I am a girl who loves mountains, changing seasons, running, true backpacking, strong coffee, and knitting with high quality yarn.

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

Sunday, August 26, 2018

August

The longer the journey, the less weight each moment carries.” That's life to you...

Well, if you stopped by on the tail of my story on Colorado trail throughhike in hopes to find something exciting - you may exit now, and unfollow the link that lead you here. Fun stuff of that magnitude happens only once a year, the rest of it - simply life. Like yours, and your next door neighbor's. This blog is my journal, my diary, and besides myself, my husband. and a (quite literally) a handful of my close friends, nobody else cares about a journey I take on a daily basis.

As always, coming from such a high as 15 days in the mountains, and in the fancy word of an FKT to boot, was hard. The mountain lions helped though, in a weird way. They've taken my high down to reality. While I swore off solo hiking, of course, as time passed, I considered some - smaller versions, and certainly only if I can camp near other hikers, what means the trail can't be too remote and underpopulated. But in general, I am truly looking forward hiking with Larry. More so, I am looking forward living in a state which I just hiked through.

With that, two words coming from some odd source, have been highlights of the first couple of weeks post-arrival to Austin:

#1. Sisu is an untranslatable Finnish term that blends resilience, tenacity, persistence, determination, perseverance and sustained, rather than momentary, courage: the psychological strength to ensure that regardless of the cost or the consequences, what has to be done will be done. I can relate to that.
#2. Russian word Toska. It translates as yearning or ennui, except it doesn’t. Spiritual anguish, a deep pining, perhaps the product of nostalgia or love-sickness, toska is depression plus longing, an unbearable feeling that you need to escape but lack the hope or energy to do so. Toska is a sign that your emotions go beyond logic and that you are really, truly living your emotions. Besides longing the trail, simplicity, and solitude, I was in a deeper hole also because I felt as if I lost a few people I considered good friends. Not "lost" as in "something happened", just realized how far apart we've drifted in so many different angles...and the "amount" of those who are left in a category "replaced me family" dwindled drastically. As often is the case, I feel more lonely in civilization then when I am alone in the vast space of big mountains...
There, two vast ends of a huge spectrum of human being. Things improved, of course. Mundane tasks of everyday's living took over, work, chores I missed so much, back to exercising 6 days a week, double-a-day fun, things to return to think about - and the oh, so close dream of moving soon. Plus, the local Trail Running Store  set me up for a talk about the hike - so I had to get ready. Re-living the days on the trail was like putting a stamp of a closure to the whole trip, leaving it behind and moving on. The talk happened to be 4 weeks after I finished - and even more interestingly, coincidentally 4 years after I set my feet for my first solo through-hike of Tahoe Rim Trail (thanks to FB for a reminder). 40 plus people showed up - and after initial jitters, I was flowing in memories and passion. Everybody listened! Faces lit up, elbows on knees, nobody was scrolling on their phones, nobody left early, and everyone laughed at the right moments. Apparently, I am funny, and definitely passionate. Duh. If Larry didn't keep showing me the watch, I could go on forever, but I guess I was on time (I had no idea how long I rambled, somewhere over an hour and 20 min). There were questions, hugs, and applause. I loved doing it - and now I am truly over this part of "toska".
And the knitting helped. Finally, the inspiration came back, and that, too, was flowing. A complicated cardigan and a lacy scarf for a friend (using pattern from Japanese Stitch Pattern Bible) emerged, and a few more projects in the works - thanks to the close-out sale at one of the best yarn stores in 30 mile radius.
And that's about all I am willing to talk about. One thing to end is to share this quote - by a guy who through-hiked PCT this summer (in an insane 78 days, the style I admire and adhere to).

"Freedom exists in your mind, not on the trail. Take it with you wherever you go from here." Farley.


Motivation is a powerful tool. Life is a never-ending series of kicks. The only way you can get from where you are to where you want to be is find the motivation deep inside your soul.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

July. Colorado - a life on a trail.

"I can't quite get my mind around 485 miles in 15 days. An average of 32 miles per day. Wow.
Looking forward to hearing your account of what you experienced. You are the real deal!
But you didn't need to pull this off for me to know that.:)" - Rev. Craig

"Frankly, I can't wrap my head around it either. Like it didn't happen. Only I feel crashed, for no reason. But all that behind, those 15 days - a dream. Hard dream."

It's over. It really did happen, didn't it? Are you sure? The waking up at 3 am - technically speaking, not sleeping for 15 nights, more like dozing on and off, with my nose stuffed, unable to breathe, dry mouth, anticipating the day to come. The packing, every dang morning, stuffing all the belongings, especially the food - oh, the food! - into my backpack, in an order I know so well. Trying to shove a granola bar with cold coffee in me, fully recognizing that I have to, though at 3 am! - and if I never see another granola (or any kind of) bar, I'll be happy! Putting my warmer clothes on, and the headlamp on my head, then sitting for a minute, starring at that pack, last thing to fold is my tent. Well, sitting ain't going to get me anywhere, I say out loud. Time to go. And I push myself - and my pack - out of the tent.

First steps are weird, always. But not cranky, never were. I was in best shape since a couple of my random ultrarunning years - 2005 and 2013. 2018 proved to be awesome. I never felt sore. Never got a blister. Never pulled a muscle or tendon on my legs. Were my shoulders screaming? You bet! I started with 45 lbs in that pack, and being skinny actually sucks for carrying that kind of weight - the shoulder wraps digging into my collar bones and front of the shoulders, mole skin not helping one bit. Was my back complaining? Absolutely! The way I loaded the pack, I realized much later, the right side was digging into the top of my hip bone, and the bone itself quickly swelled up and inflamed. So here I was, alternating putting my fingers under the shoulder straps or under the lower back of my pack. Yeah, thank God I trained without the poles...I used them only on climbs after all.

But back to the beginning. Flying from Austin, TX, altitude Zero, to Denver, getting picked up by my awesome friend Kristin (may her life be blessed) and dropped off, literally within hour of arrival, at the trailhead - that what it's all about for me. No time to hesitate. Gotta go. Anxiety. Anticipation. All goes away with first steps, alone, focused on my own breathing...
The first 6-plus miles are on dirt road, very slight uphill, along a river. I pass a lot of folks - Saturday, after all, is a day for locals to play, and for throughhikers to start. I barely nod my head. I am here not to make friends. I am here to walk. I know, how arrogant. Well, that's who I am. I do things the way I do things. It suits me. 

I hit first intersection as I turn onto trail exactly at 2 hrs. I smile. Yes, deal with it. I carry a book-map, and ahead of time I "predicted" my "splits". Years of ultrarunning experience and a general OCD makes me treat everything like a race. I like being aware where I am and where and when I'll be next. Wandering around is not my cup of tea. I get my own camera out, fiddle with it, and take a picture.
I am trying to document only the points I care for - not the views (after 35 years exploring wilderness in all kinds of capacity, not many places make me go "AW", and besides, this hike is for me, not for presenting photos). The first day is hard, though the aches didn't hit till mile 15 - still, I am at altitude (albeit the minimal of the whole trail), climbing steadily, in the heat of the day, with a 45 lbs pack on my back. You don't expect it to be pretty. It's not. 
It's a dry year in Colorado. The little creeks and streams are but a bed of nothing. I started with 2 L and looking forward my first - and only for the day - water source: South Platte River at 16.5 miles. It finally arrives, at 4:15 - whole 45 min earlier! yeah, baby! I choose to spend 30 min as a break. Having gotten water, I look at the bottle in complete disgust - it's brown, and stuff floating in it. People and dogs swim around me (it is Saturday, after all), probably do their, um, dirty things in there, plus, it's a low river. I don't have a filter. I have purifying tablets, but this looks really bad. I take my bandanna off and poor over from one bottle to another. Looks a little more clear - and then add not 1, but 2 tablets. This was my worst water source. This was also what prompted a speed up ahead of the plan since day 1 - I din't have an extra bottle to do it over again (I carried 2 x 1 L bottles and 0.75 L, which was half-full at that point). So, I walk out - with 1.5 L of water. What could go wrong? I get a little confused, spending some time and energy figuring out the way, then climb, in the high of the heat, long, nursing my water, then roll...slowly realizing I will not be able to "dry-camp". Even taking small sips, I am draining. I am going to have to push extra 4 miles - to the intersection with the road, where the Fire Department has a spigot. 
It was hard, like that, to go long. But all things do come to an end, even day 1. I got my water, lots of it. Set the camp not far away. And the game of "wake up, pack up, hike up, stop and set up, repeat" began...
I am not going to break into each day in details this time. After all, I actually kept a diary, however brief at times, and if you're not lazy, read it (PHOTOS, diary pages at the end). I find it fascinating, even in short entries. As always, in the mountains, especially in the mountains alone, but in general, in the mountains - I feel closer to God. This is my Church. May be being higher makes me closer. May be realizing what a small speckle of nothing I am. May be this beauty - yes, I might not stop in my tracks to say "Aw", but I do admire it all. As I walk, I look around and exhale: "This is God's country". And these are exactly the words I use...
That said, I will highlight some stuff. Just for the history. For the record. In more ways than one:)

Day 2 was harder. It almost always (always always) is. Excitement is settled, and the realization hits: you in it. For the next 2+ weeks. Hard, unrelenting work. Nobody to lean on. Nowhere to escape. It's still hot - it's not going anywhere. And I still have nearly 45 lbs on my back (may be 44). Holy fuck. By mid-day I want to quit. I am not kidding, I am thinking: what am I proving and to whom? If trail is supposed to give you wisdom, may be my wisdom is to stop doing this shit, get out at the first road, fly to Russia, see my family? Family, after all, is what matters, not some 485 miles in Colorado mountains! But, as I am almost agreeing with this logic, there are no roads to easily get out - not till Breckenridge, day 4. I gotta make it that far at least. I calm down. Only 2 more days...
That day 11 mile climb to nearly 10,500 feet almost killed me. That followed with another 5 mile climb to 10, 900. First real high. I set down under the pass, looking at the last 0.5 miles and not comprehending how to make over it. But I did. And rolled over to a camp full of people. Tenting with people is not my cup of tea (yet again), so I walk a bit and find a separate spot. It's ok, I tell myself. 

Morning of day 3 was the first one I walked out with a headlamp on. I am laying in tent anyway, what's the purpose, might as well put some cooler miles in. It was fun until I saw a bear - which scooted away, then heard a huge pack of coyotes (turned out to be a camp for sled dogs, but imagine being a solo hiker in the dark and hearing barking and hauling of something like 3 dozen of dogs??!!), capping the pre-dawn hours with a moose standing on the trail. 25 min, no move. I eventually bushwhacked around in some debris next to a raging creek. The rest of the day was uneventful, I was settling in. I remember getting to Kenosha pass road much earlier than I thought I'd be there - by a good hour and half? - and getting excited. This allowed me to stop at 2 creeks on the way up to Georgia pass for an extended break - and since that day on I made it mandatory to get those breaks every 2-3 hrs, 10-15 min each, where I drop my pack, get my shoes and socks off to air my feet, if there is a creek - wash myself and soak my feet, and put it all back on. It was a drill, and I was on a mission.

Georgia pass went much better than one yesterday - even though it was higher and steeper climb. Before the final push, I saw lots of trail volunteers - and that the clouds rolled in with thunder booming. I thought I had time...and as soon as I, literally, stepped on the high open ridge, the sky opened up, temperatures dropped, and I got hammered by heavy rain, hail, and wind. Putting your rain gear during all this was a lesson I learned not to do. This, also, was one and only storm that hit me ON the ridge itself, all others happening either right before or after - in tree line - so I felt blessed. Middle Fork of Swan river was my camping spot - a couple tents, enough space, my last night being near people sort of. I was not planning on dropping, anymore. The mind was catching on with the body. I was in it for the long haul...

And long haul it was - soon enough during one of our phone connections Larry told me that the Forest Service opened up the last 4 segments of the Colorado Trail (that were closed due to fires near San Juan wilderness). It took me a few hours to wrap my mind around it, as instead of being excited I sort of dreading it. But hey, it's me here - I don't back out. At least not after day 2. :)

Day 4 I crossed the "easy way out" - road between Breck and Frisco. Then I crossed my first 12-plus high peak, and pressed on further, all the way to Copper mountain resort,  almost considering walking into it and eating hot food, but hey, I got too much food I carry and need to eat (a.k.a. get rid of), and besides, I am always afraid I will not walk out (back in the racing days "beware of the chair" would be appropriate saying here). So, I camped - right above the resort, and I could see the lights of it if I walk a little hill up behind my tent.



Day 5 was the crux. I got mu hiking legs back! Hells, yes! I flew the first pass, Searle, by 8:13 am, a good couple of hours ahead of my "schedule"! (every night, after dinner, I would pull my map book, check out upcoming route and crossing points, and put approximate predictions on when I would reach them, when I can get water, and when I can stop). My eyes welled up. It was a good morning - hiking high between passes, wide vistas, little laundry, and then - the next pass, even sooner! More tears. More prayers. I am going to be just fine...
I passed the Camp Hale, 10th Mountain Division, here. It didn't impress me much, so I didn't stop (and I saw videos before). The rain drizzled a bit in the afternoon, and besides the, literally, High Points, nothing was worth talking about.

It's day 6 got me wired. The whole day it was almost "easy", nice buffed trail - and I rolled, happy. Rained, again, but not bad.
Then, with my aging eyes, and under-sugared brain, I decided the trail alongside Twin lakes road only goes for 1 miles. Oh, how hard it hit me to learn it was 4! I was still fine on time, and the wetness wasn't really a problem - it's the disappointment "I am done" and having to keep on going. I was ready to camp in the bathroom, if one presents itself - after all, famous Tony Krupicka did it before winning his Leadville 100! But the campsite at the lake was nice, the air got dry, and all was forgotten. Middle days/miles are pretty uneventful, as I notice. Either in a race, or all my previous hikes. The only thing transpired was realization that I might finish a full day earlier - what would make it Larry's birthday - and I thought it was a good thing to remember to push for.

Same went for day 7. Just on forward. It was my earliest stop in the evening for that stretch - there was a 12,000 peak a mile ahead, and the clouds were threatening (never materializing). The spot was nice, next to some old wooden structure, and I spread out. Knitted (not the first night), hung out a bit. Pretended to be a normal hiker.

That 12k peak turned out to be a saddle for Mt. Yale peak, a 14-er many people climb for sunrise, so during the hours before dawn I was meeting them on the other side. There was also an amazing Milky way that morning (night?) - I saw 2 more during my trail time, but this one was, for sure, hands down, the best. Day 8 was important as I rolled into Princeton Hot Springs resort - my resupply point. Frankly, I still had 3.5 days more of food - between walking faster (at this point I am a day and few hours ahead) and over-packing (being a frugal human in life, I bought sale items I did not want to throw away, so I dragged it on my back, yeah, I know). I spent a full hour and small change there shopping, consuming 2 burritos and a coffee, and shoving all this new food into my pack. No Hot Springs for me! I dropped not so small change for resupply - $134, but less than I thought I'd have to. One negative - they carried no gas canisters! That was what it was, said I, and walked out.

On day 9, as I approached a road leading to Monarch pass climb, I asked some camping guys if they
had a gas can - which they did (and they gave me the hugest one I ever saw, 1 L). While it was super-heavy, I chose to carry it. Some 10 min later I see a backpacker going opposite direction. Just in case, I ask if he is getting into town, and would be interested in swapping my "big" can for his "small" however used. Turned out, he had and extra one, full, and small size (I later gave away the big one to different set of campers)! He also happened to be an NPR reporter who was doing Collegiate Loop and interviewing folks on the way. I got my 5 min of fame:) On the wings of "God took care of my needs!" I flew up the Monarch pass, right before the storm hit. There were a lot of mountain bikers up there, waiting for my final messy single track clearance, and they cheered me on. "What day are you on?" - "9!" - "Wow, you're moving!" - "I am hauling ass!". Apparently, this is not the thing you say, but a lot of laughing was my reward. I rolled off that pass, and spent 15 min huddling with a CDT hiker in a Green Shelter - one of the famous things on CT. It was nice to do it, so rain was a welcome occurrence here.

Day 10 for some reason almost broke me down. Everything felt off in the morning - until I rolled into a couple who I happen to know! JT and his wife Katie were from Austin, and while I only met him once, Larry was a friend, and we were aware of their own hike. Of course, I forgot about their existence by then, so being called out by name in the middle of the wilderness was a huge surprise - and it lifted my spirits.
That day brought more nice things, as volunteers of CT set a camp under the last climb (Lujan creek TH), where (as you also hit 300 miles of the trail) hikers can get water - and I also got my feet washed in a bucket, and a coffee! They invited for dinner, but "I must go.."A solid positive stop. Good people are everywhere. Especially around mountains...

Day 11 was all about dirt roads in a cattle country, though not as boring as many say (or expect). A volunteer set up a Dome shelter, some chairs, and a cooler with drinks mid-way - I happily took Starbucks Frap. Besides that, rolling, cows in view - and oftentimes their butts in my face on the trail, when I had to do my best impersonation of Larry (who grew up on a farm) to get them out.
It's day 12 and on when the shit began to happen. Who knew, with the end in sight, I will be facing stuff that would lead to the stories I rather never have to tell??!! As I approached a low spot between the Sal Luis saddle and San Luis pass at dark-o'5, something moved, my subconscious brain registered. I stopped, looked around, shining my headlamp. And sure enough, those green Egyptian eyes and a body of a mountain lion. Starring at me. By the creek, in the bush, in it's natural prey-getting territory. I ripped my whistle off my pack, raised my poles high, and made myself big(er) and loud(er). This was my next 20 min as I kept seeing its shadow and eyes behind while climbing the pass - never dropping that whistle out of my mouth. Eventually, there were no bushes around me, so it got "lost", or lost interest in me. I pumped hard - and the sunrise was my reward.

That day, while crossing Silver Creek TH road, a woman comes to me: "Would you like a sandwich?" Um, a dumb question? Of course! Turned out, she and her husband decided to try their hand in trail magic, and I was their first "customer". Thank you! That road was also where I overheard other hikers talking about The Yurt - existence of which I was aware of, but not the location. Turns out it is exactly 9 miles ahead, where I already planned to stop for the day due to water source and upcoming climb next morning! It was a nice break for the night, not to set my tent on, spread stuff around - though as the night fell, I couldn't sleep because it felt very lonely and scary in this rather large space (after being in a tent that is). Still, a great set up, and I made sure to mail a check to the owners.
On day 13 I hiked by the Highest Point of Colorado Trail, and walked through ALL of the high San Juan passes ranging from 12-something to 13-plus thousand feet - in 1 freaking day! Like nothing! I also passed 2 points where Hardrock course intersects CT - originally I planned to spectate there, but being 2 full days ahead,  that wasn't happening! I set down at the second point, for quite a while, close to half an hour, reminiscing. After all, I carried a Hardrock patch - a.k.a. a cut off sock - on my backpack as a reminder. "You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have". This is when this motto started for me...It's the Elk Creek trail down from the high country that killed me - rocky, steep, loose, jamming my feet and making me scared at the end of a long day. But, well, I got to 400 miles that night - and that was my highlight.
On day 14, after descemding the rest of Elk creek canyon, crossing rail Road tracks and an Animas river, and climbing nice switchbacks up, I made a trail 0.7 mile detour to Molas Pass Campground - my second resupply. Technically, I cold have made by with what I had (barely, wish I was better in calculating at Princeton), but I ate 2 burritos and a coffee, and met 2 lovely ladies who happened to "run" into Larry and Harrison a day or two before - and I was able to learn they are ok (no cell signal for a few days).
It wasn't a bad day, nor good one. I was ready to be done. Couple more 12k rollers. More open sun. More rain and hail. Finally the camp...The Camp that makes The Story. Just in time when you think you're home free - it becomes whether or not you can make it out at all. Oh, the drama...but when you're sleep and calorie deprived, exhausted by miles, mountains, altitude and heat, things get magnified. Besides, I was not about to find out if I am exacerbating...

I rolled into a nice looking camp. It was a mere quarter mile before the dirt road intersection marking the end of segment 25, Bolam pass, where the lake was. I didn't need water, and wasn't interesting putting tent up next to the lake due to potential condensation. The campsite, after all, did look sweet. I ate the "dinner burrito" I saved from the Molas CG, and settled in for the night. Oh, the night before the last! As always, I drifted in and out, not able to fully breathe. At 11:30, at my yet another awakening moment, my heart started pounding. I lay still. Suddenly, a very quiet, careful, steps, right next to my tent's flap. What in the world? My first thought - another hiker, arriving late and trying to set the camp. Why right next to me? Plenty of space out there! No more sounds, but the heart is racing, still. I begin to think: a bad person? You know, dirt road, random dude, not so good intentions...I reach for my headlamp, whistle, and little knife. Sit a minute more. Then throw the fly open - and shine my lamp as I scan the line around. Straight ahead, not more than 10 yards, the Green Egyptian...and the hump of a very (very) large cat. I scream. I whistle. How is that, even after the previous encounter on this trip, cougars were not on my horizon of things to be concerned about??!! Cat slowly jumps to the side and I see it walking away a bit. I exhale. May be that's it. I am shaking, holding all my "weapons" in my hands. I even get outside and use a "bathroom", kind of hoping it's over. And as I turn my head another direction - here they are. The Eyes. I scream and whistle again. Get back inside, frantically sit and stare at my stuff. What now? I continue blowing the whistle, as I gather my thoughts and consider options. Shall I just sit it out? Couple more times I look outside, in intervals of few minutes, and always, every damn time, locate the cat. You can't miss one. I get out and try to lit the fire, some kindling, some power bar wraps - not much (there is a fire restriction in CO, but I am in a serious situation here!) - little smoke generated. I get back into tent, and next time look out - the cat sits right next to the pile of wood and a fire ring. It does NOT give a damn about human smells! It made its decision. I am being stalked, and it's been an hour.

Fear is almost paralyzing, yet I am incredibly thankful for the body that functioned on its own. I feverishly start packing my stuff into a backpack (surprisingly following the "system" of order), putting clothes for night hiking on, getting second light (hand-held) out. All this time making loud noises. Tent is my last thing - I have to get out. It looks like the cat is not around, and I break the tent down in seconds, and walk out, shaking, trying not to think was it a good decision or not. At this point I am not sure where and how far and why I am going, I just can't bear the sitting still and waiting...

That 0.25 mile down to the lake? Another tent. I almost walk past, then stop. Here is the saving point. Safety in numbers. I drop my pack and quickly get my tent up, and crawl in. Then the anger raises. I hear the person rustling inside as I woke him up with my whistle - why not get outside and ask what happened? Couldn't he hear my screams for an hour prior??!! In dry air, down the hill, so close? And why the mountain lion picked me, not him!!!

Sleep is, of course, a stupid idea at this point, but at least I feel safe as I lay still. No more sounds. It's gone, but I am scared to get out at my usual 3:30. I write a diary. I try to eat a bit. Eventually, no way but to pack, again - it is 4:30 as I make myself hike, still in the dark for an hour and change. Still on guard, and with a whistle in my mouth...

The next day, the last full day, the joy was taken away from me. I couldn't recover. I never heard of people being stalked in the camp, while asleep - crossing bushes and little streams as one moves, yes, but like that? And while mountain lions attacks are extremely rare, and mostly occur for dogs and little animals, suddenly realizing you are not at the top of the food chain - is terrifying. The views are pretty in this segment, but most of the time I scan them for the appearance of now familiar body...I meet two Minnesota nurses doing a segment hike, and tell them the story. I am sure I scared them, but I needed to get it off my chest. The whole day, as the legs are doing their job, my mind keeps saying: "You are a cat magnet. You fought getting a trail name all these years, and here is one that is yours. Don't jinx! Stop attracting bad energy! Well, you ARE a cat magnet. One last night...".

I was determined to camp that last night with other people. 30 miles passed. 31. Dirt road. Another. No tents, no people. A rocky descend. 33 miles, 34...ahead is almost 6 miles downhill on a banked narrow trail, and I think to myself: nobody is able to set a camp on the slope, and I probably won't
make it all the way to the river before dusk. As I am by now petrified camping in the woods, I make a decision - right here, on the road, is where I stop. What a pitiful ending, final night of such a huge undertaking - on a dirt road. I feel sorry for myself, yet I can't bring myself get inside the trees. I eat my last Ramen, and set the camp. Wind picks up as I retire inside by 8 pm. By 10 pm it's gusting so hard, all my tent steaks are out (it is a road after all), and the flap is violently flying around. Plus there are lightening flashes far away (I later learned that was the infamous Hardrock's second night's storm). Well, Universe makes me do it - as I move the tent and my stuff exactly behind the road, where the trail goes, some 50 yards from the intersection - literally, right on the trail (as it's the only more or less flattish spot). I close my eyes - at least in a storm animals are hiding as well...

At 1:15 I am jerked awake by my heart pounding. Not even my nose stuffed - just racing beats. I lay still. I hear a movement 20 yards away, where my food bag is. I pray: "Please let it be bear". The noises from that direction move the front of my tent - not too close, may be 15 yards away. I stay still, reaching for my arsenal: whistle, knife, 2 lights. I am not mistaking. I know the "steps". It goes back and forth, like it's guarding. I think: may be everyone gets that "stalking", but normal people asleep? May be it's territorial? I shall lay still. Heart is so loud, I am afraid it can be heard. 5 minutes. 10. Walking. 15. I can't take it. I throw the tent's flap and do what I now do. And I scream: "What the fuck, why me??!!". It trudges away into the darkness, slowly. I am not giving it an hour this time - I can't. I pack as fast as I can (it is the last night after all, not much left), and at 1:35 am I walk out, down the trail, same ammunition as the previous night. My biggest concern is not even the cat - is that I won't have enough light lasting me till the sunrise and/or bottom of the river canyon. But, again, this is the only action that seems possible. Tripping over the roots, I scan the sides for human life - as I feared, steep banks, and a whole lot of nothing. Hour passes. Few more minutes. And suddenly - a voice: "What's you doing?" OMG! I immediately broke down, hysterically. "Please, sorry, help me! I am being stalked by a mountain lion! I am sorry! Please, help me!" - as I stumble towards the voice, up to the left, behind the tree.
The guy was cowboy-camping, and I would have never seen him (no reflective lights) in the darkness had he (or, rather, his military trained body) not reacted to me. Apparently, he jerked up before he even woke up! "It's ok, come over, it's ok" - I can still hear, and to me it sounded pretty much like God himself extended his hand to me. I can't calm down for quite some time, but eventually sit down and explain. I set my tent, quite frankly, on top of his tarp - the space is so tiny and crooked. We're both fully awake now, close to 3 am, and we talk. About our reasons to hike, our lives, our families. At 29, having grown up in a military family (like me!) with a German mother and American dad, Dustin served 2 tours in Afghanistan, then graduated with Bachelor in Kansas city, where he lives now with his 6 years old daughter as a single dad. He came to hike the Colorado Trail as his first through-hike to make a new relationship with the mountains - not the one that involves fear, fighting reflex, and aim to kill an enemy. Yet it is exactly that that saved me on this night, and I am eternally grateful. On top of lots of similarities, he just spent a day in Silverton - a day before Hardrock started - learned about ultrarunning, and met a lot of folks I know personally. What an incredibly small world! We talk till 3:30 or so, and I think we need to get some sleep, if possible. He sleeps sitting with his back to the tree - I occupied all his space with my tent. By 4:30 I am up and packed by 5 - by dreading getting out, still dark. I can't. I ask him if we could have coffee - I am not mentally ready to walk out. We talk some more, and I think: mountain lion and all, this final night after all, WAS different, meaningful, meeting this guy - not a random guy, but this one. By 5:30, I gotta go. I don't have to, and on this last day, I only have 17.7 miles to the end - but I feel the pull. I need it to be over, completely, fully.

So I go. My headlamp, indeed, dies exactly at 6 am, as the light comes to the forest. I say my prayers and thanks, again, to the guy who was simply sleeping behind the tree. Even as it gets completely daylight and the sun shines full force, I can't relax. Last day. Please let me be safe!

With 6.8 miles to go I see a huge (a dozen plus) gathering of mountain bikers. "People" I say out loud and tear up. Now, finally, I can exhale. And as I do, I walk straight down a hill...10 min, 15, 20. Let me get my App out and see how long is left? Still 6.8? I see couple more bikers - and a sign "Dry Creek trail". Where is CT? - I pant out. Oh, don't worry, you missed a turn, just a bit up the hill. WTF??!! Of course, it wouldn't be me if I didn't get confused near civilization! - and as I power back up, full 1.3 miles up, at the intersection I figure out how I missed it - the bikers leaned the bikes to the sign and stood around! Fuckers! Pardon my language, but with 480 miles on my legs, completely raw state of mind and body, every emotion is overwhelming. I call Larry as soon as I get the signal, 5 miles before the end. I tell him about missed turn, lions, the guy who saved me, I sob, I swear...and I walk. Soon, I see it. The Sign. I am, now, done, for real...
A few more cyclists are hanging out at the parking lot, and they seem to know what I had done. A 14 year old kid comes and gives me a hug - and I drop into his arms, crying. I can't even put my face together as they offer to take a photo. But then this, too, calms down. I am offered a root beer (well, I am offered a beer, yet with not eating or drinking all morning in anticipation I don't think it's a good idea, and in general, I don't drink, anyway). I hang out for a little, until one of them takes me to a Recreation Center where I know they allow showers. Then I sit there, clean, with a 100's miles stare, naked, on a bench, trying to gather whatever's left in me to pack my backpack and start figuring next steps. By then, Larry bought me a ticket to Portland and booked a hotel - yes, that WAS the plan, after all, secretive or not very. I have truly the best husband, and I don't know how people like him even exist. Not only he supported my hike (a crazy idea in itself), he cheered me on, provided me with his rock solid calmness - and weather forecasts - and fully agreed that I, indeed, need to see my kids, since I finished before my vacation is over - despite the fact that it was his birthday! Try to find that in a real world...

Miracle didn't stop for me there. As I sit in that shower, I get a text from Kristin, a friend who
dropped me off at the trailhead in Denver: "Where are you" - "In a Rec center" - "I am few minutes away". What? She worked Hardrock, and now was in Durango, exactly as I finished! There is nobody I rather have there (besides Larry) who would be a recipient of my wordy diarrhea - after all, I haven't talked in 15 days! She got it all, my hike, my lions, my dad, my kids, my life, my plans...all bundled in, intermingled, messed up, slurping words, while consuming a full pizza. Then she dropped me off, I and I was done. Now, completely, fully, done...

As the last miracle of the journey, I can't not mention a phone call at 5 am from a local Trail Angel offering me a ride to the airport. People, for sure, are miracles in this life. From a stranger at every road intersection who would agree to take my Ziploc bag of trash to dispose, to Trail Angels setting Dome shelters,water camps, making sandwiches, to someone giving me their clothes (a woman in the shower, yep, it happened), picking me up at the shower and feeding me, providing rides...

"Life is a paradox -- 
Sometimes the crazy stuff is what keeps us sane.Some people spend their days looking for an easy life. You reach down deep and respond with what life demands. That's one of the things I love most about you. There is part of me that hopes that you will never abandon the crazy stuff completely. But perhaps we could agree that mountain lions are not part of any future craziness. But then, a lot of the craziness in life is not of our own making and cannot always be anticipated. 
Those days on the trail are as real as it gets yet seem like a dream. Takes time to process an intense experience. To realize that a dream has become reality. 
Your sons are life in the realest sense, though I suspect this feels otherworldly too, like a dream, for them not to know you are so close and you not to know where they are. I regret in some ways that you must look for them while still weary from this latest adventure. You are drained physically and emotionally. And I know seeing them is draining both physically and emotionally. But the fact that you must see them says more about who you are than all the miles you've ever run or hiked. I wish you had more time to celebrate before facing this reality. 
I am praying for you in this task.
Craig"

Then there was Portland. I did find my kids. I am still trying to process a whole lot, it'll take a long time. The journey of Colorado Trail. The visit to my kids, yet again - how many left? At the moment I am overwhelmed with a PTSD on those cat stalking nights, and am completely shutting down all solo attempts. Time to slow down a bit. Face the reality. Some folks say they are sad for me. Why? I am not. I had a great run at my crazy paced adventures. I want it, different, now - a life with my husband, ever so patient, waiting for me to turn to him, always, never complaining. Wanting to hike WITH me, not wait for me on the sidelines. And in our new life, ahead, that's exactly what will be happening.
And it's a good thing I am going out with a "BANG". While not fully aware, in the process I established a female self-supported RECORD - check it out, and if you're a number's person, there are "splits" for each day in it, and a link to my photos. 

Oftentimes when I stopped early (those many nights between 4:15 and 6 pm), and the daylight would last till 8:30, I was thinking I should go. Or, even, eat dinner, and still think - I should pack and go. Few more miles, good few! Why did I stop? I did think of the record, briefly. About finishing the whole trail a couple days faster and giving myself even more time to rehab. And after the cat's encounters - what if I'd walked further, each night, may be I wouldn't have gotten into their circle of interest? I still wonder: why me??!!

It is sad that the whole experience, such a long journey, the pinnacle of my endurance,  even establishing the record, was dampened by the last 2 nights. I can close my eyes and see the "other" ones, the green, starring right at me. But I am trying to focus on the good things. I have seen gorgeous sunrises, and amazing wild flowers. I was high, up in the mountains, in thin air - breathing, living. Meditation is "being in the moment". There is no more "in the moment" one can get than doing what I did - every "other" thought completely eliminated, none left. Step, breath, sip of water. Repeat. Look up ahead, scan the horizon. I am so blessed to be able to do that. "This is God's country", after all.



P.s. "I am not ready to hold yarn in my hands and have no inspiring ideas. Wow. I must be exhausted. 😧" - "I just think the trail took a lot out of you...take it easy"(conversation with Larry). 
 I missed my house-chores. I am not kidding. The cleaning, the grocery shopping and the fridge full of fresh vegetables, the cooking and doing the dishes - by hands, the laundry...The work settles in back to normal. A fresh book for knitting inspirations is on my table. I actually remember how the thought of my "crafts room" popped into my mind somewhere around day 12, and I cried - and forbade myself to think about any "normal life" until I am done. What I did, the way that I did it - one can't wallow in such things. I am ready for recovery and the "normal" life, the next big steps ahead. For that, I had to push the blog out. Of course. It's the way I sort through things - even if the blog does seem chaotic. But, it's better than nothing. Time to move on. 

Thursday, June 28, 2018

June.

Magic happens when you don’t give up even though you want to. The Universe always falls in love with a stubborn heart. – JmStorm

Well, it's sort of nearly July 1st, and the go-time is almost here. I made it through. In about a week, I am off to Colorado, attempting to live my dream of the year. I will text Larry from the points I have cell reception at, and I will let him choose the way to share (or not) my whereabouts. He's got my plan, and so do couple of Coloradoan friends, just in case. I do not anticipate danger to myself, just hard work, beautiful vistas, and a lot of solitude. 

The dream was subjected to a lot of fears though, and not even logical fears of not being able to complete the trail in the time I allocated for myself (which is constantly and legitimately on my mind as there is this strong feeling that this time I am biting more than I can chew). Colorado had their second driest winter/spring season in many years, and the fires started early, by June raging and closing parts of forest/mountains/trail combination. On June 10 the last 90 miles (4 sections of Colorado Trail, all of San Juan Wilderness, including the exit point of Durango) was shut down for weeks (and subject to longer and wider-spread closures). A week later one of those 4 got re-opened. All that still meant possible detours, shortening of a hike by a good 75 miles, hitching rides, doing bunch of things I refused to think about. No matter what, it was out of my control. I developed a couple of contingency plans and breathed. (As a side note, Larry's plans to backpack some of San Juan trails with his son Harrison hung under re-consideration same way mine did). All I/we could do is to pray for monsoons to come earlier and heavier, do the rain dance, and get to the start. Best handling is learning to deal with things as they come my way. Common, worst case, if it stays as is, I will end up in Silverton, reuniting with beloved Hardrock crowd! While not the goal I set, not a bad way to end. "Peace is the result of retraining your mind to process life as it is, rather than as you think it should be.” ~Wayne Dyer


No matter what alternatives I might have to take, where I will end up, and what happens during my 18 days on the trails, the important part is - I will be in the mountains. I know that when I begin something, I aim to finish. The notion of accomplishing something is never quite the same without hardship. Going into any adventure is not about the challenge or accomplishment, but it happens anyway. The brain is rarely if ever free during our daily lives. As a normal human, I tend to seek coping mechanisms and comforts even in challenges. Much of backpacking in the wilderness is about deprivation of luxuries, and the gained appreciation of simple things like clean water from a spigot, toilet, refrigeration, heat and air conditioning… Those, though, are just pleasures, not happiness - which is, as Aristotle put it, "internal experiences of contentment". I believe happiness can be experienced only in a quiet growth (Yeats said it first). May be that's why our biggest happy memories are from childhood. When I am in the wilderness, alone, self-reliant, there are calm, clarity and peacefulness I don't get to live through fully otherwise. The emotions are bare: fear, joy, love, sadness – and all are welcome. The physical fatigue, pain, exhaustion are all necessary parts of sharpening the level of those feelings. This calm empty peace is simply the way it is. Simplicity invites serenity. 

Hugging my backpack while sitting in the house, I think to myself: in it are my self-contained belongings and a freedom to walk anywhere. In a pursuit of happiness sort of way:) (another Aristotle's quote, by the way, who knew?) Notice, a pursuit, not the happiness itself. It's an active thing (just as "love" is a verb, not a noun). A lot of hardships, pain, and even misery… all self-inflicted. I might be getting myself way over my head. And that, in a way, is, too, a freedom in its own right. "All of us can do incredible things, but the more incredible the thing in question, the more we will simultaneously want to not do it, out of a craving for comfort and certainty."

Funny how “solitude” and “loneliness” mean essentially the same thing, yet have very different connotations. Sort of like "pleasure" and "happiness". In order to reclaim my contentment, there is a need to reclaim capacity for solitude. Solitude isn't just "being alone"; it is a sense of "self". To go on a journey in solitude, one might emerge a changed person, or not… the outcome is not through conscientious, goal oriented direction. The magic is that the only goal needs to be is to walk from "here to there", with an open mind to absorb as much as possible, and the rest takes care of itself, subconsciously. A shift in values and outlook on life doesn’t take place as a deliberate decision, but as result of experience… may as well be on a trail. I know that activities which add meaning, purpose and significance to our lives are our relationships, our accomplishments, and our experiences. This is where the true value of life resides.

“It is only in solitude that I ever find my own core.” ~Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Exploring the nature's outdoors is a blessing and a curse, because the more you do, the more you realize there is so much out there - and not enough lifetime. The beauty, though, is in not ever "owing" the knowledge of it all. I always like the results that come from experience on a trail. May be it's simply to find out that I am not missing anything at all in my “real life”, after all. I have nothing to prove through walking… it’s just walking. So I go.


The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.
The mountains are calling and I must go.
In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.
John Muir

The month of a grind.

The month of final push was all about "go through the week and repeat": train, food prep, train, food prep, work, knit, food prep, get some sleep.

The working part is self-explanatory: I am swamped (bless my job and my clients), and luckily so - with an upcoming trip, I will miss 3 weeks of getting paid. Head down, and get 'er done. Ahead - 3 weeks of NOT massaging anyone!!!
What's a girl to do when she lives in flat-land of Austin at zero altitude? The training was about growing repeats (as short as they were) and miles and strength, and getting it all while balancing a fine line of overtraining. As soon as June began, I was reminded of how it felt to be at the end of a training cycle for a goal 100 mile race. I knew what I am doing on an almost primate level based on years behind, I am doing it without putting much serious dwelling. The weather is full-on "Texas summer". Having had a long Spring (God bless), May ended up being hottest month on history, and June started with 100F. Usually, these numbers don't appear until July, but the "seasons" (or whatever you call it here) got back at us all for the nice March-April with so many cold fronts. Or, may be, it is just to prove the point - 1 year to leave this "hot humid hell" countdown is ticking, and our last summer is "treating" us with full flavor. Every workout outside ended with an hour of "hundred miles stare" - it was so oppressive, that my body was red-lining with training. Somehow, in a weird magical way, my paces (a.k.a. the times for each set route on each day of the week) stayed the same, despite growing heaviness in legs and temperature/humidity numbers. It was within seconds from week to week, and I was bewildered - and grateful. My body locked into the effort and held on. Every morning I got out the door - I praised myself for having the "3 D": discipline, determination, dedication. Will power is not a given thing, and I hate when some folks think it's easy for me "Oh, you are so ...whatever word". I struggle with it. Daily. I make a choice. Or, rather, I don't allow myself to have choices. One choice. Get your ass out. I, literally, shut my mind down and go.
And so it went. I raveled in my backpack workouts as I could loose myself in a heavy sweaty breathing, picturing hunkering uphill in the mountains. I put my head down in my early morning road runs, sticking with routes without deviation, so I don't get a chance to shorten. And the gym workouts by now were legs, all legs and back.

The "tired" grew along with growing repeats and weights and temperatures. I battled, I carefully consumed protein powder after each hard workout daily, I drank more water, I even added electrolyte mix - something I haven't done in 5 years. I practiced yoga and mindfulness. It was all about perseverance - and dreaming big. I, quite literally, ran my shoes into the ground - and was lucky to get a few pairs of Hokas from Meredith to finish up this training (she also supplied me with a fresh pair of Drymax socks). 

Final shake-down with a fully loaded pack and carrying poles (I train without, to add difficulty) was the last week of June, in full moon for giggles. Ouch, ha! The biggest load, is, of course, food - as I intend to not resupply off the trail, and it's a long time before I get a store on the way. The reality hit, as it does, always, once packed - it's a lot of weight to carry on my shoulders, and in this case, literally. Why do I do this to myself? The only good thing, if there is one - looking forward to lightening the load every day. :) Walk myself into shape, eat myself into lighter pack. Simple life, yet again...
June is also the month I get bouts of darker mood swings. Mind you, I don't have chemical/medical depression, just cycling through normal life's stages. As an extreme introvert, my biggest downside is feeling lonely, the rest of the stuff we all have in life are simply sort of layering in, spurred by furnace of Texas summer. Almost "normal" occurrence if I think about it. What important to me is to always identify that it's coming, and, literally, write down the causes. This June there was an add-on of making a decision to not go see my kids (as I had done forever this month) and postpone it to the Fall. I miss them badly. Somehow my body "knew" something's off before my mind registered it. Plus, I didn't get to go back to the city where I left a piece of my heart - Portland. So, I battled in the best way I could - routine.
I got re-inspired into knitting creatively, thankfully, though it lasted only couple of weeks. As the training peaked high, knitting stalled. I was hardly picking through my co-worker's order for 12 alpaca hats and a vest. And that, too, was part of normal life's cycle.
Speaking of hats, we met with Liza Howard to give her those 30 red-white-blue hats for Veteran's running camp. That was a (super-brief) social moment of the month, along with a lunch with one girlfriend, a coffee with another, a visit to my Russian friend's house - and, of course, Sunday coffee dates with Larry, as well as finally making a visit to a new Russian (Uzbek) restaurant right in the neighborhood! Food tasted like home!

A very "nose to the ground" kind of month. I took stock of my 10-month journey that started back on September 1st with adjusting my body to a better physical state, and I am pleased with the progress. Almost 12% body fat are gone. No gimmicks, no personal trainer or a coach, just one advice of a friend-nutritionist: "You are old(er), your metabolism is slow, your exercise is your base level. Eat less!" With a load of training in June exploding I found myself sneaking in extra food/calories at the end of the day, which was ok with me. I managed to maintain the body composition, but once I am back from my backpacking, I need to re-think where I would like to stay for the longer haul. Hopefully, the hunger will also subside as I will "normalize" workouts to a more regular sustainable load. Probably, somewhere in-between is a healthy medium, so it was an experiment worthy making happen. “If you focus on results, you will never change. If you focus on change, you will get results.” ~Jack Dixon

This is it, not much more to add. I survived the Final Push, the Steam of 50 miles weeks (biggest miles in a long time). I made through 25 weeks of continuous training (that's 5+ months, people!) - legitimate training, for the first time that long and consistent since my body was hit with "running death" back in 2013. By the Grace of God, it all fell together just when I needed it most. And since the training went "for real", I get to use a real taper! Doing almost nothing for a week and fattening up!

Up ahead now - 18 days, 485 miles (God willing), High Country of Colorado Mountains. I am scared. Yet I feel an incredibly strong pull to go. So I must go.
“People sacrifice the present for the future. But life is available only in the present. That is why we should walk in such a way that every step can bring us to the here and the now.” Thich Nhat Hahn

"And into the forest I go, to loose my mind and find my soul"...


Miles from nowhere 
I guess I'll take my time 
Oh yeah, to reach there 
Look up at the mountain 
I have to climb 
Oh yeah, to reach there. 
I creep through the valleys 
And I grope through the woods 
'Cause I know when I find it my honey 
It's gonna make me feel good, yes
I love everything 
So don't it make you feel sad 
'Cause I'll drink to you, my baby 
I'll think to that, I'll think to that. 
Miles from nowhere 
Not a soul in sight 
Oh yeah, but it's alright 
I have my freedom 
I can make my own rules 
Oh yes, the ones that I choose 
Lord my body has been a good friend 
But I won't need it when I reach the end