The first six of 40.

Since I’ve become a full-time writer for a living, the ol’ blog has fallen by the wayside. The last thing I want to do is sit in front of a screen after a long day of sitting standing in front of a screen. (I’ve been using a ghetto Ikea hack version of a standing desk for about a year now, and it’s changed my life).

My small garden, which is slowly being overrun by an enormous sage plant.

My small garden, which is slowly being overrun by an enormous sage plant.

To be honest, I’d rather dig in the dirt in my itty bitty garden, or roll my MTB tires around on trails in the Santa Anas.

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Solo soul shreds are my favorite. Also, listen up, bros: Feed bags are the new fanny pack.

But, I also miss creating something for ME. I create every hour of every of every work day, which I love, but I find that I only have so much creative energy in a day, so writing anything for myself isn’t a priority.

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Avocado and tomato toast.

Eating good food is, so when I get home, I end up cooking. And then eating.

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This guy. I think he wants some of those scones on the counter behind him. 

And then I pick up a lot of dog hair. Which is ok with me because dogs are also a priority.

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The current and former Ladies of BRAIN = me, Megan and Nicole. Love them.

This year, the year I turned the big 4-OH, I made a commitment to finding more balance. Yeah, that sounds all Oprah and shit, but last year, I was a friggin’ trainwreck during my busy travel and work season. I wasn’t eating as well as I could have and definitely didn’t ride bikes enough. So around March 1 or thereabouts, I told myself I would be MTB fit again by 4/20, my 40th.

I wouldn’t have won any races on the big day, but I can tell you, I was better off that I had been since starting my little career in the bike industry. Oh, the cruel irony.

We had a delightfully cool spring, with lots of May Gray and June Gloom, which made me want to ride bikes with fun ladies as much as possible since it wasn’t hot and snaky. So I had that going for me.

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Squamish sucks, don’t go. :-)

I went to Canada for “work” at the end of May. I’m still trying to talk our publisher into moving the magazine to Squamish. A girl can dream.

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Seriously, best work trip ever.

My co-workers are the absolute best. I heart them all.

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Finally back in my natural environs = this is what happy looks like, helmet hair and all.

I miss the Pacific Northwest with my whole being. Being in all that green, with the moss, wild ginger, ferns and cedar trees next to fresh water, clean air while riding loamy, bermy, banky singletrack, well, I felt like myself again. Someday soon I will be back there.

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Good advice at Caffe Musette, Vancouver, B.C.

We visited so many rad shops in Vancouver via an amazing network of protected bikeways. I love that city.

A quick trip to Colorado made for three weekends in a row of riding on amazing trails in my favorite places with fun people.

A quick trip to Colorado made for three weekends in a row of riding on amazing trails in my favorite places with fun people.

Upon my return, we shipped a magazine off to the presses and I promptly boarded a plane to Denver to attend the launch of a new Yeti gals model and attend the Beti Bike Bash–something I’ve always wanted to do.

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Vida MTB Series skills clinic in Castle Rock, CO. Great instructor and good vibe.

It was so refreshing and inspiring to be in the company of real, down to earth women who love riding bikes. I love the Rockies too! That’s the thing about growing up in Idaho, living in Montana for eight years and Oregon for a decade: you identify with the Pacific Northwest and the Rocky Mountains. You can take the girl out of that entire region, but those places will always be near and dear.

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This sweet soul sister Elena Forchielli is the co-founder of Vida. I love her.

And then you meet people like El. I actually met her in OC on a Vida women’s ride a couple of months ago, but didn’t get to hang out for long. Once we discovered our mutual love for Marlborough Sauv Blancs, among other things, well, a sweet friendship was born. I hope I see her soon.

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Four lady shreditors doing our thing at an XC race off the couch, no big deal. The Beti Bike Bash is a must do!

These ladies. We all placed in the top ten in the XC race at the Beti Bash, the two gals Axie Navas of Outside mag and Gloria Liu of Bicycling coming in, 1st and 2nd, respectively in their categories. Nicole Formosa, former BRAIN lady, of Bike mag placed 6th, and I raced for the first time in the 40-49 category and took 7th. Real happy with that, since three of us stayed up too late the night before and don’t race XC.

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The sweet demo boys had our number plates, pedals, burritos and a “Hoogarita”–margs made by Yeti co-prez Hoog– all laid out for us after we cleaned up post-race.

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Back in O.C. for some lunch road rides.

The return to O.C.: re-entry was very hard. I miss the lush forests of the PNW and the vibe of the Denver-area women’s MTB scene. Of course, I miss B.C. because how could you not?

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Cherry tomato vinaigrette, aka crack. So good on this fresh, wild-caught grilled steelhead fillet.

But sweeping views of the Pacific while riding bikes ain’t too bad either.

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When it’s hot as hell inland, you go to Laguna Beach to ride with fun friends and then drink cold sangria afterwards.

For now, they’ll do. As long as the snakes stay away.

Possibility.

Lake number something-or-other, Sierras.

Lake number something-or-other + Honey the Dog, Sierras.

It’s been a very long time since I’ve posted here, but to update y’all, last year was pretty amazing. Work travel took me all over the U.S. and the world, where I met rad folks, gawked at spectacular sites and rode bikes and ran in places I’ve dreamed of going my whole life.

Friggin' Scotland!

Friggin’ Scotland!

Like Scotland. I rode bikes through green fields and around lochs so pretty it hurt. I did my longest ride ever, which ended at a castle. We stayed in that castle, had drinks on a patio by the river, ate bona fide fish and chips and I developed a taste for whiskey, which was paired with handmade chocolates. I learned how to make a proper poached egg from the delightful English bloke who runs a catering company in the Highlands.

This castle is a hotel.

This castle is a hotel.

But before that, I went to Taiwan for the second time, then to Alaska, also for the second time, for fun in the snow, then to Santa Cruz and Monterey for some bike riding and work stuff. I went to Salt Lake City to ride bikes all over tarnation, and to eat and drink far better than I had expected to. I came back to Utah three weeks later, this time to Park City and the mountains for lots of meetings, snow in June (!) and some bike riding.

Four inches of snow on June 18, Park City, Utah.

Four inches of snow on June 18, Park City, Utah.

Finally got to ride the Wasatch Crest trail, which has been on my tick list for years.

Finally got to ride the Wasatch Crest trail, which has been on my tick list for years.

Then Scotland happened, and next I visited Detroit, where more bikes were ridden, the best bars ever were frequented and I fell in love with a misunderstood city that is fighting with all it’s got. I gained an appreciation for American manufacturing, and how it’s so deeply woven into the fabric of our country that even though for the most part it’s left our shores.

Motor City by bike.

Motor City by bike.

Somewhere in there, Brian took me up Mt. Whitney, the highest I have ever been on foot. I can’t wait to do it again.

Whitney summit = spectacular!

Whitney summit = spectacular!

We also took the dogs backpacking in the Sierras over the 4th of July, where Turbo attempted to summit Mt. Langely, but had to turn back at 12,500 due to paw issues. We still had fun at the lake though.

Lakeside lounging, Sierras.

Lakeside lounging, Sierras.

We went to Santa Barbara, where Brian ran an insane amount of miles in 95-degree weather and I spent a lot of the day at the dog beach.

It was Great Dane day at the dog beach.

It was Great Dane day at the dog beach. Turbo had no idea these dogs had 150 pounds on him.

We boondocked in the mountains of Santa Barbara. It didn't suck at all.

We boondocked in the mountains of Santa Barbara. It didn’t suck at all.

Then it was time to fly to Switzerland, get on a train and complete the Matterhorn Ultraks 46k trail race in Zermatt before hitting the Eurobike trade show in Germany. It was technically a work trip…which is absolutely why I decided to tack on some time before the show.

The Matterhorn was the beautiful backdrop to an amazing day.

The Matterhorn was the beautiful backdrop to an amazing day.

I wanted a reason to be in Switzerland before the show, and a running race in the Alps seemed like a good one.

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We were surrounded glaciers and snowy peaks all day. The views did not suck one bit.

And it was. But even though the distance was one I’ve done several times, I am still, months later, a little traumatized by how gnarly the trails were. My toenails and feet are only now back to normal.

With a gain of nearly 13,000 feet in around 30 miles, this course broke me several times during the 10 hours I was out there. Many of the trails are routed right up or down the fall line, so are painfully steep. Not that I have many, as I needed every ounce of energy and focus to stay upright, photos don’t do these trails justice.

This was a heck of a lot steeper than it looks. On our way to the high point.

This was a heck of a lot steeper than it looks. My Frenchie friends on the way to the high point.

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Almost to the top, the Matterhorn looms.

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Was real happy to see this guy at the top!

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This was probably around mile 22 or so, at which point I felt like I had run/hiked about 40. The course leveled off a bit at the top of our last brutal climb, and I was so grateful for a reprieve.

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Running into Zermatt where we started was completely surreal. It was a blur. I had leap frogged with these French folks all day and I finished just ahead of them. They pushed me to run balls to the walls fast down the final few miles into Zermatt.

It was so strange yet completely rewarding to be there racing by myself. I had numerous opportunities to bail throughout the day, to simply get into a gondola car and be done with it. But I didn’t, I didn’t even let myself go there in my mind, down that rabbit hole of darkness. There was no one there but me to push me to leave the aid stations and push on, although I had so much support from all of you all day. I could feel it, and it got me through. I’m still thanking you.

It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done. I am so happy I did it.

The next day, I performed numerous foot/blister surgeries, then ate gelato and potato Rosti (like a big fresh hash brown cake) with eggs. I walked to this amazing gorge, the Grotto, that we had crossed during the race.

The water was insanely blue.

The water was insanely blue.

The thought of walking back down these stairs made my legs hurt, so I opted to hike up and around...a bit too much but totally worth it!

The thought of walking back down these stairs made my legs hurt, so I opted to hike up and around…a bit too much but totally worth it!

Yep, don't fuck up.

Yep, don’t fuck up–if you do, own it.

I think I ate more gelato and laid around in a grassy field somewhere, staring at the Matterhorn some more. It was a magical three days. I’m really quite fond of the European appreciation for living, for good food, relaxation and nature. They’ve got their priorities straight and they really know how to live.

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Monday very early, I hopped on the train and went back to Zurich to meet up with my publisher Megan. We then boarded a ferry to cross the lake to Freidrichshafen, Germany.

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RIP, 12-year old Pedros suitcase. I mourn your loss, but you saw some pretty rad places.

I freaking love Europe. Everything about it. I don’t remember much about the trade show, it was a blur of booth visits, looking at weird products that will probably never make it to the U.S. and drinking espresso at the media center. I can’t wait to go back. Enough time has finally passed that I’m warming to the idea of registering for the Matterhorn race again next year–kinda. 

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Old cities not suited for cars…those Euros are on to something!

Zurich, as lovely as I imagined it would be.

Zurich, as lovely as I imagined it would be.

Interbike happened, with its tight deadlines and Show Daily copywriting, its hob-nobbing, its daily treks through depressing and grim casinos and seeing no actual daylight for days on end. It’s a love-hate relationship, my personal tango with Interbike. I see so many industry friends and make new ones, and I love that. Then there is that it is in Vegas, and well, gag me.

But Friday afternoon on the show floor, all print deadlines met, I learned a fire had broken out in Silverado, right behind our house at about 10:30 a.m. Our dogs were inside, and I was helpless to save them.

I could watch the air tanker all friggin' day. What a trip.

I could watch the air tanker all friggin’ day. What a trip.

After having a meltdown in the Pivot booth (sorry, guys!), I learned that Brian was riding his bike to our house on trails to rescue Turbo and Honey. It was over 100 degrees, he was wearing flip flops and jean shorts, riding with no helmet on Crank Brothers pedals over gnarly and rugged Silverado terrain.

Fire trucks in the driveway.

Fire trucks in the driveway.

He came home to this scene, firefighters staged out our house and helicopters dropping water on the slope directly above. But the dogs were safe, and he drove them, along with the neighbors’ two dogs, out of the canyon.

With the fire came a flood of memories from my nearly decade-long Forest Service career. Helicopters, air tankers, fire trucks and yellow nomex shirts harkened to the days when it was me schlepping 50 pounds of gear up an 80 percent slope and digging in the dirt for days. It’s been over 10 years since I donned the Nomex and wielded a chainsaw, but seeing those men and women working their way up the fireline each morning as they mopped up the contained fire made me miss those days.

Which brings me to now.

The SoCal hills are alive!

The SoCal hills are alive!

Other stuff happened in the following months, but for the most part, I slipped into some dark places–I don’t know if it was the holidays, too much mind or just an ebb in the cycle of life. But I made it through, largely due in part to a lot work on my end. A lot of stubbornness AND patience with myself. See, I’ve been there before, many, many times. Since I was a small child, I’ve always walked a tenuous and fine line between happiness and depression as I go through life–as I think a lot of people do–and sometimes I lose my balance. Sometimes I fall.

I’ll spare the gory details, but as I get older, it’s something I’ve learned to embrace. I know it will pass, no matter how dark my thoughts get. I know I can CHOOSE not to think them, and it’s very difficult but I eventually surface and I’m always ok.

The mind is such a funny, powerful thing, isn’t it?

Fresh off of a road trip north, I can’t help but feel a bit giddy, even being back in SoCal.

Wide open spaces, endless possibilities.

Wide open spaces, endless possibilities.

I feel invigorated and happy to be here, on this earth. Healthy. Grateful for my rich life.

The mountains were calling, and I had to go.

The mountains were calling, and I had to go.

The open road, sunsets, sunrise, snow and simply being in the mountains again did wonders for my soul.

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So did riding bikes. Which comes as no surprise, really.

Here’s to endless possibilities in the coming year. More time for bike riding and self care. Adventures, travel and pushing myself to do new things, achieve new goals and exploring new horizons.

The BC Bike Race, revisited.

This week last year, I was pretty much shitting my pants getting ready to go to the BC Bike Race. The weekend before, I had taken a tumble on the Fargo on pavement and completely jacked up my elbow and shoulder. I was a basket case. I was, without question, completely undertrained, and injured on top of it. It’s safe to say, I did not have high hopes for the outcome of this adventure.

Day One, Cumberland.

Day One, Cumberland.

But Lauren, the best teammate ever, and I rocked it, with style and grace. We didn’t race the race, it was more of a tour, but we probably had more fun out on that course than anyone out there.

The ‘red hats’ or the BC Bike Race patrol staff, who was wearing red POC helmets, hence their nickname, told us all week how they could hear us from a half a mile away, laughing and squawking our way up the climbs. Once, they rode up on us mid-trailside picnic. We had Rice Krispy treats and I can’t remember what else, and I am certain everyone who passed was dying inside from jealousy, as they should have.

Trailside picnic. Rice krispy treats to the rescue!

Trailside picnic. Rice krispy treats to the rescue!

It was Day 5. We had just ridden the gnarly miles and ridiculous climbs of Day 4 and well, we had a hangover. A full-on picnic was just what the doctor ordered. It may have very well been the best 10 minutes of my life.

Just another view from the BC ferry.

Just another view from the BC ferry.

I don’t remember much else from that day, which was probably my hardest, except that I felt my body settle into a rhythm, surrender somehow, to the routine of wake up, pack up, coffee up, eat up, saddle up and ride your fucking heart out. Return to camp, wherever it may be that day, eat, sleep, and repeat.

Christine has a pre-ride solo dance party, Josh looks on.

Christine has a pre-ride solo dance party, Josh looks on.

What a week it was. Yes, it’s glamorous in hindsight, I’m the first to admit that. Some days, I wanted to just cry. And I did. Riding a bike on technical singletrack for seven days straight on trails you’ve never seen before, even when you’re not going race pace, is hard as hell, mentally and physically.

But Lauren and I, we somehow, despite only having ever ridden together maybe three times before, managed to complement each other in a way that I still can’t quite get my mind around. When I was low on blood sugar, motivation and moxie, she was flying high and just shredding the shit out of the course. It inspired me to do the same. I’d like to think I lifted her up too, even when she practically broke her mother-effing hand crashing on Day Two. I think we both knew that if we let the mind go down the rabbit hole of doom, we’d be pretty well fucked.

So we just didn’t go there. We’d teeter on the rim of the hole, but somehow we’d always manage to pass it by and just keep pedaling.

Tent city, Squamish, BC.

Tent city, Squamish, BC.

Day 6, we camped in Squamish, and I was so overwhelmed by a cocktail of emotions ranging from exhaustion to complete and utter elation that we were almost done. But sadness started to set in too, because I knew that after one of the best days on the bike on some of the most amazing trails on this planet (Half Nelson, hell yes!), it was all going to come to a screeching halt, right when I was settling into a blissful routine.

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The vision of the camp in Squamish at sunset, post-brewery and pizza haze, with a group of new and old friends the Sturdy Bitches, is branded into my mind. I remember wearing recovery compression socks with flip flops and knickers and not giving a flying fuck. I remember the soft glow of the late BC sunset casting shadows the Chief, the granite wall that towers over Squamish like a diligent sentinel.

Most of all, I remember realizing, perhaps for the first time, that I was going to finish this. I am not and have never been a natural athlete. I work hard to achieve things physically, and if you’d have asked me one year prior, I would have laughed at the notion of ever completing a seven-day stage race across BC’s finest singletrack.

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Getting hammered in Squamish. Pants the Dog is not amused.

But that week was the first real proof for me that such endeavors are at least 95 % mental. And I’ve spent the past year putting that theory to the test, with various running accomplishments that really never could have dreamed I could pull off. But I did, and my tick list, both on the bike and on the feets keeps getting longer.

Powell River, BC

Powell River, BC

Day 7 we climbed up a fire road on an easy green downhill trail at Whistler Mountain Bike Park, a place I’ve spent a few hours riding and flailing myself downhill, riding the lift back up. That I would ever pedal uphill in that park was an insane notion. But we did. It was the last day, and our shortest. I, in my clipless pedals, confidently rode skinnies on the Lost Lake XC trails and climbed like a mofo on short, punchy hills. We were so close I could taste it.

I think the lump started in my throat about one mile from the finish. Like horses going back to the barn, as we got closer to where had started that day, we ramped up the cadence. Tears had formed before we saw the finish arch in Whistler Village. Lauren and I held hands as we rode under it.

Finish in Whistler!

Finish in Whistler!

We had done it, and so much of my being wants to do it again, even though it was hard and it hurt. It was one of the best weeks of my life–one that changed my thinking when it comes to what my body, and more importantly, my mind can achieve.

Got that buckle.

Got that buckle.

I raise my glass to the racers this next week–may you have as amazing of a week that we had, and know that anything is possible.

May = So far, so great.

Work travel is about to ramp up, but I have to say, I am verrrry excited about a few of my trips this summer. For one, I’m going to Europe–for the first time EVER–not once, but TWICE! Scotland, Switzerland and Germany. I can hardly contain my excitement, so trying not to think about it yet because it’s a ways off. But…SQUEEAAALLLLLL!

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My boys in Idyllwild.

We kicked off the month of May with a trip up to Idyllwild, a quaint little mountain town that is one of my favorite places in SoCal. We rode bikes for about an hour but I was dying in the heat so we aborted that mission and hiked up to local climbing crag and Idyllwild landmark, Tahquitz. The views were nice and the temps were cooler. It’s been a wicked spring so far down here, with several 100-degree days way too early in the year. I dread summer and hope we get a respite from the drought in the form of wetting rain. 

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Real fun day on the trails with Jekeira.

We also ran trails with Jesse and Keira, two ultrarunning badasses. It was my first real run since Rim to Rim to Rim. It was the funk breaker I needed, because boy did I ever hit a low about a week after finishing the Grand Canyon. I was drained. Physically and mentally. I had no motivation and nothing sounded fun.

So I signed up for a 50k.

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50k necessities.

The Whoo’s in El Moro race was just what I needed to snap out of it. I really had no expectations, having not done jack for three weeks. I simply just wanted to finish and enjoy the views.

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Sweeping coastal views gave me good mojo.

But I felt amazing. After about 10 miles, I still felt great. I was running every downhill, flat and many of the hills. I knew I was on pace so far to PR.

However, I also knew myself well enough to be prepared for the mid-way blowout, something I’m intimately familiar with and typically experience every time. I braced myself for that.

I showed up at the halfway point aid station at the 3-hour mark. Brian was working there, and I think he was surprised to see me so soon. He filled my pack with water and food and I started the long climb up the fire road, knowing I would hit the dreaded 18-20-mile mark where I typically come undone.

I didn’t. I powered the four miles to the next aid, where about 4 girls I had either been tailing or leapfrogging all day were hanging out. I checked in, grabbed some salty snacks and bolted.

I never saw them again. I pushed so hard out of that aid station, feeling for the first time ever, competitive on my feet. At the 10-miles to go point, I kicked it into high gear and flew down the fire road and short bit of singletrack before a dreadful climb I knew would suck on the way down. El Moro is a small place, so the course is a series of loops and out-and-backs, which I both love and loathe.

Towards the top of the climb, I tailed a woman who had been in front of me all day. We got to the top, and she stopped for a GU. As I passed her, I said “You’ll catch me again on the next climb.”

She never did. I ran so hard trying to get some distance between us, knowing there was a technical downhill, one of my few strengths in this sport, and I could leave her for good there if I pushed on the flat leading up to it. Somehow, I caught my foot on a buffed out section of trail and ate shit so hard I thought I broke my hand. It’s still jacked up, 2 weeks later. But I stood up, bloody kneed and pumped up on so much adrenaline I kept going.

The last climb out was hot, dry and epic. I slowed my pace, with a careful eye on the road behind me, looking for ladies in hot pursuit. There were none. I power hiked up and fed myself Enduralytes and shot blocks, trying not to fall apart and kind of dying for the next aid station at the top.

I finally got there, and they put ice in my water bladder. Heaven! I didn’t linger long, knowing there were strong climbers behind me. Five miles to go, mostly downhill.

I railed the last singletrack, and tolerated the final fire road climb. I ran into my friend Heather who was out for a trail run.

It's truly one of the best things ever, to see a familiar face when you're about to come apart.

It’s truly one of the best things ever, to see a familiar face when you’re about to come apart.

Sometimes the Universe just knows what you need.

I was into the home stretch. Everything hurt, but seeing Heather out there gave me a much needed kick in the ass. The last descent seemed to go on forever, but the last flat/gradual downhill to the finish felt even longer. I wouldn’t let myself walk, even though I desperately wanted to.

I rolled into the finish and surprised myself with a 6:30 time and 9th place woman. Eff yes. I needed that.

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So stoked to PR my 50k time and break the top 10 women.

A week later, I flew to Salt Lake City for Dealer Tour.

Yes, I still ride bikes.

I met up with my darling friend Erin and her friend Morgan and we all wore purple, for the most part by accident. It was so freaking awesome to get on the MTB again.

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We were Team Purple.

I’m pretty sure I had permagrin the entire afternoon.

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Morgan crushing it.

I was happy to have four days straight on the bike. To say it was a nice change from sitting at a desk is a gross understatement.

We visited 13 shops in three days and rode about 90 miles. Solid.

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Brian and I were supposed to go to the Sierras and run the high-mountain, big-milage Rae Lakes loop, but we got snowed out. So we decided to stay close to home and ended up getting up to the 11,500-foot San Gorgonio peak, which is about a 1.5-hour drive from our house. We did a 21-mile loop/lollipop on some of the most amazing terrain around.

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CA or CO?

I felt like complete ass all day. I could never get warmed up and had two left feet. I don’t know if it was the altitude, the miles on the bike and work travel earlier in the week, or just having an off day, but I was a wreck. I had fun anyways, and finally stopped beating myself up about it and just enjoyed the day.

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This mountain is my new SoCal favorite! The boy is a perennial favorite.

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We’ll wrap this weekend up with some yoga, gardening, cooking and a BBQ later with friends. I am so grateful for this busy and full life, bursting at the seams with amazing people and beautiful places.

To you and yours, I wish you full hearts and happy spirits this lovely month of May!

xo

An accidental ultrarunner.

I never planned to become a runner. It just sort of happened.

A sunset run in Silverado

A sunset run in Silverado

Running was something I did when I couldn’t ride my bike. When it was too muddy to ride in Hood River, I ran the trails with Turbo instead. Sometimes I ran a few times a week in the rain, but as soon as things dried out again, I was back on two wheels. I ran only out of necessity.

Sometimes I really enjoyed it, but I still thought about how I would ride the trail I was running, which lines I would choose and how much faster I would be going if I were rolling on wheels instead.

Three Ts loop, Mt. Baldy, CA.

Three Ts loop, Mt. Baldy, CA.

Until just over a year ago, my longest run was about 6 miles, as part of my firefighter physical training (PT). We ran as a crew 3-4 times per week, and back then, I mostly hated it. I didn’t like how the pavement felt under my feet, and I didn’t like how it made me wheeze even when I was in my best shape.

But something changed, and I wish I could pinpoint the exact moment I first felt pure joy while running. The moment when it didn’t make me wheeze and I felt free and alive, propelled by my own engine, kept in motion by my body’s momentum. Maybe it was a gradual process, I’m not sure.

In November 2012, I signed up for the High Sierra 50k in Bishop. I’m the first to admit I never would have contemplated such a thing if I hadn’t met Brian Blair. Quite frankly, I had never once considered running a marathon, let alone an ultramarathon.

Bishop 50k finish. Damn that Shandy tasted good!

Bishop 50k finish. Damn that Shandy tasted good!

Last weekend–less than a year after I finished my first 50k–we ran the Grand Canyon from rim to rim and back again to celebrate my birthday.

At 45 miles, it was the longest distance I had ever gone on foot in one day. I still kind of can’t believe I did it. I was undertrained and coming off of a trip to Alaska, work travel to Sea Otter and a 50-hour work week. Since Bishop, I have finished a trail marathon, another 50k (with 7k of climbing) and a number of longer trail runs with Brian and friends, but it didn’t seem like enough to feel even remotely prepared for the rim to rim to rim run.

But I was hell bent on doing it, even though I could’ve bailed weeks ago. See, somehow, in all my travels in the West, I had never seen the Grand Canyon before. I don’t exactly remember when I decided running/hiking from rim to rim to rim (R2R2R) was what I wanted to do to kick off my 39th trip around the sun, but I have been preparing for it for months.

First views of the canyon with the boys, birthday eve.

First views of the canyon with the boys, birthday eve.

We invited a handful of friends who run (a short list for me still), and our dear fast and super awesome friend Joshua and SoCal ultrarunning legend and all around rad dude Tommy Nielsen joined us.

The black bridge, just after sun up.

The black bridge, just after sun up.

Brian and I started at 4:00 am down South Kaibab. Joshua and Tommy, who would be considerably faster than me, started two hours later and took Bright Angel trail down to the river.

First crossing, 6 am.

First crossing, 6 am.

It took us two hours to reach the river, down 6 miles and about 5,000 feet, partly in the dark. We took it slow, knowing we still had a long journey ahead.

Brightangel Creek.

Brightangel Creek.

Concerned about my ankle, which had been bugging me for a few weeks, I considered turning around somewhere before this lovely pool. I admit, some of it was fear–knowing that I was approaching a point of no return was a scary thought. Once I reached a certain point in the route, bailing would be almost as hard as reaching the North Rim. I chose to push.

Up, up, up. Way up.

Up, up, up. Way up.

And I’m so glad I did. We climbed for what seemed like forever, about 6,000 feet up to the North Rim. The first 1,000 or so feet follows Bright Angel creek and is gradual–a false flat of sorts that feels like it should be easy to run but it kicks your ass. The final miles from the Pumphouse–a last water stop–were steep and hard. The trail is technical and exposed in places.

The NOTAR (no tail rotor) helicopter buzzed around all afternoon.

The NOTAR (no tail rotor) helicopter buzzed around all afternoon. You can see the trail just right of the helicopter!

The boys on a bridge.

The boys on a bridge, on the way down from North Rim. We pow-wowwed with Joshua and Tommy at the top and ran a few miles with them down to Pumphouse.

It rained and hailed on us. I had meltdown #1 about 2 miles from the top of North Rim. I discovered I had a blister and had to do foot surgery shortly after we watched the park service helicopter playing around in the canyon. Finding that blister got to me. I felt vulnerable and knew we were only getting deeper in, that I was more committed than ever.

Brian and Joshua. Down, down, down we go.

Brian and Joshua. Down, down, down we go.

Which isn’t anything new for me, but somehow this felt different from firefighting adventures, getting dropped in the middle of nowhere. Or living in a fire lookout all alone for months, no civilization for hours of hiking and driving. In this situation, I think I worried my body would fail me, that my getting back across the canyon in one piece depended on my ankle not giving out, my feet staying tough and a litany of other possible physical ailments that could compromise me.

From whence we came at 4 am.

From whence we came at 4 am. This stretch was hot as hell as we ran downstream to Phantom Ranch.

But the truth is, the success or failure of the journey on foot depended more on the mind than anything else. My ankle hurt like hell most of the day, but I was able to focus on something else (sometimes it was the other body parts that had begun to scream at me). The moment I let my thoughts go to pain and discomfort, I would start to come unraveled.

So I tried not to let that happen. This morning, Lauren and I talked about how once you go to a dark place you can’t let yourself stay very long. Time is of the essence when it comes to games of the mind. Yes, fear will try to drive the mind down its rabbit hole of doom, but if you stand a chance of not getting sucked in, you have to get the eff out immediately. If you linger in that place, you’re a goner.

The mighty river.

The mighty river.

Brian and I reached Phantom Ranch just before 4 pm, our 12-hour mark. The water a few miles back at the Pumphouse, which we had filled from on the way up to the North Rim, wasn’t working on the way down. We later saw that a main water line (the place is plumbed for miles) had burst, flooding the trail.

We had been thinking about Phantom Ranch and the store for a few hot, exposed miles. I was dreaming of potato chips, or anything salty. I was GU’ed out by then and wanted nothing sweet. Except for a Coke, which they didn’t have. Instead, we had lemonade and iced tea and pretzels. Best damn $12 I’ve ever spent.

These water bars went on forever. FOREVER. It was like using a Stairmaster for 3 hrs straight.

These water bars went on forever. FOREVER. It was like using a Stairmaster for 3 hrs straight.

The final hike out was a mofo of a climb. Waterbar after waterbar, that I scarcely remembered from the trip down, formed a brutal staircase that shredded my calves and ass. My quads were already jelly from more than 11,000 feet of descent, honestly my whole body was.

Brian and I chatted idly through the toughest middle section. It saved me from freaking out about all the damn steps.

This was a killer up and down.

This was a killer up and down.

We knew of just one landmark–an outhouse and hitching post perhaps about a mile from the top. Once we reached that, we would be close. We could finally see it, tucked into a saddle and I was so happy. We would crush this with a sub-15 hour time and arrive well before sunset.

Sunset's a-comin'. It was hard to turn on the gas to get up that hill before dark!

Sunset’s a-comin’. It was hard to turn on the gas to get up that hill before dark!

Not so. The outhouse looked so close, but was so far still. More vert, more waterbars and waning energy. We stopped for food. Not moving felt good but also felt like potential death.

As a lover of sunsets, I tried my best to enjoy the view in the throes of delirium.

As a lover of sunsets, I tried my best to enjoy the view in the throes of delirium.

Brian charged ahead, and I drug myself up the remaining switchbacks to outhouse saddle, where I would meltdown for the second time. I rounded the curve to the saddle and the South Rim looked miles away. More stairs and more switchbacks were in my periphery and I let my mind go down the damn rabbit hole. I lost my shit.

I had two goals for this run: Not to die or have to be helicoptered out of the canyon, and to finish before dark.

When I saw what was still in front of me, I figured I would finish 1 for 2. Brian assured me we would make it. I pouted to the first switchback, then put on my big girl pants, blew the snot out of each nostril and put one foot in front the other. He gave me an atta girl from the switchback above. I needed that.

We finished at 7:25 pm, just at dark. I didn’t need a headlamp for the last few switchbacks, the same ones I had navigated down in the dark 15.5 hours earlier. I said to Brian as we started down the canyon “This is going to be really hard on the way back up.”

And it was. But my body and mind did not fail me, and I’m so proud of that. The R2R2R is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done to this point, even counting all the years of working myself to bone carrying chainsaws and hiking through the brush on steep terrain for 20 hours a day. This was different, somehow.

But I’d do it all over again in a hearbeat. It was one of the best days ever, spent in a beautiful place, on my birthday with friends and this great guy who put up with meltdowns and freakouts. Who has every right to tease me a little about them now.

We rallied at the car with Joshua and Tommy, who had finished about an hour earlier and were coming to fetch us from the trailhead to save us from having to run the final mile on pavement to where we had parked. We had pizza and recounted the day’s events.

It was a perfect birthday–more miles ran than years alive so far. Here’s to ringing in 39 years with 45 miles!

Time warp.

I honestly don’t know what happened to November. Started off with a bang, in the form of a trail marathon.

Mountain Goat Marathon. Went better than I expected!

Mountain Goat Marathon. No moderation here. Blew myself out in the first 15 miles. Limped through the last 11.2.

Finished!

Finished!

Good finisher's gift!

Good finisher’s gift!

Then, I went to Taiwan for work. It was an amazing tour of the west coast of the island visiting all kinds of bike factories. I can’t wait to go back in March!

Classic Giant in Taipei, Taiwan.

Classic Giant in Taipei, Taiwan.

Scenes from a run around Taipei.

Scenes from a run around Taipei.

Sniffed out some singletrack.

Sniffed out some singletrack.

Steep ass stairs.

Steep ass stairs.

Zen gate.

Zen gate.

The 101, Taipei, Taiwan.

The 101, Taipei, Taiwan.

Steps disappear into a rock.

Steps disappear into a rock.

Getting a haircut at the temple, as you do.

Getting a haircut at the temple, as you do.

Language and food lessons from the locals, Taipei, Taiwan.

Language and food lessons from the locals, Taipei, Taiwan.

Attractions, Taipei.

Attractions, Taipei.

A Taipei shandy, with pineapple juice. Oh yes.

A Taipei shandy, with pineapple juice. Oh yes.

I returned home and we entertained for a couple of days, then I got sick as a dog with some sort of flu for nearly a week.

Veggie roasting spree.

Veggie roasting spree.

I'm in a box!

I’m in a box! Turbo entertaining us, as usual.

Soup for the sick.

Soup for the sick.

Mobile office while sick with the Asian bird flu.

Mobile office while sick with the Asian bird flu. Yes, there are still places in Orange County where your phone doesn’t work. Our house is one of them.

Sickie selfie.

Sickie selfie. #heyhotstuff

More soup for the sickie.

More soup for the sickie.

I healed up just in time to make pies and such for Thanksgiving, which we spent in the mountains.

Not your average cranberry sauce.

Not your average cranberry sauce.

Browned butter apple pie.

Pie love. Browned butter apple pie.

Pre-turkey trot in Running Springs.

Pre-turkey trot in Running Springs.

Trail art + dog.

Trail art + dog.

Ava and the dogs, waiting for turkey.

Ava and the dogs, waiting for turkey.

Someone had too much turkey.

Someone ate too much turkey.

Then Turbs and I took a trip to the beach.

One of my favorite places in SoCal!

One of my favorite places in SoCal!

Val and Turbo's day at the beach.

Val and Turbo’s day at the beach.

And then it was December. We trimmed some trees and shrubs, put the bi-products in a bucket and called it a Christmas tree.

Gettin' all Fa La La around here.

Gettin’ all Fa La La around here. #unconventional

Lots happening this month too, and with all the cooking and baking that’s sure to ensue, I’ll likely be posting over at my cooking blog a bunch. Stop by!

Happy Holidays!

Back to my roots.

Fall is my favorite. And so far, fall in SoCal has exceeded my expectations. We’ve had daytime temps in the 70s, down into the 40s at night, with the occasional cloudy and rainy day. I’m wearing sweaters and boots and cooking squash and drinking red wine.

SoCal sunsets. Can never get enough.

SoCal sunsets. Can never get enough.

A quick work trip to the lovely Pacific Northwest allowed me a healthy dose of the kind of fall I am more used to. Perfectly tacky trails framed by feathery firs and ferns. Wet leaves and dark grey days.

Duthie HIll. As my friend Ady put it "the beginning of the fun part".

Duthie HIll. As my friend Ady put it “the beginning of the fun part”.

For “work”, we pedaled around Seattle for three days visiting a baker’s dozen of bike shops.

Foggy skies and fall foliage.

Foggy skies and fall foliage.

We took a trip over to Bainbridge Island, as I have done many times before. It was my first by bike.

Foggy ferry views.

Foggy ferry views.

My bike's on a boat.

My bike’s on a boat.

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Restaurant garden + harbor, Bainbridge Island, WA.

Pegasus Coffee, one of my all time favorites.

Pegasus Coffee, one of my all time favorites.

Bike porn for all at Classic Cyclery's bike museum.

Bike porn for all at Classic Cyclery’s bike museum.

Being back in Seattle stirred up a lot of memories, particularly of my stepmom Doris. She was the one who got me hooked on Pegasus french roast a decade and a half ago. Many of the ferry trips I took were either with her and my Dad or to visit them on the peninsula in the tiny town of Indianola.

Many Seattle memories are sad for me, because I spent a lot of time there when Doris was sick. And that’s ok. It was nice to revisit and feel all those old feelings again, a subtle reminder that life is happening, all around us, NOW. And that it’s precious and short.

Row House Cafe, downtown Seattle. On the hunt for good coffee.

Row House Cafe, downtown Seattle. On the hunt for good coffee.

Most afternoons we were there, the fog would lift and we would get a glorious blast of sun. Somehow, the sun in the Pacific Northwest feels different than it does in SoCal. It feels oddly special, cherished. When it comes out of the clouds, you drop what  you’re doing to take a moment or more to notice it. To really notice it. Because it could disappear into the clouds again and not come out for weeks, replaced by the more reliable drizzle and fog.

This time of year, when the sun is low in the sky, the contrast between dark grey clouds and the full spectrum of fall colors, all illuminated by that magnificently golden fall light makes me positively giddy. I didn’t take nearly enough photos, but the imagery is burned into my mind, as vivid as it was in person.

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Me and our publisher Megan at Duthie.

The Colonnade under the I-5 in downtown Seattle=pretty good use of the under the overpass space.

The Colonnade mountain bike park under the I-5 in downtown Seattle=pretty good use of the under the overpass space.

This trip to the Pacific Northwest was jam-packed with activity, but I’m grateful for getting to go back to my roots, even if for just a short time.