23 December 2014

Make Your Own Holiday Traditions

In the fall of 2007 I made a decree to my family: "I will not be celebrating Christmas this year," I said authoritatively. "I'm not going to get you anything, and my gift to you is that you don't have to get me anything in return. Kthx"

A year out of college with a new-found love for the outdoors, I was going to take all of my extra money (and what I could eek out of my paltry vacation time) to transport myself for 10-glorious-days to Patagonia. No. Not the store. The place.

Torres Del Paine in all it's glory. Photo by Ryan Thurston.

With three friends, I embarked on my first-ever backpacking trip. We opted for 'difficult'. Bright-eyed and fresh-footed, we set out on the 5-day W-Trek through Torres del Paine National Park - a place where distances aren't measured in kilometers, but in hours. Those hours, we decided while on the trek, were determined by a bunch of Chilean guides running from point to point with nothing but the shirts on their backs to see who could get there the fastest. The shortest time was how long they told everyone it would take.

I have a few really old blogs about my 5-days on the trail, but to give you the general gist: the trip was amazingly transformative and influential in the future of my life outside. I learned that I could suffer more than I thought I could. I learned that I was capable of so much more than I imagined. I smiled bigger than my face thought possible, and I cried giant crocodile tears when I thought I couldn't hike any more with camp still hours away.

Patagonian Christmas Tree
The trip also served as an introduction to how other cultures treat the holidays/Christmas. Much of South America is Catholic, and we saw many Christmas trees and holiday decorations while we were in town. We spent actual Christmas day on the trail - the 4th and hardest day of the trek.

I'll always remember that day.

We hiked 14 hours. Up and down and up again. I finally got to the tent to take of my boots and my ankles were the size of grapefruits; the blisters I acquired days before festering beneath a layer of foot-saving duct tape. By all accounts I was miserable. But today it still stands as the best Christmas ever. And then we took a boat back back to town and took showers and everything was better again. And we were greeted by loads of holiday decorations - on December 26th! The humanity! They remained when I left on January 1.

Christmas Ankles

When I returned to Seattle I realized just how much this trip meant to me, and vowed I wouldn't participate in the whole "consumerism" part of Christmas again. Not because of political or socioeconomic or any of those other "hippy" reasons people choose not to participate, but more because taking Christmas decorations down on December 26 and making people work on Thanksgiving and Halloween crap everywhere in August is all just wrong. Plus I just fundamentally disagree with getting people a bunch of shit they don't need.

Case in point: Do you remember what you got for Christmas last year? What you gave? I'll give you a minute to think about it....




Exactly. So now I just don't give gifts. And I don't expect or want any in return. Not having to give a gift is the best gift you could ever ask for. No malls. No shopping. No wondering if that thing you ordered online is going to arrive in time. Glorious, right?

I want to be clear though that I do still CELEBRATE Christmas. I love everything about it. The giving spirit. The decorations. The endless supply of fattening sweets. The COSTUMERY!



Instead of gifts I've designed my own traditions. The beauty is you can choose how to celebrate - which for me means more international trips (Aus/NZ for the holidays 2010-11; Thailand this year) and of course my holiday cards.That was my one consolation - I won't send gifts, but I'll do cards. Thus my new tradition of holiday cards was born. And you all know I love sending cards.

I've never put these all together before, so here is a look at my holiday cards beginning in 2007. Curious what I did this year? Well too damn bad - those are in the mail and I can't spoil the surprise. Want a card next year? No problem. The only catch? You have to send one back. Ain't nobody got time for a one-sided card exchange.

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






10 December 2014

Pivotal Life Choices

One of the benefits of getting older is the ability to look back on your life with a certain understanding and perspective about how the different choices you made delivered you right to where you sit at this exact moment. As you're reading this - as I'm writing this - a certain set of things had to happen in a very specific order to bring my words to your face. Which is my rather crude way of saying everything happens for a reason.

Not to go all "hippy" on your or anything....

Pivotal Life Choices - In Photos.

But I DO believe there is a reason for everything, even if you don't understand it at the time. In a recent post about friendship, I made the argument that sometimes you need the gift of time to realize someone's value in your life. Some are friends for a reason, some are friends for a season, and some are friends for a lifetime. You won’t always know why you knew someone until long after you don’t talk anymore, but that doesn’t make them any less valuable to your life.

Who you allow in your life is a choice. You make choices every day which ultimately determine the course of your life. An example: 

A little over four years ago I attended my first run with the Seattle Anti-Freeze Runners. At 6 miles through Madison Park, it was the longest run of my life. But with new friends to keep me company along the way, the run went by fast (not me, I was NOT fast). Before I knew it I was leading our weekly Tuesday Trot, and went on to co-found the Thursday Beer Run, which I still lead today.

I don't know if I've said enough how much joining run group has changed my life for the better. It's now my main source of motivation, challenge, friendship and FUN. We run beer miles, attend silly parties in ridiculous costumes, and are there for each other in times of need. I've helped run-group friends move, watched their dogs, laughed with them, cried with them, dated them, and stayed friends with them after the whole dating thing didn't work out.

Ultimately, we've formed a coalition of adventurers taking a proactive approach to be our best selves. I like people who take an active role in their own happiness.

Run group May 18, 2012. We miss you Stas.

Joining run group was a choice which proved pivotal to who I am today. And since this is my blog and I make the rules I'm going to go ahead and decide you get THREE PIVOTAL CHOICES in your life. These can evolve as you get older, or be 'major' enough to stand the test of time. The exercise of identifying these choices is cathartic, and I would argue critical to recognizing the role you play in your own life. Many people just "experience" life insofar as it's something that happens to them. Don't be those people. Don't let life happen to you.

I challenge you to identify YOUR three pivotal choices, and share them if you so choose. You're about to start a new year - 2015 - and it's helpful to take a look back to move forward. If you want to know where you're going, you need to know where you came from.

It would be unfair for me to ask you to do this without doing it myself. So in the spirit of a digital version of I'll show you mine if you show me yours, here are mine:
  1. Sticking with band. I was going to quit the clarinet for good after having a less-than-supportive music teacher in middle school (see photo above from 6th grade). Then, the Bozeman High Marching Band was selected to march in the Parade of Roses in 1999 - the year I would be a freshman. The high school band director did a heavy recruitment campaign, and I joined. "I'll just do it for one year," I told myself. But then I fell in love with band and the people who love band. I not only stuck with marching band, becoming the Drum Major my junior and senior year, but I threw myself into music. My last two years of high school 4 of my 8 classes were music performance. I based my choice to attend the University of Washington in large part due to it's stellar marching band program (a runner-up in this "pivotal choices" exercise). Joining band my freshman year of high school ultimately resulted in me ending up in Seattle.

  2. Joining run group. I explained this above, but to add some extra color which feeds into my third point.... My first run was in 2010, right as I was coming out of a big post-breakup transition period during which I lost 20lbs and made fitness a much bigger part of my life (I wasn't always this crazy-active person - hard to believe I know). I met a nice guy on that first run, we became friends, and then we dated for over a year. But it didn't work out, and it took me longer than I expected to recover (from the cumulative gravity of both-breakups no doubt). During my post-breakup quarter-life-crisis, I made very real plans to move to Boulder, Colorado. Allison and I did a recon visit, I made a follow-up visit for final interviews, and I was all set to relocate. Only,

  3. I didn't move to Boulder. I turned down a job offer there and instead chose a life in Seattle. I landed in Seattle for college, but felt like staying here was never a conscious choice. By NOT moving to Boulder and choosing Seattle, I became, what I hope will be, a Pacific Northwesterner for life. During that same time I was introduced to backcountry skiing and learned to embrace the rain and clouds, knowing it meant snow in zee mountains. To further my ties here, I re-embraced run group and joined the Board of my college marching band alumni association. You see, it's all related.
Calling out these choices so publicly only makes me think of so many more I could have listed, but they just didn't quite have the muster. That's the fun of looking back on your life with the perspective of time. What if I hadn't gone on that trip or taken that job or let that guy kiss me? Would my life be completely different? Probably.

Or maybe not. I very well could have ended up sitting here writing this for you to sit there and read. We'll never know. No matter what choices you make in life, you'll always wonder about the road not-traveled. That unknown challenges you to make the most of your choices. And that's what makes life so fun.

05 December 2014

Because You Don't Always Win at Skiing

I've been lucky enough to have some of you readers for a long time, and you've seen my dedication to the blog ebb and flow. Sometimes I have tons of inspiration and no content, and other times I'm so overwhelmed by fun stuff to write about I just buckle under the pressure, or get started and quit halfway through (see: Norway).

Truth be told - writing is HARD!

But every now and then, something will come out of my fingertips through no effort from me and the end result will surprise and delight me. "Where did THIS  come from?" I wonder aloud to myself, bemused at my own....bemusement. I've finally learned to stop asking questions and just embrace creativity when it strikes. So after spending a day "skiing" on Heliotrope ridge one day last month, I came came home and was surprised to feel compelled to capture my experience despite the incredibly long day.

Below I've pasted what came from my fingertips. I hope you are amused.

Some context: Our day was...icy. A big surprise to me, as I had spent the previous weekend skiing fresh powder on the same line. I posted this original trip report to the forum Turns All Year - used primarily by backcountry skiers, so the language below is a little more technical than you might be used to seeing from me. For additional aid in your understanding, a weather window implies calm conditions in between storms, a high freezing level indicates softer snow conditions down low, and a whippet is (not a dog breed as my just-now Google search would imply, but in fact ) a ski-pole with a sharp end you can use to hault your downward progress in the event of a fall.


Heliotrope Ice Skating Competition

Last weekend I was high on life after winning at Heliotroping. (Trust me, it's a thing which one can win.) I let the hubris get the best of me and looked at the "weather window" for this weekend and saw only the GOOD. Sun? Yes! High freezing level? Yes! Another weekend of awesome slaying at Helio?? YESSS!

But let's be honest here for a moment: after looking at the report last night, we all knew it was going to be an iceskating competition up there, and I do not know how to do a triple lutz. I don't let that stop me from wearing a tutu though...

In further display of my misplaced enthusiasm, I agreed to meet Imran and Jill at 5:15am at the 65th Park and Ride. Why? Well, to get first track on ZEE ICE of course! 

Jill and Imran. Ice Lovers.

Drive time was about 3 hours because we took the scenic hwy9 route and stopped for the requisite potty break at the ranger station. We were hiking by 8:45, made it to the (much icier than last week) waterfall by 9:20, and were suffering up the ridge by 10am. The trail, just like last week, was covered in a layer of black ice - although the creek crossing were much less perilous this go around. 

Hoar Frost on the hike up. This grows right out of the ground.

We reached the top of the ridge (about 6k) and ditched our shoes in favor of ski boots, which were only marginally better. Why oh why didn't I get those micrcospikes I was talking about last week? Or at least bring real crampons?! Ski crampons are useless unless you are ON your skis....

Gingerly we worked our way across the upper hilly/creeky/rocky ice section. I took a spill trying to go "off-piste", and my whippet with the rubber tip protector was no help whatsoever. Good thing Jill was there to bring my painful clawing-at-the-ice to a halt.

A pair of skiers ahead opted to work up the Coleman while we headed west toward Heliotrope. Only in ski boots, the going was slow. We had to kick in each step, and even then the purchase was very minimal. I'm fairly confident on steep, icy stuff (see MixUp Peak report) but even this had me clenching my cheeks. Our route was still shaded, making it hard to differentiate between bad ice and really, really bad ice. You'd get overconfident with a few decent steps only to come crashing back to reality with a single bad step.

Careful. Caaaareeeefuulllll.

Eventually we made it to our "high point", a rock outcropping at the base of the bowl at roughly 6200'. It was 11:30am. We took one look at each other, and each reached into our bags to grab out our beers. We were done. To further solidify our decision, I hiked up about 100' to ski down. I have no doubt you could hear those 5 turns from miles away.

Shortly our party of three became a party of 12 when a few different teams of Canadians descended on our "safe spot". They, too, lamented not bringing their hockey skates. They sent a reconnaissance mission, with Jill en tow, up about 500' only to return with the same conclusion as me. Apparently the top turns were "a little better", but not by much.

Recon mission

So, we hung out for a while longer, Imran played some "golf", and the three of us headed down. We did put our skis on to traverse through the rock and "snow" to our boots. Again I took the ridge down in ski boots for better purchase, then we "enjoyed" the standard slog out. 

The golf series. Jill was behind, and I was in front, and we happened to capture the exact same moments from different angles. Amusing.

No, but seriously, I had a fun day. The sun was out (briefly) and Baker was stunning (as always). We just didn't get the goods. Sometimes you're right, and sometimes you're....less right. 

Don't get me wrong - I'm all about hiking - as long as there's the possibility of skiing at the end of the rainbow. If you are however, deluded into thinking there will actually be skiing tomorrow at the end of this rainbow quest, I have to say you will not, in fact, win at Heliotroping.

Not winning at skiing. But winning at having the most (delicous) fun. Who knew ice tasted so good?