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

“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.

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?

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?

 

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

To Avoid Hand Mutilation

Climbers in a Classic View of Vedauwoo

15 miles west of Laramie in the southeastern Wyoming is a climbing area known as Vedauwoo (pronounced vee-da-voo). The name means “Land of the Earthborn Spirit” to the Arapahoe Indians and “insanely sharp rock” to rock climbers like me.

The climbing crag is a fantastically short 20 minute hike from the campground, and as I watched my friends put on tape gloves (which is exactly what it sounds like), I commented that I had never worn them. The guys in the group casually mentioned that I would probably want them while the lawyer in our midst quoted the guide book with something like “wear tape gloves to avoid certain and severe hand mutilation”. Point taken, I received one assembling tape glove lesson and proceeded to do a crappy imitation on my other hand. Oh well.

I can’t say my first climb was stellar. Vedauwoo is primarily a crack area and there was no subtly to the first few cracks we explored. Some climbing features intricacies involving delicate weight balancing and sequential movements. These cracks were nothing like that. As I repeatedly shoved my hand past cheese grater rock and contorted my ankles to shimmy my body up that stupid wall, I questioned why I ever said that I enjoyed crack climbing.

Frustrated and pumped out, I called the first day quits after just four routes and headed back to the camper to drink beer, which was delicious. Although the second day featured a better classic climb, I have come to the conclusion off-the-couch crack climbing at Vedauwoo is crap.

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