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

Tough Mudder – Only Kinda Tough: Part 2

The race start was a controlled fall down a steep dirt slope with loose gravel. Impressive.

Last week, I gave an overview on a 10 mile race called “Tough Mudder” that bills itself as “probably the toughest event on the planet.” This week, I’ll break down the specific obstacles that made me say “probably not.”

The start of the race was impressive. We hiked up steep vertical for about 10 minutes while a charismatic announcer gave us the skinny: if you’re pregnant, don’t go through the electrical shock obstacle because it’s like being inside a microwave. Duh. If you brought gloves to wear (tighter fitting mechanic-like gloves), pat yourself on the back. If you didn’t, say “that was stupid” (after which a few hundred people obediently chanted). After the national anthem and a bang, we were off. Our team choose a steady shuffle for the descent, of which I wholeheartedly approved of as a few of the more aggressive and less coordinated runners ate dirt HARD.

After the hill, we hiked up the better part of a blue (intermediate) ski run before coming to the icy ponds. The first was a huge muddy hole about chest-deep. I half-swam, half-ran through the pond until a banged my shin hard on a massive boulder completely hidden by the murky water. It felt how I always imagined a certain fall while climbing: the one where you clear a ledge and take a whipper (fall) and bang your shins at a steep 45° angle into a 90° rock corner. And I have the scar to prove it.

My sister and I noted a surplus of guys willing to lend a helping hand.

The pond with barrels to swim under came immediately after the mud hole. If you missed last week, a photo and synopsis of this obstacle is there. What I didn’t mention is the hundreds of heat foils laying on the ground and bushes immediately after the barrel pond. I got a hand out of the pond (there was actually a surplus of hands from male non-team members throughout the race. Very gentlemanly.) and wrapped myself in a foil for a few minutes before we all started running again to heat up.

The first aid station was awesome – electrolyte drinks, water and cliff blocks. All the aid stations after this featured water and bananas and I didn’t even need to break out the packet of Justin’s honey and peanut butter I had on me in case of bonking.

The icy 'Chernobyl jacuzzi'. You can't say they're not creative. And yes, that arrow means 'swim under'.

But I know what you really care about is the obstacles. Quite frankly, there were quite a few weak attempts before the next obstacle of note. On the way up to a wooden tank, an elderly lady with perfectly coiffed hair and a sun umbrella leaned over from the sidelines (crowds were gathered at a few key obstacles) and yelled in my face, “you go girl!”. If made me feel good. But then my killer logo recognition made me feel bad. Piled in front of the tank were hundreds of plastics bag sporting a cute little polar bear. They were ice bags. I climbed the wooden slats to the edge of the tank and confirmed my suspicions with an added bonus – the water was glowing. The tank I was about to plunge into was bright red, but the one next door was neon green and next to that an electric blue.

Note to the coordinators of Tough Mudder: my skin massively freaked out after this race. Super, painfully dry. I blame the dye in this obstacle.

But there’s more! The Tough Mudder eval concludes right here, next week.

Recipe-of-the-day: I find solace in chocolate and this one is from the lady herself: Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake by Martha Stewart. Don’t worry – it has video.

 

Tough Mudder – Only Kinda Tough: Part 1

No one I know is in this picture, but I like their expressions just the same.

On June 25th, 2011 I finished a 10-mile trail run with obstacles which bills itself as “probably the toughest event on the planet”. My short answer is, “probably not”.

As anyone who has been on www.ToughMudder.com can see, the hype for the race is high. For some people, this build-up is completely legitimate and it may be the toughest event they will ever do in their lives. But for others that have had ‘epics’ of some sort or another in the outdoor arena, no event can compare.

With an event like Tough Mudder, there is a built-in ‘stop’ button that is distinctly lacking in other arenas. For example, if you happen to be up on Buck Mountain in the Teton range and you slip on some rotten spring snow, you are completely and wholly responsible for self-arresting (aka stopping) yourself with an ice axe before sliding over a 50 ft. cliff. And should the worst not happen, you’ve now got a helicopter ride between you and serious medical attention.

In Tough Mudder, if you’re so exhausted to the point of losing bowel control (this happens in another tough event known as the Leadville 100, which is a 100 mile trail run), you can get a buddy to flag down an EMT on a 4-wheeler. But there was an unexpected consequence to the amount of control the event presented.

I discovered this gem of a surprise early into the race, probably somewhere in the second mile. The obstacle was swimming through a pond with three or four sets of big blue barrels strong across the surface of the 39° water (see photo). I plunged into the pond, took a breath and came up on the other side of the barrel with the start of a killer ice-cream headache. Now, my various whitewater exploits have led to way too much time in 39° water, but this was different. When you’re swimming a class IV/V rapid like Dowd Shoot during spring run off, there is no thought process in dunking your head underwater. The river takes care of that for you. But here, suddenly, I was in charge of what seemed like a very obvious decision – why would I choose to go underwater when I was perfectly capable of swimming on top, or better yet, getting out? Yet all around me, friends I have revered as intelligent beings were doing that very thing. This is when I realized there is a certain amount of self-discipline and yes, stupidity in the the whole ‘adventure race’ equation. Just call me stupid.

So what exactly made the race tough and what was silly? It’s all coming in photos galore (provided by the Tough Mudder webiste) next week right here.

Kitchen-gadget-of-the-day: Bodum Frother. Do you have one? Let me know how you like it!

Delayed Realizations

Better late than never? Mountain Kidd is catching up after many weeks of adventures!

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Faked running enthusiasm for the sake of the camera.

Although I did learn many lessons in my teens, some appear to need reinforcement. Specifically, the one to the effect of “just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.” That reinforcement came in the form of the 2011 Bolder Boulder.

The night before, a group of about 10 of us runners gathered for a spaghetti dinner. Shortly after dinner, someone decided tequila shots were in order. Somehow, I reasoned that as I run fairly regularly and this group prides itself on eating max junk while running a minimum speed, I would be fine.

The next morning showed promise. As we were walking to the race start around 7:30 am (ouch), Twisted Pine Brewing Company offered us a sweet deal: we wear their bumper stickers on our back while running and we get a free beer at the end of the race. Brilliant. But then we got to the race.

The start of the Bolder Boulder is one of those situations that makes you want to shout, “moo, moo, BAAH”. 50,000 runners are herded with amazing precision to keep everyone starting at their designated time. It’s a testament to the folks at Bolder Boulder that we hit our 7:57 start time exactly on the dot. However, by 7:58 it dawned on me- I was running. I was going to have to continue to run for 6.3 miles. It was exactly the opposite of what I wanted to be doing on that rainy, post-tequila morning.

But ran I did. Along the way, our crew found ice-pops, several varieties of donuts, PBR, sausage, cupcakes and a few more goodies I’m sure I’m forgetting. I may have eaten more calories than I burned, which is no small feat. I would chiefly like to applaud Stacey, who hit the slip-and-slide, belly-flopped into a kiddie pool, and spotted cupcakes through a crowd of some 40 runners. In my book, you were the star of the 2011 Bolder Boulder and I’m sorry mild hypothermia set in after the race.

And hats off to the folks at Twisted Pine. It turns out the Bloody Billy’s Chilies (a wheat beer with fresh Serrano, Habenero, Jalapeno, Anaheim, and Fresno chili peppers and topped with V8) was the only drink that could ever entice me into a two-day hangover.

Micro-brew of the day: No, it’s not Twisted Pine- they already got free advertising. This one is a micro of a micro – it was brewed by our generous Boulder host, none other than Aaron Lucas. If you’re into brewing, check out his mad-scientist style at http://ferment.in/. Sorry, it’s not yet in stores near you.

Brrrtooth Highway

Note the white box with 'enlarged switchbacks'

So yes, it’s really “Beartooth Highway” and it’s beautiful. It’s also only open to car traffic in summer, and as the snow flying outside my window would attest, the Rockies are still a longs way from dog days. The solution? Head up on two wheels.

This is easier said than done. Beartooth highway straddles the Wyoming/Montana border and has an impressive 20 peaks reaching over 12,000 feet in elevation. It is also the highest elevation highway in Wyoming (10,947 feet), Montana (10,350 feet) and the entire Northern Rockies region. All these stats add up to one inarguable fact: cold, thin air.

That morning, we loaded up the car in pleasant 55° weather in Billings, Montana. Folks cautioned us that Red Lodge, about an hour away, would be about 10° cooler. Down to 45° in Red Lodge, we began climbing up the open portion of Beartooth highway as the temperature settled to somewhere around freezing. As we lifted the bikes off the roof of the car, I mentally chastised myself for bringing bike shorts and no tights, but reasoned that it wasn’t that cold – until I saw him.

He was the owner of the other car parked at the gate and he was covered– as in the only skin visible was from his eyes to his nose. His ragged bike tights revealed an additional layer of long underwear and I stared as his big winter mitts enviously while I thought, “oh shit”. Regrouping, I decided that I could adapt my clothes to be bike friendly. I pulled my comfy yoga pants on over my bike shorts and found a rubberband to cinch the pants around one ankle and a few hair ties for the other. I also rummaged through my emergency winter stash (which is really a year-round stash in Wyoming) by the spare tire in my car and pulled out my own pair of fluffy mittens. My favorite cute and function Lululemon jacket has a rad collar that zips up to my nose with (and this is the genius part) a hood completely independent of the collar. My ratcheting bike helmet allowed a quick resize to accommodate the raised hood while the chinstrap slipped under the high collar without interfering with the heat-saving hood. I’ve always thought the zipperpull on this jacket was another place to shout “LULULEMON!”, but the bulky three-disk design proved genius when I could grab it through bike gloves layered with bulky mittens on top.

Unfortunately, my winter stash had nothing for my partner. While the ride up was peaceful and surprisingly not-SO-steep (bear in mind my comparative point is Teton Pass), the way down was brutal. We had pedaled high enough for the air to get cooler and while we enjoyed the wind at our back on the way up, it was full-on in our face on the way down. So full-on that we actually had to pedal while careening down the mountain. We stopped more than once to warm my partners hands while I furiously wiggled my cold toes.

By the time we arrived back at the car, my toes lacked any and all circulation. My core temperature had also dropped and I hurriedly leaned the bike against the car and broke into a fast succession of jumping jacks. There were some overweight tourists in an SUV pointing and laughing. Soon enough, the car was pumping out heat and we were enjoying a delicious dinner in Red Lodge. But adventure always make dinner taste better.

Hairy Yoga

The GiGi wax warmer- friend or foe?

Disclaimer: If you’re male, you may not want to read this post – but the ladies sure will.

Hair depletion and I haven’t always gotten along so well. Like much of my life, I’ve taken a shotgun approach to the issue. One blade irritates my underarms just as much as four. Electric razors are too harsh. And then there was the one waxing incident involving the microwavable wax. To make a long story short, I touched the wax container in the microwave and said wax exploded all over kitchen and a large area of skin. Burnt skin continued to worsen under a layer of tacky wax and the on-duty RN at the local ER (consulted via phone, thank you) was initially at a loss advice on a non-candle type of wax (hint: cold shower and use oil to remove. Take pain pills). This incident spurred the purchase of my own mini at-home waxing kit.

While somewhat barbaric, good ‘ole waxing is incredibly effective. In my mind, its biggest drawback is the simple fact that the wax needs something to grab onto. For underarms, this means a vicious cycle of careful planning to estimate the exact date when the hair is long enough to be pulled but not so long one is left waiting for the appointed day feeling like Sasquatch. Pull a week too early and an awkward stubble is left. And too late? Read on, my hairy friend.

I’m pretty sure that the wax pot at a salon gets plugged in when they open for the day. Not so at home. The wax kit must be brought out from under the counter and plugged in for at least 30 minutes to get the wax nice and gooey. I had plugged the wax in, but got distracted by email, phone, work and life in general. Before I knew it, it was almost time to go to yoga class and I wanted to wear a cap-sleeve shirt (as most full-coverage yoga shirts were hiding at the moment).

Reasoning that I had just enough time to do a quick underarm wax,  I began with gusto only to realize halfway through that if I was going to be on time (and you should not ever be late for yoga- just skip it), I had to go NOW. So, with one underarm pink and hair-free and one wax-ready hairy, I jumped in the car with a plan.

The plan was to go in the back corner. I began walking to my space when a woman in the second row asked me a question and we started chatting. A few new faces entered the studio, and that was the beginning of the end. Helping out the newbies, the instructor came up with two mats and asked the chatty woman and I if we would mind moving to the front of the class (‘so others can watch’, she mouthed). Fan-tastic. Watch away.

I have no idea if anyone objected to my one hairy armpit. In my mind, they did and were appropriately horrified/curious. In reality, they probably didn’t notice. If anyone has looked into laser hair removal for the underarms, I’d be interested in finding out more.

Funny-ha-ha-of-the-day: Graphic help for “Can I skip class today?

 

 

Kiwi Wine

Looking over the Redoubt Hills vineyard and beyond.

If you’ve been reading Mountain Kidd the past few weeks, you’ll know that “Kiwi” is another term for “New Zealand”. If not, you’re probably thinking that kiwi wine sounds gross but interesting; I agree.

The wine I’m actually talking about is from a boutique vineyard by the name of Redoubt Hills. My fiance, Colby, is now a federally and state licensed importer and as such has become the official gatekeeper for Redoubt Hills into the United States. Rationalizing that this made New Zealand a business trip, we set aside a few days to visit our new business friends at Redoubt Hills.

Our travels in New Zealand began on the North Island in the Wellington area, but Redoubt Hills is located in the northern half of the south island next to the Motueka River. There are two ways to travel between the islands and as the costs are nearly identical, we choose to take the ferry over to the island and the plane back, which was dumb.

“Wine Spectator calls it “one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world”, says the Interislander ferry website, but I can’t say I agree. I can’t say I disagree either, because I couldn’t see anything. The sky was spitting sideways and the swells significant enough that our 150 meter ship lolled from side to side for the majority of our 3 hour trip. Luckily, New Zealanders are particularly fond of ginger beer, which has real ginger but not real beer and is the perfect remedy for motion sickness.

Colby (R) and Daniel (L) speaking with the winemaker extraordinaire (Justin, center).

New Zealand is so beautiful and varied that it’s actually hard to quantify another beautiful place, so I’ll just say that the Nelson area delivered in spades. Lesley and Daniel, owners of Redoubt Hill, welcomed us into their home and gave us an up-close and personal look at the vineyards surrounding their home and even arranged for an extensive tour and interview with their winemaker. Their vineyard is incredibly steep, which mandates that all work, including harvesting grapes, is done by hand. It’s also on a very unique soil dubbed ‘separation point granite’. Terroir is a hot term in the world of wine, which loosely means ‘specificity of place’ and more specifically the flavor that the soil imparts to the wine. In the case of Redoubt Hill, the wine comes off with a distinct (and very nice) clean and minerally taste (these are my laymen wine terms, for official reviews, click here).

And Redoubt Hills isn’t the only vineyard in the region. We’re hard at work drinking samples from other vineyards to find the next great red that isn’t available to the U.S. It’s a tough job, but I’m glad we’re doing it.  But even if you’re not into fermented grapes, the Motueka valley and its close proximity to the famed Abel Tasman National Park make it easy to see why the area is revered by Kiwis and expats alike.

 

 

Chickens in my Face

Colby and I cleaning eggs. The giant egg in the background is a mini-fridge, which is great.

After my blog entry last week, you know how exceptional the living conditions are at Pasture Poultry. But I failed to address the ultimate goal of having all these happy chickens- that would be eggs. In theory, each chicken lays one egg per day. Multiply that by 8,000 chickens and you get (wait for it) 8,000 eggs a day that must be collected. Our generous hosts were concerned about me having the full Kiwi farm experience, so they kindly plopped me on the back of a 4-wheeler and sent me off collecting with one of their regular employees.

Although she was a part-time collector, the high-schooler they sent me out with wasn’t one to trust from the beginning. She started my training by trying to gross me out. First I was to go through the waist-high feed house and bang on the walls to ensure all the feed was dropping down and not getting stuck. The feed house was about 20 degrees warmer than outside and had a door about 3 feet high. It was also filled with chickens I tried to delicately toe out of the way. Next, we opened the various doors that held the eggs. This was like opening a box of donuts at a diet camp. I’m not sure how this plays out with natural selection, but these chickens (or Chucks, in Kiwi terms) want the eggs so much that they fly up to the shelves where the eggs are located (approximately face level) in an attempt to keep you, the evil collector, from getting their tasty eggs. That’s right; they want to eat them. At first I tried shooing them out and even let one peck at my shoe for a moment. Five minutes later I did as the high schooler demonstrated and grabbed a hand full of tail feathers while pulling backwards. “Think of them as teaching them to fly in reverse”, I was advised.

We sorted the eggs into three piles: good, dirty, and cracked. The ‘dirty’ part is as gross as it sounds. It either has poop or blood on it. “This really grosses out some of the townies,” commented my farm-hardy instructor. I can’t imagine why. Next, we loaded the eggs onto trays held securely in place on a custom-made box mounted on the rear of the 4-wheeler. Then the fun really began.

As I suspect most working farms are, this was a “waste not want not farm”. Those dirty eggs had to be cleaned, and there was no machine to do it. With a damp rag, we set to wiping off the lesser of the ‘dirty’ eggs and put them on a small conveyor belt with individual cradles for each egg. This machine then sorted the eggs based on weight while another human grabbed various assortments of eggs and packed them in a carton to be picked up and distributed in the surrounding cities.

I’m glad I did it, but I don’t ever want to do it again. I will never, ever, bulk about paying $4+ for a carton of organic, free-range eggs. There are certain things in this world that I just want to pay others to do, and collecting eggs is now one of them.

Liquor-recipe-of-the-day: Welcome summer (wherever it may be…) with Tequila-Soaked Watermelon Wedges. Yum!

 

If You’re Chicken

One of many hen houses for the 8,000 chickens at Pasture Poultry.

I mean that literally. If you were a chicken instead of a human, you would want to be a chicken at Pasture Poultry in Rangitikei, New Zealand. The reasons are are numerous, but the list of things that humans value most for quality of life is startlingly similar to what makes a great life for a chicken.

Do you like to know where your food comes from? Pasture Poultry takes the locavore movement to the next level as their chickens can literally see where their food comes from- all the feed is grown (organically, or course) just a few hops down from their own residential pasture. Just as humans love space to roam, these chickens are organic and free-range chicken in the truest sense of the word with oodles of pastures and other farm oddities to occupy their time. In fact, I noticed a favorite dust-bath location just happens to be under a seldom used tractor. While I don’t think it’s the wisest of places to hang out, chickens aren’t really known for their intelligence, either.

As for the inarguable law of the food chain, Kiwi chickens have it easy. There are no coyotes, foxes, wolves or bears. In fact, the occasional hawk is biggest chicken threat, and if chickens had the brains to run inside when the hawks circled above, that would be the end of that.

So if reincarnation turns out to be an actual thing and you get a turn at being a chicken, ask for Pasture Poultry. Just watch out for the farmer’s son, Pete. He’s all grown-up now (and practiced as a veterinarian for a time!) but he has a trick that involving putting chickens down for a 10 second nap by way of motion sickness (or so it would seem to me). Check out the pics below for Pete in action.

Step 1: Grab a chicken (any chicken) and tuck its head under wing (as it does when sleeping voluntarily).

 

Step 2: Swing the chicken from side to side (a lot)!

Step 3: Set chicken down and laugh while it sleeps. Who said chickens were the only dumb ones?

 

 

 

Shooting Bunnies with Kiwis

To say Godzone, or New Zealand, is geographically isolated is an understatment.

If you were a Kiwi (a person from New Zealand), you would likely be laughing at the title of this blog post. Why? Because one of their many colorful expressions is the too cute “shooting bunnies” euphemism for “farting”. Hours after learning the new phrase my fiancé Colby announced to much hilarity that he had  “launched a rabbit”. This was the first of many blunders throughout our two weeks in New Zealand.

Although their official language is English, there is a bit of a language barrier. For example, when you’re asked if you would like a biscuit with your tea, say yes because you’re actually getting a cookie. And a tramp in the woods isn’t someone with loose morals in a non-urban setting but rather a hike. However, the word substitutions pale in comparison to pronouncing names of various towns, which can be a problem when getting directions. New Zealand has a thoroughly odd mix of traditional Bristish names interspersed a more than liberal sprinkling of Maori names. As New Zealand’s first inhabitants, the Maori language is decidedly un-English. For example, our friends live outside Wellington in Plimmerton, which is along the Porirua harbour. Other towns in this area are named Camborne, Karehana Bay, Mana, Onepoto, Papakowhai, Paremata, Pauatahanui, Pukerua Bay, Takapuwahia, Titahi Bay and Whitby. Our friends were particularly impressed with my pronunciation of “Whitby”.

Finally, a word about guardrails- there are none. There are some thin wires held up by sticks with white paint on top, but there are more adept at holding sheep off the road than cars on the road. In a country with 40 million sheep and 4 million people, this is an issue. This means the steep winding roads necessary in a topography formed by earthquakes and volcanic activity are largely a ‘drive at your own risk and try not to get sick’ sort of deal. Did I mention that they drive on the wrong side of the road?

More specific adventures to follow, including egg collecting and cow milking. It’s a rural country, folks.

Cool photo collection of the day: From the photographic expert, National Geographic

 

Karma’s Real

Kulae, you had me from your tagline. I too believe “Karma’s Real”.

I was lucky enough to test out an eco yoga mat from a new (I think…) company called kulae. Isn’t a yoga mat a yoga mat, you ask? Apparently not.

The most obvious difference is that their mats are long- 4″ longer than a standard yoga mat. Because I’m not exceptionally tall at 5’6″, I didn’t really know if this would matter. However, when the mat was in action at a yoga class, I felt like I had just moved into a King-size bed from the Queen. There was just so much room! My whole body was on the mat in pigeon pose.

The second difference was the smell- or lack thereof. Anyone who has opened a conventional new yoga mat knows that there is a distinct plastic new mat smell. Not with this one. I’m not sure which ingredient is the usual culprit, but Kulae spends a fair amount of advertising on their lack of certain ingredients- namely that their mats have no PVC, no latex, no cadmium, no lead and no rubber. They’re also 100% biodegradable, 100% recyclable, which is in line with yogic thinking itself. The mat also has two colors with two patterns- which I like to flip depending on my mood. That’s right- I accessorize with my yoga mat.

And now for the gross germy part. Their mats are ‘closed cell’, which apparently means that bactaria and germs don’t get trapped like open cell rubber and PVC mats. Eww. I put my face on that.

That’s my plug for the day. With some studios charging for mat rentals and the whole cleanliness issue, I highly recommend bringing your own yoga mat to class. Kulae makes a top-quality product that you won’t regret. Buy their stuff here.

Crafty-lady link of the day: Make your own mini pocketbook tutorial

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