Let's Bike A Long Way!

Hey there, thanks for joining me on my bike tour! It's all over now, so you missed the fun part. But I can tell you about how it went.

It went well.

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Now that that part's over, I can tell you about how I did it. Specifically, I want to talk about my gear and routines so that you can know for your next bike tour, and so that other bike tourists (really? that's the word?) will maybe give me advice on how to do it better. First of all, here's a list of my gear, lifted directly from a recent Instagram post. 

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Bike tour gear:
- 15F sleeping bag and bivy sack
- 1 foam sleeping pad

- 1 pair @salomonrunning Sense Ultra
- 1 pair bike shoes
- 1 @protectourwinters shammy (butt pad shorts)
- 5 Salomon 1/2 liter soft bottles
- 1 soft side 2 liter water bottle
- 1 sweet glow in the dark nalgene
- 1 bag full of @clifbar goodies and daily food
- 1 pair Salomon softshell pants
- 1 pair Salomon hybrid shell pants
- 3 pairs @drymaxsocks (2 normal, 1 cold weather)
- 1 pair underwear
- 2 pairs gloves (1 fleece, 1 shell)
- 1 Salomon wool T shirt
- 1 Salomon wool long sleeve
- 1 pair long undies
- 1 windbreaker jacket
- 1 sweater
- 1 light puffy jacket
- 1 ski shell jacket
- 1 ziploc with journal and paper map
- 1 ziploc with book (The Big Sky by AB Guthrie Jr.)
- 1 ziploc with hardware including headlamp, bike tools, spare tubes and parts, bike lights, charging cords, knife, etc.
- 1 ziploc with passport, camera and batteries, pens
- 1 ziploc with toothbrush and paste, sunscreen, inhaler, wet wipes, spare ziplocs, and first aid kit
- 1 Salomon Peak 20 bag
- 1 random bag I found (~25 liters)
- 1 homemade frame bag
- sunglasses

Random commentary:

  • Sleeping Bag: I will be ditching the bivy sack in favor of a tarp system or lightweight tent as soon as possible. The bivy sack, which is essentially a waterproof sleeve for my sleeping bag, has the opposite effect as advertised. Because it doesn't breathe, my body's moisture at night gets trapped between it and the sleeping bag, making me wetter than if I had no cover. This effect is amplified the colder it gets.
  • Sleeping Pad: I take a big-ass foam sleeping pad instead of a tiny inflatable pad because I love the simplicity and durability. I don't want to roll around all night on a crinkly piece of plastic, and I don't want to constantly worry about deflating the damn thing. I love just putting my pad down and laying on top of it. I do, however, cut the pad so that it's about 3/4 length, so that it's just long enough to reach from the top of my head to below my butt. On cold nights I'll put my pack under my feet.
  • Footwear: I use these sweet Pearl Izumi shoes that look like normal shoes but have a recessed clipless attachment beneath the toes. These allow me to be clipped in while riding, but also to be able to walk around like a normal person when I need to. I also took a pair of running shoes so that I could run at times, and also just to have softer, more comfy shoes for around camp and on rest days. (There was one rest day on this trip.)
  • Butt Pad: I took a shammy to protect my butt on the long days of riding, but in the end I hardly wore it. After three days of riding, the shammy was so manky with sweat (gross, sorry) that it chafed the outside of my legs around where the shammy is sewn in. I soon took off the shammy, and found that I had never needed it at all. With the classic Brooks saddle, which is essentially just a piece of leather stretched over a metal frame, there is no need at all for padding. I rode in thin pants the rest of the trip and had no problems at all. Softer seats with always hurt and chafe you, but the Brooks saddle is broad and supportive. I don't really get it, but it's a great seat and everyone should have one. They have vegan versions too if you don't like leather. I should get one of those.
  • Agua: I generally kept my nalgene bottle filled but strapped onto the rack and mostly inaccessible, as a backup. For daily water I used my 5 Salomon soft bottles, which together amounted to 2.5 liters. I would put two in the straps of my pack, and strap three others onto the outside of my rack pack. You can't really put those inside a pack when filled, because a light touch of the nozzle will discharge water, but squishing them underneath the straps on the pack looked silly but worked fine. I also carried another 2-liter soft container for really long sections.
  • Food: For food I relied on several means. Each morning I usually had instant oatmeal cold in a "bowl" made out of a Pringles can. I would supplement that with fruit or granola or anything left over that looked good. Around mid-day I usually tried to find a cafe or coffee shop to rest, charge my phone, and eat a good meal. In the afternoon I would eat snacks like chips and Clif Bars and occasionally something more substantial from a grocery store. For dinners I tried to eat real food. I found these organic Amy's frozen burritos at most stores and would buy five at a time and then eat them the next day after they had thawed. I also would buy instant rice and cans of beans, then empty them together into a gallon-size ziploc. Occasionally I would add raw veggies. I also made burritos with refried beans and raw veggies. I wanted to focus on eating as much real food as possible, because even when riding 10-12 hours per day, you can only have so many candy bars before hating yourself. I tried to avoid gas station food almost entirely.
  • Clothing: For clothes I took enough to weather some pretty cold temps, but ultimately the cold in northern Arizona and southern Utah was simply so unpleasant in general that I chose to go much farther south than I originally intended. Even in the Sonoran and Mojave deserts the nights were chilly and the wind brisk, except at mid-day. But the clothes outlined above were good enough for everything; my decision to seek warmer weather was more based on the dark moods I felt in the cold, grey weather. My only discomfort was in my toes. I wished many times that I had some of those foot-covers that I see cyclists wearing a lot. The wind would go right through my shoes on even mildly chilly days and numb my toes. Honestly, it was a minor discomfort. I think my clothing was well chosen, mostly.
  • Entertainment: I took some items that weren't strictly essential, like a journal, a book, and a paper map. These are hugely beneficial to my state of mind. Biking all day long through big empty spaces, all by myself, with many days of the same ahead of me, I was constantly managing loneliness and low-level despair. I missed my friends and family, and I was nervous about whether I could get to the end in time, and many other things besides. By giving me an outlet to express my thoughts, my journal helped me make sense of what I felt. And by giving me a story to escape to, my book allowed me to appreciate other people's experiences. I also listened to some audiobooks when eating and resting. I didn't listen to anything while riding. The map was fun to have because it gave me clear and tangible evidence that I was making progress. Each night I would draw in the route I had taken that day, and mark each campsite. It was nice to be able to get a sense of the land on a larger perspective than my phone's map.
  • Hardware: My "hardware" bag contained many things. The bike tools I took included bike pump, tire irons, 2 patch kits, 2 spare tubes (unless recently used), a terrific multi-tool, a spare chain link, chain lube, and a few other things I can't remember. I also had spare spokes taped to the right chainstay. Also in the bag were extra zip ties, some electrical tape, a knife, and a bag with spoon and tiny can-opener.
  • Toothbrush: For hygiene I took a wet-nap bath every evening after finishing riding, which was better than nothing but not nearly as satisfying as a real shower. I took to wearing my long underwear at night so my sweaty skin wouldn't stick to the sleeping bag. That's gross. I wore lots of sunscreen on my face and neck each day, but nowhere else because I couldn't clean it off at night. Instead, I wore long pants and long sleeves most of the time. I brushed my teeth often because I had too much sugar in my diet. I also had a small first-aid kit with lots of stuff to clean road rash in case I went down and also the makings of minimal splints.
  • Bags: On my back I carried the Salomon Peak 20 bag, which is great because it has front pockets like a race vest, where I carried water, some food, my wallet, and a camera. In the back I carried my journal, because it's non-replaceable, and most of my clothes, because they are bulky but lightweight. On the handlebars I strapped my sleeping bag/bivy sack combo. On the rear rack I strapped a bag containing my sleeping pad, nalgene, running shoes, and food bag. In the frame bag (which I made!) I kept heavier stuff, like my book, my hardware and hygiene bags, and some extra food. 
  • Frame Bag: The frame bag was a great thing to have, but there are ways to make it better. I didn't hide enough zipper behind fabric, so a few times the zipper pull actually came off the zipper when I was pulling the zipper apart to get stuff inside. And I should have put the zipper on the right side because most of my campsites were just patches of dirt. With the zipper on the left, it was facing down when I laid the bike down with the drive side up. Fortunately, I arranged the zipper so that the pull was forward when closed, so that it didn't interfere with pedaling. And i didn't need to have straps extending nearly the whole length of my frame tubes. Those straps are strong.
  • Frame Bag 2: I built the frame bag based off of directions from www.bikepacker.com. http://www.bikepacking.com/gear/how-to-make-a-bikepacking-framebag-krampus/
  • Camping: For the first half of the trip I camped in the dirt a little out of sight of the road. I was in huge empty places and nobody was around, so it was easy to camp. Arizona is good that way. Once I reached the California coast, there were way more people and roads and homes, making wild camping much harder. Fortunately, there are dozens of campgrounds up and down the coast, every one of which I found to be either full or closed. But nearly every campground has "hiker/biker" sites that are a little smaller and reserved for non-motorized travel. These are usually $5-10 and perfect for my needs. Sometimes they even had shower facilities.
  • Numbers: My shortest day was a rest day. My shortest day of riding was 32 miles, but also included a 13-mile run in Canyon de Chelly. My longest day of riding was 120 miles, from outside Bluff, UT to near Chinle, AZ. My total riding distance in 13 days was about 1,119 miles. My average daily distance was about 86 miles. 
  • Wind: The wind was a challenge. Prevailing winds in the US are from west to east, and these are amplified with springtime temperature changes. I suffered from wind so much that I eventually just took a bus 223 miles from Blythe, CA to Los Angeles. Then I battled more winds going north to San Francisco. Wind is always a part of bike touring, but in the future I will adhere more to prevailing winds and the insightful suggestions of friends to not fight the elements so much. 
  • Navigation: In Arizona I traveled by following my paper map and occasional specific navigation by phone. Once I got to the coast I followed the magnificent Bicycle Route Navigator app put out by www.adventurecycling.org . I paid $12 for two sections of turn-by-turn directions from that stretched from San Diego to San Francisco, and for a bit more I could have bought maps stretching all the way to Vancouver. They have dozens of routes like this all around the country, and Adventure Cyclist is constantly advocating for better routes and more acceptance for bike tourists in the country. I love what they do and recommend them highly.

There's probably more stuff I missed, but that's the meat of it. What do you think of all this? How do you do things differently? Thanks!

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Canyon de Chelly and the Long Way to Get There

I know that I'm always harassing you guys about being more environmentally friendly, so you might assume that this title is referring to a bicycle ride to Canyon de Chelly. But no, I'm not (yet) that cool. Instead, I'm thinking of riding my motorcycle down there. It's about 160 miles from where I live, which is far enough to make something that's normally fun into a death march. Being an ultrarunner, that's what I do best, so I think this is a great idea.

My motorcycle is a Suzuki TU250X. If you're not a moto geek, I'll explain it in this way: it can best be described as "cute". It has a 250cc engine, which is fast enough to go 60mph, but not comfortably. That kind of speed doesn't feel very safe, but that's okay because now that it's October, the air is really cold at 60mph. I'm much happier cruising down country roads at 45mph. I'll still need to be all bundled up, but that speed will feel safer and I think I'll see a lot more. The trees are changing, you know, and I want to see them.

The reason I'm going to Canyon de Chelly is for the race they're putting on there this weekend. It's a 50k that starts and ends in Chinle, Arizona, which is right at the canyon's entrance. Normally, the canyon is a protected area that is off-limits to tourists except with a Navajo guide. Canyon de Chelly is the sacred heartland of the Navajo Nation and therefore it means a lot to them both physically and spiritually. Historically, the Navajo endured several battles and sieges against American soldiers in the canyon in the 19th century before finally being driven out by starvation. So it makes sense that they would be sensitive about the place. Nevertheless, for this one day a year, runners are allowed to run the length of the canyon without a guide. Assuming they can stay ahead of the locals.

The race is directed by Shaun Martin, who has become somewhat of a celebrity in the running world for his dual purposes of using running to enact positive social change on the Navajo reservation. He is a Navajo schoolteacher who is now (I believe) the principal of a school in Chinle, and he created the race as a way to honor the Navajo people and history while donating tons of money and resources to his community. In essence, lots of white people like me come down and pay money to race through Canyon de Chelly, and Shaun (likely with the help of a host of volunteers) channels that money right back into the community. It's a brilliant idea.

I'm not racing, both because I'm fat and recovering from injury, and because I didn't sign up on time. This race is so popular that it sells out really fast. My plan instead is to go down there and do whatever Shaun or one of his minions tells me to do. He mentioned that I could sweep the course, which would be sweet because that way I would get to run the length of the canyon. I'm hoping that suggestion turns into reality. If not, though, I have enough experience assisting people at races that I can probably be of use to someone somewhere. I'm just psyched to be part of such a unique and positive event. I might even learn something.

But first I have to ride my motorcycle there. That's going to be the real challenge of the weekend. Or maybe riding back will be the crux. I'm all pumped up about the adventure now, but after riding down there and being all energetic all weekend, I expect the hard part will be getting back on the moto and riding back. Still, adventures only become adventures when you overcome difficulties and discomfort. And this will be a neat way to explore the extraordinary landscapes of the Navajo Nation, and hopefully to meet some cool people as well. Wish me luck!

Brooklyn

The Brooklyn night was cool and fresh, a balm on my skin after a long night of drinking and dancing in bars and clubs throughout New York. I sat on Tessie’s roof alone at 3:30 in the morning and reveled in the peace and calm of the still night air. I was confident of my solitude, until it was shattered by the arrival of Tessie’s roommates, none of whom I had met. This posed an uncomfortable problem for me, because it meant that when I eventually came inside, they would be confronted with a person they had never seen before entering their house through a window on the third story. I get the impression that that’s a legitimate concern in Brooklyn at all times, so I wasn’t going to just surprise them; I was about to bear out some of their worst security fears. I considered sleeping on the roof in my t-shirt and coming in the next day.

But no, I needed a bed. And soon too, since I was starting to sleep on the spot. Hoping to maybe be stealthy enough to just slip past them and down the stairs to my bed, I took my shoes off. Then I climbed in the window. The second my foot touched the floor, the 100+-year-old wood creaked like a wounded cat. I reached up and pulled the window screen back into place, which sounded like fifty nails on a chalkboard. Then I eased open the door to the stairs, which scraped across the wooden floor like a carriage over cobblestones. I had done all this with squinched eyes and ears, cringing at the racket I was making. And as I looked up and started through the door, I found that I was facing three people standing in the hall looking very alarmed and suspicious.

“Um, hello?” one of them said. He was a tall man, bearded. “Who are you?”

I sighed. Damn it, I thought, this is exactly what I was trying to avoid. “Hi, sorry about all this. My name’s Dakota. I’m Tessie’s friend.”

They looked at me. The man answered again, sounding dubious. “Tessie’s friend?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied, looking sheepish. “Yes, Tessie showed me this roof the other day, and I was just out partying all night, and I wanted to sit out there a bit and relax. But I’m headed to bed now.”

Right then I noticed that the two people behind the guy I was talking to were girls, and they were both holding household items. One had a small TV under her arm and the other was holding a box that seemed to be full of pots and pans. “What are you guys doing?” I asked.

The guy stepped up to his full height. “Oh, us?” he looked around. “Well, we’re moving out. Tessie’s getting new roommates and we’re trying to pack up so they can move in tomorrow.”

“Tessie’s getting new roommates?” I asked, confused. “Wait, I thought Tessie was moving out this week.”

The guy shifted uncomfortably. “Um, yeah, I know, that’s what I mean. She’s moving and so she’s going to have new roommates. But we’re, um…we’re moving too. The whole house is moving out. So we’re just trying to, you know, get some moving done early.”

I looked at my phone. “Well geez, it’s not even 4:00 in the morning,” I said, unsure of what to do.

“Yeah, well…” the guy drew the last word out. “Like I say, we’re just trying to be efficient. You scared us when you came in.”

“Yeah, I was afraid of that,” I said. “And I’m really sorry. Look, can I help you guys move out, as a sort of apology? You’ve all been so nice to host me, maybe I can give you a hand with all this.”

The guy stepped back, shaking his head vehemently. “Oh no, you definitely don’t need to do that,” he said. “We can do it, don’t worry about us, thanks though.” I noticed the girls were shaking their heads too and looking more nervous than ever.

But I stepped forward and took the TV from one of the girls. “No, I insist,” I told them, smiling kindly. “Let me get this for you. Are you parked out front?”

The three of them looked at each other, as if unsure of what to do. Then they started nodding slowly, mostly in unison. “Yep,” the guy agreed. “Um, it sure is. It’s a black pickup. New Jersey plates.”

“Alright,” I said, “I’ll throw this in there and come back up. Let’s get you moved out and we’ll be so efficient that Tessie won’t even notice until you’ve left the state!”

We all smiled at each other and laughed. And that’s how I came to inadvertantly help three random people rob my friend Tessie of nearly everything she owned.

The Sun Went Behind The Moon

Yesterday there was an eclipse, in which the moon passed in front of the sun. I'm not sure if that's a lunar or solar eclipse, but I'm not going to take the time to look it up online. Anyway, you know all about the eclipse already, because the world went freaking nuts over it for months. I don't know a damn thing about celestial activity, but I was as aware of the eclipse as I was of my own appointments. In many ways, actually, it was like an appointment. "Don't forget to watch the eclipse!" everyone was saying. And I didn't. Don't worry, I saw the eclipse. From Durango, so only like 75% totality, but hey, it was pretty cool anyway.

What was most interesting to me was how excited everyone got about the eclipse. People who can't be bothered to recognize the changing seasons made a point to leave work in the middle of the day to watch it. I think that people are interested in eclipses because we see the sun and the moon nearly every day, and to see them cross is very rare. But I think that most of us were interested in the eclipse only because we thought we were supposed to be. We have a vague notion that the movements of celestial bodies is a spiritual thing. Though we often laugh at horoscopes, they are still in our newspapers every day. And there are other cultures that noted and valued the movements of the sun, moon, and stars too - for those of us in the southwest, the Chaco culture is a peripheral influence that gives us a sense of the importance of these sorts of things. So when I drove through town and saw hordes of people in the streets looking at the sun (through special glasses, hopefully), I was more interested in the psychology behind the movement than in the event itself.

Not that I know anything about psychology. But it was hard not to be cynical about the fact that this one celestial event could draw so much attention when we have overwhelming, near-daily evidence of environmental issues that are perennially ignored. That's the problem, though: the sheer weight of the facts about something like climate change dilutes the power of any one fact, and besides, watching the moon cross the sun is spectacular, whereas increasing temperature averages or decreasing snow and ice cover is gradual and hard to discern. But think about what we could do if people were willing to leave work to take action on climate change or to preserve wild spaces in the same way they did so for the eclipse! Think about what we could do if the news media covered those issues the way they covered the eclipse! Maybe then more people would be able to make the connection between environmental issues and the very uncertain future their children face. 

Anyway, the eclipse sure was cool, and it made me want to learn more about the movements of the sun, moon, and stars. There is a lot going on up there that I don't take any note of, and I have a general desire to expand my worldview and my ability to observe the world, so this would be part of it. The eclipse also demonstrated a potential to mobilize people for environmental phenomena that could be very powerful if utilized fully. I've been fortunate enough to join forces with Protect Our Winters this year, and these sorts of things are often on my mind lately.

I still have a lot to learn though. Always a lot to learn.

There's Gotta Be Another Way

I drove from Durango to Silverton this morning, which is like an hour’s drive through some really spectacular mountains. I came up here to talk with Charlie Thorn, who was one of the founders of Hardrock. Lately I’ve been interested in how Hardrock has created and maintained its unique spirit and sense of community, to the extent that I’ve started reaching out to people to ask them about it. Last week Dale Garland sat down with me and told me all kinds of interesting facts, and this week Charlie Thorn agreed to give me some of his time. So here I am.

Because of the fact that the road to Silverton passes through some glorious mountain scenery, I was forced to face the fact that I have missed this entire summer of mountain running. When my leg was sore after the Lake Sonoma 50 in April, I never would have dreamed that I would basically lose my entire running season. But that’s what happened, and to say that this has been frustrating would be an understatement. I have dealt with a genuine existential crisis this year, trying to understand how something so simple as not being able to run could completely undermine my sense of self-worth. I’ve been forced to accept that despite my myriad interests, I am a pretty one-dimensional person. I recognized this while injured two years ago but I never fixed it. I just fixed the injury. Now I’m injured again and it’s time I fixed my personality instead.

But coming into the high country today made me sad, not angry, and it was not just because I can’t go for a long mountain run. I realized today that I almost completely forgot about the fact that running is only one way to experience the outdoors. My pattern while injured has always been to retreat into a sort of hibernation; to essentially live my normal life but without running. But I have built my life around running to such a degree that all my trips and nearly all my time outdoors (especially in wild places) is passed in some running capacity. I don’t take regular walks. I bike only occasionally. I’ve been rock climbing more than usual, but even that is mostly just in the morning. As a result, I’ve spent an embarrassingly-large proportion of my summer indoors. And you can probably understand why that would make me sad this morning as I came over the passes and remembered all the experiences and emotions these places stir in me.

So my goal now is to do much more than just recover physically. I hope to be able to run again, but it is now much more important to me to build a life that doesn’t rely so much on one act for fulfillment. Running is a gift that can be taken from us at any time, and that is an incredible liability if we don’t create full lives that draw from many different realms for meaning. This thought process has in fact helped me to realize that what has kept me in the running world since high school is the community, not just the act itself. I think that I would run if I had nobody to share it with, but it would never have become so important to me. The good people in this sport are what give it value.

To that end, my new goal is to connect with people more and on a much deeper level than I have in the past. One of the great things about mountain running is that it enables people to have challenging, powerful, and memorable experiences in wild places. In other words, mountain running facilitates adventure. And adventure is fun to hear about, so my goal is to start learning about some of the adventures that people have had in this sport and then to write them down. I like telling stories, and writing is a good excuse to go places and meet people. It helps me to break down social barriers and learn about other ways of life, and with practice I hope that maybe I’ll be able to convey the things I learn on paper. Maybe.

I’ll do my best. Why are you reading about all my bitching anyway? You should probably go for a run.

Or just a walk. I’m learning that those are often just as satisfying. The outdoors are there for everyone.

Hardrock 2017

Hardrock was probably a good lesson for me this year, because I was horribly jealous of all the runners for the whole week surrounding the race and that's not a very productive way to feel. It has been hard for me to recognize and accept that the last time I ran a 100-mile race - not simply Hardrock - was in 2012. Five years have passed in which I feel I haven't had much success in running, which obviously bums me out. But I've done some pretty cool other stuff too, and most importantly I'm still a part of the wonderful running community. I'm always reminded most strongly of that last point at Hardrock. Say what you will about the race; Hardrock is truly a family that tries to do the best it can for everyone involved.

As I did in 2015 - the last time the race went in this direction - I was in charge of parking ("The Parking Czar") at the Cunningham aid station. That's at mile nine and you'd be surprised at how many people want to get up to the aid station to see the runners come through. There are real spectators at Hardrock now, and I think that's great. To accommodate them, race organizers worked with a local jeeping company to shuttle non-crew-members up to the aid station. That meant only crews could drive to the aid, reducing overall congestion in the small valley. That job only lasted a few hours in the morning, and it was actually a great opportunity to say hello briefly to a lot of friends I haven't seen in a while, since I personally vetted nearly every car that went by. Well, I had lots of help too. But I tried to talk to everyone.

Anyway, after that was done, my other job was to support Adam Campbell in his run around the San Juans. Last summer I was at Rogers Pass in Canada with him and Nick Elson, climbing some peaks above the road, when Adam was caught in a rockfall that nearly ended his life. He broke many bones and we all got a helicopter ride off the mountain, and Adam has spent nearly all of the time since in focused recovery. To be able to run Hardrock again less than a year after such a horrible accident was an incredible accomplishment, and this fact was not lost on people. It seemed that everyone I talked to was inspired almost to the point of tears by Adam's story, and indeed when he finished the race there was not a dry eye for a half mile radius around the finish line. There has been much written on Adam's story, and Arc'teryx is working on a film about it too. But since this is my blog, I'll direct you to the article that I wrote about it on Outside Online: (OK, at this moment, it's not live, but stay tuned!)

 Here's ol' Adam at the finish line. We're all crying, so it's cool.

Here's ol' Adam at the finish line. We're all crying, so it's cool.

I'm still too injured to do any real running, but I spent lots of time at the aid stations. This is always a good time. I see all my old friends, we drink beer, tell stories, give each other shit, and occasionally cheer on the runners that go by. It's a super social scene and I love it. In some of my lower moments I have become jaded with the "scene" around ultrarunning. But that's stupid and only reflects my personal frustrations. When I let go of my self-pity, I find that I'm surrounded by a lot of really interesting, strong, and smart people. This is a good crowd to be part of, and I feel lucky to have been part of it for so long.

Nevertheless, after two days of constant socializing, I'm usually really ready for some alone time. So it was refreshing to drive up to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park near Montrose last Monday with Nick Elson. He came down from Squamish to pace Adam at Hardrock, then stayed some extra days to climb with me. We got to the Black Canyon on Monday evening and immediately climbed a mellow introductory route called Maiden Voyage, then camped under the brilliant stars alongside the tremendous cliff walls that continually echoed the sounds of the river thousands of feet below.

Early the next morning we shwacked into the canyon to the river and then spent some precious minutes trying to find the route. The Black Canyon is not what you would call "developed" for climbing. That's the whole point, in fact. Anyway, we got on route and I quickly found that my sense of my own abilities was inadequate there. Despite the grade being only 5.9 and that I regularly climb 5.10 at home, I spent nearly the whole day feeling insecure on holds and generally more gripped than normal. This was partly due to the different type of rock we were climbing on - slick gneiss, mostly - but I think it also had something to do with the intimidating nature of being in such an imposing feature. The Black Canyon is steep and deep, and it feels extremely committing. You do not want to have to bail off of routes in there. Those are the qualities that we were intentionally searching for by going there, but coming to terms with them was still a challenge. The good kind of challenge though.

 This is Nick Elson. He's cool. Remember that.

This is Nick Elson. He's cool. Remember that.

And fortunately, unlike the last time we climbed together (at Rogers Pass), Nick and I were not party to any disasters or tragedies. In fact, I think we were the only climbers in the canyon that day. We worked our way up the canyon walls over six hours and climbed the last few pitches in the full heat of the summer sun, which was difficult not so much because it was hot but because it made the rock almost too hot to touch. That was unexpected. But we managed to finish the route anyway and only ran out of water on the last pitch, which basically made the hike back to the truck pleasantly dry, meaning that finally drinking on the return was supremely satisfying.

I can't do nearly as much as I'd like right now. But even little adventures make a difference. You just gotta get out and try, right?

The Skiing Wasn't That Good

But hey – it was still skiing!

I recently skied something called the “4th of July Couloir” because it is normally skiable at least until that date. But the mountains have been warm and dry lately, so I went early, knowing that sooner would be better. Why did I want to ski it so badly? Honestly, I just wanted to do something different and a little silly. I didn’t have any delusions about finding good skiing, and I’m certainly not die-hard enough to search out skiing year-round in the worst places just to be on skis. I just thought that the contrast between dusty summer and steep ski turns would be pretty cool, so why not hike 12 miles to see if it could work?

I used an old pair of Dynafit skis because I knew that conditions would be shit and I didn’t want to ruin my Salomons. They were still very lightweight, and I just put the boots in a pack and the skis on the side and started hiking. I started at Molas Pass and hiked about 6 miles south on rolling terrain just below treeline, which was super nice. Summertime in the high alpine is wonderful, and it was full-on summertime. Everyone I passed asked me incredulously if I would actually be able to ski something. I just smiled and said, “I hope so!”

I got out to Crater Lake – at the base of the peak – in a little less than two hours. I wasn’t running at all, just hiking. My ongoing hamstring problem prevents me from running these days, but I seem to be able to hike without pain, so I’ve been trying to do that a lot. It doesn’t give me quite the same sense of satisfaction as running does, but at the same time it reminds me of the good of just slowing down and accepting the world for what it is, rather than trying to mold it to my own interests all the time. A long day of hiking is a great opportunity to think things over and make some sense of life.

So I wouldn’t have been at all heartbroken to reach the peak and find it unskiable.  I was just happy to be able to spend a long day outdoors in a beautiful place. But I was in luck – the couloir was “in”! To make a full circuit, I climbed the northeast ridge of Twilight, which is less a “peak” than a high ridge, and then traversed several hundred meters across the jagged summit to the top of the couloir. And then I sat down and ate a Clif Bar while looking at the view.

When was the last time you sat down to have a snack and enjoy the view while on a run? It had been a while for me. I like that sort of thing.

Soon enough I climbed down into the couloir and then hiked a bit further below the snow than was technically necessary. The top of the pitch was very steep and I’m not a super good skier. Even the place where I began skiing was a bit too steep for my abilities, as you can see in the video (posted below.) But I was fortunately able to stay in control about 80% of the time, which turned out to be just enough to not completely blow and cartwheel 1,000 feet down the mountain. Lucky me.

I made sketchy jump turns and just sort of slid sideways down the top bit of the couloir, but the last third of the descent was on a wide-open field of snow that should have permitted long, soaring turns at high speed. But since the gradient had lessened, the snow had developed some major suncups, which are these odd divots that form in high-altitude snow in summer as a result of uneven surface heating. And my skis were already hard enough to control, but on this surface I found that I was only touching the ground with like 3 square centimeters of ski at any time, and that made me almost more out of control than I had been above. Have I mentioned that I’m not a very good skier?

Anyway, I managed to get to the bottom without suffering any more serious injury than some cold knees and two very cold hands, and it wasn’t hard to decide, when looking back up at the line I had just skied, that one descent would be enough. I had considered maybe making a second trip up the peak, but I figured I was lucky enough to have avoided dying the first time and I didn’t need to take another chance. So, standing in the dust at the edge of the snowfield, I put my shoes back on, restowed my skis and boots, then shouldered my pack and started hiking back out. Six more miles, two more hours of walking in an alpine paradise. Springs of water everywhere, co-opting the trail for their creekbeds; wildflowers blooming; chilly wind contrasting the hot, unfiltered sun. This is the high mountains. This is southern Colorado. This is home.

It’s kind of stupid to ski at the end of June. It’s kind of stupid to hike 5 hours for sketchy snow. It’s kind of stupid to do a lot of the things we do in the mountains. But it made me feel good. These things don’t really need a point. I took a long walk for some crappy ski turns. It was a lot of fun.

It’s good to be home.

The Telluride Mountain Run

The Facts:

  • The Telluride Mountain Run is cancelled in 2017
  • It will return in 2018
  • The new race director will be Jared Vilhauer with Highline Running Adventures

The Story:

Jared Vilhauer is a long time San Juans local who now lives in Ridgway. In addition to managing Highline Running Adventures, he is also an instructor for Rigging for Rescue and a super accomplished alpine climber, though you wouldn't know that from talking to him because he's the most laid-back dude ever. When I told him I was cancelling TMR he got super pissed and start throwing things and the only way I could get him to calm down was to agree to let him direct the race. But he has too much on his plate this year. Therefore, we are going to cancel the 2017 edition of the Telluride Mountain Run and bring it back in 2018 with Jared at the helm.

I will continue to be involved in some capacity. For the 2018 edition I will help him with supplies and anecdotal advice and snide remarks about the way we used to do things, and after that I probably won't be invited back. But you can rest assured that Jared is at least as responsible as me and possibly even more so, if that's possible. He is going to do a great job directing the race and he will maintain the low-key, mountains-first ethic that I and my associates have promoted through the first four years of the race. TMR will still be TMR.

Although, there is a different race now with the same name, so please don't be confused: THERE WILL BE NO TMR IN 2017, and any other events have no affiliation with our race.

The support of our runners has been overwhelmingly positive, and I'd like to personally apologize for a terrible lack of communication on this matter until now. I have been unsure of what to do for a long time, and then after I made the decision to cancel the race I was hoping to just sort of slip out the back door and not make any noise. But you all spoke up, and it makes me feel so proud to think that TMR means this much to our runners that I want to hug each and every one of you. It makes me think that maybe we were able to channel a certain element of what makes a place like Telluride so wonderful into the experience of running 38 really hard miles. The race existed for you, and because of you, and would literally have been pointless without you. Your support has resurrected it from near-certain doom, and we hope to pay that compliment forward in the form of a continually spectacular event. Thank you so much for your support, and your patience, and your blood, sweat, and curses. We can't wait to have you back in 2018.

This is the end of the important part.

Reasoning

If you want to understand the personal reasons and thoughts that went into these changes, you can read my article about last year's race on Irunfar here. I have also excerpted part of an email I recently sent to the Forest Service explaining the decision. Looking at this now, I realize that the Forest Service is an organization to be admired. They balance countless competing interests with impressive facility, and after four years of working with them I personally felt valued enough to share this much with them. Anyway, check it out:

"I'd just like to follow up on the conversation you had with Jared Vilhauer about his taking over TMR in 2018. I have decided not to direct the race anymore. This is for several reasons that are quite complex and difficult to explain. But they boil down to my feeling that I was not doing enough good for the mountains or the town of Telluride to justify continuing the race. I don't live in Telluride, and even though Durango is close I am not able to be there enough to engage with the community on a deep level. Although we have always bought all our prizes and as many supplies as possible in Telluride and we have donated proceeds within the community, it's hard to feel like we are contributing enough.

I have also come to feel that Telluride already has enough events and tourists and I've started to worry that TMR is more of a burden than a boost to the community. We have had serious issues with people pulling our course markers and taking offense at our flagging, even after we introduced entirely biodegradable flagging for the offchance that we accidentally forgot one while sweeping. There was a part of me that always wanted to build TMR into a big multinational affair, but I have increasingly come to believe that small events are better for the town and the environment, to the extent that I now think it's probably best if I hold no race at all.

Nevertheless, after creating so much value within the community of mountain runners, it's hard to let go. Despite my misgivings I am deeply proud to have been able to provide a relatively safe but intensely difficult opportunity for people to challenge themselves in one of the most beautiful places in the state, and that is a powerful experience that is hard to describe. Now that I have announced TMR will be suspended this year, there has been an outcry that is actually quite touching. Runners love the race. So when Jared asked if he could take it over I told him absolutely. As you know, he is highly responsible and intelligent and just a good guy in general. Plus, he is a local, he knows the community, and he's deeply committed to putting on the race in the same low-key, sustainably-minded way that we have always tried. I trust him to continue to develop the race in a responsible way."

So there you have it: the story of TMR. It'll be back, but until then I guess you'll just have to head down to the San Juans for a few big runs to remind yourself why you do this crazy sport. This has been a difficult transition, but I'm excited to see it coming together again in a really cool way. Thank you again for all of your support. We're lucky to be part of this community

New Website

Welcome to my brand new website! It has been a long process. Ever since I let my previous website expire last fall while I was in Patagonia ignoring all my emails, I've spent many long hours telling myself to make a new one. That's a stressful occupation. Then I decided to do something about it and it took a few days but whatever, here it is. There's not a ton to see or read yet, but that's going to change. This website is going to be awesome, but I need your help. Give me your thoughts, suggestions, contributions. I need ideas and inspiration, conversation! Get involved everyone!

 Photo by Martina Valmassoi

Photo by Martina Valmassoi