White Sands

Absolutely one of the coolest places I’ve ever been. Not that sand dunes in and of themselves are so remarkable – I grew up playing on them at the Jersey Shore, Cape Cod, and Lake Michigan. But these dunes aren’t near a body of water. They are in the middle of the desert. Sandwiched between some mountain ranges actually. At 4500′ of elevation. Next to Hollman airforce base and the NASA Missile testing facility. The park website has a bunch of warnings about possible road closures due to missile testing (and specific dates you won’t be able to access the park). Luckily today was not one of those days. I did get to hear and see some pretty sweet jets doing some fly overs from the base though.

There’s a 16 mile round trip road you drive on through the park. It passes all the trails and picnic sites and had a bunch of big pull outs to just go run around (or sled down) the dunes. I wanted to hike the Backcountry Trail and didn’t realize until I parked that they have campsites on it. I was under the impression that you can’t camp there, but I was wrong. Now, you can’t have fires, and the sites are literally just a stake in the desert, so I’m not exactly sure what the point of it is, but I did see (and hear) one couple that had set up a tent at one of the “sites.”

First I recorded some of the drive through the park. You can see some of the restrooms they have set up. There is zero water in the park but they do have some [presumably] dry bathrooms. Fortunately I tote my own personal bathroom around with me so I never have to worry about these inconveniences. And I have a nice full tank of potable water as well. #airstreamlife

I had fun playing with the GoPro in the dunes. I hiked for about 90 minutes excluding a few stops. I could have gone all day – it was heavenly, especially off the main trail. I wore my GoreTex Salomon backpacking shoes to keep as much sand out as possible and they worked like a charm. Five minutes in my Saucony running shoes and I was full of sand so smart move to switch before the main hike.



Such a magical afternoon making footprints in the sand.

Jaxon Keys Winery and Distillery (Hopland, CA)

Our first Harvest Host stay was an absolute joy! Of course it took us longer to get there than anticipated because Highway 101 has some scary narrow windy sections (and we just blindly trust Google Maps estimates way too much). I could tell where we were supposed to park based on the Host’s website pics and reviews so we turned around and pulled right up next to the fence at the bottom of the drive. img_2638I hopped out and changed into some running clothes and ran right into the tasting room to announce our arrival and ask if we could run around the property. Of course we could – just stay off the section they rent out for hunters – duly noted! It was beautiful and the smell, oh the smell!

the deck view from the hilltop guest house they rent out
the deck view from the hilltop guest house they rent out

img_264645 minutes later I was ready for wine. We chatted with the proprietor and tasted the offerings then bought a bottle of my favorite to sit on the veranda and enjoy dusk looking out over the fields of multi-colored vines. img_2651The only drawback is they are literally right on highway 101 so the traffic noise made it less idyllic. But I got to fill Tom in on the employment drama that was happening in the background of my healing story we’d listened to on the Blue Skies podcast in the car. I forgot I had even mentioned it in the recording and hope it didn’t come off badly. I should mention that we are hooked on podcasts for the driving days. I’ll have to make a post reviewing what we are listening to 🙂

It was a perfect evening of [a faux propane] campfire and star gazing, homemade turkey burgers and waxing poetic over the wonderful wine. And we only filled up 19% of our gray tank hooray! Breaking camp is much easier when you’re dry camping. I took the opportunity of the big gravel parking lot to practice backing up the trailer – even if I’m still too scared to pull her on the open road. Baby steps…

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morning coffee views

Iron Adventures in France Part Un

The backstory:

Life in Seattle during tax season was stressful. Trying to learn a new job, make friends in a new city, date in a new culture, train in the dark, live within my means, it was a lot. I hardly slept, I gained a ton of weight, I drank daily, cried frequently, and doubted myself regularly. But April 18th came and went and I had the promise of a full time job, new friends and training partners, great weather, and a miracle weight loss pill. Seriously, things had really turned around – even if I was still having housing problems and night sweats.

 

I had been thinking about Ecuador 70.3 with my coach/friend Kelly the end of July but travel warnings were high and logistics tricky, so I shifted gears to Whistler 70.3, same timeframe. I headed east for almost 3 weeks of vacation with the family, training with Charlotte friends, and shipping my belongings back to Seattle. I returned to the PNW ready for summer fun and out of the blue Kelly suggested a trip to France for either a 70.3 or 140.6. I’m sure she thought I’d go for the 70.3 and we could just alternate sherpa-ing for one another. After some quick internet research we secured accommodations and were watching flights while she loaded up my training volume to see if I could realistically go for the full distance. And I searched for some race reports to scout the course. Learnings: wetsuit swim, “fast” bike, flat hot run. Bingo! This was my race.

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But hold on. This meant I had to swim. I can count on one hand how many times I swam between Ironman Chattanooga and tax day. (For the uninformed, that’s September 28, 2015, to April 18, 2016). Seriously, 5 swims. Naturally I ran right out and bought (luckily at a Timex team discount) the best wetsuit on the market – made especially for women w curves. Thank you Blue Seventy! And then there’s the whole I suck at climbing hills thing, so I swapped out my cassette and derailleur for some pansy sizes so I could actually ride places like Orcas Island and Whistler BC, even if I did still only average 13-14mph, at least I wasn’t walking up the hills. [Okay, I walked up a few, on Orcas. You just try it and see if you don’t.]

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Just in case you weren’t keeping up – I’m saying that I registered on June 27 for an Ironman on August 28. In the 8 weeks leading up to the actual registration I had been training 11-14 hours/week so I’m not a total moron – and you can be certain that my coach wouldn’t let me do anything completely idiotic. Last year I went from fat lazy Euro-tripping girl to Ironwoman in 100 days, but I was unemployed and road tripping and focused primarily on my training. This year I had to navigate an 8-5 job schedule, a ton of summer weekend travel plans, and a personal priority of building my social network in this city that I desperately wanted to call home. But it seemed to be working out alright – some solo workouts, some with friends, lots of early mornings at the hot outdoor pool in Kirkland, lots of sweaty lunch runs, a couple exasperating rides on Ironman courses in Coeur d’alene, Whistler, and Boulder, and some confidence boosting open water swims in the beautiful lakes that make Seattle such amazing training ground.

Green Lake, Whistler, BC

Then France:

Before I knew it, summer was winding down and it was time to catch my flight to Europe. A whole bunch of other stuff was going on and distracting me but I had pretty much nailed my training and was as fit as I could be given my limited lead time. Kelly and I were ready to crush this race and show all the Europeans what’s up. We had big goals and high hopes. Travels went flawlessly, bikes unpacked, jet lag averted (as best as possible), and French roads navigated. As soon as we arrived in Vichy we parked near a public swim area on the lake and tried to go for a swim. The adorable French lifeguards informed us that was not possible as the water was barely knee deep in the permissable “swim area.” So we started out to run a loop around the lake instead, stopping at the race venue to get some tickets to the local pool and scouting out the swim start/transition area. It was a nice area with tree lined paths along the water, but good Lord, it was hot. Like 97 degrees hot, not a cloud in the sky. At 5:30 in the afternoon we were dry mouthed and sweat soaked. Hmm… this was not good. It took some doing but we made it to the sweet outdoor pool and a cute French guy sweet talked a coach into letting us share a lane with his team practicing after public hours. Me and 50m pools do not really get along, but this one was pretty cool and I suffered thru about 1000m before Kelly decided to give me some pointers on my stroke which magically changed everything. Gee, great timing. A local woman chatted us up and informed us that it was highly likely the water temp would rise to non-wetsuit legal temps before the weekend. Not good news. Eventually we made it to the countryside Chateau that would be our home for 5 nights and the lovely Dutch couple that runs the B&B served us a fabulous dinner and we tucked in for the night.

 

Thursday. 3 more sleeps. All the carbs. Time to ride the bikes. 5 miles in I realize the reason I feel so shaky and anxious is because my headset is not screwed down correctly, like not even close. I’m lucky I didn’t kill myself. I managed to get back in one piece but while going in and out of the chateau in search of a tool to fix it, I fell hard down the steps in my cleats, severely bruising my left hip. So now I’m freaked out and want a mechanic to check the bike over and also in a lot of pain and wondering how that might affect my race as well. But for now, back to the pool we go. Coach does a lot of workouts during taper, so apparently now I do too. We have trouble navigating the weird European public pool locker room protocol and get smacked around a bit by aggressive men in tiny swimsuits. Then on to packet pickup where hardly anyone speaks English and we can’t figure out when athlete’s meeting is, where a mechanic is, or why there are no chips in our packets. I couldn’t even negotiate an appointment at the massage tent. It was hot as balls and we were getting cranky so we left to go drive the bike course. Beautiful French countryside and cute hay bale sculptures welcoming Ironman racers awaited us, as did hot sun, hot wind, and bumpy roads. Our favorite section was near the end of the loop on the nicely paved rolling hills thru the only tree covered area before the descent back into town. Couldn’t figure out where special needs would be located and begrudged being routed over speed bumps but overall, it looked nice and doable, just very open to the elements. We parked near the Opera house to run the only part of the course we’d missed the previous day, did a 30 minute shake out then enjoyed some quiche at an outdoor cafe in the park because we were too early for dinner which apparently starts at 7:30 lol. Then I took a unisom to make sure I got some rest.

Ironpeople swim practice

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Friday: 2 more sleeps. After official word from the race organizers that short a minor miracle, the water was indeed not going to be wetsuit legal, I decided to investigate skinsuit options from the vendors in the village. Ironically, most of them were still peddling wetsuits and were ill-prepared to make some quick cash off last minute too hot temps via skinsuit purchases. Introduce Skinfit. Not exorbitantly priced, helpful staff, and a fire engine red suit in just my size, so let’s just add that to my over-budget Ironman expenditures for the summer. Naturally, back to the pool we go. Admittedly it did feel pretty slick, and boosted my confidence a little. There were a ton of Iron-people getting in workouts and the energy was buzzing in the heat. Afterwards we stopped at the Decathlon sporting goods store to see about a bike mechanic and they swore there was a tent at the race venue but took pity on me and let me bring my bike inside for a quick check anyways. One twist on the cable adjuster and he said I was good – not super reassuring but oh well. Then we drove across the street and parked at the hippodrome (hippodrome ˈhɪpədrəʊm/noun: hippodrome; plural noun: hippodromes 1. a theatre or concert hall. “the Birmingham Hippodrome” 2. (in ancient Greece or Rome) a stadium for chariot or horse races.) and started running. Not long after, a little old French man in a golf cart chased us down and made it clear (in French) that we had to get out of the stable area – that there was no cut thru to the running path. On our way out several other gentlemen emphasized our trespassing and directed us to the exit – Message received! We ended up at the venue and were scouting out the swim buoys when a very nice English speaking race staffer appeared to show us the swim entry/first exit/re-entry/final exit situation and confirm that the water was already at not-wetsuit legal temps. Well shit. The uncontrollable. But hey, running at an 8:30 pace in 97 degrees doesn’t feel hard, so there’s that. Tried to go to the grocery but it was closed for siesta so we picked up some goodies at the bakery next door and had an only half-intelligible conversation with the baker about his bread and our race. We enjoyed yet another quiche on the lawn back at the chateau before a super short ride to make sure my bike felt okay. Showered up and headed back to town for the Pro Athlete meeting which turned out to be quite dramatic. Apparently WTC defers to French regulation rules which are different than the worldwide Ironman standards on some very key issues, namely in this non-wetsuit legal situation, what you can wear under a swimskin. I was wanting clarification on whether or not you can run shirtless but this conversation took a serious turn towards the ridiculous as people discussed getting naked in transition and what constitutes “underwear.” Final ruling as they started tearing down the Ironman banners adorning the meeting room: ONE LAYER ONLY – with the exception that women can wear sports bras. Hmpf. Heads spinning, nerves strung out, emotions running high. At least I finally found out where we can park lol. Stopped at a fancy grocery for dinner supplies and continued to stress out over a nice home cooked meal before starting on the gear bag organization. More unisom for sure.

last minute purchase

Saturday. Big day. Chill day. Because of the 70.3 taking place we couldn’t drop off our bikes til 4pm so we had all day to do our last shake out bike ride and prep our gear before heading into town again. I really loved our country ride this day and it gave me happy thoughts for the big ride ahead. Email from the race director saying miracles do happen, but not the one I was really hoping for. It still wasn’t wetsuit legal, BUT the French had acquiesced and were letting competitors were TWO layers for the swim – a trisuit under a swimskin was allowed. Big relief for Kelly, and saved me the embarrassment of getting naked in transition to put on shorts. So carry on then, phew. Eat, drink, organize bags, eat, drink, reorganize bags, eat, drink some more. Eventually we head into town to rack our bikes and drop transition bags. It’s not super clear how the run ins and outs will work but we get the general idea (I still screwed up run out from T2 on race day but there was a lovely metal fence to stop me in my tracks). The volunteers were great but it wasn’t the language barrier that hindered our comprehension – people just didn’t know where things were located – namely morning clothes drop off and specials needs bags drop off. Hopefully it would be obvious in the morning, you know, in the dark, with announcements in French, lol. I wasn’t thrilled with my rack position – far from the bike out and far from the pumps for race morning. After watching Kelly stand in line forEVER at Whistler I was really anxious about pumping my tires in the morning since my pump broke on the plane trip. Nothing to do about it though, so back to the chateau for more eating and hydrating and organizing. I braided my hair, got in the boots one last time, watched Inside Out and IM’d endlessly with Tom til the upstairs neighbors finally turned down their music enough for me to fall asleep.

the pro

I had spent remarkably little time mentally preparing for this race. I felt physically ready, aside from the bruised hip and sore arms from my very recently updated swim stroke technique. I slept decently, overcame jetlag, was sufficiently carbed and hydrated. I had goals naturally, that had been discussed with my coach, and there was concern about the heat wave, so adjustments for possible temps in the high 90s would have to be made. I have been distracted and since I have done this before I guess I wasn’t as anxious, but in retrospect I could have devoted more time to the mental run through and game plan.

shakeout fun

Sunday. Race Day. To be found in detail here 

Monday morning thoughts from 30,000 feet

Sunset in Anacortes WA November 2015
Sunset in Anacortes WA November 2015 – practicing panoramic selfies hehe

A few weeks ago I stood on a rock at sunset looking across Puget Sound at the Olympic Mountains with one of my oldest and dearest friends and felt overwhelmed with relief and hope, having taken a big leap of faith towards a possible future on the west coast. I had accepted a job in Seattle and was ready to really try the city on as a new home. But since the job is seasonal and doesn’t start for 2 months I got busy confirming plans for the meantime and never got around to capturing my thoughts about this blessing that had been shaping up behind the scenes for literally a decade. I was eager to testify to God’s goodness in light of my severe anxiety around jobs and interviews and finances. And I was thrilled to tell my parents because they worry much more than I do about my stability and provision. It was a busy week hosting Karen and playing tour guide then I packed up once more and headed back east to share my news and dig through boxes of winter clothes for a work wardrobe and resort wear for a family “vacation.” (When my day to day life is really a vacation of sorts the term loses its original meaning.)

As I connected with Charlotte friends over the next 5 days I started to spread the word and was further energized by their enthusiasm. I also got a swift kick in the tail in the training department by accompanying them to computrainer classes, hot yoga, group runs, and even chased my coach around on the bike one sunny day. It seemed everyone else had gotten back in the swing of things post-ironman a lot faster than I had and it made me wonder if I’m doing something wrong and how I can build a stronger training network out west to stay in better shape when an A race isn’t looming. But I’ll put that in the 2016 Goals column for now.

Before I knew it I was rushing to the airport for our tropical getaway and despite a comedy of errors I made it to Atlanta where I met up with the whole gang and a few hours later we were toes in the sand, piña coladas in hand. I was proud of myself for keeping the workout mojo going but I’m pretty sure the weekly alcohol intake negated any possible fitness gains and I’m still pretty embarrassed about my current state and grateful its baggy sweater season. After a sunny week of pampering and digging holes in the sand with my niece and nephew, I was back to Atlanta to catch up with old friends. I honestly can’t remember the last time I visited and I hardly recognize it anymore. I spent 3 days catching up with 4 dear girlfriends and couldn’t help but reflect on how we’ve all grown up so much in the 10 years since I left. There’s been love and loss and babies and new houses but I can still sit across the table from each one and laugh like it was yesterday. Women in their 30s are remarkable. They juggle careers and children and aging parents and relationships and homemaking and fitness and you wonder how they find the energy to get up and do it all again the next day with a smile on their face. Consider me impressed and feeling a little unworthy!

En route back to Charlotte I started reaching out to schedule time with friends for what I thought would be my last visit til May. There’s never enough time to see everyone which only makes me realize how incredibly blessed I am in the friend department. I really have an amazing community that loves and supports me and the more I consider not moving back there the harder it is to leave. I am so grateful to everyone who has opened their home to me, especially last minute, and been so generous and understanding of my crazy schedule. I hope one day I can repay all the kindnesses. But even as I sit here 90 minutes from landing back in Seattle, I know I’ll be returning to the Queen City before the end of tax season. I had one super special friend hour this weekend that has really rocked me and I’ve been a sniffly puffy eyed mess since I hugged her goodbye. There are many injustices in the world these days but at least in this moment I can think of none greater than suffering at the merciless hands of incurable disease. No one can escape from it anymore. It seeks out our mothers, our best friends, our heroes, our cheerleaders. It infuriates me and it frightens me. It brings out the worst in some and the best in others. It rips apart families and shatters dreams. It breaks my heart and makes me love in ways I didn’t know I could. We throw billions of dollars and countless hours of brilliant minds’ labor at it and at the end of the day we are still completely mystified and helpless.

There are just some mysteries we will not have answers for this side of eternity. I can’t anticipate the grief that lies in my too near future. The last few months I have felt keenly aware of my emotions and perhaps spent a little too much time being present with them (a downfall of excessive free time). Whether it’s fear and anxiety or confidence and pride, longing and loneliness or gratitude and joy, I have to believe that this is the essence of life. Soaking in the moments and understanding how pieces fit together when something wonderful unfolds offers at least a sliver of solid ground when the winds of confusion and despair start howling. It’s unfathomable to me how some people can be so reckless with their loved ones when others would literally give anything for just one more tomorrow with theirs.

As I said, it is getting harder and harder to leave. But for the very reason that life is fleeting and precious, I have to keep moving forward. My people wouldn’t be my people if they did anything less than hug me and pray for me and send me on my way. And because I’m their people they know I’ll be back when it’s time. I carry them with me as I go and will pray for them as I watch the sun set over my horizon, that it will rise on theirs, bringing hope and strength for the battles of the new day, and peace in the promise of life everlasting.

sunset after a storm, seven mile beach, grand cayman, november 2015
sunset after a storm, seven mile beach, grand cayman, November 2015

 

If you would like to get some skin in the game… join me in supporting my people at the Get Your Rear in Gear Charlotte March 5th or for those of you not near the Queen City, we’ll gladly take your money too! Follow my link to the team page by clicking here:  GYRIG Blue Crew

The Blue Crew celebrating LIFE at VBGB Charlotte NC October 2015
The Blue Crew celebrating LIFE at VBGB Charlotte NC October 2015

fall[ing]

People who don’t stay down after they fall or are tripped are often troublemakers. Hard to control. Which is the best kind of dangerous possible. ~ Brene Brown

fall /fôl/
verb
1.  move downward, typically rapidly and freely without control, from a higher to a lower level.
2.  (of a person) lose one’s balance and collapse.
noun
1.  an act of falling or collapsing; a sudden uncontrollable descent.
2.  a thing that falls or has fallen.

fall –
an accident. a trauma. a tragedy. an interruption. a downgrade. a jolt. a humiliation. a low point.
a season.
a reality check. a turning point. an impetus. a call to action. a reckoning. an opportunity.

Theodore Roosevelt’s 1910 “Man in the Arena” speech keeps popping up in my life lately. I wrote it in my journal before the Ironman. It appears in the Intro to my current reading, Brene Brown’s Rising Strong.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong [wo]man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the [wo]man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself[/herself] in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if [s]he fails, at least [s]he fails while daring greatly. So that his[/her] place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
Not only a depiction of the struggle in an epic undertaking like the Ironman, but also the undertaking of life. Not content with the life I had, I decided to get back in the arena and wrestle with the tough questions and choose a new path. Brene used the speech as the epigraph in her Daring Greatly book, which I was reading when I decided to upend my life in this search for something better. I thought I was daring greatly, and I think a lot of people watching thought I was too. But for the last 6 months I’ve mostly just been having fun and putting off the truly daring part. Sure there were some moments of “holy $hit what am I doing? this is crazy!” that might have seemed daring, but the excitement always outweighed the fear and uncertainty. I’m certainly not the first woman to travel overseas “alone” for a couple months. Liz Gilbert defined that space years ago, much more alone than I did. I’m definitely not the first woman to go after a big hairy endurance competition goal. Kathrine Switzer dared much more greatly than I. I’m absolutely not the first woman to head out cross-country in search of adventure and soul searching. Cheryl Strayed taught us about despair and transcendence. These women have brought tears to my eyes and inspired me with their vulnerability and courage.
So as I sit here 6 months after leaving everything behind with no solid response to the constant questions of where I’m headed or what I’m doing, I am understandably a little emotional and struggling daily to choose forward movement instead of mud puddle splashing. The anxiety was building all last week because I couldn’t even figure out what to pack to fly back west and I hadn’t made any living arrangements. One day I’d have a road trip mapped out and the next day all the people I planned to visit informed me the timing doesn’t work. All the emails I sent regarding renting rooms or house sitting go unanswered or are declined. I toy with the idea of quitting and driving to Memphis to hang with my parents until…
well that’s the hard part. Until what? How will retreating to that safe place drive me to figure it out? I have to stay in the arena and wrestle with it until I eventually overcome. I love these lines from Brene,
“Once we fall in the service of being brave, we can never go back. We can rise up from our failures, screwups, and falls, but we can never go back to where we stood before we were brave or before we fell. Courage transforms the emotional structure of our being. This change often brings a deep sense of loss. During the process of rising, we sometimes find ourselves homesick for a place that no longer exists. We want to go back to that moment before we walked into the arena, but there’s nowhere to go back to… Straddling the tension that lies between wanting to go back to the moment before we risked and fell and being pulled forward to even greater courage is an inescapable part of rising strong.”
What do you do when you come to this realization? Well, I cried a little. Freaked out a little. And I prayed myself to sleep. (Okay the melatonin helped too.) And the next day I got up and settled into the unknown. Day Two. [You really should just read Rising Strong with me to understand the process I’m going through.] This is the part of the story where the protagonist wrestles with how to solve their problem. My problem: the specifics and mechanics of walking out a richer, more meaningful life. There was no way I was going to come by the answers while flitting around Europe soaking in the culture and the adventure. There was no way I was going to have some divine revelation about where I was headed while focusing all my energy on training for the Ironman. Did I learn a lot about myself during both of those mini-seasons? Absolutely! Is now the time to figure out how those character qualities fit into what I’m meant to do? Absolutely! I am not in this alone. I have access to women who have gone before me. They provide guideposts for the waypoints on my journey. Some are strangers, celebrities, experts. Some are old friends that have wiped my tears or held my hair back. At this point, I need to be very choosy about who I let in, what I read, who I hear. It matters. Feedback will only be accepted from those who also know the face down in the mud experience.
Day Two. Act Two. The Wilderness. Whatever you want to call it, that’s where I am. And that’s where the Lord meets me.

Truth
Deuteronomy 2:7 For the LORD your God has blessed you in all that you have done; He has known your wanderings through this great wilderness These forty years the LORD your God has been with you; you have not lacked a thing.
Let us not be

Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us. ~ Abraham Lincoln