Purposefully Erratic

Approaching Aiguille du Midi

Approaching Aiguille du Midi

Traveling has left me caught in an expanding web of magnificent eccentrics. Last night I had dinner with a pair of mountain bikers I met in Chamonix this summer. Though we’ve known each other less than three months, I knew by the light in their eyes – knew by the grin that started in the right corner of Tom’s mouth and didn’t stop until the left corner of Gloria’s (across the room) – that their latest expedition was a grade A sufferfest. A two hour bike ride that turned into eight, uphill over roots and boulders, through the viscous, silty mud that forms in the rain that really hasn’t stopped falling all season. Only a coke and a few madeline’s to sustain them.

I can’t ride a two-wheeler. The closest I came was the red tricycle I scooted along on as a toddler, or the wheelchair I used on and off as a teen (also red). It’s not bikes at the heart of this friendship. Preposterously, my life is filled with long distance hikers, rafting guides, mountain climbers, SCUBA divers, kite surfers, base jumpers, van dwellers and ultra runners. At least one of my friends was employed to hike into back country Alaska and teach bears to fear humans. If there is a unifying theme – at first glance – it might be recklessness – it might be an underdeveloped impulse toward comfort and self preservation.

This is a life populated with people whose passions take them beyond the A.D.A. approved sections of guidebooks. Beyond the edges of maps.  On the surface this makes absolutely no sense. It’s been on my mind a lot this summer. With these folks, in a mountain range so steep that my quads burn with rage and question my sanity on the way to friends’ houses, where almost all conversations at least touch on experiences I’ll never share – I’ve been feeling completely understood. I’ve been feeling at home.

A few weeks ago, I found myself in the passenger seat of a car, listening to and nodding knowingly as another new friend, Elliott, told his story of running the 80k course of the U.T.M.B. I thought my connection to his story might have something to do with the ideal of becoming the ultimate self rescue princess. He ran on a whim. Unprepared. Unregistered. At 65K his legs were fried. He was ready to take the lift home. Ready to quit. Of course, as an unregistered weirdo, they wouldn’t let him on. He would have to pay a lift fee or run. Past his personal point of no return, he self rescued. He ran.

What possible motive do we share? Why ride bicycles up a muddy, clusterfuck of a trail? Why run up, around, over, across and back down some of the steepest terrain on the planet? For that matter, why with all the physical prowess of Humpty Dumpty, decide to fall in love with wild landscapes and move to a foreign country for a summer? There is undeniable discomfort built into these activities. Suffering beyond what the average bear could stand to bare. But, here we are. We are grinning; sometimes we are so stoked that we radiate. We glow.

It might be a need for self reliance. It might be a drive to test our own limits to their breaking points. It might be a love of filth and sweat and pain. It might be a need to work so hard physically that all of the mental noise is drown out. It might be a need to challenge ourselves beyond reason and prove that we can overcome. I think it’s all of these, but only a little.

Riding the AlpyBus back into town, a nearly imperceptible crick in my neck, a slight shift and tilt of my head landed my eyes on a much clearer answer. Fifteen parachutes. Fifteen perfect humans dangling in the sky. Taking a needless risk. Probably freezing cold in the wind and altitude. Crowning the first limestone cliff on the way from GVA to Chamonix. It was a gray Tuesday. Raining on and off. Mostly on. But they hung and spun and dangled thousands of feet above the valley floor in the one spot of pure blue and sunshine the afternoon had to offer. Just watching – in my stomach – butterflies fluttered faster than heartbeats.

This is the thing. Gloria and Tom ended their sugar fueled slog on a perfect section of single track. On their bikes, for at least a few moments, they flew across some of the most captivating landscape the alps could offer. Elliott was joined by a jubilant dog friend for his last 10K – the way he told it they may as well have been dancing across the finish line. Every time I walk through this steep little town, I watch the light change on the glacier, or hear birdsong echoing from both sides of the valley. However fleetingly, at our edges of endurance, we are sometimes enveloped by grace.

It’s hard. We are uncomfortable. But there is so much grace in the world if you can get yourself in the right place to meet it. We feel the pain and cold. We are tiny and vulnerable. This isn’t about conquest. It’s not about proving anything or being better than anyone. It’s about the unexpected spaces within the grind that contain enough grace to overwhelm the senses. Enough grace to make you glow. These are moments so fragile and perfect you almost burst. But they are flighty suckers. You can’t plan for them, but I think this necessary humility is part of the draw. All we can do is put ourselves in what we think might be the right place, focus, and pay attention. We can’t even blink. No matter. For some of us, grace is always worth chasing.

I Was Pretty Amazing At Tricycling Though

I Was Pretty Amazing At Tricycle Scooting Though (Photo by Tim McMahon)

 

A Celebration of Filth

I'm All Up On This Alp

I’m All Up On This Alp [Photo by Halliday Reynolds]

I woke up last Wednesday, pine sap matting a wad of hair to the back of my scalp, just above the beginnings of a redneck sunburn the likes of which I haven’t experienced since high school; before sunscreen was a thing. The previous days’ outfit lay strewn about my bedroom, covered in a Jackson Pollock masterwork of bar-b-que sauce, forest floor dampness, the black smudges of charcoal, pine needles, and a dash of red wine stains. None of this is bad; it’s glorious. Continue reading

Pretrip Nostalgia: There’s No Place Like Home…

Sad to Go

Sad to Go

Next week I’ll take the 210 to the 2 to the 5 to the 110 to the 105 to the 1. Then, I’ll hop on a plane and head off for an almost three month festival of lucky-swine Alpine writing workshop followed by a slow paced mountain and/or continent conquering aimless wander. I am excited and humbled beyond expression at the particular path my life is currently following. Continue reading

Good Looking Out, Smokey

Yosemite

Yosemite

For a week each spring we celebrate our National Parks. This is not nearly enough time. For ninety eight years the parks service has collected and curated eighty four million acres of Continue reading

Colonize the Montage

Dogwood Flowers Chillaxing in the Sunshine of a Sierra Spring

Dogwood Flowers Chillaxing in the Sunshine of a Sierra Spring

This past week has been completely overrun with two activities. The see through-tanning, internet-searching, hair-pulling minutia of planning my epic summer and a knock-down, drag-out, full blown, gloves off bout of RA fatigue. In the seven or eight hours per day that Continue reading

The Single Best Brownie and Latte in the History of Humankind

Mmmmmmmmmm Civilization...

Mmmmmmmmmm Civilization…

The above latte/ brownie combo may look run of the mill to the untrained eye. To the eyes of a deeply inexperienced outdoors-lady who has just spent three days drinking instant coffee, Continue reading

The Greatest Picture Never Taken in Denali National Park

This is a picture of a real live wolf! Squint, it's there. I swear it.

This is a picture of a real live wolf! Squint, it’s there. I swear it. If you’re on a smart phone you’re S.O.L. though.

Some people are possessed of a second sight. One specifically reserved for spotting interesting flora and fauna that the rest of us mere mortals miss. Personally, this skill set never developed Continue reading

Ripping Off Your Bunny Ears

Not an alp in Denali National Park

Not an alp in Denali National Park

I have disgustingly good news and I ask that you bear with me for a braggy second while I tell you about it. I swear there will be a pay off, just hang on.  Continue reading

Inherited Obsession, or Why I Will Someday Import an Italian Ape Car

Ape Car Climbs an Alp

Ape Car Climbs an Alp

They say that retirement is a time for reflection. A time to look back on your greatest accomplishments with a sense of pride. In this spirit, my father spent a significant part of his first year of retirement assembling a photo album of every car he has ever owned. Continue reading

Chapter 1: Encountering a Bear

What to Do When You Meet a Bear

What to Do When You Meet a Wild Bear

The wilderness is full of creepy unnatural beasties waiting to rip you apart limb from limb. Over time we Continue reading

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