if they were to shed their proverbial backpack. But there’s only one way (outlined above) to do it, and I’m right there with you.

My quest started in my neighborhood, which is fortuitously the start of the Platte River Parkway, an 11 mile bike path that weaves through most of Casper. I was huffing and puffing on a few hills into Mills, Wyoming but the awesome thing about being “out of shape” is that the massive endorphine dump (also known as an exercise high) comes much, much sooner. I was flying! I was amazing! Why hadn’t I done this sooner? When the endorphins allowed me to get more blood to my brain, I remembered that the bike path was snowy and I was terrified of a bike seat in months prior, which gave me my answer. But the moral of the story is the same: lose weight and feel great. And be careful if you ride with the wind at your back…

Healthy-recipe-of-the-day: Curried French Lentils

“Normal” and a minor retraction

Lest you think I’m all gloom and doom, I can assure you I appreciate my beautiful backyard and the amazing fall weather!

What is it about the human psyche that relaxes when things are “normal”?  Sure, “exceptional” might be sometimes desired but mostly worries are assuaged by the term “normal”. At a point in my life (pregnancy) where nothing fits my old definition of normal, I find this particularly fascinating and frustrating.

My old normal is unattainable. That whole “if you did activity x before pregnancy, you can continue it during!” is total crap. I am an aggressive single-track mountain biker. I don’t crash every time I ride, but definitely every season and sometimes every month. Of course this isn’t a good activity to continue during pregnancy. And I have no clue how a climbing harness would fit me now – my normal harness certainly wouldn’t and I don’t see a rapid weight load around my waist being a good idea right.

In the past, I have been critical of mountain athletes that lose their entire sense of self when they can’t ski after a blown knee, for example. They lose their identity as a person and often fall into a deep funk. I now have more compassion for these people. And it turns out it’s not all physiological.

The IMAX film Adrenaline Rush: The Science of Risk (which I have yet to see due to the utter lack of IMAX theaters near anywhere I have lived) notes that humans are the only animals who seek danger and risk their lives for fun. According to a synopsis of the movie, many extreme athletes have significantly lower levels of an enzyme called monoamine oxidase B. These people have a higher resistance to arousal of certain sections of the brain, meaning that it takes a higher amount of stimulation in order to get the same level of excitement and pleasure others get out of less extreme activities. This makes a lot of sense to me as it would appear that my mother-in-law and husband get this excitement from seeing me stand on the countertops (which I have yet to fall off thank you) while I need a nice exposed arete to get the same high. And of course, we can’t forget about the oft quoted sensitivity to dopamine also present in thrill-seekers.

So for now, I can’t think of a single way to get my monoamine oxidase B OR dopamine fix. My normal has also been changed and I for one am glad to say that this whole “sharing my body” thing is temporary. Yup, I said it – and the “pregnancy is wonderful” police are welcome to beat down my door. If I don’t answer, it’s because I’m cleaning projectile vomit off my shower curtain again. And that’s just not normal.

A Home Away: Steamboat Springs, Colorado

That’s one hard-working tank top. Hiking at Steamboat Ski & Resort at 21 weeks pregnant.

For the long holiday weekend we met up with friends in the resort town of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. While I had visited the ski town before, this marked my first warm weather visit, and more significantly, my first visit since I’ve been a non-resort town resident. My how perceptions can change.

On my previous visits I found Steamboat’s gentle rolling mountains flat in comparison to the stark majesty of my beloved Tetons. While the ski resort stats are not quite as drastic as my blanket statement (Steamboat clocks in at 3,668 vertical feet and Jackson at 4,139), there is no denying the the younger Tetons make a more dramatic rise out of the valley floor. Obviously the mountains haven’t changed much since my last visit, but I have.

At over five months pregnant, I found the rolling green hills to be comforting. Somehow they just seemed more approachable and the lush green valley had an overall welcoming appearance. But the hiking at the ski resort was nothing to sniffle at with more than enough vertical to get my heartrate up in a hurry. However, my real excitement was directed at the dedicated downhill bike trails zig-zagging the mountain. The beautiful banked turns and one-way traffic had me drooling for my bike and a chairlift up the mountain, but since it’s not a biking season for me I was content just to know the option exists for future visits.

Old Town Hot Springs in downtown Steamboat Springs, Colorado

Another HUGE plus? The hot springs. Not shocking given the name of the town, Steamboat boasts a number of natural and developed hot springs. Since I need to be wary of water over 100° (it can fry the babies brain cells), the developed pools with handy temperature guide fit the bill for me. More than just a solitary pool, the Old Town Hot Springs has a number of very warm “adult only” tubs with a larger more moderately heated pool, a 25-yard lap pool, two water slides and a complete workout facility indoors (with child care!). The copious flowering baskets and landscaping was absolutely breathtaking and the convenient downtown location can’t be beat.

Final assessment? Steamboat is a pretty nice place to visit and maybe even a nice place to live.

Diet-Breaker-Of-The-Day: Want a cupcake? No? You will now.

 

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…

Places Less Known

Until recently, I’ve made my adult life about living in truly amazing places (now it’s about love… insert groan here). At least, places that were amazing to me and other like-minded people. These people would not include those that value big box stores and convenience, but rather huge ski bowls and epic whitewater (Vail), endless mountain bike single track with incredibly steep ski terrain (Jackson) or amazing and accessible climbing (Bouder). Not shockingly, these places were also frequented by tourists – lots and lots of tourists. But now I live in a decidedly non-tourist town, yet we just had the biggest friend gathering in any one place to-date. What gives?

I think the answer would be good friends. We hosted a backyard BBQ to celebrate our nuptials last winter, which was an immediate family only affair. But last week, an almost overwhelming number of friends and relatives flooded Casper from Seattle, Virginia, Michigan, Telluride, Boston and reason driving distances such as Denver and Jackson. While this may not be shocking to you, it was a valuable lesson to me. It’s relatively easy to see friends and acquaintances when you live in a place like Jackson, where 4 million people visit a year just because it’s that awesome of a place. And while Casper does have a few merits (many of which have been previously highlighted by this blog), it mostly takes a strong desire to spend time with people and a concentrated effort to get here. Which is why we extra appreciated the effort. There has to be a lesson somewhere in here about the important things in life being people over skiing/climbing/biking. Maybe?

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?

 

Learning Humbleness

Ice

Image from my photography class, offered through the Continuing Education department of Casper College.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say if you’re an ‘expert’ at, well, anything, and find yourself in the teaching capacity (even if it’s an informal situation), you owe it to your students to learn something new. Why? Because it’s incredibly humbling/frustrating/rewarding AND it will make you a better teacher.

So what have I been learning? Oh, where to start? I took my first Pilates class a few weeks ago. It was a mat class, which means that the only equipment used was a yoga mat and, of course, our bodies. Confession: I kinda expected to be “good” at it. After all, I’m relatively young, in very good shape with a strong core and I’ve been practicing yoga for 10 years. I was wrong. From my limited, one-class experience, Pilates is an exercise in subtleties and micro movements that are learned, not inherent. While the same could be said of yoga, I’ve committed much of it to muscle memory to the point where many of the less-obvious yoga movements are blissfully ‘built in’. It will take a while to get there with Pilates.

And I’ve blogged about my recent escapades skate skiing. It still strikes me as odd that I can transition from a scenario where I’ll turn around, fish out chapstick or generally not pay attention to an adrenaline-inducing OMG-please-don’t-fall-scenario based merely on the type of skis underfoot.

Now, there’s a third scenario on the scene. It’s a sport I know and love in a new format. My favorite sports (skiing, mountain biking, kayaking, etc) are decidedly individual, but I’m struggling in my new home to find places to bike (I get lost) and trails to run (again, I get lost). Enter Windy City Striders and Fat Fish Racing. The Striders have running races pretty much every Saturday and I enjoy having a preset distance to run and the subtle peer pressure from running in a big group, as opposed to my typical “run until I feel like turning around” style. Fat Fish Racing is a group of mountain bikers with a monday night race series running throughout the summer, and quite frankly I have no idea what I’ve gotten myself into. My biggest rides to date have been in groups of eight friends that typically involve more margaritas than ribbons at the end of the ride. I entered myself in the intermediate “sport” category based mainly on the intel that the people in the beginner “rec” category can get a little agro. I am opposed to agro, unless it’s me versus hill. But me versus other bikers sounds like a losing proposition based on body mass. I’m just hoping my times will be a mild lesson in humbleness rather than a severe smack in the face. The first race is May 21, so stay tuned.

Over and out.

 

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