Your Body is Your Vehicle (take it on an epic adventure)

I am interrupting the previously scheduled European vacation programming to have a brief discussion about an essay I read today.

This essay made me so angry, and so happy at the same time.

Angry because of this:

I did some quick Googling on the topic, and there are a handful of “will cycling make my legs bigger?” articles out there. I even found a video titled “How to ride your bicycle without bulking up your quads, thighs, & legs.”

And exceptionally happy because of this:

I want a body that takes me places. I want to see things. I want thighs that help me to pedal hard up a hill. I want to feel things. I want a heart that’s happy and healthy, physically and emotionally.

I want to feel alive.

Most importantly, I know that I want a lifestyle that’s more full of “fuck yeahs” than feeling bad about what I should or shouldn’t look like.

I surprised myself by becoming completely enraged that there exist women who desire to ride a bike, but are stopped by fear of gaining muscle. I want to weep for everyone who let society squash their dreams, ideas and even their most seemingly insignificant desires. I want to punch every person who ever propagated the idea that a human body should appear a certain way.

I am also thinking about the three weeks I just spent exploring mountains, hiking, climbing, running and walking every possible inch of the Alps that I could get my hands and feet on. I didn’t think about my body as an object that was right or wrong. I didn’t think about what body parts I liked or disliked or wanted to change or what I feared to be judged. I thought only about where it could take me, how strong I could make it; I thought about what amazing shape I’d be in and how good it would feel if I spent the rest of my life trekking around Alpine towns, eating bread and butter, drinking wine and espresso and huffing and puffing on mountain ridges above the clouds; running, climbing, smiling.

I want to spend the rest of my days wearing clothes that are comfortable when I’m sweating, and cozy when I’m relaxing. I want to forever not care about what my body looks like, and start admiring it for what it can do and where it can take me. I want everyone around me, everyone reading this and everyone in existence to start to see their bodies as amazing vehicles for amazing, epic adventures.

Thank you Anna Brones for writing this essay. You are my hero today.

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The Grand Chamonix Vacation — chapitre deux

Chamonix, Day … I have no idea what day we’re on. It’s Tuesday. I know this only because we are keeping track of when we need to check out of the apartment and catch a train to Zermatt. And because we are counting how many good climbing days we have left in the French Alps. I expect that I personally will get in one more day of alpine climbing, one possible day of multi-pitch rock and one trail run. The weather has been less than ideal, but I am happy with everything I’ve done and seen in the time we’ve been abroad. Three weeks is a long time to be away from home when you are not accustomed to it, but I’ve impressed myself — this atmosphere has been easy, my anxiety has been dulled, my stress limited; my knee is feeling quite good, my sinus turmoil seems to have righted itself, and though I’m beginning to feel a bit tired and in need of some additional rest, I’m actually feeling quite well, physically and emotionally.

I wanted to get out of my comfort zone, to push myself to do something new, and I have been successful.

Here are a few quick photos! More to follow.

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The Grand Chamonix Vacation — chapitre un

Chamonix, day 2. As is common with my vacations, rain began on day one of our trip, letting up slightly before continuing on to day two. With snow and high winds devouring the Alps hidden in the clouds above, our fruitless wishing and waiting did not re-open the lift to Pointe Helbronner, and subsequently to our anticipated climb on the Petit Flambeau (or anywhere else). We took the lift up to Midi in the early afternoon, with hopes of a semblance of a view and to familiarize ourselves with the surround, only to be greeted by white out conditions. A glimpse of the Arete des Cosmiques. A closed restaurant. A quick trip back down the lift. Wine. Crepes. Shops. Fin.

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Into the great white sky. Looking up the cables from the mid point.

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Warm inside. Ice outside.

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Back in Cham, watching the weather.

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du cafe!

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A Poem For My Readers

As I wander in and out of the blog-o-sphere
I often wonder … does anyone know I’m here?
My posts are sparse, though my ideas are many
Drafts are long stuck in writing purgatory

Countless hours spent thinking through each idea
Less hours even drafting on computer media
My notebook is full, my scribbles are many
But my curser blinks endless on pages empty

In my head I’m a writer! with content a-plenty
I have readers and fans, surely more than twenty
I work hours and hours to perfect my craft
Honing my skills, working hard on each draft

But reality is, I work all day at a desk
I work for “the man” — it can be quite a test
I dream of outdoors, adventures galore
And writing about them all day and more

Have faith in me, readers — I’ll one day live my dream
Exploring the world, as I travel, plot and scheme
With my pack on my back, van keys in my hand
I’ll venture on to mountains, rivers and sand

I’ll be lost among the trees, deep in a canyon
Dips in alpine lakes — always, always planning
Petroglyphs, ancient ruins and history
Nature, fresh air, tomorrow a mystery

Find me back here one day, filling in the blanks
For the future opportunity, I’ll give thanks
I’ll pay it forward, I’ll spread all the love
From a snowy mountain, way high above

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Aging is Awesome.

I love getting old.

Well, “old” is subjective.

But I don’t feel like a kid anymore, and I’m certainly not a young adult. In fact, most of my hair is white. Even though I keep it died black, the roots are getting brighter and brighter. After I die it, I have a subtle brown streak — which is actually a spot of very white hair underneath it all. My mother had something very similar. It was her skunk stripe, and it was next to impossible to permanently color it. We also both went grey very early on.

I appreciate every moment when I realize how naive I was when I was young, and a revel in the moments when I recognize that I am gaining the wisdom that only comes with age and life experience. I am finally able to calmly absorb criticism and get excited to learn something new. I only wish I had more time to do and learn more things. I no longer feel like there is so much life ahead of me — instead I feel as if I’m in the thick of it, and the time to really live is not only right now, but every day, always. I say yes more often. I face my fears more frequently.

I move slower, but I’m more honest with myself. I’m finally able to embarrass young people by mocking them. I wear “old lady” shoes because they are comfortable, rather than because they are fashionable. I don’t mind being silly or ridiculous in public, and laughing is more important that looking good.

That said, I find myself pulled in many directions as I fight to fit in all the things I want to do every day. Some things are obligatory responsibilities, others are an investment in my health, and the rest ignite an amazing passion within me … or maybe just because they are more fun that the alternatives. That leaves me taking breaks from blogging, even though I have always loved to write.

However ….

I have started filling my notebook with ideas again. I have been taking notes, starting drafts, talking about ideas and directions and I’ve very excited. This summer I want to talk about adventures, what I’ve been learning, how to be inspired, and how to stay safe. I will also have about a million photos and adventures to share from the French Alps in a few weeks!

More and more I have been learning and growing from the outdoor community around me, and I am increasingly and continually in awe, oozing with appreciation, and building my motivation. There is so much wonderful out there. I aim to experience as much of it as possible. Stay tuned.

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Shorts, Mountains and Goals

I’ve been binge listening to the She Explores podcast and you should, too. I surprisingly discovered it recently through the Luna Grey Fiber Arts Instagram account. Episode one hit me like a ton of bricks. I completely related. If something scares you, you should probably do it.

I kept listening and more and more I found myself moving from intimidation to understanding to connection. I continue to find myself comparing my life to the lives of others, always placing myself at a deficit: not good enough, not skilled enough, not experienced enough, not brave enough. But that’s not reality. What is real is that I am adventuring in my own way, in my own time, and my life is not comparable to others, just as others’ are not comparable to mine, or to each other. We are all individuals, mapping our own journeys through life, discovering our inner-most selves and figuring out what makes us tick. I find that I oft surround myself with people who I think push harder than I do — but I realized that maybe I am pushing just as hard. They motivate me to keep going, to make it to the next level. They have more experience and more fitness than I do right now, but that doesn’t make my effort worth less.

Two weekends ago I attempted a climb that I wasn’t sure I was ready for, but I had a distance goal and an emotional goal. Five of us set out to climb the Mt. Whitney Mountaineers Route as part of our training for a trip to the French Alps this summer. I was out of my element and I was nervous; the others had their own goals, which I found more admirable than my own (and part of my goal was to be emotionally comfortable with this variance). To my surprise however, we met someone else with an entirely different goal; someone who upended my entire emotional outlook for this trip.

We met Harrison only meters from Iceberg Lake. He rounded the bend in shorts and tennis shoes with microspikes. We were head-to-toe windproof, waterproof and insulated; just a handful of gear junkies obsessed with every winter gear sale on the internet. Harrison bought his REI shorts second-hand. How was he not cold?

I looked at my friends and said, “he’s going to Canada.”

And Harrison was indeed going to Canada. By foot. In shorts.

We camped together next to the frozen, snow covered lake and I learned a little about Alaskan salmon fishing, and a lot about myself. I don’t know if I’d call the snow hike to Iceberg Lake the hardest physical thing I’ve ever done — maybe yes, maybe no, and maybe it is all relative — but it was hard emotionally and mentally. Very hard. My knee is healing and I’m stronger than I have been in a very long time, but training in the gym or in the comfort of familiar places did not prepare me for the alpine environment. Breathing at 12,000 ft, with no appetite, everything tasting like cardboard, forcing myself to eat and drink and take deep breathes; fighting anxiety, a bout of depression and claustrophobia … it was the same roller coaster I went through on Baldy two weeks ago, minus the extra knee pain and multiplied by a hundred.

I didn’t summit on Sunday morning. I didn’t even make the attempt. My goal was to make it camp, to get comfortable with the environment, and to be comfortable on my own. I almost didn’t make it that far. After our first big ascent on Saturday, I collapsed in the snow next to Lower Boy Scout Lake and lost it. I cried tears of delusion, crashing hard from a lack of calories, gasping to breathe after overexerting myself in the thin air, blubbering on about my wonderful, awful life until the energy chews that were force fed to me took effect. What a nightmare. Now I know what this is all about.

Later that day, as the group was setting up camp, building a snow wall, flattening ground and racing the sun, I sat exhausted, trying to muster up what energy I could to pitch in. It felt like forever before I could move my body, doing my meager share of the work. I managed some duties, warming up as I moved around, very slowly eating dinner, then laying in the tent, chatting, trying to relax. I managed a full twelve hours in the tent without a claustrophobia induced panic attack.

But I was okay. I didn’t summit, and I was okay. Half of our group came back from the notch around noon, the other half returned from the summit about an hour later.

And Harrison. He had attempted the traverse over the ridge and returned late in the morning, shut down by weather and making a smart choice to descend for a reassessment of gear. In our time lounging at camp, while the others made their summit bids, Harrison made a comment to me about reevaluating life … the choices we make; what we do and how and when. I could tell he was less than happy with himself for turning back, but no one can judge him for that choice. We know the right choices for ourselves, and only we can honestly evaluate our goals, and our perceptions of our goals are our own, for us to determine how they fit best into our lives.

I later heard in an episode of She Explores: The only thing that can ruin a hike is your attitude. I needed to reevaluate my own life, my own goals; my attitude. I came home happy with myself for pushing for my own goals. Our goals are our own, independent of others and we are each mapping our own journeys.

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The Cost of Mt. Baldy

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This week has been an emotional one. I’ve started this blog post three times now, and the words never seem to quite make sense. I wanted to write about my experience stomping up to the summit of Mt. Baldy this weekend, the grand cycle of emotions I went through to get there, and the tears that nearly froze to my face in the frigid mountain wind. I wanted to write about the pain and injury and healing and recovery I’ve been going through. Or maybe how wiped out my obsessive goal setting has made me; and my constant creation of checklists and to-do notes. These things become words and the words don’t mesh well and I can’t even stand to read my own writing, an act that has become oddly comforting, reminding me that I can take the thoughts from my busy mind and release them, freeing them from cycling over and over in my mind, giving my attention permission to let them go.

This weekend was big. I have recognized the profound effects of supporting friendships on motivation and self-esteem; on belief in myself and the inspiration of confidence. I have recognized the profound effects of the relationship with self on the healing of the body; taking time to care for oneself, prioritizing physical and emotional needs before wants.

And I have recognized the profound effects of my relationship with nature, how it toys with my mind, taunting me deeper, and cycling my emotions. My relationship with the mountains is complicated. They call me, yet I fear them. The lure me in, then abuse me. They occupy my mind, though I oft try to set them aside. I excitedly set out to climb them, yet question my every step, only realizing the mistake was not a mistake when I finally reach a goal I never knew I had.

Mountains and I, we have a strange relationship — particularly Mt. Baldy. I hobbled onto the summit this weekend, holding back tears. Reaching the top, I could not contain myself. I sobbed. I sat and I cried tears of pent-up frustration, of joy, of relief, of disbelief. Six months ago, if you asked me if I’d ever climb up Mt. Baldy with an axe and crampons, I’d have laughed. Not only was that god-awful hill a near impossibility with the condition of my right knee, but in the snow? Six months ago a doctor told me this type of hiking was no longer an option for me. Less than three months ago another doctor told me I’d finally be able to heal again and get strong. Last Monday that doctor told me I was ready to start pushing harder. I pushed hard. Maybe too hard. Every step down to the car was excruciating. Every step down that mountain was a price paid to sit on top of it. To sit on the summit of that hill was costly. And yet I continue to pay, again and again. I’ll get stronger. I’ll keep pushing. It will get easier. But there will always be bigger mountains to climb. And there will always be a price. And I will always be willing to pay. 

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