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

Thursday, June 28, 2018


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 

Monday, May 28, 2018


When the real training begins...

Yes, May is when the stakes got real. With 9 weeks to Go time, it was time to buckle down. Normally, by now, I would have been not able to run any longer, after my "yearly spike of 4-6 weeks of good running" (in the last 5 years, I mean). This year, though...knock on wood, 4 months and going. Who's complaining? But, it also means, if in my prior backpacking training cycles I would simply substitute some runs (shuffles?) with backpack walks, this time...I am not giving up my running! I love it too much! And thus comes a shaky balance, managing a fine line between what needs to be done, what is wanted to be continued, and my health at this stage of my life (I still don't know what prompted the sudden death of running, and with that - no clue what makes it worse or better). Not to mention. Austin entered summer, and my body does not do well in this hot humid hell.

That said, the runs stayed as they were for the previous 3 months: Monday 10, Tuesday 8 on hills, Wednesday easy, Saturday 7 tempo. Friday run turned into steep hill repeats (Beauford Hill road at 18% grade). Thursday was transferred at the end of April into River Place trails (with staircases) as a run, then after 2 weeks, in May - into multiple 2 mile stair-stretch repeats with a backpack. Tuesday's Mt Bonnell's 100 steps repeats got loaded with 35 lbs pack. Still weights workout (with legs getting the brunt of the load, and upper body - just for the "cuteness" of it). Still yoga 1-2 times a week. Still getting my monthly massage with Kat - now needed more than ever. Sunday is off! I am consistently hitting over 40 miles a week, and actually trying to not over-reach. Preservation. The first week  of increased load left me very tired (having a job I do doesn't help). But body adjusted, and so did the mind. Fine-tuning this schedule, as well as adding little things to each workout, continues. Oh, how I miss regimented focused training! A delight in its own right. I draw such a satisfaction from each of my hard workouts - and somehow it feels like all my workouts these days are hard ones. Love it. Larry claims last time he's seen me train this way was for San Diego 100 in 2013. That was my last racing season. I do feel as focused as back then, for sure. Bring it.

On another side of the preparation, I packed all my food - yes, 20 lbs of it. Don't judge, I like to carry most of my fuel from the start and count on not resupplying, but rather adding on (an only if I hit a small store directly on the trail, which are only 4 opportunities here, who knows what they carry and if they'll be open when I pass by). I also pulled out all my clothes to use. It is a normal practice for me to start with a 45 lbs pack - 14 lbs of base weight (irreplaceable items I'll be starting and finishing with), 3 lbs of extra clothes, 3 lbs of "things that will be gone, but not food" (random items, like stove fuel, personal hygiene, medical, etc), 20 lbs of food, 5 lbs of water. No, I am not a minimalist, or ultralight packer, I don't follow trends, I do what works for me. If my free-standing tent is in perfect condition, as well as my sleeping bag and other main items making up the "base weight" - why would I spend hundreds of dollars to "upgrade" to lighter version? Once they get used up - I will replace them one by one as needed.
I also worked up the projected time line and mileage, as well as I could from the maps and the book. I'll be carrying the Atlas (on the right), and copied some pages from the book on the left for the tricky sections.
There was some fun squeezed in. First Wednesday of the month my lovely Marta took a day off work, and since I was in for the second shift, we drove 2 hrs to some little town that bears not one, but 2 caverns. It wasn't the matter of how pretty the cavers were (although they were! and lots of information consumed) - it was the matter of spending 7 hrs talking with a dear friend.
Another Wednesday night the former HCTR (local running club that seized to exist, and which I at some point was not only a big participant in, but even a VP) had a resurrected night together - very few people, but still fun to reconnect. It did feel far, far away and gone, honestly...Larry and I continue with Sunday afternoon dates, and the small things still keep us smiling.

My sister-in-law Stephanie (the one in Denver) gave birth to a Little Princess, and I now have more fun things to knit!
 Reading is stalled - not surprisingly! But, I was gifted 2 books written by my co-worker - yes, she is a real publishing writer! - and while I don't even remember last time I read romance novels, I enjoyed these, not to mention it all happens in a small CO town! Check it out if you like this type of reading.
Even knitting has gotten sideways. In this month's crafts - 2 summer tank tops re-purposing previously used yarns (cotton and silk), working on 2 cashmere shawls (one is very lace-y, a.k.a. so thin, it's a struggle to knit), and pushing to the end of an 8-months long cross-stitching project (granted, I took 5.5 months off this, so I really set a goal to get it over with by the time of the hike).

And, on a personal note - in the middle of this month Larry and I celebrated 10 years anniversary as we, quite literally, ran into each other at the Jemez 50 mile mountain race - which started our romance. This is a number we can be proud of!

Partially to commemorate that, along with hitting official 10 years "dating", and simply checking off that "Texas list of things to do before we leave", we escaped from Austin for an overnight trip to Houston to visit some museums and other pretty places.
First date back on May 29th, 2009
It was a delightful 24 hr span. We treated ourselves to a nice room with a view (dinner, breakfast, and unlimited espresso included), a drink and a cookie for after-dinner, a gym workout at the ungodly hour in the morning (of course, who said traveling is an excuse?!), and beautiful walks around Museum District. I have to say, Museum of Science had impressed us greatly - we spent over 2 hrs there, and could keep on enjoying (especially the mineral collection, and the exhibit of Faberge eggs), but getting tired was not in the cards before another museum - although Fine Arts Museum was a disappointment (comparing to the one in Dallas, and don't even start me with Metropolitan, or, especially, Russian collections!) Overall, it was an amazing trip, totally what we both needed - and absolutely exceeded the expectations on how it all turned out. The only other time I ever have to set a foot in Houston - is for my passport renewal. Photoalbum

Its time to stop this photo-assay of the month. More training to do - 5 weeks before Go Time!

With that - our final year of Texas living count-down has began. Last dreaded summer ahead:) Along with happy feelings and eager anticipation, there are many other thoughts that are rolling in my head about it all. It takes a concerted effort to continue focusing on the now - even if, also, continue to dream big.
Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening:
...in our lives, how often are we living in anticipation of what comes next, as if that will finally bring us to some sort of completion or fulfillment?

"Attaining lasting happiness requires that we enjoy the journey on our way toward a destination we deem valuable. Happiness is not about making it to the peak of the mountain nor is it about climbing aimlessly around the mountain; happiness is the experience of climbing toward the peak". Tal Ben-Shahar, "Happier"
A glimpse at one of my own personal journeys I am vastly enjoying.