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

Perspective

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!

 

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?

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).

 

A Stick and a Ball – A Golfing Adventure

Paradise Valley Country Club Golf Course in Casper, Wyoming

Lest you doubt our creativity as a species, take a moment of ponder the wide variety of activities we have invented involving nothing more than a stick and a ball. My latest undertaking into these “games” was one of the odder experience of my adult life: golf. Simply put, I hit a small white object around an impossibly large lawn with the goal of getting said ball into tiny little holes in the ground. But that’s not all – you have to get them in the hole in the right order. And to expedite the whacking of the ball, you drive around the lawn in a funny little underpowered open-air car, even though the distances between the holes in the ground aren’t really that far. Weird, just weird.

Given my attitude, it’s not surprising that a few words of wisdom from George Carlin came to mind, to the effect of “so the goal is to hit the ball as few times as possible, right? So when you find the ball, pick it up and put it in your pocket. You’re a winner.” I think George was on to something because the ‘other’ way of playing, where you continue hitting the ball, wasn’t really working out for me.

The scene of this melee was just minutes from my house and their website offers the golf-speak, “the par-71 golf course at Paradise Valley Country Club in Casper, Wyoming measures over 6700 yards from the back tees.” I had taken exactly two golf lessons in preparation for the 18-holes, which was woefully insufficient. I probably only connected with the ball on about  60% of my swings. The good news was that when I did connect, I hit the ball fairly straight and pretty far. The other good news is I was playing with my husband, a much more accomplished golfer, and we played “best ball”, meaning whichever ball went the furthest towards the little hole we were aiming towards. This really helped keep the game moving.

All in all, I can’t say I discovered a new passion, but I’ll probably play again. I will probably try to spend some more time on the driving range in the meanwhile and maybe play a 9-hole next time. Then again, maybe I’ll stick to my bikes and sliding down snow on two sticks.

 

 

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?

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