This One Time, When I Fell Off a Cliff …

As a kid, both my brother and I were pretty fearless. We grew up in a part of Southern California that still had a lot of open space (we called it “the fields”) and we spent much of our childhoods running around, picking up tarantulas and lizards and snakes, building forts out of yucca stalks, stuff like that.

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My big brother.

While the fields were fun, even more exciting was The Canyon. (We said it like that, with those initial caps, because in our kids’ minds it was a formal name for an awesome place.) The canyon, which is actually called La Barranca, is a couple of miles long. From our house, we’d hike down about 300 feet to a creek and then work our way upstream with a mix of trail and boulder hopping. At the far end of the canyon, there is a waterfall with a swimming hole below it, and if you continue beyond the waterfall you ended up at the far end of our neighborhood with a couple miles’ walk on streets to get back home.

As teenagers, we’d go down there and jump off the cliffs into the swimming hole. But as a younger child, it was just an adventure to hike it.

One time, about two-thirds of the way to the falls, there were three owls sitting high up in trees. We watched their heads pivot as they followed our progress on the canyon floor.

Another time, I hiked up to the falls with my friend, Rachel, and her two yellow labs, Kimmy and Max. They were great water dogs, but by the end of the hike their claws were worn down and bleeding. That was pretty traumatic, but they made it (as did we).

But this story is about the first time I went down there.

I was six years old, and I went with my big brother, who was ten, and our dog, Bootsy. It was a grand adventure, and boulder hopping across the stream was a big deal for me. There were a couple of times I was scared and hesitated, but I really wanted to see the waterfalls my brother had told me about so I sucked it up and made my way upstream.

When we got to the waterfalls, I was pretty stoked. But when it was time to start heading home, we had a dilemma. I really didn’t want to go back downstream and deal with the boulder hopping because it was kind of scary. My brother said he thought there might be a trail that’d take us past the falls and up to the streets, and I was in favor of that.

So we made our way up a slight trail to the cliff band above the waterfall and swimming hole. As we inched along the cliff, there was a place where the rock wall jutted out slightly, making the trail quite narrow. My brother and I were able to get past it, but Bootsy couldn’t do it.

This is where my version of the story and my brother’s version diverge.

Here’s what I remember: Somehow I ended up back down on the canyon floor with the dog. I thought my brother was going to proceed upstream and see if the trail went through, and then he’d come back for me. At one point, he did come back and stopped at that point where the rock pushed out into the trail along the cliff and hollered down to me. But with the sound of the falls, I couldn’t really understand what he said.

After waiting a while, I went looking for him. I scrambled back up to the cliffside trail and went back and forth several times looking for him and yelling his name. Each time I couldn’t see or hear him, and I returned to our dog.

I finally pushed my luck and went past that place where the rock jutted out once too many. I lost my balance and fell.

Here’s what I remember: I remember thinking “oh no, I’m falling!” I remember sitting cross-legged in the air and starting to tilt to one side, and I thought, “I don’t want to fall on my head,” so I tilted myself back upright. And then I remember finding myself sitting on the canyon floor on a little beach at the base of the cliff. The “beach” was at a bend in the river and was covered with small rocks and pebbles, maybe the size of ping pong balls. Next to me was a small “boulder” that was about waist height on me when I was sitting there; my left arm had landed on that boulder and was just resting on it like it was an arm rest on a chair. I remember it kind of buzzed, but it didn’t hurt.

I think I only sat there for a minute or two, and then like any smart six-year-old, I started yelling for help. I could hear some voices downstream, but apparently they couldn’t hear me. Bootsy quickly found me, though, but she hated swimming and stayed on the opposite side of the creek. I realized nobody was coming and that I needed to find help on my own, so I waded through waist- and chest-deep water until I had made my way to the dog. I again hollered for help, but again nobody responded, so I started working my way back downstream toward the voices I could hear.

Once I rounded a bend, I found a mom with two kids. I think they were fishing, but I’m not sure. I told the woman that I had fallen off the cliff and she looked at me like I was crazy. In retrospect I’m not surprised, as in subsequent years when I returned I realized I had fallen approximately 25 or 30 feet. Really!

The woman’s children were older than my brother and me, and she told them to stay put and she guided me up this totally crazy trail that scrambled up the side of the canyon. I remember telling her I thought I had broken my left arm because whenever I went to use it, it kept feeling “buzzy,” but she kept saying she didn’t think it was broken. Ultimately, and I have no idea how, we made it out of the canyon and to what is now the North American Science Center.

(At the time, the Science Center was owned by one of the aerospace companies—Northrup? Lockheed? I don’t remember. If you check out this photo, you’ll see a white rectangle about halfway vertically and more to the left; that’s the Science Center. La Barranca is visible running more or less vertically just to the left of it. Our home was a the end of the developed area curving up and to the left of the Science Center.)

The woman brought me to the front desk and told them my story. Everyone looked very doubtful, but I do remember that they asked if I knew my phone number (I did!), and they called my mom. In the meantime, they had an onsite medical clinic and they took me there; the nurse may have checked me over, but mostly she just kept me company until my mom arrived.

What I later learned is that my brother arrived home alone, and my mom freaked out. When she asked him where I was, he said, “Isn’t she here? I told her to go back along the river the way we came.” My mom ran down the trail to the bottom of the canyon, yelling my name, and then ran all the way back up. She was preparing to call the police when our phone rang with the call from the staff at the Science Center.

It ended up that I did break my arm, and I was in a cast for six weeks. It was one of those horrible ones, where you can’t bend your elbow, and made of white plaster. Of course it didn’t really slow me down, and we had to return to the orthopedist twice to get it patched.

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Me and my cast. I can see my mom’s and my dad’s signatures on it in the photo, but not my brother’s!

To the day, my brother insists we had a miscommunication. He also has confessed that he was scared to go past the spot where the rock jutted out into the trail (smart boy). I, however, didn’t let him sign my cast for a week because I was mad at him!

I guess I was lucky. Today the best part is having a story to give my brother a hard time. I really have forgiven him and don’t blame him.

The thing I think about the most is how lucky we were to grow up where we did and how we did. Sure, there was the time I ran into a jumping cholla and had needles all over my knee. Or the time I split my lip open while my brother and I were playing in the pool with PVC pipe. (I have no idea why we were doing that!) Or the time my brother and I as teenagers got caught in a rip tide at Zuma Beach, and after swimming in, collapsed on our towels exhausted … until a half hour later, when we looked at each other and said, “That was fun!”

#optoutside is a popular hashtag today, and I love it! Outside, being active, exploring, learning about our world and all the beings that inhabit it, is the healthiest place for us and for our children to be. Experience the world around us, be fearless, charge forward, go for it, live your life … but be careful around older brothers! 😉

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Celebrating a Birthday

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My friend (and one of my Javelina pacers), Nina, had a birthday yesterday. So, of course, that meant that it was time to celebrate! With my schedule having me in a recovery phase after a busy period of training and adventuring, an eight-mile hike to a lake—with promises of hot chocolate and birthday hats and good friends—sounded delightful!

Kari, Nina’s Women Who Run the World business partner and dear friend, suggested a few routes and Nina chose to go to Rachel Lake, which I hadn’t been to before. It’s about a 90-minute drive from my home near Seattle, which went by quickly as I passed through patches of fog and clouds and sun, with the snow-capped mountains of the Cascades peaking through.

Six of us—Nina, Kari, Carol, Melissa, Melissa’s dog Maddie, and I—all met up at the trailhead, where it was just below freezing. It took a few minutes to land on exactly which layers to wear and which to bring, and then we headed out through the woods. The trail starts with a short climb, and then over the next couple of miles meanders through the woods while gently gaining elevation.

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A pretty creek, green trees, and—best of all—sunshine and blue skies!

With recent rains and snowfall, there was more water on the trail than we’ve seen in a while and some somewhat sketchy creek crossings where we played “guess whether the rock is icy and slippery” as we made our ways across. We all made it through with pretty much dry toes, so we felt like life was good.

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We decked the birthday girl out with a tutu, unicorn headband, and an “it’s my birthday” pin, and we all wore leis. Lots of hikers told us we were “colorful.” Here’s Nina (center front) with Maddie and Melissa just behind.

After those first two miles, the trail starts climbing, gently at first and then with great enthusiasm. In some areas, the trail is essentially a creek bed, and in others it involves some easy, short sections of pseudo-scrambling before switchbacking back to forest trail. As we gained elevation, the snow was more prevalent, and in some places there was ice under the snow that had hikers heading the opposite way slipping and sliding down the trail toward us.

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Caution: May be slippery on steeper slopes.

As we gained elevation, we gained views too. Here’s Hibox Peak showing off on a neighboring ridge line.

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It seemed like we climbed for quite a while—but I suspect for me it was my still-recovering-from-Javelina body saying “hey, the tank’s still not quite full!”—but soon enough we popped out at Rachel Lake.

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Pretty awesome place to hang out.

We laid out coats (note: bring a small sit pad next time!), donned unicorn party hats, broke out the feast—waffles, hot chocolate, creme de menthe, salami—and sang happy birthday to Nina on kazoos.

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The birthday girl (and a knife?).

It was a delightful 30 minutes spent chatting and soaking up the warm sun. Then a light breeze picked up and suddenly it wasn’t so warm, so we packed back up, slipped on our micro spikes (which made for a much easier journey downhill than some of the hikers we saw earlier had had), and headed back the way we had come.

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Kari in her element.
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It’s not quite winter but it’s starting to look like it!
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Carol, Melissa, Nina, and Maddie out front as we head back to the cars.

We topped off the celebration later with dinner at Le Coin in Fremont, where we were lost Melissa but were joined by Kelly, Heidi, Ana, Wendy, and Marna. The party continued with drinks and dancing, but the tank was empty and I headed home after dinner and quickly fell asleep while counting my blessings: great friends, great adventures, and a recovery period that allows for a relaxing day in the outdoors with those friends.

Happy birthday, Nina!

 

As always, all words mine. This time, all photos are mine too. 

It’s Been Quiet Around Here Lately

It’s after midnight on a Monday night. I’ve been working for the past three hours and just realized what time it is. It’s been a long time since I’ve fallen into my work like that, where I’m fully engaged and energized intellectually that way.

It’s no secret to those close to me that I struggle with what I call my multiple identities. Lately I’ve been ramping up the training again for some runs at the end of July and again in late October. But I’ve been missing being with my family. And I kind of miss mountain biking. And I’d love to have time for a pedicure. And I definitely miss time with my hubby.

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The cool thing is that the hubster’s been joining me. As I’ve started three-day training blocks, it’s been on a run-hike-run cycle, and he’s been joining me for the hikes. I like that.

We used to do stuff like that all the time. When I first moved to Seattle to be with him, he introduced me to all the standards—Si, Tiger, Granite, Mailbox—and to a bunch of the classic area alpine climbs—The Tooth, Chair Peak, Ingalls. Then I got tired of humping a heavy pack full of gear through the mountains so we took up scrambling together. One summer, almost every weekend we opened the guidebook to local scrambles and picked an adventure. That was a fun summer!

The other thing that’s no secret to those close to me is that I struggle with depression and anxiety. That’s the shitty part of life. Sometimes it’s hard to be excited about family, or making progress on anything. Sometimes it’s hard to be enthusiastic about going on adventures: they somehow get twisted in my brain and become have-to-ventures instead of want-to-ventures. It gets harder to deal with people, to be with big groups of people, to engage, to even enjoy what I’m doing.

My big goal for the summer has been to do the Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier in three days. The trip kind of germinated last year from separate seeds that came from separate conversations among different members of my trail running circle. We ended up with nine women signed up and committed to the trip—which in my spiraling state this season was just way too many people: too complicated, too many conversations, too much planning, too much gear, too much anything and everything.

Trust me, I love each and every one of those women dearly. I was simply overwhelmed.

I had a lot of conversations with Mike about what to do: Should I just bail? I wasn’t having fun getting trained. I wasn’t having fun planning. Mike—being my rock—kept me centered and encouraged me. He reminded me that once we were past all the planning and getting on to the doing, I’d be in my happy place again.

And so it was that on Monday, July 30, my friends and I—down to seven from the original nine due to life getting in the way—started out on the Wonderland Trail. That’ll be the topic of my next post. But I wanted to finish this post, which was started a few weeks ago, because it’s part of the story.

About six months ago, my cousin Chris asked me to write a post about the why of ultrarunning. Why do I do it? What do I get out of it? It’s definitely not something that’s easy to answer. But I think part of it starts here: for me, it gives me an anchor. It’s something that comes from me that’s a fighter, that’s strong and determined, something that has purpose, a goal, a direction. And that takes me to beautiful places away from the everyday life: to places that inspire and feed my soul and teach me that I can be OK.

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On Being a Role Model

Running a lot is my passion. It’s also my single greatest source of “mommy guilt.” I love my weekends in the mountains, testing my limits; exercising my heart and lungs and muscles and soul; and feasting on fresh air, views, and the expanse of nature.

Those weekends in the mountains also mean that I’m away from my twin 8-year-old daughters. They’re pretty good at letting me know how they feel about it too: “Are you running again, Mom?” or, upon seeing the weekly family calendar, “Mom, why can’t you be here when I wake up on the weekends?”

Now, I did stop working full-time outside the home so that I could spend more time with my girls, and I volunteer at their school—in their classroom, on the PTA board, on field trips, etc.—take them to swim lessons, join them on hikes with their Brownie troop (1.2 mi. in 55 minutes was brutal!), and just generally adore them.

I’ve also tried to include them whenever I can. They joined me at the Corral Pass Aid Station a few years ago to support runners at White River 50, and they helped my husband crew me at Black Canyon 100K. We also run(walk) 5Ks together, and they come with me to summer track sessions and do some of the drills.

But … I’ve wondered: Is it enough?

Yesterday, in one of the Mother’s Day messages from one of my girls, I think I found out.

For context, when Meg found out we were going to Arizona for me to run a 100K, she asked, “Why are you doing that when you couldn’t even run 50 miles?” First: OUCH! Second, it was a good question. I did DNF White River last year. I told her that it was because it was something I really wanted to do, and that I had learned a lot from that race that I thought would help me finished Black Canyon. And, I wondered if my message was heard … or understood.

In that Mother’s Day message, Abby listed adjectives she would use to describe me. One of them was, “Never gives up.”

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YES! That’s a lesson I hope they both carry through their lives. While I’m certainly no Desi Linden, I love her statement: “Keep showing up.” Mine may be a little different, “Never give up,” but either way I think it’s about knowing what you want, making sure what you want feeds your passion and your heart and your soul, and then pursuing it—through the bumps and failures and challenges and successes. Because then you know who you are, and you know how strong you truly are.

I hope they never give up, keep showing up, and find their passion too.

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By the way, I’m apparently also a cooker, a sleeper, and sneaky (so watch out!).

 

A Little Jaunt

Sometimes it’s nice to just go out for a little jaunt in the woods. No training, no GPS-enabled watch, no required mileage or time … just a little jaunt.

Sometimes I head out on my own for a little jaunt. I like being able to stop to take a picture or absorb the view (or the trees, which are often the “view” here in the Pacific Northwest) or just breathe. Sometimes I’ll see a woodpecker or a gray jay or a chipmunk or—in the summer, when venturing farther is more feasible—a marmot. Other times I’ll just enjoy the rays of the sun illuminating the forest and peeking through tree branches to highlight the frond of a fern or some crazy-green moss.

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Other times it’s fun to venture out with a group for a little jaunt in the woods. The introspection that comes with solo discoveries in the woods turns into shared celebrations of the wonders the forests and mountains hold, and laughter is frequent as we gather these experiences close to our souls. When you all see the snow-laden branches of a tree as the outside of a Hobbit house, or pop out at a viewpoint or the top of a pass and universally hear in your minds the “ahhhhhh” of the choir in heaven, or you all are stunned and thrilled to see a bear suddenly tear across a meadow, somehow that experience is amplified … the energy expands exponentially … it becomes solid and real and forever.

I cannot count how many times these little group jaunts have soothed our souls as individually each of us has faced the demons life presents all of us—work troubles, the illness or death of a loved one, marriage problems, the angst that comes with raising children. And other times, I have found solace alone, listening to my breath and my heart beat, my feet touching the ground, and the wind and the birds and the life in the woods.

Maybe this is the unifying force that makes the trail running community embrace and encourage and inspire its members. We have all had our little jaunts, and we all know the mystical power and joy that come with them.

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Imposter Syndrome and Microinequities: A Rant

I’ve been hearing about imposter syndrome a lot recently. And I’m pissed off about it! What is imposter syndrome? It’s when people don’t feel like they belong doing what they’re doing. They’re too slow, too fat, too female, too old to be credible in their endeavors, and since I read a lot about outdoor life and recreation, I hear about it most in that context. I’m too [fill in the blank] to join that group for a run/hike/climb/etc. or to even just be out there.

On a women-only outdoor page on facebook, a woman shared a selfie and said, “I hate this picture of myself ’cause I look fat, but look at that view!” Or you read about Mirna Valerio and the crap that’s said to her. Or how many messages come in to a women’s running club inbox asking, “Is it OK to come if I’m slow? I’m afraid I’ll hold people back.”

It’s ridiculous! And insulting … and pervasive … and unacceptable! And that’s not OK!

So where does it come from?

Well, let me give you a few examples. They’re my own examples, and they happened recently. And I’m still so riled up that I’m pounding on my keyboard as I type!

Here’s one. I walk into the packet pickup room for Black Canyon 100K and head straight to the line for the bibs for the 100K. Guy behind the table asks, “60K?” FU. No, I’m here to do the goddamn 100K. He doesn’t engage in discussion, just hands me my packet and looks away. Well, OK, so I’m not super-social either, and maybe overly sensitive, but I felt dismissed.

Microinequity. Unintended. But it hurt.

Here’s another one. I often run with a group of women—whose ages range from probably late-20s to mid-50s (I’m 52 for another three weeks) on Saturday mornings. This Saturday we got to talking about blogs, and I asked one woman whose blog I follow where she was hoping to go with it as she’s made some changes recently. She then asked me what I was hoping to accomplish with this blog.

“I think I just want people to know that you can be in your 50s, be a late-in-life parent to young kids, and still get out there and kill it,” was my response. In all honesty, I’m not sure that that was my initial vision, but it is kind of how I’m thinking about it lately.

She responded, “Oh wow, I was listening to this podcast, and it was all interviews with women 50 and older, and when I was listening to it I thought, ‘This is the women I run with!’ I’ll send you the link.” So, she sent me the link and it was all these interviews with women accepting that they need to slow down, carry less weight, smell the flowers, take more pictures. I barely got through 10 minutes of it.

Trust me, this woman is awesome and I consider her a very good friend. We’ve gone on amazing and hard adventures together. She has NEVER been demeaning or condescending. We talked about it later and she said, “What I’m taking away from this is that I have badass friends who aren’t allowing anything to dictate their ambitions.”  Hell ya! Nobody should! Her message was so appreciated. Because I don’t want to hear about how being middle-aged means that I’m giving up! I hated that podcast because to me that was part of the message. Am I an imposter because I’m focused on staying strong and kicking ass as long as I can?!

Microinequity. Unintended. But it hurt.

And here’s the latest. On Sunday I was doing two laps on Cable Line Trail on West Tiger. Two laps (per my Garmin) = approximately 4,200 in 6.4 miles. I’m there with two friends, both women (one in her early 40s and one in her early 50s). After our first climb up, we’re headed back down and pass a group of four or five young men who are going up. We say, “Good morning!” They say, “Good morning!” And then one said, “Are you part of a club?” The three of us were like, um, that’s a weird question. But we say, “No, just running friends.” And the young man replied, “Oh, like a moms’ group?” Because clearly any group of middle-aged (ouch to even say that!) women can’t be out there kicking butt in the mountains … they must be moms out for bonding time.

Microinequity. Unintended. And clueless! But it hurt. And enraged us!

We then had a hell of a good time the rest of the way back down going on a rant about the time the male REI employee explained to one of us what “25% off clearance prices” meant—speaking very s-l-o-w-l-y as he did so—or the time we passed a man going up Cable Line, and he warned us not to go down the same way because it was way too treacherous for us.

Then we decided that if we were going to be labeled a “moms’ group,” we needed a name—so now we are the FUMs. Think about it.

The Meteor Shower

I heard once that lyrics in John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High were inspired by a night he was in the mountains soaking in a hot spring (and probably smoking pot and skinny dipping, but that wasn’t part of the story) and watching the Perseid meteor shower. He described them as “rainin’ fire in the sky,” and I have always loved the imagery in that phrase.

     But the Colorado rocky mountain high
     I’ve seen it rainin’ fire in the sky
     The shadow from the starlight is softer than a lullabye
     Rocky mountain high (Colorado)

So on August 11, I packed up the girls and headed down to Crystal Mountain for an evening of star and meteor gazing atop the ski area.

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Elevator up! (Meg’s not so sure this is a good idea.)

The forecast called for some possible lightning, and I was worried that either the smoke of the past couple of weeks or clouds (or both, I guess) would hinder our view. As we loaded onto the gondola, the operator warned us that if the forecasted lightning came in, we’d need to evacuate. Eek! But little is gained with no risk, and up we went.

We arrived just before sunset, and wandered a bit looking for a good place to set down our chairs and blankets.

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Rainier and the setting sun. Glorious moment that made my soul soar!

Once we were settled, we had a long wait for it to get truly dark. Thus ensued trips to the bathroom and the gift shop (where I finally caved and let everyone—including me—buy candy), and of course some spats between the girls.

 

Finally, with a nice window framed by smoke on one side and clouds on the other, the stars began to appear. Abby, who had been begging me to leave because she was afraid of the lightning and I think of being outside in the dark under that huge sky, was the first to see a meteor. Meg and I missed it, but the crowd all “ooooohed” and “ahhhhhhed” so it must have been a good one.

Then Meg and I saw a ginormous meteor streak most of the way across the sky, its long tail glittering and sparkling as it tore across the Big Dipper and over toward Mt. Rainier. So we were happy too.

We spent another 45 minutes watching the show—for a show it was, indeed—before Meg began begging me to take her home so she could go to sleep and for Abby to say she’d had enough.

As we descended the mountain in the gondola, it was quiet and dark and I felt like the three of us were in this special little bubble traveling through space. And Meg said, “This is so peaceful, Mommy.”

My evening was sealed with a bow when Abby said to me, “Thank you for taking us there, Mommy. That was so awesome!”