13 January 2018

Turns All Year: Month 73

Photo by Christy Pelland.

Ahh November. For those of us who do Turns All Year, it marks the beginning of the glorious season where snow is abundant and chairlifts are spinning. You can go as easy on yourself, or as hard, as you want.

The past few years, November turns have been mixed. In 2016, I accompanied the Sipple Sisters (which I still argue would make the best band name ever) to Naches Peak with underwhelming results. In the previous year - the year which shall not be named because the snowpack was so abysmal - I made three trip to Zee Mountain and again, it was a bit of a mixed bag. November 2014 started out promising only to freeze all of our hopes a few weeks later. You get the picture.

The snow gods blessed us with a bounty of pow this November just as the as-if-2017-weren't-bad-enough gods bestowed upon me a sickness so devastating I actually stayed home from work for not one, but two days in a row. Nearing the end of the month, I had no choice but to take off another day from work (don't worry, I worked both days that weekend) to go skiing at Crystal Mountain with Christy and Cailen, where we also ran into and skied with a big crew of shredders, including my faves Cori and Reid.

Anyway, the mountain wasn't even fully open when we arrived, but the goods available were GOOD. We kept lapping this untracked pow, which required a slight uphill sidestep (we're talking 50') to reach. By the second lap I was panting. By the third I was toast and set out to find another stash. Only the search for pow could keep me moving.

Photo by Christy Pelland.

Why is Christy's camera so much better than mine???

In all we skied 15 (mostly short) laps in 3 hours before I had to be carried into The Elk for apres and driven down the mountain. I'd like to take this time to thank my #skisquad for tolerating my snotty-nosed sickness and not being offended when I nearly lost a long on the chairlift. Ya'll are the best.

It helps to have views like this too....

....happy SkiVembering!

06 January 2018

Resolutions for 2018

I have a thing for even numbers. Even though I was born on the 13th day in the 5th month of the year, I was born in 1984. For whatever reason I seem to do better, and find more happiness, in 'even' years.

In 2010 I lost a bunch of weight, discovered my love for the outdoors, and kicked off a new outdoor lifestyle I still enjoy today. I also turned 26, a truly magical year.

2012 was pretty darn good too. I nearly moved to Boulder, but in surprise move decided to stay and make Seattle my permanent home. I took up backcountry skiing and officially began my quest for Turns All Year. I climbed Mt. Baker for the first time - and Mt. Adams - skiing from the summits of both. I ran a half marathon with my bestie while we were decked out like zebras. And I spent Thanksgiving climbing in Mexico with truly awesome people, including the man I would later marry (as in, perform the ceremony for; he married someone else).

Fast-forward to 2014 and I spent 24-hours in Iceland and a blissful week skiing in Norway, and came home to yell at everyone to be vacation takers! In doing so I learned how to be happier and embraced my status as a true Seattlelite. And I turned 30. It was awesome. I completed my 30 Before 30 list to celebrate, then met a pretty awesome guy a few weeks later to put icing on the already layered cake!

Two years ago, in 2016, I bought my house to celebrate my 32nd birthday. I also started blogging regularly and it's been fun and humbling to watch my readers grow. Who knew so many women share my rage about pockets??

I'm a big proponent for writing things down - I think it gives ideas power and momentum. I have an app I use to track projects on a weekly, monthly, and year basis to keep myself honest. I don't normally share my resolutions for the New Year until it's time to reflect back, but this being an even year, I have a good feeling about it.

3 Resolutions for 2018
  1. Invest in the blog: In October 2015, I made a promise to myself to blog once a week for 52 weeks. I made the year, and went another half until I missed a week in April 2017, then fell further from the bandwagon in August. In the months since, I've felt less focused in my life overall, and I think it's because the discipline of regular writing is missing. In the new year I vow to recommit myself to weekly blogging and to upgrade my website to a new platform. Get ready for more pictures and fancy website doo-hickey's in the year to come!
  2. Spend more money: I am cheap to the point of miserly. I don't mean to be this way, but I started my first bank account with 3,200 pennies I counted obsessively and haven't been able to shake that penny-pinching mentality since. While I've gotten better over the years, spending money causes me stress and means I turn down fun opportunities due to price and/or over-analyze costs to the point that I lose all sense of enjoyment. JT and I have fun plans for 2018 and I want to commit to enjoying them to the fullest, even if it means I have to spend another $20.
  3. Give up 'busy': I am tired of being 'busy'. As I said in my Happy New Year post, it's okay to fill your life with things, but I want to fill my life with things that I find fulfilling enough to actually talk about, rather than lump them in with an "I'm good, just busy" response. In 2018 I want to fill my life with mindful activities. Things I'll remember when I write a blog in 2028. 
Don't get me wrong, 2017 wasn't all bad. I finally recovered from a nagging heel injury to run a whopping 101.2 miles for the year, skied 38 days to complete months 63-74 of Turns All Year, read 12 books, worked on a handful of fun projects at work, and even went climbing half a dozen times. Plus, my baby niece was born, and she has proven to be a beacon of hope and happiness in my life. I hope you find your own shiny spots in 2018! 

30 December 2017

Happy New Year!

At the end of December, it's fun to reflect on memories that made us smile and consider what things we'd like to leave behind as we enter a New Year.

A lot of things made me smile in 2017. Small pieces of gear like a down skirt and a pee funnel. A pair of women's pants that actually have pockets. Hitting the milestone of 6-years of Turns All Year. There was also that time I wrote a thing that will be printed on beer cans for years to come. In fact, I got to work on a bunch of fun work-related stories and videos this year.

And of course, there's always the joy I find from skiing in a tutu.

The past year brought some not-so-nice things as well, or rather general adulting that I could do without next year. I moved again, which is never any fun for anyone, and we painted a bunch. I fell off the bandwagon this summer and wasn't able to keep up with my weekly posting, which disappoints me. I also posted a few blogs that were not well received by everyone. I think, as someone who posts actively about the outdoor experience, it's irresponsible to ignore the role white privilege (parts 1 and 2) and sexism sometimes plays in our adventures, and I felt compelled to write about my own experiences. I don't pretend to be an expert, so I am grateful for the feedback - however critical - I received from these posts, and for the lessons I learned as a result.

My friend Becca hosts what she calls a "burning party" near the New Year. We come to the party with an item we'd like to burn which represents something we'd like to let go of as we look ahead. We say a few words, toss it into a small bonfire, and watch it burn away. The feeling at the party is one of sadness, hope, and community. It provides closure to make room for something new.

As I look ahead, I'd like to give up the word "busy" and approach my life in a more mindful way. 'Busy' has come to be our answer for everything. "How are you?" "Oh I'm good. Busy." It's okay to fill your life with things, but I want to fill my life with things that I find fulfilling enough to actually talk about them, rather than lump them in with a 'busy' response. Perhaps I'll burn a stack of old emails to remind me to make space for what's most important.

One thing will remain the same though: creating and sending holiday cards. Collections are fun, so here's a look at my holiday cards back back to when the tradition started. In 2013 I started sending New Years cards, and personally I think that's when I really came into my own. It's fun to see how much the designs have evolved over the years. I really do love sending cards.



2008. I hadn't yet discovered text overlay...

Want a card next year? Awesome! I'd love to send you one! Let me know and I'll add you to my list, but you have to send me one too! I'll show you mine if you show me yours.

07 December 2017

Recovery in the Mountains: From Getting High to Getting High

One step at a time. It can be slow, and often painful, but you can always take one more step. That’s how you climb mountains, and that’s how you recover from addiction.

Nik Jensen knows the trials and tribulations of both.

I don’t remember meeting Nik, suffice to say one day he was part of my outdoor community, and my life is better for it. He’s like the Kevin Bacon of the outdoors. You probably know Nik, and if you don’t, you definitely know someone who does.

Nik is the type of guy who enthusiastically gives you three hours of his Sunday morning to talk about life, climbing, family, addiction, and recovery. He welcomes you into his home with a plate of bacon, eggs, and his secret French toast recipe. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call it some of the best French toast in the Pacific Northwest.

And thus begins my article on Mountaineer and recovering addict Nik Jensen, which I was honored to write for the winter edition of Mountaineer magazine. Like all of the stories I've written, I really enjoyed chatting with Nik and learning about his ups and downs. I truly did feel honored to tell his story of redemption and recover in the mountains. Read this original version of the story (fantastically designed by the talented Suzanne Gerber) in our digital version of the magazine here(on pages 20-23), or check out the spread and text below:

Getting His Bearings
Nik grew up in the outdoors. With a Scoutmaster for a father, Nik was actively involved in cub scouts and boy scouts. He spent many weekends hiking, camping, and shooting.

The smallest boy in all of his classes, Nik was picked on in elementary school. As a result he was extremely shy and often felt out of place. He learned that acting out would get him attention and time away from the mean kids. He eventually channeled that energy into something more productive in middle school, joining the wrestling team.

The discipline of organized sports in high school helped Nik come out of his shell. He played football and sang in the vocal jazz group and was active in his church youth group. Nik wasn’t part of the popular clique, but had a lot of friends and was well known. He didn’t have time for much in the outdoors anymore, but he seemed to be on the right path.

Then, three pivotal things happened his senior year. First, he crashed his car. It was early on the morning of Homecoming, and Nik drove into the back of a school bus. He was 100% sober at the time, but it happened right in front of the school. Every student walking and driving by that morning saw Nik standing next to a wrecked car talking to the cops. I cringed when he told me this, thinking back to my own embarrassing high school moments, and feeling like they paled in comparison.

Second, he lost a wrestling match, punched a wall, and broke his hand. The match had gone into double overtime when he was eventually taken out, and he was so angry but didn’t know how to channel it. The broken hand meant he was out for the rest of the season.

Last, his youth pastor left his church. This changed the dynamics of the most stable part of his life. The foundation around him crumbled.

He started to hang out with the wrong crowd. The cigarette-rolling, weed-smoking, booze-drinking, party-on-the-school-yard-after-hours crowd. He began using. First it was just smoking weed, but pretty soon it turned to drinking. “I enjoyed it because it made me feel like someone I wasn’t,” said Nik. “It was a solution to years’ worth of insecurities. It made me feel like a different person, and I liked it.”

Way Off Track
Nik tried everything under the sun, save for opiates. He spent much of his late teens and early twenties partying. The cops were called to his 21st birthday party, and he was lucky to get off without being arrested. After that he swore off all drugs, doubling down on alcohol to get his fix.

When he was 24, Nik met a girl and started a relationship. He pared down his drinking. They moved in together, and six and a half years later they bought a house. Three days after signing the paperwork she dumped him over the phone while he was on a work trip. She moved him into the new house while he was out of town, left a note on the counter, and disappeared. He came home to a new house filled with his stuff that in no way resembled his former life.

“I had never experienced a broken heart before. It felt like my chest was ripped open and my heart shattered into a million pieces. The pain, physical and emotional, was unbearable.” Nik called a friend who came over with weed in tow. He started using and drinking again, heavily. Within a month, Nik had his first DUI. He was 29.

A quick stint in jail and Nik was back at it again. A bunch of friends had moved into his house to help pay the mortgage, and they partied. One night someone brought cocaine. It’d been over a decade since Nik had used any of the hard stuff and he went for it. “Wow, this is the best feeling,” Nik remembered thinking. “I need to maintain this feeling at all times.”

Into the Abyss
Nik’s cocaine habit began immediately. Cocaine is expensive, so dealing it as a means to an end seemed like the next logical progression. Nik would buy an ounce of cocaine for $800, break it into grams, and sell it to friends. “I could use as much as I wanted and still make money. I could turn $800 into $1600 in a week. It was easy to get sucked into the game.”

Nik never got to the point in his addiction that led him to rob or steal. He realized early on that it was easiest to just show up at work, even if you’d eventually get fired. He went to work for his dad, and was always sneaking off to do something. “I have to go to the truck to get a tool. I have to go to the bathroom….again,” he would tell people. “I was sneaking off a lot. I was using it around the clock 6 days a week, and I would sleep on Sunday. I decided not to sleep at all and I would stay high until I didn’t have to work anymore. Then I would crash.”

His Dad caught wind of what was going on and cornered Nik, demanding to know what was wrong. “I couldn’t lie to my dad. It was probably one of the lowest points in my life having to admit to him that I was addicted to cocaine.”

After that conversation, Nik quit cold turkey.

Cold turkey, that is, when it came to cocaine. Nik went back to drinking, but tried his best to keep it in check. He’d always been a social drinker — he never drank at home alone — and as such he drove frequently while under the influence. He got a second DUI, then a third.

Afraid of losing his house, Nik got a lawyer who brokered a deal for a deferred prosecution. This came with two years of  outpatient treatment and 5 years of probation. The crux of the sentence, however, was that Nik had to admit to being an alcoholic. “That part was the hardest for me. I thought that alcoholics need booze, and I never needed it. I just used it as a solution to my problems. As a band-aid.”

The truth is alcoholism shows itself differently to everyone. When Nik used alcohol, he found himself in negative situations. “It led to a life-pattern of unmanageability.”

Climbing Back Out
Nik went to the required AA meetings where he struggled to identify with stories of people needing alcohol. Then he heard of Narcotics Anonymous. At the NA meeting people talked about changing their lives, and how they were able to quit using and completely lose the desire to use. They had found a new way to live. He wanted that too.

Nik went all in. He got a sponsor, accepted a volunteer service position, and started working the 12-steps. “I did it the only way I know how to do it, which is to jump in with both feet.”

He was spending 3-4 hours, 3 nights a week, plus weekend days, investing in his recovery. Outpatient treatment gave him the tools he needed to get clean and sober and stay that way. The true saving grace was the fellowship and the anonymous 12-step programs. “They really taught me how to live and how to change my life.”

At his 6-month sober date he got the flu while staying at a friend’s house. She offered him prescription cough syrup containing vicodin. Not thinking it was a big deal, he took the recommended dose and finally got some sleep. When Nik told his sponsor, Nik was surprised that his sponsor felt this counted as a relapse and that Nik needed to change his sober date. Nik thought long and hard about it, and decided to change his clean date. He shares this story often in meetings. “It came down to brutal honesty in recovery. I didn’t want to have any exceptions. I share this choice to inspire other people who may be struggling and have to make tough decisions in their own recovery.”

One Step At A Time
Early in his recovery Nik learned of an AA meeting hosted at the top of Tiger Mountain on Sunday mornings. “I showed up and I was probably wearing cotton clothes,” he said. When he arrived he saw 30-40 people having a meeting at the top of a mountain in the middle of the forest.” People offered me blankets and their jacket and gloves. They made me hot cocoa. It was the coolest group of people I had ever met. They started talking about how the outdoors had been therapeutic in their recovery.” Some of the attendees were graduates from the Glacier Climbing Course (GCC) from One Step at a Time (OSAT). Nik thought it sounded like the perfect opportunity to meld his two passions: the outdoors and recovery.

Started in 1991, OSAT is comprised of both an outdoor club and an affiliated, but separate, AA group. Like The Mountaineers, OSAT offers a basic climbing course and Nik couldn’t wait to get involved. He signed up and learned everything from knot tying to navigation to crevasse rescue.

“Climbing is such an awesome metaphor for recovery. We’re climbing an insurmountable mountain of fear, insecurity, doubt, and pain (from the wreckage that we’ve caused), so as we’re climbing mountains in our recovery we can also be climbing mountains in reality. Getting into nature is so therapeutic because it puts you in touch with the earth at a primeval level. It gets you out to breath the fresh air and accomplish something you didn’t think you could do. It goes a long way towards believing in yourself.”

All five graduation climbs on Mt. Baker got rained out that year, so Nik was especially excited to go for Rainier. His team went up the DC route and made it to the summit. That experience was life changing. “I cried. The Rainier Climb was the culmination of a childhood dream. It was so surreal to me that just a year before I was hanging out in bars trying to be someone I wasn’t and now I was standing at the top of Mt. Rainier clean and sober.”

He went from lacking self confidence and having lots of self loathing and depression and insecurity, to laying on the side of the mountain watching a show of falling stars and aurora borealis with a group of people who cared about him, his wellbeing, and his sobriety. A real transformation took place.

Inspiring Others
Today, Nik has been clean and sober for 6 and a half years and has stood on the summit of his life-changing mountain every year since his fateful climb in 2012. He graduated from GCC in 2012 and started instructing the following year. In 2014 and 2016 he served on the GCC committee as Conditioning Chair and Safety and Standards Chair, respectively. In 2015 and 2016 he also served on the OSAT Board. “It’s been absolutely fulfilling for me to give back what was freely given to me,” he said.

In 2014 he joined The Mountaineers and tested into our Intermediate Climbing course. In the first year he completed all of the field trips – a pretty remarkable feat. He credits his mentors, like Nick Howard and Stan Hummel and Fred Luck, for helping him along the way. “Having mentors in The Mountaineers just solidified that I was in the right place. They were so thorough and so safe, just really really great teachers. It inspired me even more to give back.”

Nik joined The Mountaineers to bring his knowledge back to OSAT and to start teaching rock climbing, since they currently only teach glacier climbing. He is set to kick off OSAT’s first Intermediate Climbing Course in 2018. He’ll stick around as a climb leader for The Mountaineers too. He’s hooked. Today, he says he can’t go to a Mountaineers event without knowing 30-40% of the people.

The truth is, Nik is an inspiration and is sought out by many. He bravely shares his story without apologies in order to help other people. A lot of people – many he barely knows – reach out to ask about staying clean and sober. “I’m happy to take time out of my life to talk to them. I always have time for the struggling addict or alcoholic.”

Nik has added incentive to stay sober. He met a wonderful woman in his GCC course, Aggie, and together they have an adorable 1-year-old son, Tristan. “I’m enamored watching him grow. I’m going to do whatever I can to share my love of the outdoors with him. I want Tristan to understand how therapeutic the outdoors can be. And of course I’d love for him to be the next Kai Lightner or Ashima Shiraishi. Maybe he can lead me up some 5.11 stuff that I’ll probably never climb.”

Nik and Aggie have a wood sign in their living room that says, “High in the mountains life becomes very clear. The higher you go the more you can see.” It’s clear that Nik can see a future for himself and his family. “I’m really proud to be clean and sober because this little guy will never have to see me loaded,” he says, cradling a now-sleeping Tristan on his chest. “At the lowest point of my addition I was not a cool person to be around. I was a waste. And this little guy never has to see that as long as I keep living this same way that I live, one day at a time.”

If you are struggling with drugs or alcohol, or know someone who is, help is out there. There are many organizations that can help, in addition to recovery centers for both inpatient and outpatient treatment. For more information about OSAT, visit www.osat.org. OSAT is affiliated with Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

30 November 2017

Are You Okay?

“Are you okay?” 

I look up from my backpack to see two men cresting the hill around 7,400 ft. I’m alone on the southeast flank of Mt. Rainier, where Pebble Creek kisses the tip of the Muir Snowfield. I’ve been in this spot 40+ times in recent years, and today I’m especially grateful for the bluebird skies and expansive views. The question startles me from my nature-suckling stupor. 

“Uh... yeah, I’m fine.” I mutter in response. “How’re you?”

“We’re good,” the one in front says, and passes me by. 

Just like that they're gone. On their way up the mountain to find October turns. It’s the same reason I’m here. 

I return to my backpack, fish out my other sock, and continue the process of swapping from hiking boots to ski touring boots. My friends will arrive shortly, I’m sure. 

But the longer I stand here, the madder I get.  

Why has he asked me if I am okay? What about my intentional movements and well-worn gear give the impression that I am not okay? Couldn't he tell I am with the group he just passed below, not 4-minutes earlier? We're all wearing tutus for goodness sake! I'm clearly not alone nor am I doing anything out-of-the-ordinary. I'm just a girl standing on a snowfield stoked to slay some corn in October.

Then I realize the source of my discomfort: his question has the unmistakable spray of sexism. 

I have gone on record about sexism in the outdoors and my experience with “mansplaining”, but to be honest I think women can go too far with those accusations. Sometimes a guy is just trying to be helpful, or he spends a few minutes putting his foot in his mouth before realizing a faux pas that may have nothing to do with gender and everything to do with being oblivious. All genders are guilty of this mistake. I like to give the benefit of the doubt and assume best intentions as a general rule. 

But this guy. This guy’s question really got in my craw. 

My friends arrive and I recount the interaction for them, trying to be as unbiased as possible. I ask for their honest feedback: was this dude being sexist or was I overreaching? 

In a group of two women and three men the verdict was unanimous: sexist.

Here’s the problem: “are you okay?” is not a question a man would ask another man in the same situation. “How’s it going?”, “What’s up?”, "Beautiful day!" would all be acceptable salutations. But "are you okay?" implies that I am not okay - that there's something about me which implies a lack of okay-ness. And this question, this unexpected “are you okay?” sends a message that I’m in the wrong place. That I shouldn’t be here. That I don’t belong. 

I’m glad to have a tutu posse to confirm this is my place. 

The lesson is this: if you are a man, and you encounter a woman, before you open your mouth consider if the words you are using are the same words you would use to speak to another man. If it's not, don't say the thing you were going to say. It's that simple. If that doesn't do it, I encourage you to check out The Rock Test: A Hack for Men Who Don't Want To Be Accused of Sexual Harassment

That day on the mountain, my friends and I laughed it off and started skinning, making small talk along the way. Every fifteen minutes or so someone would stop to grab a snack or adjust a binding, and another of us would look that person sternly in the eye and says “are you okay?”  

I have to admit it was pretty funny. But no, it’s not okay.