If you're lucky enough to be in the mountains, you are lucky enough.

When something bad happens, you have three choices: let it define you, let it destroy you, or let it strengthen you.

The purpose of life is to discover and develop your gift. The meaning of life comes from sharing your gift with others. - David Viscott

Friday, October 11, 2019

The smell and wonders of coming Fall.

Fall is by far my most favorite season. Season of cooling air with occasional crisp flying by, a little more clouds in the sky, shortening days, beginning of leaves turning all kinds of bright color, and eventually all the living green things dropping them...Foliage. Dropping what is no longer needed, what no longer provides the reason to live. Dropping, to prepare, eventually, after a long winter sleep and gathering strength, to grow new ones, fresh, a sign of growth and change, again...
It is especially nice season because it bears my birthday, smack in the middle. And this year I am celebrating a big 5-0. I am not afraid of saying that, in fact, I have been saying it for good 2-3 years all along, just couldn't wait. Big half-century behind, I am looking forward to my next chapter, and I have all intention to live another half a century. The day itself was quite ordinary, just as it's supposed to be - a day in the calendar, Wednesday. Wednesday meant a track workout in the dark of the morning, and a yoga class at 9:30 am with my favorite teacher. It is after that when I felt a little more special - Larry took time off work and we drove to check off the list of near-by things to see a Royal Gorge Bridge. Spanning 400 m over the canyon that is 400 m deep, it is a tourist attraction. We weren't too impressed no scared, but it was still a get-away, followed by a nice coffee shop stop and an amazing find of local Thai food restaurant, best we ever tried.

Another great thing that happened that day? It marked a 1 year anniversary of our putting an offer on this house - AND a completion of a 3-months long renovation. I will not be posting photos of it of my own (well, ok, just a couple), because the best way to check it out is on the #thisoldhouse blog that Larry keeps - a much more detailed and thorough description. Highly recommend! We absolutely love how it turned out, even if living through this was pretty nighmarish.

Speaking of anniversaries, we clicked through 10 years of our wedding date in September! To acknowledge that and to get away from the people who kept "hanging out" in our home (a.k.a. contractors), we rented a cabin in the woods near a four pretty popular 14-ers. The cabin and property itself were spectacular (if way overpriced...oh, well, 10 years, we didn't go to Europe or Bahama), but the 14-ers (Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln, Brass) were blah. Piles of rock, lots of people, and really bad weather - below freezing at the start with winds all morning blowing 20-50 mph. We basically "ran" (as much as we could, anyway) through the link-up of them in 4 hrs, and decided we will neer be those kind of folks who make it a point of their lives to visit "all" 14-ers in CO. If they happen to be on our way - sure. But in general, we LOVE green (trees, grass, anything) that does not grow that high, and we definitely appreciate seclusion (no crowds for us!). Done, and done.

September also measured my 26 years in America - I have officially lived here more than half of my lifetime. I have two, a Home-Land and a Home-State.

There were trail runs, hikes, and a local Porch Festival. Life was full, and presented challenges and good things to smile about.

I went back to Portland, my home-state away from home. Despite living there the least in amount of years, comparing to NY and TX, I lived the most in experiences, emotions and friends while there. My heart forever attached to Oregon. And, of course, my kids are there - a raw love, unconditional, that will draw me for the rest of my life. Plus, my "self-appointed sister" and her family is there as well. Yet another home it is...
The work had picked up since mid-September big time, and I am feeling, again, needed, useful, and a little bit financially helpful for the family unit. We even did a photoshoot! Changing a few things on the website, ordering business cards, spreading the word - all those little things added up, plus, as Dr. Cash, my chiropractor I work for, says: "All we need is to put people on your table, and they will be back". That is what's happening - and I feel blessed. There will be trips to Austin, still, to see my co-workers at Myo and my committed clients (grateful to be able to do so!), but it is good to know I am not lost to the field and can utilize my expertise right here. I added some perks to my massages by purchasing a towel warming cabinet and towels, and that (as always) was a hit with clients.

We got another trip in - to see another kid of ours, Larry's son Harrison. He is a freshman in Texas Tech in Lubbock, and is doing fantastic, all matured, smart and responsible. It was so good to be there for the Parents Weekend and spend some time with him, on and off campus.
The day after my 50th birthday the first cold front arrived - temperatures dropped to teens and snow fell all day Thursday. It was absolutely beautiful, and marked the new beginning. I love the white fluff on the ground, trees covered, bright sunshine, and crisp nippy air for my morning runs. It'll be back to mid-30's at night and mid-60's during a day for a while, but this couple of days gave us a taste of what's coming.

What's coming is more life to live. Bring it!

Sunday, September 01, 2019

Collegiate Loop no more

I DNF'ed. Is that what I should be calling bailing out of my attempt at FKT on Collegiate Peaks loop? Because it surely felt like a race in a progress. I gave up on it, half-way through. I had severe pain in my stomach on the second night, which lead to not being able to sleep a wink (however little I ever do sleep in those situations), jeopardizing my ability to put yet another 17 hr hard hiking day, plus there were no road crossings going into day 3, in case whatever pain I was experiencing would need a medical attention...but mostly, it was hearing the cougar mating call on the very first pre-dawn morning, and then moose call on the second night while sleepless in pain, very close (after I walked by one starring me down that very evening) that elevated my PTSD from last summer's Colorado trail mountain lions stocking me that sealed the "I've got to get the hell of this thing". Not to mention the whole second day I kept thinking - I am passing beautiful places, high alpine lakes, bear peaks, valleys with logs to sit on - and not only do I not have a minute to stop and sit and enjoy, I barely have a second to give it a glance. The main reason I go into the mountains is to experience my Church, to speak to my God, to be IN the nature, pure as high air and vast vistas...and here I am, far from any of that, pushing...and full of absolutely enormous fear of ending up on the low side of the food pyramid..
And this how my story went. It had a very brief beginning - about couple of weeks of something I could call "training", a travel-enforced week of "tapering", an email to FKT website holder announcing my attempt at making 165 miles around Collegiate Peaks Wilderness Loop in about 4 days give or take. A day pouring over the maps and breaking sections down into manageable (or not very) proposed charts, a hope to make it in the evening (however late) of day 4, making it "officially" somewhere close to 3 days and 18 hrs (worst case scenario 4 days and some odd hours). An old backpack ready at my most ever minimal level - 30 lbs, piece of cake! And on Wednesday, August 28th, after a 1 am wake up call (bless Larry's heart), I was standing at Princeton Hot Springs resort at 3:20 am, in pure darkness. I knew it is late in the season - moving to a new place and dealing with a lot of things, time escaped away from making more coherent plan - and the days are short. I was prepared, sort of, to hike in the dark. But, there was a lot of dark ahead...
The first 2+ miles are on the road going North, and literally, before the road section even ended. this is where I heard a 2-minute cat call - I knew what it sounded like, yet, since I still had an internet service, I actually pulled a couple of Youtube videos. As if I needed confirmation. Great. Here we go. I almost called Larry immediately, before he drove away too far. But I stepped into the darkness of the woods, and, instead, began loudly singing whatever came to my mind (I barely know a few Russian songs half-way through, so mostly it was make-up-as-you-go) and wildly flashing 3 (!) flashlights into the woods.
The dawn didn't even begin breaking until 6 am. Once the grey appeared, I sighed and walked more firmly. My pace fell into a fast one, I was hitting points slightly ahead of prediction...God, even here I am speaking of it as describing a race! And because it was an official attempt at the "record" (FKT), I wore a Garmin watch for prove, thus I was actually watching my pace - instead of looking at the surroundings! Damn! Yes, I was. And taking photos not because something inspired me, but as a double-prove "being there".
Yet, indeed, the day went well. I pushed on, consuming all kinds of power-bar types of food purchased at the cheapest cost in regular grocery store, and even cold-soaking Ramen noodle around 6 pm and stopping for my one and only 20 min break, washing off and eating it.

I climbed my first 11+k peak, passed the sight I spent one of the nights at last year, plunged down, and rolled on. Really, it was such a blur, I got not much to say. I didn't hurt, I was moving well, there was plenty of water on the trail, and I was putting calories down as needed. It wasn't bad at all.
By that stop at 6 pm I was 38.5 miles in. A longest day I ever had on a trail with a backpack. But, still daylight, I decided to push on and get ahead some more miles. Things were getting tiring, yet with sun down my clip was still perky. On top of the next hill I had powerlines - and cell service - and I caught up with Larry. Where I learned that our contractors f*cked up, yet again, on the kitchen cabinets installment. To add to a pretty long list of a bunch of mistakes they keep doing - 40 years in business and best referral rate be damned! I hung up, I said I couldn't afford to loose focus. Time for the daylight was running out - and just like that, at 7:45 it got pretty grey, at 8 pm - dark and a need of a headlamp, and at 8:10 - peach black. I entered a fear zone, with still nearly 3 miles to go...
I got to Twin lakes trail intersection exactly at 9 pm, and plopped my tent right there, at the intersection, not moving a steep further. I had enough of yet another bout of loud screams as I rushed here, and who's there to hike past me at this hour anyway? I scrambled to set a tent, and eat something, and get semi-organized for tomorrow. 46 miles. Nearly 18 hrs. Holy fuck.
The alarm came at 3:30 am. I took my time packing inside, contemplating not getting out until the dawn. But, alas, that would not be beneficial for the miles I had to put - and the difficulty of the route I had ahead that day. Next 2 days I was entering the "real high country", where I had to climb plenty of 12,500 - nearly 13,000 peaks one after another. My prediction for the mileage on those days was realistically shortened, yet it still required same 17 hrs of hiking. Oh, well. Dark 4:15 am it is, more singing and clanking my poles...
The dawn came as I saw Hope Pass trail weaving up ahead - one I remembered from my Leadville 100 miler back in 2005. There's nothing easy on this pass, and if the part going up this side was at least pretty (if steep and hard), part going down towards Winfield was by far steeper, rockier, with loose sliding gravel, and I hated it as much (if not more) as I did 14 years ago.
As I said, at least the way up was spectacular. If I had a chance to enjoy it. This is where the thought "Jeez, I wish I could sit right here and inhale this amazing view" came for the first time.
I couldn't. I made it to the top, and it was what I remembered - a flat pass with flags tied up to the pole, Everest style. In my experience, the only one done that way, I could never figure out why.
I snapped a photo - and took on this insane fugly descend, swearing under my breath. I think it took me as long to get down as it did to come up, and less pleasant. The sun was out, getting hot, and I questioned my sanity, yet again.
Up ahead was another climb, Lake Ann pass, as high, a little longer, with yet another gorgeous alpine lake near the top, and volunteers working on improving the trail. I chatted for a minute, took another couple photos, noticed the clouds rolled in (but no thunder or rain around), and rolled down on the other side - at least this time it was far better footing.

I set a goal to stop by the creek for my Ramen break, and I did my 20 min rest there. The thoughts of "why" kept nagging at me, but I was determined. I was almost half-way done, miles and days, so I told myself "last time", got up and kept pushing.
At the bottom, on a flat 3 mile stretch to cross a Texas creek, I caught up with a young guy (a part of a 4-dudes hiking party), and we talked. That was my one and only interaction in those 2 days that lasted more than 2 sentences. It was great to share past hikes, runs, reasons...it is here where I vocalized that as impressed as he was (he was doing 15-17 miles a day), I really did think what I am doing is stupid, unnecessary and all other bad words. I even showed him a couple of spots I would have loved to stop right about now (coming on 6 pm), yet instead I had to keep banking the miles...
Texas creek is a wade, some years higher than others - this time one could hop over rocks, but with my clumsiness, I didn't dare. He took a photo of me (a more normal one than a number of selfies I despise but resorted to while hiking alone), I said hi to his 2 buddies, and begged them to come up higher for camp, so maybe I didn't have to feel alone. They sort of promised, as I left them behind - there was a campsite by the pond 2 miles up.
But as I climbed by that proposed site, at 7 pm, I realized - I am a full 3 miles short of the goal. I couldn't afford to stop. I briefly pondered: safe night, yet an hour earlier start and 3 hrs of dark hiking instead of 2, or push now, possibly get into dark end, but camp alone - yet that "planned" end of day 2 was right next to a paved road, with hopes to see cars passing occasionally. I chose the latter.

I walked as fast as I could, passing bushes and creeks (and thinking - OMG, at 3-4 am it'd be a heart attack imagining lion's hunting ground), passing a huge moose bull starring at me as I walked mere 20 feet above him - never taking his eyes off me...and I pushed so hard, I broke one of my poles a mile from the Cottonwood pass, my destination in still a fading grey light. Yet I felt accomplished. I made it. I am one mo-fo, I don't need help, I am tough...
I crossed the road on top of the pass - and yes, there were cars! I was elated. The plan worked! I walked up the hill on the other side of the trail, literally, 150 feet, and set my tent down - at 8 pm, I still was able to do so without a headlamp! Success! 36.5 hard miles, 3 passes, just under 16.5 hrs. I am ok, I am going to make it!

I even managed to "enjoy" few seconds of sunset. I spotted it, while working on a tent. Ah, damn. Wouldn't it be nice to have a hot cocoa right about now? Instead, I pulled my cold-soak Ramen, and damn, it was cold! I tried to eat it, but couldn't get past half of it. Whatever. Another granola bar. Nope, not going well. As I laid in my sleeping bag, temperatures dropping rapidly to 30F, I begin having a nausea, heartburn and severe stomach cramps. What is that? While my stomach is really a "snowflake" sort of organ, with IBS, a bunch of food sensitivities, and general unhappiness, somehow I was blessed to never had a problem during backpacking trips. Ultrarunning - yes. Hiking - no. In retrospect, this was more of the former than the latter, but in the moment, I was in pain and sort of scared of not understanding the cause. Not being able to lay comfortably, in sharp stubbing pain attacks, cold, sleepless by midnight, thinking that on sleep deprivation, in unknown stomach condition, and absolutely not a single road crossing for the next 35 miles, I could be putting myself in danger. All the "why's", or lack thereof, rose to surface. I kept saying this Russian phrase "Mornings are wiser than nights", thinking if I still feel like that by 4 am, I get down. If I am any remotely better, I take my chance - I "only" have 2 more dark mornings to endure! Half-way, baby, in miles and days! Don't give up!

And then, at midnight,  I hear it. It sounded different than the first morning, but it was loud, much closer, and I froze in fear, scrambling for my 2-inch knife and a flashlight ready...Then I hear car stopped, doors slammed, voices - and I scream "help!". Steps. A hunter. "Are you hurt?". No, but was that a mountain lion? No, that was moose mating call, we hunt them during their heat season. Great, that feels better...sarcasm in my head. "Can you take me to town?". He says they are going deeper into the mountains, and leaves. I am terrified. I am pretty resolved I am done. There's still a flicker I might change my mind, still that "I am tough, half-done, don't give up, there are expectations, last time, make it to the morning..."

Just around 1 am, a car stops down at the parking lot, and there are voices. I lay quietly. Now, to add to other fears, I am thinking: drunk dudes with guns, bad intentions? And female voice comes through - and my body gives up before the mind realizes it. I yell "wait for me" and begin packing in, shoving things into my pack without rhyme or order. The yell "Are you hurt", and I just keep repeating "Wait, I am packing, I'll be down". It seemed to have taken me forever - probably 5 min tops, but felt forever, I was afraid they'd leave. I scramble down. 3 women and a guy. A guy, it turns out, is a warden by profession. He was off duty (celebrating his day off with these 3 female friends at hot springs resort nearby, drinking and carrying on), when on his (not turned off" phone a call from that hunter came "There is a distraught women up on the pass". No other information. He happened to be the closest to the place, beer in hand and all, and responded to the call. One of the ladies was in drive-able condition, they piled into a car, and came to the pass I was at. They were actually not there by accident, but looking for me. Huh. Well, take me to civilization, please.

The drive to Buena Vista took a good 30 min, and a lot was said. My pretty much whole life's story squeezed in. And his "I don't take cougar's mentioning lightly, there is an increased activity, a lot of sighting lately, a girl snatched in Aspen, a dog eaten the other day...". Great. Fear more.

It didn't matter. I had no regrets. I was done. It still wasn't easy to accept, but by now I was burning hot, running fever, still in pain, still sleepless, still 80 miles away from done and 35 in high peaks with no roads...

They dropped me off at the only open spot in town - Love's truck stop, and after giving hugs to each, I walked in, disheveled and shaking. "I promise I am a normal human, just off the mountain hike" I told to a female attendant. She was wonderful, showing me to the corner with the tables. I had a hot dog, a coffee, and huddled in the corner waiting for a more coherent time to call my husband.
I eventually spilled my disappointment over Facebook, and almost immediately got a text from my friend Meredith. She was in Europe with her honey Paul ready to run UTMB, so the timing worked great (who else would be up at 2 am?!). She consoled me, and urged me to let Larry know. I did. Bless his heart many more times, again.He didn't even flinched. "I am on my way". By 5 am we were back home, crying, still in this weird pain, but no longer in fear and demand to continue.

I am disappointed...No, I take it back. I actually have no doubt I would have done it, in time I wanted to, and most likely be absolutely ok (meaning safe from the animals, albeit with more grey hair). That whole "Olga's tough", yeah, it's true. In fact, not only in my past examples and experiences of living back in Soviet Russia, building roads in Siberia, moving to USA with no English or able to work by my profession, and all those endurance events...no, my "tough" comes from the corner of my life very few know, but those who do, make sure they tell me how bewildered, impressed, terrified at the thought of living it, they are. So, ok. I go for endurance events not because I am tough, physically. But because I want to escape from the "being tough" in daily thoughts.

And being scared, apparently, was what, technically, broke me down. I live "scared", of  completely different level scared. Paralyzing fear I have to overcome every day, every night, every minute. One I have absolutely no control of. And in that, it explains my stopping. In this case, I COULD control the situation. Not doing so was going against my whole being. I could do something to prevent fear of being sick and weak alone in the mountains with wild animals - so I did.

So I have no regrets. Next 2 days I kept dozing off, but I wasn't sore (to my surprise). My stomach didn't let go for 2 full days. On the first day I couldn't make it around the block. On the second, I walked 4 miles to a coffee shop and back slowly, without jerky movement - but it was still giving my acute attacks. Only today I am closer to my normal "I always have tummy stuff". So, whatever it was, it took that long to better.

I dealt with immediate issue on the kitchen, and have a list of what to say comes Tuesday. The list is pretty long - so disappointingly so. Mistakes that should not be done by professionals of 40 years. Stupid omissions. Measurements errors. And - not admitting "sorry", but rather grudgingly "ok, we'll fix it". We loose a lot of sleep over this reno. We're stuck with them though, to the finish. Between a rock and a hard place. But we'll get over and through, and the house will be beautiful.

I used my time back wisely. I cleared the side of the house off the old vines attached to a wired grid. Larry took care of an old leak in the basement under the floor. I weeded, he mowed. We still have a Labor day, and we still may make a hike in the mountains, short on - if my stomach allows this stress.

And so I keep thinking of "why". I think I outgrown it. I think I knew it when I announced last summer, after my Colorado Trail in 15 days (FKT and all) that I am done with extreme. A number of people commented this "You are a definition of extreme", "Olga-tough", and all the good words. Sometimes I feel I live the life that is expected of me. On a roll. Maybe because I never knew another life? I said I want to hike few miles with Larry and sit down early at the fireplace with a s'mores in hand...but I have never done it. I, quite literally, don't know how it feels. I imagine it feels wonderful..

We missed out on this summer, adjusting to a new place, new life, this renovation going on, trips planned. But, we live here now. There will be more summers. I will be able to experience the "slow". For that, I need to stop life as I "know" it, at extreme, with a point to prove. I just want to be normal. And if there's a certain part of my life, that dark corner few are aware of and one I have absolutely no control over, yet which controls my whole being, is still extreme - I absolutely MUST chose a calmer life where I CAN control.

I stopped the "inspirational" hike. I am ok with that. Now. Can I inspire you to look deeper inside you and ask "why". And as long as you got one (or few) - I had mine, for years, decades - go ahead, do it! But if the question hangs in the air unanswered - slow down a bit, maybe stop for a second. See if it's for you. We struggle either way, whether we push, or not. Externally or internally. It's a cycle of sorts. Change is ok. At least that's what the smart books say. :)