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

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

Sense of Impending Doom

2013 Trail Mix Course

2013 Trail Mix Course

It started with the best of intentions. Surely signing up for a 10 mile, mixed surface run would spur some serious training, right?  As the race date looms near (THIS Saturday), I’ve realized once again that “planning” and “babies” are not necessarily compatible terms.

Training peaked last week with a 6-mile hike with 14-lb Owen in the Ergo carrier. Two days later, I ran four miles (sans baby) and thought I was going to be pretty well setup for success. Then the baby stopped sleeping.

The doctor is coining Owen’s current lack of sleep preference “day/night reversal”. It involves severely limiting Owen’s day naps to two, one-hour segments. That’s it. He normally sleeps about 4.5 hours a day, which is on par for his age. Otherwise, it’s stimulation all day to teach him that day is for play! The ultimate hope is that Owen will stop waking up every 45 minutes – 2.5 hours during the night, which would be brilliant.

It is extremely difficult to “train” on no REM cycles. With sleep deprivation comes marked declines in memory, overall cognition and – here’s a fun one – balance. Swwweet. So Saturday’s race is pending, but if history is any indication I will likely forge ahead and pay the sore muscle consequences later. If anyone wants to painfully shuffle by my side, register here. No training required for the truly bull-headed.

Cool-movie-of-the-day: Living on One

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

Adventures in Food

Convenience foods by Mother Nature - a totally appropriate food gift!

Convenience foods by Mother Nature – a totally appropriate food gift!

I’ve ranted about food before. Whole foods are best, take time to cook, blah blah blah. And while I don’t think that kids are a free “I don’t have time” pass, the first few weeks (months?) after a baby is born is a TOTAL FREE PASS. Read and remember this – one of the BEST gifts you can bring a new baby is food for the parents. They are tired. One of them has been through a major physical event. I can’t speak to the experience for the other partner, but I think it was fairly intense for him, too. Enter convenience foods. Here’s a guide, which is also applicable to students cramming for finals, people recovering from a major surgery, etc.

1) Freeze food in advance.

My mother-in-law came in August and froze gallons and gallons of a variety of homemade soups. I also froze 2-person portions from dinners I cooked instead of slogging through leftovers. This was invaluable.

2) Choose the healthiest ready-to-eat foods possible.

I was lucky enough to be asked to review a few new cereals from Post shortly after Owen was born. While I’m not normally a cereal girl (except for my homemade granola, of course), a few buzzwords caught my eye, namely “protein” and “less processed”. The new Great Grains Protein Blend cereal comes in two varieties. Cinnamon Hazelnut was largely gobbled up by my sweet-tooth loving husband and my favorite was the Honey, Oats & Seeds. I loved seeing whole pumpkin and sunflower seeds from a mainstream cereal company with more protein per serving than an egg (6g for an egg vs 8g per cup of cereal). Of course, my inclination is to combine the egg and cereal (not in the same bowl silly!) for a nice hearty breakfast.

For lunch/dinner/snack/whattimeisit? haze, I love love love Amy’s Frozen Meals, too. They have more sodium than I would like but the ingredient list is totally recognizable and they have a ton of special diet varieties like dairy-free and gluten-free. Even if the mom doesn’t need a modified diet, a fair amount of breastfed babies have sensitivities to dairy and/or gluten.

3) Accept any and all food gifts from neighbors/friends/strangers.

One of our neighbors came over a day or two after Owen was born and casually mentioned, “I just made some pheasant* noodle soup, does that sound good?”. Food? Yes, that sounds good. Don’t be shy, don’t be proud. And reciprocate down the road.

*This is Wyoming. People hunt. Chew carefully.


Fire Fire Everywhere

Fireweed, which appears just days after a fire is extinguished.

Two weekends ago, my old hometown and new hometown both sprouted wildfires – and they weren’t little. The Horsethief Canyon wildfire in Jackson is currently at 3,373 acres (82% contained) while Casper’s Sheep Herder Hill fire is at 15,556 acres (100% contained). Firefighters are still battling other blazes around the state. And while losing a home, pets, or worse in a fire is a tragic and life-altering circumstance, I can’t help but be reminded that a healthy forest is a forest that burns every now and again.

No place is this more obvious than Yellowstone National Park. In 1988, a number of smaller fires combined into one massive blaze to close the park for the first time in history. The end tally was 793,880 acres, or 36 percent of the park affected by the fire. On top of NPS staff, it took 4,000 military personal and $120 million to extinguish the flames. But what happened immediately after the fire (and is still happening!) is amazing nature in action.

To paraphrase from a surprisingly well annotated Wikipedia article on the Yellowstone fires of 1988: Just days after the fire plants such as fireweed began to appear.  No replanting was attempted as “the vast majority of plants regrew from existing sprouts which survived the heat from the fires. There was a profusion of wildflowers in burned areas, especially between two and five years after the fires.”

And the lodgepole pine, which dominates the Yellowstone wilderness, actually needs fire. The pinecones it produces remain closed unless subjected to fire. The article notes that “the best seed dispersal occurred in areas which had experienced severe ground fires, and that seed dispersal was lowest in areas which had only minor surface burns.” Not coincidentally, the lodgepole pines in the park were at 200 – 250 years old and approaching the end of their 300 year life cycle.

A beautiful “weed” that magically appears in burn areas and a tree uniquely suited to the Yellowstone ecosystem depending on fire to perpetuate its life cycle? There’s a silver lining in every cloud.

Natural-tip-of-the-day: Uses for Vinegar


Humbled at a Biathlon

Last weekend I watched my hubby participate in sport that had never really entered my radar: the biathlon. But it appears it isn’t nearly as obscure as I once thought.

While every athletic endeavor requires body awareness and control, my new found belief is that biathlons take this to a whole new level. At its core, a biathlon is a sporting even made of two very different disciplines. Classically, it’s nordic skate skiing and rifle shooting, but summer variations substitute running, biking or swimming for the cardio portion of the event. My current home of Casper, Wyoming happens to have its very own biathlon club (check them out on Facebook here) and I was blown away by some of the athletes at this event.

One cool thing about being in a “regular” town like Casper, versus a town where every block has a sponsored skier (Jackson) is the variety of people at athletic competitions. There were overweight  40-year-olds and gangly 11-year-olds having a genuinely fun time. But the guys that blew me away came from the club’s association as a US Paralympic Sport Club.

Most of the athletes with disabilities were injured military. I believe this was 7 guys at an event with a total of 60 people. That’s a noticeable number and it hit closer to home than any newspaper article or statistic I have seen. This is my generation and younger, with men and women missing limbs and having other less obvious impediments due to war. How have we not evolved past this?

Of course, the sport did originate as military training for Norwegian soldiers. In 1861. That’s a long time ago. And sadly, the skills it promotes are still relevant in today’s world as evidenced by the former men in uniform participating for the fun of it. And it was even fun to watch. Between the shooting and multiple laps, there’s a lot of action happening in one spot for spectators like me. Who knows, maybe next time I’ll be a participant. Because running and shooting an electronic rifle sounds like a neat challenge. Running and being shot at while trying to return fire sounds less fun. Thanks to the men in uniform that choose to do that so I can have enough adventures to blog about.

Comic-relief-of-the-day: Whew! You need it after that blog post, right. Get your Calvin and Hobbes fix here.

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?

I Caught a Fish!

Rainbow Trout from Grey Reef, Alcova, Wyoming.

“I caught a fish I caught fish I caught a fish I CAUGHT A FISH!” That was my idiot rant after, you guessed it, I caught a fish. It turns out this is easier to do than I previously suspected.

By main issue (before) was that I was wading, and it’s hard to cover a lot of river on your own two feet. This is especially true if you tend to cast erratically and thus alert the fish to your unnatural presence. But on this glorious day of fish-catching, I was in a drift boat.

I’ve been told that an important component to a successful cast is floating the fly (or nymph, in my case. More discussion on Nymphing on Mountain Kidd post “No Fish were Harmed“) downstream at the same rate as the river flows. This is infinitely easier when you happen to be in a boat that is also  moving downstream. Another bonus: when you’re drifting downstream, you don’t necessarily have to cast over and over. There’s a nifty trick called a roll cast, which I could attempt to explain here but this guy does much better.

Notice how there’s no flinging of the line behind you? This is KEY if you tend to, oh, say, hook yourself in your fuzzy hoody on your head, for example. And that’s just embarrassing. But back to the big catch.

When the fish is bigger and you’re using a fly rod, there is an art to reeling in the fish which includes letting the fish take line and run. If you try to fight this, the fish can snap your line or rod. Luckily, our friend Paul talked me through landing this guy, which involved key tips such as:

  • Keep the rod tip up.
  • If the fish wants to run, let ’em.
  • Keep tension on the line – when the fish slacks, reel him in.
  • Always keep him moving towards shore. He’ll try to run towards deeper water in the center of the river. Don’t let him.
There! Now you too, with the help of a drift-boat, advice from Marge at the fly shop (she advised rusty scuds and egg-sucking leeches) you too can land a beautiful rainbow trout. Just make sure to put it back – Grey Reef is catch and release!
Tip-of-the-Day: Go with a guide and catch more fish. They’re expert rowers and know all the seams where the fish hang out. The North Platte River Fly Shop can hook you up (he he).



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